Obama: A Legacy of Ashes

Obama: A Legacy of Ashes

James Corbett (2017)

Film Review

In his excellent documentary about Obama’s presidency, James Corbett highlights important ways in which Obama systematically reduced civil liberties and democratic oversight of government.

  • After promising to end George W Bush’s de facto lawmaking via unconstitutional signing statements, Obama far signing statements than his predecessor.
  • He repeatedly inserted text into bills without informing lawmakers before they voted on them.
  • After promising to end the role of lobbyists in running government, he allowed Citibank to select his cabinet and the insurance lobby to write The Affordable Care Act.
  • While claiming to run the most transparent administration in history, he set a record for denying Freedom of Information Act requests and prosecuting whistleblowers.
  • Despite promising to end illegal wiretapping and spying on activists, he greatly increased routine NSA surveillance of ordinary citizens. He also introduced legislation repealing Posse Comitatus* and authorizing indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. And issued an executive order granting himself the power (which he exercised liberally) to arbitrarily assassinate his enemies, including US citizens.

Obama was also the only president in history who was continuously at war during his entire eight years in office.** All but two (which he inherited from Bush) were illegal and unconstitutional wars he launched without government approval.

I was intrigued to learn the Patriot Act (enacted by the Bush administration after 9-11) was originally written by Obama’s vice president Joe Biden in 1995.


*The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibited the US government using federal troops in domestic law enforcement, except in circumstances expressly authorized by the US Constitution.

**In addition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which candidate Obama promised to end), he launched illegal wars of aggression in Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Whistleblower Leaks Secret Assassination and Kill List Documents

In the following video, Jeremy Cahill discusses his book The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. For the most part, the book consists of leaked documents about the CIA’s “secret” drone assassination program. This is the first time any official documents have been made public.

Cahill’s latest book includes documents setting out the criteria for putting Americans and others on the terrorist “watch list.” Other documents describe the “kill chain,” the process by which prospects are moved from the “watch list” to the “kill list.” When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she signed off on every targeted assassination carried out by the Obama White House.

According to Scahill, the watch list contains over one million entries, including 21,000 Americans. Among other data, the watch list includes bank records and confidential medical records.

Scahill begins his talk with fascinating commentary on the three main presidential candidates. Among other observations, he points out 1) that Bernie Sanders supports both the kill list and drone warfare 2)  that Trump didn’t bring fascism to the US – that he merely brought existing US fascism into public view and 3) that Bill and Hillary Clinton were using her private email server to operate a parallel government structure.

In Scahill’s words, Hillary is the “empire candidate.” She has already been endorsed by William Kristol, Max Booth and other neoconservatives. He maintains most of the Republican leadership is preparing to support her presidential campaign.

Scahill is also scathingly critical of Ben Rhodes and the other 20 to 30-year-old “frat” boys who manage Obama’s foreign policy, ie make the decision who to kill next and which countries to invade.

 

Shredding the Constitution: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State

Robert Greenwald (2015)

Film Review

War on Whistleblowers details the cases of four US whistleblowers who experienced severe government retaliation after exposing systematic wrongdoing to journalists.

The men profiled are marine Franz Gaye, who broke the story about the Pentagon refusal to replace Humvees with much safer MRAPs in the US occupation of Iraq; NSA senior executive Thomas Drake, who first blew the whistle on illegal NSA mass surveillance; Lockheed-Martin engineer Michael DeKort, who broke the story that Lockheed was supplying the Coast Guard with substandard boats and radios that weren’t waterproof; and Department of Justice lawyer Jim Risen, who first exposed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps.

Their stories are interspersed with commentary by iconic whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden (via Internet linkup), as well as the handful of journalists who have been brave enough to publish evidence of government corruption and criminality and members of the Project on Government Oversight and the Project for Government Accountability.

Each of the four whistleblowers went up his workplace chain of command in his agency and exhausted every option for addressing the problem internally. Each was fully aware of the potential consequences of their actions of going to the press. Yet after much soul searching, they saw whistle blowing as a preferable alternative than to colluding in their superiors’ criminality.

Paying the Price

Only Gaye was allowed to resume his career as an active duty marine. DeKort had his Lockheed position cancelled and was blackballed from further work in the defense industry. In addition to losing their jobs, both Drake and Risen experienced financial ruin, spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting felony charges the Obama Justice Department brought against them. Drake was charged under the Espionage Act, even though the information he shared with the Baltimore Sun was unclassified.

After seven years of persecution by the Justice Department, Drake eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor: excessive use of a computer without authorization. The charges against Risen were dropped after four years of legal battles.

The Distinction Between Leaking and Whistle Blowing

The film makes the clear distinction between leaking and whistleblowing. High level Obama administration officials constantly leak classified information to the press with no legal consequences.

Despite his campaign promises to make government more transparent and accountable, Obama has significantly increased government secrecy, as well as prosecuting more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

According to Snowden, the President’s purpose isn’t to make Americans more secure. It’s to protect government agencies and politicians from embarrassment a criminal prosecution.

His crackdown on whistleblowers is also a fundamental violation of the First Amendment. The whole intent of freedom of speech and the press is to ensure citizens’ right to criticize their government without being punished.

How Big Money Controls the White House

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Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters

by Andrew Kreig (Eagle View Books 2013)

Book Review

Presidential Puppetry is a comprehensive expose of the wealthy corporate interests who are the real power behind the federal government. Kreig orients his book around Obama and Romney, the major presidential candidates in the 2012 elections. However in discussing Mitt Romney’s hidden ties to the financial oligarchy, he also explores the Bush family’s Wall Street connections, the history and structure of the Mormon Church (especially as it relates to corporate America) and Karl Rove’s role in orchestrating Republican dirty tricks and voting fraud. Presidential Puppetry is meticulously researched and sourced, with a 17 page bibliography and 110 pages of footnotes and references.

Kreig, a lawyer and respected Washington DC journalist, takes the 2012 presidential debates as his point of departure, noting the deliberate secrecy of both candidates around their personal background. This deliberate secrecy should have been a campaign issue. Yet neither raised it in the debates – there seemed to be a gentleman’s agreement not to do so. Kreig is also scathingly critical of the mainstream media’s failure to challenge either the secrecy or corrupt corporate influences it concealed.

Obama Was Groomed

For his part, Obama refused to release any of his university transcripts, as well as having his passport records secretly scrubbed at the State Department. According to Kreig, this refusal to release educational records is unprecedented, especially for a candidate with virtually no public record of their political background or views. Kreig believes there are two reasons for Obama’s secrecy about his records from Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School. The first was to conceal his early links to the CIA, via a CIA front organization he worked for called Business International Corporation (BIC). The second was to hide his early “grooming” for political office by Zbigniew Brzesinski and possibly other members of Bilderberg, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Trilateral Commission. All three are secretive round table groups that allow wealthy financial elites access to major public officials.

By tracing the background of the Bush, Carter, Clinton and Reagan presidencies, Kreig makes a very compelling case that the ruling elite selects and grooms individuals it offers up to us as presidential candidates. What’s more, of our past five presidents, only George W Bush has no documented history of working for US intelligence. Krieg alleges Reagan secretly passed information to the FBI about Hollywood leftists, Bush senior performed various services for the CIA as founder and director of Zapata Oil Company, and Clinton informed on anti-Vietnam War protestors as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

Romney’s Cayman Island Tax Shelters

Romney’s big secret was his tax returns. It’s standard for presidential candidates to release ten years of returns. What the Republican candidate sought to conceal, according to Kreig, was systematic tax avoidance that included a Swiss bank account and tax shelters in the Cayman Islands. Both the Democrats and the corporate media failed in their duty to the public by refusing to bring any of this to light.

Broken Campaign Promises and a Trail of Bodies

Kreig goes on to examine Obama’s first term in light of his hidden history. The American people thought they were voting for a progressive community organizer but ended up with someone even more pro-Wall Street and pro-war than his Republican predecessor.

The most disturbing aspect of the book relates to cases Kreig details in which both Republican and Democratic insiders have tried to expose corporate interference with specific federal office holders. Largely owing to the refusal of the corporate media to support these whistleblowers, many have ended up dead under suspicious circumstances or in prison on trumped up charges.

Kreig tries to finish on an optimistic note by reminding us of all the brave independent journalists (on whose work Presidential Puppetry is based) whose investigative work is beginning to give us a true picture of how our so-called democracy really works. He encourages people (I assume he means whistleblowers) to send him tips (i.e. leaks) via his Justice Integrity Project website.

A recent post there is a moving tribute to the late John Judge, past president of the Coalition on Political Assassinations. The latter archives and promotes scholarly research offering alternatives to official accounts of the JFK assassination and other high profile political deaths, including those of Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

A Novel About Extraordinary Rendition

a delicate truth

A Delicate Truth

by John LeCarre (Viking Adult 2013)

Book Review

In my view, a fiction writer has a fundamental responsibility to reflect the era they write about. The majority of contemporary novelists balk at accurately depicting the criminal element that has seized control of our western democracies. Most 21st century spy thrillers are a hollow glorification of the War on Terror, celebrating the virtue and bravery of patriotic intelligence operatives who keep us safe from so-called fanatical Islamic fundamentalists.

Not Le Carre. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the British author used his gift for characterization to write masterful thrillers in which we made the intimate acquaintance of British and Russian spymasters, moles and bureaucratic government careerists with all their flaws and foibles. With the advent of the War on Terror, his more recent novels revolve around the privatization and criminalization of British intelligence, under the influence of the CIA and thuggish security contractors like Blackwater, who have no official accountability whatsoever to the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

Most of LeCarre’s recent thrillers end on a pretty bleak note. Owing to the mafia-like grip the sociopathic elite and their hired mercenaries have over British and US intelligence, the good guys almost always lose.

A Delicate Truth ends somewhat more optimistically. The plot revolves around the cover-up of a failed extraordinary rendition (i.e. the kidnapping of a suspected terrorist to a country where he can be legally tortured). A program that clearly hasn’t ended under Obama, despite his campaign promises. The heroes are two would-be whistleblowers who try to expose the cover-up because they’re too naïve to appreciate the total depravity of the forces arrayed against them.

I think I can detect the influence of real life whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange in LeCarre’s new note of cautious optimism.

Banned in the USA: the Film You Didn’t See

Film Review

The War You Don’t See

Produced and directed by John Pilger

Americans now have the opportunity of seeing Australian John Pilger’s critically acclaimed The War You Don’t See on YouTube. The groundbreaking documentary was effectively banned in the US when Patrick Lannan, who funds the “liberal” Lannon Foundation, canceled the American premier (and all Pilger’s public appearances) in June 2010. Pilger provides the full background of this blatant act of censorship at his website. After watching the film, I believe its strong support of Julian Assange (who the US Department of Justice is attempting to prosecute) is the most likely reason it wasn’t shown in American theaters.

Pilger’s documentary centers around the clear propaganda role both the British and US press played in cheerleading the US/British invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It includes a series of interviews in which Pilger confronts British and American journalists (including Dan Rather) and news executives regarding their failure to give air time to weapons inspectors and military/intelligence analysts who were publicly challenging the justification for these invasions. The Australian filmmaker focuses heavily on the fabricated evidence (Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and links to 9-11) that was used to convince American and British lawmakers to go along with an illegal attack on a defenceless nation (Iraq).

Making News Executives Squirm

Pilger also confronts the British news executives (from the BBC and ITV) for reporting — unchallenged — Israeli propagandist Mark Regev regarding the May 2010 Israeli attack (in international waters) of the international peace flotilla and murder of nine Turkish peace activists (including six who were executed in the back of the head at point blank range).

Although none of the news makers offer a satisfactory explanation for their actions, British news executives show obvious embarrassment when Pilger forces them to admit they knew about opposing views and failed to offer them equal air time. In my view, the main value of the film is reminding us how essential it is to hold journalists to account for their lack of objectivity. Too many activists (myself included) have allowed ourselves to become too cynical about the mainstream media to hold individual reporters and their editors and managers accountable when they function as government propagandists instead of journalists.

The War You Don’t See was released in Britain in December 2010, in the context of a Parliamentary investigation into the Blair government’s use of manufactured intelligence to ensnare the UK into a disastrous ten year foreign war. Government/corporate censorship is far more efficient in the US, and the odds of a similar Congressional investigation occurring in the US seem extremely low.

Edward Bernays: the Public is the Enemy

The film begins with a thumbnail history of modern war propaganda, which Pilger traces back to Edward Bernays, the father of public relations. Bernays, who began his career by helping Woodrow Wilson to “sell” World War I to the American people, talks in his famous book Propaganda about the public being the “enemy” which must be “countered.”

Independent Journalism is Hazardous to Your Health

The most powerful segment features the Wikileaks gunship video released in April 2010, followed by Pilger’s interview with a Pentagon spokesperson regarding this sadistic 2007 attack on unarmed Iraqi civilians. This is followed by excerpts of a public presentation by a GI on the ground at the time of assault, who was denied permission to medically evacuate two children injured in the attack.

The documentary also focuses heavily on the Pentagon’s deliberate use of “embedded” journalists to report the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the extreme threat (often from American forces) faced by independent, non-embedded journalists. According to Pilger, a record 240 independent journalists were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Palestine, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has killed ten independent journalists since 1992. The War You Don’t See includes footage of a recent IDF attack on a Palestinian cameraman, who miraculously survived, despite losing both legs.

Pilger goes on to talk about the deliberate bombing of Al Jazeera headquarters in Kabul and Baghdad, mainly because the Arab network was the only outlet reporting on civilian atrocities. This section features excellent Al Jazeera footage of home invasions of two civilian families — in one case by British and the other by American troops — who were brutally terrorized and subjected to torture tactics.

The Interview that Got the Film Banned

The film concludes with a brief interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who discusses the increasing secrecy and failure of democratic control over the military industrial intelligence complex. Assange presents his view that this complex consists of a network of thousands of players (government employees and contractors and defense lobbyists) who make major policy decisions in their own self-interest with virtually no government oversight.

Pilger and Assange also discuss the aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers by Obama, who has the worst record of First Amendment violations of any president. They also discuss the positive implications of the willingness of military and intelligence insiders to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents. It shows clear dissent in the ranks about the blatant criminality that motivates US foreign policy decisions.

Blowing the Whistle on Homeland Security

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Another Whistleblower Fights Back

Despite all the public support the Edward Snowden case has generated, the majority of whistleblowers suffer in silence. Below is an mind blowing interview with former US Customs inspector Julia Davis, who was declared a domestic terrorist by the Department of Homeland Security for following established protocol in reporting a potential security threat. In this case, the threat concerned border crossings of 25 individuals with known links to terrorist groups. As Davis indicates, she never dreamed of becoming a whistleblower – she was merely doing her job.

When she inadvertently exposed corrupt practices in the intelligence community, DHS retaliated by charging her with domestic terrorism. Although she was imprisoned twice, though she was ultimately exonerated of all charges.

DHS later justified the domestic terrorism charge on the basis she supposedly made derogatory statements about DHS. Davis tells a different story. She asserts the label of “domestic terrorist” is a ploy used against prospective whistleblowers because the Patriot Act denies terrorists important Constitutional protections.

She has come to the conclusion that the main function of DHS isn’t to protect Americans from terrorism but to harass dissidents and whistleblowers.

Davis has helped produce a documentary about her ordeal called Top Priority

Among other projects, she is undertaking an independent investigation of the systematic harassment against her husband and one of her supporters – both have died under mysterious circumstances.

photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District via photopin cc