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James Bovard

George W. Bush Doesn't Deserve the Media's Efforts at Rehabilitation

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Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results,” former President George W. Bush declared in a presumably well-paid speech last week in the United Arab Emirates, a notorious Arab dictatorship. Bush is being exalted as if he is the second coming of George Washington thanks to his implied slams against the Trump administration. But Bush’s actions during his eight year reign did far more to ravage democracy at home and abroad than most people realize.
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Guilt by Musical Association

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Should the feds be permitted to treat anyone who is not a choirboy like a criminal suspect? Unfortunately, local, state, and federal agencies have a long history of targeting, harassing, and entrapping fans of untraditional music. Because so many innocuous activities have become criminalized in recent decades, it has never been easier for the feds to tar any group they please. Precedents established against devotees of unruly music could be used in the future against peaceful libertarians.

From the 1930s onwards, the feds often went after jazz musicians in part because of their frequent use of marijuana — which was proscribed nationally by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. After the end of Prohibition, there were plenty of unemployed federal agents, and the launch of a new war — spurred by films such as Reefer Madness — provided full employment for meddlers with guns and badges.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the feds launched vendettas against Grateful Dead fans. Although the name “Deadhead” sounds ominous, Dead- heads tended to be aging hippies or naive college kids in ancient Volkswagen buses, lost souls who loved to talk about peace and nature and happiness and love. Cynics often joked that Deadheads should “Get a life!” Instead, the DEA acted as if Deadheads deserved prison sentences long enough to destroy their lives. Use of LSD — a hallucinogen — was widespread among Deadheads.
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Golden Boy Robert Mueller's Forgotten Surveillance Crime Spree

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When Robert Mueller was appointed last May as Special Counsel to investigate Trump, Politico Magazine gushed that “Mueller might just be America’s straightest arrow — a respected, nonpartisan and fiercely apolitical public servant whose only lifetime motivation has been the search for justice.” Most of the subsequent press coverage has shown nary a doubt about Mueller’s purity. But, during his 11 years as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mueller’s agency routinely violated federal law and the Bill of Rights.

Mueller took over the FBI one week before the 9/11 attacks and he was worse than clueless after 9/11. On Sept. 14, 2011, Mueller declared, “Thefact that there were a number of individuals that happened to have received training at flight schools here is news, quite obviously. If we had understood that to be the case, we would have — perhaps one could have averted this.” Three days later, Mueller announced: “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” His protestations helped the Bush administration railroad the Patriot Act through Congress, vastly expanding the FBI’s prerogatives to vacuum up Americans’ personal information.

Deceit helped capture those intrusive new prerogatives. The Bush administration suppressed until the following May the news that FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis had warned FBI headquarters of suspicious Arabs in flight training programs prior to 9/11. A House-Senate Joint Intelligence Committee analysis concluded that FBI incompetence and negligence “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists.” FBI blundering spurred the Wall Street Journal to call for Mueller’s resignation, while a New York Times headline warned: “Lawmakers Say Misstatements Cloud F.B.I. Chief's Credibility.”
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Destroying, Suppressing Evidence is FBI Standard Procedure

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Congressional investigators were rocked this weekend when the FBI notified them that five months of text messages from a top FBI investigator into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections had mysteriously vanished. The FBI-issued cell phone of Peter Strzok, whose previous texts to his mistress (also an FBI employee) showed fierce hostility to Trump, suddenly had problems due to “software upgrades” and other issues — and voila —all the messages between the two from Dec. 14, 2016, to May 17, 2017 vanished.
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Fed's Misconduct in Cliven Bundy Case Stems from Ruby Ridge

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Federal judge Gloria Navarro slammed the FBI and Justice Department on Monday, Jan. 8, for “outrageous” abuses and “flagrant misconduct” in the prosecution of Cliven Bundy and sons, the Nevada ranchers who spurred a high-profile standoff with the FBI and Bureau of Land Management in 2014. Navarro condemned the "grossly shocking” withholding of evidence from defense counsel in a case that could have landed the Bundys in prison for the rest of their lives. Navarro, who had declared a mistrial last month, dismissed all charges against the Bundys.

Navarro was especially riled because the FBI spent three years covering up or lying about the role of their snipers in the 2014 standoff. The Bundys faced conspiracy charges because they summoned militia to defend them after claiming FBI snipers had surrounded their ranch. Justice Department lawyers scoffed at this claim but newly-released documents vindicate the Bundys. In an interview Saturday, Ammon Bundy reviled the feds: “They basically came to kill our family, they surrounded us with snipers. And then they wanted to lie about it all like none of it happened."

Many of the heavily-armed activists who flocked to the scene feared that the FBI snipers had a license to kill the Bundys. Their reaction cannot be understood without considering a landmark 1990s case that continues to shape millions of Americans’ attitude towards Washington: the federal killings and coverups at Ruby Ridge.

Randy Weaver and his family lived in an isolated cabin in the mountains of northern Idaho. Weaver was a white separatist who believed races should live apart; he had no record of violence against other races — or anyone else. An undercover federal agent entrapped him into selling a sawed-off shotgun. The feds then sought to pressure Weaver to become an informant but he refused.
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Cliven Bundy-FBI Debacle: Another Example of Why the Feds Need to be Leashed

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The Justice Department was caught in another high-profile travesty last month that continues to reverberate through the western states. On Dec. 20, federal judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and others after prosecutors were caught withholding massive amounts of evidence undermining federal charges. This is the latest in a long series of federal law enforcement debacles that have spurred vast distrust of Washington.

Bundy, a 71-year old Nevadan rancher, and his sons and supporters were involved in an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) beginning in 2014 stemming from decades of unpaid cattle grazing fees and restrictions. The Bundys have long claimed the feds were on a vendetta against them, and 3,300 pages of documents the Justice Department wrongfully concealed from their lawyers provides smoking guns that buttress their case.

whistleblowing memo by BLM chief investigator Larry Wooten charges that BLM chose "the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale and militaristic trespass cattle (seizure) possible'' against Bundy. He also cited a "widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations" by BLM officials in the case. BLM agents even "bragged about roughing up Dave Bundy, grinding his face into the ground and Dave Bundy having little bits of gravel stuck in his face'' while he was videotaping federal agents. Wooten also stated that anti-Mormon prejudice pervaded BLM's crackdown.
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Homeland Security's Multi-Billion Dollar Comedy Show

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After the 9/11 attacks, Congress and the Bush administration pretended that unlimited federal spending was one of the best ways to thwart terrorist threats. In 2002, Congress created the Homeland Security Department (DHS), sweeping some of the most inept federal agencies, such as the Secret Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), into the new mega-department. Congress also created numerous programs — some run directly by FEMA — to shovel out more than $30 billion in anti-terrorism funding to local and state governments.
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Yes, the FBI is America's Secret Police

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Politifact delivered a “pants on fire” slam to Fox News on Friday because one of its commentators asserted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation “has become America's secret police.” The FBI has legions of new champions nowadays among liberals and Democrats who hope that its probes will end Donald Trump’s presidency. This is a stunning reversal that may have J. Edgar Hoover spinning in his grave.

In order to boost the credibility of the FBI’s investigations of the Trump team, much of the media is whitewashing the bureau’s entire history. But the FBI has been out of control almost since its birth.

A 1924 American Civil Liberties Union report warned that the FBI had become “a secret police system of a political character.” In the 1930s, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court feared that the FBI had bugged the conference room where justices privately wrangled over landmark cases, as Tim Weiner noted in his “Enemies: A History of the FBI.” In 1945, President Harry Truman noted that “We want no Gestapo or Secret Police. FBI is tending in that direction.” And FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover compiled a list of 20,000 “potentially or actually dangerous” Americans who could be rounded up and locked away in one of the six detention camps the federal government secretly built in the 1950s.

From 1956 through 1971, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program conducted thousands of covert operations to incite street warfare between violent groups, to get people fired, to smear innocent people by portraying them as government informants, to sic the IRS on people, and to cripple or destroy left-wing, communist, white racist, antiwar, and black organizations (including Martin Luther King Jr.). 
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Thanksgiving Travel: Trump's Holiday Gift is More Invasive Airport Security

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On the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump derided the Transportation Security Administration as a “total disaster.” But his administration is making TSA more intrusive and abusive while its 42,000 screeners remain as incompetent as ever. New TSA screening guidelines will likely make Thanksgiving travel a disaster for legions of Americans — and the worst is yet to come.
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Do Trump's Liberal Critics Seem Increasingly Unhinged?

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Last week’s anniversary of Trump’s election sparked widespread teeth-gnashing by the nation’s pundits. Trump is supposedly the gravest threat to American democracy since the secession of the Confederacy. His presidency, probably, continues to be a boon for antidepressant sales across the land.

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, in a column last week headlined “Anniversary of the Apocalypse,” lamented the “terror-struck and vertiginous days” after Trump’s win and the ongoing “metaphysical whiplash” and “hideous interregnum,” which leaves her “poleaxed by grief at the destruction of our civic inheritance.” Professor Henry Giroux of McMaster University frothed that Trump’s “ascendancy in American politics has made visible a culture of cruelty, a contempt for civic literacy, a corrupt mode of governance and a disdain for informed judgment that has been decades in the making.”

It is understandable that folks would be riled by Trump’s bluster about revoking the broadcast licenses of his critics or calling for the firing of protesting football players. His administration’s rhetoric on trade and the drug war threaten to revive moronic policies that should have been banished forever by perennial failures. But while Trump poses plenty of constitutional perils, many of his opponents are even more authoritarian.
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