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How Mormon Doctrine Shapes Romney’s World View November 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Mitt Romney, Racism, Religion, Women.
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Roger’s note: I have studiously avoided posting articles about the current presidential election becuase both candidates leave much to be desired, and one gets tired of advocating for the lesser of evils.  I will make this once exception at the last minute.

By Kirk Robinson

November 03, 2012 “Information Clearing House” – As Mormon missionaries in the 1960s, Mitt Romney and I were required to present six “discussions” to “investigators” before baptizing them – he in France and I in northern California. Central to those discussions was the “Plan of Salvation” (POS); and central to it, the “Doctrine of Eternal Progression.” These doctrines are also the essence of the Mormon temple “endowment ceremony” in which covenants of allegiance to God and the Church are made, accompanied by oaths of secrecy.

The doctrines are unique to Mormonism and absolutely central to it. There is no way that Mitt Romney’s view of the world cannot have been shaped by them, especially given the rather cloistered life he has lived. Together with passages of Mormon scripture, they imply several disturbingly retrograde political views that define the Republican-Tea Party:

* Women are subordinate to men.

* People of color are, or were, morally underdeveloped compared to white people.

* Gays cannot become gods, i.e., will be damned.

* The correct political philosophy is libertarianism.

* The best form of government fosters free-market capitalism with minimal regulatory oversight of business and industry.

* Earth is only a temporary home to be used as a stepping stone, not necessarily to be preserved or conserved.

* War in the Middle East is inevitable as part of God’s plan for “the last days.”

* Lying for the cause of righteousness, such as winning the election, is morally acceptable.

The Plan of Salvation

This takes us back to before the creation of Earth, when we were spirit beings living in a “spirit world.” We were created out of “spirit matter” through a process of conception, gestation and birth involving a heavenly father (God) and mother. The firstborn spirit of our heavenly parents was Jesus, the second was Satan, and other notables included early Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. They were especially “righteous” beings who were “fore-ordained” to play important roles in the historical unfolding of Mormon eschatology.

God eventually decided there were enough spirit children and it was time to start sending them away to college (my metaphor). So He created Earth and its myriad creatures for the college campus and solicited plans for a curriculum, graduation requirements, and future career tracks. Jesus and Satan each submitted a plan.

Jesus’s Plan

According to Jesus’s plan, the spirits who would decide to go to Earth would receive a mortal body, suffer and die, then be resurrected in a perfect union of spirit and body that would never suffer or die. A “veil of ignorance” would be placed across their minds so that they would not remember their pre-existence, and God’s commandments would be revealed to them through prophets. Importantly, they would have “free agency” to choose to obey them or not and would be responsible for their choices and actions.

Eternal Progression

All spirits who agreed to go along with Jesus’s plan will eventually receive resurrection as a graduation diploma and will be exalted to a level of glory commensurate with their earthly grades. The most righteous ones will receive the highest degree of eternal glory: the Celestial Kingdom. Others will go to the Terrestrial (middle) Kingdom or to the Telestial (lower) Kingdom. Each of these kingdoms is better than mortal existence, which is better than the spirit pre-existence. The three estates and the three kingdoms of glory represent a continuum of moral and material progress: an increase in righteousness leads to an increase in mastery and dominion over creation.

Satan’s Plan

Satan had a different plan. He knew that many spirits would be unable to resist temptations. He empathized with them and thought a much more compassionate plan would be to “force” them to live God’s commandments, so they could go to the Celestial Kingdom. The catch here is that they would have to be deprived of their free agency through dictatorial force. And this would be very bad because then they would not earn, and would therefore not merit, their eternal rewards.

There was another important difference between the two plans. Jesus told God that even though he would suffer for the sins of the world, he would give all glory for the salvation of mankind to God; while Satan said that since he devised the plan and would be doing all the work to ensure salvation for mankind, he would accept the glory for himself – and he wouldn’t have to suffer for people’s sins either, because they wouldn’t be allowed to sin.

War in Heaven

A “Council in Heaven” was held in which Jesus and Satan each pitched his plan. God liked Jesus’s plan best and gave the spirits an ultimatum, which was essentially this: “Follow Jesus or follow Satan of your own free agency. But if you follow Satan, you will be barred from eternal progression.” This fomented a “War in Heaven” in which one third of the spirits took sides with Satan and rejected Jesus’s plan, apparently out of sheer orneriness for they had nothing to gain thereby; and so they, along with Satan, were banished from the divine presence for all eternity. The rest of us were eventually born into mortal bodies on Earth (with an untold number still waiting to be born), while Satan and his minions now occupy a kind of shadow Earth where they are constantly scheming and working to thwart Jesus’s plan.

The Status of Women

There was a rank order among all the spirits with respect to their degrees of righteousness. Jesus was the highest ranking spirit. Satan was second until his “fall.” The Biblical patriarchs and prophets were high achievers too, and so were “fore-ordained” to play a big role in the unfolding of the divine plan here on Earth. The rest of us were less stellar.

Because of the natural ranking of the spirits, there will be a roughly corresponding ranking among them as mortal beings too. Eternal progression can be compared to a foot race in which the starting points in the pre-existence were staggered according to the degrees of righteousness of the spirits, with the most righteous ones having a head start. Because of their superiority, they will tend to pull further ahead on Earth. The most righteous of all will naturally be great leaders and empire builders and the like. But for some inexplicable reason, the spiritual leaders will all be males. Women cannot hold the priesthood or become prophets in the Mormon Church, and they enjoy no ultimate decision-making authority. Their primary job is to serve men, which above all means homemaking, child bearing, and child rearing.

The Status of Blacks and American Indians

The more inferior spirits on Earth start at the back of the pack and tend to fall behind even while progressing. They are the descendants of Cain (Negroes) (here the race analogy tends to break down – pun intended) and the descendants of rebellious Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon (Native Americans). God “marked” or “cursed” them with a dark skin to distinguish them. But because they have their free agency, through extra diligence they might eventually overcome their poor starts to join God’s elite. A 1978 “revelation” to then-Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball allowed blacks to hold the Mormon priesthood for the first time, presumably because they had then progressed sufficiently. There was once a passage in the Book of Mormon (it has been excised) that said the descendants of Laman and Lemuel would one day become “white and delightsome.”

Polygamy and the Status of Gays

The people who earn the best grades on Earth will get the best jobs upon graduation from Earth. They will be the most god-like beings and accordingly will receive Celestial glory. They will become gods, endlessly creating and ruling over their own cosmic empires. Also, despite the Mormon Church’s official repudiation of polygamy, which was a precondition for Utah statehood, it is still generally accepted that achieving godhood will require the institution of polygamy in the Hereafter, with husbands being “sealed” to multiple wives. Needless to say, gay people won’t participate in this, so they can’t become gods; which is to say that they will be damned in the sense of not continuing to progress for eternity.

Cosmic Pyramid Schemes

It is a kind of axiom of Mormon doctrine that to be righteous is to follow “correct principles” that tend to produce successful and happy lives, conceived in both spiritual and material terms. Achieving godhood status is believed to be the highest possible source of happiness and joy. And presumably this grand POS will be repeated over and over for eternity, with new gods creating new worlds ad infinitum in a cosmic pyramid scheme. (This may go some distance in explaining why Utah is plagued to an unusual degree with earthly pyramid schemes in which trusting Mormons are bilked out of their life savings by trusted Mormons.)

The Status of Earth

From the point of view of the POS, Earth and its myriad creatures exist primarily for the benefit of mankind, and thereby to glorify God. They are like a pair of shoes: It is prudent to take good care of your shoes, but their primary purpose is to help you get where you want to go, in the course of which wear and tear will be unavoidable. So don’t worry too much about global climate change or species extinctions. Yikes!

Free Agency vs. Compassion, Brotherly Love, and Cooperation

The POS illustrates the relative importance of two Mormon moral ideals: free agency, which entails taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions; and compassion, brotherly love, and cooperation, which require helping those in need. Each is in its own way commendable, but combining them in a way that is responsive to real circumstances can be challenging: Concerning people ostensibly in need, when is compassion the right response and when is demanding that they take responsibility for themselves the right response?

Of the two, free agency is in an important way more fundamental than compassion, as shown by the fact that God preferred a plan that emphasized the one over the other. It is more important than doing good deeds because only good that is done freely merits moral approbation and reward. Free agency is therefore a necessary condition for individual moral progress – and ultimately also for material progress as represented by gods creating worlds and exercising dominion over them. So far, so good, but . . .

The Right Form of Government and Economic System

The POS pretty clearly supports a libertarian political philosophy, including free market capitalism with minimal regulatory oversight of business and industry. Anything less would necessitate a sacrifice of free agency.

In this connection, it is interesting that in the early days of Mormons in Utah, Brigham Young attempted to establish a very pure socialistic system, the “United Order,” that would have made Karl Marx envious. In doing so, he was clearly giving precedence to compassion, brotherly love, and cooperation over competition. Why? One can presumably imagine a morally perfect being, such as Jesus, who always chooses and does what is right without being forced to; and Brigham Young thought the Saints ought to give it a try. Unfortunately, the experiment failed. Too many of the Saints gave in to avarice when they saw a chance to make money selling stuff to overland travelers. And they weren’t anxious to share their lucre either.

The Best of  All Possible Worlds?

In Mormon terms, the best of all possible worlds will be one in which all people freely live God’s commandments. If compassion is called for, like the “good Samaritan” they will show compassion even at the expense of personal inconvenience. And they will share their talents and possessions freely to advance the greater good – as was supposed to happen with the United Order experiment. However, real people and the real world being what they are, an astonishing amount of human suffering goes unalleviated – suffering that might be prevented or relieved to a considerable extent through the institution of government programs designed to promote the general welfare, e.g., Social Security and universal health care. Yet paradoxically, given the ethical primacy of respect for free agency over the duty of compassion, from the point of view of the POS such a world must be reckoned morally inferior to one in which there is more human suffering, perhaps much more, but less state coercion. This fact doesn’t fit comfortably with Jesus’s message of love and compassion in the New Testament. Ouch!

Mormon Exceptionalism

A person who has been indoctrinated with Mormon dogma, especially if he is also a male born into a privileged social and economic position, is physically attractive, intelligent, and charismatic, might easily come to believe that he is one of the fore-ordained or “chosen ones” of God who will play a critical role in the events of the last days, including perhaps saving the United States Constitution when it is “hanging by a thread,” as predicted in the uncanonized “White Horse Prophecy” that was reputedly delivered by the Mormon Church’s founder Joseph Smith in 1843. It is known that Mitt Romney had such delusions of grandeur when he was younger. Does he still?

Sinning for the Lord

Because Mormon eschatology views human history, from the War in Heaven through Armageddon, as a continuing war between the two great forces of good and evil , sinning for the Lord” might at times be a moral necessity. Indeed, in the opening pages of the Book of Mormon, the most prominent hero of the book, a revered Mormon prophet named Nephi, murdered a man named Laban in order to steal a genealogical record of his people to take with his family to the Americas. This act was ethically justified as follows: “And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Nephi 4:12-13) (One can’t help but think of Romney’s shameless shape-shifting and etch-a-sketching.)

Armageddon

According to Mormon eschatology, we are now in the “last days” of our earthly estate, which explains the official name of the Mormon Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Surely Armageddon is not far off, when the forces of righteousness will permanently conquer and subdue the forces of evil. This will usher in a millennium of peace in which Jesus will return to Earth to rule, assisted by the most worthy of God’s children, a good many of whom will of course be Mormons. These elite will include men who are leaders of men and empire builders the likes of Mitt Romney. They will also be members of the “House of Israel,” which consists both of the descendants of the Biblical patriarch Jacob and people who are “adopted” into the House of Israel by being baptized Mormons. From the Mormon perspective, this implies a special affinity between Mormons and Jews that is reinforced by a common history of persecution. It’s an obvious step from this to the conclusion that ineluctable Armageddon will involve a war between the righteous nation of Israel and its supporters on the one side, and its enemies on the other. As things presently stand, we are talking here about a war to end all wars between Israel and Iran and their respective allies. Just what we don’t need!

Tipping point

Our nation has reached a point of extreme political and moral polarization, with the Republican-Tea Party on one side and the Democrat Party on the other, each vying for command of our future. One can say, accurately enough, that the one side fervently embraces the propositions listed at the beginning of this essay, while the other side vehemently rejects them. It is to be expected, therefore, that the views of the respective presidential nominees reflect this same stark opposition. While it is hardly likely that the upcoming election will resolve this clash of values for once and for all, all the indications are that it will mark a singular, momentous, and irreversible turning point in our nation’s history.

Kirk Robinson, Ph.D., is an attorney (and former Mormon, having left decisively over 40 years ago) living in Salt Lake City.

This article was originally posted at Counterpunch

Romney’s Death Squad Ties: Bain Launched With Millions From Oligarchs Behind Salvadoran Atrocities August 13, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Human Rights, Latin America, Mitt Romney.
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US trained “death squad” victims in San Salvador, 1981

Monday, 13 August 2012, www.truthout.org

Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN:

We begin today with new scrutiny Republican candidate Mitt Romney is facing about his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The latest controversy surrounding Bain concerns how Romney helped found the company with investments from Central American elites linked to death squads in El Salvador. After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40% of Bain’s start up money. Some investors had extensive ties to the death squads responsible for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of deaths in El Salvador beginning during the 1980’s. The investors include the Salaverria family, whose former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, has previously accused of directly funding the Salvadorian paramilitaries. In his memoir, former Bain executive Harry Strachan writes, “Romney pushed aside his own misgivings about the investors to accept their backing.” Strachan writes, “These Latin American friends have loyally rolled over investments in succeeding funds, actively participated in Bain Capital’s May investor meetings and are still today one of the largest investor groups in Bain Capital.” For more, we’re joined by Ryan Grim, Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post . He’s connecting the dots in the latest story headlined, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads”. Ryan, welcome to Democracy Now! If you could carefully laid out the story, and set the stage in El Salvador in the early 1980’s, what was happening there, the carnage.

RYAN GRIM: Sure. In 1980, there was land reform instituted by the El Salvadoran government that started to parcel up some of the farms, some of the coffee plantations, and the other land holdings of the elite, and they also nationalized the international coffee trade, so they did not nationalize the industry, but just the foreign export of it. So, the oligarchs responded with a vicious and a brutal campaign that included death squads and in the first year or two, killed something like 35,000 people. Over a decade, killed about 70,000 people. The U.N. has since calculated about 85% of the killing was done by these right-wing death squads, so this is not one of those dirty wars where both sides were equally culpable. The leader of this movement, Roberto D’Aubuisson was very public about his support of death squads and that death squads were an important part of what they were doing. He would actually say that the purpose of the death squads was ultimately to diminish violence, because if you could go into a village and go into a couple houses and kill everyone in there, then it would send a message to the rest of the village that they shouldn’t join the village, and therefore there would be less of an uprising and the death squads would not have to kill everyone. That was the kind of macabre logic that lasted for slightly more than a decade in El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most well known victims of the death squads of the military of El Salvador is Archbishop Oscar Romero, known as the voice of the voiceless. He was a prominent advocate for the poor, a leading critic of U.S.-backed Salvadoran military government. He was killed by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while delivering mass at a hospital chapel. I want to play an excerpt from the film “Romero,” which stars Raúl Juliá who played Archbishop Romero.

RAUL JULIA: I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the Army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think, instead, in the words of God, thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. In his name, and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much and whose limits cry out to heaven, I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the film “Romero” of Raúl Juliá who played Salvadoran Oscar Romero. Oscar Romero was gunned down March 24, 1980. Ryan Grim, talk about how he died and the connection to your story.

RYAN GRIM: He was assassinated the day after the clip you played, shot through the heart while delivering mass. We since know, conclusively, that his assassination was ordered by Roberto D’Aubuisson. D’Aubuisson, 18 months later would found the ARENA party which was, basically, at the time, a vehicle for these death squads. ARENA is still around. It has become more of a conventional Latin American right-wing party, but for its first several years, it was, quite simply, the political organization which was managing the death squads. So, Mitt Romney, in this context, knew very well what was happening in El Salvador. The U.S. Ambassador [Robert] White, who you mentioned —

AMY GOODMAN: Robert White.

RYAN GRIM: Robert White, had publicly accused six Salvadorans living in Miami of financing, two of them Salaverrias. When it was suggested to him by Harry Strachan that he go down to Miami to raise money from the exiles there, he actually said to Strachan, make sure that these people are not connected to right-wing death squads. It’s very clear he knew the context and he knew what was going on at the time, but he was having a seriously hard time raising capital for his new enterprise, Bain Capital, and his boss, Bill Bain, told him that he couldn’t use any of the investors or clients of Bain and Co., which was the very successful consulting firm, because if Bain Capital failed, he didn’t want it to take everything else down with it. It’s been reported in a number of places that he failed to raise capital from traditional sources in the U.S. So, given that, he flew to Miami and, in mid 1984, he went directly to a bank and met with a number of these families who were involved with death squads and accepted, what at the time, was a huge amount of money that amounted to 40% of the outside capital that he was able to raise for that initial fund. As Harry Strachan said, they continued to roll over their investments and certainly are worth tens of millions of dollars in Bain Capital now. Just reading from your piece, Ryan Grim, when Romney returned to Miami in 2007 to launch another venture that needed funding, his first presidential campaign, Romney said, “I owe a great deal to Americans of Latin American descent… When I was starting my business, I came to Miami to find partners that would believe in me and that would finance my enterprise. My partners were Ricardo Poma, Miguel Dueñas, Pancho Soler, Frank Kardonski, and Diego Ribadeneira.” Can you talk about these men, like Poma, and their relationship to the death squads in El Salvador?

RYAN GRIM: The Poma family was one of the top families in El Salvador. They were very tightly intertwined with ARENA. The Salaverrias, which we mentioned earlier, two of them were specifically named by White as specifically financing death squads. The De Solas are another family that originally invested in Bain. We know that at least four members of the De Sola family invested in Bain. We only know the names of two of them. There’s one man named Orlando de Sola who the Romney campaign, and nobody else, denies, was a leader of the death squad movement. There’s no question about that. What the Romney campaign has relied on is that they say that Orlando de Solo was a black sheep of the De Sola family. The fact that he was running death squads should not besmirch the four De Sola investors, even though they won’t tell us who two of those four were. However, what we found was that one of the two named De Sola investors — his name is Francisco de Sola — was connected in 1990 to the assassination of two left-wing activists.

There was a meeting held in Guatemala that Chris Dodd, the former senator from Connecticut, moderated. He was trying to strike a peace deal between ARENA and the FMLN. And shortly after that meeting two of the activists who had met with him were assassinated. The Guatemalan government, citing its intelligence sources, concluded that the assassinations were committed by Orlando de Sola, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Fransicso de Sola. Now, Francisco de Sola is still alive and his assistant confirmed to us that he was one of those three people who was accused of these murders. Now, he denied it at the time and denies it today, but just the fact that the Guatemalan intelligence services would lump him together with Orlando de Sola and Roberto D’Abuisson, just known as the basically two leaders of the death squad movement at the time, dramatically undermines the notion that the people involved with Bain are somehow deeply disconnected or that there’s some bright line between the people involved in Bain and the people who are funding and operating the death squads.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, Mitt Romney’s response to your investigation and to these allegations?

RYAN GRIM: What they did is they sent me a paragraph of an article from the Salt Lake Tribune in 1999 that read, “As was Bain’s policy, they had the families checked out as diligently as possible. They uncovered no unsavory links to drugs or other criminal activity.” That is simply impossible to believe. These families were certainly connected to death squads. Now Romney told the Boston Globe in 1994, something along the lines of, we checked out the individual investors and made sure there were no “obvious signs of criminal activity,” we didn’t check out their in-laws and their cousins. Those are two inconsistent levels of diligence that Romney is claiming to two separate papers. But, if you take the one at the Tribune, which was sent to me by the Romney campaign, that’s simply unbelievable. There’s no possible way that anybody in 1984 could check out these families — which is the term they use, these families — and come away convinced that this money was clean.

AMY GOODMAN: You quote Robert White saying, “The Salaverria family was very well known.” Robert White was the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. “The Salaverria family was very well known as backers of D’Abussion these guys big money contributors, they were total backers of D’Abuisson including death squads.” And I wanted to read an excerpt from Greg Grandin’s book, “Empire’s Workshop.” He is a professor of Latin American history at New York University. He writes, “The problem was that the military groups had very little popular support due in large part to the fact that they were ‘preternaturally violent.’ According to Reagan’s own ambassador, Robert White, their solution to the crisis ‘was apocalyptic: the country must be ‘destroyed totally, the economy must be wrecked, unemployment must be massive,’ and a ‘cleansing’ of some ‘3 or 4 or 500,000 people’ must be carried out,” he says. And he his quoting Robert White. Ryan Grim?

RYAN GRIM: I spoke also with the Sergio Bendixen who is a pollster who did a lot of work in the country in the 1980’s for Univision and is now, coincidentally, he became a pollster for Hillary Clinton and he’s now working with the Obama campaign now. He knew D’Abuisson and he knew lot of the people who were involved with these death squads, and he said that, and this is what I have heard from other people who are familiar with him in the exile community, that this is not something they would hide. Like you said, they were persuaded that they were freedom fighters, that they were on the side of justice, and that if it meant that you had to kill tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, those were evil people who were supported by Castro who wanted to bring about tyranny, etc., etc. So, everything that they were doing was justified by that. Mitt Romney even hinted at that in his 2007 talk to the Miami crowd when he came down to raise money for his campaign. He said, not only did these people invest in me, but they taught me a lot. And what they taught me is that these guerrillas were horrible and they kidnapped one of their brothers and killed him and they tortured Miguel Dueñas he mentions. They kidnapped and tortured Miguel Dueñas. There’s no question that atrocities were certainly committed by both sides, but you can see in that quote that Romney is partly buying into this notion that the violence was justified. And he would not be at all be alone in the Republican Party at that time or the Democratic Party. As you said, these death squads had the backing of the United States government.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about, as you said, tens of thousands of people in 1989, the government bestowed the Salvadoran government, bestowed — well, this was in 2009. But, remembering, 20 years ago, the killing of the six Jesuit priests in 1989, and then there was the killing of the four American nuns, all these part of the casualties of, as you said, the Salvadoran military and paramilitary, overwhelmingly doing the killing. Now, interestingly, we started with Oscar Romero’s death March 24, 1980. Killed by the right-wing death squads in Salvador. President Obama visited Honduras visited El Salvador and went to the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

RYAN GRIM: And that was an acknowledgment that what the United States and its allies in El Salvador did in the 1980’s was wrong. It wasn’t exactly, but it was tantamount to an apology for all of the death and destruction that was brought about in the name of anti-communism. Archbishop Romero is now known as one of the great heroes and martyrs of the 20th-century. At the same time that we’re talking about Romney’s Association here, we ought to mention that the current occupant of the White House has — operates drones that kill people on a fairly regular basis. There is, unfortunately, still no shortage of killing around the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: And, interestingly, the question, will the Obama administration will make something of this initial Bain investment capital, and will the Romney administration — will the Romney campaign raise the issue of President Obama and his kill list and the operating of drones that are killing many in Yemen and Pakistan, etc.

RYAN GRIM: It will be interesting to see. If the Obama campaign does do anything with it, I would expect that it would be done in the Latino community to help drive support for Obama there, because as you said, there are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of refugees who are here today because of the violence from there, and when they find out that the oligarchs that were funding that violence get also helped get Romney’s Bain Capital off the ground, that could influence the way they vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Are these families still donating to Romney’s current presidential campaign as they did to his first effort?

RYAN GRIM: I didn’t find any of them doing so. Romney had a strange use of the phrase we he went to Latin America; he called them Americans of Latin American descent. I don’t know if they have become Americans in the sense of the United States as America. If they haven’t gotten U.S. citizenship, then they can’t donate directly to U.S. presidential campaigns. I searched a few names that we do know, and they did not come up as donors to his presidential campaign. But, as Harry Strachan said, they have become — they continue to be significant investors in Bain Capital. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Bain Capital made just absolutely extraordinary returns, something like 88% annual return over two decades, which is just an absolutely astounding amount of money. If you apply that to $9 million initial investment, you get an absolute fortune.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, I want to thank you for being with us, Washington Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post for his latest story, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads”. We’ll link to it at Democracy Now! This is Democracy Now!. Next up, we’re going to the Syria-Turkish borders. Stay with us.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

 

 

The National Security State Wins (Again) May 15, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Why the Real Victor in Campaign 2012 Won’t Be Obama or Romney

By William J. Astore, www.tomdispatch.com, May 15, 2012

Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and the neck-and-neck opinion polls are pouring in. But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.

The reasons are easy enough to explain. Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner. He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.

Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him — so goes American political thinking — candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks. Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for and extols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises of even more military spending, an even more muscular and interventionist foreign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops.

Indeed, with respect to the national security complex, candidate Romney already comes across like Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco in the classic film Key Largo: he knows he wants one thing, and that thing is more. More ships for the Navy. More planes for the Air Force. More troops in general — perhaps 100,000 more. And much more spending on national defense.

Clearly, come November, whoever wins or loses, the national security state will be the true victor in the presidential sweepstakes.

Of course, the election cycle alone is hardly responsible for our national love of weaponry and war. Even in today’s straitened fiscal climate, with all the talk of government austerity, Congress feels obliged to trump an already generous president by adding yet more money for military appropriations. Ever since the attacks of 9/11, surging defense budgets, forever war, and fear-mongering have become omnipresent features of our national landscape, together with pro-military celebrations that elevate our warriors and warfighters to hero status. In fact, the uneasier Americans grow when it comes to the economy and signs of national decline, the more breathlessly we praise our military and its image of overwhelming power. Neither Obama nor Romney show any sign of challenging this celebratory global “lock and load” mentality.

To explain why, one must consider not only the pro-military positions of each candidate, but their vulnerabilities — real or perceived — on military issues. Mitt Romney is the easier to handicap. As a Mormon missionary in France and later as the beneficiary of a high draft lottery number, Romney avoided military service during the Vietnam War. Perhaps because he lacks military experience, he has already gone on record (during the Republican presidential debates) as deferring to military commanders on decisions such as whether we should bomb Iran. A President Romney, it seems, would be more implementer-in-chief than civilian commander-in-chief.

Romney’s métier at Bain Capital was competence in the limited sense of buying low and selling high, along with a certain calculated ruthlessness in dividing companies and discarding people to manufacture profit. These skills, such as they are, earn him little respect in military circles. Compare him to Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt, both take-charge leaders with solid military credentials. Rather than a Trumanesque “the buck stops here,” Romney is more about “make a buck here.” Rather than Teddy Roosevelt’s bloodied but unbowed “man in the arena,” Romney is more bloodless equity capitalist circling high above the fray in a fancy suit.

Consider as well Romney’s five telegenic sons. It’s hard to square Mitt’s professions of love for our military with his sons’ lack of interest in military service. Indeed, when asked about their lack of enthusiasm for joining the armed forces during the surge in Iraq in 2007, Mitt off-handedly replied that his sons were already performing an invaluable national service by helping him get elected.

An old American upper class sense of noblesse oblige, of sons of privilege like George H.W. Bush or John F. Kennedy volunteering for national service in wartime, has been dead for decades in our otherwise military-happy country. When it comes to sending American sons (and increasingly daughters) into harm’s way, for President Romney it’ll be another case of chickenhawk guts and working-class blood.

For election 2012, however, the main point is that the Romney family’s collective lack of service makes him vulnerable on national defense, a weakness that has already led Mitt and his campaign to overcompensate with ever more pro-military policy pronouncements supplemented with the usual bellicose rhetoric of all Republicans (Ron Paul excepted). As a result, President-elect Romney will ultimately find himself confined, cowed, and controlled by the national security complex — and he’ll have only himself (and Barack Obama) to blame.

Obama, by way of contrast, has already shown a passion for military force that in saner times would make him invulnerable to charges of being “weak” on defense. Fond of dressing up in military flight jackets and praising the troops to the rafters, Obama has substance to go with his style. He’s made some tough calls like sending SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; using NATO airpower to take down Qaddafi in Libya; expanding special ops and drone warfare in Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, including the assassination of U.S. citizens without judicial process. America’s Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2009 has become a devotee of special forces, kill teams, and high-tech drones that challenge the very reality of national sovereignty. Surely such a man can’t be accused of being weak on defense.

The political reality, of course, is different. Despite his record, the Republican Party is forever at pains to portray Obama as suspect (that middle name Hussein!), divided in his loyalties (that Kenyan connection!), and not slavish enough in his devotion to “underdog” Israel. (Could he be a crypto-Muslim?)

The president and his campaign staff are no fools. Since any sign of “weakness” vis-à-vis Iran and similar enemies du jour or any expression of less than boundless admiration for our military will be exploited ruthlessly by Romney et al., Obama will continue to tack rightwards on military issues and national defense. As a result, once elected he, too, will be a prisoner of the Complex. In this process, the only surefire winner and all-time champ: once again, the national security state.

So what can we expect on the campaign trail this summer and fall? Certainly not prospective civilian commanders-in-chief confident in the vitally important role of restraining or even reversing the worst excesses of an imperial state. Rather, we’ll witness two men vying to be cheerleader-in-chief for continued U.S. imperial dominance achieved at nearly any price.

Election 2012 will be all about preserving the imperial status quo, only more so. Come January 2013, regardless of which man takes the oath of office, we’ll remain a country with a manic enthusiasm for the military. Rather than a president who urges us to abhor endless war, we’ll be led by a man intent on keeping us oblivious to the way we’re squandering our nation’s future in fruitless conflicts that ultimately compromise our core constitutional principles.

For all the suspense the media will gin up in the coming months, the ballots are already in and the real winner of election 2012 will be the national security state. Unless you’re a denizen of that special interest state, we know the loser, too. It’s you.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He welcomes reader comments at wjastore@gmail.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Astore discusses how the two presidential candidates are sure to out-militarize each other in the coming election campaign, click here or download it to your iPod here.

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Copyright 2012 William J. Astore

The Real Health Care Debate April 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 by Truthdig

  by  Chris Hedges

The debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act illustrates the impoverishment of our political life. Here is a law that had its origin in the right-wing Heritage Foundation, was first put into practice in 2006 in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and was solidified into federal law after corporate lobbyists wrote legislation with more than 2,000 pages. It is a law that forces American citizens to buy a deeply defective product from private insurance companies. It is a law that is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill—some $447 billion in subsidies for insurance interests alone—for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. It is a law that is unconstitutional. And it is a law by which President Barack Obama, and his corporate backers, extinguished the possibilities of both the public option and Medicare for all Americans. There is no substantial difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. There is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporate state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other.

 

But you would never know this by listening to the Democratic Party and the advocacy groups that purport to support universal health care but seem more intent on re-electing Obama. It is the very sad legacy of the liberal class that it proves in election cycle after election cycle that it espouses moral and political positions it will not pay a price to defend. And since we have no fight in us, since we will not punish politicians like Obama who betray our core beliefs, the corporate juggernaut rolls forward with its inexorable pace to cement into place our global neofeudalism.

Protesting outside the Supreme Court recently as it heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act were both conservatives from Americans for Prosperity who denounced the president as a socialist and demonstrators from Democratic front groups such as the SEIU and the Families USA health care consumer group who chanted “Protect the law!” Lost between these two factions were a few stalwarts who hold quite different views, including public health care advocates Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Carol Paris and attorneys Oliver Hall, Kevin Zeese and Russell Mokhiber. They displayed a banner that read: “Single Payer Now! Strike Down the Obama Mandate!” They, at least, have not relinquished the demand for single payer health care for all Americans. And I throw my lot in with these renegades, dismissed, no doubt, as cranks or dreamers or impractical by those who flee into the embrace of empty political theater and junk politics. These single payer advocates, joined by 50 doctors, filed a brief to the court that challenges, in the name of universal health care, the individual mandate.

“We have the solution, we have the resources and we have the money to provide lifelong, comprehensive, high-quality health care to every person,” Dr. Flowers said when we spoke a few days ago in Washington, D.C. Many Americans have not accepted the single payer approach “because people get confused by the politics,” she said. “People accept the Democratic argument that this [Obamacare] is all we can have or this is something we can build on.”

“If you are trying to meet the goal of universal health coverage and the only way to meet that goal is to force people to purchase private insurance, then you might consider that it is constitutional,” Flowers said. “Our argument is that the individual mandate does not meet the goal of universality. When you attempt to use the individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid for coverage, only about half of the uninsured gain coverage. This is what we have seen in Massachusetts. We do, however, have systems in the United States that could meet the goal of universality. That would be either a Veterans Administration type system, which is a socialized system run by the government, or a Medicare type system, a single payer, publicly financed health care system. If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no-brainer to adopt a single payer health system much like our own Medicare. We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high-quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care. All the data point to a single payer system as the only way to accomplish this and control health care costs.”

Obamacare will, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. Costs will continue to climb. There are no caps on premiums, including for people with “pre-existing conditions.” The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female workforces can be charged higher gender-based rates. Most of us will soon be paying about 10 percent of our annual incomes to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will pay for only about 70 percent of our medical expenses. And those of us who become seriously ill, lose our incomes and cannot pay the skyrocketing premiums are likely to be denied coverage. The dizzying array of loopholes in the law—written in by insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists—means, in essence, that the healthy will receive insurance while the sick and chronically ill will be priced out of the market.

Medical bills already lead to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent of those declaring personal bankruptcy because of medical costs had insurance. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other industrialized nations, $8,160. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 percent of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single, nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough, the PNHP estimates, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

But as long as corporations determine policy, as long as they can use their money to determine who gets elected and what legislation gets passed, we remain hostages. It matters little in our corporate state that nearly two-thirds of the public wants single payer and that it is backed by 59 percent of doctors. Public debates on the Obama health care reform, controlled by corporate dollars, ruthlessly silence those who support single payer. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, a politician who gets more than 80 percent of his campaign contributions from outside his home state of Montana, locked out of the Affordable Care Act hearing a number of public health care advocates including Dr. Flowers and Dr. Paris; the two physicians and six other activists were arrested and taken away. Baucus had invited 41 people to testify. None backed single payer. Those who testified included contributors who had given a total of more than $3 million to committee members for their political campaigns.

“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single payer national health insurance system. Congress could have taken seriously evidence presented by these single payer medical doctors that a single payer system is the only way to both control costs and cover everyone.”

© 2012 Truthdig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Those weak losers who care about “law” February 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in War, Foreign Policy, Democracy, War on Terror.
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Friday, Feb 24, 2012 6:59 AM 17:59:03 EST

A top Obama campaign aide uses the language of Bush/Rove/Palin to suggest law is proof of weakness

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com, February 24, 2012

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama speaks during a fundraiser at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)       (Credit: AP)

(updated bel0w – Update II)

Everyone Strong and Serious knows that only weak losers who are unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief would care about whether they are allowed under the obsolete, leftist doctrine known as “law” to attack another country or crush the Terrorists. We first learned this from George Bush, who, in a 2004 campaign speech, mocked John Kerry as a law-obsessed weakling this way:

Some are skeptical that the war on terror is really a war at all. My opponent said, and I quote, “The war on terror is less of a military operation, and far more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation.” I disagree—strongly disagree . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.

We then learned this important lesson from Karl Rove, who in 2005 explained: “Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.”

This same lesson was then taught to us by Sarah Palin, who derided Barack Obama in her 2008 RNC acceptance speech as a law-obsessed Terrorist-coddler: “Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

And then we heard the same thing on Wednesday night from Stephanie Cutter, President Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager. She appeared on MSNBC to discuss that night’s GOP debate with Lawrence O’Donnell, who subjected her to the very hard-hitting adversarial journalism for which that cable channel has become so justifiably admired when it comes to reporting on the Obama administration. After boldly challenging Cutter to explain what President Obama’s large polling lead tells us about the GOP challengers (it shows the Nation adores the leader and hates the GOP), he then invited her to act as “truth squad” and identify the biggest lie told about the President during the GOP debate. This is how she responded:

The most egregious falsehood would be the President’s position on Iran, whether it’s Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, attacking the President for not being tough enough on Iran. Ask any foreign policy expert out there, we have the toughest sanctions in place today than we’ve had in decades thanks to this President.  . . . Now look at Mitt Romney. What he didn’t say on the stage tonight is that just four years ago, when asked the same question on Iran, he said he’d have to check with his lawyers. That does not make a Commander-in-Chief, somebody who has to check with his lawyers.

She went on to mock him for saying he would not invade Pakistan without its consent to get bin Laden. On “checking with his lawyers,” what Romney actually said was this, when asked whether he would attack Iran without first getting Congressional approval:

The other topic that sparked fireworks was a provocative, albeit hypothetical, point of constitutional interpretation – would the U.S. president need Congress’ permission before launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities?

Responding first, Romney said as president, “you sit down with your attorneys” to determine whether such authorization is needed, but he said, “Obviously, the president of the United States has to do what’s in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat.”

So Romney said that before attacking Iran, he’d want to know if he had the legal authority to do so without Congress, but then strongly suggested that he’d probably do it anyway. As Stephanie Cutter explained, only a weak loser would care whether he actually has the legal authority under the Constitution to start a war without Congressional approval (President Obama showed the Tough Commander-in-Chief Stuff of which he’s made when he prosecuted a war even once Congress affirmatively refused to authorize it).

Of course, Candidate Obama, in 2007, when asked as part of an executive power questionnaire if a President could attack Iran without Congress, consulted with a long list of lawyers to prepare his response and, concerning that specific issue, said: “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” During the campaign, candidate Obama vowed: “No more ignoring the law when it’s inconvenient. That is not who we are. . . . We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers.” Hillary Clinton co-sponsored legislation to ban President Bush from attacking Iran without the approval of Congress. Joe Biden actually threatened to impeach Bush if he attacked Iran without Congressional approval.

But that was then, before they were in charge of the war-making machine. Now, Mitt Romney’s tepid suggestion that a President should probably first ascertain his Constitutional powers before attacking another country is, according to the Obama campaign, proof of his losers-ish weakness: “That does not make a Commander-in-Chief, somebody who has to check with his lawyers,” decreed Cutter, following in the illustrious footsteps of George W. Bush, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin (it’s amazingly common how Democrats defend Obama’s foreign policy record by tauntingly pointing to the pile of corpses he’s produced and the punishing sanctions he’s imposed, and by fully embracing the long-standing GOP metrics of “toughness” and arguing that Obama exudes them even more than the GOP itself). Thus: maybe a President has to take that old, antiquated, pre-9/11 oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” but that doesn’t mean you actually have to believe it. What kind of loser checks with his lawyers and cares about “law”?

 

UPDATE: Many active-duty service members apparently have a much different understanding of “strength” than Rove, Bush, Palin, Cutter and friends, given that the most anti-war presidential candidate is the one who has raised, by far, the most money from those members of the armed forces.

 

UPDATE II: David Rohde, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning former New York Times reporter and current Reuters columnist, explains how President Obama has significantly expanded executive power and triggered massive anti-American rage in the world through the use of drones and assassinations — or, as Stephanie Cutter and modern-day Democrats would say, he’s showing how Tough And Strong he is (it should be noted that Rohde, who spent months as a hostage of the Taliban, knows much about what motivates anti-American hatred and Terrorism):

What We Learned From One Year Of Mitt Romney’s Taxes January 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in 2012 Election, Economic Crisis, LGBT.
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https://platform.twitter.com/widgets/hub.1326407570.html

By Judd Legum  on Jan 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm, www.thinkprogress.org

After resisting for months, Mitt Romney finally released one year of his tax returns this week. Here’s what we learned (click to enlarge):

 

Mitt Romney’s father George released 12 years of his taxes when he ran for president in 1968, stating, “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.” Please sign our petition and help us put the pressure on Romney to follow his father’s example.

Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year January 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011.An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011. ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

By Tony BurmanSpecial to the Star
There will be a war in the Middle East within the next several months, triggered by an Israeli attack on Iran, and this is how it will happen. Like the Iraq war, it will be a fatal blend of political arrogance and near criminal risk-taking, and this should come as no surprise to us because we know the political players. But we should also know that the time to prevent it is running out.

In Iran, the government is reeling from colossal economic and political pressures. There are signs of desperation. Western sanctions over its nuclear program are biting and there is an open power struggle among key government leaders. The murders since 2010 of four nuclear scientists — most certainly masterminded by agents of Israel’s Mossad — are deeply humiliating. With parliamentary elections in March regarded by many as the most important in the history of the Islamic republic, the pressure within Iran to hit back at Israel in some damaging way is inevitable — and this will happen soon.

In Israel, the calculation is also overwhelmingly political. The fractious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear Iran even if the evidence is still unclear how imminent that threat is. Netanyahu is also driven by his bitter rivalry with President Barack Obama. There is growing speculation the prime minister will trigger early Israeli elections in June to shore up his political position before Obama, as Netanyahu believes, is re-elected in November. He knows his best opportunity to attack Iran will be shortly before the U.S. election when he figures Obama would be politically cornered. But Netanyahu needs a pretext to act in “self-defence” and that is why Mossad is still covertly at work inside Iran. Iran will have to retaliate before Israel can act — and this will happen soon.

In the United States, Obama is caught up in the morass of election-year politics. His likely Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, is accusing the president of being weak on Iran: “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. and its European allies now have a deadline of July 1 to impose a full embargo of Iranian oil. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, claimed on Wednesday that a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike is “very far off.” But U.S. defence officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to strike Iran — and this will happen soon.

READ MORE: Burman’s columns

Can we be certain that events in the Middle East will unfold in this way? Of course not. But like a high-stakes poker game where each player slowly reveals his cards, there are increasing signs that this game is careening out of control.

There is no consensus within Israel in favour of an attack on Iran. In fact, a recent poll suggests that less than half of Israelis (43 per cent) support a strike even though 90 per cent of them believe Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons. But the drumbeats for action are growing louder inside of Israel and they are egged on in the U.S. by the shrill tone of the extremist Republican primary process.

In Israel, the political case in favour of a strike, led by Netanyahu, points to its limited attack in 2007 on a burgeoning Syrian nuclear facility. But there are crucial differences this time. Iran’s nuclear facilities are well-dispersed and well-defended, and most experts believe that such a strike would likely fail or, at best, only delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a year or two.

But even more significant are the potentially frightening consequences of such a strike. Iran has threatened to hit back with full fury if its nuclear facilities are attacked. It could place Israel in considerable peril and lead to a resurgence of anti-American fever. Such a strike would also strengthen Iran’s rulers internally at a time of its greatest weakness and would radicalize the Arab world.

Serious people are doing serious work to prevent this from happening. There are meetings later this month in Tehran with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the move to stiffen sanctions against Iran is accelerating. However, this first decade of the 21st century serves as no model. Disastrous decisions were made by political leaders in an environment of arrogance and stupidity, and these disasters were condoned by a public which largely chose to look the other way and a news media which, at various times, was either complicit or incompetent.

Let’s hope that, in the handling of Iran, history is not repeating itself.

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com

I refuse to believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one September 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Democracy, Humor.
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Is Torture Really Over? April 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Torture.
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Without a hard look at the Bush administration’s torture program, the United States could be condemned to repeat it, no matter what President Obama says.

by Mark Benjamin

In his statement announcing the release of the Bush administration’s torture memos Thursday, President Barack Obama ruled out prosecuting whoever was in the room during the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” sessions. “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution,” he said.

Obama made it clear he is generally ready to move on from the whole issue. So don’t expect David Addington, former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and self-appointed interrogation expert, to be hauled into court anytime soon. “We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history,” Obama said. “But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

In other words, the president turned the page. No prosecutions at any level, apparently. Based on Obama’s move-on tone, there may not even be an independent commission to dig into this issue (though the administration won’t formally rule that out for now — an internal Justice Department review of the lawyers who authorized the torture is still ongoing). “We have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again,” Obama said. See — he stopped the torture program. It’s all fixed. End of story.

Another major issue is lingering, however. Did the torture “work”?

Former Bush administration officials, of course, continue to insist that they got a lot of good intelligence from forcing water into people’s noses. Politico quoted one unnamed ex-Bush aide Thursday who blasted the decision. “It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are,” the official said. “We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake.”

Cheney went on CNN last month to specifically defend the United States’ organized torture program — which Cheney says was not torture: “I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoy, of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11,” he said. “I think it’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.”

There were no professional interrogators involved in the creation of the CIA’s torture program. The pros would likely have balked, because they unanimously think torture is stupid and ineffective: People will tell you whatever they think will make you stop the treatment, never mind what the truth is. Those pros also chuckle at the thought of torture as an effective intelligence-gathering tool. News reports have seriously questioned the value of intelligence gathered through torture of suspected al-Qaida operatives like Abu Zubaydah.

So who is right? Is Dick Cheney Jack Bauer, or something more akin to an evil Col. Klink?

Without a rigorous investigation into the alleged efficacy of U.S. torture, we’ll never know. A torture commission would have looked into this very issue. With Obama’s blessing, Congress could try to appoint a nonpartisan group of experts to carefully evaluate whether the torture program was an effective way to gather valuable intelligence or, as interrogators suspect, simply made desperate prisoners say whatever they had to say to make the pain stop, yielding a few gems among a flow of muck. But Obama hasn’t advocated a commission or any other vehicle to look into that, and today seems disinclined to do anything other than move on.

There are some indications that other Democrats are falling into line on ditching the commission idea, too. Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a leading proponent of a commission, released a statement Thursday applauding the Obama administration for releasing the memos. Whitehouse didn’t mention a commission that would look into whether torture worked. He referred only to an ongoing, and mostly secret, investigation of unknown scope by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But while Obama has turned the page, many others haven’t — including the people, and their allies, who think waterboarding was a good idea. Without a commission, if Mitt Romney (the man who pledged to double the size of the prison at Guantánamo) is president in 2013 — or 2017 — we could start torturing all over again.

–Mark Benjamin
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