Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oil Company Backs Off Siccing Homeland Security on Journalist

Greg Palast writes:

Forget the orange suit. Exxon Mobil Corporation, which admits it was behind the criminal complaint brought by Homeland Security against me and television producer Matt Pascarella, has informed me that the oil company will no longer push charges that Pascarella and I threatened "critical infrastructure."

The allegedly criminal act, which put us on the wrong side of post-9/11 anti-terror law, was our filming of Exxon's Baton Rouge refinery where, nearby, 1,600 survivors of Hurricane Katrina remain interned behind barbed wire.

Sounds like the voice of sanity has prevailed this time.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Four Affairs

Courtesy of, a glimpse of what the New York Times has to say concerning a new and creative use of subpoena power:

A Gag on Free SpeechThe New York Times | Editorial
Friday 15 December 2006

The Bush administration is trampling on the First Amendment and well-established criminal law by trying to use a subpoena to force the American Civil Liberties Union to hand over a classified document in its possession...

Justice Department lawyers have issued a grand jury subpoena to the A.C.L.U. demanding that it hand over "any and all copies" of the three-and-a-half-page government document, which was recently leaked to the group....

There are at least two serious problems with the government's action. It goes far beyond what the law recognizes as the legitimate purpose of a subpoena. Subpoenas are supposed to assist an investigation, but the government does not need access to the A.C.L.U.'s document for an investigation since it already has its own copy. It is instead trying to confiscate every available copy of the document... The A.C.L.U. says it knows of no other case in which a grand jury subpoena has been used this way.

The subpoena is also a prior restraint because the government is trying to stop the A.C.L.U. in advance from speaking about the document's contents. The Supreme Court has held that prior restraints are almost always unconstitutional. The danger is too great that the government will overreach and use them to ban protected speech or interfere with free expression by forcing the media, and other speakers, to wait for their words to be cleared in advance....

If the A.C.L.U.'s description of its secret document is correct, there is no legitimate national defense issue. The document does not contain anything like intelligence sources or troop movements, the group says. It is merely a general statement of policy whose release "might perhaps be mildly embarrassing to the government."...

And here at ThinkProgress, in fact, is an example of prior restraint standing forth in full regalia. The White House has decided that it, not the CI A, will decide what's classified and what's not, and according to author whose ox has been gored, it's classified or not depending on what someone intends to say about it.

EXCLUSIVE: White House Forbids Publication Of Op-Ed On Iran By Former Bush Official

Middle East analyst Flynt Leverett, who served under President Bush on the National Security Council and is now a fellow at the New America Foundation, revealed today that the White House has been blocking the publication of an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. The column is critical of the administration’s refusal to engage Iran.

Leverett’s op-ed has already been cleared by the CIA, where he was a senior analyst. Leverett explained, “I’ve been doing this for three and a half years since leaving government, and I’ve never had to go to the White House to get clearance for something that I was publishing as long as the CIA said, ‘Yeah, you’re not putting classified information.’”

...Leverett says the incident shows “just how low people like Elliot Abrams at the NSC [National Security Council] will stoop to try and limit the dissemination of arguments critical of the administration’s policy.”...

Elsewhere, 40 "mostly middle-aged" women were tried for a variety of offenses after being caught in a reportedly "threatening" activity, namely, trying to deliver a petition while laughing, singing, wearing pink and being "clearly happy," Lord forbid!

Again thanks to truthout :

Peace Women, Convicted of Trespassing, Teach the US Government a Lesson in Diplomacy
By Medea Benjamin
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor
Thursday 14 December 2006

It must sound absurd, perhaps even unbelievable, that four peace women were arrested and put on trial for attempting to deliver a peace petition to the US Mission to the United Nations....

On March 6, 2006, CODEPINK organized a group of about 40 women, including a delegation from Iraq, and held a press conference in front of the United Nations, in New York City, to call for an end to the war in Iraq and commemorate International Women's Day. The group then marched a few blocks to the US Mission to deliver a petition signed by 72,000 women from around the world.

The previous year...CODEPINK had delivered a similar petition without incident...This year, to our surprise and horror, we found the building had been locked up to keep us out and we were surrounded by armed police and security guards. After an hour of urging them to either let a small group inside or have someone come down to "just accept the damn piece of paper," the four women representatives... were handcuffed and dragged to a police wagon...We were charged with trespassing, two counts of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstructing government administration.

Nine months later, the trial of the "CODEPINK Four" started in the Manhattan Criminal Court and dragged on for over a week...

The head of communications for the US Mission, Richard Grenell, was the most absurd of the witnesses. While a videotape we introduced as evidence showed a group of about 40 mostly middle-aged women strolling toward the Mission singing Give Peace a Chance, Mr. Grenell testified that he found the group threatening because "they were wearing pink, they were laughing and they were clearly happy."...

...The jury acquitted us of the more serious misdemeanor charges and found us guilty of trespassing, a violation akin to a parking ticket. After paying a $95 court fee, we were free....

So as soon as the court adjourned, we immediately returned to the same US Mission to deliver the same petition....

This time,without difficulty.

And at the same time, centralized information control clamps down at the U.S. Geological Survey. As the AP story points out, this is part of a well-established trend.

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press...

"This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way," Barbara Wainman, the agency's communications director, said Wednesday. "What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow."...

"...I worry that it borders on censorship," said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif.

...From now on, USGS supervisors will demand to see the comments of outside peer reviewers' as well any exchanges between the scientists who are seeking to publish their findings and the reviewers.

Of course, there is something to be said for not blindsiding top officials of your organization with shocking new findings; but as one who has been there, in this era this kind of thing has proved to be about more than coordination -- it's about top-down message control, no matter how slickly worded the rationalization.

In the context of everything else that is going on, it's reasonable to interpret this as another case of publicly funded research and information being converted to the private property of the party in power -- to use or suppress as they see fit, for political gain.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Shot Over the First Amendment's Bow

The commotion has already died down concerning last month's shot over the First Amendment bow by Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S House of Representatives. There was a great deal of commentary on the Web, but next to no news coverage beyond the Union Leader, which had the original story. This suggests it is not being taken seriously; but it should be taken as seriously as any potential risk to our Constitution and way of life.

Indicator 1: What a forum for it! An event specifically dedicated to the First Amendment, at which a newspaper, in fact, was honored for setting public service ahead of advertising revenues. If that is not a shot over the bow, what is?

Indictor 2: Possible signs of an echo chamber at work.

Example 1: A few days before the Gingrich remarks, I happened to attend a specialized legal forum where one attorney, well known in his industry, opined that "The First Amendment may well be a bad idea." This is not on the Web; but I do have it on tape. The context was in light of the personal pain that news coverage sometimes causes individuals who find themselves in the news.

Example 2: A few days ago, a similar idea cropped up in an exchange on a liberal "humor" blog that I see see occasionally, . The proprietor of this site enjoys taking on reactionary types who send him email. I take the liberty of quoting the full exchange; the incoming email is in bold italic, and Bartcop's rsponses in plain italic. I "bleeped" the profanity, as I don't want it on my blog.

Subject: [U] Scumbag
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Yeah I got a comment for you mother f****r.

I always like hearing from my fans in the military.

You don't like how Mr. Bush is running things, to bad. He is the boss.

It's my understanding that you have to say that, since you're on active duty. When will you be free to express thoughts of your own?

Its reasons like you that I don't believe the U.S. should have freedom of speech amendments.

You're a soldier who don't believe in the US Constitution?
Isn't that like a nun who doesn't believe in God?
The Military oath is just once sentence and it includes the words:
"I will support and defend
the Constitution of the United States
against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."
When you took that oath, were your fingers crossed?

OK, so we have a similar meme that the First Amendment is illegitimate coming from three very different sources within a short period. Three data points are not definitive, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Here are extracts from the original article on the Gingrich speech, and from a followup run by the same newsaper:

Union Leader Staff
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

MANCHESTER – Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism
Gingrich...said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich...

Gingrich spoke... last night at the annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment award dinner, which fetes people and organizations that stand up for freedom of speech.

...The Citizen of Laconia was given the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award, which is named after the longtime President and Publisher of the Union Leader Corporation, owner of New Hampshire's statewide newspaper.

The Citizen scrutinized the Newfound Area School Board beginning last year over a series of e-mail discussions held before public meetings. It also used the right-to-know law to uncover costly decisions by the town of Tilton this year.

Executive Editor John Howe said the decision to pursue the stories led to at least one advertiser canceling its business with the paper.

"We try to practice what we preach, even if it costs us business," Howe said...

On the other side, Gingrich also reportedly had some things to say about ways the country could further promote free expression -- specifically, by getting rid of campaign finance restrictions and breaking down the wall between church and state.

The followup article elaborates, based on a speech text posted on Gingrich's website:

Gingrich suggested that country should "look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren't for the scale of threats....

"This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the First Amendment, but I think that the national security so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.....

"This is a sober topic, but I think it is a topic we need a national dialogue about, and we need to get ahead of the curve..."

Gingrich yesterday elaborated:

Union Leader December 6 2006
Newt Gingrich

... free speech should not be an acceptable cover for people who are planning to kill other people...

...The fact is not all speech is permitted under the Constitution. The 1st Amendment does not protect lewd and libelous speech, and it should not -- and cannot in 2006 -- be used as a shield for murderers.
...We need a serious dialogue...about the 1st Amendment, what it protects and what it should not protect. Here are a few baseline principles to consider:

We should be allowed to close down Web sites that recruit suicide bombers and provide instructions to indiscriminately kill civilians by suicide or other means, or advocate killing people from the West or the destruction of Western civilization;

Wait a minute here...only people from the West? And "Western civilization"?

We should propose a...convention for fighting terrorism that makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules...

Those who use weapons of mass destruction? Like government officials, among others?

...this convention should define the international rules of engagement on what activities will not be protected by free speech claims; and

We need an expeditious review of current domestic law to see what changes can be made within the protections of the 1st Amendment to ensure that free speech protection claims are not used to protect the advocacy of terrorism, violent conduct or the killing of innocents.

As Gingrich points out, there can be and are already rules within the First Amendment to protect against specific abuses of free speech, so why attack the First Amendment? Moreover, such high-sounding intentions too easily devolve into suppression of speech with which the authorities disagree.

For the sake of personal libery, Americans have always assumed a certain amount of personal risk, from the Founders -- who risked hanging for treason -- on down.

Or to repeat, with apologies to Partick Henry, "Is life so dear, and security so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"

Or in a homelier vein -- if your roof is leaking, it does not follow that you need to tear down the house.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and here's another case to keep an eye on.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Blog Redux

This blog started back in 2004, but after a short while, I found it was too much to keep up, together with my other work, and retired it. I was also a little unofocused at the time on exactly what I wanted the blog to be.

It's easier to manage now, thanks to experience and better computer equipment, and the subject is equally important today. The focus is on bringing to one location current news specifically relating to this phrase in the First Amendment: freedom of speech, or of the press.

Up front, I have a P.O.V. on the subject of free expression, I've always had it, now and before, when I used to work in the civil service, and before that when I was a schoolteacher:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the bedrock of self-government; without it, there would be, in a vitally important sense, no "America" to defend.

With apologies to Ben Franklin:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, will find that they have neither Liberty nor Safety.

With apologies to Patrick Henry:

Is life so dear, or security so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

And finally, a text that many recognize, but may not know is required of all entering federal government employees, or at least used to be: solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

A couple of things about this. One, it doesn't bear a termination date. It doesn't say, "Until I return to a job in private industry, or retire, or go out on disability."

The other thing is this: it is a pledge to defend the Constitution. Not the present policy. Not even the homeland. The Constitution. That is the basis of America, and as long as the Constitution remains vital, America survives.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Another Kind of Emergency: the Drowning of Dissent

A Federal Emergency Management Agency employee and her husband were removed in handcuffs from the grounds of the West Virginia State Capitol and ticketed for trespassing when they wore “Love America, Hate Bush” T-shirts to a publicly funded Presidential July 4th rally. They were summonsed to appear in court, and Nicole's Federal Emergency Management boss sent her back to Texas. FEMA won't say if she has been fired. She worked for FEMA intermittently as needed and had been deployed in W.Va. to help in the aftermath of severe flooding.

"Dozens" of rally attendees "wore pro-Bush T-shirts and Bush-Cheney campaign buttons, some of which were sold on the Capitol grounds outside the security screening stations."

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A Mouse That Roars

It's been a while--sorry. I had a number of writing assignments. Meanwhile, abuse of the First Amendment has continued to roll over us, leaving some of us sometimes in continuing "shock and awe." But good news from the grass roots: tiny industry newsletter Mine Safety & Health News, watchdog of the U.S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration, has given a mighty roar in defence of FOIA. MS&HNews doesn't use a website, so here's the text.

(This editorial is copyrighted by Legal Publications Services, 888 Pittsford Mendon Center Rd., Pittsford, NY 14534. Posted by permission. Please credit any quotations.)

Gutting FOIA at MSHA: The Public Has A Right to Know How Decisions Are Made
By Ellen Smith, Editor and Owner
Mine Safety and Health News

Phone calls have been coming into Mine Safety and Health News for about a month from mine operators stating that they can no longer get information from the Mine Safety and Health Administration through the Freedom of Information Act.

This has been a complaint from the United Mine Workers for over a year now, and recently a complaint by Mine Safety and Health News. But what is happening at MSHA is in fact occurring government-wide.

Last week, Ed Clair, the U.S. Labor Department’s Associate Solicitor for Mine Safety and Health, disclosed that, without public comment or input, MSHA secretly changed its long-standing policy of routinely releasing inspector notes under the Freedom of Information Act. The policy has been in place since 1977, the inception of the current-day Mine Act.

My first response to the mine operator who most recently called regarding his FOIA troubles was: “join the club.”

Under the “pre-Bush MSHA” federal officials never denied Mine Safety and Health News information. As a reporter, I could get MSHA inspector notes and MSHA inspection records, even while the investigations were still under way.

The Williams Station Mine explosion, South Mountain explosion, Solvey Minerals collapse, Akzo Salt collapse, Phelps Dodge Morenci raise collapse, and the Kaiser Aluminum explosion are just a few notable examples of where MSHA released copious amounts of information before MSHA had finished its work. In these cases, MSHA released boxes upon boxes of information that I was allowed to sift through to develop my own story on what might have happened in these accidents.

In addition, I’ve used FOIA to verify what I’ve been told by MSHA sources, such as the MSHA credit card abuse story, or the case of the not-for-bid contracts.

But things in the Bush Administration are different, and not for the better, when it comes to getting information from the government.

No Easy Answers From MSHA and Other Agencies

On May 18, 2004, Mine Safety and Health News asked for some biographical information on David Dye, the new Deputy Assistant Secretary at MSHA. Many in the mining industry had never heard of Dye or even knew that he held the DAS position.

Mine Safety and Health News was denied that information by Suzy Bohnert, who heads MSHA’s Office of Public Affairs. She said that she was denying this biographical information based on “privacy” concerns. Her exact written statement was: “This is a personnel matter, and because of privacy concerns, we can't discuss this.”

At first, I thought she was joking or simply misinformed, but after talking with other members of the press, and reading reports from other journalists, I found out that the Bush Administration is routinely denying biographical information on political appointees.

For instance, the Texas Press Assn., reports that Todd Carter, a reporter for the Natural Resources News Service obtained biographical information on senior officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, who then demanded that he not publish the information because of “privacy concerns.” He was then sent resumes of the officials with blacked out education levels, awards, affiliations and even job experience.

“When asked for the return of the unredacted resumes, Carter refused and posted resumes on the news-service website showing that EPA had brought in former Enron employees,” according to the Press Association.

In another case, the Federal Aviation Administration recently asked the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to stop working on a profile of Ruth Leverenz, an FAA official, and to not photograph her, reports the Press Association.

In response to FAA’s request, which the paper did not respect, Star-Telegram Executive Editor Jim Witt said, “The public must be able to evaluate the qualifications of government officials to judge whether they are capable of performing their jobs.”

The same argument can be made for the mining industry’s need to know about the background of MSHA’s latest political appointee David Dye.

Michael Ravnitzky, a reporter with American Lawyer Media, was denied information under FOIA because he "failed to address how American Lawyer Media intends to use the records subject to the request." This is certainly not a valid reason for denying a citizen government information, and I would argue, illegal.

The History of FOIA

It’s important for Mine Safety and Health News readers, or any citizen for that matter, to understand the history of FOIA.

FOIA was enacted by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. By law, FOIA grants citizens access to federal agency records. There are seven specific exceptions where government FOIA officers may withhold records. However, anyone denied information under FOIA may appeal.

The Watergate scandal led Congress to pass additional legislation that affected FOIA by forcing federal agencies to disclose their public records and documents.

FOIA was further refined in October 1993 under the Clinton Administration.

Then-Attorney General Janet Reno issued a ground-breaking memorandum stating that FOIA officers should "apply a presumption of disclosure" creating more openness in government. Reno said in the memo that the Justice Department would “no longer defend an agency's withholding of information merely because there was a ‘substantial legal basis’ for doing so.

"Where an item of information might technically or arguably fall within an exemption it ought not to be withheld from a FOIA requester unless it need be," Reno wrote.

The Importance of FOIA

Ruth Rosen, editorial writer and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle has called FOIA “one of our greatest democratic reforms... allow[ing] ordinary citizens to hold the government accountable by requesting and scrutinizing public documents and records. This act allowed greater access to ... records; access that had been previously severely proscribed. Without it, journalists, newspapers, historians and watchdog groups would never be able to keep the government honest.”

Rosen has pointed out that it is FOIA that “allows us to know what our elected officials do, rather than what they say. It is our national sunshine law, legislation that forces agencies to disclose their public records and documents.”

Quinlan J. Shea Jr., former director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Privacy and Information Appeals under Presidents Ford and Carter, said of FOIA, “I have long believed that secrecy is the mortal enemy of democracy. The more secrecy, the less democracy. The more that citizens are told that they must trust their government--that they must take on faith its integrity, and the value of what the government is doing and why it is doing it--the greater is the tendency away from democracy as we would like to see it.”

Shea notes, “The Freedom of Information Act helps us to learn what is actually going on inside our government. Remember that any government, regardless of the party in power, will seek to conceal some of the things it does and, more frequently, the reasons for the actions it takes or fails to take.”

It is under this FOIA model that the pre-Bush MSHA functioned as an agency.

How Did We Get Here? FOIA in 2004

On October 12, 2001, under the guise of “national security,” U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent a memo to all federal agencies creating a new level of secrecy under FOIA. According to the memo, it “supersedes the Department of Justice's FOIA Memorandum of October 4, 1993" (the “Reno” memo.

Ashcroft stressed to all federal agencies, including MSHA, that the Bush Administration is “committed to protecting other fundamental values that are held by our society. Among them are safeguarding our national security, enhancing the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy.”

In wanting less information divulged under FOIA, Ashcroft states in his memo that “No leader can operate effectively without confidential advice and counsel. ...When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records.”

American University Washington College of Law Professor Robert Vaughn said that Ashcroft’s memo is “an indication to agencies to be more aggressive in denying FOIA requests and not be concerned about going to court."

The Christian Science Monitor wrote in an editorial that "Years of hard-won battles that turned FOIA into a fundamental routine bulwark against government secrecy were undermined in a day."

A San Francisco Chronicle editorial stated "without fanfare, the attorney general simply quashed the FOIA." But it’s not just law professors and the media who are upset over this memo and its chilling effect on FOIA.

Tom Blanton, director of the nonpartisan National Security Archives at George Washington University stated that "The Bush administration is mounting the most sustained assault on open government since President Gerald Ford vetoed the FOIA amendments in 1974.”

Steven Hensen, president of the Society of American Archivists, rhetorically stated in the Washington Post, "How can a democratic people have confidence in elected officials who hide the records of their actions from public view?"

Specifically regarding the Ashcroft FOIA memo, Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum said, “While private businesses and households can be selective about what they tell the world, the American people are not willing to accord the same privacy to public officials paid by the taxpayers. The American people do not, and should not, tolerate government by secrecy. The Freedom of Information Act and many other laws embrace the limited-government principle that ‘government by the people’ requires government disclosure to the people.”

Justice Dept. Denies Policy Change

Dan Metcalfe, co-director of the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy, has denied that there has been any change in FOIA policy. Metcalfe told Rebecca Daugherty of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that “the Ashcroft memorandum does not represent a ‘drastic’ shift in the government's FOI policies as many have claimed. But it is ‘certainly a shift in tone.’”

However, on the MSHA front, we have all witnessed a drastic policy change first-hand with the pro-secrecy forces out in full regalia.

The first instance we saw of this policy came with the Inspector General’s Martin County Coal Impoundment report. Almost 50% of that was redacted (blacked out). There was no good answer for the redactions. It certainly had nothing to do with national security. MSHA-head Dave Lauriski claims that it was the Inspector General’s decision to redact all of that information, but it is hard to believe that MSHA under Lauriski and the Labor Dept. under Secretary Elaine Chao, could not convince the IG to release that information to the public.

Now, the public will no longer be able to get MSHA inspector notes from a mine inspection, unless the operator or miner is willing to go through legal proceedings and the discovery process. Under this new policy, the press is certainly excluded from these notes, miners maybe as well, and it certainly hampers an operator's ability to resolve many MSHA enforcement disputes without litigation.

I keep asking myself, “Is this America?” How can this administration adopt policies that go against democratic traditions? How can MSHA secretly adopt policies that go against 27 years of openness? And how can this administration openly violate a law whose intent and purpose is to make records available to the public?

Ed Clair claims that MSHA has changed its policy so it “does what OSHA and other enforcement agencies in DOL do.” Why not make those agencies more FOIA-friendly as MSHA has been over the last 27 years? Why not make “the pre-Bush MSHA” the model for freedom of information?

The mining community--operators, miners, the press, the public--has a right to know on what basis MSHA makes a decision--any decision. We the people have a right to know.

Ellen Smith is the editor and owner of Mine Safety and Health News. She has won 16 journalism awards in her 17 years of reporting on mining-related issues, including the Freedom Bell Award for Accuracy in Reporting, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Newsletter Journalism, The National Press Club’s Newsletter Journalism Award, the Apex Grand Award for Publication Excellence, awards from the Capital Press Women, and several investigative reporting awards from the Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Foundation. She has appeared on 60 Minutes, National Public Radio, Market Place, and the Radio Project to discuss MSHA-related issues. She may be contacted at

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Supreme Court Injustices

Dick Cheney can withhold papers from his 2001 Energy Task Force until after the election, the Supreme Court has ruled in a 7-2 decision.

"The president is not above the law, [Justice] Kennedy wrote, but there is a 'paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation that might distract it from the energetic performance of its constitutional duties.'"

Now remind me, didn't the same court rule that Bill Clinton was not too busy to face a civil suit during his term, on top of an investigation into his financial dealings before he became president...and now it's too "vexatious" for Cheney to cough up public information on how he spent the taxpayers' money?

If public information is the lifeblood of democracy, we've got hemophilia here, guys. Register. Vote. Save your country.

Next in the Fahrenheit 9/11 obstacle course: Federal Election Commission may prohibit any ads for the film mentioning Bush after July 30, while a Republican group claims the movie itself is "a two-hour political advertisement" and violates campaign law. I predict the more they try to hinder people from seeing this award-winning film, the greater the demand will be. Me, I already have a ticket for the opening here tomorrow night.

In better news, the Associated Press has sued under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of Bush's personnel file stored on microfilm at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. THey have already been determined to be federal records, and the government has not complied with the request in the time allowed by law. It's good to see journalists using the tools available to enforce compliance with the FOIA law. Public information is the lifeblood of democracy.

The Project on Government Oversight has sued John Ashcroft over his reclassifying documents already in the public domain. The documents relate to a whistleblower's alegations of security lapses in the FBI's translator program.

And, the Senate voted to overturn recent Federal Communications Commission rules that would have made made it easier for media conglomerates to conglomerate even further.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Defense Department seeks Privacy Act exemption to facilite DoD spying within the U.S.

And, they are already doing it. "I felt like I was in 'Law & Order'," said one student after being grilled by one of the agents. The incident provoked a brief campus uproar, and the Army later admitted the agents had exceeded their authority.

They even seized the cat! Buffalo, N.Y., art professor faces federal prosecution under the PATRIOT Act for using petri dishes of harmless bacteria in art installations. It all started when his wife passed away.,1,4399087.story,12271,1236288,00.html

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Astroturf (Fake Grass Roots) Effort to Suppress Fahrenheit 9/11

Alternative Press Review got out there and dug up the skinny on a new partisan effort to keep Fahrenheit 9/11 off your local movie screens. Is this the greatest way to build demand for the film, or what?

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Day the Constitution Died?

"The Day the Constitution Died": Molly Ivins on the torture memos that Ashcroft has refused to give to the Judiciary Committe.

The memo is posted here:

A note of hope: Federal Election Assistance Commission wants electronic voting machine source code disclosed.

In a case testing a provision of the Patriot Act that makes it a crime to provide expert advice or assistance to terrorists, an Idaho jury acquitted a Saudi graduate student on charges that he used his computer expertise to help Muslim terrorists raise money and recruit followers. Attorneys for the Ph.D. candidate in computer science said that he had little to do with the creation of the material posted and that the material was protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and not designed to raise money or recruit extremists.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Privacy Claimed As Privilege by Gov't Officials But Denied to Ordinary Citizens

American homebuyers are now defined as "financial institutions" so they can be routinely checked against "suspected terrorist" lists under the PATRIOT Act. There already been problems with a "no-fly" list. Will harmless citizens face another potential barrier to achieving the American dream?

Why public information matters: Justice Dept. releases more Enron tapes. Shocking contempt for the public.
The State Department admits misstating the number of terrorist attacks in 2003 in a report hailed by Administration officials as proving success in the "war on terror." In fact incidents probably have risen; State is revising the report.,1,7491026.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


June 8 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, testifying before a congressional committee, refused to release or discuss memoranda that news reports say offered justification for torturing suspected terrorists. Two Democratic senators said Ashcroft's stance may constitute contempt of Congress, a federal crime.

"Orwell Rolls In His Grave"--a documentary. While "Fahrenheit 9/11" is getting far more publicity, this has great reviews too.

Lysenkoism taints U.S. scientific research: Scientific American.

The Republican Noise Machine: new book by David Brock. Will be curious to see if it covers the part of the machine that is inside government itself.

Two media organizations filed motions to quash subpoenas issued by a Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's identity.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has sharply limited the information he is willing to let Congress see on a controversial $23 billion deal for the Air Force to buy and lease 100 Boeing 767 aerial refueling tankers. Senators would have a window of 30 hours over five days to view the documents at a Pentagon facility and would be barred from copying them or taking notes, per Rumsfield. Senators McCain and Warner, both Republicans, object strongly.

Whistleblowing translator Sibel Edmonds seeks support as she prepares to fight Ashcroft's use of "State Secret Privilege" to quash 9/11 families' request for her testimony. Public asked to attend court hearing in D.C. on June 14.

And this is just a start.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Who I Am

In February 2004 I left my civil service career as communications director for a small Federal regulatory agency. I made this decision with difficulty and sadness. I had worked in the same agency for more than 25 years in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Our mission was like a part of myself, and many co-workers were like family. In the current administration, however, it became impossible to continue in this position. Our agency in its small way had become part of the Great Public Information Shutdown being engineered throughout many facets of our government today.

Public information is the lifeblood of democracy. This blog is an effort to chronicle just part of what has been happening to our First Amendment Rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and public access to information. The more people who are awake to these dangers, the greater our hope of saving the America that we have known.