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07 March 2009

Edward Said: The Last Interview

Media Education Foundation: Full List of Previewable Titles

Long list of excellent documentaries (based on the handful I've seen). Check 'em out. You can watch previews in a small screen of the full film; buy 'em if ya like 'em!

05 March 2009

Chomsky on Obama Budget, 2/27/09

04 March 2009

George W. Bush’s Disposable Constitution, Scott Horton

Yesterday the Obama Administration released a series of nine previously secret legal opinions crafted by the Office of Legal Counsel to enhance the presidential powers of George W. Bush. Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the President was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as a counterterrorism operations inside the United States.

Here’s Neil Lewis’s summary in the New York Times:

“The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty wrote to Mr. Gonzales. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, they said, since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force. The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the President as commander-in-chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.

We need to know how the memo was used. Bradbury suggests it was not much relied upon; I don’t believe that for a second. Moreover Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it.

It’s pretty clear that it served several purposes. Clearly it was designed to authorize sweeping warrantless surveillance by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Using special new surveillance programs that required the collaboration of telecommunications and Internet service providers, these agencies were sweeping through the emails, IMs, faxes, and phone calls of tens of millions of Americans. Clearly such unlawful surveillance occurred. But the language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.

These memos gave the President the ability to authorize the torture of persons held at secret overseas sites. And they dealt in great detail with the plight of Jose Padilla, an American citizen seized at O’Hare Airport. Padilla was accused of being involved in a plot to make and detonate a “dirty bomb,” but at trial it turned out that the Bush Administration had no evidence to stand behind its sensational accusations. Evidently it was just fine to hold Padilla incommunicado, deny him access to counsel and torture him–in the view of the Bush OLC lawyers, that is.

Among these memos was one for the files from Steven Bradbury, whom the Senate refused to confirm to run OLC, but who continued as a squatter in the position through the end of the Bush Administration. In his memo, the self-styled OLC head rejected a series of John Yoo-authored memos, noting the painfully obvious reasons why they were incorrect (for instance, Yoo’s penchant for misquoting the Constitution). He did this on January 15, 2009—as he was clearing his desk and preparing to hunt for a new job. So why did he leave the ridiculous Yoo memos in place until the last possible second? Michael Isikoff furnishes a very plausible analysis on MSNBC:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Capitalism Hits the Fan, Richard Wolff

Blurb:

With breathtaking clarity, renowned University of Massachusetts Economics Professor Richard Wolff breaks down the root causes of today's economic crisis, showing how it was decades in the making and in fact reflects seismic failures within the structures of American-style capitalism itself. Wolff traces the source of the economic crisis to the 1970s, when wages began to stagnate and American workers were forced into a dysfunctional spiral of borrowing and debt that ultimately exploded in the mortgage meltdown. By placing the crisis within this larger historical and systemic frame, Wolff argues convincingly that the proposed government "bailouts," stimulus packages, and calls for increased market regulation will not be enough to address the real causes of the crisis, in the end suggesting that far more fundamental change will be necessary to avoid future catastrophes. 

Richly illustrated with graphics and charts, this is a superb introduction that allows ordinary citizens to comprehend, and react to, the unraveling crisis.

Available in two different versions (57 mins and 34 mins) on the same DVD.

Sections: Introduction | Three Things the Economic Crisis is Not | How We Got Here: American Exceptionalism | History Interrupted: The Trauma of Flat Wages | Coping With Trauma: The People's Response | The Meaning of the "Trauma" for Business | Bust and No Boom In Sight | What Won't Work: Re-Regulation | So What Might Work? | Beyond Free Markets and Regulation

Richard Wolff
Richard Wolff has been a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts since 1981. Dr. Wolff's major interests include the critical comparison of alternative economic theories (neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian), the application of advanced class analysis to contemporary global capitalism, and new developments in Marxian economics. He is a member of the editorial board of several academic journals including Rethinking Marxism. He also publishes regular analyses of current economic events on the websites www.globalmacroscope.com and www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine. He has co-authored several books with Stephen Resnick, including The Economics of Colonialism: Britain and Kenya; Rethinking Marxism: Struggles in Marxist Theory; Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy and Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical. He also co-authored Bringing it all Back Home: Class and Gender in the Modern Household with Harriet Fraad and Stephen Resnick.

Filmmaker Info
Written & Presented by Richard Wolff
Producer & Director: Sut Jhally
Editor: Jason Young
Motion Graphics: Andrew Killoy
Camera: David Rabinovitz
Additional Cameras: Nicole Belanger, Laura Crestohl & Sut Jhally
Color Correction: Andrew Killoy
Production Assistant: Elizabeth Trimble Durham
Research Assistant: Jason R. Borenstein
Additional Research: Loretta Alper & Scott Morris
DVD Authoring: Jason Young

Praise for the Film
"With unerring coherence and unequaled breadth of knowledge, Rick Wolff offers a rich and much needed corrective to the views of mainstream economists and pundits. It would be difficult to come away from this viewing with anything but an acute appreciation of what is needed to get us out of this mess."
- Stanley Aronowitz | Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Education | City University
Update: More here --


And here's Wolff's journal (there are others involved, of course!): Rethinking Marxism.

Beauty Mark: Yet Another Reason to Revile Television

Won't embed for some reason; click the title above to view.

03 March 2009

Chomsky on BBC Hardtalk: 9/11, Terror, "Moral Equivalency"

Justice Memos Gave Bush Total Power, Jason Leopold

March 3, 2009

Lawyers for George W. Bush’s Justice Department asserted that the President had unlimited powers to prosecute the “war on terror” on American soil and could ignore constitutional rights, including First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press and Fourth Amendment requirements for search warrants, according to nine secret memos just released.

The memos related to opinions drafted by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, a powerful agency that advises the President on the extent of his powers under the Constitution.

In perhaps the most controversial of the memos, dated Oct. 23, 2001, and entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States,” Yoo said Bush’s war powers allowed him to put restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

“First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,” Yoo wrote. “The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

The memo concluded “that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” The Fourth Amendment states that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The memo said Bush had the legal authority to order searches and seizures without warrants against individuals that he judged to be terrorists.

“We do not think a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” said the memo, which was prepared by Yoo for then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department attorney William Haynes. Another OLC attorney, Robert Delahunty, was identified as a co-author of the memo.

“We think that the better view is that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent future terrorist attacks.”

In effect, the newly released memos make clear that – as some critics have long maintained – President Bush viewed his post 9/11 powers as Commander in Chief as “plenary” or unfettered.

What made the “war on terror” especially problematic in a constitutional Republic was that the conflict had no limits in time or space. In other words, theoretically, the conflict would go on forever and the supposed front lines could be inside the United States as well as around the world.

Renouncing Yoo’s Memos

Just three months before Bush exited the White House, Stephen Bradbury, as acting chief of the OLC, renounced the Oct. 23, 2001, legal opinion in a “memorandum for the files” that called Yoo’s opinion about suspending First Amendment protections as “unnecessary” and “overbroad and general and not sufficiently grounded in the particular circumstance of a concrete scenario.”

In an Oct. 6, 2008, memo, Bradbury wrote that Yoo’s legal opinion “states several specific propositions that are either incorrect or highly questionable.” But Bradbury attempted to justify or forgive Yoo’s controversial opinion by explaining that it was “the product of an extraordinary period in the history of the Nation: the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11.”

The Oct. 23, 2001, “memorandum represents a departure, although perhaps for understandable reasons, from the preferred practice of OLC to render formal opinions only with respect to specific and concrete policy proposals and not to undertake a general survey of a broad area of the law or to address general or amorphous hypothetical scenarios that implicate difficult questions of law,” Bradbury wrote.

Bradbury identified five controversial points contained in Yoo’s Oct. 23, 2001, memo and wrote that “appropriate caution should be exercised before relying in any respect on the memorandum as a precedent of OLC, and that the particular propositions identified should not be treated as authoritative.”

It was unclear what prompted Bradbury to draft the memo to the file, although his work along with Yoo’s and that of Yoo’s boss, Jay Bybee, was the subject of an internal Justice Department investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which completed its still-classified report late last year.

Bradbury wrote another memo five days before Bush left office in January in which he once again repudiated Yoo's legal opinions. It would appear that this memo was in response to the OPR report. Bradbury said in the Jan. 15 memo that the flawed theories by Yoo in no way should be interpreted to mean that Justice Department lawyers did not “satisfy” professional standards.

Rather, Bradbury wrote “in the wake of the atrocities of 9/11, when policy makers, fearing that additional catastrophic terrorist attacks were imminent, strived to employ all lawful means to protect the Nation.”

Another of the released memos – dated March 13, 2002 and signed by Bybee, then assistant attorney general at the OLC – said Bush had the authority to transfer suspected terrorists to other countries without concern for whether they would be tortured.

Bybee's memo was written one month after Bush suspended Geneva Conventions protections for al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

“Although such transfers might violate our treaty obligations if extradition is to a country where torture is likely... To fully shield our personnel from criminal liability, it is important that the United States not enter in an agreement with a foreign country, explicitly or implicitly, to transfer a detainee to that country for the purpose of having the individual tortured,” Bybee wrote.

“So long as the United States does not intend for a detainee to be tortured post-transfer, however, no criminal liability will attach to a transfer even if the foreign country receiving the detainee does torture him,” Bybee wrote.

Bybee's memo said a 1998 law that prohibited the United States from handing over prisoners to countries that engaged in torture was not valid because it interfered with the President's constitutional powers. Bybee is now a federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Military Commissions

Another OLC memo dated April 8, 2002, said Bush did not need approval from Congress to hold military commissions to prosecute alleged terrorists.

However, the Supreme Court shot down that theory and declared military commissions illegal because Congress did not explicitly approve them. Congress did pass the Military Commissions Act in 2006 to prosecute detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

In releasing the memos on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said “Americans deserve a government that operates with transparency and openness. It is my goal to make OLC opinions available when possible while still protecting national security information and ensuring robust internal executive branch debate and decision-making.”

In a speech before the Jewish Council of Public Affairs in Washington, Holder said that “too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that school of thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.”

Jameel Jaffer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said the memos released Monday “essentially argue that the President has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.”

“We hope today’s release is a first step, because dozens of other OLC memos, including memos that provided the basis for the Bush administration's torture and warrantless wiretapping policies, are still being withheld,” said Jaffer, whose organization has tried to obtain the memos under the Freedom of Information Act.

“In order to truly turn the page on a lawless era, these memos should be released immediately,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who plans a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the formation of a “truth commission” to probe the Bush administration’s policies, said the newly released legal opinions “regarding national security remain of great concern.”

Jason Leopold has launched his own Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.

02 March 2009

Network

Network, Part 1

Network, Part 2

01 March 2009

An Anarchist's Story, a Docudrama on Ethel MacDonald

Noam Chomsky Interview, 2/20/09, Gaza, I/P, etc.