December 28, 2003

- - . . . and we didn't even know what hit us . . . - -

A Christmas present from Doubleduh - "WITH A WHISPER, NOT A BANG" By David Martin, San Antonio Current. Excerpt:

The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies tucked away these new executive powers in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, a legislative behemoth that funds all the intelligence activities of the federal government. The Act included a simple, yet insidious, redefinition of "financial institution," which previously referred to banks, but now includes stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines, the U.S. Post Office, and any other business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters."

Congress passed the legislation around Thanksgiving. Except for U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez, all San Antonio's House members voted for the act. The Senate passed it with a voice vote to avoid individual accountability. While broadening the definition of "financial institution," the Bush administration is ramping up provisions within the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which granted the FBI the authority to obtain client records from banks by merely requesting the records in a "National Security Letter." To get the records, the FBI doesn't have to appear before a judge, nor demonstrate "probable cause" - reason to believe that the targeted client is involved in criminal or terrorist activity. Moreover, the National Security Letters are attached with a gag order, preventing any financial institution from informing its clients that their records have been surrendered to the FBI. If a financial institution breaches the gag order, it faces criminal penalties. And finally, the FBI will no longer be required to report to Congress how often they have used the National Security Letters.
Thanks, Santa!!

And another present - "Iraq spending decisions made in private - Funding process has little openness, despite regulations" by Jackie Spinner and Ariana Eunjung Cha, WaPo/MSNBC. Excerpt:

Of the billions of dollars appropriated or promised for the largest nation-building project since World War II, the Iraqi money doled out by Bremer and the Program Review Board is the least visible. Spending of the $18.6 billion the U.S. Congress approved this fall for Iraqi reconstruction will be overseen by an office run by a retired U.S. admiral. The $13 billion pledged from other countries will be monitored by an Iraqi-run oversight board . . .

Despite detailed regulations and pronouncements about "transparency," the Coalition Provisional Authority's process for spending Iraq's money has little of the openness, debate and paper trails that define such groups in democratic nations. Though the interim government has extensive information on its Web site, it doesn't include, for example, when contracts have been awarded. Citing security concerns, it also doesn't say what companies won them.

Axis of Logic's Manuel Valenzuela writes in "The Exploitation of the American Soldier: Part I of II: Of Caste Drafts and Society's Complicity", in part:

The American Soldier is being used and abused, like so many others before, for cynical purposes. Expendable they are to the oligarchy, both in mind and body. Burned, scarred, brain damaged, amputated and torn open by hot molten shrapnel our soldiers return, dead or wounded, becoming invisible symbols of the horrors of war and of the exploitation a few lunatics at the top subject them to. Mentally stressed, exhausted, damaged and psychologically shredded our men and women become, unable to heal the perpetual scars of battle that will linger in their minds the rest of their lives . . .

The ultimate sacrifice is being paid for reasons that few comprehend, in circumstances that yearn to be understood and for a reality that is hard to believe and accept. The excuses have been many, and many have been impeachable lies and shams. Freedom and democracy are but the latest, found at the bottom of the barrel by Bush, in a last act of desperation, being the hardest to implement, therefore the hardest to prove wrong and question. Now our soldiers are made to believe these audacious deceits, when in fact they die and suffer for much more sinister motives.

I needed to find some hope, and Geov Parrish does provide a slim bit, in "Peace on Earth: The Prospects" on AlterNet. Excerpts:

Remember those quaint, nostalgic times when this season was associated with the phrase “Peace On Earth”? That is, way back in the days before our born-again leader with the proclaimed personal ear of God started ordering up wars the way other politicians ask for planning studies? Before our nation became so drunken with manufactured bogeymen and antiseptic media invasions and patriotic warmongering fever that war’s unpleasantness made it something people wished absolutely to avoid? When peace was considered a good thing, not the way of cowards?

I miss those days. A lot of us do . . .

All told, the U.S. military is now active in some 60 countries around the world. The dozen or so examples above are among the most egregious – and what is the U.S. doing killing people in even a dozen countries? – but they have several factors in common: (1) No war has been declared against any government in any of them. (2) They are not on the same continent as the United States. (3) All target poor countries’ civilian populations. (4) In few of these cases have serious attempts been undertaken, especially by the U.S. government, to find a just and peaceful resolution to the situation. (5) Most Americans know very little about any of them, as national corporate reporting is generally either uncritical or, more commonly, nonexistent. The exception is Iraq, where the “factual” reporting is so markedly different from that in Britain and Europe that it might as well be describing a different conflict.

Does that feel like an overwhelming list? Here’s a useful counterweight:

This past year, on one day, tens of millions of ordinary people on every continent and in scores of countries gathered together, in national capitals and town squares, and demanded peace. Not asked for, not petitioned for, or recommended or begged. We demanded it.

Be at peace . . . and that's an order!