James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What you don't know will hurt you

One more look at the corporate news outlets, and then on to other things.

I think.

There is so much news passed over by the corporate biggies – in favor of fashion and celebrity tidbits and pieces on how to shop for rugs --that one could make a career of this. There is a book to be written about how the broadcast twisters and newspaper fakers turn their products into something their enormously wealthy owners can approve, largely by making smart choices about what to ignore.

Flat-out lies in the news pages and in broadcasting (other than Fox) still are relatively rare, but political spinning is common and, as every concerned mother and father has said at one time or another to a tow-scuffling brat, withholding information to give a false impression is the same as a lie.

One can't help but notice how many of the ignored stories reflect badly on the Bush – especially cumulatively, in concert with all of the other ignored and withheld items.

Here are a few more from the past week or so:

A few days after U.S.A. Today broke the story on how telephone companies have cooperated with the National Security Agency in unconstitutional spying on American citizens, New Jersey officials, including the state's attorney general acted. The state subpoenaed officers of five phone companies, seeking information on what elected officials regard as illegal activities affecting the people of their state. The eavesdropping violates state consumer protection laws, New Jersey maintains.

The federal government sued New Jersey officials early this week to stop them from enforcing the subpoenas. The fed (Bush) claim is that state officials are interfering in something that is strictly federal business, and that if the companies are forced to comply with the subpoenas it would “confirm or deny” the existence of the spying program that everybody already knows exists.

That's a common theme among the stories the corporate news people ignore, by the way: The Bush claims that no information can be provided because, you betcha, whatever it is that someone is trying to learn relates directly to “national security.” That assertion is made even when the truth is pretty much known, and even if the facts have been disclosed throughout the world outside the United States.

I don't watch much television – what they call news is largely a waste of time – but haven't seen anything on the “news” I have watched, nor in most of the papers I scan, about the American Civil Liberties Union suit against the NSA eavesdropping program. In fact, the only story I've come across recently was in the New York Times on June 13.

The Times report showed that the Bush isn't arguing the merits of the case – the legality or constitutionality of spying on citizens. It's simply demanding a dismissal of the ACLU suit on the grounds that any defense by the government would have to “reveal national security information.” (On what? That the U.S. Government is listening to phone calls? We already know that.)

It seems likely that some Republican-appointed appeals judge will at some point side with the Bush, and the suit will be dismissed. Then, and only then, will most corporate news outlets make brief mention of the case. The issues contained in the ACLU filing will be glossed over in a single sentence on broadcasts shows and in the great majority of newspapers.

Oh. Did you see news reports on the bills offered in Congress to deal with the NSA wiretapping? One, offered by Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, essentially would end congressional oversight of all spying, domestic and foreign. Another, by Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, is said to be so badly drawn it may have the same effect, although that isn't Specter's intent.

I haven't seen any reports on those bills in the corporate media either.

But the eagerness of a majority in Congress to cede all vestiges of power to the presidency gives rise to a question: Remember when we had three equal branches of government?

Not many citizens who came to maturity in the past 15 years or so have that memory.

Oh, well. Here's a real cute one:

Did you see the reports on Donald Rumsfeld ordering reporters out of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in the wake of the suicides of three prisoners?

No? Well, it appeared back with the acne-cure ads in a few corporate outlets, but not many. It is a fact: The offense secretary did what the Bush often has done when it couldn't entirely manage what reporters know and say. He kicked the reporters out.

Other than a couple of the people who got the boot, and extremely puny comments from two of the newspapers that employ the reporters, there hasn't been the tiniest squeak of objection from the corporate news operations. A Pentagon spokesman, the often and particularly offensive J.D. Gordon, mocked the reporters for objecting to the expulsion, according to an Associated Press dispatch.

Oh, well. This one is personal for many of us:

Do you have a stake in a retirement savings account of some sort, or a pension fund? Some stock holdings?

Good luck to you.

In case you haven't heard, and you probably haven't, the jackass in the White House -- who knows who actually thought it up? -- gave John Negroponte, his intelligence boss, the authority to exempt publicly traded companies from Securities and Exchange Commission and other reporting requirements. Negroponte can, on his own authority, allow companies to ignore the requirements of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. This was done in the name of “national security,” of course.

Funny, we've been through several shooting wars and a cold war since the securities bill was adopted at Franklin Roosevelt's behest, and it's never been a national security issue before.

The only publication I know of to print the story about Negroponte's new power was Business Week, which is not included in the average citizen's daily reading. The 1934 law is the thing that requires companies with publicly-traded stock to keep accurate records, do accurate accounting and to disclose that and other pertinent information to their investors.

Negroponte can decide if a company is engaged in activities “vital to national security,” and, on his own, exempt the company from the need to keep honest records and provide honest information to shareholders and the public.

Think Halliburton. Think campaign contributions in exchange for government-sanctioned license to defraud.

Oh, well.

Looky. Here's another one, a really important one, you may love as much as I do:

There have been a few stories here and there about the push by telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Verizon (both major Republican contributors) to control the Internet, but they've been few, mostly buried and virtually all written in such a way as to make the issue appear to be just another hassle among big businesses.

I haven't found anyone other than a couple of other serious news junkies and members of some involved organizations who understands what's at risk. And the executives of the corporate giants and their foot-lickers in Congress are very happy about that.

This is the real story, as reported by several on-line news outfits and an array of organizations, from MoveOn to the National Rifle Association:

Web commerce has grown hugely. The telecom giants want much, much bigger pieces of the action. They essentially wrote a bill that a few of their toadies sponsored in Congress. The bill would allow the telecoms – phone and cable companies – to introduce new and much faster levels of service on the Internet and to charge greatly increased fees for the privilege of faster communication. If you don't pay the fees, you don't get the enhanced speed.

There are, of course, several nasty hooks on that line.

The telecoms would get big fees from large businesses – AOL and big online catalog merchants, for example – for quick access to consumers and consumer access to them. One of the hooks is that access to little outfits that can't afford the fees would be much slower than going to a big fee-payer's site, almost certainly much slower than it is now, since the major capacity will be devoted to serving the big guys. You get tired of being unable to get to Little Shop's web site, you say the hell with it and go to Giant Marketing's site to get something perhaps less satisfactory, but at least you can get there, and without a long wait.

A much bigger hook, from a citizen's point of view, is that the telecoms' plan also would make it difficult or impossible to get to noncommercial sites that are essential these days to someone who wants to know what's really going on in this world.

The Republican Party undoubtedly can pay the fees for easy access, but it would be a struggle, and probably impossible, for some of the on-line veteran's information services, and Truthout, and MoveOn and Consumers Union and hundreds of others.

Note that there is nothing in the bills to prevent the telecoms from deliberately slowing access to sites they don't like to the point that they become essentially unreachable. Note that the telecoms are multibillion dollar corporations that generally support right wing politicians.

Also note that there already are several incidents of cable companies operating high-speed Net services blocking access to sites they don't like, or that compete with their own or allied businesses. There would be nothing to prevent them from blocking access to the websites of political organizations.

More than a million citizens who learned about this threat to fair access to information have signed petitions against the bill. A stunning array of organizations from the far left to the far right on the political spectrum, and many with no partisan affiliation, have informed Congress of their opposition. Some of the upstart Internet-based companies, including Google and Yahoo, opposed the bill, but were late entering the fight.

A few members of Congress have tried to introduce amendments to the bill that would attempt to guarantee what is called “net neutrality” -- equal access to everyone by everyone on line.

The House passed the telecoms' bill a few days ago. Republicans, with visions of telecom contributions and control of communications dancing in their eyes, rejected the idea of net neutrality. Democrats voted for neutrality and against the bill but are, of course, outnumbered.

The Senate will vote soon. Beware.

Oh, OK. One more real quicky:

I've seen this only in the New York Times: A new global survey shows that the image of the United States has nosedived almost everywhere. It's much lower than it was even a year ago, which was considerably worse than the year before.

In Spain, the Times said, only 23 percent of the population has a favorable view of this country, down from 41 percent a year earlier. In India, 56 percent of the people still view us favorably, but that's down from 71 percent a year earlier. In Turkey, only 12 percent of the people have a positive view of the United States. In Britain, our only really involved ally in Iraq, slightly more than half the population thinks America is OK – but that's down from 75 percent in 2002, before the war.

Doesn't matter, you think? (Well, the right thinks that.) A side effect of our enormously diminished standing in the world is that there also is greatly diminished support for our supposed “war on terror.” Around the world, we are viewed as a threat to world peace on a par with Iran.

Did your corporate news source tell you that?