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Just Blow the Right Whistle

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

INSIDERS ARE ROUTINELY ALLOWED TO REVEAL GOVERNMENT SECRETS, BUT ONLY IF THEY BOLSTER THE BIG LIE.
by Robert Scheer

Americans love to be lied to; otherwise Edward Snowden would be a wildly popular national hero. Same for Bradley Manning, Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange and others who risk their freedom to inform us about the myriad ways we are continually deceived by our government. These whistleblowers are performing a public service. They’re democracy’s lifeblood, nourishing the essential ingredient that our proclaimed form of governance re – quires: an informed public. If we are ignorant, our votes mean nothing.

In exposing lies and government misdeeds, the whistleblowers revealed that our leaders are not always virtuous. Snowden has been accused of espionage because he exposed the vast spying network that our own government conducts against us. How can it be that a truth teller who seeks to protect our rights is judged the criminal, not the government officials who brazenly subvert the Constitution?

Our government lies to us frequently and conceals that fact by classifying as “top secret” any and all embarrassing information. However, those so-called secrets are routinely leaked to the news media whenever it serves the purpose of the White House, an agency or one of its officials. Anonymous sourcing of stories attrib – uting information to those not cleared to reveal what they are telling is the norm. During my years working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, anonymous sources babbled about the most sensitive subjects of national security or anything else they wanted publicized.

An example I cite often was a personal experience in 1985. After exiting a plane in San Jose, California, I ran into Edward Teller, the famed physicist and “father of the H-bomb,” whom I had interviewed several times. Teller was then adviser to President Reagan on his pet Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), dubbed “Star Wars,” and I was on my way to Stanford Univer – sity to participate in an arms-control seminar.

Teller was very eager to tell me about the great results of a top-secret test—code-named Cottage—involving the nuclear-driven X-ray laser that was at the heart of SDI. If Teller’s claim were true, this would be the most important development in the U.S.-Soviet arms race and a boon to Reagan’s preposterous idea of implementing a defense system that would zap any incoming nuclear warhead as it traveled through space.

I am sure that Teller intended for me to share this information with others at the Stanford seminar, some of whom, like myself, did not have security clearance. And he probably expected that as a journalist covering armscontrol issues, I would break this major story in the Los Angeles Times, and from there it would be reported nationwide and around the world.

If Teller had been correct—a nuclearweapons lab had indeed masterminded an X-ray laser—it was our country’s most vital military secret and therefore the one piece of information that the Soviets would most want to secure. It turned out that Teller’s report of Cot tage’s success was erroneous, the machines monitoring the multimillion-dollar test had proved faulty, and the hunt for the X-ray laser was going nowhere.

My point is that it was information Teller and others bandied about to back up the argu – ment for a weapons system that the militaryindustrial complex wanted. Because the leak supported rather than undermined the Reagan Adminis tration’s hawkish position, Teller wasn’t punished for his indiscretion. Whistleblowers like Snowden are only branded as criminals when the information they disclose sabotages rather than supports the Pentagon’s warmongers.

Edward Snowden could have sat in a Honolulu bar with any reporter who cared to hear him chat endlessly about how he just loved his job nailing the bad guys. He could have revealed information about the success of our antiterrorism surveillance program and never been the subject of an investigation. He is instead a hunted enemy because he told us that the United States government was screwing rather than protecting us. In other words, just leak the good news, and you’ll be an honored public servant.


Who’s the Traitor?

Monday, November 4th, 2013

PRIVACY IS FURTHER SHREDDED AS TECH COMPANIES PLAY BALL WITH UNCLE SAM’S BIGGEST SPY AGENCY.

by Robert Scheer

Thanks to the patriotic courage of Edward Snowden and the once-secret documents he leaked to the media, we now know in frightening detail the danger posed to our freedom by the new information-age technology combined with the hysteria of the post-9/11 surveillance state. If I communicate the rough draft of these thoughts that I am now typing in personal correspondence to a colleague through Skype or Gmail, I have been forewarned that Microsoft, which owns the former, and Google the latter, will turn the substance of my communication over to the NSA, the world’s most powerful top-secret spy agency.

The rough draft of my column, intended only for the eyes of my editor before I refine it—or your most intimate communication in a Skype call—is routinely shared with the CIA and FBI through the NSA’s massive Prism data gathering system. As an NSA analyst stated in a document released by Snowden, this interagency cooperation underscores “the point that Prism is a team sport.” Except you, the unsuspecting customer whose privacy has been promised in promotions for Microsoft and Google services, are the ball being kicked around in that clandestine bureaucratic sport.

It was alarming enough to first learn about the massive metadata sweeps that the NSA conducts on all Internet traffic signaling the origin and destination of communication. But the disclosures printed in the Guardian newspaper, based on the documents Snowden leaked, show that the surveillance included the actual video and audio texts of Skype messages. The traffic turned over to the NSA tripled in the nine months since Microsoft bought the previously independent company. The snooping is no less intensive with Google chats and emails.

Any thought is no longer private and beyond the purview of government spying. That is the powerful truth revealed by Snowden, which has occasioned the U.S. government’s international manhunt for a whistleblower accused of espionage. Snowden’s real crime is not that he endangered our national security, a hoary Espionage Act charge for which the government has yet to produce any substantial evidence. Rather, it’s that he exposed the government’s spying on its own people.

The government’s anger with Snowden—a fairly low-level employee of a private contractor to the NSA—is not over leaking classified information, which politicians do incessantly. Its grievance is that he embarrassed our political leaders by demonstrating the extent to which they have strayed from the promise of our founding documents.

Basic to that promise and underwriting the unfettered right of the people to freedom of speech, press and assembly was the inviolate notion of private space to collect one’s thoughts that was spelled out in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches. …”

But suddenly we have no right to be secure from any searches that the government deigns to initiate. In fact, the totalitarian vacuum cleaner approach enabled by modern technology guarantees that there will be no limits to the searches ordered by government agencies. Thus, the most sacred right the founders sought to preserve—the fundamental sovereignty of the individual—has been shredded. If thoughts cannot be germinated, reexamined and communicated in a zone of privacy, they cannot be developed freely, unrestrained by the coercive intrusion of the state.

What stark hypocrisy. Government hacks in high places not only have subverted the meaning of our Constitution but dare to call Snowden, the man who exposed this danger to our freedom, a traitor. As Ben Franklin, the most experienced of the wise men who founded this nation, warned: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Just the sort of subversive statement that could get Franklin, were he alive today in the nation he helped create, placed on the government’s watch list or worse.


Data Rape

Monday, October 7th, 2013

IT’S WORSE THAN WE FEARED: BIG BROTHER HAS PRIED OPEN OUR LIVES AND VIOLATED OUR PRIVACY BEYOND REPAIR.

by Robert Scheer

Give me bargain or give me liberty. Do Americans love shopping more than they value their individual freedom, or is buying stuff the only freedom we cherish?

Think about it. Why in the past decade have we squandered our legacy of privacy, the Constitutionally protected right to per sonal space, to be left alone with our thoughts and passions and totally empowered to define who we are as individuals as long as we don’t deny that right to others? That was the founding assumption of this great republic of ours, enshrined in the Bill of Rights and with rare exceptions honored until the coming of the age of the Internet and the wired revolution.

In terms of sacrificing privacy, the past decade has witnessed the most sweeping change in human history. Sacred notions of the sanctity of home and family, not to mention even the most intimate details of one’s personal life, are now an open book for anyone with online access. “We know where you live”—the dreaded warning once reserved for particularly efficient and vicious gangsters and agents of a totalitarian regime’s spy apparatus—can now be applied to anyone, nutcase or hustler, who means you harm, as well as to those who just want to sink you into deeper debt by selling you junk.

And most of us think this rape of the private self is just dandy when all of those online ads pitching a product instantly linked to some subject line in whatever we are reading pop up. Interested in gun control? Your computer screen suddenly winks back at you with some cutie message like “I have a snazzy assault weapon you might be interested in. And while you’re at it, why not join a group to protect your right to own a weapon designed to create mayhem?”

That’s the world we welcome into our lives every time we agree to the fine print of some new software convenience—and even when we don’t. There is no accountability for what the Internet search giants will do with our data—and certainly not for the government agencies ostensibly devoted to protecting your rights. This is truly a case where government is not the solution to the problem: It is the problem!

As was confirmed by the leaks concerning the supersecret National Security Agency’s massive surveillance and data-sorting activities, the government on both federal and state levels views the private info-collection outfits— led by Google and Yahoo!—as massive vacuum cleaners sucking up every bit of our personal lives.

This is information that those purportedly private companies are required to turn over to just about any government agency—from the CIA to your local police department—to be sorted, manipulated, cross-filed and made available to just about anyone with some kind of security clearance. That means just about anyone capable of breathing who can sport some sort of badge.

Booz Allen Hamilton, with more than $11 billion in federal contracts, had full access to your records that the government had obtained from Google and the others. Even more disturbing, the for-profit company—which has had a cozy relationship with the intelligence community since World War II—was authorized to bestow official government secrecy clearances on its own employees. That practice came to bite Booz Allen in the ass when one of them—a high-school drop – out named Edward Snowden—decided to leak a mother lode of classified documents detailing the NSA’s extensive phone and Internet eavesdropping.

The government and its private-sector agents get away with doing this because they claim that in the end it makes us safer. It’s the old Big Brother argument: Trust us to enter and monitor every aspect of your lives and totally destroy your freedom. And in return we will guarantee that you will be free of a terrorist attack.

It is a garbage argument because all of that snooping has an ulterior motive: In order to get increased funding to feed its enormous appetite, what is basically a national-security industrial complex has to continue telling us that we are in imminent danger of yet another attack.

The hyping of fear has become a way of life in our country, but we don’t object or even notice because we are too busy shopping.


Dangerous Powers

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

A KEY SENATE COMMITTEE QUESTIONS THE PRESIDENT’S AUTHORITY TO BYPASS CONGRESS IN THE WAR ON TERROR.

by Robert Scheer

Finally, even that old hawk John McCain woke up to the fact that Congress had betrayed its Constitutional obligation after 9/11 by granting President George W. Bush and those who’d come after him unlimited executive power to take the nation to war. In panic over the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, what had seemed like a good idea in 2001 has been interpreted by Presidents Bush and Obama as authorization for a never-ending war against terrorism, free of any Congressional oversight.

In May of this year the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing where highranking Defense Department officials asserted that the United States could wage war anywhere and anytime the president desired.

In response, Senator McCain (R-Arizona) warned: “This authority…is no longer applicable to the conditions that prevailed, that motivated the United States Congress to pass the authorization for the use of military force that we did in 2001. For you to come here and say we don’t need to change it or revise or update it, I think is, well, disturbing.”

What McCain was referring to was the fact that he and almost everyone else in Congress caught in the grip of post-9/11 hysteria had hastily voted to betray the essential wisdom of the separation of powers enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Without any serious debate over the historic consequences, the House of Representatives and Senate approved the “Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Basically a blank check, the 60-word paragraph stated: “That the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

With that mandate, Congress destroyed the wall between the executive and legislative branches that the authors of the Constitution had so prudently enshrined in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, which reserves to Congress the power “to declare War.” The president’s duty as commander-in-chief is to conduct that war and not to decide whether it should be undertaken.

But this past May, McCain and his colleagues were rudely reminded of the awesome power they had surrendered to the president as the aforementioned Defense Department officials calmly affirmed the obvious reality that President Barack Obama was no more obligated than George W. Bush to seek Congressional permission before taking the nation to war. The senators seemed genuinely shocked to be told of the consequences of Congress’s irresponsible action 12 years earlier.

The abrupt moment of truth for McCain and others at that Senate committee hearing came when Pentagon officials told the senators that the “Authorization for Use of Military Force” allowed the United States to now invade Syria or any other spot on the globe where the president could claim that terrorists were active.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) had a question for Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of Defense who oversees special operations: “Would you agree with me, the battle field is anywhere the enemy chooses to make it?”

Not mincing his words, Sheehan replied, “Yes, sir, from Boston to FATA [Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas].” He went on to testify that this power to intervene anywhere without Congressional approval would be needed for “at least ten to 20 years.”

“This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I’ve been to since I’ve been here,” bristled Maine’s independent Senator Angus King. “You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution today. … Under your reading, we’ve granted unbelievable powers to the president, and it’s a very dangerous precedent.”

Dangerous indeed, as an almost-unanimous Congress should have realized when, blindly surrendering to fear, our nation’s law makers—including John McCain—thoughtlessly subverted the core meaning of the Constitution that they had solemnly pledged to uphold. It is time for Congress to make amends by annulling that dangerous carte-blanche authorization before a president takes us into the next dumb war.


Stalkers Paradise

Monday, August 5th, 2013

PERSONAL INFO IS EASIER THAN EVER TO DIG UP—AND IT JUST MIGHT BE TOTALLY ERRONEOUS TO BOOT!

by Robert Scheer

The snoopers are our new best friends? Unbelievable but true when, for the first time in human history, it is the norm for people to volunteer to be spied upon. Folks eagerly pay for the very apps that betray their privacy with a ruthless efficiency unmatched by the most oppressive tyrants of old.

The secret agents of a Hitler or Stalin were limited to monitoring people’s mail, eavesdropping on the telephone or clumsily tailing suspects they wanted to get the goods on. But that’s primitive junk-snooping by the standards of today’s surveillance state. Now people willingly authorize the use of their location and trigger access to every movement, purchase and conversation to any corporation or government agency that cares to “mine” their data, along with information from the rest of the world’s population.

Whereas in the past the files of a dictator’s Gestapo were barely read and almost impossible to collate as they gathered dust under lock and key, today’s data searches are conducted with a speed and thoroughness that defies comprehension. The movie you watched, your thoughts about its content posted on Facebook, the dialogue it provoked among friends—including the most intimate or wildest thought any of them have on any subject from the political to the pornographic—are instantly and permanently revealed to just about anyone curious enough to inquire.

The revolution in information technology has left in its wake a stalkers paradise. The sanctity of self has been rendered nonexistent, and the very idea of the individual as an independent entity exploring life in private is an endangered species.

Although we kind of know that we are all under a totally invasive microscope, we soothe any incipient anxiety with the rationalization that the supercomputer searches only zero in on the bad guys and never innocent folks like us. When one of the evildoers gets caught, we cheer wildly and marvel at the technology that made it possible, never thinking that it is a privacy-destroying weapon that could easily target saints like ourselves.

That was my first reaction when I read about how a prosecutor in Pasadena, California, was able to sift through 30 billion files in order to track the movement of a murder suspect. That means law-enforcement agencies can easily sift through as massive a database to nail you on any allegation even if you are never charged, let alone convicted, of a crime.

An exaggeration you say? Hardly, as the New York Times recently made crystal clear. In a story looking at how data-mining is affecting all aspects of our lives, it divulged that “retailers across the country have helped amass vast databases of workers accused of stealing, and are using that information to keep employees from working again in the industry.”

The operative word is accused, but as the Times reported, those accusations can be of the flimsiest sort and “often contain scant details about suspected thefts and routinely do not involve criminal charges. Still, the information can be enough to scuttle a job candidate’s chances. Some of the employees, who submit written statements after being questioned by store security officers, have no idea that they admitted committing a theft or that the information will remain in databases.”

Permanent databases are as easily searched as they are prone to error. Files containing the groundless suspicion of a hostile supervisor that you might have shoplifted can be combined with a friend’s Instagram photos from your long-ago bachelor party, an overdue credit card bill, medical records, divorce proceedings and adolescent ramblings about a horrendous first date you can’t even remember posting somewhere on the Internet, all of which present to the world a creepy view of you that you are unaware is in circulation and that needs to be corrected.

This is all because we have no laws protecting your private data from being widely disseminated without your “opt-in” permission to share such personal information across infinite platforms. When you granted permission to a computer prompt to “use your location,” all you wanted was the hint of a good restaurant nearby. For that you squandered the right to dine, and think, in private. Surely the sacred right to privacy deserves better legal protection than that.


Kiss Your Privacy Goodbye

Monday, July 1st, 2013

THE FOURTH AMENDMENT IS BEING RIPPED TO SHREDS BY WALL STREET MERGERS, UNCLE SAM’S WAR ON TERROR AND THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND.

by Robert Scheer

Ever read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Probably not, or you—like most Americans—would not be so accepting of its demise as a pillar of the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. The Fourth is the one that guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. …”

As the wording of the amendment clearly states, it’s not just your home that is your castle. Dating back to the late 12th century, when English common law was first taking shape, this principle granted a person sovereignty over his space even if a tyrannical monarch was sitting on the throne. The Fourth Amendment goes further than that, extending your sovereignty over “houses, papers, and effects.” So even when you are traveling beyond the confines of your domicile, your fundamental right to a private space is protected.

That space can only be invaded by agents of the state under the Fourth Amendment’s narrowly prescribed parameters: “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

How much clearer could the framers of our Constitution have made it? They knew exactly the dangers they were describing: agents, acting on behalf of King George III, who would conduct general sweeps through the homes of rebellious colonists as a means of enforcing blind obedience and squelching any rumblings of revolution. Privacy of home and thought was not some perk of leisure to the founders but rather the bedrock on which free citizens could stand.

Better tell that to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has defended the increasingly widespread use of drones to spy on every second of our most personal activity. Easy for Bloomberg. As one of the country’s richest men, he can no doubt find heavily guarded sanctuaries to provide him with virtually impenetrable privacy. His advice to the rest of us on his weekly radio show was that privacy is doomed: “You can’t keep the tides from coming in. We’re gonna have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that.”

What a cop-out to liken calculated assaults by state and private snoopers on our most intimate affairs to the natural rise and fall of sea levels dictated by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun along with Earth’s rotation. Snooping is dictated by the eagerness of snoopers, official or private, and their unconstitutional antics can be banned as a matter of law. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

For example, back in 1999, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, permitting insurance companies, investment houses and commercial banks to merge. At the time, privacy advocates pointed out that this would permit the consolidation of massive medical and financial databases. They called for a statutory requirement that an individual’s records could not be shared without their express consent. Under pressure from the banking lobbyists eager to exploit this new trove of personal information, Congress rejected that safeguard. What should be confidential is now public.

Unfortunately, in 2001 that assault on our privacy rights was followed by the so-called War on Terror in response to the 9/11 attacks. The pretext of fighting foreign enemies has led to a massive expansion of warrantless surveillance of our phone calls and emails without any of the safeguards enshrined in our Constitution.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court threw out a challenge to this surveillance on the grounds that since it is secret, we citizens have no basis for claiming we are being spied on even though the government concedes it is doing just that.

So much for the Fourth Amendment and your privacy rights.


Orwellian Decision

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND SANCTIFIES SECRECY AND THE UNCHECKED INVASION OF OUR PRIVACY.

by Robert Scheer

Why did we go so crazy after 9/11? The idea that somehow our freedoms could be easily sacrificed, including those that our Constitution declared most fundamental to the survival of our republic, became the norm.

This past February, more than a decade after attacks that would seem relatively minor in the histories of most war-torn nations, the so-called conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court—in cahoots with President Barack Obama—put the final nail in the coffin of one of the Constitution’s most sacred protections: the right to the privacy of one’s home and thoughts.

Enshrined in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, it was perhaps the most important right of all in the eyes of the founders of this nation. They had risked much as colonists in objecting to the warrantless intrusion into people’s homes conducted by the king of England. That is why they guaranteed “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Surely, the right to be secure in one’s person and papers would extend in the modern era to telephone conversations, as candidate Obama stated when he first ran for President and condemned the warrantless electronic surveillance of the Bush Administration. He specifically denounced Bush’s exploitation of the 9/11 attacks as “an excuse for unchecked Presidential power. A tragedy that united us was turned into a political wedge issue used to divide us.”

Obama specifically denounced Bush’s use of warrantless wiretapping as “a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.” He promised that “I will provide our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens.”

But Obama didn’t mean it. The unconstitutional wiretapping initiated under Bush that ensnares the communications of millions of Americans has been defended even more energetically by his successor. The Obama Administration filed the critical brief affirming the constitutionality of the eavesdropping by the National Security Agency that Amnesty International and the ACLU had challenged before the Supreme Court.

It was the reasoning of the Obama Justice Department that the court’s right-wing majority embraced in slamming the door shut on protecting the basic privacy rights of Americans. In a 5-4 decision, the court held that the plaintiffs had no judicial standing to bring their challenge to the administration’s policy because they couldn’t prove they had been victimized by its wiretap procedures.

Of course they couldn’t because the wiretapping procedures are so highly secret. But the Constitutional point, as former Constitutional law professor Obama well knows, is that the government has no more right to break into your phone conversations than it does to physically enter your home without a warrant. It is the warrant that serves notice to the victim that he or she may be being victimized.

Instead of honoring the sanctity of the right to privacy, Obama and the Supreme Court— as they’ve done with drone strikes and the rendition- torture program—substitute stealth for transparency to make official criminal behavior invisible. Prophetic writer George Orwell would have appreciated the Obama argument. Rejected by the court’s pro-civil liberties minority, it insisted that since the NSA’s surveillance operation is so highly secret, those who fear that the public is being victimized can’t prove it. By that reasoning, any nefarious action of the government—say assassinations of its critics— could be deemed exempt from judicial challenge as long as the facts of the killing are concealed behind the veil of official secrecy.

The Supreme Court majority ruling spells the end of government accountability and with it the end of the Bill of Rights protection of individual freedom. That is the template of the post-9/11 America into which this country has morphed.


Larry Flynt On Free Speech And Smut

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Larry Flynt is celebrating dual milestones. Now 70, he heads a business empire that’s larger and more profitable than ever. He’s also celebrating the 25-year anniversary of an unlikely Supreme Court victory. Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, Flynt’s epic legal battle against evangelist Jerry Falwell, started out as a tasteless joke about the preacher losing his virginity with his own mother and ended up as a historical landmark that significantly bolstered our First Amendment right to free speech.

Flynt sat down with longtime friend Robert Scheer, one of the country’s foremost progressive voices, for an honest conversation about the lofty principles of Constitutional rights and the gutter realities of being a multimillionaire smut peddler.

ROBERT SCHEER: You once told me HUSTLER is the best magazine you could read with one hand. In your office you have a book of Helmut Newton’s photographs: classy, beautiful erotica. In the magazine you’ve got cum-shots.

LARRY FLYNT: You know something? Helmut Newton loved HUSTLER; it was his favorite magazine. People that love smut like it hard, and they like it unapologetic. If you’re a connoisseur of pornography, you really don’t like it camouflaged with a lot of aesthetics; you like it in your face. You’re one of the few people I know who define pornography very objectively when it’s really very subjective. It exists in various forms.

We all know that the old masters, Picasso or Rembrandt, had a penchant for doing nudes—for doing porn basically. When writers like James Joyce came along, they were in a league of their own. They made the desire for pornography more acceptable. Eventually there came a time when it was available to the masses. The genie was out of the bottle, and there was no way of putting it back in. It got very unfiltered and very unsophisticated. So, many of the people who appreciated very good pornography were extremely critical of the crudeness in a lot of it. But that’s the marketplace.

When you started out, you just wanted to make a buck, right?

And have fun while I was doing it.

You were the primitive capitalist. You weren’t some great artist painting beautiful naked women.

No. But if I was selling peanut butter, I’d sell it with the same enthusiasm.

You sometimes talk about yourself as just a smut peddler. I remember when people criticized you about being a bottom-feeder, you said, “Yeah, but look what I found at the bottom.” But you’ve had an evolution. You’re a true believer now in the First Amendment argument.

I didn’t have to evolve on the First Amendment. I’ve always believed in it.

But did you understand it? Did you understand its power?

No. I don’t think any of us understands the overwhelming significance of the First Amendment. Without free expression or the right to assemble, we wouldn’t even be a nation. The Second Amendment wouldn’t even be important. All others come after the First Amendment.

So you start HUSTLER in 1974, and your life takes off. Then in 1978 you have this horrendous experience of being shot. One response could be a lower profile. Take the money and run. But you became a crusader.

I never slowed down. All through the ’70s, ’80s and some of the ’90s we were putting out censorship brush fires all over the country. Prosecutors wanted to prosecute me everywhere, and I always showed up to accommodate them. I think I finally just wore them out.

The People vs. Larry Flynt is the popular record of your First Amendment fight. It’s a brilliant piece of moviemaking, but is it accurate?

It’s extremely accurate. Some of it is very embarrassing, but the director, Milos Forman, knew what he had to focus on: the most bizarre, outrageous and controversial parts of my life, because that gets the money. All of that is true, but there was a lot left out of the movie that I would like to have seen in there.

In the beginning you’re just a redneck who wants to make a buck. You’ve got strip clubs, and you need a way of publicizing them. So you put out this magazine. Then you run up against hypocrites like Charles Keating— who landed in the middle of the savings-and loan scandal—and Jerry Falwell. That confrontation took you to our highest court. How important is the legacy of that Supreme Court decision 25 years ago?

Go back to the ’70s and get some tapes from Johnny Carson’s monologue, and you’ll realize how bland and tame they are; no comparison at all to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. You can see the evolution that took place with my case. I was talking to Rodney Smolla, who wrote Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt: The First Amendment on Trial, the book about the Supreme Court case. He says people are not really aware of the full impact that case had because the lawyers for NBC, CBS and all the rest of them are standing behind people like Letterman, Leno and Stewart saying you can do this because of this case. Garry Trudeau, in an interview with Ted Koppel, talked about all the trouble that his comic Doonesbury got into with politicians—Bush the lapdog and things like that. He said he was really worried that he was going to be facing serious litigation. And he said, “Then I got a get-out-of-jail-free card.” And Koppel said, “Who was that from?” And he said, “Larry Flynt.”

That case just stopped it all right there. You can no longer sue someone because they hurt your feelings or your wife’s feelings or your dog’s feelings or whatever; you have to prove libel. If you can’t prove libel, it’s not going to fly. That was a huge thing in that case. The second component that made it so significant was that for the first time in the history of our nation, over 200 years, parody was made protected speech. If it’s not a serious piece of literary work, it cannot be taken as such. It must be treated as a parody.

I remember you once mentioned that you thought the infamous June 1978 meat grinder cover was parody; that you were putting down the idea of women being meat in a meat grinder.

It was a satirical-spoof parody, not done in the best taste, but that’s what it represented as far as I was concerned. I think as a heterosexual male about women. I love women. I adore them. I worship them. They’re my whole life. If there’s anything that brightens up my day, it’s a beautiful woman.

Do you think you empower women by the way they are depicted in HUSTLER?

As long as there’s a woman covered up, a man’s going to want to see her in her birthday suit. That is human nature. That is the attraction. In all of my years of being in business and all the thousands of models that I’ve interviewed, I’ve never had one model ever say to the press or to me personally or to anyone that she felt like she had been coerced or intimidated to be in the magazine. It was always something that she did voluntarily. It was always because they thought they were young, they had great bodies, and they would like to preserve it for posterity’s sake because they realized they would only be young once. That is the general theme of every young woman that’s ever posed for HUSTLER over the years. I know that people, feminists like Gloria Steinem, feel that these women are being exploited. Gloria’s a lot like Reverend Falwell, just selling her take.

One of the arguments about Playboy and magazines like that is they held up an idea of a woman that couldn’t really exist in life—the ultimate objectification. It makes the husband or the boyfriend disappointed with what he has. I remember you telling me that in HUSTLER you aim for the woman-next- door, the woman you would actually see in real life.

She could be short, skinny, whatever. Redheads, blondes, brunettes.

And you were against cosmetic surgery.

Yes, and I still am. But we’ve got a huge problem today. We like to publish women in their natural state, which means their pubes are intact, but 90% of girls that show up today have no pubic hair, and over half of them have had breast implants. So we are really faced with a crisis situation. Either we take what we can get or try to go with something that is not up to our standard.

People used to get arrested for what you do, even just saying or printing the word fuck. Now it’s all out of the bag. Have we gained some freedom? Is this a better way to live? Let it all hang out?

There’s nothing said or written that has not been said or written before. It’s just rearranged. I don’t think it’s that much of a different world. I think there were some true pioneers. It wasn’t Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt. It was Lenny Bruce. I remember Lenny Bruce saying, “They say that kids are out to repeat what they see imitated, and in that case I’d rather my kids see a porn movie than King of Kings because I don’t want them to kill Christ when he comes back.”

Lenny was scary to the establishment because he was saying things that made the establishment cringe. No one should even utter these words! But we have a First Amendment that guarantees us the right to express ourselves and not have to worry about what kind of words we’re using.

In the case of Falwell and the Moral Majority, he seemed to be riding a wave that was going to get bigger and bigger and sweep aside a lot of progress. Now, after this last election, you even have a Christian conservative like Ralph Reed saying, “We don’t have the people anymore, and we particularly don’t have the young people.” They’re not buying into that Puritanism. They’re not buying into what the Moral Majority wants. So you won at the end of the day. Did Falwell see that coming?

I think that there was one side of him that believed he was going to win; at least he wanted to win. And until the decision was rendered, I thought he was going to. When I sat in that gallery at the Supreme Court and looked over there at him and his family, it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. The pornographer versus the preacher. I’m dead, and then it wound up being a unanimous decision. In the whole history of our nation there have only been a handful of unanimous decisions to come out of the Supreme Court, and mine was one of them.

After the case was over, I was sitting in my office, and my secretary called me and said, “There’s a Reverend Jerry Falwell in the lobby.” I said, “Send him in.” He comes walking through my office door, and he’s got both hands in the air, and he says, “I surrender.” He comes in and sits down and says, “Look, I know when I’m beaten.” I think he knew he was beaten all along, but he milked it for all he could get.

Did you get the feeling that Falwell was in it as an act, that this was a racket? Or was he a true believer?

I think Reverend Falwell knew what he was selling just like I knew what I was selling. I was selling porn; he was selling religion.

Let me ask you about exposing politicians. At first I thought this was a little weird and contradictory. Here is a guy who wants us to be sexually freer, and yet he’s going after people because they’ve got a mistress. Did you feel that there was something contradictory about your big campaign?

Not at all. I have one vote, only one. But by outing corrupt politicians, I can get rid of some people who shouldn’t be there—not because I’m exposing their sex life but because I’m exposing their hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the biggest enemy that democracy has. It doesn’t have anything to do with sex or money; it’s the hypocrisy involved.

Take somebody like Bob Livingston. He’s trying to impeach Bill Clinton, and he’s talking about how solid his marriage is, saying he had never strayed from his marriage, never had an affair with a government employee or an intern or a lobbyist. Then we find out he’s doing a lobbyist, a federal judge and an intern in his own office. That guy just reeked of hypocrisy. He was ripe to be exposed.

Like when we exposed Larry Craig, the congressman from Idaho who was doing the footsies in the men’s-room stall. He’d voted against every piece of gay-rights legislation in the last 20 years and was gay himself. He should have been exposed.

What if they’re public citizens, and they’re not being hypocritical?

You have some liberals in both the House and the Senate who don’t profess to be holier-than- thou. They’re not trying to conduct their personal lives differently than the way they conduct their public life. We leave those people alone. I’ve had very compromising information and photographs of some very famous and influential people in this country, and I stopped it from being published because they were private citizens. I could have made a lot of money by publishing the material, but I didn’t do it.

HUSTLER is a pretty tawdry publication. But when people picked it up during the last election, they saw—right next to the smut—statements by Larry Flynt about why we need to vote for Obama, why we need to tax rich people like yourself, why we need to care about people who don’t have so much.

I don’t know how people who are successful can feel that they do not have an obligation to help people who have been less fortunate, especially the young and the elderly or the handicapped. I give a lot of money to charity every year. I don’t do it because it makes me feel better. I do it because I know there’s a need for it. Republicans are mean-spirited. I don’t think they give a damn. At their core they’re racist, and they’re on their way to becoming a minority party because they have no compassion for their fellow people. A nation cannot survive with a bunch of selfish rich people.

What impresses me is that, somehow out of all of this madness, you ended up being a pretty classy guy. The last thing anybody would have expected is that you, smut peddler Larry Flynt, would still be here at 70 years old a respected member of the community, the one who protected our freedoms.

Somebody said to me once, “My problem with you is that you’re offensive.” I said, “Well, freedom of speech is only important if it’s offensive. If you’re not going to offend anybody, you don’t need protection of the First Amendment.”

When they were interviewing me in front of the Supreme Court, I said, “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it’ll protect everybody.”


Outsourcing Torture

Friday, May 10th, 2013

If you are the least bit squeamish, don’t read “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” an Open Society Justice Initiative report published by the Open Society Foundations. The OSF was established by philanthropist George Soros, one of the handful of the super rich still guided by a moral compass. Soros was a Hungarian Jewish teenager when Nazi Germany occupied his homeland and is therefore aware of the depravity which can emanate from a society that lays claim to being a high point of human civilization.

After all, the Germans who voted Hitler into power in 1933 were among the world’s most well-educated people, as well as largely being followers of Christian scripture. That so many of them came to equate barbarism with patriotism is a warning sign to those Americans who find assurance in our “values” cloaking our nation’s collective descent into the darker realms. It is an arrogance starkly challenged by the systematic savagery practiced by a widespread network of agents of our government, ostensibly in response to the attacks of 9/11.

But the purpose of the OSF report is not to shock with examples of the most extreme cases from the sinister world of torture into which America sank. It methodically defines the norm in a vast terror operation that the United States has sponsored around the globe.

In this detailed report documenting the U.S. policy of outsourcing interrogation to 54 nations, chosen for their unfettered embrace of torture techniques, you will discover the depths of evil to which the most extreme totalitarian societies might aspire. Indeed, that was the point of the CIA’s “extraordinary-rendition” program initiated after 9/11, capturing suspected terrorists and turning them over to the world’s most brutal torturers without any presumption of innocence and regard for due process.

The techniques go far beyond the beatings and waterboarding celebrated in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Apparently, America’s homegrown torturers didn’t have the proper skill-set to slit penises and dismember body parts. Or perhaps the CIA agents whom Bigelow honors did engage in such sadistic practices, and her script advisers at CIA headquarters objected to revealing the grisly details. In any case, as the Open Society Foundations report proves, CIA officials were often present and certainly had ultimate supervisory power over the torture chambers financed by the world’s most overly hyped democracy.

For our government, condoning barbarism is easily rationalized: We were attacked and have the right to utilize the most heinous of means to attain the end of ensuring our safety. Of course, we know from the testimony of key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Bigelow’s film mistakenly implies that torture was pivotal in hunting down Osama bin Laden.

As the OSF report makes clear, information obtained by torture is most often unreliable. Words are spewed in a desperate effort to stop the infliction of pain. One glaring example cited is the tortured detainee who indicated that al-Qaeda operatives had been trained in biological and chemical weapons by the government of Saddam Hussein. The George W. Bush regime used that fabrication to justify the invasion of Iraq even though it was well known that Hussein was a sworn enemy of Bin Laden’s organization.

But what if barbaric techniques occasionally provide accurate information, as torturers have claimed in their defense down through history? It was routine for Europe’s royal despots to justify employing brutal methods at the time our great experiment in republican governance was taking shape. Unlike King George III and other unscrupulous monarchs, our Founding Fathers held basic human rights to be inalienable and accordingly enshrined the right of due process into our Constitution.

Moreover, it is a right that must also be extended to our presumed adversaries. Yet— and this high crime is even more vicious than the assault on the bodies and minds of so many prisoners—the right of the accused to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a fair court of law has been obliterated by the leaders of our nation on an unprecedented international scale. Check the OSF report for the details of our depravity and then demand of our leaders that such horrid acts never again be conducted in our name.
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Before serving almost 30 years as a Los Angeles Times columnist and editor, Robert Scheer spent the late 1960s as Vietnam correspondent, managing editor and editor in chief of Ramparts magazine. He is now editor of TruthDig.com. His latest book is The Great American Stick-Up: Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Love Them.


Greedonomics

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Let me tell you how screwed we are. Better yet, let me once again quote my favorite economist, the late Beatle John Lennon. I’ve frequently cited the words he sang in “Working Class Hero” because they make the most salient point concerning our devastated economy: “A working class hero is something to be/Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV/And you think you’re so clever and classless and free/But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.”

He’s singing about you white guys, the peasants who voted for the Republicans in such sufficient numbers that they kept control of the House of Representatives, preventing the Democrats from legislating any but the slight- est increase in a taxation system designed to make the rich richer. The most that President Obama could get passed, even after winning a second term, was an insignificant tax increase on the superrich families earning more than $450,000 a year. That and a lousy 5% increase on the capital-gains profits from gambits that allowed GOP candidate Mitt Romney to pay 14% on his many millions in income while lesser souls were paying upwards of 35% on their hard-earned labor in the real world.

The richest of the rich, like the Koch brothers, bought your vote with hysterical appeals to your most primitive and therefore distorted instinct of self-preservation based on a false notion of one’s own class position. Most white guys who vote Republican are big losers in today’s economy, but they still think of themselves as middle-class winners. They make up a majority of those with underwater mortgages and foreclosed homes, and they are denied once widely available decent-paying jobs with medical coverage. But they still believe that when Uncle Sam invades some country with oil, they will benefit. They won’t.

Want proof? Just Google the “Equity Strategy” reports that Citigroup sent to its richest clients before the great recession hit. Dated October 16, 2005, the first report heralded the new day of the “Plutonomy” that in the United States has replaced the traditional capitalist-based democracy. The USA, the United Kingdom and Canada are now clearly defined as a new form of capitalist political rule—by the rich and for the rich. As the Citigroup report proudly claimed, “the world is dividing into two blocs—the plutonomies, where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, and the rest.”

The report went on to state: “What are the common drivers of Plutonomy? Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments….”

That was written two years before the crash of 2007 ushered in the great recession that wiped out much of the wealth of the middle class. Citigroup was a big player in the financial scams that led to the housing bubble triggering the economic crisis that still haunts us. The Citigroup reports predicted for their most privileged clients exactly what was in store: “We project that the plutonomies…will likely see even more income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies….”

They nailed it. In a March 5, 2006, report titled “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer,” Citigroup pronounced: “We think the rich are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. … Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries.”

Then the crash hit, enabled by the radical deregulation of Wall Street by the market-friendly U.S. government. While the average homeowner was smashed, that same U.S. government bailed out Citigroup, which packaged its toxic mortgage-based securities. The result has been an increase in the wealth of the superrich at the expense of just about everyone else.

In 2011 the net worth of the Forbes 400 increased by $200 billion and now totals over $1.5 trillion. The wealth of the richest 1% of Americans is now equal to the total wealth accumulated over a lifetime by the bottom 90%. It is time to deep-six the word democracy and acknowledge that a plutonomy is what we have become.


larry flynt's book