Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Nepotism Tango


Maybe it’s fitting that a woman who first sashayed into the national consciousness with an equation — “two for the price of one” — may have her fate determined by the arithmetic of dynasty.

The town is divided into two camps: those who think that, after 16 years of Hillary pushing herself forward, the public will get worn out and reject her, and those who think that, after 16 years of Hillary pushing herself forward, the public will get worn down and give in to her.

In his new book, “The Evangelical President,” Bill Sammon interviewed President Bush and his senior aides about the ’08 election. Mr. Bush told the author that Hillary Clinton would beat Barack Obama, because she is “a formidable candidate” and better known — the better to raise money.

Despite all he has done to help Democrats, W. maintains that Republicans can hold the White House. But just in case the Clinton dynasty once more succeeds the Bush one, the Texas president has been sending the New York senator messages to “maintain some political wiggle room in your campaign rhetoric about Iraq,” as Mr. Sammon puts it.

Whoever gets the White House, W. contends, faced with the prospect of a vicious Middle East vacuum, will “begin to understand the need to continue to support the young democracy.”

(As Dana Perino noted on Friday, on a different topic, “The president does not have second thoughts.”)

Some of W.’s advisers were more cutting about Hillary in the Sammon book.

“This process is not going to serve her well,” one said, adding: “She’s going to be essentially saying, ‘Elect me president after I’ve spent the last 16 years in your face. And you didn’t like me much when I was there last. Give me eight more years so I can be a presence in your life for 24 years.’”

Others do not underestimate her relentlessness. As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: “She’s never going to get out of our faces. ... She’s like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won’t stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone.”

That’s why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.

An earlier generation had the entwined political dynasties of the Roosevelts and the Kennedys. Now, as Nancy Benac of The Associated Press wrote on Friday, 116 million Americans — nearly 40 percent of the nation — “have never lived when there wasn’t a Bush or a Clinton in the White House.”

The Clintons try and bat back the dynasty issue by presenting themselves as a meritocracy.

On Friday, Hillary pushed a level-playing-field theme when she proposed giving every baby born in America a $5,000 governmental “baby bond” that would blossom into college tuition or home down payments.

When asked by Tim Russert at the New Hampshire debate about the d-word, as Poppy Bush calls it, Hillary replied: “I’m running on my own. I’m going to the people on my own.”

Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for the president of Vassar. But then, without nepotism, W. would be pumping gas in Midland — and not out of the ground.

At the debate, Joe Biden took a rare poke at the former first lady and pointed out that all the “old stuff” might get in the way of passing legislation. “The special interests, with regard to Hillary,” he said, “they feed on this, you know, this Clinton-Bush thing.”

Obama, tiptoeing gingerly around Hillary, as usual, skittered away from a Russert query about whether his campaign theme of “turning the page” was a reference to the Bushes or the Clintons.

Conceding to Charlie Gibson last week that “dynasties are not good for America,” Bill said: “If you go out and you fight fair, and you win it on your own, that’s not a dynasty. ... You’re not going out to vote for me for a third term.”

Of course, Hillary is never on her own. From the beginning, her campaign has relied on her husband’s donors, network, strategies and strong-arming.

GQ killed a 7,000-word article about infighting in Hillaryland after Bill Clinton’s aide told the magazine that running the piece might imperil access to Bill. The incident, as Howie Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post, reflected pressure tactics that “may be practiced with unprecedented aggressiveness by the tightly controlled Clinton media operation.”

On Friday, Bill gave an interview to Al Hunt dissing Obama’s experience level — a brazen assist to his wife.

We can only hope that Laura Bush’s comments on the crisis in Burma don’t signal a sudden interest in politics. President Laura following President Hillary would be too much, especially with W. back as the second First Laddie.

Is Hillary Clinton the New Old Al Gore?

THE Democrats can't lose the White House in 2008, can they?

Some 13 months before Election Day, the race's dynamic seems immutable. Americans can't wait to evict the unpopular president and end his disastrous war. As the campaign's poll-tested phrasemaking constantly reminds us, voters crave change above all else. That means nearly any Democrat might do, even if the nominee isn't the first woman, black or Hispanic to lead a major party's ticket.

The Republican field of aging white guys, meanwhile, gets flakier by the day. The front-runner has taken to cooing to his third wife over a cellphone in the middle of campaign speeches. His hottest challenger, the new "new Reagan," may have learned his lines for "Law & Order," but clearly needs cue cards on the stump. In Florida, even the most rudimentary details of red-hot local issues (drilling in the Everglades, Terri Schiavo) eluded him. The party's fund-raising is anemic. Its snubs of Hispanic and African-American voters kissed off essential swing states in the Sun Belt and moderate swing voters farther north.

So nothing can go wrong for the Democrats. Can it?

Of course it can, and not just because of the party's perennial penchant for cutting off its nose to spite its face. (Witness the Democratic National Committee's zeal in shutting down primary campaigning in Florida because the state moved up the primary's date.) The biggest indicator of potential trouble ahead is that the already-codified Beltway narrative for the race so favors the Democrats. Given the track record of Washington's conventional wisdom, that's not good news. These are the same political pros who predicted that scandal would force an early end to the Clinton presidency and that "Mission Accomplished" augured victory in Iraq and long-lasting Republican rule.

The Beltway's narrative has it not only that the Democrats are shoo-ins, but also that the likely standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton, is running what Zagat shorthand might describe as a "flawless campaign" that is "tightly disciplined" and "doesn't make mistakes." This scenario was made official last weekend, when Senator Clinton appeared on all five major Sunday morning talk shows — a publicity coup, as it unfortunately happens, that is known as a "full Ginsburg" because it was first achieved by William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, in 1998.

Mrs. Clinton was in complete control. Forsaking TV studios for a perfectly lighted set at her home in Chappaqua, she came off like a sitting head of state. The punditocracy raved. We are repeatedly told that with Barack Obama still trailing by double digits in most polls, the only way Mrs. Clinton could lose her tight hold on the nomination and, presumably, the White House would be if she were bruised in Iowa (where both John Edwards and Senator Obama remain competitive) or derailed by unforeseeable events like a scandal or a domestic terror attack.

If you buy into the Washington logic that a flawless campaign is one that doesn't make gaffes, never goes off-message and never makes news, then this analysis makes sense. The Clinton machine runs as smoothly and efficiently as a Rolls. And like a fine car, it is just as likely to lull its driver into complacent coasting and its passengers to sleep. What I saw on television last Sunday was the incipient second coming of the can't-miss 2000 campaign of Al Gore.

That Mr. Gore, some may recall, was not the firebrand who emerged from defeat, speaking up early against the Iraq war and leading the international charge on global warming. It was instead the cautious Gore whose public persona changed from debate to debate and whose answers were often long-winded and equivocal (even about the Kansas Board of Education's decision to ban the teaching of evolution). Incredibly, he minimized both his environmental passions and his own administration's achievements throughout the campaign.

He, too, had initially been deemed a winner, the potential recipient of a landslide rather than a narrow popular-vote majority. The signs were nearly as good for Democrats then as they are now. The impeachment crusade had backfired on the Republicans in the 1998 midterms; the economy was booming; Mr. Gore's opponent was seen as a lightweight who couldn't match him in articulateness or his mastery of policy, let alone his eight years of Clinton White House experience.

Mrs. Clinton wouldn't repeat Mr. Gore's foolhardy mistake of running away from her popular husband and his record, even if she could. But almost every answer she gave last Sunday was a rambling and often tedious Gore-like filibuster. Like the former vice president, she often came across as a pontificator and an automaton — in contrast to the personable and humorous person she is known to be off-camera. And she seemed especially evasive when dealing with questions requiring human reflection instead of wonkery.

Reiterating that Mrs. Clinton had more firsthand White House experience than any other candidate, George Stephanopoulous asked her to name "something that you don't know that only a president can know." That's hardly a tough or trick question, but rather than concede she isn't all-knowing or depart from her script, the senator deflected it with another mini-speech.

Then there was that laugh. The Clinton campaign's method for heeding the perennial complaints that its candidate comes across as too calculating and controlled is to periodically toss in a smidgen of what it deems personality. But these touches of intimacy seem even more calculating: the "Let's chat" campaign rollout, the ostensibly freewheeling but tightly controlled Web "conversations," the supposed vox populi referendum to choose a campaign song (which yielded a plain-vanilla Celine Dion clunker).

Now Mrs. Clinton is erupting in a laugh with all the spontaneity of an alarm clock buzzer. Mocking this tic last week, "The Daily Show" imagined a robotic voice inside the candidate's head saying, "Humorous remark detected — prepare for laughter display." However sincere, this humanizing touch seems as clumsily stage-managed as the Gores' dramatic convention kiss.

None of this would matter if the only issue were Mrs. Clinton's ability as a performer. Not every president can be Reagan or J.F.K. or, for that matter, Bill Clinton. But in her case, as in Mr. Gore's in 2000, the performance too often dovetails with the biggest question about her as a leader: Is she so eager to be all things to all people, so reluctant to offend anyone, that we never will learn what she really thinks or how she will really act as president?

So far her post-first-lady record suggests a follower rather than a leader. She still can't offer a credible explanation of why she gave President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq (or why she voted against the Levin amendment that would have put on some diplomatic brakes). That's because her votes had more to do with hedging her political bets than with principle. Nor has she explained why it took her two years of the war going south to start speaking up against it. She was similarly tardy with her new health care plan, waiting to see what heat Mr. Edwards and Senator Obama took with theirs. She has lagged behind the Democratic curve on issues ranging from the profound (calling for an unequivocal ban on torture) to the trivial (formulating a response to the Petraeus ad).

As was proved again in Wednesday night's debate, her opponents have not yet figured out how to seriously challenge her. Now the story line of her inevitable triumph is gathering force. At the same time, her campaign works relentlessly to shut down legitimate journalistic vetting of her record. In the latest example, reported last week on the murky backstage machinations by the Clinton camp before the magazine GQ killed an article by Joshua Green, whose 2006 Atlantic Monthly profile judged Mrs. Clinton a practitioner of "systematic caution" with "no big ideas." The donors' list and first lady archives at the Clinton presidential library remain far from transparent.

Senator Clinton may well be the Democrats' most accomplished would-be president. But we won't know for certain until she's tested by events she can't control. Had Bill Bradley roughed up Mr. Gore in 2000, it might have jolted him into running a smarter race against George W. Bush.

In this context it's worth noting that Mr. Bush's desperate lame-duck campaign to brand himself as a reincarnation of Harry Truman is not 100 percent ludicrous. A tiny part of the analogy could yet pan out. In 1948, Washington's commentators and pollsters were convinced that Americans, tired of 15 years of Democratic rule, would vote in a Republican. Like today's G.O.P., the Democrats back then were saddled with both an unloved incumbent president and open divisions in the party's ranks on both its left and right flanks. Surely, the thinking went, the beleaguered Democrats couldn't possibly vanquish a presidential candidate from New York known for his experience, competence, uncontroversial stands and above-the-fray demeanor.

You don't want to push historical analogies too far, but it's hard not to add that the campaign slogan of that sure winner, Thomas Dewey, had a certain 2008 ring to it: "It's time for a change."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Hired Gun Fetish


Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police.

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Contractors, he writes, “offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

So the privatization of war — no matter how badly it works — is just part of the pattern.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hillary's Silly All-Purpose Chuckle [Video]

No matter what the situation, we can depend on the former first lady and current Senator from NY to find humor therein. Jon Stewart compiles this short video of her "laugh track."

read more | digg story

John Edwards at UNH Takes Questions from students [Video]

DURHAM, New Hampshire — The lines were long and security was tight, but somehow, I was one of the 100-and-something people lucky enough to score a ringside seat for John Edwards' 12-round heavyweight forum with MTV/MySpace. And as such, I decided that it was my civic duty to provide my fellow Americans with a blow-by-blow recap

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Playing the fear card

From "Information Clearing House"
Howard Fineman and Jane Harman discuss playing politics with
Fear Factor: The so called Patriot Act had nothing to do with
patriotism... So it should come as no surprise that the "Protect
America Act" has little to do with protecting Americans...
nothing to do with protecting their constitutionally guaranteed
freedoms like privacy... and everything to do with the White
House's effort to operate outside the law.

Our fifth story on
the Countdown: The changes that were made last month to the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act were apparently made under
false pretenses -- Congresswoman Jane Harman on that, in a
moment. First. The Bush administration is tonight fighting to
make those changes permanent... seemingly by scaring the
Democratic majority into compliance. Hey, it has worked before.
Video at


Symbols trump substance in controversy

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” —H. L. Mencken, 1920

One of democracy’s unwritten rules, observed almost as assiduously by pundits as politicians, is that one must always flatter the people. So it’s mandatory in examining the ludicrous flapdoodle surrounding MoveOn. org’s juvenile insult to Gen. David
Petraeus to say that, unlike TV commentators, the American public didn’t fall hard for a general in dress uniform. (Incidentally, when did military haberdashers start dressing soldiers like South American generalissimos? I don’t recall Gen. Dwight Eisenhower decorated like a Christmas tree.) Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Petraeus’ appearance was how few minds it changed. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who say it was a mistake to invade
Iraq went from 54 to 58 percent after his testimony. A strong majority now favors withdrawal from that tortured country ASAP. They do disagree about the meaning of “soon,” with most people thinking months rather than years. Petraeus appears to have bought President Bush some time inside the Washington Beltway, outside it little or none.

What the MoveOn. org controversy really showed, however, is that when push comes to shove, most professional pundits and politicians act as if the wise and sovereign American public were as easily bamboozled as a herd of goats. That’s because many are. The invincible ignorance and gullibility of millions of voters has become the Great Unmentionable of American politics.

Anyway, here’s a brief summary: On the day of Petraeus’ congressional testimony, MoveOn. org, an organization of online liberal activists, took out a full page ad in The New York Times childishly headlined, “General Petraeus or General Betray Us ?”

How you know it’s stupid is that MoveOn. org stole it directly from radio blow hard Rush Limbaugh. He’s used it to describe Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican, Vietnam combat veteran and Iraq war critic. Asked about being called “Sen. Betrayus” on ABC’s “This Week,” Hagel blew it off.

“Rush has to make a living,” he said. “And he has a right to say whatever he wants.”

Limbaugh routinely calls Sen. Barack Obama “Osama,” Sen. Hillary Clinton “Hitlery” and former Sen. John Edwards “the Breck Girl.” He’s a real laugh riot.

The text of the MoveOn. org ad questioned Petraeus’ creative way with statistics. Many of his optimistic numbers are disputed by intelligence agencies as the result of Enron-style bookkeeping.

“If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” one intelligence official told The Washington Post. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.”

But the White House prefers to discuss symbols, not substance, so to close last week’s news conference, Bush fielded a softball question about the MoveOn. org ad.

“I thought that the ad was disgusting,” he said. “I felt like the ad was an attack, not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military.... [M] ost Democrats are [more] afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn. org... than they are of irritating the United States military.”

On cue, Washington courtiers pressed scented hankies to their nostrils and swooned like Scarlett O’Hara. Oh, the incivility! Never mind the nine American soldiers who died the day of Patraeus’ testimony, the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or that Petraeus’ brilliant new strategy consists mainly of arming rival Sunni and Shiite militias for the civil war certain to sink to greater depths of barbarity after Americans leave.

Know how many people live in Anbar province, where all this vaunted progress allegedly has taken place? Five percent of Iraq’s population. It’s like pacifying Utah while New York and LA are in flames.

But hey, let’s talk manners and symbolism instead. Because although Abraham Lincoln never actually said it, you can, in fact, fool some of the people damn near all of the time. To America’s influential moron-American community, Petraeus equals the military, which equals the flag, which equals the United States of America. Meanwhile, Republicans, emphatically including Bush, who had no problem with a GOP attack ad portraying Sen. Max Cleland, who lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam, as a supporter of Osama bin Laden, pretended outrage at the MoveOn. org ad.
Because there’s no crybaby like a Republican crybaby, a Senate resolution was quickly written and passed. Knowing their constituents, 22 Democrats voted for it, inflaming many on the left who accused them of cowardice. Everybody needs to calm down. These media epiphenomena have the life span of fruit flies. The real cowards, and the likeliest losers, are Republicans facing reelection in 2008 who are too intimidated by nonsense like this from breaking with Bush. Meanwhile, this ghastly, pointless war drags on.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Bush at the UN: a war criminal lectures the world on “human rights”

By Bill Van Auken
26 September 2007

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George W. Bush delivered his next to the last annual address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday. Taking the same podium that he used five years ago to condemn the world body to “irrelevance” if it failed to rubber stamp his plans for a war of aggression against Iraq, Bush cast his regime in Washington as the world’s greatest champion of human rights and its most generous and selfless benefactor.

That the assembled UN delegates could sit through and then politely applaud such a hypocritical harangue from a man who is without rival as the world’s greatest war criminal is testimony to the spinelessness and complicity of both the world’s governments and the United Nations itself.

While Bush made only the barest mention of either Iran or Iraq in his address, everyone in the hall was well aware that he is attempting once again to utilize the world body—much as his administration did five years ago in relation to purported Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction”—to secure a phony pretext for another war of aggression, this time against Iran.

No doubt Bush’s handlers in Washington recognized that to deliver a belligerent speech demanding action by the UN against Iran would only recall the lies and intimidation used by the US administration in 2002-2003 to prepare its war against Iraq.

Since then, an estimated 1 million Iraqis have been killed and nearly 4 million more turned into refugees as a result of the unprovoked US invasion with its “shock and awe” bombardments and the subsequent occupation that has destroyed every aspect of Iraqi society.

So instead, Bush came before the assembled delegates in the most improbable guise, as the apostle of liberty, equality and the rights of man.

He began his speech by hailing the founding document of the UN drafted more than six decades ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserting that this formal declaration in support of freedom, justice and peace “must guide our work in this world.”

“When innocent people are trapped in a life of murder and fear, the Declaration is not being upheld,” he declared. Who does the American president think he is kidding? Where on the face of the planet are more men, women and children “trapped in a life of murder and fear” than in US-occupied Iraq? The death toll for Iraqis has been estimated as high as 1,000 a week due to US military operations, the murderous rampage of mercenaries who kill with impunity and the sectarian violence unleashed by the country’s devastation at the hands of Washington.

Bush declared that the UN must work “to free people from tyranny and violence, hunger and disease, illiteracy and ignorance, and poverty and despair,” adding that “every member of the United Nations must join in this mission of liberation.”

In the Orwellian language favored by the right-wing ideologues in the Bush administration, “liberation” is continuously invoked as the description for the war to impose semi-colonial domination by the US over Iraq and its oil wealth. And it is this “mission” undertaken by means of an eruption of American militarism that Bush demands the world body sanction and support.

Bush continued by invoking the first article of the Universal Declaration, which affirms that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The greatest threat to this principle, he claimed, comes from “terrorists and extremists.” Therefore, he argued, “all civilized nations” must join the US in its global war on terrorism.

Bush then moved on to other subjects, a wise move, given that a more detailed citation of the Universal Declaration would have sounded like a war crimes indictment against his own administration.

It includes, for example, the injunction that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” a principle that the Bush White House has explicitly repudiated, both by renouncing the Geneva Conventions and subjecting those detained in the US “war on terror” to waterboarding, beatings, sensory deprivation, sexual humiliation and other forms of torture and degrading treatment.

The declaration affirms that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” practices that the Bush administration has carried out with impunity, through the holding of detainees without charges, not only at the infamous detention facilities in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, but also at secret CIA prisons around the world. It has introduced “extraordinary rendition” into the lexicon of foreign policy, a discreet term for kidnapping people, drugging them and then sending them in hoods and chains to other countries so that they can be tortured.

And there is also the clause of the declaration asserting that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” This is a principle that the administration has explicitly violated in relation to the American people, not to mention the rest of the world, through the massive illegal domestic spying operation organized through the National Security Agency.

Given his administration’s infamous reputation, the world’s horror over the unfolding debacle in Iraq and the mounting fears that an even worse catastrophe is about to be unleashed in Iran, it appeared that those who drafted Bush’s speech thought it was a good time to change the subject.

Why Myanmar?

Thus, a major thrust of his remarks—and the issue that garnered by far the greatest press coverage—was the American president’s announcement that he is ordering a tightening of economic sanctions against Myanmar (Burma).

He declared: “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear.” While no doubt the corrupt military regime that rules the country has carried out brutal repression against its people, the claim that “Americans are outraged” by these practices is belied by the fact that given the virtual failure of either the administration or the mass media to pay any attention to the developments there, most Americans know nothing about them.

Bush’s new measures were hardly sweeping, amounting to further restrictions on visas for Myanmar officials and their families and financial sanctions against the ruling junta and its backers.

The pretense that the Bush administration’s concerns lie with the aspirations of the people of Myanmar, who have taken to the streets in recent days in mass demonstrations, is farcical. The US government has supported and directly installed countless military dictatorships from Indonesia to Chile, helping them to carry out far worse atrocities than the Burmese junta in suppressing their own people.

Rather, under mantle of “liberation” and “democracy,” US imperialism is once again pursuing its own strategic interests, attempting to bring to power a pro-American government that would open up the country to exploitation by US capital. Given the Myanmar government’s close economic and political relations with neighboring China, such an exercise in regime change would significantly advance Washington’s attempts to challenge Beijing for supremacy in the region, while steadily working to militarily encircle China.

Also invoked as targets for the American-led “mission of liberation” were the governments of Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Belarus, North Korea and Syria, all of which Washington has presumably found guilty and sentenced to be overthrown.

Continuing with his invocation of the Universal Declaration, Bush cited a passage affirming that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food and clothing and housing and medical care.”

He used this clause to engage in a round of shameless and deceptive self-congratulation, proclaiming US benevolence in the distribution of food internationally and, in particular, in assistance to the campaign to combat AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

The reality, as the news agency Reuters reported earlier this month, is that “food donations to the world’s hungry have fallen to their lowest level since 1973.” The impending crisis, which threatens starvation for sections of the world’s 850 million people facing hunger, is driven by the capitalist market. Food prices have soared, in no small part due to the drive by the US to promote the production of corn-based ethanol as an alternative to gasoline.

As for AIDS funding, Bush’s presentation of Washington’s role obscures the fact that the US ranks fifth among donor nations relative to the size of their national economies. Inadequate funding for the programs—as well as restrictions imposed on the use of US aid crafted to please the Christian right—means that millions of Africans will be denied any treatment.

Meanwhile, US aid as a whole amounts to a paltry sum compared to the vast wealth that Wall Street appropriates from the rest of the world and is utilized largely as a weapon to facilitate this global looting process. In 1970, international donor nations signed an agreement that they would assign 0.7 percent of their national incomes to foreign aid. While no country has come close to donating this amount, in the US last year aid amounted to just 0.17 percent of gross national income.

Finally, Bush warmed up to his subject, citing the Universal Declaration’s assertion of the “right to work” and to “just and favorable conditions of work” as an argument for free-market capitalism and the tearing down of all barriers to the exploitation of the world’s economy by the transnational banks and corporations.

Bush closed his remarks with a demand that the UN reform itself, again invoking “the American people” and their supposed disappointment with the functioning of the world body’s Human Rights Council. In essence, Bush demanded that the council focus on denouncing Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and Iran and halt its criticism of Israel for killing civilians in Lebanon and suppressing the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Behind Bush’s criticism is the embarrassing reality that Washington has chosen for the last two years not to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council for fear that it would fail to get the necessary votes.

The successive revelations over Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, extraordinary renditions and CIA torture—not to mention the continued use of the death penalty at home—makes the US the most fitting target for human rights charges. Yet it presumes to dictate to the world which countries should be investigated and which should not. Naturally those where Washington is seeking regime change—such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela—are vilified, while those despotic regimes considered strategic allies of the US—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, Washington’s chief ally in suppressing the Arab masses—are declared above suspicion.

Bush’s appearance before the UN General Assembly was an entirely predictable exercise in imperialist arrogance, rank hypocrisy and double-talk in service of American big business. In the final analysis, his speech was probably more significant for what it omitted than for the American president’s absurd posturing as a crusader for human rights and universal liberation. Behind the virtual silence on Iraq and Iran, new and more terrible crimes are being prepared.

See Also:
Iranian president speaks at Columbia University amidst media frenzy
[25 September 2007]

‘Fruitbat’ at Bat

We just can’t stop being nice to Iran.

First, we break Iraq and hand it over to the Shiites, putting in a puppet who leans toward Iran and is aligned with the Shiite militias bankrolled by Iran. Then, as Peter Galbraith writes in The New York Review of Books, President Bush facilitates “the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia,” with the ironic twist that “there is now substantially more personal freedom in Iran than in Southern Iraq.”

And on top of all that, we help build up the self-serving doofus Iranian president, a frontman with a Ph.D. in traffic management, into the sort of larger-than-life demon that the real powers in Iran — the mullahs — can love.

New York’s hot blast of nastiness, jingoism and xenophobia toward its guest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, only served to pump him up for his domestic audience. Iranians felt that their president had tied everyone in knots, including the “Zionist Jews,” as Iranian state television said. The Times reports that Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards, was on TV criticizing the rude treatment his president received: “It is shocking that a country that claims to be civilized treats him that way.”

(It also raised his profile on the evening news here. Katie Couric dryly has told people that she remembers how to pronounce his name with the mnemonic “I’m a dinner jacket.”)

After the Bay of Pigs, J.F.K. and his advisers worried that American foreign policy would no longer seem intelligent. W. doesn’t even try for an intelligent foreign policy. He wallows in a willfully ignorant foreign policy. And this week, his irrational ways were contagious.

The Daily News headline, “The Evil Has Landed,” was one of the milder imprecations. Consider this reasoned analysis from Greg Gutfeld of Fox News: “So the foul-smelling fruitbat Ahmadinejad spoke at that crack house known as Columbia University today.”

The heavy-handed, small-minded reaction that played into the hands of the slippery “I’m a dinner jacket” is not excused by Iran wishing the U.S. and Israel gone.

The Soviet Union’s stated policy for 70 years was the total eradication of American capitalism and democracy — backed up during the cold war with actual nuclear weapons. But while challenging the policies and ideology of the Evil Empire, Ronald Reagan understood he had to engage Mikhail Gorbachev, not ignore or insult him.

Reagan was able to help the Soviet Union — and world communism — to fall apart. All W. has managed to do is destroy the country he wanted to turn into a democracy and make Iran more powerful than it was before.

In a sad testimony to how bollixed up things are in Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki told the Council on Foreign Relations Monday that civil war has been averted in Iraq — not! — and that Iranian intervention has “ceased to exist.” Gen. David Petraeus recently said that Iran was providing “lethal” support to Iraqi militias.

The president’s irrelevant U.N. speech was a bad combo with the schoolyard name-calling of Lee Bollinger. Even some in the anti-Ahmadinejad audience gasped a bit as Columbia’s president gave the meanest introduction in the history of introductions — one that only managed to elevate the creep sitting on stage with his thugs. Once you’ve made the decision to invite a tyrannical leader, you can’t undo it by belittling him in public. Universities are supposed to be places where you can debate and hear dissenting voices; it would have been far better just to hand the mike to the students and let it rip.

Given the repressive and confused stance of some of our Middle East allies on women and gays, isn’t it insane to get into a war of ideas on homosexuality in the Muslim world?

President Bush is the one who hardened the Iranian resolve to get a nuclear weapon with his policy of negotiating with countries like North Korea that have nukes and invading countries that don’t, like Iraq.

W. and his advisers always act shocked that Iran is meddling in Iraq. Why wouldn’t Iran inflate itself at the expense of its former foe and current enemy?

Even after the Iranian hostage crisis, America never really tried to comprehend the tribal politics in Iran — or Iraq — or bolster the Arab speakers in the intelligence community.

As Mr. Galbraith wrote, Iran’s nuclear program is about prestige. Iranians want to be seen “as a populous, powerful, and responsible country that is heir to a great empire and home to a 2,500-year-old civilization. In Iranian eyes, the U.S. has behaved in a way that continually diminishes their country” — from U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup that reinstated the Shah to W.’s branding them as part of the “axis of evil.”

Wouldn’t sticks and carrots — cultural fluency, smart psychology and Reaganesque dialogue — be a better way to bring the Iranians around than sticks and stones?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Ugly Side of the G.O.P.

I applaud the thousands of people, many of them poor, who traveled from around the country to protest in Jena, La., last week. But what I’d really like to see is a million angry protesters marching on the headquarters of the National Republican Party in Washington.

Enough is enough. Last week the Republicans showed once again just how anti-black their party really is.

The G.O.P. has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans. Last week, the residents of Washington, D.C., with its majority black population, came remarkably close to realizing a goal they have sought for decades — a voting member of Congress to represent them.

A majority in Congress favored the move, and the House had already approved it. But the Republican minority in the Senate — with the enthusiastic support of President Bush — rose up on Tuesday and said: “No way, baby.”

At least 57 senators favored the bill, a solid majority. But the Republicans prevented a key motion on the measure from receiving the 60 votes necessary to move it forward in the Senate. The bill died.

At the same time that the Republicans were killing Congressional representation for D.C. residents, the major G.O.P. candidates for president were offering a collective slap in the face to black voters nationally by refusing to participate in a long-scheduled, nationally televised debate focusing on issues important to minorities.

The radio and television personality Tavis Smiley worked for a year to have a pair of these debates televised on PBS, one for the Democratic candidates and the other for the Republicans. The Democratic debate was held in June, and all the major candidates participated.

The Republican debate is scheduled for Thursday. But Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have all told Mr. Smiley: “No way, baby.”

They won’t be there. They can’t be bothered debating issues that might be of interest to black Americans. After all, they’re Republicans.

This is the party of the Southern strategy — the party that ran, like panting dogs, after the votes of segregationist whites who were repelled by the very idea of giving equal treatment to blacks. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. (Willie Horton) Bush, George W. (Compassionate Conservative) Bush — they all ran with that lousy pack.

Dr. Carolyn Goodman, a woman I was privileged to call a friend, died last month at the age of 91. She was the mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young civil rights activists shot to death by rabid racists near Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964.

Dr. Goodman, one of the most decent people I have ever known, carried the ache of that loss with her every day of her life.

In one of the vilest moves in modern presidential politics, Ronald Reagan, the ultimate hero of this latter-day Republican Party, went out of his way to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 in that very same Philadelphia, Miss. He was not there to send the message that he stood solidly for the values of Andrew Goodman. He was there to assure the bigots that he was with them.

“I believe in states’ rights,” said Mr. Reagan. The crowd roared.

In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

In 1991, the first President Bush poked a finger in the eye of black America by selecting the egregious Clarence Thomas for the seat on the Supreme Court that had been held by the revered Thurgood Marshall. The fact that there is a rigid quota on the court, permitting one black and one black only to serve at a time, is itself racist.

Mr. Bush seemed to be saying, “All right, you want your black on the court? Boy, have I got one for you.”

Republicans improperly threw black voters off the rolls in Florida in the contested presidential election of 2000, and sent Florida state troopers into the homes of black voters to intimidate them in 2004.

Blacks have been remarkably quiet about this sustained mistreatment by the Republican Party, which says a great deal about the quality of black leadership in the U.S. It’s time for that passive, masochistic posture to end.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Politics in Black and White

Last Thursday there was a huge march in Jena, La., to protest the harsh and unequal treatment of six black students arrested in the beating of a white classmate. Students who hung nooses to warn blacks not to sit under a “white” tree were suspended for three days; on the other hand, the students accused in the beating were initially charged with second-degree attempted murder.

And one of the Jena Six remains in jail, even though appeals courts have voided his conviction on the grounds that he was improperly tried as an adult.

Many press accounts of the march have a tone of amazement. Scenes like those in Jena, the stories seemed to imply, belonged in the 1960s, not the 21st century. The headline on the New York Times report, “Protest in Louisiana Case Echoes the Civil Rights Era,” was fairly typical.

But the reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away, and has never stopped being important. And race remains one of the defining factors in modern American politics.

Consider voting in last year’s Congressional elections. Republicans, as President Bush conceded, received a “thumping,” with almost every major demographic group turning against them. The one big exception was Southern whites, 62 percent of whom voted Republican in House races.

And yes, Southern white exceptionalism is about race, much more than it is about moral values, religion, support for the military or other explanations sometimes offered. There’s a large statistical literature on the subject, whose conclusion is summed up by the political scientist Thomas F. Schaller in his book “Whistling Past Dixie”: “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters to depict American conservatism as a nonracial phenomenon, the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”

Republican politicians, who understand quite well that the G.O.P.’s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites, have tacitly acknowledged this reality. Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.

Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. In 2000, Mr. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, famed at the time for its ban on interracial dating.

And all four leading Republican candidates for the 2008 nomination have turned down an invitation to a debate on minority issues scheduled to air on PBS this week.

Yet if the marchers at Jena reminded us that America still hasn’t fully purged itself of the poisonous legacy of slavery, it would be wrong to suggest that the nation has made no progress. Racism, though not gone, is greatly diminished: both opinion polls and daily experience suggest that we are truly becoming a more tolerant, open society.

And the cynicism of the “Southern strategy” introduced by Richard Nixon, which delivered decades of political victories to Republicans, is now starting to look like a trap for the G.O.P.

One of the truly remarkable things about the contest for the Republican nomination is the way the contenders have snubbed not just blacks — who, given the G.O.P.’s modern history, probably won’t vote for a Republican in significant numbers no matter what — but Hispanics. In July, all the major contenders refused invitations to address the National Council of La Raza, which Mr. Bush addressed in 2000. Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, had to cancel a debate scheduled for Sept. 16 because only John McCain was willing to come.

If this sounds like a good way to ensure defeat in future elections, that’s because it is: Hispanics are a rapidly growing force in the electorate.

But to get the Republican nomination, a candidate must appeal to the base — and the base consists, in large part, of Southern whites who carry over to immigrants the same racial attitudes that brought them into the Republican fold to begin with. As a result, you have the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, pragmatists on immigration issues when they actually had to govern in diverse states, trying to reinvent themselves as defenders of Fortress America.

And both Hispanics and Asians, another growing force in the electorate, are getting the message. Last year they voted overwhelmingly Democratic, by 69 percent and 62 percent respectively.

In other words, it looks as if the Republican Party is about to start paying a price for its history of exploiting racial antagonism. If that happens, it will be deeply ironic. But it will also be poetic justice.

Uxorious or Spurious?


The press piled into a hall near a pile of N.R.A. swag bags to watch Rudy stride into the ballroom.

Would the tough guy kowtow to the powerful lobby he once lambasted as extremist? Would he pull a Romney and pretend to be an avid hunter of small varmints?

Would he have an epiphany about the Second Amendment — the way he did about the First when he blew a gasket over that painting of the Madonna daubed with elephant dung — and reinterpret the Bill of Rights to suit his needs?

The heat was on.

Fred Thompson had already spoken to the group, recalling palling around with Charlton Heston, shooting skeet with some good ol’ boys from the N.R.A., and hanging out at gun stores and gun shows.

After guns, sports, Moses and a reference to his young ’uns, there was only one other ingredient needed for Flintstone Fred’s testosterone cocktail: a sexy blonde. Introducing his wife, Jeri, he drawled, “I think she’d make a much better first lady than Bill Clinton.”

Rudy was going to have to think fast to keep up with that. He kept it simple, selling himself as the Gotham crime fighter, “because, after all, if you don’t have a reasonable degree of safety, you can’t exercise your other rights: the right of free speech ... even your right to bear arms is all based on a reasonable degree of safety that you have to have.”

It’s an interesting bit of casuistry: I’m going to make you safe by enforcing gun laws in case you want guns to keep you safe.

Also, given that he was criticized for undermining free speech at the first sign of a little dung, his audience might not have been reassured.

Asked about a lawsuit he initiated in New York against American handgun manufacturers, Rudy said that 9/11 “cast somewhat of a different light” on Second Amendment rights. He said that “maybe it highlights the necessity for them more.”

What, exactly, is that different light? You need some assault weapons to shoot at terrorists planting dirty bombs beneath your tulips?

In the end, no one was deconstructing Rudy’s swerving stance because they were too busy obsessing on his strange interlude with his cell. Right in the middle of a disquisition about a legal decision underscoring the doctrine that “a person’s home is their castle,” the tiara-crowned queen of Rudy’s castle called.

“Hello, dear,” he said, with his toothy grin.

To the amazement of the audience, he interrupted his speech to have a lovey-dovey chat with Judi, who was about to get on a plane back from London.

After telling her that he was talking to the N.R.A. — a big speech that you would imagine she would know about, and not want to interrupt — he asked if she wanted to give a shout out to the gun-lovers and then paused while she spoke to him.

After saying “I love you” twice and signing off with another “dear,” he joked to the audience that he would have been in trouble if he hadn’t taken the call, noting that “this is one of the great blessings of the modern age, being always available. Or maybe it isn’t; I’m not sure.”

It almost made Bill and Hillary seem like a model of normalcy. Almost.

The odd interval triggered a fusillade of analysis: was it creepy, cute, staged, spontaneous, rude, awkward or downright weird? Shouldn’t Rudy have left the phone with an aide, or silenced it?

Was this a harbinger that President Rudy would interrupt other important stuff to talk to Judi in the White House? If Ahmadinejad goes crazy — O.K., more crazy — would Rudy be focused like a laser, or would he take a call from Judi about whether she could redecorate Air Force One in Louis Vuitton?

First The Times’s Marc Santora noted that it wasn’t the first time Rudy had interrupted an appearance to take a call from his Princess Bride, as Vanity Fair dubbed her. He did the same thing in June in Hialeah, Fla., with more mushy talk during a rally.

This suggests either that Friday’s call was staged to humanize the dictatorial former mayor, or that Rudy is afraid of Judi’s digital wrath, or that the candidate is still struggling with how to integrate his third wife into his campaign, after her puppy-killing, husband-hiding, cabinet-sitting rough start.

The episode also provided ammunition to Mitt Romney’s camp, which sensed an opportunity to highlight their candidate’s scary-perfect wife and scary-perfect kids. They found video of the first cellus interruptus and sent reporters links to YouTube clips of both calls.

On CNN, Carol Costello grilled the N.R.A.’s Wayne LaPierre about the conjugal intermission. At first he called it “a lighthearted moment,” but then conceded that he found it odd. “I don’t know that I would have a cellphone in my pocket on during a speech,” he said.

Who knows? It might be a valuable lesson for Rudy that guns and marriage don’t mix.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In 2008, Bush v. Gore Redux?

Right now it’s just a petition drive on its way to becoming a ballot initiative in California. But you should think of it as a tropical depression that could develop into a major storm that blows away the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House next year.

And it could become a constitutional crisis.

It’s panic time in Republican circles. The G.O.P. could go into next year’s election burdened by the twin demons of an unpopular war and an economic downturn. The party that took the White House in 2000 while losing the popular vote figures it may have to do it again.

The Presidential Election Reform Act is the name of a devious proposal that Republican operatives have dreamed up to siphon off 20 or more of the 55 electoral votes that the Democrats would get if, as expected, they win California in 2008.

That’s a lot of electoral votes, the equivalent of winning the state of Ohio. If this proposed change makes it onto the ballot and becomes law, those 20 or so electoral votes could well be enough to hand the White House to a Republican candidate who loses the popular vote nationwide.

Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has suggested that the initiative is a form of dirty pool. While not explicitly opposing it, Mr. Schwarzenegger said it smacks of changing the rules “in the middle of the game.”

Democrats are saying it’s unconstitutional.

The proposal would rewrite the rules for the distribution of electoral votes in California. Under current law, all of California’s 55 electoral votes go to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote statewide. That “winner-take-all” system is the norm in the U.S.

Under the proposed change, electoral votes would be apportioned according to the winner of the popular vote in each of California’s Congressional districts. That would likely throw 20 or more electoral votes to the Republican candidate, even if the Democrat carries the state.

A sign of the bad faith in this proposal is the fact that there is no similar effort by the G.O.P. to apportion electoral votes by Congressional districts in, for example, Texas, a state with 34 electoral votes that is likely to go Republican next year.

Longtime observers in California believe the proponents of this change — lawyers with close ties to the Republican Party statewide and nationally — will have no trouble collecting enough signatures to get it on the ballot in June. The first poll taken on the measure, which is not yet widely understood by voters, showed that it would pass.

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor and one of the nation’s pre-eminent constitutional scholars, believes the initiative is blatantly unconstitutional. “Entirely apart from the politics,” he said, “this clearly violates Article II of the Constitution, which very explicitly requires that the electors for president be selected ‘in such manner as the Legislature’ of the state directs.”

In Mr. Tribe’s view, the “one and only way” for California to change the manner in which its electoral votes are apportioned is through an act of the State Legislature.

Professor Tribe is not a disinterested party. He represented Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election. And not all constitutional experts agree that this would be such an easy call. “This is not an open-and-shut case,” said Richard Pildes, a professor at the New York University School of Law.

What is undisputed is that the Democrats will mount a ferocious legal challenge if the ballot initiative passes — “maybe even before it has a chance to pass,” a Democratic source said yesterday — thus opening the door to an ugly constitutional fight reminiscent of Bush v. Gore in 2000.

The potential for trouble in the event of a close election is huge. Said Professor Tribe: “This is really a prescription for a possible constitutional crisis in which we have one president if California electors act in accord with the method set out by the State Legislature, and another president if the electors are divided according to this ballot initiative.”

The operatives behind the initiative are experts at causing trouble. The effort is being led by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer who was one of the leaders of the successful effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. Politics is not just hardball to this crowd; it’s almost literally a fight to the death.

The proponents of the initiative understand completely that a constitutional crisis could damage the nation’s democratic process and undermine the legitimacy of a presidential election. In their view that’s preferable to a Republican defeat.

California voters would be doing themselves and the nation a favor by soundly defeating this poisonous initiative if it makes it onto the ballot in June.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Health Care Hopes

All the evidence suggests that it has finally become politically possible to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have: guaranteed health insurance. The economics of universal health care are sound, and polls show strong public support for guaranteed care. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that around.

True, one kind of fear seems, provisionally, to have been overcome: the timidity of Democratic politicians scarred by the failure of the original Clinton health plan.

To see how much things have changed, consider Hillary Clinton’s evolution. Just 15 months ago, The New York Times reported that “her plans to expand coverage are tempered and incremental,” and that “she continues to shy from the ultimate challenge: describing what a comprehensive Democratic health care plan would look like.”

Indeed, when she was asked how costs might be controlled, she demurred: “It depends on what kind of system you’re devising. And that’s still not at all clear to me, what the body politic will bear.”

But that was then.

John Edwards broke the issue of health care reform open in February, when he proposed a smart and serious plan for universal health insurance — and bravely announced his willingness to pay for the plan by letting some of the Bush tax cuts expire. Suddenly, universal health care went from being a distant progressive dream to something you could actually envision happening in the next administration.

Senator Clinton delayed a long time before coming out with her own plan — a delay that created a lot of anxiety among health care reformers, and may, as I’ll explain in a minute, be a bad omen for the future. Still, this week she did deliver a plan, and it’s as strong as the Edwards plan — because unless you get deep into the fine print, the Clinton plan basically is the Edwards plan.

That’s not a criticism; it’s much more important that a politician get health care right than that he or she score points for originality. Senator Clinton may be politically cautious, but she does understand health care economics and she knows a good thing when she sees it.

The Edwards and Clinton plans as well as the slightly weaker but similar Obama plan achieve universal-or-near-universal coverage through a well-thought-out combination of insurance regulation, subsidies and public-private competition. These plans may disappoint advocates of a cleaner, simpler single-payer system. But it’s hard to see how Medicare for all could get through Congress any time in the near future, whereas Edwards-type plans offer a reasonable second best that you can actually envision being enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president just two years from now.

To get there, however, would require overcoming a lot more fear.

There won’t be a serious Republican alternative. The health care plans of the leading Republican candidates, such as they are, are the same old, same old: they principally rely on tax breaks that go mainly to the well-off, but will supposedly conjure up the magic of the market. As Ezra Klein of The American Prospect cruelly but accurately puts it: “The Republican vision is for a world in which the sick and dying get to deduct some of the cost of health insurance that they don’t have — and can’t get — on their taxes.”

But the G.O.P. nominee, whoever he is, won’t be trying to persuade the public of the merits of his own plan. Instead, he’ll try to scare the dwindling fraction of Americans who still have good health insurance by claiming that the Democrats will take it away.

The smear-and-fear campaign has already started. The Democratic plans all bear a strong resemblance to the health care plan that Mitt Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, differing mainly in offering Americans additional choices. But that didn’t stop Mr. Romney from denouncing the Clinton plan as “European-style socialized medicine.” And Fred Thompson claims that the Clinton plan denies choice — which it actually offers in abundance — and relies on “punishment” instead.

These attacks probably won’t be effective enough to prevent a Democrat from winning next year. But that won’t be the end of the story: even if the Democrats take the White House and expand their Congressional majorities, the insurance and drug lobbies will try to bully them into backing down on their campaign promises.

That’s why the long delay before Senator Clinton announced her health care plan made supporters of universal care, myself included, so nervous — a nervousness that is not completely assuaged by the fact that she finally did deliver. It’s good to know that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will run on a very good health care plan. What remains is the question of whether he or she will have the determination to turn that plan into reality.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Media, Democrats silent on police attack on University of Florida student

By Barry Grey
20 September 2007

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Two days after Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old journalism student at the University of Florida, was assaulted by campus police and given an electric shock for asking critical questions of Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry at a public forum, the US media has largely dropped the story.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the US and around the world have accessed various videos of the incident that are posted on the Internet, but the establishment media has decided to downplay the violent attack on free speech at a major American university.

After being dragged from the floor microphone by six police officers, handcuffed and shocked with a Taser gun, Meyer was held overnight in jail. The arresting police have recommended that he be charged with violently resisting arrest, a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and disturbing the peace and interfering with school administrative functions, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail. As of this writing, formal charges have not been laid against the student.

Meyer was released from jail Tuesday morning. His lawyer said he will plead not guilty on all charges, adding, “I think the videotape speaks for itself.”

On Tuesday, some 300 students demonstrated at the Gainesville, Florida campus to denounce the police attack and demand that the officers involved be disciplined and the use of Tasers be banned.

At a press conference, University of Florida President Bernie Machen said he “regretted” the incident, but went on to suggest that the police action may have been justified. “We’re absolutely committed to having a safe environment for our faculty and our students so that a free exchange of ideas can occur,” he said. Later he told the press he thought it was “an open question as to whether or not the student impeded civil discourse.”

Two of the officers have been placed on paid administrative leave and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it would launch an investigation. Machen also announced the formation of a student-faculty commission to investigate the incident.

Scattered press report on Wednesday, generally confined to the inside pages, for the most part portrayed Meyer as a disruptive publicity hound. He was referred to variously as a “heckler,” “agitator” and “prankster.” Typical was a Washington Post article headlined “Aiming to Agitate, Florida Student Got a Shock”

“This was not Meyer’s first escapade as a provocateur, but it may be his most physically punishing,” the reporter quipped.

Meyer is, in fact, well known on campus as an opponent of the Bush administration and the Iraq war. He runs a web site that combines efforts at satire and humor with denunciations of the war and the role of the media in promoting it.

The videos of his attempts to question Kerry, who spoke at an event sponsored by the Student Government Monday night, and the actions of campus police in cutting him off and dragging him from the hall, suggest that he may have been targeted in advance. The videos show that as soon as Meyer walked to the floor microphone, and was given permission by Kerry to ask questions even though the organizers had announced that the question-and-answer period was over, two police officers were already standing directly and menacingly behind him.

In an interview given Tuesday, Kerry said, “His first words were, ‘Senator Kerry, they’re trying to arrest me.’”

Meyer proceeded to ask Kerry why he had not challenged the disputed results of the 2004 presidential election, why he refused to call for the impeachment of Bush, and whether he had been a member, along with Bush, of Yale University’s secret Skull and Bones society.

At that point the microphone was cut off and the police immediately seized Meyer, who began shouting, “What did I do?” “Why am I being arrested?... Help!” After six officers had dragged the flailing and protesting student to the floor at the back of the hall and handcuffed him, they took out a Taser, prompting Meyer to plead, “Don’t Tase me!” This was followed be screams of pain from the electric shock.

The World Socialist Web Site on Wednesday spoke with Asia Johnson, an advertising major at the University of Florida, who witnessed the assault. Johnson, who said she was within five feet of the microphone when Meyer was attacked, told the WSWS, “Andrew was being handled by the police as he tried to get the mike. Kerry said he should be allowed to ask his question. As soon as the mike was turned off, the police pounced on him.

“They didn’t give him much of a chance to walk out. Three police dragged him up the aisle. He shouted, ‘Don’t Tase me,’ and I screamed, ‘Don’t Tase him!’ But they did. It was very scary.”

At no point did Kerry intervene to demand that the police halt their attack on Meyer. On Tuesday, he refused to denounce the police violence, telling the Associated Press, “Whatever happened, the police had a reason, had made their decision that there was something they needed to do. Then it’s a law enforcement issue, not mine.”

The web site of Taser International, Inc. boasts that “Taser weapons fire 50,000 volts up to 15 feet with more stopping power than a .357 Magnum.” According to Wikipedia, “Electroshock weapon technology uses a temporary high-voltage low-current electrical discharge to override the body’s muscle-triggering mechanisms. The recipient feels great pain, and can be momentarily paralyzed while an electric current is being applied... The resulting ‘shock’ is caused by muscles twitching uncontrollably, appearing as muscle spasms.”

This, plus a possible jail sentence, is the penalty for asking pointed questions at a public forum held on a university campus. And not a single prominent politician has issued a protest, least of all members of the Democratic Party.

This event says a great deal about the state of American democracy. It speaks to the immense nervousness and fear within the entire political establishment over the growth of popular opposition, especially among young people, to its policies of militarism and social reaction.

Both parties of big business are increasingly discredited, isolated and insulated from the broad mass of the people. Bush and Cheney speak only before military audiences or those thoroughly vetted to weed out any hint of opposition. As for leading Democrats such as Kerry, they dare not venture onto college campuses without a hefty police guard prepared to silence all expressions of opposition.

The population, with the support of both establishment parties and the media, is being conditioned to accept the militarization of all aspects of public life.

If what transpired Monday night is the response to some questions raised by one person at a public forum, what is being prepared in the event of mass protests and social and political struggles? The obvious answer is mass repression and state violence.

The police assault on Meyer raises a series of questions. Since when have the police become the arbiters of what constitutes permissible speech? In the incident report released by the University of Florida police, Officer Nicole Mallo writes that Meyer began “badgering” Kerry and “yelling as loud as he could as to sensationalize his presence.”

Even were this description accurate, which the videotapes refute, since when does such behavior constitute a crime?

Under whose instructions were the police acting? What were the ostensible security issues that necessitated a heavy police presence and, in particular, the attempt to prevent Meyer from speaking from the minute he came to the microphone?

Have he and other known opponents of the war and the Bush administration been singled out by university authorities, and, if so, at whose urging?

Is there a connection between this outrageous attack on free speech and the vast network of data bases being assembled by government authorities, compiled by means of illegal spying and other police state measure instituted in the name of the “war on terror?”

These questions can be answered only by means of a genuinely independent investigation carried out by students and faculty. More fundamentally, the escalating assault on democratic rights can be countered only through a break with the two parties of war and social reaction and the development of an independent political movement of working people and youth.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Liberal/conservative experiment falls short

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So here’s the latest bulletin from the Psych Department: According to a journal called Nature Neuroscience, liberals are smarter and more adaptable than conservatives. It’s a scientific fact, or what passes for one in the world of lab rats and mazes. Needless to say, this discovery was greeted with a yawn on the rustic campus of Unsolicited Opinions Inc., the one-man, five-dog think tank where this column originates. Yo, professor, tell us something we don’t know. Actually, several professors at New York University and the University of California-Los Angeles concocted this foolishness.

First, the experimenters asked student subjects to self-identify as liberals or conservatives. Then they sat them at computer monitors. Half were asked to push a button every time the letter “M” appeared on the screen, but to ignore “W.” The others were asked to respond to “W,” but ignore “M” —to rule out unreasoning contempt for the letter “W,” I suppose. Anyway, the liberals made fact-based responses far more often than conservatives, who tended to react every time they saw any letter, like a chimpanzee trying to tune in the Rush Limbaugh program on a car radio.

“Stronger liberalism,” the experimenters wrote, “was correlated with greater
accuracy.” They concluded that “[l] iberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty,” while “a more conservative orientation is related to greater persistence in a habitual response pattern, despite signals that this response pattern should change.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Professor David Amodio of NYU “explained
the difference in terms of a commuter who drives the same way home from work
every day. If he’s a liberal, he is more likely to be alert to a detour. If he’s a conservative, he’s more likely to, well, stay the course.”

Now as political commentary this strikes me as plausible. Last time I checked, the Bush administration had floated eight or nine contradictory rationales for invading and occupying Iraq, starting with make-believe nuclear weapons, bestowing the gift of democracy on our grateful Middle Eastern brethren, standing up until they sit down (or whatever it was), all trending toward the inevitable destination of “exterminate all the brutes.” Few loyalists appear to have noticed.

But presented as science in a periodical otherwise devoted to articles titled “Activation of EGFR and ERK by rhomboid signaling regulates the consolidation and maintenance of sleep in Drosophila”? (Fruit flies sleep? Who knew?) Give me a break. To begin with, “liberal” and “conservative” are subjective terms with no fixed meaning. Asking NYU and UCLA students to self-identify, then assigning specious objectivity to those declarations, resembles the learned “projectors” in the third voyage of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” gravely distilling sunbeams out of cucumbers.

In politics, context is all. In, say, 1970, the same study would have had very different results. At this moment in history, Bushism has knocked the liberal vs. conservative debate totally out of whack. On overwhelmingly liberal campuses like NYU and UCLA, persons calling themselves conservatives are more likely Bush dead-enders. That is, they’re quite like the sheep in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” chanting, “Four legs good, two legs bad !” to drown out criticism of Comrade Napoleon, the head pig.

Conservatism as a political philosophy has nothing to do with the presidency
of George W. Bush. Don’t take my word for it. Read conservative pundits such
as George Will or Patrick Buchanan on the futility of the Iraq war. Former Nixon White House official John Dean has made a veritable career out of warning against the decay of Republican principles into an authoritarian cult of personality.

“For more than 40 years,” Dean writes, “I have considered myself a ‘Goldwater conservative,’ and am thoroughly familiar with the movement’s canon. But I can find nothing conservative about the Bush/Cheney White House, which has created a Nixon ‘imperial presidency’ on steroids, while acting as if being tutored by the best and brightest of the Cosa Nostra.”

Dean’s book, “Conservatives Without Conscience,” summarizes the psychological evidence, arguing that the predominant wings of today’s GOP—Bible-beating fundamentalists and neo-conservative empirebuilders—exhibit similar personality types. Followers think tribally, submitting to political or religious authority mostly from fear: “[T]hey become very aggressive in pushing that world view of that authority.... It helps them remove the ambiguities of life. And if they’re frightened by events, then this gives them a sense of security.” Authoritarian leaders, Dean contends, “are typically men whose desire in life is to dominate others and to be in charge.... They are highly manipulative. They are also people who have absolutely no appreciation of equality of others. They see themselves as superior, and they are amoral in their thinking.” Sound like anybody we know? Like Orwell’s sheep, cultists can’t change their minds no matter how badly their theories fare in the visible world. To alter course is to show weakness. So, yeah, the Nature Neuroscience team measured something real. It just wasn’t conservatism.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Arianna Huffington: Dept. of Misdirection: With Iraq a Disaster, GOP Goes Crazy Over a Newspaper Ad - Politics on The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington: Dept. of Misdirection: With Iraq a Disaster, GOP Goes Crazy Over a Newspaper Ad - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Dept. of Misdirection: With Iraq a Disaster, GOP Goes Crazy Over a Newspaper Ad"

Does anybody really believe the problem with the war in Iraq is too much questioning of those in authority, too much bluntness, and not enough deference to those who have been in charge of the war for the last four years?