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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Campaign has one too many Clintons
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In this time of strife among Democrats, it’s good to know that so many
of the nation’s deepest political thinkers have the party’s interests at
heart. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Reagan speech writer
Peggy Noonan laments that “the Clintons are tearing the [Democratic]
party apart. It will not be the same after this.” True, the same column
contends that “George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party,” but
that’s for another day. In The Washington Post, Robert Novak warns that
the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama “is fraught
with peril for the Democratic party coalition because it threatens to
alienate its essential African American component.” That would break
Novak’s adamantine heart. On MSNBC, the brows of former Florida GOP
Congressman Joe Scarborough and one-time “morality czar” (and casino
habitué) Bill Bennett are permanently furrowed. On the same network,
virtually every pundit who discussed the South Carolina primary did so
in racial, or, if you prefer, demographic, terms. The Washington Post’s
estimable African American columnist Eugene Robinson started on the
evening of the New Hampshire primary. He wondered aloud if Clinton’s
surprise victory resulted from the “Bradley effect,” i.e., white voters
speaking well of a black candidate, but yielding to racist impulses in
the darkness of the voting booth.

(Uh, oh, “darkness.” Does the word indicate a hidden bias? A perverse
need to associate blackness with evil? Altogether too many
impressionable college students have been trained in this kind of
linguistic alchemy, much as they were once encouraged to find hidden
“symbolic” phalluses in the novels of Jane Austen. Recently, The
American Prospect’s Web site entertained a passionate debate about a
columnist’s “racist” description of Obama as “a fog of a man.” Fog, see,
indicates not fuzziness or vague outlines, but darkness, ergo....

At this level of absurdity, honest debate becomes impossible.
“Identity,” crudely construed, is all, and all is identity. Every
political statement constitutes an affirmation of group loyalty.
“Speaking as an African American gay woman” or “As a long-married white
man....” —that’s supposed to be the end of the story. To disagree
constitutes bigotry. No safe metaphors exist.)

Everything about Obama’s personal story stands in opposition to ethnic
groupthink. It’s a repudiation of Americanism, one he denounces often.
But (like most of us) he has not always been perfectly consistent. He
wasn’t in South Carolina. Many of his supporters, particularly among the
media, want to have it both ways in pursuit of the great goal of
humiliating Hillary and Bill Clinton. For the same reason that Noonan
and Novak are crying crocodile tears, it’s a dangerously divisive

Let’s pass over the ensuing humbug over Hillary Clinton’s MLK/LBJ
remarks, the “fairy tale” business and surrogates’ references to Obama’s
youthful drug use. (Drugs are an inherently black problem? In the
U.S.A.? Who knew? Has there been a presidential candidate since 1992
whose personal drug use wasn’t an issue? OK, Bob Dole. Anybody else?)

Harkening to a theme that pundits had pushed since New Hampshire, MSNBC
broke down South Carolina’s exit polls by race even before actual
results came in. Every newspaper account I read stressed Obama’s winning
80 percent of the African American vote.

On TV, the usual talking heads—Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Margaret
Carlson et al. —were partying like it was January 1998, when the Monica
Lewinsky story broke and the Clinton presidency was presumed DOA. So
somebody sticks a camera in Bill’s face, asks him an insulting question,
and he reminds them that Jesse Jackson won the South Carolina primary
twice, but never the nomination.

That set off racial sensitivity alarms throughout the media and even
certain normally more sensible precincts of the liberal blogosphere.
Bill Clinton had played the race card! Hands were wrung. Lamentations
filled the air. Because as we all know, Jackson (who supports Obama)
exists in only one dimension, blackness; therefore, any/all references
to his political career constitute bigotry. Everybody else can spend
hours parsing racial demographics, but not Bill Clinton. Except Jackson
himself didn’t object. Neither did Obama. I’m with Congressional
Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford, who told Joe Scarborough: “I really
think the evidence-free bias against the Clintons in the media borders
on mental illness. I mean, I think when Dr. Phil gets done with Britney,
he ought to go to Washington and stage an intervention at the National
Press Club.... [W]e’ve gotten into a situation where if you try to be
fair to the Clintons, if you try to be objective, if you try to say,
‘Well, where’s the evidence of racism in the Clinton campaign?’ you’re
accused of being a naïve shill for the Clintons.” But I’d also say this:
Somebody needs to put the Big Dog back on the porch. His attacks on
Obama are unbecoming in a former president; people are tired of the
Clinton melodrama; and the bigger he looms, the smaller Hillary looks.

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


Monday, January 28, 2008

Obama wins South Carolina Democratic presidential primary

By Patrick Martin
28 January 2008

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Senator Barack Obama of Illinois won Saturday’s Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina by a decisive 2-to-1 margin over Senator Hillary Clinton, with former senator John Edwards trailing in third place. The defeat was a serious blow to the Clinton campaign, which had used former president Bill Clinton as a surrogate throughout most of the final week of the contest.

Voter turnout in South Carolina set records, nearly doubling from the 2004 primary won by Edwards over Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who went on to win the Democratic nomination that year. The turnout of 532,000 in the Democratic primary considerably exceeded the 444,000 votes cast in the Republican primary last week, although the Republican Party enjoys a sizeable advantage in voter registration and has carried the state in the last seven presidential elections.

Obama alone received more votes than the total number cast for all Democrats in the 2004 primary. Hillary Clinton, who was a badly beaten second, actually received as many votes as John McCain did in narrowly winning the Republican primary one week ago.

Exit polls suggested a sharp swing to Obama over the last few days of the campaign, as he moved from a relatively close 38-30 margin over Clinton to a 55-27 margin at the ballot box on January 26. The shift seems largely due to an unexpected surge in turnout among black voters and young people. Black turnout increased by 150,000 compared to the 2004 primary, with the bulk of those votes going to Obama.

The Democratic presidential nomination contest remains undecided with barely a week before “Super Tuesday,” February 5, when 15 states hold primaries and seven hold caucuses to elect delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Neither Clinton nor Obama holds a discernible advantage going into those contests, which include the first large states to elect delegates, including New York, California, Illinois, Georgia and New Jersey.

The South Carolina contest marked a revival of the media preference for Obama over Clinton which was particularly evident after his victory January 3 in the Iowa caucuses. There was gloating from right-wing media pundits over the setback for the Clintons, and near-breathless adulation for Obama from more liberal commentators.

Obama has also received the lion’s share of recent endorsements from Democratic Party officeholders, including governors and senators in states like Arizona, Nebraska, Virginia and Missouri who are identified as moderates rather than liberals, and members of the “Blue Dog” group in the House of Representatives, a right-wing caucus that backs fiscal austerity.

On Sunday, Obama received the endorsement of Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the assassinated president John F. Kennedy, in an op-ed column in the New York Times. There was widespread speculation that Senator Edward Kennedy, longtime leader of Senate liberals, would endorse Obama in time for the Massachusetts primary, one of the 22 Democratic presidential contests set for February 5.

The groundswell for Obama from the right-wing media has a self-interested subtext: Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and a multitude of conservative pundits calculate, rightly or wrongly, that the Illinois senator, with only three years in national politics, would be a weaker opponent than Hillary Clinton in the November election.

Within the Democratic Party itself, the contest between Clinton and Obama—for all its acrimony—has no clear political lines of differentiation. Obama criticizes Clinton over her 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq, but both advocate only a limited drawdown of US forces in the context of indefinite US occupation of that country. On domestic policy, both adhere to the line first established in Bill Clinton’s presidency, that all social and economic initiatives must be subordinated to reassuring the financial markets of the fiscal responsibility of the Democratic Party.

The overwhelming margin for Obama among black voters (81 percent) and sizeable lead among younger white voters (52 percent among those under 30) reveal widespread illusions—heavily promoted by the media—that the election of an African-American president, regardless of his policies and program, would represent a step forward for the American people.

Obama sought to capitalize on such illusions in his victory speech on the night of the primary, in which he cited the transformation of race relations in South Carolina, the state which sent diehard segregationist Strom Thurmond to the US Senate for 50 years.

There is no doubt that many of those voting for Obama believe they are dealing a blow to the race-based politics which have been the foundation for Republican Party electoral victories, particularly in the South, for the past three decades.

But the fundamental divide in American life is class, not race: the colossal social gulf between the vast majority who work for a living and struggle to survive—black, white, Hispanic, Native American and Asian—and the financial aristocracy, the top one percent (or less) of the population, who dominate the economy and political structure of the United States.

The Democrats and Republicans, whatever their differences on particular issues, are both political instruments of the financial oligarchy, defending the profit system and the “right” of the multi-millionaires to call the shots in American society. In that respect, Obama is just one more representative of this corporate elite, differing only in the color of his skin and his ancestry.

His victory speech Saturday night was a clear testimonial to this fact. In one key passage, Obama declared his opposition to “a politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon, a politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us, the assumption that young people are apathetic, the assumption that Republicans won’t cross over, the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor and that the poor don’t vote, the assumption that African-Americans can’t support the white candidate, whites can’t support the African-American candidate, blacks and Latinos cannot come together.”

In the midst of this vague rhetoric of national unity comes the real message: Obama rebuts “the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor.” He added later that his campaign was “not about rich versus the poor.” Given that he has the enthusiastic support of Warren Buffett, the second-wealthiest capitalist in America, and has raised more money on Wall Street than any other candidate, he could say nothing less.

Equally significant were his repeated efforts to extend an olive branch to the Republican Party. Clearly distinguishing himself from the Clintons, without referring to them by name, Obama claimed to reject “bitter partisanship that causes politicians to demonize their opponents... It’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea, even if it’s one you never agreed with. That’s the kind of politics that is bad for our party. It is bad for our country. And this is our chance to end it once and for all.”

This was a reference to Obama’s by-now-notorious comment on Ronald Reagan, first reported in an interview with a Reno, Nevada newspaper during that state’s caucus campaign. The Democratic candidate went beyond noting that Reagan’s presidency marked a qualitative change in American politics—something no objective analyst would dispute—to praise Reagan as someone who “put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. He tapped into what people were already feeling, which is, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

This paean to Reagan demonstrates that Obama embraces one of the stupidest nostrums of official American politics: the alleged political genius of the former movie actor turned ad pitchman for big business. The Clintons have made their own comments along the same lines. Indeed, the thrust of Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and of the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council, which he headed at the time, was to revamp the Democratic Party along the lines of the new political universe supposedly created by Reagan.

The Clintons, for their own factional reasons, deliberately distorted Obama’s comment, suggesting that he had hailed Reagan’s policies in office. Commercials that they ran in South Carolina making that charge were widely criticized by other Democratic politicians.

They also attacked Obama’s lack of experience in office and prospects for winning the general election, dismissing his candidacy in a way that seemed deliberately provocative to many black voters. This culminated in Bill Clinton’s remark, as the polls closed in South Carolina and the scale of Obama’s victory became evident, making a comparison to Jesse Jackson’s failed presidential campaigns 20 years ago. “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88,” Clinton said. “Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.”

Clinton did not compare Obama’s efforts to those of more recent Democratic victors in South Carolina. These included John Edwards in 2004, who like Jackson did not go on to win the nomination, as well as Al Gore in 2000 and himself in 1992, who both did. The racial implications of his comment were unmistakable.

As the New York Times observed, “Bringing up Jesse Jackson in response to a question about Mr. Obama seemed to be another way of pointing out that Mr. Obama is black and at the same time marginalizing his importance, as well as South Carolina’s, since Mr. Jackson did not become the nominee.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

'US the Biggest Producer of Terror'

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, Jan 25 (IPS) - Broken promises have brought a dramatic increase in anti-U.S. sentiment across the capital city of Iraq's Diyala province.

Many people in Baquba, capital of Diyala 40 km northeast of Baghdad, had supported U.S. forces when they ousted former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. But failed reconstruction projects and muddled policies mean the U.S. has lost that support.

"The Americans based their strategy in Iraq on certain Shias here who have direct enmity with Sunnis and allegiance to Iran," resident Ayub Ibrahim told IPS. "This was the source of the gap between certain Shias which the U.S. backs, and certain Sunnis they back." Shias and Sunnis are different sects within Islam.

The U.S. has also alienated people through its policy of extensive detentions. Many believe that raids that lead to arrests are based on motivated information given to the U.S. military by Shia militiamen who have infiltrated the Iraqi army and police.

"We never witnessed an attempt to arrest Shia people either by the U.S. army or the Iraqi police and army," resident Abdul Sattar al-Badri told IPS. Most people see no reasonable basis for many of the arrests.

In November the International Committee of the Red Cross said that around 60,000 people are currently detained in Iraq.

"The Americans occupied our country and put our men in prisons," Dhafir al-Rubaiee, an officer from Iraq's previous army told IPS. "The majority of these prisoners have been arrested for nothing other than for being Sunni. Every one of these prisoners has a family, and these families now have reason to hate Americans."

Others blame the lack of security and the destroyed infrastructure for the increasing anti-U.S. sentiment.

"The lack of security is a direct result of the occupation," resident Abu Ali told IPS. "The Americans crossed thousands of miles to destroy our home and kill our men. They are the reason for all our disasters."

Another resident, speaking on condition of anonymity added, "We lived in need during the period of the Saddam government, but we were safe. We were compelled to work sometimes 20 hours a day to earn our living, but we were happy to see our children and relatives together." U.S. forces, he said, have ended all that.

Abu Tariq believes the U.S. military intentionally destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. "The Americans destroyed the electricity, water pumping stations, factories, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, buildings, and opened the borders for strangers and terrorists to get easily into the country," he said.

The large number of Iraqis killed by U.S. forces has also hardly endeared the forces to the people.

"When targeted by a roadside bomb or suicide bomber, U.S. soldiers shoot at people randomly. Innocent civilians have been killed or injured," Yaser Abdul-Rahman, a 45-year-old schoolmaster told IPS. "Thousands of people have been killed like this."

The anti-U.S. sentiment in Baquba is now so high that people no longer hide their distrust of the U.S.

"At the beginning of the occupation, the people of Iraq did not realise the U.S. strategy in the area," Abu Taiseer, a member of the communist party in the city told IPS. "Their strategy is based on destruction and massacre. They do anything to have their agenda fulfilled.

"Now, Iraqis know that behind the U.S. smile is hatred and violence," Taiseer added. "They call others violent and terrorists, but what they are doing in Iraq and in other countries is the origin and essence of terror. America is the biggest producer of terror, and they spend huge funds for creating and training death squads all over the world."

Despite the differing U.S. ways of dealing with Shias and Sunnis, the two sects seem one in their hatred of the U.S.

"Look at our country, it will need 30 years to get back again," Edan Barham told IPS. "This has nothing to do with sects; all of us are Iraqis, and we should think of Iraq in a better way than sectarian lines."

"People of Iraq of all sects now realise that it is the occupation represented by the Americans that has damaged the country," resident Khalil Ibrahim said.

Political analyst Azhar al-Teengane says the only Iraqis who support the occupation are those benefiting directly from it.

"The occupation is good for politicians who have made money, militiamen, contractors and opportunists," Teengane said. "These form not more than 5 percent of Iraqi people."

Self-rule could help lower anti-U.S. sentiment, said resident Jalal al-Taee. "In order to improve the situation, the U.S. army should let the people of this city run it."

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East.

** Think Dahr's work is vital? We need your help. It's easy! ***

US Senate moves to grant immunity to telecoms complicit in illegal wiretapping

By Andre Damon
26 January 2008

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The Democratic-controlled Senate moved Thursday to shield telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying program from lawsuits. By a vote 60 to 36, the Senate rejected any provision in its upcoming amendment to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would open the companies to prosecution in civil courts.

Congress passed a temporary amendment to the FISA Act before its Labor Day break in August, which included retroactive protection for the telecom companies complicit in the administration’s illegal wiretapping. That amendment is set to expire on Friday, and Congress is seeking to work out a replacement before then.

While debate over the Senate bill will continue into next week, the House has already passed a draft of the bill that did not include immunity. If the Senate finalizes its version next week, it will move on to be reconciled with the House version, where it can be expected that an immunity clause will be inserted into the final document.

For its part, the White House said it would veto any bill that did not include complete immunity for companies that aided its illegal program. The Bush administration and congressional Republicans are also strongly pressing for an expansion of the bill’s provisions, and not simply a renewal of the temporary law passed six months ago.

The Senate picked up the bill this week after laying it aside in mid-November. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently moved to postpone the debate when it became apparent that the bill could not be completed before Congress took its holiday break.

In view of differences that have arisen over a replacement bill, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (Dem.-Texas) and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (Dem.-Mich.) proposed extending the current law—which is set to expire February 1—for another 30 days.

However, Senate republicans blocked such an effort Tuesday, in line with views expressed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who commented Wednesday, “There is no sound reason to pass critical legislation like the Protect America Act and slap an expiration date on it.”

The day before the vote, Cheney gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, in which he demanded immunity for telecommunications companies that had participated in the program and said the FISA expansion bill should be passed as quickly as possible.

A number of Senate Democrats agreed to vote for the preservation of the immunity clause following the Bush administration’s agreement on Thursday to Democrats’ demands that it show them classified documents relating to the warrantless domestic spying program.

Senate Republicans supporting the inclusion of an immunity clause were supported by a number of Democrats, most notably Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.). Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were absent during Thursday’s vote and it is unclear whether they will participate on Monday, when the debate is set to continue.

Sometime around September 2001, the Bush administration illegally authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept data from people within the US without first obtaining warrants. This was in violation of the 1978 FISA act, which set up a secret court to authorize surveillance within the US. Congress retroactively legalized the Bush administration’s program by passing last August 5 the Protect America Act of 2007, which is set to expire February 1.

If the bill is not renewed, government agencies complain that they will have to resort to getting individual court orders in order to spy on communications that pass through the US telecom infrastructure. The Democrats—even those calling for a rejection of the immunity clause—do not want to leave the intelligence agencies out in the cold, fearful of being seen as “soft on terrorism.”

House Majority Leader Harry Reid, in bemoaning the Republicans’ demands, said, “It appears that the Republicans want failure. They don’t want a bill.” The debate—even to the limited extent that the Democrats are willing to draw it out—revolves around the best way to manage the massive domestic spying program implemented illegally by the Bush administration.

Mike McConnell, the national director of intelligence, is currently working on a bill that would simply do away with the FISA court and create conditions under which intelligence agencies could spy without the added burden of obtaining warrants. Such a bill could then by applied retroactively to shield the telecommunications companies from prosecution. In promoting the bill, McConnell raised the specter of an imminent terrorist attack, stating recently, “My prediction is that we’re going to screw around with this until something horrendous happens.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have announced their support for immunity on the grounds that they do not want to hurt the balance sheets of telecommunications companies. There are currently some 40 lawsuits filed against the telecoms by individuals and groups in relation to the wiretapping. These cases have already unearthed a number of details the Bush administration would prefer to leave hidden, including testimony by a former AT&T employee that the company let out space within one of its main routing facility, which was used to direct traffic directly to the NSA.

See Also:
US court rules NSA spying program unconstitutional
[19 August 2006]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

News & Analysis
NATO must prepare for nuclear first strike, report urges

In face of Israeli repression, tens of thousands of Palestinians force their way into Egypt

US recession fears provoke continued market turmoil

Kenya: post-election violence continues
Election 2008 likely to get more brutal
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Some time back, this column opined that many Democrats feared that
nominating Sen. Hillary Clinton for the presidency risked setting off a
national psychodrama that could cost their party the election. Both as a
woman and a Clinton, she is hated on the right with near-psychotic
intensity. That said, it’s clear that the 2008 general election campaign
will be brutal regardless of whether Democratic primary voters choose
her or Sen. Barack Obama. The way things shape up, Republicans will have
almost no choice but to vilify the Democratic nominee. With the wreckage
of the Bush administration at its collective feet, the GOP has no
candidate acceptable to all of its factions. Talk radio blow hards Rush
Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, for example, spent the week previous to the
South Carolina primary warning that nominating either Sen. John McCain
or former Gov. Mike Huckabee would be to destroy the party. McCain and
Huckabee finished onetwo, although it’s worth noticing that McCain took
33 percent of the vote vs. 42 percent when he lost South Carolina to
George W. Bush in 2000. Had Huckabee and Grampa Fred Thompson not split
the Grand Ole Opry vote, McCain might have come in second. Overall, he
received approximately 80,000 fewer votes than eight years ago. That’s a
bad omen for November.

That’s why Clinton and Obama were so wise to walk back the burgeoning
racial controversy that threatened to divide Democrats just previous to
the Nevada caucuses.

“Neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign,” Clinton
said during the Las Vegas debate. Obama affirmed that neither she nor
Bill Clinton had racist motives and warned against “falling into the
same traps of division that we have in the past.... Dr. [Martin Luther]
King [Jr.] stood for that. I hope that my campaign has inspired that
same sense, that there’s much more that we hold in common than what
separates us.” It’s mystifying that Obama let the controversy go as far
as it did. Bad-faith allegations of racism such as were made against
Clinton for mentioning former President Lyndon Johnson’s role in helping
bring King’s dreams to fruition only damage Democrats generally. As the
conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer pointed out, false charges of
bias leave a bitter aftertaste—bitter enough, sometimes, to induce
otherwise sensible people to vote against their own self-interest.

The last thing Obama’s campaign needed was to make him a “black”
candidate in the ethnic or sectarian sense. Amplified by TV networks
eager to exploit hot-button controversies to build ratings, the
kerfuffle over King’s legacy threatened to do exactly that. Maybe it’s a
pipe dream to imagine that Democrats can transcend identity politics,
but it’s also central to who they are.

But that doesn’t mean sharp arguments are out of bounds. Which brings us
to the latest Obama-Clinton controversy regarding how Democrats should
talk about former President Ronald Reagan, himself a veritable saint to
Republicans. OK, that’s an exaggeration. Today’s GOP candidates invoke
Reagan mainly to avoid saying “George W. Bush.” Obama started it by
comparing former President Clinton unfavorably to Reagan.

“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that
Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” he said
in Nevada. “He put us on a fundamentally different path because the
country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses
of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown, but there
wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I
think people—he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which
was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of
dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” Now if Hillary
Clinton’s campaign wanted to get nasty, it might have wondered aloud
which Ronald Reagan Obama admired, the one who opened his 1980 election
campaign in Philadelphia, Miss. —the scene of infamous civil rights
murders during the 1960 s—talking about “states rights’,” the one who
talked about “welfare queens” in Cadillacs or the one who sold guided
missiles to Iran. Instead, Bill Clinton forcefully defended his
administration’s economic record against both Reagan and the current
president, pointing out that Reaganism started working Americans on the
downward-running escalator that Bush’s policies have only speeded up. He
even got a little red in the face, which the high school hall monitors
on CNN, MSNBC and the rest found upsetting. So did Obama, who wondered
aloud in the South Carolina debate about which Clinton was his opponent.
It’s beginning to look like a pattern. Obama says something provocative,
then complains about being misrepresented or double-teamed. In
basketball, to continue a metaphor that Obama, an enthusiastic pick-up
player, would certainly recognize, it’s called “working the refs.”
Players do it when they’re losing.

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

Monday, January 21, 2008


US presidential nomination campaigns remain deadlocked after January 19 votes

By Patrick Martin
21 January 2008

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The results of Saturday’s Republican presidential primary in South Carolina and Republican and Democratic caucuses in Nevada have done little to resolve the contests for the two parties’ presidential nominations. Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama remain in a close race for the Democratic nomination, while there remain four politically viable contenders within the fractured Republican contest.

Clinton won a narrow victory in the Nevada caucuses, taking 51 percent of the county delegates elected at nearly 1,000 precinct-level caucuses. Obama won 45 percent, while former senator John Edwards received only 4 percent of the county delegates—reflecting his failure, at most of the precinct caucuses, to make the 15 percent threshold required to receive delegates.

Because of the geographic distribution of the vote, Obama will likely win more Nevada delegates to the Democratic National Convention than Clinton. He won every county in the state except one—Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and accounts for 70 percent of the statewide vote. Obama defeated Clinton among rural, small-town and upscale suburban voters, but lost decisively in urban working-class areas, except in a few largely black working-class precincts in Las Vegas.

A significant feature of the Nevada caucuses was the effective repudiation of the Culinary Workers Union by its own members, who voted by a sizeable majority for Clinton, although the union leadership endorsed Obama last week. The Clinton campaign complained loudly about the special provisions made to allow casino workers to attend caucuses on the job, and their own union supporters went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent these caucuses from taking place. But in the end, Clinton won seven of the nine casino caucuses, and 268 of the county delegates chosen at these meetings, compared to 224 for Obama.

Post-election media commentary focused on the alleged racial polarization in the voting, citing exit polls that showed Clinton winning Hispanic voters by 64-27 percent and white voters by 51-38 percent, while Obama won among black voters 83-14 percent. There were numerous projections that if such a pattern holds in the February 5 “Super Tuesday” primaries in California, Arizona, Colorado, New York and New Jersey, all states with large numbers of Hispanic voters, Clinton would win a decisive victory.

This is a continuation of the effort to use race as a reactionary political diversion from the real issues facing working people in the United States, issues which are not seriously addressed by the presidential candidates of either party: the deepening US economic crisis, the growth of social inequality, mounting attacks on democratic rights, and the escalation of US militarism in Iraq and more widely in the Middle East and Central Asia.

In the last Democratic candidates’ debate before the Nevada vote, held Tuesday in Las Vegas, Obama virtually dropped any criticism of Hillary Clinton for her vote to authorize the war in Iraq, and all three participants, Edwards, Obama and Clinton, agreed that US troops would remain in or near Iraq for the indefinite future. This lineup demonstrates that, as in 2004, the ruling elite is manipulating the presidential campaign to ensure that there is no outlet for popular antiwar sentiment in the two major parties.

On economic and social issues, moreover, Obama has positioned himself slightly to the right of Clinton, not to her left. Clinton took advantage of this in Nevada, focusing largely on the economy. Her vote was at least in part a reflection—distorted as it is by the reactionary framework of bourgeois politics—of the growth of popular anxiety over jobs, declining real wages, and widespread bankruptcies and home foreclosures, the last of which is particularly acute in the Las Vegas area.

Obama also damaged his own prospects with an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, in which he described former President Ronald Reagan as a figure who transformed American politics and turned the Republican Party into “the party of ideas” for more than a decade.

While the supposedly vast popularity of Reagan is an article of faith in the political establishment and the corporate-controlled media, the truth is that the Reagan administration was hated by broad sections of the working class, and it still is by those who lived through it. Clinton repeatedly attacked Obama’s comment in the days leading up to the caucus. “I don’t think it’s a better idea to privatize Social Security,” she said in one appearance at a Las Vegas printshop. “I don’t think it’s a better idea to try to eliminate the minimum wage.”

More telling than the narrow victory by Clinton over Obama was the vast disparity between the two big business parties in the turnout for the caucuses. More than 120,000 attended the Democratic caucuses, up from 9,000 in 2004, and nearly triple the 44,000 who attended Republican caucuses. The gap is all the more significant in a state which George W. Bush carried narrowly in 2000 and 2004.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won the straw poll at the Republican caucuses, taking 51 percent of the vote in an event that did not commit the state’s delegates and was not contested by most of his rivals. Congressman Ron Paul of Texas took 13 percent of the vote and Arizona’s Senator John McCain 12 percent.

Romney’s victory was his third of the campaign, following the January 15 primary in Michigan and poorly attended and largely uncontested caucuses in Wyoming January 5. Romney leads in national convention delegates, but his Nevada victory was largely overshadowed by the results of the South Carolina Republican primary, won by McCain by a narrow margin over former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, 33 percent to 30 percent. Former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Romney trailed with 14 percent and 13 percent respectively.

McCain’s result in South Carolina was less than impressive. Running even with Huckabee among Republican voters, with 30 percent each, McCain took the lion’s share of the small independent vote to gain his narrow three-point margin of victory.

McCain actually received far fewer votes winning the state in 2008 than he did in his losing race in 2000, when he was defeated by George W. Bush by a margin of 53-42 percent. His vote total Saturday was about 140,000, just over half of the 240,000 votes he garnered eight years ago. The overall turnout in the Republican primary fell from 550,000 in 2000 to barely 400,000 this year.

The Huckabee-McCain race was described in one media commentary as “Christian soldiers vs. old soldiers,” since Huckabee targeted fundamentalists and McCain appealed to the state’s large population of veterans and retired military. That Huckabee lost this contest was largely owing to the efforts of Thompson, who focused his campaign in the same upstate areas where the Republican Party is dominated by evangelical voters. The former Arkansas governor was held to 40 percent of the evangelical vote, compared to well over 60 percent in Iowa, where he won the party caucuses January 3.

The Huckabee-Thompson contest included brazen appeals to fundamentalist and right-wing bigotry. Huckabee came out in defense of public displays of the Confederate flag, and compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. Thompson responded by denouncing Huckabee for referring to the US Constitution as “a living, breathing document.” He said this represented a departure from a literal interpretation, and was “precisely the kind of wrong-headed thinking about the Constitution that gave us Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion across our nation, and Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized sodomy.”

After finishing a poor third in a race he had declared critical, Thompson left South Carolina to fly back to his home in the Washington DC area, rather than move on to Florida, where the next Republican primary election is set for January 29. His campaign has no schedule for the upcoming week and there is widespread speculation that he will drop out of the contest and endorse McCain. Thompson was the national co-chairman of McCain’s unsuccessful campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.

This sets up a likely four-way contest in Florida, where the primary is closed—i.e., only registered Republicans, not independents, may vote—a restriction that hurts McCain. There is no clear favorite among McCain, Huckabee, Romney and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The Florida primary is winner-take-all, meaning that a candidate could win as little as 30 percent of the vote in a four-way race and still receive 100 percent of the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention.

All four of the Republican survivors have significant obstacles to winning the nomination. McCain is widely opposed within the party establishment and by right-wing media pundits. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, for instance, fulminated that if McCain or Huckabee were nominated, “It’s going to destroy the Republican Party. It’s going to change it forever, be the end of it.”

Romney is by far the best financed, owing to his huge personal fortune and connections in the world of venture capital, but he trails badly in national polls, despite having spent $10 million more than any other candidate to promote himself. He has also been the target of anti-Mormon bigotry on the part of the Christian right.

Huckabee’s campaign has no money or staff, a critical issue going into the February 5 “Super Tuesday” primaries, many of them in states like New York and California, where evangelical Christians are less numerous than in the South. Giuliani has finished sixth in five of the first six contests, where he did little campaigning, while focusing his efforts on Florida.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Backfire coming
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Try this political pop quiz. Can you identify the presidential candidate
promising “a fresh start after a season of cynicism... a president who
can unite this nation, a president who puts aside the endless partisan
bickering that seems to gridlock our nation’s capital, a president who
puts the people first, a president who lifts this nation’s spirits”?
Another clue: “I want you to understand that I can’t win without you.
When you go out there and tell the folks where we stand... when it comes
to bringing people together to get things done and you tell them that
the core of this campaign is the inherent trust in the American people,
I believe it doesn’t matter what political party they’re in. They’re
going to come our way.” OK, it’s a trick question. The candidate’s not
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush as quoted by
The New York Times in November 2000. Actually, “folks” should be a dead
giveaway. It’s what poker players call Bush’s tell, a sure sign he’s
blowing smoke. But yes, Obama 2008 sounds awfully like Bush 2000,
especially when he wafts into high rhetorical mode, all moonbeams and
lofty emotions. Exactly what compromises he’ll make with the guns, God
and gays, bigger-wars/smallertaxes GOP hard-liners come 2009—the same
ones circulating e-mails claiming he’s a covert Islamic
extremist—Obama’s not saying.

But no, I didn’t find Obama haughtily condescending toward Hillary
Rodham Clinton during the New Hampshire debate. People make too much of
these transitory moments. She’d pronounced him “likeable,” pretty much
forcing him to call her likeable back. I’d call his reaction one
professional’s wry acknowledgment of another’s smooth handling of a
tricky question.

Nor do I credit the rumor reported by the New York Post’s chronically
unreliable Page Six that Obama entered a Des Moines victory party to
Jay-Z’s misogynist rap, “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” He’d
have to be an idiot, and Obama’s not.

What, then, to make of the controversy over Clinton’s “racially tinged
comments,” as one Washington Post op-ed writer called them, words “that
could be taken” —my emphasis —“ as either insensitive or patronizing”?
Citing Obama’s relative lack of experience, Clinton made the
unexceptional point that it took LBJ’s political skills to turn Martin
Luther King Jr. ’s idealism into law.

Because Clinton’s words have been selectively edited, it’s worth quoting
them in full: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President
Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able
to get through Congress something that President [John F.] Kennedy was
hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a
president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that
dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said,
‘We are going to do it,’ and actually got it accomplished. ’”

“In other words,” wrote Marjorie Valbrun in the Post, “‘I have a dream’
is a nice sentiment, but King couldn’t make it reality. It took a more
practical and, of course, white president, Lyndon Johnson, to get blacks
to the mountaintop.... Clinton managed to insult a beloved black leader
in her eager attempt to insult a rising black leader.”

Except that King himself once reportedly told LBJ, “It is ironic, Mr.
President, that after a century, a Southern white President would help
lead the way toward the salvation of the Negro.” Grow up, Ms. Valbrun.

Likewise, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert accused Clinton of
“taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr.” He further accused Bill Clinton of insultingly characterizing
Obama’s campaign as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” Virtually
every “mainstream” publication and TV network jumped in. Here’s
Newsweek’s formulation of the racial insult that Bill Clinton “appeared”
to deliver, “a remark that infuriated many African-Americans. ‘When has
“ black” and “fairy tale” ever been mentioned in the same sentence?’
asked Todd Boyd, professor of African-American and Critical Studies at
the University of Southern California. ” When, indeed? You can
scrutinize the former president’s entire 500-word statement about
Obama’s shifting positions on Iraq without finding any allusion
whatsoever to race. Not one. It’s online at On “Meet
the Press,” Hillary Clinton was confronted with video clips artfully
cropped to conceal the context of both her remarks and her husband’s.
She defended herself well, but that’s not the point. Whatever his
faults, I believe that Bill Clinton stood up for civil rights in
Arkansas back when it was physically dangerous and his wife was inspired
by King as a high school girl. Their reward was the insanely scurrilous
videotape, “The Clinton Chronicles,” partly narrated by Arkansas’ last
diehard segregationist, Justice Jim Johnson. Leave this stuff to Rush
Limbaugh and Al Sharpton. Democrats indulge in racial demagoguery at
their peril. It will surely backfire in the general election.

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


Monday, January 14, 2008

Responding to Recession

Suddenly, the economic consensus seems to be that the implosion of the housing market will indeed push the U.S. economy into a recession, and that it’s quite possible that we’re already in one. As a result, over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing a lot about plans for economic stimulus.

Since this is an election year, the debate over how to stimulate the economy is inevitably tied up with politics. And here’s a modest suggestion for political reporters. Instead of trying to divine the candidates’ characters by scrutinizing their tone of voice and facial expressions, why not pay attention to what they say about economic policy?

In fact, recent statements by the candidates and their surrogates about the economy are quite revealing.

Take, for example, John McCain’s admission that economics isn’t his thing. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he says. “I’ve got Greenspan’s book.”

His self-deprecating humor is attractive, as always. But shouldn’t we worry about a candidate who’s so out of touch that he regards Mr. Bubble, the man who refused to regulate subprime lending and assured us that there was at most some “froth” in the housing market, as a source of sage advice?

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani wants us to go for broke, literally: his answer to the economy’s short-run problems is a huge permanent tax cut, which he claims would pay for itself. It wouldn’t.

About Mike Huckabee — well, what can you say about a candidate who talks populist while proposing to raise taxes on the middle class and cut them for the rich?

And then there’s the curious case of Mitt Romney. I’m told that he actually does know a fair bit about economics, and he has some big-name Republican economists supporting his campaign. Fears of recession might have offered him a chance to distinguish himself from the G.O.P. field, by offering an economic proposal that actually responded to the gathering economic storm.

I mean, even the Bush administration seems to be coming around to the view that lobbying for long-term tax cuts isn’t enough, that the economy needs some immediate help. “Time is of the essence,” declared Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, last week.

But Mr. Romney, who really needs to take chances at this point, apparently can’t break the habit of telling Republicans only what he thinks they want to hear. He’s still offering nothing but standard-issue G.O.P. pablum about low taxes and a pro-business environment.

On the Democratic side, John Edwards, although never the front-runner, has been driving his party’s policy agenda. He’s done it again on economic stimulus: last month, before the economic consensus turned as negative as it now has, he proposed a stimulus package including aid to unemployed workers, aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, public investment in alternative energy, and other measures.

Last week Hillary Clinton offered a broadly similar but somewhat larger proposal. (It also includes aid to families having trouble paying heating bills, which seems like a clever way to put cash in the hands of people likely to spend it.) The Edwards and Clinton proposals both contain provisions for bigger stimulus if the economy worsens.

And you have to say that Mrs. Clinton seems comfortable with and knowledgeable about economic policy. I’m sure the Hillary-haters will find some reason that’s a bad thing, but there’s something to be said for presidents who know what they’re talking about.

The Obama campaign’s initial response to the latest wave of bad economic news was, I’m sorry to say, disreputable: Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from “morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending.” Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure — doesn’t that sound familiar?

Anyway, on Sunday Mr. Obama came out with a real stimulus plan. As was the case with his health care plan, which fell short of universal coverage, his stimulus proposal is similar to those of the other Democratic candidates, but tilted to the right.

For example, the Obama plan appears to contain none of the alternative energy initiatives that are in both the Edwards and Clinton proposals, and emphasizes across-the-board tax cuts over both aid to the hardest-hit families and help for state and local governments. I know that Mr. Obama’s supporters hate to hear this, but he really is less progressive than his rivals on matters of domestic policy.

In short, the stimulus debate offers a pretty good portrait of the men and woman who would be president. And I haven’t said a word about their hairstyles.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Killer of U.S. Soldiers Becomes a Hero

Inter Press Service
By Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail*

BAGHDAD, Jan 7 (IPS) - The recent killing of two U.S. soldiers by their Iraqi colleague has raised disturbing questions about U.S. military relations with the Iraqis they work with.

On Dec. 26, an Iraqi soldier opened fire on U.S. soldiers accompanying him during a joint military patrol in the northern Iraqi city Mosul. He killed the U.S. captain and another sergeant, and wounded three others, including an Iraqi interpreter.

Conflicting versions of the killing have arisen. Col. Hazim al-Juboory, uncle of the attacker Kaissar Saady al-Juboory, told IPS that his nephew at first watched the U.S. soldiers beat up an Iraqi woman. When he asked them to stop, they refused, so he opened fire.

"Kaissar is a professional soldier who revolted against the Americans when they dragged a woman by her hair in a brutal way," Col. Juboory said. "He is a tribal man, and an Arab with honour who would not accept such behaviour. He killed his captain and sergeant knowing that he would be executed."

Others gave IPS a similar account. "I was there when the American captain and his soldiers raided a neighbourhood and started shouting at women to tell them where some men they wanted were," a resident of Mosul, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS on phone. "The women told them they did not know, and their men did not do anything wrong, and started crying in fear."

The witness said the U.S. captain began to shout at his soldiers and the women, and his men then started to grab the women and pull them by their hair.

"The soldier we knew later to be Kaissar shouted at the Americans, 'No, No,' but the captain shouted back at the Iraqi soldier," the witness told IPS. "Then the Iraqi soldier shouted, 'Let go of the women you sons of bitches,' and started shooting at them." The soldier, he said, then ran off.

The Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni organisation, issued a statement saying the Iraqi soldier had shot the U.S. soldiers after he saw them beat up a pregnant woman.

"His blood rose and he asked the occupying soldiers to stop beating the woman," they said in the statement. "Their answer through the translator was: 'We will do what we want. So he opened fire on them."

The story was first reported on al-Rafidain satellite channel. That started Iraqis from all over the country talking about "the hero" who sacrificed his life for Iraqi honour.

The U.S. and Iraqi military told a different version of the story.

An Iraqi general told reporters that Kaissar carried out the attack because he had links to "Sunni Arab insurgent groups."

"Soldier Kaissar Saady worked for insurgent groups who pushed him to learn army movements and warn his comrades about them," a captain of the second Iraqi army division told IPS. "There are so many like him in the army and now within the so-called Awakening forces (militias funded by the U.S. military)."

One army officer speaking on condition of anonymity described Kaissar's act as heroic. "Those Americans learned their lesson once more."

Sheikh Juma' al-Dawar, chief of the major al-Baggara tribe in Iraq, told IPS in Baghdad that "Kaissar is from the al-Juboor tribes in Gayara -- tribes with morals that Americans do not understand."

The tribal chief added, "Juboor tribes and all other tribes are proud of Kaissar and what he did by killing the American soldiers. Now he is a hero, with a name that will never be forgotten."

Many Iraqis speak in similar vein. "It is another example of Iraqi people's unity despite political conspiracies by the Americans and their tails (collaborators)," Mohammad Nassir, an independent politician in Baghdad told IPS. "Kaissar is loved by all Iraqis who pray for his safety and who are ready to donate anything for his welfare."

Col. Juboory said Kaissar who had at first accepted collaboration with the U.S. forces "found the truth too bitter to put up with." The colonel said: "I worked with the Americans because being an army officer is my job and also because I was convinced they would help Iraqis. But 11 months was enough for me to realise that starving to death is more honourable than serving the occupiers. They were mean in every way."

Independent sources have since told IPS that Kaissar was captured by a special joint Iraqi-U.S. force, and he is now being held and tortured at the al-Ghizlany military camp in Mosul.

Despite a recent decline in the number of occupation forces being killed, 2007 was the deadliest year of the occupation for U.S. troops, with 901 killed, according to the U.S. Department of Defence.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Winning isn’t necessarily about numbers
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Chances are that the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee will have been
chosen by the time you read this column. Chosen, that is, by a cadre of
self-promoting New York/ Washington pundits with fewer than 1 percent of
primary voters having registered a preference. After promoting the Iowa
and New Hampshire contests as a cross between “American Idol” and the
Super Bowl when few Americans were paying attention, TV pundits now
appear eager to pronounce the contest over. They’ve gone half seer and
half Simon Cowell, rehearsing acid put-downs of the presumptive losers.
Some of this derives from the need to appear worldly-wise and knowing,
like tipsters who peddle gambling tips. It’s also symptomatic of the
inexplicable Clinton hatred that’s been epidemic in those circles since
1992. No need to vote, fellow peasants; MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, The New
York Times’ Maureen Dowd and the rest of the Beltway All-Stars have
saved you the trouble. Ponder this recent passage from the allegedly
liberal Dowd: “Has Hillary truly changed, and grown from her mistakes?
Has she learned to be less stubborn and imperious and secretive and
vindictive and entitled? Or has she merely learned to mask her
off-putting and self-sabotaging qualities better? If elected, would the
old Hillary pop up, dragging us back to the dysfunctional Clinton
kingdom?” (My italics.)

Translation: “Bitch!” Having basically grown up in a Maureen Dowd
column, albeit with less wit and more profanity, I’ve known this variety
of Irish Catholic misogyny forever. My sainted mother warned me against
the cunning and duplicity of women almost to her dying breath. It’s a
sorrowful remnant of sexual Puritanism.

Led by the hyper-thyroid Matthews, MSNBC’s nightly bitchfest has been
something to see. Not everybody invited to play “Hardball” shares these
odd passions. As Bob Somerby points out on his Daily Howler weblog,
however, pundits know better than to object if they want to be invited
back. If they aspire to be face cards in Washington’s stacked deck, that

Clinton’s ability to transcend this madness has always been the big
question mark in her campaign. Lacking her husband’s natural stage
presence, the effort sometimes shows. Nevertheless, as one who finds
merit in all four candidates who debated in New Hampshire, I’d argue
that TV sooth-saying is bad for the Democratic Party, bad for the
eventual nominee and bad for democracy.

True, American political campaigns can be insufferably silly. Worse,
though, would be no campaign. It’s worth remembering that this same
cohort of cocktail party chums declared George W. Bush a charming fellow
and Dick Cheney a wise and seasoned statesman back in 2000. Their
judgment is shaky at best.

The real news out of Iowa was the record number attending Democratic
caucuses—more than double the number of Republicans. Had former Gov.
Mike Huckabee run as a Democrat, for example, he’d have placed a weak
fourth. Meanwhile, the night’s big GOP winner, according to the same
pundits, was Sen. John McCain, who placed fourth. So it ain’t
necessarily about the numbers.

Exactly what it is about is harder to say. Sen. Barack Obama possesses
undeniable personal charisma. Most of Clinton’s supporters will back him
should he become the nominee. But voters need to see him tested first,
because the same kind of Oprah-fied, pundit-driven, “American Idol”
media crush that’s anointing Obama today can turn him into an object of
contempt overnight. If you don’t know that, you’re not paying attention.

If I were Clinton, and could speak with perfect frankness, I’d say
something like this: “Everybody’s sickened by Washington-style partisan
warfare. We all have Republican friends and relatives whose ideals we
value. It’s never been true that all the good ideas belong to one
faction or party.

“ But when I cross party lines, they call it cynical ‘triangulation.’
When you do, it’s praiseworthy ‘bipartisanship.’ Until you’re nominated,
that is. That’s when the GOP smear machine will start on you. It’s a
Washington thing, run by paid political operatives who have browbeaten
and bribed much of the Beltway media into seeing things their way. “
Their way means that, as a Democrat, you’re either a weak, ineffectual
man or an unnatural, bitchy woman—effete, unpatriotic and downright
weird. Your marriage is a sham, your religion a fraud. If you think
you’re above it, you’re dreaming. “ Nothing’s sacred to them, not even
the sacred. Some of it circulates in anonymous e-mails; some on dubious
Web sites, on far-right talk radio; some in ‘conservative’ newspapers,
magazines and TV networks, which will broadcast almost anything. “
Eventually, ‘mainstream’ pundits chatter about it on ‘Hardball’ because
it’s ‘out there.’ Since 1992, I’ve been accused of everything up to and
including murder. Then after the charges were proved false, they decided
I was ‘polarizing.’ And I’m still standing. “ Today, you’re the great
liberal hero because job one is taking me out. Tomorrow? Well, ‘hope’ is
not a plan. Remember, the original ‘man from Hope’ was my husband.”

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gibson uses Right Wing talking points to scare voters

A warning to the American people: “Thinking the unthinkable” at the Democratic presidential debate

By Patrick Martin
8 January 2008

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One exchange during Saturday’s debate among the Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire underscores the turn by the US ruling elite and its major political agencies—the Democratic and Republican parties and the media—to unfettered militarism and away from any genuine commitment to democracy.

ABC News anchorman Charles Gibson asked a question which he called “the central one in my mind on nuclear terrorism.” He continued:

“The next president of the United States may have to deal with a nuclear attack on an American city. I’ve read a lot about this in recent days. The best nuclear experts in the world say there’s a 30 percent chance in the next 10 years. Some estimates are higher. Graham Allison, at Harvard, says it’s over 50 percent. Senator Sam Nunn, in 2005, who knows a lot about this, posed two questions that stick in my mind. And I want to put them to you here. On the day after a nuclear weapon goes off in an American city, what would we wish we had done to prevent it? And what will we actually do on the day after?”

The “probability” estimates cited by Gibson have zero scientific credibility, since they come from “experts” associated with the US military/intelligence apparatus, who have a professional interest in terrorizing the American people with the prospect of nuclear annihilation in order to intimidate opponents of American military aggression around the world. But none of the Democratic candidates challenged Gibson for echoing the scare-mongering tactics of the Bush administration.

Former senator John Edwards embraced Gibson’s premise, saying, “In the short term, we’re faced with very, very serious threats about the possibility of these nuclear weapons getting in the hands of a terrorist group or somebody who wants to attack the United States of America. The first thing is we have to immediately find out who’s responsible and go after them. And that is the responsibility of the president of the United States. Because if someone has attacked us with a nuclear weapon, it means they have nuclear technology, it means they could have gotten another nuclear weapon into the United States that we’re unaware of. We have to find these people immediately and use every tool available to us to stop them.”

Senator Barack Obama regularly denounces the use of the 9/11 attacks by the Bush administration and the Republican presidential candidates to spread fear and win votes, but he likewise accepted the question as legitimate and sought to demonstrate his willingness to use force. Obama faced media criticism last summer when he failed to promise instant retaliation when asked a similar question during a debate.

“I think this is the most significant foreign policy issue that we confront,” he said—an extraordinary statement given the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed by the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.

He continued: “We would obviously have to retaliate against anybody who struck American soil, whether it was nuclear or not. It would be a much more profound issue if it were nuclear weapons.”

Gibson then turned to Senator Hillary Clinton, reminding her that it would be a terrorist group, not an identifiable state, responsible for the hypothetical nuclear attack. Clinton first criticized the performance of the Bush administration in such areas as port security, and then argued, “The stateless terrorists will operate from somewhere. I mean, part of our message has to be there is no safe haven. If we can demonstrate that the people responsible for planning the nuclear attack on our country may not themselves be in a government or associated with a state, but have a haven within one, then every state in the world must know we will retaliate against those states.”

Citing the Cold War doctrine of nuclear deterrence, she concluded, “We have to make it clear to those states that would give safe haven to stateless terrorists that would launch a nuclear attack against America that they would also face a very heavy retaliation.”

It is notable that not one of the three leading Democratic candidates made reference to the measures that would be required to deal with the massive human cost of a nuclear attack. In this, they follow the lead of the Bush administration, which, while hyping the threat of terrorism incessantly, has done little or nothing in the way of practical preparation to deal with the possible consequences—as the dismal response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated.

There is a more fundamental issue, however, than the efforts of the Democrats to take up the mantle of the “war on terror.” That issue is what the very posing of the question says about the state of American democracy.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration and the main repressive agencies of the federal government—the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI—have been developing plans for the suspension of constitutional rule and the establishment of an executive branch dictatorship.

Nearly six years ago it was revealed that the Bush administration had assigned hundreds of federal officials to ensure “continuity of government” in the event of a terrorist attack on Washington DC. This was to be an openly dictatorial regime, drawn solely from the executive branch. No judges or elected legislators were to be included in the “shadow government,” and top legislators were not even aware of its existence.

As the World Socialist Web Site observed at the time these plans became public: “The greatest threat to the American people comes, not from foreign terrorists or Islamic fundamentalists, but from the behind-the-scenes machinations of the American government itself... The ‘war on terrorism’ has become the foundation on which the Bush administration has begun to erect a military-police dictatorship...” (See: “The shadow of dictatorship: Bush established secret government after September 11” )

In the years since, a definite modus operandi has emerged. Whenever the Bush administration feels under siege politically, the threat of terrorism is used to spread fear and anxiety among the American people, distract them from the deepening social and economic crisis of the capitalist system, and intimidate political opponents of the administration’s program of endless war.

In the spring and summer of 2004, with Bush trailing in opinion polls, there were numerous suggestions originating in the White House and the military-intelligence apparatus that the presidential election might have to be postponed in the event of a new terrorist atrocity. Bush administration officials told the press, referring to such an attack, “It’s going to happen.”

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice even began investigating the legal basis for suspending or postponing the November vote. Ultimately, the listless campaign of the pro-war Democratic candidate John Kerry provided so weak a challenge to Bush that such measures were unnecessary.

The 2004 election was only one occasion in which such police-state preparations came to light. They have been ongoing throughout the entire course of the Bush administration. They originated well before 9/11, within weeks of Bush’s installation in the White House after the Supreme Court intervention in the 2000 presidential election.

These measures include the establishment of a vast apparatus of domestic spying and eavesdropping, first broached to several domestic telecommunications companies in early 2001; the passage of the Patriot Act; the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security; the creation of the Northern Command, the first-ever Pentagon command controlling all troops in the continental US; the creation of a worldwide network of CIA-run detention camps; and a series of “counter-terror” exercises in which federal civilian and military authorities simulated the imposition of a state of emergency in the United States.

In August 2005, the Washington Post revealed that the US military had developed plans for imposing martial law on cities, regions or the entire country in response to a terrorist attack. The existence of the plans was made known to the Post’s senior military correspondent at the direction of the White House and Pentagon.

The planning envisioned as many as 15 different scenarios in which “the military will have to take charge in some situations, especially when dealing with mass-casualty attacks that could quickly overwhelm civilian resources.” The Post cited military statements that such a declaration of martial law “probably would be temporary.”

The World Socialist Web Site observed at the time (“Pentagon devising scenarios for martial law in US”): “The anti-terrorism scare has a propaganda purpose: to manipulate the American people and induce the public to accept drastic inroads against democratic rights. As the Pentagon planning suggests, the American working class faces the danger of some form of military-police dictatorship in the United States.”

While he made no mention of it in framing his question about nuclear terrorism, Charles Gibson is undoubtedly well aware of these preparations for military rule. So are the presidential candidates who gave answers emphasizing their willingness to use military force—and implicitly sanctioning whatever restrictions would be deemed necessary on democratic rights at home.

The leadership of the Democratic Party has given one demonstration after another over the past decade that it is hostile to any struggle to defend democratic rights—even when, as in the Florida election crisis of 2000, its own access to power and privilege was directly affected. Saturday’s debate in New Hampshire was a further demonstration of this fundamental political fact.

See Also:
New Hampshire debates: Democrats and Republicans embrace US militarism
[7 January 2008]

Monday, January 07, 2008

NanceGreggs's Journal: Nance Rants

Posted by NanceGreggs in General Discussion: Politics
Sun Jan 06th 2008, 10:46 PM

My Dearest Lil Piggy David Frum:

Re your statement to the NYT that you are terrified that the GOP is heading for defeat:

There are times when only a bold expletive will suffice as a response, and this is one of those times. Where the fuck have you been for the last seven years?

So NOW you’re terrified the Republican party is headed for a meltdown of mammoth proportions? After the conduct of your party for the last seven years, let me tell you what that sounds like – in words simple enough for even you to understand: “I’m terrified that my conviction as a child molester will have a negative impact on my ability to get a job as a playground supervisor.” “I’m terrified that if my girlfriend finds out my last six fiancés went mysteriously ‘missing’, she won’t want to get engaged.” “I’m terrified I’ll get fired from my job as a Portuguese translator when everyone realizes I don’t understand a word of Portuguese.”

Have you, by any chance, just been awoken from a coma? I pose the question because that would be the only plausible explanation for any Republican not knowing that the conduct of their party, and their so-called president, was obviously going to result in what we are now seeing as the consequences.

Did you honestly believe that the out-of-control national debt was going to be a plus for the party that traditionally garners votes by espousing fiscal responsibility? Did you really think that the skyrocketing profits of Big Oil under BushCo were going to go unnoticed by people worried about being able to afford the gas to get to-and-from work? Did you truly believe that the average Joe would never suspect that the government was asleep-at-the-wheel when his kid got sick and his dog died thanks to the poisonous products being welcomed into this country under the administration’s allegedly watchful eye? Did it not occur to you that people who watched a man sit a classroom reading The Pet Goat during a strike on US soil – the same guy who strummed the guitar while NOLA went under – might consider that the the strong-on-national-security WH resident might not be all he’s been cracked up to be?

As a Bush speechwriter, what did you think the impact was going to be when Mr. Decider Guy said he would get Bin Laden dead-or-alive, and later revised it to say that he didn't really think about Bin Laden much any more, being as he was never all that important? And what did you think as you listened to Bush’s speeches delivered in the slurred voice of a drunk sitting at the end of the bar rather than a man of even average intelligence sitting in the Oval Office?

After seven years of a lying buffoon talking like he just landed on the planet, a vice president who doesn’t know what branch of government his office is part of, “Heckovajob” appointees, billions of taxpayer dollars gone missin’ or unaccounted for via no-bid contracts to administration cronies, executive privilege being invoked every time even a modicum of information is sought, an AG who can’t remember anything beyond his own name, complete failure in a war in Iraq that was based on fabrications to begin with, vets living in cardboard boxes on the street, Walter Reed, dead American troops, dead Iraqi civilians, Abu Ghraib, secret prisons, waterboarding, bridges to nowhere, Jack Abramoff and Jeff Gannon, the incarceration of GOP politicians due to blatant corruption, the outsourcing of American jobs, corporate welfare, tax-cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations, Macaca moments, pedophiles like Mark Foley being encouraged to run, diaper-fetishists like Vitter being presented as family values politicians, e-coli in our food, lead in our kids’ toys, Enron, sub-prime mortgages, multi-billion-dollar bonuses to CEOs of failed companies, NIE’s completely contrary to administration claims, the devaluation of the dollar against foreign currencies, the rise in unemployment, the increased number of Americans living below the poverty line, and the United States of America becoming the laughing stock of the global community when it talks about freedom and democracy while, at the same time, pretending its own Constitution doesn’t even exist, you have the unmitigated chutzpah to publicly cry like a baby because you never saw it coming.

Oh, woe is you, Mr. Frum – and all of your cohorts who have not only supported but encouraged the very behavior that you now openly worry might ruin your chances in the next election and beyond.

I hope you at least appreciate the irony in the fact that the party that sought to govern by striking fear into the hearts of Americans with the threat of Islamofascists hiding under ever bed have now taken to hiding under their own beds, quaking in fear because the deception, the mis-information and the out-and-out lies have finally caught up with them.

Honestly, Davey, I don’t know how you could possibly not see this coming. Maybe it was your brain-dead reliance on politically-savvy consultants like Kristol and Wolfowitz – who, had they “advised” this poorly for a different organization, would be sleeping with the fishes even as we speak.

So now you’re terrified. Well, I can’t blame you there. If I were a Republican, I’d be terrified too.

I will give you credit for one thing, though, Davey: Up until I saw your recent remarks, I believed that Bush was the most clueless idiot in the country. I still believe that – but your quick ascension to the second place position is something to be marveled at.

Why I Believe Bush Must Go

Nixon Was Bad. These Guys Are Worse

By George McGovern

06/01/08 "
Washington Post" -- -- As we enter the eighth year of the Bush-Cheney administration, I have belatedly and painfully concluded that the only honorable course for me is to urge the impeachment of the president and the vice president.

After the 1972 presidential election, I stood clear of calls to impeach President Richard M. Nixon for his misconduct during the campaign. I thought that my joining the impeachment effort would be seen as an expression of personal vengeance toward the president who had defeated me.

Today I have made a different choice.

Of course, there seems to be little bipartisan support for impeachment. The political scene is marked by narrow and sometimes superficial partisanship, especially among Republicans, and a lack of courage and statesmanship on the part of too many Democratic politicians. So the chances of a bipartisan impeachment and conviction are not promising.

But what are the facts?

Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly “high crimes and misdemeanors,” to use the constitutional standard.

From the beginning, the Bush-Cheney team’s assumption of power was the product of questionable elections that probably should have been officially challenged — perhaps even by a congressional investigation.

In a more fundamental sense, American democracy has been derailed throughout the Bush-Cheney regime. The dominant commitment of the administration has been a murderous, illegal, nonsensical war against Iraq. That irresponsible venture has killed almost 4,000 Americans, left many times that number mentally or physically crippled, claimed the lives of an estimated 600,000 Iraqis (according to a careful October 2006 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and laid waste their country. The financial cost to the United States is now $250 million a day and is expected to exceed a total of $1 trillion, most of which we have borrowed from the Chinese and others as our national debt has now climbed above $9 trillion — by far the highest in our national history.

All of this has been done without the declaration of war from Congress that the Constitution clearly requires, in defiance of the U.N. Charter and in violation of international law. This reckless disregard for life and property, as well as constitutional law, has been accompanied by the abuse of prisoners, including systematic torture, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

I have not been heavily involved in singing the praises of the Nixon administration. But the case for impeaching Bush and Cheney is far stronger than was the case against Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew after the 1972 election. The nation would be much more secure and productive under a Nixon presidency than with Bush. Indeed, has any administration in our national history been so damaging as the Bush-Cheney era?

How could a once-admired, great nation fall into such a quagmire of killing, immorality and lawlessness?

It happened in part because the Bush-Cheney team repeatedly deceived Congress, the press and the public into believing that Saddam Hussein had nuclear arms and other horrifying banned weapons that were an “imminent threat” to the United States. The administration also led the public to believe that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks — another blatant falsehood. Many times in recent years, I have recalled Jefferson’s observation: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

The basic strategy of the administration has been to encourage a climate of fear, letting it exploit the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks not only to justify the invasion of Iraq but also to excuse such dangerous misbehavior as the illegal tapping of our telephones by government agents. The same fear-mongering has led government spokesmen and cooperative members of the press to imply that we are at war with the entire Arab and Muslim world — more than a billion people.

Another shocking perversion has been the shipping of prisoners scooped off the streets of Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other countries without benefit of our time-tested laws of habeas corpus.

Although the president was advised by the intelligence agencies last August that Iran had no program to develop nuclear weapons, he continued to lie to the country and the world. This is the same strategy of deception that brought us into war in the Arabian Desert and could lead us into an unjustified invasion of Iran. I can say with some professional knowledge and experience that if Bush invades yet another Muslim oil state, it would mark the end of U.S. influence in the crucial Middle East for decades.

Ironically, while Bush and Cheney made counterterrorism the battle cry of their administration, their policies — especially the war in Iraq — have increased the terrorist threat and reduced the security of the United States. Consider the difference between the policies of the first President Bush and those of his son. When the Iraqi army marched into Kuwait in August 1990, President George H.W. Bush gathered the support of the entire world, including the United Nations, the European Union and most of the Arab League, to quickly expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The Saudis and Japanese paid most of the cost. Instead of getting bogged down in a costly occupation, the administration established a policy of containing the Baathist regime with international arms inspectors, no-fly zones and economic sanctions. Iraq was left as a stable country with little or no capacity to threaten others.

Today, after five years of clumsy, mistaken policies and U.S. military occupation, Iraq has become a breeding ground of terrorism and bloody civil strife. It is no secret that former president Bush, his secretary of state, James A. Baker III, and his national security adviser, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, all opposed the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In addition to the shocking breakdown of presidential legal and moral responsibility, there is the scandalous neglect and mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. The veteran CNN commentator Jack Cafferty condenses it to a sentence: “I have never ever seen anything as badly bungled and poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans.” Any impeachment proceeding must include a careful and critical look at the collapse of presidential leadership in response to perhaps the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Impeachment is unlikely, of course. But we must still urge Congress to act. Impeachment, quite simply, is the procedure written into the Constitution to deal with presidents who violate the Constitution and the laws of the land. It is also a way to signal to the American people and the world that some of us feel strongly enough about the present drift of our country to support the impeachment of the false prophets who have led us astray. This, I believe, is the rightful course for an American patriot.

As former representative Elizabeth Holtzman, who played a key role in the Nixon impeachment proceedings, wrote two years ago, “it wasn’t until the most recent revelations that President Bush directed the wiretapping of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — and argued that, as Commander in Chief, he had the right in the interests of national security to override our country’s laws — that I felt the same sinking feeling in my stomach as I did during Watergate. . . . A President, any President, who maintains that he is above the law — and repeatedly violates the law — thereby commits high crimes and misdemeanors.”

I believe we have a chance to heal the wounds the nation has suffered in the opening decade of the 21st century. This recovery may take a generation and will depend on the election of a series of rational presidents and Congresses. At age 85, I won’t be around to witness the completion of the difficult rebuilding of our sorely damaged country, but I’d like to hold on long enough to see the healing begin.

There has never been a day in my adult life when I would not have sacrificed that life to save the United States from genuine danger, such as the ones we faced when I served as a bomber pilot in World War II. We must be a great nation because from time to time, we make gigantic blunders, but so far, we have survived and recovered.

© 2007 The Washington Post

The myth of sectarianism

International Socialist Review

The policy is divide to rule


IF THE U.S. leaves Iraq, the violent sectarianism between the Sunni and Shia will worsen. This is what Republicans and Democrats alike will have us believe. This key piece of rhetoric is used to justify the continuance of the occupation of Iraq.

This propaganda, like others of its ilk, gains ground, substance, and reality due largely to the ignorance of those ingesting it. The snow job by the corporate media on the issue of sectarianism in Iraq has ensured that the public buys into the line that the Sunni and Shia will dice one another up into little pieces if the occupation ends.

It may be worthwhile to consider that prior to the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq there had never been open warfare between the two groups and certainly not a civil war. In terms of organization and convention, Iraqis are a tribal society and some of the largest tribes in the country comprise Sunni and Shia. Intermarriages between the two sects are not uncommon either.

Soon after arriving in Iraq in November 2003, I learned that it was considered rude and socially graceless to enquire after an individual’s sect. If in ignorance or under compulsion I did pose the question the most common answer I would receive was, “I am Muslim, and I am Iraqi.” On occasion there were more telling responses like the one I received from an older woman, “My mother is a Shia and my father a Sunni, so can you tell which half of me is which?” The accompanying smile said it all.

Large mixed neighborhoods were the norm in Baghdad. Sunni and Shia prayed in one another’s mosques. Secular Iraqis could form lifelong associations with others without overt concern about their chosen sect. How did such a well-integrated society erupt into vicious fighting, violent sectarianism, and segregated neighborhoods? How is one to explain the millions in Iraq displaced from their homes simply because they were the wrong sect in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Back in December 2003 Sheikh Adnan, a Friday speaker at his mosque, had recounted a recent experience to me. During the first weeks of the occupation, a U.S. military commander had showed up in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province located roughly twenty-five miles northeast of Baghdad with a mixed Sunni-Shia population. He had asked to meet with all the tribal and religious leaders. On the appointed day the assembled leaders were perplexed when the commander instructed them to divide themselves, “Shia on one side of the room, Sunni on the other.”

It would not be amiss, perhaps, to read in this account an implanting of a deliberate policy of “divide and rule” by the Anglo-American invaders from the early days of the occupation.

There have been no statistical surveys in recent years to determine the sectarian composition of Iraq. However, when the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Paul Bremer, formed the first puppet Iraqi government, a precedent was set. The twenty-five seats in the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), were assigned strictly along sectarian lines based on the assumption that 60 percent of the population is Shia, 20 percent Sunni, and 20 percent Kurds, who are mostly Sunni. For good measure, a couple of Turkoman and a Christian were thrown in.

It is evident that this puppet troupe deployed at the onset of “democracy” in Iraq was mandated to establish to the population that it was in the larger interest to begin thinking, at least politically, along sectarian and ethnic lines. Inevitably, political power struggles ensued and were cemented and exacerbated with the January 30, 2005, elections.

Mild surface scratching reveals a darker, largely unreported aspect of the divisive U.S. plan. A UN report released in September 2005 held Iraqi interior ministry forces responsible for an organized campaign of detention, torture, and killing of fellow Iraqis. These special police commando units were recruited from the Shia Badr Organization and Mehdi Army militias.

In Baghdad during November and December 2004, I heard widespread accounts of death squads assassinating Sunni resistance leaders and their key sympathizers. It was after the failure of Operation Phantom Fury, as the U.S. siege of Fallujah that November was named, that the Iraqi resistance spread across Iraq like wildfire. Death squads were set up to quell this fire by eliminating the leadership of this growing resistance.

The firefighting team had at its helm the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, ably assisted by retired Colonel James Steele, adviser to Iraqi security forces. In 1984–86 Steele had been commander of the U.S. military advisory group in El Salvador. Between 1981 and 1985 Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to neighboring Honduras. In 1994 the Honduras Commission on Human Rights charged him with extensive human rights violations, reporting the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political workers. A CIA working group set up in 1996 to look into the U.S. role in Honduras has placed on record documents admitting that the operations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured, and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas. Negroponte was ambassador to Iraq for close to a year from June 2004.

The only public mention of any of this I have seen was in Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2005. It quotes Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. secretary of defense at the time, who discussed the use of the “Salvador Option” in Iraq. It compared the strategy being planned for Iraq to the one used in Central America during the Reagan administration:

"Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported “nationalist” forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal."

U.S.-backed sectarian death squads have become the foremost generator of death in Iraq, even surpassing the U.S. military machine, infamous for its capacity for industrial-scale slaughter. It is no secret in Baghdad that the U.S. military would regularly cordon off pro-resistance areas like the al-Adhamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad and allow “Iraqi police” and “Iraqi army” personnel, masked in black balaclavas, through their checkpoints to carry out abductions and assassinations in the neighborhood.

Consequently, almost all of Baghdad and much of Iraq is now segregated. The flipside is that violence in the capital city has subsided somewhat of late now that the endgame of forming the death squads, that of fragmenting the population, has been mostly accomplished.

Baghdad resident, retired General Waleed al-Ubaidy told my Iraqi colleague recently, “I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine, but the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq.” Baghdad today is a divided city.

Ahmad Ali, chief engineer from one of Baghdad’s municipalities told my colleague, Ali al-Fadhily, “Baghdad has been torn into two cities and many towns and neighborhoods. There is now the Shia Baghdad and the Sunni Baghdad to start with. Each is divided into little town-like pieces of the hundreds of thousands who had to leave their homes.” Al-Adhamiyah, on the Russafa side of Tigris River, is now entirely Sunni, the other areas are all Shia. The al-Karkh side of the river is purely Sunni except for Shula, Hurriya, and small strips of Aamil which are dominated by Shia militias.

Not being privy to the U.S. machinations, Iraqis in Baghdad blame the Iraqi police and Iraqi army for the sectarian assassinations and wonder why the U.S. military does little or nothing to stop them. “The Americans ask [Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki to stop the sectarian assassinations knowing full well that his ministers are ordering the sectarian cleansing,” says Mahmood Farhan of the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni group.

A more recent manifestation of the divisive U.S. policy has been the “purchase” of members of the largely Sunni resistance in Baghdad and in al-Anbar province that constitutes one-third of the geographic area of Iraq. Payments made by the U.S. military to collaborating tribal sheikhs already amount to $17 million. The money passes directly into the hands of fighters who in many cases were engaged in launching attacks against the occupiers less than two weeks ago. Tribal fighters are being paid $300 per month to patrol their areas, particularly against foreign mercenaries. Today the military refers to these men as “concerned local citizens,” “awakening force,” or simply “volunteers.”

Arguably, violence in the area has temporarily declined. “Those Americans thought they would decrease the resistance attacks by separating the people of Iraq into sects and tribes,” announced a thirty-two-year-old man from Ramadi, who spoke with al-Fadhily on terms of anonymity, “They know they are sinking deeper into the shifting sand, but the collaborators are fooling the Americans right now, and will in the end use this strategy against them.” By the end of November 2007, the U.S. military had enlisted 77,000 of these fighters, and hopes to add another 10,000. Eighty-two percent of the fighters are Sunni.

Politically, the U.S. administration maintains its support of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The fallout has been blatantly clear. On the first of December, Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Accordance Front, which is the Sunni political bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, was placed under house arrest by Iraqi and U.S. security forces in the Adil neighborhood, west of Baghdad. Iraqi security forces also detained his son Makki and forty-five of his guards. They were accused of manufacturing car bombs and killing Sunni militia members in the neighborhood who have been working with the U.S. military. Members of the Accordance Front, which holds 44 of the 275 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, promptly walked out. Maliki has, several times in the last several weeks, hurled public accusations and criticisms at al-Dulaimi, sending political and sectarian shock waves, further crippling the crumbling political process.

It is important to mention that Maliki, a U.S. puppet par excellence, acts only as told. After the January 2005 elections, the government that came into power had chosen Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its prime minister. When Jaafari refused to toe the U.S./UK line, Condoleezza Rice and her UK counterpart Jack Straw flew to Baghdad, and before their short trip ended Jaafari was out and Maliki was in as prime minister.

In the context of these facts let us now return to the big question: Will Iraq descend further into a sectarian nightmare if the occupation ends?

An indicator of how things will likely resolve themselves upon the departure of foreign troops may be drawn from the southern city of Basra. In early September, 500 British troops left one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in the heart of the city and ceased to conduct regular foot patrols. According to the British military, the overall level of violence in the city has decreased 90 percent since then.

This may or may not be a guarantee of a drop in sectarianism upon the departure of the invading armies, but it does prove that when the primary cause of the violence, sectarian strife, instability, and chaos is removed from the equation of Iraq, things are bound to improve rapidly.

Are we still going to believe that the occupation is holding Iraq together?

Dahr Jamail, who spent eight months in Iraq as an independent journalist, is author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). The New York Times’ Stephen Kinzer describes his writing as “international journalism at its best.” Dahr is currently on a national speaking tour sponsored by Haymarket and his articles can be found at