Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CNN: Is President Bush reigniting the Cold War with Russia?

Hi NewsHackers,

I was watching CNN's The Situation Room this afternoon. Jack Cafferty, a regular commentator, proposes a political question each hour of the show and invites viewers to respond by email. Jack's question for the 5 p.m. hour was: "Is President Bush reigniting the Cold War with Russia?" You can view the list of responses at the link in the title.

I sent a quick response, but the question got my mind working. Why would Bush risk reigniting the Cold War right now? He's had years in which to confront Russia on numerous real global issues and has, instead, called Putin his friend. Why now?

Personally, I don't think Bush is trying to reignite the Cold War, but his administration's record for unintended consequences is alarming and he might easily do so by accident.

It turns out there are several good reasons why he would provoke a minor crisis right now:

International terrorism, even the Administration's recent revelations about home-grown terrorist plots are not generating the kind of generalized fear domestically that he needs to keep up his Iraq war strategy, keep his conservative base loyal, and to keep a pack of Congressional investigators at bay with claims of secrecy based on national security.

When I was a child, American diplomats described the then Soviet Union as "a midget with a huge right arm." This phrase may be politically incorrect today, but it meant that as a nation, the USSR had a massive inferiority complex that made them easy to provoke, and when provoked they had an enormous military and nuclear weapons with which to respond. Though the USSR is no more, Russia, which led that Union, continues to maintain nuclear weapons and a large military, following its historical political tendencies.

The whole diplomatic world knows this. So, why would President Bush start pushing for this missile defense system in Russia's back yard now, since he must surely know it would provoke a strong negative reaction from Vladimir Putin, a direct inheritor of the Soviet mindset?

As a strategic matter, Russia's expected paranoid response suggests to our allies in the EEU that, considering Russia's aggressiveness about a what is basically still a theoretical system, they might actually need the missile shield America wants and that Russia fears.

I believe his immediate goal was to provoke a truculent response from Russia that will make any real progress at the G-8 Conference impossible. Although Bush has started talking about climate change recently, it's all hot air. Today, at the G-8, he obviously is working to prevent the G-8 from re-introducing Kyoto-like goals for reducing greenhouse gasses. And yet, the BBC's coverage this evening indicates that criticism of the American position by other world leaders has been muted.

So Bush is achieving several important policy goals by provoking a crisis right now. However, he's doing so at a terrible risk to international peace and to peaceful cooperation and development. Considering the enormous risk of reigniting the Cold War, why would he do so?

Simple. To feed the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about over 50 years ago! As long as there are major international tensions, we will have to keep feeding this hungry beast. This is what Bush and the Corpublicans (Corporate Republican supporters) want.

Bush's associations with the oil industry are well publicized, but most Americans don't seem to realize how close he and his supporters are to the weapons industry. But that's an issue for another post.

/Dick

Sunday, June 3, 2007

House Intelligence Committee to Investigate Secret NSA Spying and AT&T's role

Hi NewsHackers,

The link in the heading leads to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's article supporting the recent decision by Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes to hold hearings into the National Security Agency's illegal spying on Americans and AT&T's role violating its customers' privacy and the law by cooperating with the NSA.

All Americans owe the EFF our thanks for leading the legal charge to expose this random spying on us all. Their legal case against AT&T is going forward despite the motions by the defendant and the government to have this case quashed as a matter of national security.

Domestic terrorism threats are real and frightening. The plot to bomb the tank farm at Kennedy International Airport was revealed yesterday. We learned about the plan to attack troops at Ft. Dix, New Jersey a few weeks ago.

However, even this danger does not justify the government in spying randomly on all Americans. I believe that the NSA and AT&T both broke existing Federal law prohibiting warrant-less domestic surveillance. A Congressional investigation of how these transgressions were ordered and justified is imperative if we are to avoid these depredations in the future.

I look for some amazing political theatre to develop out of the revelations that are expected from this investigation. The hearing questions will include: "Who ordered the program? Under what supposed authority? Didn't the order to bypass the FISA Court trouble you constitutionally? Why did AT&T cooperate so readily? Were they expecting competitive advantages in winning future government telecommunications contracts?" It's going to be fun.

/Dick

Reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment

Hi Newshackers,

It's time for Congress to reinstate the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

This story and issue has received zero coverage by Big Media news outlets in recent months, despite being proposed by Hillary Clinton and covered in the New York Times on April 13, 2007. Ralph Nader proposed the same thing on April 27, 2007 on the Common Dreams web site. A long time advocate behind the scenes, Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey has been trying to promote this idea since 1994.

The OTA was killed off in 1995 by the Gingrich Revolution. This one act essentially performed a frontal lobotomy on Congress, depriving it of essential counsel by recognized scientific authorities just at the point when scientific and technological issues like AIDS, Climate change, global pandemics, the Internet, and others would become the main issues on the agenda. Coincidence? I doubt it. Regardless...

Re-establishing the OTA, or some similar federal authority, would be an important step in restoring the use of well-reviewed and accepted scientific and technological information as the basis for all federal decisions. And none too soon, either!

/Dick



Saturday, June 2, 2007

Petition The FCC: For Your Children and Grandchildren's Sake

Hi Newshackers,

I recently forwarded a MoveOn.org message asking all my friends to sign their petition to the FCC halting their intended auctioning off of new bandwidth to the highest bidders, but to facilitate new and better wireless communications offerings. I strongly encourage you to sign it, as well, at the link in the post title above.

I also sent it to my conservative older brother. He responded, "What does the FCC, ATT, Verizon, Comcast etc. have to say about all this? Fred" I wrote back the following:

"Hi Fred,

The communications giants you mention (ATT, Verizon, Comcast, etc.) are competing fiercely among themselves for the greatest reach, influence, and profitability in the marketplace, but they are united in their efforts to prevent more players and newer technologies from gaining traction in the marketplace.

Thus, they want to purchase the rights to this new spectrum, not to use it commercially for providing enhanced services, or otherwise in the best interest of consumers, but to warehouse it to prevent newer players and technologies from playing. So they lobby the Congress and the FCC intensively to support regulatory structures that maintain the status quo and keep new competitors out.

Until the 2006 election, in which Democrats regained oversight of the FCC, the FCC had, for many years, abandoned it's proper role as guardian of the people's interests in national communications policy. It become the Federal Conglomeration Commission, the facilitator of industry initiatives designed to consolidate their ownership and control of the airwaves and physical connections that reach into our homes and lives.

Within days of taking over majority control of Congress, the Communications Committees of both houses called the FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin, on the carpet and laid out in no uncertain terms their total dissatisfaction with the FCC's status as industry advocate and insisted the FCC return to its traditional role. There's more on those hearings at my blog post http://www.newshacker.net/2007/03/la-times-democrats-to-fcc-were-watching.html

If you're interested in understanding these issues, I recommend Jeff Chester's new book: "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy," which I just finished reading last month. Bill Moyers' review quote is, "Jeff Chester is the Paul Revere of the media revolution. Read this book and you will understand the stakes." I heartily agree. Chester lays out the historically important decisions and highlights of how we got from the protections of the Communications Act of 1939 to our current situation and what the stakes are for our individual rights and capabilities in the digital future.

For further understanding the serious political impacts these policy decisions can have, read Tragedy & Farce, How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy, by John Nichols and Robert McChesney.

If you would rather watch TV programs, I strongly recommend the Net @ Risk series by Bill Moyers. My March review of this mini-series is here, as are links to Moyers' PBS web site.

Here is why I've compulsively written so much in response to your 15 word question:

How free your grandkids will be to use the Internet, and newer communications, computing, and entertainment services to their best advantage, rather than to the best advantage of mammoth corporate interests, is being decided over the next few years. That's why I blog about and am becoming active in promoting media reform - for the benefit of American democracy, and for everyone's children and grandchildren.

These issues are crucial to all Americans' future civil and political rights, and to their pursuit of happiness. I don't want to be sitting on the sidelines watching while the corporate giants gain monopoly control over what services we can access, what news we can watch, and when and how industry and government can invade our personal privacy for commercial or political purposes.

Love and best, as always,

/Dick

p.s. As always, your questions do crystallize my thoughts. I'll probably use this on the blog. /D"

Friday, June 1, 2007

Back on the Job "Supporting the Troops," my way

Hi Newshackers,

I'm back on the job as of today, June 1st. By the time I had this space well under way in late April, I needed to take a breath mentally, meet my commitments to other causes, and do some money-making work. This evolved into taking May off.

I almost posted over the Memorial Day weekend because I was really depressed about the Democratic leadership caving in to Bush's demands on the funding of the Iraq war. There was so much patriotic sounding bullshit about "supporting the troops" being intoned in Big Media news outlets by Democrats and Republicans that I was really annoyed at both parties.

This idea that Bush and the Republicans are supporting the troops by insuring they have the means to prosecute the war is among the most cynical of political ploys. Almost as cynical is the Democratic leadership's claim to be "supporting the troops," while caving in to Bush's demands for a blank check, even though they know that those who elected them did so expressly to end the war.

The way politicians use "Supporting The Troops" to pull on the heart strings of their constituents and generate uncritical media coverage is repellent. It works primarily because most civilians, who have never done military service, presupose that troops in the field are sitting around questioning the justness or validity of the war they're in. That they will be depressed and feel betrayed by what politicians and pundits say.

That's too abstract for the battlefield. They're too busy not getting killed or maimed to think much about what politicians or peace activists are saying "back in the world." They are totally focused on the here and now and covering their buddies' backs. "The world" won't matter to them until they leave the combat zone.

If the politicians on both sides of the aisle were really serious about supporting the troops, there are many ways they could do so besides stopping the Iraq War, which Bush won't do and the Democrats don't yet have enough votes to push through the Congress and bypass a Bush veto.

Among these needed improvements are: provide soldiers with the best vehicle and body armor available (Israeli "Dragon Skin" not U.S. military issue); fully fund the military medical corps and Veterans Administration to provide for the needs of war casualties and their families; pay soldiers enough so their families don't need to depend on food stamps to get by; and many, many more.

I have been saving emails, posts, etc., about media-related topics, and I'll be posting my current concerns over the next few days. I expect to be checking in daily from now on.

Cordially,

/Dick Jones
NewsHacker