All posts by James Bovard

Washington’s Biggest Fairy Tale: ‘Truth Will Out’

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The arrest of Julian Assange has produced rapturous cheering from the American political elite. Hillary Clinton declared that Assange “must answer for what he has done.” Unfortunately, Assange’s arrest will do nothing to prevent the vast majority of conniving politicians and bureaucrats from paying no price for deceiving the American public.

“Truth will out” is a phrase that is routinely recited to keep Americans paying and obeying. Politicians and editorial writers toss this phrase out to simmer down any fears that the government might be conspiring against the people. Actually, “truth will out” is the biggest fairy tale in Washington.

The phrase “truth will out” is first recorded in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Often in Shakespeare’s plays, truths come out only after almost everyone has been conned, stabbed, or screwed. It’s not much better nowadays.

When it comes to politics, “truth will out” should be confined to sarcasm and satire, not to serious pontificating.

Consider the assassination in 1963 of John F. Kennedy. The Johnson administration rushed the Warren Commission to issue a verdict approving the official story of the killing. But the commission announced that the key records would be sealed for 75 years. Truth would out — but not until all the people involved in the coverup had gotten their pensions and died. In 1992, Congress (responding to the uproar provoked by Oliver Stone’s movie on the assassination) shortened the disclosure schedule, but federal agencies are still conniving to withhold key evidence.

The following year, Johnson was running against Barry Goldwater. Folks were warned back then that if they voted for Goldwater, the United States would get involved in a massive land war in Asia. Well, Johnson won and he dragged the United States into the Vietnam War on the basis of totally false claims about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The Johnson administration built entire pyramids of lies about that war — actually, they were funeral pyres, not pyramids. As philosopher Hannah Arendt noted, during the Vietnam War “the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy but chiefly if not exclusively destined for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.” CIA analysts did excellent work in the early period of the Vietnam conflict. But “in the contest between public statements, always over-optimistic, and the truthful reports of the intelligence community, persistently bleak and ominous, the public statements were likely to win simply because they were public,” she observed.

Secrets

Fast-forward a few decades to 2003. The Bush administration was claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was tied to the 9/11 attacks. Both of those charges turned out to be complete hokum — but they were enough to justify dragging the United States into another pointless war against Iraq. A few years later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared, “Ultimately the truth gets out, notwithstanding people’s efforts to the contrary.” For Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, truth was simply another bomb to drop on opponents, at home or abroad. Los Angeles Times columnist William Arkin noted that Rumsfeld’s redesign of military operations “blurs or even erases the boundaries between factual information and news, on the one hand, and public relations, propaganda, and psychological war- fare, on the other.” As reported in the New York Timeson May 24, 2006, army officers under Rumsfeld’s command bribed Iraqi journalists to produce favorable newspaper and television reports about US military operations. The campaign was aided by psychological warfare experts authorized to use “doctored or false information to deceive or damage the enemy or to bolster support for American efforts.” The program’s exposure spurred momentary outrage in Washington, after which it resumed on a larger scale.

While some people were shocked by Rumsfeld’s manipulations, he was following hallowed Pentagon traditions. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Assistant Defense Secretary Arthur Sylvester announced, “It’s inherent in [the] government’s right, if necessary, to lie to save itself. News generated by the actions of the government … [are] part of the arsenal of weaponry that a President has.” But, as the Pentagon Papers showed, that weapon cripples citizens’ ability to control their government.

The US government became far more secretive after the 9/11 attacks. The federal government made almost 50 million decisions to classify information last year. Politicians and federal agencies have long recognized that “what people don’t know won’t hurt the government.”

US troops are now fighting in 14 foreign nations: will the Pentagon tell us all about it? The chances are slim and none and, as Dan Rather liked to say, “Slim just left town.” And how about our chances of learning the sordid details surrounding the US government’s dealings with the Saudi regime, despite its atrocities at home and abroad?

Pipe dreams

For an even bigger pipe dream, when do you think we’ll learn the facts of US policy in Syria? The US government has massively intervened in Syrian civil war since 2011. US policy has always been a tangle of contradictions and absurdities: Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels actively battled against CIA-backed Syrian rebels. Maybe backing both factions guaranteed that the US would be on the eventual winning side? When US-backed rebels launch a chemical-weapons attack on civilians, the US government usually simply ignores it: “Oh those boys.” The New Yorker reported in November that the US military is building up its forces in Syria in preparation for a conflict with Iran. I don’t recall that that issue was on the ballot — or on the radar — for the 2016 congressional midterm elections. Will Donald Trump use secrecy to drag the United States into another pointless Middle East war?

I’ve been an investigative journalist for more than 35 years. I have fought many federal agencies to get the facts of what they are doing. Sometimes I get some dirt, sometimes I get a smoking gun — or a few whiffs — but most government coverups succeed.

I have been using the federal Freedom of Information Act since the early 1980s. This law is supposed to make Americans think the government is transparent — federal agencies are bound by law to reply within 20 business days to requests for documents and other information.

Some years ago, I sent out a bunch of FOIA requests to federal agencies to see what they had in their files about me. The FBI replied that they had nothing — even though FBI chief Louis Freeh publicly condemned my articles on Ruby Ridge. No records? The FBI told a lot of lies about the Randy Weaver case — enough to con much of the media — but they got whupped by a brave Idaho jury. There are some federal agencies that routinely and wrongfully deny FOIA requests, presuming that people are not seriously seeking information until they sue the agency in federal court.

I wrote a lot about trade policy in the 1990s and clashed at times with the Office of the US Trade Representative. I filed a FOIA to get their files on me, including the uproar after I rattled them by acquiring a secret copy of the US tariff code that they had denied existed. Their response came back — “We have no records on Kevin Bovard.” This was not even “close enough for government work,” but it was typical of the charades of disclosure practiced by many agencies.

I have been slamming the Transportation Security Administration for 15 years, so I sent them a FOIA request for their records on me. The TSA chief had publicly condemned an article I wrote in 2014 but their response to my request contained no information on that. Was I supposed to believe that TSA boss John Pistole had typed his retort in an online portal that the newspaper provided, leaving no internal trace?

After a tussle with the TSA at Reagan National Airport back in March, I filed a FOIA request for the videos of that encounter. I have received nothing on that incident and remain sitting on the edge of my chair waiting. Admittedly, I did already whack the TSA on that ruckus in the Los Angeles Times.The Minneapolis Star Tribune reprinted that article with the headline “TSA: the world’s most incompetent agency” — I wonder if that will show up the next time I file a FOIA request with TSA.

WikiLeaks

Government coverups became a hot issue in November when a Justice Department snafu revealed that the US government had secretly indicted WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange. We do not yet know the specific charges against Assange but the US government has had him in its crosshairs ever since he released scores of thousands of documents exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee showing that its nominating process was rigged to favor Hillary Clinton. During the final month of the campaign, WikiLeaks disclosed emails from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. At the same time, the Obama administration had been illegally denying FOIA requests for years that had sought Hillary Clinton’s emails from her four years as secretary of State. But there was no danger that a secret indictment would look into that trampling of the law. The ACLU warned that prosecuting Assange for WikiLeaks’ publishing operations would be “unconstitutional” and would set a “dangerous precedent for US journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and labeled Assange a “fraud,” “coward,” and “enemy.” He warned, “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for.” But “our great Constitution” never intended for Washington to keep endless secrets from the American people.

If Assange is going to be indicted, it should be for lèse-majesté —which has not formally been a crime in this part of the world since 1776. Any prosecution of Assange would ultimately rest on a presumed divine right for the federal government to deceive the American people. Assange is a heretic to people who believe the feds have a right to be trusted.

Attorney General Ramsey Clark declared in 1967, “Nothing so diminishes democracy as secrecy.” If someone had massively leaked US government documents on Iraq in January 2003, the Bush administration campaign for war might have been thwarted. If Americans had known the full extent of George W. Bush’s torture regime and domestic spying, he might have failed to win reelection in 2004. If Americans had known that Obama’s National Security Agency was illegally vacuuming up their email, he might have gotten tossed out by voters in 2012.

Myths about truth empower liars. The more people assume that truth automatically outs, the easier it becomes to cork it up. Americans must realize that they will not receive even token disclosures without whistleblowers, journalists, and activists vigorously fighting the political-bureaucratic system.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

20 Years Ago: Bill Clinton Bombs Serbia, Killing Hundreds of Civilians

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Twenty years ago, President Clinton commenced bombing Serbia for no good reason. Up to 1500 Serb civilians were killed by NATO bombing in one of the biggest BS morality plays of the modern era. Clinton sold the bombing as a humanitarian mission, but the resulting carnage resulted in the takeover of Kosovo by a vicious clique that was later condemned for murdering Serbs and selling their kidneys, livers, and other body parts.

But Clinton remains a hero in Kosovo; here is a statue of him erected in the capitol, Pristina. It would have been a more accurate representation if Clinton was shown standing on the corpses of the women, children, and others killed in the US bombing campaign.

The US bombing of Serbia was a crime and an outrage from the start. Editors were chary of articles bashing the bombing campaign so much of my venting occurred in my journal:

April 7, 1999 Much of the media and most of the American public are evaluating Clinton’s Serbian policy based on the pictures of the bomb damage — rather than by asking whether there is any coherent purpose or justification for bombing. The ultimate triumph of photo opportunities…. What a travesty and national disgrace for this country.

April 17 My bottom line on the Kosovo conflict: I hate holy wars. And this is a holy war for American good deeds – or for America’s saintly self-image? Sen. John McCain said the war is necessary to “uphold American values.” Make me barf! Just another … Hitler-of-the-month attack..

May 13 This damn Serbian war… is a symbol of all that is wrong with the righteous approach to the world… and to problems within this nation.

I had a chapter on the Serbian bombing campaign titled “Moralizing with Cluster Bombs” in Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years (St. Martin’s Press, 2000), which sufficed to spur at least one or two reviewers to attack the book. Norman Provizer, the director of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership, scoffed in the Denver Rocky Mountain News: “Bovard chastises Clinton for an illegal, undeclared war in Kosovo without ever bothering to mention that, during the entire run of American history, there have been but four official declarations of war by Congress.”

As the chaotic situation in post-war Kosovo became stark, it was easier to work in jibes against the debacle. In an Octoboer 2002 USA Today article (“Moral High Ground Not Won on Battlefield“) bashing the Bush administration’s push for war against Iraq, I pointed out: “A desire to spread freedom does not automatically confer a license to kill…. Operation Allied Force in 1999 bombed Belgrade, Yugoslavia, into submission purportedly to liberate Kosovo. Though Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic raised the white flag, ethnic cleansing continued – with the minority Serbs being slaughtered and their churches burned to the ground in the same way the Serbs previously oppressed the ethnic Albanians.”

In a 2011 review for The American Conservative, I scoffed:
After NATO planes killed hundreds if not thousands of Serb and ethnic Albanian civilians, Bill Clinton could pirouette as a savior. Once the bombing ended, many of the Serbs remaining in Kosovo were slaughtered and their churches burned to the ground. NATO’s 'peace' produced a quarter-million Serbian, Jewish, and Gypsy refugees. At least the Serbs were not murdering people for their body parts, as the Council of Europe recently accused the Kosovo Liberation Army of doing to Serb prisoners in recent years. ('When the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the [Serbian] captives were … summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic,' where their kidneys were harvested for sale.) Perhaps even worse, Clinton’s unprovoked attack on Serbia set a precedent for 'humanitarian' warring that was invoked by supporters of Bush’s unprovoked attack on Iraq.

Reprinted with permission from JimBovard.com.

Iraq War Anniversary: Ron Paul’s Opposition Scored the Szasz Award for Civil Liberties

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This week marked the 16th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Plenty of Bush apologists have been rewriting history on Twitter. But Ron Paul was one member of Congress who had nothing to apologize in the run-up to the war. He was outspoken throughout 2002 and beyond, exposing the folly of starting a major war in the Middle East and trouncing the shabby evidence the Bush administration offered.

His valiant fight against the war resulted in his receiving the Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Liberties in November 2002. He was the only politician to ever win the award named after the legendary psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, one of the great heroes of modern liberty. In the spiel below, I praised Ron Paul as someone who “speaks truth to power;” for the record, that was long before the same accolade was used to burnish our current CIA director. Here are the comments I made at the award ceremony in November 2002 in Washington:
It is my honor on behalf of the Szasz award committee to present the award this year to Congressman Ron Paul.

Ron Paul speaks truth to power.  Congressman Paul takes the high ground – stands on principle – and he often stands alone.

Last year, Paul was one of only three Republicans to vote against the Patriot Act and the only member of the House to vote against the money laundering provisions of the Patriot Act. Paul denounced that portion of the bill as “a laundry list of dangerous, unconstitutional power grabs…” The type of honesty that is damn near nonexistent in Washington.

Ron Paul has made it clear from Day One where he stands on the War with Iraq. He stands on the Constitution on this – not on the public opinion polls. He is not finessing the issue.

One thing I like about Paul is that he is wiling to question people’s motives – something that happens far too rarely in Washington.

Back in mid-September, I was flipping on the TV at the end of the day – after a few beers – trolling on C SPAN. And I happened to come upon a House hearing on the pending war with Iraq. I think I missed the first couple hours of the hearing because chairman Henry Hyde announced that it was Congressman Paul’s chance to ask a question.

Paul scorned the hearing as “very one sided” and said “This turns out to be more propaganda for war than anything else. We’re willing to go to war over phantom weapons.”
And then he asked the two witnesses – Richard Perle and James Woolsey – whether they would personally be wiling to risk their lives for the war they so strongly advocated.
Woolsey answered first. He mentioned that he “flew a desk” during his two years in the army – but then stressed that it was not up to private citizens to decide whether to go to war – it was up to Congress.
Then Perle answered. Perle was in London at the time – and they had a giant video screen up there for him to be seen. The hearing setting looked like a scene out of Dr. Strangelove. And there was a giant flag just to Perle’s right – sort of like the Fox News Network on amphetamines.

Perle opined: “Well, I find the question a particularly troubling question because the suggestion is that somehow it is illegitimate to make recommendation with respect to what one believes is in the best interest of the country and all of our citizens except in some intensely personal context. And if I were in a position to serve, I would do so. But, that seems to me quite the wrong question, Congressman. The question is how do we best protect the citizens of this country.”
Woolsey chimed in: “This so-called chicken hawk argument does seem to me to be an extraordinarily unworthy argument. And I think Senator John McCain has put it exactly where it belongs. For one thing it says that if an American women or an openly gay American man supports the war that an opinion is unworthy or an over age, military age, American man, that that is an unworthy and ought to be an unconsidered opinion because none of those people are going to serve in combat. And I join Mr. Perle in saying that I think that it’s an extraordinarily unworthy ad hominem argument.”

Now – congressman Paul had not accused the two distinguished witnesses of being chickenhawks – they were the ones that brought this up. But simply to directly challenge them made both Perle and Woolsey go strutting as if they had suffered some terrible insult. I mean – since they were advocating killing foreigners – of course they had good intentions, right?

Paul has done great work for freedom for decades – as far back as the mid-70s. His foundation for Foundation for Rational Economic Education (FREE) has done cutting-edge work- such as its recent publication of his speech, “The Case Against the Police State.” His Liberty Committee has worked mightily to educate fellow congressmen on the danger of Leviathan.
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Same venue, a year later after Terrorism & Tyranny (St. Martin’s Press) came out. With Ron Paul’s congressional staffers Norm Singleton and Adam Dick.

Reprinted with permission from JimBovard.com.

John McCain’s Disastrous Militaristic Legacy

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When Sen. John McCain passed away last August, he was lauded far and wide for his long career of public service. Rep. John Lewis, the famous civil-rights activist, hailed McCain as a “warrior for peace.” In reality, McCain embodied a toxic mix of moralism and militarism that worked out disastrously for America and the world.

In his funeral eulogies, McCain was portrayed as a hero and a visionary. But early in his congressional career, he barely avoided indictment as part of the Keating Five Savings and Loan bribery scandal that cost taxpayers billions of dollars. McCain repaired his image by becoming a champion of campaign-finance reform and new restrictions on political contributions. In 2002, Congress enacted the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which proved more effective at suppressing criticism than at reforming political life. The McCain-Feingold Act authorized harsh penalties for private citizens who accused their rulers of abusing their power. It prohibited most issue ads by private groups on television or radio in the months before a presidential or congressional election.

In 2003, the Supreme Court (by a 5-4 margin) upheld the new law in response to activities with “a significant risk of actual and apparent corruption.” Justice Antonin Scalia noted in a dissent to the decision upholding the law, that the McCain-Feingold act “cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government.” But that was fine with McCain, since he declared that if he had the power, he would outlaw all negative political ads. He declared, “I detest the negative advertising. I think it is one of the worst things that has ever happened in American politics.” Banning negative ads but not political lies was McCain’s notion of a level playing field.

When he was awarded the Liberty Medal in October 2017 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Senator McCain declared, “We live in a land made of ideals…. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world.” He warned that it would be “unpatriotic” to “abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe.” But idealism has fared better in political speeches than in the lives of American soldiers or supposed foreign beneficiaries.

McCain served 25 years as the chairman of the International Republican Institute, a federally funded entity that intervenes in foreign elections to promote pro-American candidates. McCain often spoke as if the institute was the incarnation of America at its best. In 1997, McCain declared, “When we provide the democratic opposition in Albania with 12 Jeep Cherokees and they win an election, I’m incredibly proud.” However, the Institute was involved in violent attempts to overthrow governments in Venezuela and Haiti and was condemned for meddling in many other places. As long as pro-American candidates snared the most votes by hook or by crook, McCain had no complaints.

During the 1990s, McCain “slowly moved toward the idealist camp and became one of his party’s foremost advocates for the use of force abroad,” the Boston Globe noted. In his 2000 presidential campaign, he pledged a “rogue state rollback,” which sounded like “fill-in-the-blank” declarations of war against any regime of which the United States disapproved. He was defeated in the Republican primaries by George W. Bush, who sounded reasonable and moderate in comparison. However, after 9/11 Bush adopted McCain’s bellicose vision and promised to “rid the world of evil.”

Iraq

McCain was one of the foremost advocates for attacking Iraq and served as honorary co-chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. In 2002, he declared that invading that nation would be “fairly easy” and that “we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.” Two months after the fall of Baghdad, McCain proclaimed that the war was “fully vindicated.” After the war became a debacle, he declared in 2008 that it was “fine with me” to keep US troops in Iraq for “a hundred years.”

McCain believed Americans should idealize military interventions regardless of the political machinations that preceded them. When Bush created a pseudo-independent commission in 2004 to exonerate him for the missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he selected McCain as one of the nine members. On the day his appointment was announced, McCain publicly declared, “The president of the United States, I believe, would not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise.” McCain’s boundless endorsement of the current president ignored the legendary presidential deceits that trademarked the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War of 1898, the First World War, and the Vietnam War.

McCain sanctified a commission (which had no subpoena power) that was a crock from the get-go. As Sen. Robert Byrd scoffed, “This commission is 100 percent under the thumb of the White House. Who created the panel’s charter? The president. Who chooses the panel members? The president. To whom does the panel report? The president. Whom shall the panel advise and assist? The president. Who is in charge of determining what classified reports the panel may see? The president. Who gets to decide whether the Congress may see the panel’s report? The president.” Predictably, the commission concluded that Bush was not to blame for starting the Iraq War on false pretenses.

McCain loved to strut on foreign trips where American reporters were sure to hail him as a visiting savior. He was ridiculed as “the new Baghdad Bob” who took a “magic carpet ride” after he visited a Baghdad market in 2007 and claimed, “Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.” McCain touted his visit: “We stopped at a local market, where we spent well over an hour, shopping and talking with the local people, getting their views and ideas about different issues of the day.” Rep. (now Vice President) Mike Pence, who accompanied McCain, ludicrously asserted that the scene was “just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime.” At the time of his market visit, McCain was wearing a flak jacket, accompanied by 100 US troops, and protected overhead by attack helicopters. Prior to McCain’s arrival, US troops cleared almost everyone else at the scene. After he departed, Iraqi merchants bitterly scoffed at his claims that the market was safe. One shop owner growled, “They paralyzed the market when they came. This was only for the media. This will not change anything.”

But the American media lapped it up and the charade did nothing to prevent McCain from securing the Republican presidential nomination the following year. The shining moment of his campaign was his proclamation, “We are all Georgians now!” in response to a border clash that the Republic of Georgia commenced against the Russian Federation. McCain’s bellicosity against Russia never died. He also proclaimed during that campaign, “I know how to win wars. And if I’m elected president, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory.” McCain never explained how he learned how to win wars (not a lesson taught in North Vietnamese prisons) or why he advocated bombing more than a dozen nations throughout his congressional career.

Syria and Libya

Perhaps the only lesson McCain learned from the Iraq War was that the American media would unquestioningly glorify him for demanding foreign intervention. In 2011, he was outspoken demanding US bombing of Libya — widely considered the biggest foreign-policy blunder of the Obama administration. In April 2011, he visited rebels in Benghazi and labeled them heroes. Yet, as a Wikileaks disclosure revealed, he had sung a different tune two years earlier when he visited Tripoli. Meeting with officials of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, McCain “pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress” regarding a Libyan request for US military equipment, according to a confidential US embassy cable. After the United States helped topple the Qaddafi regime, chaos erupted and four Americans, including the US ambassador, were killed in Benghazi. A few years later, slave markets were operating in the nation that McCain and Obama had so proudly liberated.

McCain returned to the Middle East for an encore visit with Syrian rebels in 2013, whom he then ceaselessly championed as a moderate alternative to the regime of Bashar Assad. Under pressure from McCain and others, the Obama administration provided massive military aid to anti-Assad forces, but much of the weaponry ended up in the hands of terrorist groups. The absurdity of US policy became undeniable when Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels openly battled CIA-backed rebels. That did not deter McCain from endless pious preening, such as his early 2017 tweet: “On 6th anniversary of Syrian civil war, Assad & Russia cont. to commit genocide — when will the world wake up to the slaughter in Syria?” Since McCain had used the word “genocide,” that meant the US government was morally obliged to topple the Assad regime — even though Libya showed the catastrophic results of intervention. A year later, McCain wailed, “For seven long years, the United States has sat idly by in the face of genocide. We seem to have become immune to images of devastation and brutality coming out of Syria every day. Two successive US administrations have failed to do anything meaningful to stop the slaughter and enabled Assad’s reign of terror to thrive.” Actually, the US government had dropped tens of thousands of bombs and missiles on Syria, despite not having a dog in that fight. Donald Trump twice sent cruise missile barrages against the Assad government after unproven allegations were made that the government had used chemical weapons. (The al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups fighting Assad were also frequently accused of using chemical weapons.)

Most of the media ignored McCain’s role in making the Syrian conflict longer and bloodier than it otherwise would have been. That is no surprise, since American politicians across the board are perennially absolved by the ideals they invoke when championing foreign wars. But the moral bonus points are void beyond the national borders. Idealistic pretenses can spur vast resentment because “the American judges himself by the way he feels, whereas the foreigner judges him by what he does,” as Irving Babbitt explained after World War One.

There are plenty of nasty dictators in the world but US government efforts have dismally failed to spread democracy this century. John McCain was in the forefront of prominent Americans who had “learned nothing and forgotten nothing” from recent US pratfalls. Instead, he continued talking as if foreign interventions could be a deft blend of Jesus and General Sherman, righteously burning a swath through Georgia.

America cannot afford an idealism that consists of little more than combining bombing and wishful thinking. We should not forget the Americans, Iraqis, Syrians, and Libyans who died in part because of policies McCain championed. The most valuable lesson from McCain’s career is to reject the folly of militarized idealism.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

Ethiopia Crash of Boeing 737 Max Might be Latest Example of Backfiring Safety Efforts

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Another Boeing 737 crashed Sunday in Ethiopia, killing all 157 aboard. This is the second crash of the new Boeing model Max 8 since October. Investigators have only begun sorting out this tragedy but some experts suggest that the plane’s automated safety software may have prevented the pilot from preventing the fatal plunge.

If software and sensors designed to prevent crashes actually increased the risk of catastrophe, then the Boeing accidents are another reminder that safety policies can have unintended fatal consequences.

Unfortunately, policymakers routinely ignore the unforeseen costs of well-intended safety efforts. For instance, the Transportation Security Administration, seeking to make air travel perfectly safe from terrorists in the months after 9/11, spawned airport checkpoint regimes that are so intrusive that many Americans choose to drive instead. A Cornell University study estimated that TSA’s heavy-handed policies helped boost traffic fatalities by at least 1,200 additional deaths.

Business Week analysis noted, “To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to an analysis published in the American Scientist.…People switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month — which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day.”

Air bags — which are explosive devices built into car dashboards — epitomize the perils of safety mandates — especially when their harm is shrouded in coverups. By the late 1990s, about 66 children and short female adults had been killed by air bags, and over 300,000 people were injured by the bags each year, according to the federal Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation was informed in the late 1960s that the devices could pose severe safety risks for some passengers. But the information was suppressed because, as a confidential 1991 NHTSA memorandum noted, “bad press [on air bag deaths] could cause a lot of harm to the public’s positive perception” of air bags.

Cycling safety can cause more harm

Urban bicycling is another area where policies pursuing safety benefited morticians. Dedicated bike lanes were supposed to create a safe haven for two wheelers. But painting stripes on streets has not boosted prudence among either intolerant drivers or cyclists who ride in rush hour traffic with ear buds that cripple their awareness of perils. Bicyclist fatalities have increased 25 percent since 2010.

Even common sense safety devices such as bicycle helmets can have counterproductive results. A British researcher found that automobiles drive closer to cyclists wearing helmets. Other studies have shown that cyclists wearing helmets ride more aggressively (if not recklessly) than they otherwise would. While some riders view helmets as Guardian Angels, headgear does not protect against the vast majority of injuries cyclists suffer. Besides, as a Vox analysis noted, “on a per trip basis, biking causes more deaths than driving.” 

FDA's safety rules hurt waiting people

When it comes to collateral damage from safety mandates, it is difficult to compete with the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s glacial, incredibly expensive procedures for approving new drugs has perennially blocked Americans from medications that could have saved their lives. Robert Goldberg of George Washington University’s Center on Neuroscience, Medical Progress, and Society estimated in 1996 that “FDA delays in allowing US marketing of drugs used safely and effectively elsewhere around the world have cost the lives of at least 200,000 Americans over the past 30 years.” As Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Sam Kazman observed, “Whenever FDA announces its approval of a major new drug or device, the question that needs to be asked is: If this drug will start saving lives tomorrow, then how many people died yesterday waiting for the agency to act?”

Boeing, unlike federal agencies, does not enjoy sovereign immunity and thus will have every incentive to speedily correct any defects that are discovered in its 737s. Liability laws can do wonders to encourage corporations not to kill their customers. Unfortunately, no such remedies appear available to deter damages inflicted by the TSA or FDA.

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

James Bovard, author of "Attention Deficit Democracy," is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard.

Ethiopia Crash of Boeing 737 Max Might be Latest Example of Backfiring Safety Efforts

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Another Boeing 737 crashed Sunday in Ethiopia, killing all 157 aboard. This is the second crash of the new Boeing model Max 8 since October. Investigators have only begun sorting out this tragedy but some experts suggest that the plane’s automated safety software may have prevented the pilot from preventing the fatal plunge.

If software and sensors designed to prevent crashes actually increased the risk of catastrophe, then the Boeing accidents are another reminder that safety policies can have unintended fatal consequences.

Unfortunately, policymakers routinely ignore the unforeseen costs of well-intended safety efforts. For instance, the Transportation Security Administration, seeking to make air travel perfectly safe from terrorists in the months after 9/11, spawned airport checkpoint regimes that are so intrusive that many Americans choose to drive instead. A Cornell University study estimated that TSA’s heavy-handed policies helped boost traffic fatalities by at least 1,200 additional deaths.

Business Week analysis noted, “To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to an analysis published in the American Scientist.…People switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month — which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day.”

Air bags — which are explosive devices built into car dashboards — epitomize the perils of safety mandates — especially when their harm is shrouded in coverups. By the late 1990s, about 66 children and short female adults had been killed by air bags, and over 300,000 people were injured by the bags each year, according to the federal Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation was informed in the late 1960s that the devices could pose severe safety risks for some passengers. But the information was suppressed because, as a confidential 1991 NHTSA memorandum noted, “bad press [on air bag deaths] could cause a lot of harm to the public’s positive perception” of air bags.

Cycling safety can cause more harm

Urban bicycling is another area where policies pursuing safety benefited morticians. Dedicated bike lanes were supposed to create a safe haven for two wheelers. But painting stripes on streets has not boosted prudence among either intolerant drivers or cyclists who ride in rush hour traffic with ear buds that cripple their awareness of perils. Bicyclist fatalities have increased 25 percent since 2010.

Even common sense safety devices such as bicycle helmets can have counterproductive results. A British researcher found that automobiles drive closer to cyclists wearing helmets. Other studies have shown that cyclists wearing helmets ride more aggressively (if not recklessly) than they otherwise would. While some riders view helmets as Guardian Angels, headgear does not protect against the vast majority of injuries cyclists suffer. Besides, as a Vox analysis noted, “on a per trip basis, biking causes more deaths than driving.” 

FDA's safety rules hurt waiting people

When it comes to collateral damage from safety mandates, it is difficult to compete with the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s glacial, incredibly expensive procedures for approving new drugs has perennially blocked Americans from medications that could have saved their lives. Robert Goldberg of George Washington University’s Center on Neuroscience, Medical Progress, and Society estimated in 1996 that “FDA delays in allowing US marketing of drugs used safely and effectively elsewhere around the world have cost the lives of at least 200,000 Americans over the past 30 years.” As Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Sam Kazman observed, “Whenever FDA announces its approval of a major new drug or device, the question that needs to be asked is: If this drug will start saving lives tomorrow, then how many people died yesterday waiting for the agency to act?”

Boeing, unlike federal agencies, does not enjoy sovereign immunity and thus will have every incentive to speedily correct any defects that are discovered in its 737s. Liability laws can do wonders to encourage corporations not to kill their customers. Unfortunately, no such remedies appear available to deter damages inflicted by the TSA or FDA.

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

James Bovard, author of "Attention Deficit Democracy," is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard.

Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion

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In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump received rapturous applause from Republicans for his declaration: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.” But this uplifting sentiment cannot survive even a brief glance at the federal statute book or the heavy-handed enforcement tactics by federal, state, and local bureaucracies across the nation.

In reality, the threat of government punishment permeates Americans’ daily lives more than ever before:

The number of federal crimes has increased from 3 in 1789 to more than 4000 today. Congress has criminalized “transporting alligator grass across a state line; unauthorized use of the slogan "Give a hoot, don't pollute"; and "pretending to be a 4-H club member with intent to defraud," as the Buffalo Criminal Law Review noted.

Law enforcement agencies arrested over 10 million people in 2017— roughly three percent of the population. Trump momentarily noticed the existence of government coercion last month when he complained about the FBI using “29 people” and “armored vehicles” for the arrest of Roger Stone. But SWAT teams conduct up to 80,000 raids a year, according to the ACLU, mostly for drug arrests or search warrants. Many innocent people have been killed in such raids.

Trump on Tuesday highlighted the case of Alice Johnson, unjustly sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Trump’s commutation of her sentence is no consolation to the targets of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2017 - and it is not like those individuals showed up voluntarily at police stations asking to be “cuffed-and-stuffed.” More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined, according to FBI statistics.

No coercion? Tell that to the scores of thousands of victims of asset forfeiture laws, which entitle law enforcement to confiscate people’s cash, cars, and other property based on the flimsiest accusation. Federal law-enforcement agencies seized more property via asset forfeiture provisions in 2014 year than all the burglars stole from homeowners and businesses nationwide.

Since 1970, the number of people confined in American prisons has increased by over 500 percent. Almost 10 percent of all American males will end up in prison at some point in their lives, according to an a 1997 Justice Department report. More than 10 percent of black males aged 20 to 34 were behind bars as of 2006, according to the Journal of American History.

Citizens and businesses pay more than $3 trillion in federal taxes each year thanks largely to the array of threats and penalties for non-compliance. Each week, scores of thousands of Americans have their bank accounts seized by the IRS, or have IRS liens put on their houses or land, or endure a tax audit, or receive notice of penalties and demands for additional taxes. The number of different penalties the IRS imposes on taxpayers has increased more than tenfold since 1954.

No one has a good estimate of the number of Americans who fall victim to arbitrary and capricious regulations by federal agencies. When the Supreme Court heard the case of the Agriculture Department’s dictates prohibiting raisin farmers from selling much of their harvest in 2014, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that the regime was “the world’s most outdated law.” But there are many other senseless provisions that the media and the courts simply ignore.

Trump perpetuates one of Washington’s fondest myths - that the federal government is not coercive unless the president or some agency boss formally announces their plans to brutally punish some group without cause. This notion is avidly supported and propagated by many of the nation’s pundits and political scientists as a way to keep people paying and obeying.

Trump followed his “no coercion here” assertion with the following line: “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a Socialist country.” Democrats responded with a stony if not irritable silence. Perhaps the greatest irony in Washington is that the people who distrust Trump the most are seeking to vastly increase government power.

Democratic socialists have offered no evidence that new federal takeovers of the economy would not produce the same disasters as followed federal domineering of agriculture or the mortgage industry. Instead, new economic prohibitions would create a profusion of victims akin to Eric Garner, who was strangled in 2014 by a New York City policeman after being apprehended selling individual cigarettes without a license.

President Andrew Johnson rightly observed in an 1868 message to Congress, “It may be safely assumed as an axiom... that the greatest wrongs inflicted upon a people are caused by unjust and arbitrary legislation.” But the federal statute book and Code of Federal Regulations are Towers of Babble that contain vast numbers of punitive provisions that unjustly ruin or blight other Americans’ lives. Trust the Washington establishment to continue pretending that “there is nothing to see here” in the continuing automatic-pilot coercion of the nation.

Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.

Julian Assange Deserves a Medal of Freedom, Not a Secret Indictment

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been secretly indicted by the Trump administration’s Justice Department, “a drastic escalation” of the feds’ efforts against him, the New York Times reported. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and labeled Assange a “fraud,” “coward,” and “enemy.” But rather than a federal indictment, Assange deserves a tweaked version of one of Washington’s hottest honorifics.

Wikileaks has been in the federal crosshairs since it released scores of thousands of documents exposing lies and atrocities regarding the Afghan and Iraq wars, thanks to leaks from Army corporal Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Wikileaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee showing that its nominating process was rigged to favor Hillary Clinton. During the final month of the campaign, Wikileaks disclosed emails from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta.

Trump loved WikiLeaks when it was convenient

In the final month of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks” and mentioned it more than a hundred times. However, since Trump took office, he is following Washington protocols and viewing whistleblowers as public enemies.

The Assange indictment is far more threatening than Trump tweets snarling at CNN. The ACLU warns that prosecuting Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be “unconstitutional” and sets a “dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest.” Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation declared: “Any charges brought against WikiLeaks for their publishing activities pose a profound and incredibly dangerous threat to press freedom.”

It is difficult to appreciate Wikileaks without recognizing how federal secrecy has become far more pervasive and dangerous since 9/11. If someone had massively leaked U.S. government documents on Iraq in January 2003, the Bush administration campaign for war might have been thwarted. The federal government made almost 50 million decisions to classify information last year. Politicians and federal agencies have long recognized that “what people don't know won't hurt the government.”

“Truth will out” is the biggest fairy tale in Washington. U.S. troops are now fighting in 14 foreign nations: will the Pentagon tell us all about it? The National Security Agency illegally tracked every citizen’s phone calls: no federal official disclosed the system that a federal judge castigated as an “almost Orwellian” surveillance scheme. And what are the betting odds of Americans seeing the dirt on the U.S. government’s long-term collusion with the Saudi regime (despite its atrocities at home and abroad)?

On the same day the Assange indictment scored headlines, Trump awarded seven Presidential Medals of Freedom. No controversy greeted posthumous awards to Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley — unlike the ruckus regarding Miriam Adelson, wife of Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson. Public Citizen, a liberal nonprofit, howled that the Adelson award “is just the latest sign of [Trump’s] ability to corrupt and corrodeall aspects of the government.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman caterwauled that it was “ludicrous” and “and an insult to people who received the medal for genuine service.”

Update the freedom awards to kill coverups

In reality, Presidential Medals of Freedom have routinely been exploited to buttress the political establishment, with bevies of awards for political operators, members of Congress, and pliable foreign leaders. President Lyndon Johnson distributed a bushel of Medals of Freedom to his Vietnam War architects and enablers, perhaps as consolation prizes for losing the war. (The medal awarded to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, whose lies about the war making progress cost thousands of Americans and Vietnamese their lives, fetched $40,625 at an auction a few years ago.) President George W. Bush conferred Medals of Freedom on his Iraq war team, including CIA chief George “Slam Dunk” Tenet,  Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer, and ambassador Ryan Crocker, whom Bush called “America’s Lawrence of Arabia.” Some of the biggest fabulists of the modern era — including Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney — also pocketed the award.

The controversies over Assange and Adelson provide a serendipitous opportunity to update the freedom awards. Because few things are more perilous to democracy than permitting politicians to coverup crimes, there should be a new Medal of Freedom category commending individuals who have done the most to expose official lies. This particular award could be differentiated by including a little steam whistle atop the medal — vivifying how leaks can prevent a political system from overheating or exploding.  

Assange would deserve such a medal — as would Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden (who revealed NSA’s abuses), John Kiriakou (who revealed CIA torture), and Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers). Admittedly, there may be no way to stop presidents from giving steam whistle freedom awards to political donors’ wives.

Organizations like Wikileaks are among the best hopes for rescuing democracy from Leviathan. Unless we presume politicians have a divine right to deceive the governed, America should honor individuals who expose federal crimes. Whistleblowers should be especially welcome by anyone riled up over Trump’s lies.

James Bovard is author of "Attention Deficit Democracy."

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

Beltway BS on ‘Speaking Truth to Power’

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Lying and piety go together in Washington like ham and eggs. After 9/11, a profusion of government falsehoods on Iraq and other topics ravaged official credibility. The political class responded with an endless profusion of promises to “speak truth to power.” Unfortunately, there are far more Washingtonians praising honesty than there are honest politicians.

According to Wikipedia, “Speaking truth to power is a nonviolent political tactic, employed by dissidents against the received wisdom or propaganda of governments they regard as oppressive or authoritarian.” Ironically, that phrase has become one of the favorite accolades in the least trusted city in America.

When seven-term congressman and low-watt Republican functionary Porter Goss was nominated in 2004 to become CIA chief, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) endorsed him after he promised to “always speak truth to power.” Fat chance: after he was confirmed, Goss speedily sent a memo to CIA employees muzzling them, declaring that their job was to “support the administration and its policies in our work.” Goss bungled the CIA so badly that the Bush administration heaved him out less than two years later. Columnist Walter Shapiro observed, “Normally under Bush, promoted-above-your-abilities incompetence is not a firing offense unless, of course, you drown an entire city.”

“Speaking truth to power” had a starring role in the 2005 Senate coronation of John Negroponte, America’s first director of National Intelligence. While working as Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte perennially denied that the Honduran regime was committing vast atrocities, despite its killing of tens of thousands of its own citizens. (Honduras was aiding the Nicaraguan Contras at the time.)

Yet, when the Senate Intelligence Committee held his confirmation hearing, he was treated as if he were Diogenes waiting to carry his lamp into the White House. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) talked about Negroponte’s record breeding “a tough and disciplined man with self-esteem and with the willingness to make decisions and to tell truth to power, which I think is key in all of this.” Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) filibustered: “It seems to me that it is almost imperative that the director of national intelligence — what’s the term? — speak truth to power or whatever the phrase is will be absolutely a requirement.” Senator Mikulski also recycled the “speak truth to power” bromide while kowtowing to the nominee. The Democrats on the committee approved Negroponte at the same time they permitted Republicans to thwart their investigation into whether the Bush administration deceived the nation regarding intelligence on Iraq. (Negroponte was confirmed by the full Senate in a 98-2 squeaker.)

Mike McConnell, a retired admiral and prominent defense contractor, took Negroponte’s place in early 2007. McConnell never wearied of proclaiming in congressional testimony and TV interviews, “My job is to speak truth to power.” This claim was rarely challenged, allowing McConnell to preen to greater credibility. In reality, his job was to frighten Americans who sought the truth about government. McConnell helped frighten Congress into submission with bizarre tall-tales, as when the Bush officials falsely claimed that al-Qaeda could imminently attack Capitol Hill — coincidentally when Congress was considering legislation to expand and extend NSA wiretaps on Americans.

When Michael Hayden was nominated as CIA chief in 2006, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) vouched that Hayden would “speak truth to power.” But Hayden profoundly misled Congress regarding the CIA’s torture program, and his credibility was demolished in the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the enhanced-interrogation program.

From 2010 to 2016, James Clapper served as director of National Intelligence. He scored a “speaks truth to power” honorific when Defense Secretary Ash Carter awarded him the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal. He is much better known for his false 2013 congressional testimony denying that the National Security Agency collected data on millions of Americans. Legal experts marked the day earlier this year when the statute of limitation expired for indicting Clapper for perjury. Law professor Jonathan Turley observed, “The problem is not that the perjury statute is never enforced. Rather it is enforced against people without allies in government.”

The torture scandal

When James Comey was nominated as FBI chief in 2013, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch protested his role providing legal buttressing for Bush-era torture. But Comey worked the media so well that people probably thought he copyrighted “speaks truth to power.” But, from misrepresenting the FBI’s ability to crack an Apple iPhone encryption, to falsely promising transparency after the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre, to perpetuating often deceptive FBI interview practices, he failed to live up to his hype.

The “speaks truth to power” surge hit new high-water marks this spring with the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA chief. Haspel was notorious for her role in the Bush-era torture scandal. She was perhaps best known for sending out an order to destroy 92 videotapes of waterboarding. As an ACLU analysis noted, “In 2004, one year before the tapes’ destruction, a judge ordered the CIA to ‘produce or identify’ records relating to the treatment of detainees in CIA custody. That order came as a result of a legal challenge by the ACLU. One year later, a federal judge in a separate case ordered the government to search for video or audio recordings of detainee interrogations. In clear defiance of the courts, the CIA destroyed the tapes.”

As acting CIA chief, Haspel had discretion to determine exactly what details from her 33-year CIA career would be disclosed to Congress. The public heard about her meeting Mother Teresa but details on her linchpin role in the torture scandal were sparse.

Many of her supporters recited the “speaks truth to power” accolade as if they were trained seals waiting to earn a treat. At the brief Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to confirm Haspel, Sen. Roy Blount (R-Mo.) threw Haspel a soft ball: “Talk about your sense of obligation to present those facts and to speak truth to power at a moment when it matters.” Haspel replied, “Truth to power is one of CIA’s most important missions.” (She also assured senators and the television audience that “my parents gave me a very strong moral compass.”) Haspel initially dodged making criticisms of the torture program but eventually conceded that “the program ultimately did damage to [CIA] officers.” After the committee hearing, she sent a letter to senators assuring them, “I have spent my life speaking truth to power.”

Shortly before the vote on her nomination, the Senate Intelligence Committee “restricted access to a classified memo that Democratic staff put together, detailing Haspel’s role in advocating for torture and later destroying related evidence,” The Intercept reported. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) complained of an “A to Z” coverup of Haspel’s torture record.

There was an uproar by liberal activists, libertarians, and others about the CIA’s withholding of Haspel’s record. That did not stop Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, from announcing during the Senate confirmation vote, “Gina has also the courage to speak truth to power, and she has demonstrated that courage time and again.” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat whose public support for Haspel clinched her confirmation, portrayed himself as an innocent victim of Haspel’s stonewalling: “I wish she had been more open with the American public during this process.” Then he declared, “Most importantly, I believe she is someone who … will speak truth to power.” Perhaps Haspel will speak truth after she finishes destroying all the evidence of federal criminality.

Actual truth-speakers

Praising nominees’ candor seeks to make Americans believe that honesty has a snowball’s chance in hell inside the Beltway. But people who speak truth to power tend to end up fired, exiled, shafted, or imprisoned:

Lawrence Lindsay was George W. Bush’s economic advisor — until he predicted that Bush’s war on Iraq could cost $200 billion. (The actual costs of the war far exceeded $1 trillion.)

Eric Shinseski was US Army chief of staff — until he testified to Congress in 2003 that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to occupy Iraq after Bush invaded that nation. The shortfall in the occupying army quickly turned Iraq into a catastrophe.

Valerie Plame’s career as a covert CIA operative was torpedoed by leaks by Bush administration officials in retaliation against her husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, who publicly criticized Bush’s falsehoods on the Iraqi regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons material.

CIA agent John Kiriakou disclosed that the CIA was waterboarding detainees and was prosecuted by the Obama administration Justice Department — the only CIA official to be sent to prison for the torture scandal. (Kiriakou led the charge in the media against Haspel, whom he nicknamed “Bloody Gina.”)

Former NSA staffer Edward Snowden exposed a vast NSA illegal surveillance network and remains living in exile in Russia, perhaps because a top congressman and former intelligence agency chief publicly joked about putting him on a “kill list.” Snowden’s experience illustrates that exposing federal crimes is the ultimate unforgiveable sin in Washington.

The notion that some official will stalwartly tell the truth is supposed to spur Americans’ faith that Washington can be redeemed — as if we are only two or three nominations away from honest government. This is why “speaks truth to power” is lathered onto almost any nominee without multiple felony convictions. But it remains the political equivalent of a used-car dealer’s swearing a vehicle was previously owned by a grannie who only drove on Sunday afternoons.

“Truth delayed is truth defused” is a much better guide on how most political appointees will behave. But, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg declared in a recent commencement address, “When we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality.” Bloomberg labeled “our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power” as “the greatest threat to American democracy.” Unfortunately, there is no reason to expect this threat to subside anytime soon.

Promising to “speak truth to power” encourages Americans to view political life as a fairy tale — or perhaps a variation of the old story of a young George Washington confessing to his father about axing a cherry tree. But this wishful storyline obscures the profound damage to the Constitution and to Americans’ rights and liberties that both parties have inflicted for decades. As Haspel’s case illustrates, political appointees receive far more career boosts from covering up atrocities than from speaking truth to power.

Reprinted with permission from JimBovard.com.

We Need a #MeToo Movement for Political Consent

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The #MeToo movement is spurring millions of Americans to reconsider the meaning of consent in sexual relations. But there is another realm where far too much has been presumed because of often token gestures. Political consent is defined radically differently than the consent that people freely give in their daily lives.

The Declaration of Independence enshrined the notion that government must possess “the consent of the governed.” Unfortunately, winning politicians often claim blank checks to define the hidden meaning behind citizens’ ballots. “Consenting” on Election Day is portrayed as pre-approving anything politicians dictate in the following years.

Regardless if your candidate campaigned on a peace platform, you “consented” to any wars he might subsequently start or support . Regardless if your candidate promised to end federal crackdowns on marijuana, you “consented” to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s raids on medical cannibis cooperatives. Regardless if your candidate promised to end deficit spending, you “consented” to trillions of dollars of additional federal debt. Regardless if your candidate promised transparency and honesty, you consented to the government keeping millions of secrets and shrouding its worst abuses.

Government agencies structure their policies to make even more absurd presumptions of “consent” in daily life.

Because you traveled abroad, you supposedly consented to Department of Homeland Security agents examining and copying all the records on your cell phone or computer when you return to the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are fighting this policy in federal court but this Obama-era policy remains the law of the land.

Because you bought an airline ticket, you supposedly consented to being pawed by a Transportation Security Administration agent, including an “enhanced patdown” that often includes vigorously groping Americans’ groins (regardless of TSA’s incompetence at discovering actual threats).

Because you chose to use the Washington or New York subway, you have consented to a warrantless search of your backpack or purse by local police who receive a federal grant to conduct security theater performances.

Because you drive on government roads, you supposedly consented to federally-funded license plate scanners compiling a dossier of when and where you travel. And for anyone who objects to federal, state, and local agencies tracking them at almost all times (including when they visit gun shows ), remember that “those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”

Presumed consent entitles government to do as politicians please. Because Americans “consented” to George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s presidential candidacies, their appointees authorized the National Security Administration to create massive databases compiling details on all the phone calls they made or received. In millions of cases, NSA also vacuumed up Americans’ emails and web browsing history . Even though presidents denied they were illegally spying on Americans, voters still presumably “consented.” Americans may be shocked in the coming months and years to learn of illegalities they purportedly “consented” to when Trump was elected.

Political consent is defined these days as rape was defined a generation or two ago: people consent to anything which they do not forcibly resist. Anyone who does not stone city hall presumably consented to everything the mayor does. Anyone who does not jump the White House fence and try to storm into the Oval Office consents to all executive orders. Anyone who doesn't assail the nearest federal office building consents to the latest edicts in the Federal Register. And if people do attack government facilities, then they are terrorists who can be justifiably killed or imprisoned forever.

Ironically, the Founding Fathers proffered a notion of political consent much closer to what #MeToo activists are championing nowadays. The Bill of Rights provided bright lines which politicians were prohibited from crossing regardless of vote counts. The Bill of Rights was a sacred pledge that politicians admitted they had no right to censor the press, confiscate private firearms, suppress religion, or inflict cruel and unusual punishment on citizens. The fact that politicians routinely often violate Americans’ constitutional rights does not make the Bill of Rights any less binding.

Regardless of the outcome of the midterm congressional elections, we should remember that members of Congress and the president took oaths promising to honor and defend the Constitution. In the same way that consenting to a dinner date does not entitle someone to bind and beat another person, consenting in a voting booth does not entitle politicians to ravage Americans’ rights. A strict adherence to the Bill of Rights is the surest way to reduce perils after Election Day.

Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.