I think it’s hopeless, myself, but Ventura is always in there pitching. If you still believe in politics and ideology — let alone “progress” whatever that is — you won’t much like this column. The problem is, it tells the truth.

MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

OLIGARCHY BLUES

Austin Chronicle – June 27, 2014

The Left: does not exist in the United States – not as a meaningful force. To state the stunningly obvious: Without a serious critique of capitalism, you’re not to the left of anything. If what’s left of your leftness is an earnest wish for reform, you are that most maligned of political entities: a liberal. Liberals of today are nice. They do some good. But liberals of old had lefty visions that changed society’s structure — FDR’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s GI Bill, and LBJ’s War on Poverty. Liberals today believe in social access for all, and beyond that, what? The status quo. No structural political vision. As Proverbs teaches: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

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MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

SNYDER’R’US

Austin Chronicle – June 13, 2014

In The Four-Gated City, Doris Lessing wrote: “In any situation anywhere there is always a key fact, an essence. But it is usually every other fact, thousands of facts, that are seen, discussed, dealt with. The central fact is usually ignored, or not seen.”

A central fact stirs little debate but sets the terms of our days.

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Latest Michael Ventura column. I never saw Route 66 as a boy. Kind of makes me wish I had.

MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

“EVER RIDE THE WAVES IN OKLAHOMA?’

Austin Chronicle – June 1, 2012

Austin, 1962. Just south of the University of Texas, a building is going up. It might be Dobie Mall. We’re facing northeast on an unfinished floor that’s open to the sky. The camera pans to follow Tod (Martin Milner) riding a cable suspended from a crane. A small UT stadium is far in the background; directly below, a residential street continues north. The camera pans west to reveal a not-yet-gigantic university, its tower, and a few buildings along the Drag. The rest is treetops. Nothing obstructs a view of distant hills.

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As usual, Michael Ventura uses commonly available information, and thinks about it, and comes up with interesting and provocative insights. This one ends up quite a distance from where it begins, and is worth reading slowly while suspending your opinions until the end.

MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

CREATED HE THEM

Austin Chronicle – April 20, 2012

     Jenna Talackova, 23 years old, took it for granted that a transgender beauty like herself had a shot at Miss Universe. A commonsensical friend might have advised: “Girl, don’t try. They’ll break your heart.” But what broke was not her heart.

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Michael Ventura’s “Letters at 3 a.m.” column spells it out, in Ventura’s trademark style, merely by reciting the record. The result is a devastating indictment.

A PATTERN OF SUBVERSION

April 6, 2012

Let’s do this chronologically and begin less than two months into Barack Obama’s administration, when this president issued his first flurry of signing statements.

The New York Times, March 12, 2009, p.18: “[Mr. Obama]… raised concerns about a section that establishes whistle-blower protections for federal employees who give information to Congress. … Many of Mr. Bush’s signing statements made arguments similar to those made Wednesday by Mr. Obama.”

In an editorial response, on March 17, 2009, the Times scolded, “Mr. Obama should not use signing statements, as Mr. Bush did, to assert that his own interpretation of the Constitution trumps those of Congress and the courts.”

The Times rang the alarm louder on March 22, 2009, p.WK7: “Mr. Obama’s lawyers did not seem to rule out indefinite detentions … Worse, they seemed to adopt Mr. Bush’s position that the ‘battlefield’ against terrorism is the planet. … [T]he Justice Department … abandoned transparency just last month in a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. … The Obama administration advanced the same expansive states-secrets argument pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. Even the judges seemed surprised, asking whether the government wanted to reconsider its position.”

The Times, July 2, 2009, p.14: “’President Obama may mouth very different rhetoric,’ said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. … ‘But in the end, there is no substantive break from the policies of the Bush administration.’ … Mr. Obama has also continued other Bush-era policies … like the C.I.A.’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program.”

The Times, Aug. 8, 2009, p.16: “President Obama has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions enacted into law since he took office. … In 2006, the [American Bar Association] called the practice unconstitutional.”

The Times, Oct. 26, 2009, p.22: “The Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument that the executive branch is entitled to have lawsuits shut down whenever it makes a blanket claim of national security. … The objective is to avoid official confirmation of wrongdoing that might be used in lawsuits against government officials and contractors.”

The Times, Jan. 21, 2010, p.39: “Though the president deserves praise for improving matters [regarding torture], the changes were not as drastic as most Americans think. … Americans can now boast that they no longer ‘torture’ detainees, but they cannot say that detainees are not abused, or even that their treatment meets the minimum standards of humane treatment mandated by the Geneva Conventions.” Former Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander wrote that, under Obama’s guidelines, “If I were to return to the war zones today… I would still be allowed to abuse prisoners.”

The Times, May 27, 2011, p.17: “Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that the executive branch had come up with a secret legal theory about what it could collect under a provision of the Patriot Act that did not seem to dovetail with a plain reading of the text. ‘I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.’ … Another member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, backed Mr. Wyden’s account, saying, ‘Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.’”

The Times, June 18, 2011, p.1, in a report about “the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on leaks”: “The Justice Department shows no sign of rethinking its campaign to punish unauthorized disclosures to the news media, with five criminal cases so far under President Obama, compared with three under all previous presidents combined. … In particular, critics of the leaks prosecution question the appropriateness of using the Espionage Act, a World War I-era statute first applied [by Richard Nixon’s administration] to leaks in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971.”

Also on June 18, 2011, and also on page 1: “President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization.”

The Times, June 19, 2011, p.WK7: “Instead of tightening rules for F.B.I. investigations – not just of terrorism suspects but of pretty much anyone – that were put in place in the Bush years, President Obama’s Justice Department is getting ready to push the proper bounds of privacy even further. … Under the new rules, agents will be allowed to search databases without making a record about it [and] agents will be permitted to conduct lie detector tests and search people’s trash as part of evaluating a potential informant. No factual basis for suspecting them of wrongdoing will be necessary. … The White House cares so little about providing meaningful oversight that Mr. Obama has yet to nominate a successor for Glenn Fine, the diligent Justice Department inspector general who left in January.”

The Times, June 23, 2011, p.27: “The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission.” (To the court’s credit, last January it unanimously rejected Obama’s petition.)

The Times, June 27, 2011, p.21: “In early 2009, members of Congress enthusiastically introduced the Whistle-Blower Protection Enhancement Act. … Although as a candidate Mr. Obama expressed support for such a law, his administration cooled to the idea and let it die in the Senate in late 2010. … In what seems to be a recurring theme, Senator Obama supported the Free Flow of Information Act, but President Obama does not.”

The Times, Oct. 6, 2011, p.34: “By a 6-to-6 vote last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second District cleared the way for a legal challenge against a dubious legacy of the George W. Bush administration: the wiretapping of Americans’ international communications without a warrant or adequate judicial supervision. … The tie decision, which allowed an earlier ruling to stand, was a well-deserved setback to the [Obama] Justice Department’s accountability avoidance strategy.”

The Times, Sept. 28, 2011, p.1: “The Federal Bureau of Investigation is permitted to include people on the government’s terrorist watch list even if they have been acquitted of terrorism-related offense or the charges are dropped. … The database now has about 420,000 names, including about 8,000 Americans.”

The Times, Oct. 9, 2011, a p.1 headline: “Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case To Kill a Citizen.” Read on: “The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights, and various strictures of the international laws of war.”

As I’ve documented previously, on Dec. 31, 2011, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, permitting the military, at his order, to arrested designated enemies – including American citizens — without warrants and hold them indefinitely without trial. The night Obama signed that bill, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “He will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law. Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today.”

The Times online, March 5: “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asserted on Monday that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda.”

The Times online, March 10: “President Obama, who came to office promising transparency and adherence to the rule of law, has become the first president to claim the legal authority to order an American citizen killed without judicial involvement, real oversight or public accountability.”

Ventura on Mabel Normand

March 26, 2012

Some time ago, Michael Ventura bought a collection of early silent films that have been put onto DVD. His own interest in film being life-long – he wrote more than one screenplay, including “Roadie” – he brought an educated eye to what he was looking at, and every so often he writes a column letting us look over his shoulder, a century after the age of film began.

This column appeared in the Austin (Tx) Chronicle, part of his “Letters at 3 a.m.” series that he has been writing for decades. That’s a long time to be writing a column. As Hemingway used to quote (in French), “first, above all, one must endure.”

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I wonder sometimes, can’t anyone in the press corps do any digging besides Michael Ventura? His “Letters at 3AM” column for February 10, 2012, from the Austin Chronicle.

It Came From The White House

It is a murky story, and no one knows its end.

During the long congressional tussle over the National Defense Authorization Act, some legislators actually read the small print and were alarmed by a section permitting the military, at the order of the president, to arrest designated enemies without warrants and hold them indefinitely without trial. “Without trial” is the usage in the bill; “until the end of hostilities” is its code for “indefinitely.” That section also permits a detainee’s “transfer” to “any other foreign entity” — i.e., disappearance.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noticed that to subject American citizens to arrest without warrant and to detain us without trial violates the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution. Feinstein proposed to specifically exempt American citizens from the NDAA’s arrest policy.

Her clarification of the NDAA passed the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. That’s as bipartisan as it gets, even in good times. In these times, passage of Feinstein’s clarification was a miracle of agreement.

Yet in the NDAA’s final version, as signed by President Obama, American citizens are not exempt. How did that happen?

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