Friday, June 14, 2013

Shame on Senator Feinstein

As a commentator on California’s political scene noted some years back, when our state’s senior senator Dianne Feinstein was mulling over a run for Governor, Feinstein is “older than the Golden Gate”.  In her Senate bids, Feinstein has always managed to turn her age into a bonus, and in the normal course of things, there’s no reason why that should be a problem.

She represents considerable institutional memory, should possess a great deal of expertise when it comes to navigating the bureaucratic processes that define the Senate, she is a high ranking committee member, and in fact chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.  In fending off non-challenges from intimidated Democrats and hopeless Republicans, she has always traded on the influence that she wields on California’s behalf in the Senate.  If we lose her, Feinstein and her defenders claim, California’s clout in Washington, D.C. would be substantially diminished.

But in the wake of the last dozen years’ foreign policy and national security disasters, and the pernicious and morally-bankrupt line of logic that has been permitted to form the foundation for a series of counterproductive wars, the erosion of our civil liberties, the loss of trust in government institutions, and the death and wounding of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of people in South Asia and the Middle East, we have to ask just what good Feinstein—someone who’s been on the front-line of each of these decisions—has actually done California and our country.

It is difficult to find much distinction between Feinstein’s policies and those of the neoconservatives who drove the Bush Administration’s warmongering and enabled the profiteering of the arms and reconstruction industries.  (It has been alleged that her husband, Richard Blum, was amongst those who profited.  Blum, a University of California Regent, has adopted a neoliberal approach to undermining UC, perhaps complementing the neoconservativism of his wife.) 

She rubber-stamped the war of terror which began with the spasmodic attack on Afghanistan in 2001, and which has run wild across three continents and shows every sign of coming to the ‘home front’.  She voted for the war in Iraq, demonstrating a craven subservience to the intelligence services she should have been overseeing, and evincing a total inability to parse evidence logically, empirically, or even morally.

She was in good company there amongst prominent Democrats, joined in this fatal decision by our Secretary of State and his predecessor, who will try to reinvent herself as a progressive when she runs for president in 2016 (as well as our current Defence Secretary).  But she took things a step further still in 2009 when President Obama began his review of the war in Afghanistan, a war which lacked—and continues to lack—concrete aims, appears unwinnable, has been the trying ground for a series of grossly immoral practises, and which serves no real purpose other than to maintain the momentum of the juggernaut that is the war of terror.

While the administration was still weighing up recommendations from the military, Feinstein took to the airwaves to recommend a total upending of the principle of civilian command, control, and decision-making.  She chided the President for even considering ignoring or modifying the recommendations of the “crackerjack” General McChrystal (a sorry specimen who was ultimately fired for insubordination).  Feinstein was ultimately one of the most powerful voices—ironically from what is supposed to be the ‘left’—forcing the administration to dig in and commit to the expansion of the war in South Asia which we continue to fight without ever having engaged in a public debate. 

Feinstein, the ultimate establishment figure, has been flying her true colours unabashedly since the revelations made by former-NSA employee Edward Snowden that intelligence agencies have gained unprecedented access to phone and internet data of Americans through the secretive PRISM program.  Feinstein refused to see Snowden as a whistleblower, instead condemning what she called “an act of treason”.  

It was then revealed that Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, had lied to Senator Ron Wyden when the latter asked whether “the NSA collect[s] any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”  Not content to lie in a public hearing with a bald-faced “no”, Clapper lied a second time to Wyden in private.  Such is the contempt of the state’s security agents for the public interest and the representatives of the public that Clapper didn’t even bother to resort to the “I can neither confirm nor deny” formula, or to provide Wyden with an answer in private.

The argument from those Senators who have dug in to defend the NSA’s practises has been that the public needn’t know anything about these programs because Congress has it all under control (Feinstein, McCain, and co, along with the President, have all adopted this line).  But if intelligence officials will lie—repeatedly—to those supposed to provide oversight, that argument becomes null.

Rather than expressing outrage over Clapper’s perjury (some might call that “an act of treason” where the public interest is concerned”), Feinstein defended him, saying, “There is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper”. 

Feinstein’s response to the betrayal of the public trust by the Obama administration has not been to take action to open the NSA’s books to scrutiny, but instead to ensure that contractors no longer have access to the kind of information that Snowden had—in other words, to take steps to foreclose the possibility of further public revelations.  While it is understandable that the government would wish to see where its security measures broke down—and it was extraordinary to learn that private corporations do much of the NSA’s work (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising given the massive military outsourcing that takes place through contracts with mercenaries and war profiteers)—surely Feinstein should understand that it was not necessarily the category of Snowden’s employer which led to his making the disclosure that he did.

Instead, it was the prying, secretive, and unaccountable nature of our security state’s reaction to the war of terror, compounded by the arrogance, laziness, and contempt for the public demonstrated by politicians like Dianne Feinstein, which appear to have motivated Snowden. 

Her support for misconceived and immoral wars, in which the United States has perfected the art of using weapons of terror against foes and innocents alike; her passionate support of state secrecy and civil rights abuses, unhindered it appears by the exercise of any grey cells; her committed assault on whistleblowers; her disdain for the public interest; and the contribution of these attributes to the loss of trust in institutions of government...these things all suggest that Dianne Feinstein’s time is up.

No longer a public servant, she is looking more and more like a wooden mouthpiece for the military and intelligence agencies, which as things stand today, pose through their consumption of public money and their embrace of war as the optimum national policy, a great threat to the ability of our public to live peaceful lives and make considered and informed decisions about how we relate to other people in the world, and to our community at home. 

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