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Obama Inherits and Normalizes the Arrogance and Impunity of Nixon, Reagan and Both Bushes February 26, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War.
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Wed, 02/13/2013 – 07:26 — Bruce A. Dixon

 

 

 

When Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush waged secret wars based on mountains of lies and deceit, they were nearly impeached, but in each case Democrats in control of Congress could not pull the trigger. As a result, the Obama White House basks in a presidential culture of murderous arrogance and lawless impunity.

 

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

Back in the early seventies, when Richard Nixon secretly bombed Laos and Cambodia, two countries the US was not at war with, and concealed it from Congress and the public, the crime was serious enough to be the fourth article of impeachment drawn up against him. A dozen years later, when Ronald Reagan defied Congress to wage a bloody contra war in Central America funded by running drugs into the US from Central America and selling arms to Iran, Reagan only avoided impeachment by pretending he just couldn’t remember much of it any more and letting his henchmen take the fall. George W. Bush too was widely reviled as a murderous fraud for his lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and more, with millions of Americans and millions more around the world protesting his invasion of Iraq before it even began.

But in the end, none of these Republican warmongers were impeached while in office or indicted afterward because Democrats, in control of Congress every time, could never bring themselves to pull the trigger. So Tricky Dick Nixon stepped down. Reagan doddered off to the ranch, and Dubya’s at home right now watching American Idol. Barack Hussein Obama may be a different color and from a different party but he inherits their arrogance, their immunity, their impunity.

This White House openly brags about its “Terror Tuesday” meetings in which US special forces and drones have been dispatched to and from dozens of undisclosed countries to kidnap, torture or murder thousands of people, in the case of drone strikes mostly innocents, to the cheers and jokes of cruise missile liberals like Ed Schulz and Bill Maher, who calls Obama the “black ninja president.” The potent symbol of a black face in that high place has normalized the conduct of lawless aggressive war and secretive state murder among parts of the population which had no trouble calling a crime a crime when committed by a white Republican. In that sense, the First Black President is a little bit unlike, but mostly very much like his nefarious predecessors.

It’s worth noting that in the debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, kill-at-will drone wars, the militarization of Africa, Wall Street’s immunity from prosecution, and the push to privatize and charterize public education were points upon which both candidates were in complete agreement. But if Mitt Romney were president today wouldn’t many more of us be in the street about these things? Black apologists, as Davey D notes, try to shut criticism of this president down in the misguided name of black unity, and some white activists stay home because they don’t want to be seen as racist whites hating on the black president.

A Facebook friend in Atlanta remarked last week that whenever George Bush was rumored coming to town, his inbox would be full of emergency mobilization notices. But with the current War President about to visit, he said, it looked like his only correspondent might be the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It’s going to be a long, long four more years.

For Black Agenda Radio, I‘m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

The deep roots of the war on contraception February 15, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, History, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
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The uproar over Obama’s decision stems from tensions between Democrats and Catholics that date back to FDR and LBJ

By Ellen Chesler, New Deal 2.0
fdr_lbj

    (Credit: Library of Congress/The White House)

This piece originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.

Republicans for Planned Parenthood last week issued a call for nominations for the 2012 Barry Goldwater award, an annual prize awarded to a Republican legislator who has acted to protect women’s health and rights. Past recipients include Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who this week endorsed President Obama’s solution for insuring full coverage of the cost of contraception without exceptions, even for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. And that may tell us all we need to know about why President Obama has the upper hand in a debate over insurance that congressional Tea Partiers have now widened to include anyone who seeks an exemption.

It’s a long time ago, but it is worth remembering that conservative avatar Goldwater was in his day an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedom — a freethinker who voted his conscience over the protests of Catholic bishops and all others who tried to claim these matters as questions of conscientious liberty and not sensible social policy. With Goldwater on his side, Obama sees a clear opening for skeptics wary of the extremism that has captured Republican hopefuls in thrall to the fundamentalist base that controls the GOP presidential primary today. Holding firm on family planning — even if it means taking on the Catholic hierarchy and other naysayers by offering a technical fix that would have insurers cover costs instead of the churches themselves — is a calculated political strategy by the Obama campaign, not a blunder as it has been characterized by many high powered pundits, including progressives like Mark Shields of PBS and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.

Recent public opinion polling on the subject is worth reconsidering. For years, it has been perfectly clear that a substantial majority of Americans see the value of expanding access to contraception and reliable sex education as essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion and to help women balance the competing demands of work and family. But unlike a zealous minority on the other side, these moderates have not necessarily privileged these social concerns over important questions of economics or national security that mattered more to them at election time.

That’s what seems to be changing. With his now-famous “nope, zero” response last spring, President Obama simply shut down Republicans in Congress who wanted to defund family planning as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. The action elicited a sudden surge in his popularity, especially in the highly contested demographic of women voters between the ages of 30 and 49 who voted for him in 2008 but wound up frustrated by failed promises and disappointing economic policies. Campaign polling has since uncovered a big opening for Obama with this group because they are furious over Republican social extremism. An astonishing 80 percent of them disapproved of congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood last spring. Polling among Catholics in response to last week’s controversy shows identical patterns, with 57 percent overall supporting the Obama “compromise” to ensure full coverage of contraception, according to reporting by Joe Conason in The National Memo, and cross-tabs demonstrating much higher margins of support from Catholic women, Latinos, and independent Catholic voters — all prime Obama election targets.

If the numbers are so persuasive, why then have Republican conservatives strayed so far from the greater tolerance of the Goldwater age? Why have they allowed the family planning issue to tie their candidates up in knots in 2012? The answer is in just how outsized the influence of a minority viewpoint can be on a political party, so long as it represents the base of that party’s support.

A bit of history going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is instructive. Back then, birth control was still illegal in this country, still defined as obscene under federal statutes that remained as a legacy of the Victorian era, even though many states had reformed local laws and were allowing physicians to prescribe contraception to married women with broadly defined “medical” reasons to plan and space their childbearing.

The movement’s pioneer, Margaret Sanger, went to Washington during the Great Depression, anticipating that Franklin Roosevelt, whose wife Eleanor was her friend and neighbor in New York, would address the problem and incorporate a public subsidy of contraception for poor women into the safety net the New Deal was constructing. What Sanger failed to anticipate, however, was the force of the opposition this idea would continue to generate from the coalition of religious conservatives, including urban Catholics and rural fundamentalist Protestants who held Roosevelt Democrats captive, much as they have today captured the GOP. It was Catholic priests, and not the still slightly scandalous friend of the First Lady, who wound up having tea at the Roosevelt White House.

The U.S. government would not overcome moral and religious objections until the Supreme Court protected contraceptive use under the privacy doctrine created in 1965 under Griswold v. Connecticut. That freed President Lyndon Johnson to incorporate family planning programs into the country’s international development programs and into anti-poverty efforts at home. As a Democrat still especially dependent on Catholic votes, however, Johnson only agreed to act once he had the strong bipartisan support of his arch rival Barry Goldwater’s endorsement and also the intense loyalty and deft maneuvering of Republican moderates like Robert Packwood of Oregon in the Senate. Packwood, in turn, worked alongside Ohio’s Robert Taft, Jr. in the House and a newcomer from Texas by the name of George H. W. Bush. Bush would remain a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom for women until political considerations during the 1980 presidential elections, when he was on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, accounted for one of the most dramatic and cynical public policy reversals in modern American politics.

Reagan had supported California’s liberal policies on contraception and abortion as governor, and Bush as Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to the United Nations had helped shape the UN’s population programs. But Republican operatives in 1980 saw a potential fissure in the traditional New Deal coalition among Catholics uncomfortable with the new legitimacy given to abortion after Roe v. Wade and white southern Christians being lured away from the Democrats around the issue of affirmative action and other racial preferences. Opposition to abortion instantly became a GOP litmus test, and both presidential hopefuls officially changed stripes.

Fast forward to 1992 and the election of Bill Clinton as America’s first pro-choice president, coupled with the Supreme Court’s crafting of a compromise decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that put some limits on access to abortion but essentially preserved the core privacy doctrine of Roe v. Wade. The perceived double threat of these political and judicial developments unleashed a new and even more powerful conservative backlash that took aim not only at abortion, but at contraception and sex education as well.

Exploiting inevitable tensions in the wake of profound social and economic changes occurring across the country as the result of altered gender roles and expectations — changes symbolized and made all the more palpable by Hillary Clinton’s activist role as First Lady — conservatives, with the support of powerful right-wing foundations and think tanks, poured millions of dollars into research and propaganda promoting family values and demonizing reproductive freedom, including emotional television ads that ran for years on major media outlets. A relentless stigmatizing of abortion, along with campaigns of intimidation and outright violence against Planned Parenthood and other providers, had a chilling effect on politicians generally shy of social controversy. And Bill Clinton’s vulnerability to charges of sexual misconduct left his administration and his party all the more defensive.

Since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, aptly labeled a “Personal Responsibility Act,” not only has access to abortion been curtailed, but funds for family planning programs at home and abroad have been capped. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to the teaching of sexual abstinence, rather than more comprehensive approaches to sex education. Just as tragically, U.S. programs addressing the crisis of HIV/AIDS — admirably expanded during the presidency of George W. Bush — were nonetheless made to counsel abstinence and oppose the use of condoms and other safe sex strategies, leaving women and young people all the more vulnerable to the ravages of the epidemic.

Empirically grounded studies over and over again undermined the efficacy of these approaches, which also flew in the face of mainstream American viewpoints and basic common sense. With Barack Obama’s election they have largely been revoked, enflaming the conservative base that put them in place and has lived off the salaries supported by government funding for faith-based social policy.

Even more disheartening to conservative true believers is the promise that the Affordable Care Act will vastly expand access to contraception by providing insurance coverage for oral contraceptives. This guarantee, endorsed by all mainstream health advocates, also includes emergency contraception, popularly known as the morning-after pill, that holds the promise of further reducing unwanted pregnancy and abortion and was meant to offer common ground in an abortion debate long defined by a clash of absolutes. The strong dose of ordinary hormones in emergency contraception act primarily by preventing fertilization, just like daily contraceptive pills, but in rare instances may also disable a fertilized egg from implanting by weakening the uterine lining that it needs for sustenance, causing opponents to vilify it as an abortifacient.

Supporting the Obama policy changes, on the other hand, is a new generation of progressive activists in reproductive health and rights organizations, energized by the intensity of the assaults against them, and now well-armed to educate and activate their own supporters by using traditional grassroots strategies and more sophisticated social networking. No institution has been more important in this effort than Planned Parenthood, with its vast networks of affiliates and supporters in every state, millions more supporters online, and a powerful national political and advocacy operation based in Washington D.C. that has been put to use to great effect in recent months.

The strength of the Planned Parenthood brand, coupled with the organization’s demonstrated ability to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters when it is attacked, has helped overcome traditional political reticence on reproductive justice issues. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is already out with a strong new appeal warning politicians that women are watching. “Enough is enough. Back off on birth control,” is the new advocacy mantra.

Mindful of the numbers — and with the added ballast of what now amounts to a daily drumbeat of progressive television talk and comedy that delights in pillorying Republican prudery — Democrats are intensifying their resolve to take on this fight. Two things we can be sure of: Whoever emerges from the bloodbath of the GOP contest will try and backtrack from the birth control extremism of the primary. And Obama supporters, backed up by the advocacy community, will in turn stand ready to pounce on this inevitable flip-flopping.

Both sides may well summon the spirit and words of Barry Goldwater, who cautioned against allowing faith-based extremism to gain control of the Republican Party. “Politics and governing demand compromise,” he told John Dean, who reports on the conversation in his 2006 book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.”But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Ellen Chesler is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of “Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.”   More Ellen Chesler

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes ‘executive assassination ring’ March 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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By Eric Black | Published Wed, Mar 11 2009 11:17 am

Seymour Hersh

REUTERS/Fadi Al-AssaadJournalist Seymour Hersh speaking in Doha at an Al Jazeera forum on the media in 2007.

At a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an “executive assassination ring.”

Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current reporting, which he hasn’t written about yet.

In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were “an honest response to a question” from the event’s moderator, U of M Political Scientist Larry Jacobs and “not something I wanted to dwell about in public.”

Hersh didn’t take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he needs on the topic to be “effective…that is, empirical, for even the most skeptical.”

The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh, moderated by Jacobs and titled “America’s Constitutional Crisis,” looked to be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by a journalist and a high government official who had experience with many of the crises.

And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history was mostly recent, starting with the Vietnam War with much of it arising from the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.

At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: “And do they continue to happen to this day?”

Replied Hersh:

“Yuh. After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

“It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

“In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’

“But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”

Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about these kinds of issues for The New Yorker. He has written often about JSOC, including, last July that:

“Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference.”

(“Finding” refers to a special document that a president must issue, although not make public, to authorize covert CIA actions.)

Here is a tape of the full Mondale-Hersh-Jacobs colloquy, a little over an hour, without the audience Q and A. If you want to look for the Hersh statement quoted above, it’s about at the 7:30 mark.

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The rest of the evening was, as expected, full of worry and wisdom and quite a bit of Bush-bashing.

Jacobs walked the two elder statesmen through their experiences of:

  • The My Lai massacre, which Hersh first revealed publicly and which he last night called “the end of innocence about us and war.”
  • The Pentagon Papers case, which Mondale called the best example of the “government’s potential for vast public deception.”
  • Henry Kissinger’s secret dealings, mostly relating to the Vietnam War. (Hersh, who has written volumes about Kissinger, said that he will always believe that whereas ordinary people count sheep to fall asleep, Kissinger “has to count burned and maimed Cambodian babies.”)
  • The Church Committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses, in which Mondale played a major role. (He talked about the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover not only spied on Martin Luther King but literally tried to drive him to suicide.)
  • The Iran Contra scandal. (Hersh said the Reagan administration came to office with a clear goal of finding a way to finance covert actions, such as the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, without appropriations so that Congress wouldn’t know about them. Mondale noted that Reagan had signed a law barring further aid to the Contras, then participated in a scheme to keep the aid flowing. Hersh said that two key veterans of Iran-Contra, Dick Cheney and national security official Elliot Abrams, were reunited in the George W. Bush White House and decided that the key lesson from Iran-Contra was that too many people in the administration knew about it.)
  • And the Bush-Cheney years. (Said Hersh: “The contempt for Congress in the Bush-Cheney White House was extaordinary.” Said Mondale of his successor, Cheney, and his inner circle: “they ran a government within the government.” Hersh added: “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale said that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.”)

Jacobs pressed both men on the question of whether the frequent abuses of power show that the Constitution fails, because these things keep happening, or whether it works, because these things keep coming to light.

Mondale stuck with the happy answer. “The system has come through again and again,” he said. Presidents always think they will get away with it, but eventually reporters like Hersh bring things to light, the public “starts smelling this stuff,” the courts and the Congress get involved. Presidents “always, in the long run, find out that the system is stronger than they are.”

Hersh seemed more troubled by the repetitions of the pattern. The “beautiful thing about our system” is that eventually we get new leaders, he said. “The evil twosome, Cheney and Bush, left,” Hersh said. But he also said “it’s really amazing to me that we manage to get such bad leadership, so consistently.”

And he added that both the press and the public let down their guard in the aftermath of 9/11.

“The major newspapers joined the [Bush] team,” Hersh said. Top editors passed the message to investigative reporters not to “pick holes” in what Bush was doing. Violations of the Bill of Rights happened in the plain sight of the public. It was not only tolerated, but Bush was re-elected.

And even Mondale admitted that one of his greatest successes, laws reforming the FBI and CIA in the aftermath of the Church Committee, were supposed to fix the problem so that “we would never have these problems again in the lifetime of anyone alive at the time, but of course we did.”

“Reconciliation” and “Looking Forward Not Backward:” Code for No Justice? February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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nuremberg-trial

The President of the Tribunal, Lord Chief Justice Lawrence, pronounces the sentences and reads the dissenting Russian opinion

 by Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, February 19, 2009

 

(SEE UPDATE BELOW)

 

An essay entitled “Obama’s Justice: Reconciliation Not Retribution” appeared recently in the progressive online journal, Truthout.com (http://www.truthout.org/021809J).  Its author is Cynthia Boaz, assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University, who is described as a specialist “in political development, quality of democracy and nonviolent struggle.”

 

Professor Boaz’s approach was most annoying in that she felt the need to set up a straw man (the notion that those who want justice want it for purposes of retribution) and resort to the ad hominem by characterizing those who are pushing for investigations and prosecution of the Bush era crimes as “disgruntled, self-identified progressives” and comparing them to “villagers wielding torches and pitchforks.”

 

But such annoyances pale in light of the implication of her thesis in support of Obama as a “unifier,” and his mission of “reconciliation, not retribution” in an attempt to justify Obama’s oxymoronic and disingenuous statement that he believes in the rule of law but would rather look forward rather than backward.

 

(To her credit Professor Boaz acknowledges that the Bush administration may have committed misdeeds “which in some cases, rise to the level of crimes against humanity” and does not argue that they should not be brought to justice.  Her point is that justice should not be politicized, that the president should not seek “retribution” for his predecessor)

 

In the real world justice in fact usually occurs in a political context – especially when crimes occur at the higher levels of government.  Obama recognizes this and his remarks to George Stephanopoulos were in response to overwhelming public sentiment for him to appoint a special prosecutor as reflected in his transition sounding exercise.  Presidents do appoint Special Prosecutors and the United States Attorney General.  Presidents grant pardons, often controversial and often of a political nature (Ford/Nixon; Reagan/Weinberger, North, Irangate).  The political and the judicial are indeed intertwined.

 

Talking about “reconciliation” and “looking forward rather than backward” is in itself a blatant political intrusion in the world of justice.  If Obama were not signaling to the heads of the Justice Committees in both houses of Congress (and the American people) that he would prefer for them to back off, then he simply would have affirmed his commitment to the rule of law and left it at that.

 

The evidence that is already in the public domain with respect to the knowingly false pretense for the invasion of Iraq, the high level authorization of torture, the extraordinary renditions, the wiretapping, the U.S. Attorney firings, etc. is so overwhelming that – in spite of the sacred principle of “innocent until proven guilty” – the American and world public cannot be faulted for demanding that the Nuremberg principles be applied to the neo-fascist Bush clique.  That former Vice President Cheney, who is universally considered to have been the Bush administration Godfather, has been making the rounds boasting about his role in committing in effect what are crimes against humanity, constitutes an open challenge to anyone who takes the rule of law seriously.  Given the literally millions of human beings whose lives have been destroyed or seriously debilitated by the actions of the Bush administration and the gross violations of constitutional and international law, the imperative for speedy justice within the context of due process is overwhelming.

 

What I fear is some kind of Truth Commission based on the premise of giving immunity for the sake of getting the truth out.  This, I believe, is what Obama was getting at with his “looking forward” remark and what Professor Boaz would like to see.  Such a notion mocks the concept and dignity of Justice.  It gives no closure to those who have suffered at the hands of high level war criminals and it has little or no deterrent effect.  What it is is politically expedient. 

 

Do I expect to ever see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Wolfowitz et. al. in a United States court of law charged with high crimes?  Honestly I do not (but I didn’t ever expect to see the election of an Afro-American president in my lifetime either).  But genuine truth, reconciliation and justice demand that such high crimes be investigated and prosecuted; those who suffered deserve justice; and the future of what is left of constitutional democracy is worth fighting for.

What is more, if President Barak Obama or anyone else acts in any way to impede or frustrate the carrying out of justice, they become to some extent complicit with the principal perpetuators.

UPDATE (May 1, 2009)

There has been a lot of -pardon the pun – wate(boarding) under the bridge since I wrote this piece in mid February.  If you surf around my Blog or the many Blogs I post on it, you will find dozens if not hundreds of articles on the issue of torture and criminal responsibility for it.  Just today, for example, I posted an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in salon.com which documented the words of, of all people, Ronald Reagan, who, in introducing the law that made torture a serious crime in the United States, states that torture is a crime, with no exception for extraordinary circumstances (including, presumably, the phony “ticking time bomb” scenario).  Ronald Reagan!

 

Professor Boaz, who is the target of my criticism in the original article above, had argued that those of us demanding that now President Obama take criminal action against the Torturers were misunderstanding the role of the presidency.  Investigation and criminal prosecution in the bailiwick of the Judicial System, not the presidency she tells us.  I wonder what she is thinking now that President Obama has heard, tried and exonerated the CIA agents who carried out the war crime known as torture.

 

During the longest eight years in history that we lived through under Bush/Cheney, one felt that what was happening as if it were in the realm of the surreal.  Anti-war election results, and the war escalates (excuse me, surges).  Torture with impunity.  Habeas Corpus out the window.  Warrantless wiretapping.  An ideologically politicized Justice Department.  Signing Statements allowing the President to ignore laws passed by Congress.  Dr. Strangeglove figures such as Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Gonzales; and Darth Vader himself disguised as Dick Cheney, bunker and all.

 

May the goddess help me, I am having the same surrealistic dizziness all over again.  The Attorney General declares that waterboarding is torture.  Torture is a crime.  Therefore … do nothing about it.  The President releases evidence in the form of the infamous torture memos that, that along with photographic and other (International Red Cross, for example) evidence, leaves no doubt about the nature and extent of the torture; and then he proceeds to grant amnesty to those who committed the crimes.  They were only following orders, he says, as the Nuremburg amnesia sets in alongside the swine flu.  Pelosi and Reid want investigations … in secret (!).  The mainstream media, as it did under Bush/Cheney, plays along with the Alice in Wonderland fantasies, and the maniacs on the neo-Fascist Right have convinced a signficant percentage of Americans that torture is not a crime under “certain circumstances.”  The torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee are so patently phony and Kafkesque that Yoo is invited to teach law in Orange County and Bybee is made a Federal Judge.

 

It has been suggested that President Obama doesn’t feel there is the political will to prosecute the war criminals, which is why he has been so wishy-washy, but that he has released the tortue memos and is soon to release more photos as a way to achieve that will.  I don’t believe this, but that doesn’t matter.  Only by latching on to the the issue like a pit bull and refusing to let go can we who believe in Decency and Justice bring the American War Criminals to justice.

torture-with-bush

abu-ghraib-matthew-langley

 

 

 

 

Financial elite have no shame February 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis.
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Let’s imagine, for a moment, how different the public debate would be today if it had been unions that had caused the current economic turmoil.

In other words, try to imagine a scenario in which union leaders – not financial managers – were the ones whose reckless behaviour had driven a number of Wall Street firms into bankruptcy and in the process triggered a worldwide recession.

Needless to say, it’s hard to imagine a labour leader being appointed to oversee a bailout of unions the way former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson was put in charge of supervising the $700 billion bailout of his former Wall Street colleagues.

My point is simply to note how odd it is that the financial community has emerged so unscathed, despite its central role in the collapse that has brought havoc to the world economy.

Of course, not all members of the financial community were involved in Wall Street’s wildly irresponsible practices of bundling mortgages into securities and trading credit default swaps. But the financial community as a whole, on both sides of the border, certainly pushed hard to put in place an agenda of small government, in which financial markets largely regulated themselves and citizens (particularly high-income investors) would be spared the burden of paying much tax.

The agenda advanced much further in the U.S., but had an impact in Canada, particularly on the tax front.

One would think that those who pushed this agenda so enthusiastically would, at the very least, be a tad embarrassed today.

But so influential are those in the financial elite – and their hangers-on in think-tanks and economics departments – that they continue to appear on our TV screens, confidently providing us with economic advice, as if they’d played no role whatsoever in shaping our economic system for the past quarter century.

Of course, we’re told there’s been a major change in their thinking, in that many of them are now willing to accept large deficits in today’s federal budget, in the name of stimulating the economy.

While this does seem like a sharp departure from the deficit hysteria of the 1990s, a closer look reveals the change may not be that significant.

In fact, financial types have always accepted deficits – when they liked the cause. Hence their lack of protest over George W. Bush’s enormous deficits, which were caused by his large tax cuts for the rich and his extravagant foreign wars.

What they don’t like is governments going into deficit to help ordinary citizens – either by creating jobs or providing much unemployment relief.

So the Canadian financial community has been urging that the stimulus package consist mostly of income tax cuts – even though direct government spending would provide much more stimulus and do more to help the neediest.

If the Harper government follows the financial community’s advice, we will simply move further along with the small government revolution launched by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.

Of course, tax cuts are not the same as financial deregulation. But they are twin prongs of a bundled package aimed at reducing the power of government to operate in the public interest.

Surely it’s time to rethink this resistance to government acting as an agent of the common good.

And maybe it’s time for a little humility on the part of a financial elite that long has enjoyed such deference while turning out to be so spectacularly inept.
 

Linda McQuaig’s column appears every other week. lmcquaig@sympatico.ca

The Seeds of Latin America’s Rebirth Were Sown in Cuba January 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Cuba, Latin America, Venezuela.
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by Seumas Milne

On 9 October 1967, Che Guevara faced a shaking sergeant Mario Teran, ordered to murder him by the Bolivian president and CIA, and declared: “Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.” The climax of Stephen Soderbergh’s two-part epic, Che, in real life this final act of heroic defiance marked the defeat of multiple attempts to spread the Cuban revolution to the rest of Latin America.

But 40 years later, the long-retired executioner, now a reviled old man, had his sight restored by Cuban doctors, an operation paid for by revolutionary Venezuela in the radicalised Bolivia of Evo Morales. Teran was treated as part of a programme which has seen 1.4 million free eye operations carried out by Cuban doctors in 33 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. It is an emblem both of the humanity of Fidel Castro and Guevara’s legacy, but also of the transformation of Latin America which has made such extraordinary co-operation possible.

The 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this month has already been the occasion for a regurgitation of western media tropes about pickled totalitarian misery, while next week’s 10th anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela will undoubtedly trigger a parallel outburst of hostility, ridicule and unfounded accusations of dictatorship. The fact that Chávez, still commanding close to 60% popular support, is again trying to convince the Venezuelan people to overturn the US-style two-term limit on his job will only intensify such charges, even though the change would merely bring the country into line with the rules in France and Britain.

But it is a response which also utterly fails to grasp the significance of the wave of progressive change that has swept away the old elites and brought a string of radical socialist and social-democratic governments to power across the continent, from Ecuador to Brazil, Paraguay to Argentina: challenging US domination and neoliberal orthodoxy, breaking down social and racial inequality, building regional integration and taking back strategic resources from corporate control.

That is the process which this week saw Bolivians vote, in the land where Guevara was hunted down, to adopt a sweeping new constitution empowering the country’s long-suppressed indigenous majority and entrenching land reform and public control of natural resources – after months of violent resistance sponsored by the traditional white ruling class. It’s also seen Cuba finally brought into the heart of regional structures from which Washington has strained every nerve to exclude it.

The seeds of this Latin American rebirth were sown half a century ago in Cuba. But it is also more directly rooted in the region’s disastrous experience of neoliberalism, first implemented by the bloody Pinochet regime in the 1970s – before being adopted with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and duly enforced across the world.

The wave of privatisation, deregulation and mass pauperisation it unleashed in Latin America first led to mass unrest in Venezuela in 1989, savagely repressed in the Caracazo massacre of more than 1,000 barrio dwellers and protesters. The impact of the 1998 financial crisis unleashed a far wider rejection of the new market order, the politics of which are still being played out across the continent. And the international significance of this first revolt against neoliberalism on the periphery of the US empire now could not be clearer, as the global meltdown has rapidly discredited the free-market model first rejected in South America.

Hopes are naturally high that Barack Obama will recognise the powerful national, social and ethnic roots of Latin America’s reawakening – the election of an Aymara president was as unthinkable in Bolivia as an African American president – and start to build a new relationship of mutual respect. The signs so far are mixed. The new US president has made some positive noises about Cuba, promising to lift the Bush administration’s travel and remittances ban for US citizens – though not to end the stifling 47-year-old trade embargo.

But on Venezuela it seemed to be business as usual earlier this month, when Obama insisted that the Venezuelan president had been a “force that has interrupted progress” and claimed Venezuela was “supporting terrorist activities” in Colombia, apparently based on spurious computer disc evidence produced by the Colombian military.

If this is intended as political cover for an opening to Cuba then perhaps it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But if it is an attempt to isolate Venezuela and divide and rule in America’s backyard, it’s unlikely to work. Venezuela is a powerful regional player and while Chávez may have lost five out of 22 states in November’s regional elections on the back of discontent over crime and corruption, his supporters still won 54% of the popular vote to the opposition’s 42%.

That is based on a decade of unprecedented mobilisation of oil revenues to achieve impressive social gains, including the near halving of poverty rates, the elimination of illiteracy and a massive expansion of free health and education. The same and more is true of Cuba, famous for first world health and education standards – with better infant mortality rates than the US – in an economically blockaded developing country.

Less well known is the country’s success in diversifying its economy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not just into tourism and biotechnology, but the export of medical services and affordable vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. Anyone who seriously cares about social justice cannot but recognise the scale of these achievements – just as the greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about lack of freedom and democracy in Cuba can make is to help get the US off the Cubans’ backs.

None of that means the global crisis now engulfing Latin America isn’t potentially a threat to all its radical governments, with falling commodity prices cutting revenues and credit markets drying up. Revolutions can’t stand still, and the deflation of the oil cushion that allowed Chávez to leave the interests of the traditional Venezuelan ruling elite untouched means pressure for more radical solutions is likely to grow. Meanwhile, the common sense about the bankruptcy of neoliberalism first recognised in Latin America has now gone global. Whether it generates the same kind of radicalism elsewhere remains to be seen.

Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor.

Barack Obama: More ” Plus ça change… You Can Believe In” January 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama.
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Several weeks ago I coined the phrase “plus ça change… you can believe in.”  (http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2008/12/14/plus-ca-change-we-can-believe-in/?)  It is an obvious take-off on the Obama slogan that twists the meaning 180 degrees via the classic French dictum, which translates to English more or less as “the more things change the more they stay the same.” (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose)

Today’s Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/news/uselection/article/572960) has published an article it had run nineteen years ago in 1990 on the occasion of Barack Obama’s election as the first ever elected president of the Harvard Law Review.  The article is eerily prescient; and it provides grounds both for those who believe he will bring meaningful change as well as for those, like me, who based upon both his words and actions, have lost most of what hope we may have had.

(Full disclosure: I voted for Obama but my heart was with Ralph Nader)

The article confirms that as early as nineteen years ago, Barack Obama had already clearly demonstrated his brilliant mind, a social conscience, formidable personal drive, and magnificent diplomatic skills.  In an uncanny way we see in this article almost a carbon copy of the Barack Obama that we have watched as a presidential candidate and now President-elect.Those of you pragmatists out there will thrill by the account of how he was able to relate positively to conservatives along with those of his more natural constituency to achieve his historic election as the Law Review president.  From your adulatory postings on the article’s Comment section, however, you must have either missed or ignored that paragraph that jumped out at me.

“‘He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have,’ said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. ‘His election was significant at the time, but now it’s meaningless because he’s becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment).'”  (my emphasis)

If this isn’t prescient, I don’t know what is.

In a recent article in politico.com (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0109/17532.html) entitled “Obama Tries to Seduce Republicans” we read about not only Obama’s selection of the notorious Rick Warren for the inauguration invocation prayer, but also of  his dinner with right-of-center writers at George F. Will’s home and the transition team’s reaching out “to other prominent figures atop the Southern Baptist Church, Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry and the Jewish Orthodox Union.”  We read of his cozying up to McCain and others in the Republican leadership, and he has been eulogized by everyone from Condoleezza Rice to Pat Robertson (from Robertson’s CNN interview with Larry King: “I must say, this is the most amazing campaign that I think we’ve seen in our life time or maybe in this century. Obama is absolutely brilliant. I would like to make a prediction. He can one of the great presidents of the United States if he doesn’t get pulled too far off of center and gets over into some of the things the American people don’t want. If he governs the way he said he is going to do, as I say, he has the smarts and the charisma to pull this nation together and be an outstanding president.” (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0811/05/lkl.01.html)

I have no problem “reaching out” to the neo-Fascists who control the Republican Party, but what had set him apart from the others in the campaign was his initial indication that he would “reach out” to the likes of Cuba’s Castro, Chávez in Venezuela and Iran’s Ahmadinejad.  That would take courage and show leadership, but unfortunately he has backpedalled on this commitment since he won the election. 

It is interesting yet most disturbing to note that right wing Republican presidents like Reagan and W. tend to be aggressive in promoting their agenda and thereby achieve results (which unfortunately are disastrous for most Americans), while Democrat compromisers like Clinton and Obama tend to be diplomatic and achieve little of their own agenda while advancing that of their opposition (in Clinton’s case, for example, welfare “reform,” free trade, reduced social spending, etc.).

I am still more than pleased that Obama won over McCain, that the United States elected its first Afro-American President, and I have confidence that the Obama presidency and the Democratic controlled Congress will undo some of the most horrendous crimes of the Bush Administration.  I believe that Obama will outlaw torture, eventually close Guantanamo, and make some necessary changes with respect to women’s health care, domestic spying, stem cell research and other important areas.  And it cannot be too soon for some of our existing Supreme Court Justices to move on to that even higher court up in the sky so that Obama will have the opportunity to make appointments to that will serve to detoxify the Court, which has become contaminated with the likes of Thomas, Alioto and Roberts.

But by his policy statements (slower troop reduction in Iraq; troop build-up in Afghanistan; at least tacit support of the Israeli massacre in Gaza; no immediate doing away with the tax cuts to the rich, etc.) and his appointments (Gates of Iran-Contra fame, Rahm the unabashed Israel apologist, Clinton the cheerleader for the Iraq Invasion; Lawrence Summers the wolf to guard the economic chicken coop), Obama has shown us what we can expect in the most critical areas: change that is pretty much the same thing.

 

New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family January 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Religion.
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bush-family

The Bush family (photo: www.stillman.org)

Frederick Clarkson
January 4, 2009

www.religiondispatches.org

A brand new investigation of the Bush family reveals a religious narrative that strays from the official story circulated to supporters and the press. How many conversions did George W. actually have and why? How did a blue-blooded Episcopalian family come to represent the evangelicals of America?

Below is an addendum to today’s feature “New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family”. The book discussed is Russ Baker’s: Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and what Their Influence Means for America (Bloomsbury Press, 2008)

Baker has unearthed many startling facts about the careers of Bush 41 and Bush 43. He also draws some head turning conclusions about some of the key figures in both the Watergate scandal and the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the relationship of Poppy Bush to both events. But before we summarize some of the book’s major disclosures, it is worth discussing the elephant in the room (For a full analysis of the revelations regarding the religious life of the Bushes, see today’s feature: ).

Investigative works are often labeled “conspiracy theories.” This term is generally used to suggest that whatever an author has learned, he or she may be a bit unhinged, and we may therefore not take the material seriously. And we are safe to go about our business as usual. While there are people and work, no matter how well intentioned to which the label might fairly apply, the label is also used by many of us to dismiss information and analyses that make us uncomfortable even when they legitimately push the boundaries of our understanding of modern politics, business and government. But as we address our own discomfort in the face of such material, we need to remind ourselves that investigative journalism discomfits the author as well. Journalists like Baker are constantly checking and cross checking, making sure that disturbing information is in fact so. Even more awkward are the disturbing questions that the journalist cannot answer, but are themselves so well founded that they must be raised. Conspiracy theorists tend to take the opposite tack. Information is shaped or interpreted to conform to predetermined and often fevered conclusions, while countervailing information is downplayed or ignored.

Baker is a well-respected journalist who has written for major newspapers and magazines and has served as a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. His effort to understand the lives of the presidents Bush unexpectedly led him to reexamine Watergate and the Kennedy assassination and other murky episodes of recent American history, “documenting the secrets that the House of Bush has long sought to obscure.”

“I’ll admit it,” Baker writes in his conclusion. “Fear of being so labeled has haunted me throughout this work. It’s been an internal censor that I’ve had to resist again and again. And also an external one, as friends within the journalistic establishment reviewed my findings, found them both credible and highly disturbing, and yet urged me to stay away from them for my own good. I began to realize that I was experiencing the very thing the process is designed to induce. The boundaries of permissible thought are staked out and enforced. We accept the conventional narratives because they are repeated and approved, while conflicting ones are scorned. Isn’t this how authoritarian regimes work? They get inside your mind so that overt repression becomes less necessary.”

“Whose interests does this serve?” he continues. “As this book demonstrates, the deck has long been and continues to be, stacked on behalf of big money players, especially those in commodities and natural resources *from gold to oil *and those who finance the extraction of these materials. The defense industry, and the aligned growth of business of “intelligence,” provide muscle. On a lower level is an army of enablers*the campaign functionaries, the PR people, the lawyers. This was the Bush enterprise. The Bushes embodied it as a dynasty, but it is larger than them, and will prove more enduring.”

Here are some of the major revelations of the book:

*George H. W. (“Poppy”) Bush, and many of his closest associates throughout his adult life were deeply and secretly enmeshed in covert intelligence activities. He has gone to great lengths to conceal many of his activities, no matter how mundane, and engaged in overt acts of misdirection. Bush’s extensive intelligence ties prior to his becoming CIA Director in the Ford administration, and going back to World War II, have not been previously reported. Baker calls this Bush’s “double life.”

*Poppy Bush was deeply involved with an array of CIA covert operators, Bay of Pigs veterans and rightwing Texas oil industry characters linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Baker shows that Bush was actually in Dallas on November 21, 1963 and was probably there on the day of the assassination as well. Baker draws no particular conclusions from the fact, except to document, describe and underscore the great lengths he went to conceal the fact.

*Baker asserts that, much to his own surprise, Richard Nixon while no innocent, was not the instigator of the Watergate crimes and the cover-up, but appears to have been set-up. What’s more, some of the seeming good guys, were not, and much of what seemed to be, was not as it seemed. Among those he implicates in the set-up are Poppy Bush and perhaps most remarkably, John Dean, the former White House counsel who became best known as the key whistleblower.

*In a related point, Baker notes that Nixon suspected the CIA of infiltrating his White House staff. Nixon recognized the Watergate burglars from his own days supervising covert operations as Vice President in the Eisenhower administration, and knew that their bosses were seasoned CIA hardliners with ties to the Bay of Pigs invasion and events linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nixon battled the CIA for files on what he called the “Bay of Pigs thing,” but never could get access to them. (To borrow from Woody Allen, just because Nixon was paranoid, doesn’t mean they were not out to get him.)

*Baker questions the integrity and independence of famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post who he reports had been recommended for his job by senior Nixon White House officials who had known him when he worked in Naval intelligence prior to his becoming a reporter. In that capacity, which Woodward denies he held, he was a frequent visitor to the White House.

*Baker details the Bush family’s personal, political and business connections to the Saudi royal family; and to apparent international slush funds and money laundering schemes. Much of this is told in such a matter of fact fashion that it is easy to lose sight of the significance of many of the individual facts.

Regarding George W. Bush, in addition to the manufacture of the legend his conversion story (see main story) the book covers familiar turf regarding how strings were pulled to get George W. Bush into the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid military service that might send him to Vietnam; how he failed to fulfill that service; and how his failure was systematically covered-up and politically defused. Also covered are the allegations of how W. was an abuser of illegal drugs in addition to his apparently drinking problems as a young man.

One important story from W.’s past that has long been rumored is confirmed in this book. It is a story that perhaps as much as his going AWOL from the National Guard and orchestrating a cover-up could have derailed his political career.

And that story is the illegal abortion he obtained for a girlfriend in Texas before Roe v. Wade. This is substantiated in part by four reporters whose stories were not published, but who shared their “experiences and detailed source notes” and even tapes with him. Two Bush pals took charge of arranging the abortion go to the hospital and who went to the hospital to inform her that he would not see her again. All of the names are named. Certainly as an candidate who was seeking to appeal to conservative evangelical, anti-abortion constituencies, this would have been a high hurdle to overcome.

“As president,” Baker concludes, “Bush promulgated tough new policies that withheld U.S. funds not only to programs and countries that permitted abortions, but even to those that advocated contraception as opposed to abstinence. Moreover, his appointments to the Supreme Court put the panel on the verge of reversing Roe v. Wade. Like his insistence on long prison sentences for first time drug offenders and his support for military action, his own behavior in regard to sexual responsibility and abortion could be considered relevant *and revealing.” Such journalistic understatement is typical of Baker’s narrative, even while reporting potentially politically explosive material.

Perhaps the revelation that would be most difficult for readers will not be anything about the Bush family, or Watergate or the Kennedy assassination, or any of the figures in this nearly 500 page book and 1000-plus footnotes. “These revelations about the Bushes,” Baker writes, “lead in turn to an even more disturbing truth about the country itself. It’s not just that such a clan could occupy the presidency or vice presidency for twenty of the past twenty-eight years and remain essentially unknown. It’s that the methods of stealth and manipulation that powered their rise reflect a deeper ill: the American public’s increasingly tenuous hold upon the levers of its own democracy.”

Frederick Clarkson’s writing about about politics and religion has appeared in magazines and newspapers from Mother Jones, Conscience and Church & State, to The Village Voice and The Christian Science Monitor for 25 years. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, (Ig Publishing 2008), and co-founder of the group blog, Talk to Action.

Faith has always been a special commodity for politicians. It is not only essential to have or appear to have it, but that it be of the right variety—especially if you’re thinking of running for president. For nearly two centuries, you could be pretty much any religion you wanted, as long as it was mainline Protestant. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who identified respectively as Roman Catholic and Quaker, stretched the definition of acceptable presidential faith, followed soon after by Jimmy Carter, the first evangelical Christian president, whose political rise prefigured and catalyzed the wider engagement of conservative evangelicals in politics and, as it happened, the rise of the religious right.

These social and political changes have posed distinct challenges for pols seeking to navigate the changes in American religious life and the successes of a culture of religious pluralism. This was particularly so for the patrician Bush family, whose challenges in this arena are a familiar part of their political tale. In addition, however, there remain astounding hidden dimensions involving the skills of “spy craft” acquired in a lifetime of covert intelligence activities by George H.W. (“Poppy”) Bush and many of his closest associates.

This, according to a just-published investigative history of the Bush political dynasty, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and what Their Influence Means for America (Bloomsbury Press, 2008). Author Russ Baker shows, among other things, that Poppy Bush’s well-known service as a Navy pilot in World War II was also part of his work for Naval Intelligence. This set the stage for an astonishing double life participating in covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency throughout his career.

The story of the reinvention of the religious identities of two presidents and their faith-based political strategy could be easily obscured amidst Family of Secrets’ revelations of the Bush family ties to such murky matters as Watergate and the Kennedy assassination (see sidebar). But Baker’s discussion of how a prominent political family applied the tools of the spy trade to their religious transformation and political strategy is a story that merits attention as religious faith becomes an increasingly popular political commodity.

This dimension of the story of the Bush family dynasty emerges in the wake of the growth of the religious right political movement within the GOP in the early ’80s. In this context, what was a starchy, Episcopalian heir to a blue-blooded Yankee political pedigree to do? And what of his reckless, apparently non-religious, playboy son? These were the intertwined questions faced by Vice President Bush and George W. in the 1980s as they planned Poppy Bush’s run for president in 1988—and W.’s political future.

Baker’s chapter titled “The Conversion” features startling revelations that challenge the well-known narratives of the Bush family’s religious history— including the way they crafted a strategy for winning over the religious right, and the creation of a conversion legend for George W. Bush. The purpose of the latter was not only to position him as a religious and political man of his time, but to neutralize the many issues from his past that threatened to undermine his future in politics (and possibly that of his father as well). The plan probably worked far better than anyone could have hoped. “I’m still amazed,” Doug Wead, a key architect of the Bush family’s evangelical outreach strategy told Baker, “how naïve so many journalists are who have covered politics all of their life.”

Poppy and W. Learn Evangelical Lessons

In the early 1980s, Vice President George H.W. Bush faced a political problem of historic proportions. The religious right, driven by politically energized evangelical Christians had altered the political landscape, helping deliver both the 1980 GOP nomination and the presidency to Ronald Reagan. How could the tragically preppy Poppy—a product of Andover and Yale, and secretive former director of the CIA—adjust to the new political reality in order to run for president in 1988? The answer to this question is part of the Bush family’s slow motion transition from old line Yankee blue bloods to good ol’ Red State politicians.

The story begins with Doug Wead, a former Assemblies of God minister turned what Baker terms a “hybrid marketer-author-speaker-historian-religious-political consultant,” who by 1985 had apparently been vetted and groomed to shape the Bush approach to the religious right. “Instinctively,” Baker writes, “he [Poppy Bush] was uncomfortable with pandering to the masses, and uncomfortable too with ascribing deep personal values to himself. For that matter, he didn’t like to reveal much of anything about himself, which was partly patrician reserve and partly perhaps an instinct reinforced by his covert endeavors over the years.”

If Poppy was going to be president, Wead advised, he needed to learn about “these people.” Eventually, Wead drafted a lengthy memo outlining a way for Bush to surf the rising wave of the religious right to the presidency. “This was the beginning,” according to Wead. But not only for their political strategy. Wead felt that Poppy himself had embarked on a spiritual journey, reworking his own spiritual identity even as he studied the evangelical world and developed a political approach for his 1988 presidential campaign.

All of this would be crucial since Representative Jack Kemp (R-NY), a well-known conservative evangelical, and televangelist Pat Robertson also planned to run for the GOP nomination, forcing Bush to compete for the evangelical vote. The three first clashed in the Michigan GOP caucuses, which preceded the usually first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. (Bush ultimately won after a critical court ruling.) But Wead revealed to Baker how the ‘covert operator’ orientation of the Bush camp played out on the ground. “I ran spies in our opponents political camps,” Wead said, including elected Robertson precinct delegates in Michigan. These Bush agents made headlines when they abandoned Robertson and publicly threw their support to Bush. “We helped them win… and totally infiltrate the Robertson campaign,” Wead declared. “I ran them essentially for [Lee] Atwater, but W. knew about them.”

“The spy argot here is suggestive,” Baker writes. “In the Bush milieu, an intelligence mentality spills over not just into politics but even into dealings with the church-based right. Domestic political constituencies,” he warns, “have replaced the citizens of Communist countries as a key target of American elites. They seek to win hearts and minds of devout Christians through quasi-intelligence techniques.”

The layers of secrecy were peeled back on a need-to-know basis over time. Unbeknownst to Wead, for example, the younger Bush had been a voracious consumer of Wead’s memos to Poppy and his top aides years before they met in 1987. W. had also quietly served as Poppy’s key adviser as they absorbed the lessons and formulated their strategic approach to religious identity and outreach.

Under Wead’s tutelage, Poppy would learn the ins and outs of the evangelical world. But Poppy and W. had a problem in common. Baker writes that they knew that W.’s “behavior before becoming governor [of Texas in 1994] his partying, his womanizing, and in particular his military service problems—posed a serious threat to his presidential ambitions. Their solution was to wipe the slate clean—through religious transformation.”

A Tale of Two Conversions

For this to work they needed “a credible conversion experience and a presentable spiritual guide.” And so the legend goes that none other than Billy Graham paid a visit to his longtime friends at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. This led to the famous walk on the beach that George W. Bush says “planted a mustard seed in my soul,” and to his supposed rebirth as an evangelical Christian. That was the accepted narrative in the media and throughout the evangelical world for years. But Graham later told a journalist that he does not remember the encounter; and to another said he does remember a walk on the beach—but not, apparently, any kind of spiritually meaningful conversation. Whatever the facts of the Graham episode, there are actually two conversion stories. The second was deep-sixed in favor of the Graham story, and only emerged after George W. was elected president.

The itinerant evangelist Arthur Blessitt, famous for dragging (mostly on wheels) a 12-foot cross around the world, posted the story on his Web site in October 2001, noting that he met with George W. Bush a full year earlier than Graham. “Mr. George W. Bush,” wrote Blessitt, “a Midland oilman, listened to the radio broadcast and asked one of his friends ‘Can you arrange for me to meet Arthur Blessitt and talk to him about Jesus?’ And so it came to pass.”

Wead, Baker reports, “had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn’t be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, ‘spiritual counselor to presidents,’ would do perfectly.” And that was the story that speechwriter Karen Hughes wove into Bush’s 1999 campaign book, A Charge to Keep. There was no mention of Blessitt.

Baker writes from the standpoint of a journalist, looking into the murky career and political and financial empire of one of America’s leading political dynasties. George H.W. Bush’s career in the CIA, capped by his brief tenure as director under Ford, reveals a politician comfortable with the workings of covert operations and their political applications sufficient to attain the highest office for himself. That the spiritual rebirth and transformation of his son was so well scripted and staged (even if the facts are in doubt) is unsurprising for a family and network of associates steeped in the geo-political theater of CIA covert operations. Furthermore, as damaging as the tales of W.’s reckless youth were to his campaigns and presidency, the personal redemption story worked at least as powerfully as Bush’s handlers had hoped—for the father as well as the son.

Iranians Ponder Their Future With an Obama Administration December 29, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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29 December 2008, www.truthout.org

by: Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Embassy hostage crisis.expanded in 2007 by this authorization.time frame unchanged from previous estimates. Mr. Ahmadinejad. Nazi-style extermination of a people. regional wind power manufacturer . We met with the director and staff at the modern state-of-the-art factory in south Tehran. Saba Niroo has installed some of the 143 wind turbines planned for the wind farm in Manjil, Guillan Province and the 43 wind turbines planned for the Binalood wind farm in Khorasan Razavi Province. They have installed four wind turbines in the Pushkin Pass wind farm in Armenia.Danish wind energy company with whom the Iranian company has had a contractual relationship has now refused to honor its 15-year contract to furnish critical parts for the wind turbines.compared to American society, we don’t have many homosexuals – in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” criminally sexually assaulted another youth. As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view. Channel 4’s role is to allow viewers to hear directly from people of world importance with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds.”promoting Western hairstyles.” to protect against attacks from rogue states” is perceived by many Iranians as a strategy to ensure that tensions in the region continue to escalate. The United States is planning to deploy 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors in Poland and batteries of shorter-range Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missiles to protect the Interceptors.»Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

iranian-womanAn Iranian woman holds up a lamp during a power outage in Tehran, Iran. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazi / Reuters)

 Traveling to Iran as a Citizen Diplomat for Peace

    Just a month ago, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush met for the last time as heads of state in late November 2008 in Washington and continued their relentless bellicose rhetoric toward Iran, I and three activists from the United States were in Iran as citizen diplomats talking with Iranians on their views of a new American presidential administration and their hopes for their country.

    We went to Iran with no illusions. We knew well the history of United States involvement in Iran. We knew of Iranian support for organizations U.S. administrations have labeled as “terrorist” groups. And we were very familiar with international concerns about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and human rights record.

    We wanted to talk with members of the Iranian government as well as with ordinary Iranians. We ended up meeting with officials in the Iranian president’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with two women members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles). We also spoke with businesspersons, members of nongovernmental organizations, writers, filmmakers and university students and faculty.

    Writing about the concerns of the Iranians we met leaves one open to comments of being one-sided, not speaking with enough Iranians to provide the “real” voices and of picking and choosing voices to record. I acknowledge the possible criticism in advance, but believe our discussions are worthy of presentation to those who have not been so fortunate to have traveled to Iran to see and hear for themselves. So here goes.

    Iranians Want Peace, Not War

    Codepink Women for Peace co-founders Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, Fellowship of Reconciliation Iran program director Laila Zand and I were reminded in virtually every conversation that Iranians want peace with the United States, not war. Not one person in Iran told us that first, she believed her country would begin a war with the United States or any other country, to include Israel, and second, that if the United States initiated military actions against Iran, that those actions would resolve problems in Iran or with the United States.

    They reminded us that, unlike the United States, which has invaded and occupied Iran’s neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has not attacked any country in the last 200 years. They reminded us that Iran was the victim of an eight-year war in the 1980’s when Iraq invaded Iran and the United States and European countries provided Iraq with military equipment, intelligence and chemical weapons that were used at least 50 times against Iranian civilians and military forces. We learned that during the eight-year war the Revolution’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini had mandated that it would be against Islamic precepts to bomb Iraqi cities or use chemical or unconventional weapons on Iraq – and Iranian military forces complied – even though the Iraqi military bombed Iranian cities, including Tehran, and used chemical weapons on Iranians.

    Most Iranians Have Issues With Their Government, as Most Americans Have Issues With Theirs

    Iran is a county with a population of about 70 million (two and one-half times as many people as Iraq) and a geographic area about the size of Alaska (four times as large as Iraq). Tehran, the Iranian capital, has 7.5 million people in the urban area and 15 million in surrounding areas. It is a modern city, with a beautiful subway and cosmopolitan shops, as well as a huge traditional bazaar and an incredible number of cars, trucks and motorcycles. Tehran and Iran have recovered from the Iraq war that ended 20 years ago and are holding up remarkably well to US and international sanctions.

    Most Iranians with whom we talked openly said they have issues with many aspects of their government. Many said the Iranian people share a common dislike with Americans – dislike of their government – noting that President Bush’s and the US Congress’s approval ratings with the American people are extremely low, as is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ratings, particularly in urban areas. But, they strongly said they do not want outside interference in the internal political events of their country and definitely do not want a political system and government installed by invasion and occupation. Their democracy, even with its flaws, is better than a US-enforced democracy, they said.

    America’s best policy would be to treat Iran with respect and not with threats of military action. Any attempt to overthrow the Iranian government would be met with stiff opposition, even from those who don’t like the government, they repeated. “Regime change” will come in due time and in an Iranian manner.

    US Interference in Iran’s Internal Affairs

    Several reminded us that in January 1981, the United States signed the Algiers Accord, in which the US agreed “not to intervene directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” The Algiers Accord was the agreement signed by the United States and Iran to end the 444-day US

    However, this Accord has been violated numerous times by the United States. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote that, in late 2007, President Bush requested and received from Democratic Congressional leadership $400 million reprogrammed from previous authorizations to fund a presidential finding that substantially increased covert activities designed to destabilize Iran’s religious leadership. These covert actions involved support for the Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. Hersh also revealed that United States Special Operations Forces had been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with presidential authorization, since 2007, including seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” who could be captured or killed. Hersh said operations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were significantly

    Iran’s Nuclear Program

    Iran has had a nuclear program for almost 50 years, having purchased a research reactor from the United States in 1959 during the Shah’s reign. The Iranian government states that its nuclear energy program will allow increased electricity generation to reduce consumption of gas and oil to allow export of more of its fossil fuels. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made public December 3, 2007, concluded with “high confidence” that the military-run Iranian nuclear weapons program had been shut down in 2003, but that Iran’s enrichment program could still provide enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon by the middle of the next decade, a

    Virtually everyone with whom we spoke said they believe that their country has a right to have a nuclear enrichment program and to produce nuclear energy. Many questioned why Iran would ever need a nuclear weapons program, unless as leverage against the United States’ 30-year antagonism toward their country. They reminded us that Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike nuclear states Israel, India and Pakistan, which refused to join the NPT and developed nuclear weapons purposefully outside the treaty.) Additionally, they insist that Iran is in compliance with the IAEA standards, according to the November 2008 IAEA report, despite interpretations of the report by the United States and Israel.

    Some reminded us that on August 9, 2005, at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, 60 years after the US atomic bombing of Japan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced that he had issued a fatwa, or religious mandate, forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. Importantly, the Supreme Leader controls the Iranian military and the nuclear program of Iran, not the President of the country,

    Iran, Israel and the United States

    Iran, Israel and United States have had a disturbing, but fascinating, history over the past 30 years. Iran’s current relationship with Israel and Western countries seems to be defined by President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 statement – widely reported, but tragically and dangerously mistranslated and misinterpreted – that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth.” According to highly respected Middle Eastern scholar Juan Coles, Ahmadinejad was “not making a threat, but was quoting a saying of Ayatollah Khomeini that urged pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope – that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government. Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of

    But the history of Iranian-Israeli relationships is more than just Ahmadinejad’s misinterpreted statement. Israel, like the United States, had a long history of selling arms to the Shah, which Iran’s revolutionary government was willing to exploit secretly, despite its public animosity toward the state of Israel. In the early years (1980-82) of the Iranian Revolution and during the war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini’s government sold oil to Israel in exchange for weapons and spare parts. Even during the American hostage crisis (1979-1981) in which 52 US diplomats were held for 444 days, Israel made weapons deals with Iran. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig gave permission to Israel to sell US-made military spare parts for fighter planes to Iran in early 1981.

    In another remarkable relationship known as the Iran-Contra affair, funds from Israel’s sale to Iran of US weapons in 1985-1986 were used by U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (President Reagan’s first National Security Adviser) and National Security Council staffer US Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North to fund the Contras’ war against the revolutionary government in Nicaragua. This was in violation of a Congressional ban on funding the Contras and took place during the Iraq-Iran war when the US was also providing military equipment including chemical weapons to Iraq, Iran’s opponent in the war. Iranians remember that those convicted for their actions, including Weinberger, Poindexter, McFarlane and North, were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, who was vice president during the period of criminal actions conducted by government officials during the illegal Contra affair.

    Iranian Support for Hamas and Hezbollah

    When asked about one of the most contentious points in US-Israeli-Iranian relationships – the Iranian government’s support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon – Iranians pointed out that the US has consistently and heavily funded Israel during its 62-year existence (US provides about $4 billion per year to the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces.) Many Iranians suggested that Palestinians who have lived in refugee camps during those 62 years must be provided assistance. Hezbollah began in 1982 as a small militia fighting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and is now not only a military group but a political organization that won seats in the Lebanese government, has a radio and satellite television station and provides social development and humanitarian assistance for much of southern Lebanon. Iranians strongly felt that Hamas, the elected (and they emphasize elected) government of Gaza, needs financial support, particularly now in current extraordinary humanitarian crisis due to the lengthy Israeli blockade of foods and services into Gaza.

    Iraq

    On the question of Iraq, many Iranians who lived in the border regions with Iraq during the eight-year war said they personally knew the agony of deaths, injuries, destruction and other costs of war and do not wish that on their former enemies. They talked of the irony of the political outcome of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, in which many Shi’a Iraqis, who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam’s regime and have long-standing ties to the Iranian government, are now in leadership positions in the new US-backed Iraqi government.

    Afghanistan

    Other Iranians reminded us of Iran’s help to the US in 2001 and 2002 in the early days of the US military action in Afghanistan. When we asked about recent United States intelligence analysis that indicated Iranian support for the Taliban, we were met with laughs. The Taliban are of the Sunni branch of Islam, while Iranians are of the Shi’a branch. They reminded us that in 1998 the Taliban murdered 11 Iranian diplomats and one Iranian newsperson at the Iranian consulate in Afghan northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, an incident which Iranians have not forgotten. The Iranians consider the Taliban their adversaries and feel that a Taliban government in Afghanistan would make the region more unstable.

    Sanctions Are Drying Up Lines of Credit for Businesses

    We found that Iranians are proud of their creativity to outwit the 29 years of various sanctions the US has placed on their country. They say the US has only isolated itself commercially by its sanctions, as Iran trades with many other nations. Europeans, Chinese, Russians and Indians have had flourishing businesses with Iran. However, the recent international sanctions clampdown on lines of credit for Iranian banks has had a rippling effect into the business community, where money for loans to Iranian businesses for purchase of materials is drying up. Oil dollars that paid for an incredible amount of imports are drying up with the downturn in oil prices, and the government is beginning to reevaluate the large subsidizes given to the population for food, gasoline and services.

    We spoke with four businesswomen (an architect, a chemist, a business consultant and an agricultural professional) who said each of their businesses had been affected negatively with the shrinking of money available for purchase of materials from outside the country and for continuation of current levels of operation or expansion of their business.

    One of the most incredible stories we heard about the effect of the sanctions was on the alternative energy sector. Since there is so much rhetoric in the US about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program, we decided to see if there were alternative energy companies in the country. On the aircraft flying into Iran, we met a European businessman who said he would put us in touch with the director of a wind energy company. He introduced us by telephone to the director of Saba Niroo, an Iranian company that makes wind turbines and is the largest

    However, the director told us that because of US sanctions pressure, Vestas, a

    As a result, Saba Niroo has 50 huge 70-foot-long wind blades and corresponding chassis and installation towers lying useless in its warehouse and warehouse yard. Saba Niroo may go bankrupt in six months if it is unable to complete and sell the wind turbines – all because of US sanctions and pressure.

    As a part of citizen diplomacy, we decided to defy sanctions and show our support of alternative energy programs, by purchasing shares in Saba Niroo. We have also decided to purchase shares in the Danish company Vestas, which has a big US headquarters in Portland, Oregon. As shareholders, we could put shareholder pressure on Vestas to honor its contract with the Iranian company.

    Human Rights in Iran

    On the question of human rights in Iran, executions, political prisoners and rights of gays and lesbians, many Iranians strongly want changes in their government’s policies. In response to a question on September, 24, 2007, from an audience at Columbia University in New York, President Ahmadinejad drew widespread criticism when his answer was translated as “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals in our country, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who told you that we have it.” In October 2007, one of Ahmadinejad’s media advisers said that the President had meant that “

    Homosexual acts are punishable by law: sodomy (defined as “sexual intercourse with a male) is punishable by execution and punishment for “lesbian acts” is 100 lashes. However, conviction takes the testimony of four witnesses and if the accused recants before witnesses testify, the accused will not be punished. The discussion of human rights of youth and gay youth combined in the much-publicized 2005 execution by hanging of two young men in Iran. Some say they were executed because they were solely because they were gay and others say the two young men – minors – were convicted and hanged because they

    Interestingly, sex change is legal in Iran and there are more sex change operations in Iran than any other country except Thailand. The Iranian government provides grants up to $4,500 for the operation and further funding for hormone therapy on the theory that persons wanting a sex change have a “treatable disorder.”

    Iranians want change to come from within their society, not imposed by another government, especially one, as we were reminded, that has its own human rights issues, including incarceration of the highest percentage of its citizenry of any country in the world, high rates of execution (Texas in particular), state-sponsored kidnapping from other countries (known in the Bush administration as extraordinary rendition), imprisonment without due process, extrajudicial courts and a military and an intelligence agency that are notorious for torture.

    Women’s Issues

    When thinking of women in Iran, many in the West immediately respond with comments about the clothing women must wear. Few realize that 70 percent of all university students are women, 30 percent of doctors in Iran are women, 80 percent of women are literate (88 percent of men can read), women receive 90 days of maternity leave at two-thirds pay and right to return to their jobs, and the number of children per woman has declined from seven in 1979 to 1.7 now. Abortions are illegal in Iran, but it’s the only country I know of where couples must take a class on modern contraception before being issued a marriage license. It has the only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East, and it produces 45 million condoms a year in 30 different colors, shapes and flavors.

    In one of the most successful instances of women’s grassroots organizational pressure on the government, in September 2008, over 100 advocates for women’s rights successfully lobbied against proposed changes to marriage laws which were detrimental to women and forced the Iranian Parliament to drop the regressive amendments.

    Clothing Restrictions

    Yes, there are mandatory clothing rules for women, including wearing a scarf and clothing that covers the arms to the wrists and legs to the ankles, and they are cited by Western women as a form of human rights concern. In fact, as our aircraft arrived at the Tehran International Airport terminal, the aircraft crew announced “By the law of the country of Iran, women cannot leave the aircraft without a scarf on their heads – and there will be an Iranian official outside the aircraft to return women who are not properly covered.” While some Iranian women say wearing the scarf is burdensome, others are comfortable with the dress code. In any case, clothing restrictions are not the main focus of women’s rights advocates. Rights to custody of children and property after divorce, right to education and health care are more important than mandatory wearing of a scarf.

    In the Month Since Our Visit

    Sparks Fly Over Iranian President’s BBC Christmas message – “Jesus Christ Would Stand Up to Bullying, Ill-Tempered and Expansionist Powers”

    In what they surely knew would be a very controversial request, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) asked Iranian President Ahmadinejad to deliver the BBC channel 4’s traditional “alternative Christmas message” to the Queen’s Christmas address.

    The head of BBC News and Current Affairs said the decision to ask President Ahmadinejad was because “

    It turned out that Ahmadinejad’s short, 36-second message in Farsi with English subtitles broadcast on Christmas Day 2008, probably resonated with much of the world, but predictably provoked a British government hornet’s nest with his comment that if Jesus Christ lived today he would stand up against bullying powers. “If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.” Ahmadinejad, a devout Muslim, criticized the “indifference of some governments and powers” towards the teachings of the “divine prophets, including Jesus Christ” and said that “the general will of nations” was for a return to “human values.” He declared, “The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy … have come about because the prophets have been forgotten, the Almighty has been forgotten and some leaders are estranged from God.”

    Ahmadinejad’s remarks received very little media coverage in the United States, minuscule when compared to the news story of the month – President Bush’s encounter with the Iraqi shoe thrower. However, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in predicting anticipated Bush administration displeasure, said: “President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offense and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad.”

    Labor Member of Parliament (MP) Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labor Jewish Movement, said: “I condemn Channel 4’s decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street.” Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: “Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time.”

    Media Relations Not a Strong Suit of the Iranian Government

    It’s almost as if Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is up for re-election in summer 2009, has hired lame ducks US Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as his foreign policy, national security and media consultants. How else could the Iranian government have come up with so many incidents in the past weeks that give ammunition to those in the United States and Israel who do not want dialogue with Iran on nuclear and regional security issues, who want human rights issues to publicize and who wish ill to the Iranian government and people?

    For example, on December 22, 2008, the Iranian government closed down two human-rights organizations headed by 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. The government accused the organization of carrying out illegal activities, such as publishing statements, writing letters to international organizations and holding news conferences. The Center for Participation in Clearing Mine Areas helps victims of landmines in Iran and Defenders of Human Rights Center reports human rights violations in Iran, defends political prisoners and supports families of those prisoners. Ebadi was also taken into police custody briefly following the raids.

    The first week in December 2008, in a campaign against Western cultural influence in Iran, Qaemshahr city police arrested 49 people during a crackdown on “satanic” fashions and unsuitable clothing and closed five barbershops for “

    And now, there is the predictable increased international criticism about the Russian government providing the Iranian government with S-300s, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, triggered by the Bush administration’s decision to put a “missile shield” in Poland and the Czech Republic. On December 23, 2008, United Press International reported that the Russian government had begun delivery to the Iranian government of some of its most modern anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, the S-300s. These missile systems can shoot down ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes as far away as 100 miles. Iran conducted well-publicized air force and ballistic missile defense exercises in September 2008.

    The Bush administration’s ballistic poke in the eye of Russia and Iran by the deployment of ballistic missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic “

    Iranians Not Optimistic About Future Relations with the United States Under an Obama Administration

    Despite President-elect Barack Obama’s comments during the presidential campaign that he would have dialogue with the Iranian government without preconditions, many Iranians with whom we spoke are not optimistic that there will be meaningful change in US policy during an Obama administration. Citing appointments of former Israeli Defense Force member and US Congressman Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff; Hillary Clinton, who during the summer campaign said she would “obliterate” Iran if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel (a statement that Iranians find incomprehensible since it is Israel that has nuclear weapons, not Iran, and Israel continues to threaten Iran), and Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator during the Clinton and Bush administrations, Iranians said they hoped the AIPAC lobby in the United States had not already determined Obama’s agenda toward Iran.

    Iranians Want Peace

    To emphasize again, the overwhelming comment from Iranians during our visit was that they want peace with the United States. They hope that the new president of the United States will talk with their government to resolve issues, instead of resorting to the threat, much less the use, of military action.

    Our Future With Iran – a Hope for Diplomacy, Not Military Action

    As we have seen from the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of our military to resolve security issues kills and injures innocent civilians, destroys cities and villages, creates more people who dislike/hate our country and who may be willing to use violence against us, and jeopardizes, not enhances, the security of the United States.

    As a retired US Army colonel and a former US diplomat, I hope that the Obama administration will throw away the old template of 30 years of crisis, threats of military action, vindictiveness and retaliation and look to diplomacy to develop a peaceful future with Iran!

 

Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel, and a former US diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “

Crippling the Auto Union Is Just a Warm-Up December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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www.truthdig.com

Dec 15, 2008

By Marie Cocco

I must admit that when the danger of a global financial implosion became apparent in March with the taxpayer-backed takeover of Bear Stearns by banking giant JPMorgan Chase, I did not understand how all those worthless Wall Street credit swaps really could be the fault of an overpaid union welder at an auto plant somewhere in Michigan.

Heck. Despite having once listened as Republican leader Tom DeLay gave a House speech blaming the 1999 Columbine High School shootings on mothers who use birth control and the teaching of evolution in schools, I still underestimate the peculiar genius that conservative Republicans show in exploiting dire, even tragic, situations to wield a partisan cudgel.

Senate Republicans’ effort to break the United Auto Workers union as the pound of flesh they wanted in exchange for loans to teetering automakers—companies that are on the brink because of a credit crisis they did not cause—was over the top, even drawing objections from the Bush White House. The administration is now rushing to find money for Detroit somewhere in the huge pot of financial-industry bailouts, lest the automakers go down and take what’s left of the economy with them.

Understand that the conservative assault on the UAW is just a warm-up act.

The main event for these contemporary Pinkertons will come after Barack Obama is sworn in as president and Democrats seek to pass a measure that would make it easier for workers to organize unions. It is the Employee Free Choice Act, and its intent is to push back—at least a bit—on the multimillion-dollar union-busting business that has become institutionalized since the political assault on labor was juiced up with President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 mass firing of air traffic controllers. When Reagan supplanted the striking controllers with “replacement workers” (previously known as strikebreakers or scabs), business got the message: It was perfectly acceptable, if not advantageous, to bust unions or to keep them from being organized. From there, it was a small step toward the widespread use of unethical, and sometimes illegal, tactics.

“When it comes to workers’ right to form unions, loophole-ridden laws, paralyzing delays and feeble enforcement have created a culture of impunity in many areas of U.S. labor law and practice,” according to a 2005 report by Human Rights Watch. In the 1950s, a few hundred workers each year suffered reprisals for union organizing. By the early part of this decade, according to the report, about 20,000 workers a year suffered a reprisal serious enough for the National Labor Relations Board to order back pay or take other steps.

Academic research has demonstrated that much of the illicit anti-union activity is conducted after employees have signed cards indicating they want a union, but before a formal election is held. This is what the “free choice act” aims to eliminate: a waiting period during which three-quarters of companies hire consultants to thwart the organizing drive and engage in a variety of pressure tactics to keep employees from ultimately voting “yes.” About half of companies threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election, according to research by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University.

No wonder then that in a memo from which the author’s name was removed—but which is believed to have been circulated among Republicans last week during the auto industry imbroglio—lawmakers were told, “This is the Democrats’ first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. … Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.”

But the blows of this economy have been harshest on average workers. Before the current recession began, paychecks still had not recovered from the 2001 recession. Wages and benefits have been eroding. One way to stanch the trend is to tip the scale—now tilted so heavily in favor of Wall Street and wealth—back the other way. Otherwise, when the economy recovers, the fruits will again trickle up to the executive suite.

“If workers are going to benefit from this recovery, they are going to have to have the ability to bargain for higher wages and higher benefits. We can’t depend on employers on their own to deliver the benefits of this recovery to workers,” says Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL-CIO. “We have to change the equation here.”

That is the kind of change conservatives just don’t believe in.

Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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