Denouncing NSA Surveillance Isn’t Enough—We Need the Power to Stop It

— by Norman Solomon

For more than a month, outrage has been profuse in response to news about NSA surveillance and other evidence that all three branches of the U.S. government are turning Uncle Sam into Big Brother.

Now what?

Continuing to expose and denounce the assaults on civil liberties is essential. So is supporting Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers—past, present and future. But those vital efforts are far from sufficient.

At the core of the surveillance state is the hollowness of its democratic pretenses. Only with authentic democracy can we save ourselves from devastating evisceration of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

imageFor a moment, walk a mile in the iron-heeled shoes of the military-industrial-digital complex. Its leaders don’t like clarity about what they’re doing, and they certainly don’t like being exposed or denounced—but right now the surveillance state is in no danger of losing what it needs to keep going: power.

The huge digi-tech firms and the government have become mutual tools for gaining humungous profits and tightening political control. The partnerships are deeply enmeshed in military and surveillance realms, whether cruise missiles and drones or vast metadata records and capacities to squirrel away trillions of emails.

The enormous corporate leverage over government policies doesn’t change the fact that the nexus of the surveillance state—and the only organization with enough potential torque to reverse its anti-democratic trajectory—is government itself.

The necessity is to subdue the corporate-military forces that have so extensively hijacked the government. To do that, we’ll need to accomplish what progressives are currently ill-positioned for: democratic mobilization to challenge the surveillance state’s hold on power.

These days, progressives are way too deferential and nice to elected Democrats who should be confronted for their active or passive complicity with abysmal policies of the Obama White House. An example is Al Franken, senator from Minnesota, who declared his support for the NSA surveillance program last month: “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people.”

The right-wing Tea Party types realized years ago what progressive activists and groups are much less likely to face—that namby-pamby “lobbying” gets much weaker results than identifying crucial issues and making clear a willingness to mount primary challenges.

Progressives should be turning up the heat and building electoral capacities. But right now, many Democrats in Congress are cakewalking toward re-election in progressive districts where they should be on the defensive for their anemic “opposition” to—or outright support for—NSA surveillance.

Meanwhile, such officials with national profiles should encounter progressive pushback wherever they go. A step in that direction will happen just north of the Golden Gate Bridge this weekend, when House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi appears as guest of honor to raise money for the party (up to $32,400 per couple) at a Marin County reception. There will also be a different kind of reception that Pelosi hadn’t been counting on—a picket line challenging her steadfast support for NSA surveillance.

In the first days of this week, upwards of 20,000 people responded to a RootsAction.org action alert by sending their senators and representative an email urging an end to the "Insider Threat Program"—the creepily Orwellian concoction that, as McClatchy news service revealed last month, “requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.”

Messages to Congress members, vocal protests and many other forms of public outcry are important—but they should lay the groundwork for much stronger actions to wrest control of the government away from the military-industrial-digital complex. That may seem impossible, but it’s certainly imperative: if we’re going to prevent the destruction of civil liberties. In the long run, denunciations of the surveillance state will mean little unless we can build the political capacity to end it.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License (Photo Credit: David Burnett/Contact Press Images)

Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State".

In ‘Chilling’ Ruling, Chevron Granted Access to Activists’ Private Internet Data

"Sweeping" subpoena violates rights of those who spoke out against oil giant’s devastating actions in Ecuador

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Following their guilty sentence for the dumping of 18.5bn gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron is amassing the personal information of the environmentalists and attorneys who fought against them in an effort to prove ‘conspiracy.’  The US government is not the only entity who, with judicial approval, is amassing massive amounts of personal information against their so-called enemies.

A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.

The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.

The "sweeping" subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

"Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron," said Marcia Hofmann, Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who—along with environmental rights group EarthRights International (ERI)—had filed a motion last fall to "quash" the subpoenas.

"These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador," she added at the time.

According to ERI, the subpoena demands the personal information about each account holder as well as the IP addresses associated with every login to each account over a nine-year period. "This could allow Chevron to determine the countries, states, cities or even buildings where the account-holders were checking their email," they write, "so as to ‘infer the movements of the users over the relevant period and might permit Chevron to makes inferences about some of the user’s professional and personal relationships.’"

In their statement about the ruling, ERI notes that the argument given by presiding US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan—who was previously accused of prejudice against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers—was as "breathtaking as the subpoena itself." They continue:

According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”

Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?

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This work was published on Thursday, July 11, 2013 by Common Dreams and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License (Photo: Rainforest Action Network/ cc/ Flickr)

The Week Ahead in Congress

In the Senate
The Senate has plans to work on at least one bill:

S 3637: Extending a federal guarantee program for banks and credit unions for two years.  According to Hill Sources, the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program was created during the financial crisis of a few years ago, and financial institutions broadly support the extension. 

In the House
On Tuesday, the House will vote on a Motion to go to Conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (HR 4310), along with a Democratic Motion to Instruct Conferees.

The House could work on up to eight suspension bills:

— The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (HR 1974), which would set up a public website that would allow access to various reports mandated by Congress.

— The Eliminate Privacy Notice Confusion Act (HR 5817), which would allow banks to notify customers of data privacy policies only when those policies change.

— The Asthma Inhalers Relief Act (HR 6190), allowing the sale of all remaining Primatene Mist asthma inhalers, which were banned for sale due to environmental concerns.

— The Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act (HR 6364), establishes a commission to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of World War I, to designate memorials to the service of members of the United States Armed Forces in World War I, including a National World War I Memorial on the National Mall in the District of Columbia.

— The D.C. Courts and Public Defender Service Act (S 1379), amending the administrative authorities of the DC courts.

— The DART Act (S 1998)
, to improve management of the Department of Homeland Security.

— The GAO Mandates Revision Act (S 3315), easing reporting requirements of the Government Accountability Office.

— The No-Hassle Flying Act (S 3542), making it easier for airports to clear baggage from overseas.

Under the Reading Lamp — 4/27/2012

Why Your Prius Will Bankrupt Our Highways

Gas taxes have funded our roads for decades. But our fuel-efficient cars and tax-allergic Congress are leading to an infrastructure break-down. Since back in the Eisenhower era, the federal government has maintained a Highway Trust Fund, paid for mostly by taxes on fuel, that helps cover the repair and construction of our country’s roads, bridges, and mass transit. The idea was that drivers themselves should bear some of the cost of the roads they used. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993. Since then, inflation has eaten away at least a third of its value.

Could New Argument Against SB1070 Prove Law Is Unconstitutional?

Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: “Margaret Hu, an assistant professor at Duke University, argues that by making laws like SB1070, Arizona ‘represents an attempt to control the terms of what federal resources and officers must be appropriated to accommodate a myriad of state immigration enforcement programs.’ While it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to do this under the ‘anti-commandeering principle,’ Hu argues that it should be unconstitutional for states to do it as well. She calls the attempt by Arizona to use federal resources for its enforcement goal ‘reverse-commandeering.'”


Budget Control Act Military Cuts Will Cover the Social Security Shortfall

Robert Naiman, Truthout: “But if you look at the claims advanced on behalf of cutting Social Security benefits, a common theme is the claim that ‘the country can’t afford’ the Social Security benefits that we have been promised. That claim has nothing to do with the method of financing. Well, if the country can’t afford to pay the Social Security benefits that we were promised, then the country can’t afford to maintain current levels of military spending, and the level of military cuts in the sequester must stand. Because the two things are the same size.”

Disabled People Protest to Preserve Their Benefits

Rose Aguilar, Truthout: “We should all be outraged over how people with disabilities are treated in a country with so much wealth. For many of these activists, just leaving the house is a chore. But if they don’t travel to the nation’s capitol to speak out and raise awareness, who will? They could lose their in-home supportive services; they could lose the right to stay in their homes. And that’s why, year after year, they make the trek, knowing they might be arrested and won’t get much media attention unless a celebrity joins them.”

Romney’s Magical Capitalism

NationalMemo_300x250_1EJ Dionne:  Mitt Romney has a utopian view of what an unfettered, lightly taxed market economy can achieve. He would never put it this way, of course, but his approach looks forward by looking backward to the late 19th century, when government let market forces rip and a conservative Supreme Court swept aside as unconstitutional almost every effort to write rules for the economic game. This magical capitalism is the centerpiece of Romney’s campaign, and it may prove to be his undoing.

Are States’ Rights More Important Than Human Rights?

Dekker Dreyer, Op-Ed: “Two modern examples of States’ Rights being used as an attack on ethnic minorities are the numerous citizenship checkpoints which dot the interior of South-Western states and Arizona’s identification check laws enacted in 2010 which allows police officers to demand proof of citizenship from any person at any time. When my wife and I were stopped on a recent drive through New Mexico so that we could have our citizenship checked our hearts sank for every person living in that state who doesn’t “look” American.”

Gov. Rick Scott’s Drug Testing Regime for State Employees Declared Unconstitutional

Ian Millhiser, News Report: “It’s important to note that these drug-testing laws are not just unconstitutional, they are also completely unnecessary. Only one percent of Florida workers who took drug tests tested positive, and only two percent of state welfare recipients subject to Scott’s other drug testing law failed their drug tests. Yet, while these tests are both unconstitutional and a solution in search of a problem, there is still some risking that they could be upheld by an increasingly partisan Supreme Court.”

Is CISPA SOPA 2.0? We Explain the Cybersecurity Bill

Megha Rajagopalan, News Analysis: “The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, up for debate in the House of Representatives today, has privacy activists, tech companies, security wonks and the Obama administration all jousting about what it means – not only for security but Internet privacy and intellectual property. Backers expect CISPA to pass, unlike SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act that melted down amid controversy earlier this year. Here’s a rundown on the debate and what CISPA could mean for Internet users.”

When Half a Million Americans Died and Nobody Noticed

Alexander Cockburn, Op-Ed: “In September 2004, Merck, one of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies, issued a sudden recall of Vioxx, its anti-pain medication widely used to treat arthritis-related ailments. There was a fair amount of news coverage after the recall, but it was pretty slim considering the alleged 55,000 death toll. A big class-action lawsuit dragged its way through the courts for years, eventually being settled for $4.85 billion in 2007.”

Is There Room for Accountability in a Society Plagued by Everyday Corruption?

Shelly Bernal, Op-Ed: “Our political system is structured in such a way as to include money and influence as vital and integral components of the election process. Any elected official on local or national levels is required to accept money to pay for activities that will get him/her elected. The average winner of a U.S. House race in 2008 spent about $1.4 Million. The Senate? About $8 Million. I suspect that an untold number of promises must be made to motivate enough people to separate from that amount of money.”

Halfway Through the Lost Decade

Robert Scheer, Truthdig Op-Ed: “Without resurgence in housing value, consumer confidence will remain moribund and a woefully weak labor market will persist. Every time housing seems to be rebounding, the banks and the feds unload more of their toxic mortgages and prices edge lower. The only thing preventing a complete collapse, one that would plunge us into deep recession or worse, is the Fed’s extremely low interest rate, which Wednesday’s report reiterated will remain at near zero until late 2014.”

Millennium Scholarship gets no new aid from Nevada lawmakers

With the state in recession, legislators over the past two sessions have reduced funding for higher education and have had to find funds to keep the Millennium Scholarship solvent. Gov. Brian Sandoval has vowed not to make any additional cuts to education in 2013.

Killing the Messenger: The Downsizing and Death of the Postal Service

Dean Baker, Op-Ed: “If the Postal Service had a more reasonable prefunding requirement and were allowed to invest its pension in the same way as private companies, it would have run a profit over the last decade. This does not change the fact that the Post Service faces enormous challenges going forward. First class mail volume, the system’s bread and butter, has collapsed. Some of this is due to the recession, but most of it is clearly technological. It’s easier and cheaper to pay bills online.”

Senate Passes Postal Service Reform: Sanders Provisions Strengthen Bill

News Report: “The Senate bill would keep open more than 100 mail processing plants that were on the Postal Service chopping block. It also would prevent the closing of many of the more than 3,600 mostly rural post offices from being closed and would require additional reviews before a facility could be shuttered.”

Citizens Sue Iowa Plant Over Air Pollution

Chris Hamby, News Report: Grain Processing Corp. spokesperson Janet Sichterman said the company, known as GPC, hadn’t received a copy of the lawsuit and had no comment on it. As the Center documented, GPC reported releasing more acetaldehyde — a substance the Environmental Protection Agency considers a probable carcinogen — than almost any plant in the country in 2010. A state inspector has repeatedly noted a “blue haze” coming from some of the plant’s smokestacks that could indicate the presence of acetaldehyde.

Under the Reading Lamp — 2/8/2012


The Great Carbon Bubble

image03Bill McKibben, Op-Ed: “It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.”


Right-Wing Media Aren’t Concerned About Helping the Poor, but They Sure Want to Help the Rich

image07News Analysis: As income disparities continue to increase, and the effective tax rate paid by the rich remains at historic lows, right-wing media figures work hard to make sure none of that changes. They routinely attack the poor and programs designed to assist them, while simultaneously extolling the rich and defending them against any attempt to get them to pay their fair share of taxes.


BP Made $3 Million an Hour In 2011, While Spill Victims Continued to Suffer

image01Rebecca Leber, News Report: “BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill is still affecting the lives of many Americans, particularly the tens of thousands that have not settled lawsuits with the company. Yet the company has bounced back from the billions it lost in the wake of the spill. BP announced today that its 2011 profit totaled $26 billion, a 114 percent jump from the year before, when the company’s ‘failure of supervision and accountability’ caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.”


The Downward Mobility of the American Middle Class, and Why Mitt Romney Doesn’t Know

image06Robert Reich, Op-Ed: January’s increase in hiring is good news, but it masks a bigger and more disturbing story – the continuing downward mobility of the American middle class. Mitt Romney says he’s not concerned about the very poor because they have safety nets to protect them. He says he’s concerned about the middle class. Romney doesn’t seem to realize how much of the middle class is becoming poor.


Report Finds Millions of Families Three Months From Poverty

image05Susannah Nesmith, News Report: According to America’s Youngest Outcasts, a report by the National Center on Family Homelessness, 1.6 million children in the United States were homeless at some point in 2010, the most recent statistics available. During the recession, from 2007 to 2010, child homelessness spiked 38 percent nationwide. According to the 2011 Council on Homelessness report, Florida’s public school districts identified over 49,000 Florida school-age children as homeless during the 2009-2010 school year.


Debt, Toll Roads, and Patents

image11Dean Baker, Op-Ed: It’s budget time, again. This means that the deficit hawks will be out in force warning us about the devastating debt burden that we are passing on to our children. So that this Halloween fright gang doesn’t needlessly cause any kids to lose sleep, here’s what parents can tell their children. First, it is important to tell your kids that the national debt is not in any way a measure of intergenerational transfers from the young to the old. Debt is also an asset to the people who own the bonds.


Meet the Obscure Federal Regulator Who’s Not Helping Homeowners

image04Cora Currier, News Analysis: Last week, ProPublica and NPR raised questions about a risky investment strategy at Freddie Mac that would pay off if homeowners stayed trapped in expensive mortgages. It’s just the latest example of how government-owned Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have frustrated many by not putting homeowners first. Fannie and Freddie are required to help homeowners while earning profits so they can pay back the taxpayers who bailed them out.


The Citizens United Catastrophe

image02E.J. Dionne Jr., Op-Ed: We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and it doesn’t work. Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn’t happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.


Offshore Everywhere

image08Tom Engelhardt, Op-Ed: “Think of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a harbinger of and model for what’s to come. It was an operation enveloped in a cloak of secrecy. There was no consultation with the “ally” on whose territory the raid was to occur. It involved combat by an elite special operations unit backed by drones and other high-tech weaponry and supported by the CIA. A national boundary was crossed without either permission or any declaration of hostilities.”


Save the Babies

image09Jim Hightower, Op-Ed: “After 20 years of delay forced by lobbyists for utilities, the Environmental Protection Agency finally came out in December with regulations to control the mercury emissions from power plants. Hallelujah — save the babies! But wait, the lovers of the unborn aren’t celebrating this move to stop industry from doing gratuitous damage to children’s IQs. Far from it. GOP lawmakers are now howling to overturn the EPA’s mercury regulations.”


The Battle for Vermont’s Health

image10Wendell Potter, News Analysis: “Health insurers were not able to stop the state’s drive last year toward a single-payer health care system, which insurers have spent millions to scare Americans into believing would be the worst thing ever. Despite the ceaseless spin, Vermont lawmakers last May demonstrated they could not be bought nor intimidated when they became the first in the nation to pass a bill that will probably establish a single-payer beachhead in the U.S.”


California’s Gay Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional – Again

image12Mike Ludwig, Truthout: “A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a federal judge’s ruling that California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, setting the stage for a potential Supreme Court showdown that could set a national precedent on same-sex marriage.”

Opponents of Proposition 8, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, react after news of the ban being knocked down in court, outside the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, February 7, 2012. (Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times)