On Native Ground
HOW THE BU.S.H ADMINISTRATION GETS AWAY WITH IT
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - My editor forwarded me this e-mail from a 15-year-old girl in Georgia. Her name is Karoline and this is what she had to say:
"Please do not throw this e-mail out because of my age. I think what I have to say is just important as anyone else. Well, lately I have been reading up on the Total Awareness Act (sic) and about John Poindexter. If you don't know John Poindexter was convicted of conspiracy, lying to the Congress, defrauding the government, destroying evidence in the Iran-Contra Scandal. I was wondering how this man that was convicted of all these things could be given the job as Director of the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office. I have seen basically nothing about this issue and I know a lot of Americans have no clue about this. Both of my parents did not know about it and they are always watching the news. So I would greatly appreciate it if you even just mention this issue."
I e-mailed Karoline and asked her about the letter. She wrote back saying she had been writing to newspapers around the country trying to get an answer to her question on why we haven't heard more about John Poindexter and the Pentagon's proposed Total Information Awareness (TIA) program.
I'll give it a try.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the folks who invented the Internet, is working on a way to mine the data from virtually every public commercial transaction you make. If you use an automatic teller machine to take out cash or use a credit card to make a purchase, TIA would track it. Your medical records and prescriptions would be privy for the snoops, as well as your bank statements and credit reports. Your e-mail and mobile phone usage too would be monitored too.
By linking this information together and comparing it to the behavior of "known terrorists," TIA would be able to predict and stop future attacks. It would also create a dossier on every American that rivals anything that was described in George Orwell's "1984."
This blatant contempt for civil liberties and the Bill of Rights is bad enough. Just as bad is that this program is indeed being overseen by retired Navy admiral John Poindexter, who was convicted on five felonies in connection with the Reagan administration's illegal sale of arms to Iran in the 1980s to fund the Contras, the proxy army that was trying to overthrow the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. While his 1990 convictions were overturned because he had been given immunity for his testimony to Congress, the evidence against Poindexter that Karoline mentioned in her letter was never disproved.
Only the Bush administration could get away with appointing a man with a track record of helping terrorists and lying about it to run an anti-terrorist information gathering program. But there hasn't been a great deal of outrage about TIA, mainly because there hasn't been a great deal of news coverage about it in the corporate press.
Scarcely a day goes by without a new outrage by the Bush administration. From gutting environmental regulations and cutting spending for education and health care to boosting defense spending and cutting taxes for the rich, President Bush has been busy pushing odious policies that will hurt our nation today and for generations to come.
Then throw in "the war on terrorism," which has served as effective camouflage for the worst of the Bush administration's actions. While the nation is distracted by the coming war with Iraq and the continuing fear of more terrorism on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush crew believe they can get away with just about anything. The TIA plan is proof of that.
Another reason why they can get away with it is that the corporate press values simplicity over complexity and fluff over substance.
"The networks and CNN air snippets, not analyses," wrote Todd Gitlin in the Feb. 1 edition of The American Prospect. "They snipe at corporate misdeeds but can't tell the difference between a Whitewater and an Enron. They show no interest in totalities. They do not connect dots. The links among oil companies, military strategies, global warming and an oil-soaked administration escape them. They marvel, they wink but they do not fuse their observations into vision or derision."
Gitlin was comparing CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN with Fox News Channel, which substitutes attitude, liberal bashing and right-wing ideology for analysis. This has made Fox News the top-rated cable news channel. But as Newsday's TV critic Marvin Kittman pointed out in his Feb. 2 column, there are 280 million people in the U.S. and there are more than 67 million households that have cable TV, but the combined average daily viewership for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC is 1.5 million.
"The country is about to be in a major war any day now," wrote Kittman. "It can change the course of the Middle East. Allah knows what else will come out of it. And only less than 1 percent of the population is watching cable news? Even with the threat of war, the multiplicity of news channels, the advances in technology, the teams of correspondents being trained in Pentagon J-School 'boot camps' to report the coming war in the American way, we're still not paying attention. It kind of reminds me of Sarajevo in 1914. 'Oh, we'll just have a little scrap there,' the leaders were saying. 'We'll fix those Serbs.' And five empires collapsed before it was all over."
But watching TV is not enough. Back during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Communications Studies department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst did a study of where people got their news and what they knew about the basic facts of the war. The researchers found that the more that people relied on television as their sole source of information, the less they knew about the war.
When you have a situation where the people who are watching the news on television are as ill informed than the people who aren't watching, our democracy is in serious trouble.
Your parents are watching the news, Karoline, and they don't know all of what's going on. My suggestion to you and your parents is to read everything you can get your hands on. Thanks to the Internet, it's easy to do this.
Alternative news sites like Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org), Cursor (http://www.cursor.org), Working For Change (http://www.workingforchange.com), AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org), TruthOut (http://www.truthout.org), The Progressive Review (http://www.prorev.com) and The Smirking Chimp (http://www.smirkingchimp.com) are all good places to find the news you're not getting from the corporate press.
The only way the worst excesses of the Bush administration can be stopped is with accurate and timely information about all its plans. Learn as much as you can, and then share it with everyone you know. The truth is indeed out there.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).