Friday, September 15, 2006

Arlen Specter screws the country again

Sen. Arlen Specter is about to finish the job he started in 1964.

In 1964, Specter was a staffer working for the recently appointed Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The Commission was in a pickle. The last thing LBJ or other high-level people in government wanted to deal with was a conspiracy, especially one that might include Cuba and/or the Soviet Union. The CIA had a (now provably false) story in their own files suggesting Oswald was acting at the behest of the Communists. No one wanted to start WWIII over Kennedy's assassination. The Warren Commission members knew what was at stake, and sought to spin the tale as the work of a lone assassin. But they had a big problem.

The Zapruder Film showed Kennedy reacting to a shot, and then dying in the final head shot. The film set a clock for the assassination that allowed for no more than three shots total. No one could prove that the gun found on the sixth floor, the alleged murder weapon, could be fired any more rapidly with the needed accuracy.

The problem was, one of those three shots had to be a head shot. Another had to have missed. So that left one other shot to explain the seven other wounds found on JFK and Gov. John Connally. That or there were two or more shooters, an unacceptable conclusion.

Enter Arlen Specter. Warren Commission staffer Specter came to the rescue by proposing that a single bullet entered Kennedy's back, exited his throat, passed through Connally and wounded his wrist, ending in his thigh. This despite the fact that all the initial reports had been that the shot had entered, not exited, Kennedy's throat; that the doctors were surprised that there was no bullet in the back wound because they found no exit path; and the fact that the two best eyewitnesses - John Connally and his wife Nellie, who were in the car and could see and hear what was happening up close - were adamant that Connally and Kennedy had been hit by separate shots.

Did the Warren Commission laugh Specter out of the room? Heck no. The goal of the Warren Commission was not to discover the truth, but to bury it. And bury it they did, for nearly 30 years. It took Oliver Stone's film JFK to cause Congress to open its long suppressed files from the Warren Commission and the later House Select Committee on Assassinations that reinvestigated the case in the seventies (concluding that there was a probable conspiracy).

Specter's actions landed him a permanent career in Government. By covering for people in power, he was rewarded with power himself.

So when the wiretapping was exposed, and Arlen Specter was the first to call for hearings, some lauded his actions. But I realized he was simply moving to gain control of the investigation, so once again, he could twist the truth to serve the wishes of the people above him, just as he had done in 1964.

What amazes me is how simple minded people can be on this issue. They think that, because they personally have nothing to hide, this is a good idea. If terrorists are talking on the phones, shouldn't we be able to find out?

Of course, the problem isn't that simple. Once you legalize wiretapping without a warrant, what's to stop the President, or any number of people in government, from spying on other conversations? Listening to corporate calls to get insider trading tips. Listening to political opponents to find items that can be used to blackmail them. Think I'm reaching here? A European Parliament document on the NSA's "global eavesdropping system," called Echelon, notes:
As long as 50 years ago there was interest in information not only from the political and security spheres but also from the fields of science and economics.
More specifically:
...the STOA report by Duncan Campbell alleges that the system has been misused for purposes of obtaining competitive intelligence, causing serious losses to the industries of European countries. Furthermore, there are statements by the former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, that although the USA was spying on European firms, this was only to restore a level playing field since contracts had only been secured as a result of bribery.
(We wouldn't spy for competitive advantage - but only to reverse someone else's ill-gained competitive advantage? Yeah right. We're not that honest.)

So clearly, we need protection from the electronic eyes and ears of our government. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was created to offer individuals some small measure of protection. It was passed because of the abuses and excesses of another President who considered himself above the law: Pres. Richard Nixon.

FISA had, until the Bush administration, routinely approved requests for wiretapping with little modification of the requests. As the Seattle P-I recently reported:
The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps has approved at least 18,740 applications for electronic surveillance or physical searches from five presidential administrations since 1979.

The judges modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications that were approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation. In 20 of the first 21 annual reports on the court's activities up to 1999, the Justice Department told Congress that "no orders were entered (by the FISA court) which modified or denied the requested authority" submitted by the government.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004 -- the most recent years for which public records are available.
As David Lindorff notes in the Baltimore Chronicle:
These are desperate acts of a man who sees impeachment in his future, who is acting while he can to try to cover up a few of his crimes.The Bush administration's full-court press against the Constitution is on, with the president getting closer to Senate, and possibly full Congressional approval of his warrantless spying program by the National Security Agency, and with a lobbying campaign on to get his program for kangaroo courts and life-time detention without trial for terror "war" detainees approved by Congress.

It's staggering to see this happening after a federal court just ruled that NSA spying without a show of probable cause is a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment, and after the US Supreme Court just ruled that Bush was in violation of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of POWs for refusing to treat the detainees at Guantanamo in accordance with US and International Law.

One might think this to be a case of a powerful president just steamrolling the courts and the Congress, but I think it is not a sign of strength, but rather the desperate act of a man who sees impeachment in his future, and who is acting while he can to try to cover up a few of his crimes.
So when you are desperate and need help from someone with no scruples, someone who was willing to tell big lies of Hitlerian scale to the American public about what happened in the assassination of a President, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters need not apply. This Specter will do the job.

If you oppose widespread surveillance of communications in America and abroad without the need for a court order, then please ask your Senators to vote NO on Specter's bill S. 2453.

Act quickly, before Specter turns our Constitution into a spectre.


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