Did the New York Times violate the Espionage Act by publishing reports of government secret spying program? A controversial essay in Commentary has provided intellectual ammunition to chill, censor and punish the press.
Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began investigating one of the nation's largest hedge funds, Pequot Capitol Management, for possible insider trading. Up until last summer, the inquiry was headed by SEC lawyer Gary Aguirre.
His investigation proceeded smoothly, Aguirre claims, until he asked for testimony from former Pequot chairman and Morgan Stanley CEO, John Mack, a top Bush donor whom Aguirre's supervisor said had "powerful political connections."
Bush accepted more money from Wall Street than any other industry for his re-election campaign and Mack was one of nine Wall Street "Rangers" who raised $200,000 for W.
Representative Peter King â€“ and now President Bush â€“ are demonizing the New York Times and threatening to prosecute the paper for its story on a secret money monitoring program. This attack is part of a broader, undeclared war on the media intended to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs.
As I wrote earlier this month, even the former chief spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft characterized the actions of Alberto Gonzales in threatening reporters as "â€¦the most reckless abuse of power I have seen in years."
This very abuse demonstrates that the need for an independent media is greater now than ever before. Sure, there is a balance to be struck between security and liberty. But that balance is gone â€“ thanks to a Bush administration that has displayed reckless contempt for the media, for the Constitution, and for our Bill of Rights.
Wow! Is it an election year already?
It must be because Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have initiated the debate over amending the Constitution to ban flag desecration that always marks the opening of the political season.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who sometimes lapses into sanity, was having a bad day Monday when he led the committee to a 10-7 vote to add this line to the Constitution: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
The House Appropriations Committee actually did pass an amendment to a labor and health spending bill by Steny Hoyer and George Miller on June 13 to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Almost immediately, the Republican leadership shelved the bill indefinitely.
The next week, Hoyer offered the minimum wage amendment to a different spending bill. Of the seven Republicans who initially voted with Hoyer the week prior, five switched their votes and two, Reps. John Sweeney and Jo Ann Emerson, walked out of the room, missing the vote.
In a democracy, the first responsibility of a journalist is to get accurate information about what the government is doing to the people so that they can make appropriate decisions about what is done in their name. That's why the founders put an unequivocal freedom-of-the-press protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and its why Thomas Jefferson famously declared, "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Of course, there have been some limits on what information journalists share with the citizenry. It is generally agreed, for instance, that reporters ought not report in too much detail on troop movements in wartime, as the publication of such information could endanger soldiers and undermine military objectives.
So when the Washington press corps began reporting this week on leaked information about planning by U.S. commanders in Iraq to withdraw two of the 14 combat brigades stationed in that country by September of this year, it would not have been surprising if the stories had raised eyebrows among the more sensitive players in the Bush administration.
The last post I wrote about the estate tax was followed by a lively comment thread arguing the merits and meaning of a regulated economy. Even more importantly, it was also followed by a June 8 Senate vote (57 to 41) against permanent estate tax repeal. That was an important victory. But, somehow, there's going to soon be another vote on the estate tax. ("Like the ghoul in the horror movie that refuses to die," the Washington Post said.) Last week the House approved a proposal to sharply cut the estate tax that will cost roughly 75 percent as much as full repeal. The Senate is expected to vote on it this week, maybe even today.
According to experts, the vote should be extremely close. But the fact is that gutting the nation's most progressive tax would benefit less than one half of one percent of the country and would subtract, according to United For a Fair Economy (UFE), roughly 833 billion dollars from government coffers over the next decade. At a time of raging deficits and social spending cuts, it's the worst time imaginable to contemplate something like estate tax repeal. But then, as the New York Times editorialized, "The goal is not to pass good legislation, but to get this top priority for big-shot constituents nailed into law before the November elections produce a legislature that's more responsible on fiscal matters."
UFE, which is the group that discovered that 18 families worth a total of $185 billion have financed and coordinated the repeal campaign, sees Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray as the two key swing votes. Both voted against repeal in the last vote but they're apparently getting leaned on hard this time around. So UFE is urging people to contact Cantwell and Murray (especially Washingtonians) and implore them to hold firm against the moneyed interests seeking to concentrate wealth into even fewer hands. Ask them to oppose another huge tax break for multi-millionaires while the rest of the country suffers from breakdowns in infrastructure, housing and healthcare.
Here's UFE's suggested script:
"Don't cut the estate tax. Please vote â€˜no' on the motion to proceed with consideration of HR 5638, and any other votes that sharply reduce the estate tax. And thank you for voting against repeal of the estate tax." Add a personal message about who you are and why you oppose cutting the estate tax, such as, "I am a small business person, and it is a myth that the estate tax hurts small businesses," or "I am wealthy and will pay this tax, and I believe it's an important part of our progressive tax system." Leave a full message and your number if you do not reach the staffperson.
**Call Senator Cantwell's DC office, 202-224-3441. Leave a short message about supporting the estate tax with the front desk, then ask to speak with Rachel Nuzum, the Leg. Asst. on Taxes. If you do not talk with her, please send one email with your support to michael_Meehan@cantwell.senate.gov, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Call Senator Murray's DC office, 202-224-2621. Leave a short message about supporting the estate tax with the front desk, then ask to speak with Josh Jacobs, the Leg. Asst. on Taxes. If you do not talk with him, please send one email with your support to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and joshua_Jacobs@murray.senate.gov.