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.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

‘Royal funeral’ says much about society
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Few events so reveal society’s unacknowledged values as a royal funeral.
So it was following the untimely death of NBC newsman and “Meet the
Press” moderator Tim Russert. We have no formal aristocracy in the
United States, but Washington has a self-appointed media peerage.
Russert was a political celebrity/courtier of exalted rank. To his
grieving colleagues and many viewers, Russert embodied the best of TV
journalism. Others think very differently about his legacy. First,
however, a modest personal remembrance. The one time I met Russert, he
couldn’t have been more gracious. Possibly because my thumbnail bio
described an urban, Northeastern, “hardy Irish-Catholic peasant”
background like his own, he asked how I came to live in Arkansas, and
about my wife and family. Even my pastime of following hunting beagles
around on horseback appeared to fascinate him. Then the “Meet the Press”
cameras came on and he put me on the spot. But hey, if you’re afraid to
fall off a horse, don’t get on. Russert treated me like a professional.
Part of his job? Sure. But in his place, I wouldn’t have bothered. So
the love and esteem expressed by Russert’s colleagues were surely
heartfelt. We should all leave such a legacy.

That said, Russert’s journalistic influence was deeply unfortunate. The
Washington Post reverently listed the models of limousines arriving at
his memorial service, along with the exalted personages riding inside.
Tourists brought cameras. Sorry, but when columnists, political
consultants and TV talking faces get treated like the prince of Wales,
something’s wrong. H. L. Mencken, justifiably famous in his day, would
have hooted.

Like Paris Hilton, many D. C. courtier journalists are famous largely
for being famous. I once asked a TV news director for a raise. He tried
flattery, saying viewers treasured my poor man’s Andy Rooney act. I
scoffed. Then he got real.

“Look,” he said, “we could find a wino under a bridge, buy him a suit,
teach him to read a TelePrompTer and make him a star.”

The station was paying all it could. We parted ways amicably.

On his dailyhowler. com Web site, Bob Somerby opines that Russert
started getting silly about the time he began writing books
mythologizing his humble Buffalo roots. Walter Cronkite never did that.
Somerby notes that MSNBC in particular has become an ethnic enclave. On
“Hardball,” they held an Irish wake for several days. All that was
missing was a bottle of Jameson’s, and that may have been under the

Some of it verged on self-parody. Here’s Mike Barnicle, seconding Pat
Buchanan’s claim that being Irish made Russert great: “I think it begins
with so many Irish Catholics of a certain age... and they come to life
later on with a missionary zeal for the truth because it begins in
parochial school. Who is God? Why did God make me? And the interrogation
during the Baltimore Catechism years of you in religion class five days
a week, you had better have those questions answered. You better be able
to answer them. And that—you bring that along through the years....
[T]hose roots are so strong, so deep, that you’re still doing that on
‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday 50 years later.”

Micks like Somerby and me remember pre-Vatican II Catholic pedagogy
differently. Rote memorization and authoritarian teaching create not
love of truth but tribalism and conformity. The first time I got sent to
Monsignor was at age 8, for telling a nun I didn’t believe God would
send my one Protestant friend Jeffrey to Hell because Jeffrey was a good
person, and that would be mean and stupid. The priest said Sister was
being a little harsh, but I needed to be careful about weakening my
classmates’ faith with impertinent questions.

Back to Russert and Washington journalism: In the sport of beagling, two
bad faults can get a hound disqualified. One is “cold-trailing.” I had a
beagle named Leon who’d hoot down scent trails so old the rabbits that
left them were probably being digested by coyotes. Leon made so much
noise about nothing that my pals dubbed him “The Journalist.” Then
there’s “ghost-trailing.” Unable to keep up, a hound will sometimes
invent a fictitious rabbit and make a great show of running it. Other
dogs learn to ignore him. Washington courtier-journalists have done
plenty of both recently. Russert was among the worst. Like most, he
obsessed over Bill Clinton’s sexual sins, but handled the Bush
administration’s Iraq war propaganda like the Baltimore Catechism:
Memorize, regurgitate. Linda Hirshman nails it in The Nation: “The
political leaders who did the best answering Tim Russert’s questions in
the last seven years—Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell—are
the authors of the most disastrous American foreign policy since the
Vietnam War, and maybe since 1776. The Russert Test was a disaster
because it rewarded people willing to lie unabashedly on TV.” And that’s
the truth.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whoever Wins, They Lose

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, Jun 24 (IPS) - Iraqis seem divided on who they would like to see as the next U.S. president, but few believe that either will end the occupation.

"The U.S administration has committed a big mistake in Iraq," Adil Ibrahim, a local physician in Baquba, capital city of Diyala province, located 40 km northeast of Bagdhdad, told IPS. "We hope that whoever wins the election, the new administration can mend the huge mistakes of this one."

Some wish for Barack Obama to win because he claims to represent a great change in the history of the United States.

"Being a black man, he definitely carries different thoughts about the world," Ali Hussein, a city employee, told IPS. "We sympathise with him since he has some kind of Muslim origins. He may view Arabs in a new and different way."

Adding to this view, Naser Mahdi, a secondary school teacher, told IPS, "I feel he is totally different. The world needs new blood in rulers, and we hope that he might decrease the dominating authority of the United States."

"Because the result of the race affects the lives of Iraqis, I wish that a Democrat could win the round in order to give Iraqis a better future," schoolteacher Khalid Abid told IPS. "We still hope to be viewed with care and consideration. Things surely must change in Iraq after the elections."

But Abdulla Hamid, a city resident, expressed deep concern over Obama's recent speech at the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.

"What hope is there in a man who wears the Israeli flag and calls for a Jewish state with a unified Jerusalem," Hamid told IPS. " Obama clearly couldn't care less about the Palestinians and the Arabs."

Hamid referred to the fact that Obama appeared at the speech with a lapel pin comprised of both the U.S. and Israeli flags. In his speech, Obama's call for a unified Jerusalem omitted Palestinians' demands for their share of Jerusalem, which is a sacred city for them too.

Like most U.S. citizens, most Iraqis are not familiar with U.S. foreign policy. While Obama, the Democratic presidential hopeful, calls for a shift in the U.S. policy in Iraq, neither he nor his Republican rival, John McCain, talk about changing the National Security Strategy of the U.S., or the military document Joint Vision 2020, which calls for "full spectrum dominance" of the world by the U.S. military by the year 2020.

'Full spectrum dominance' means not just total control of land, air, and sea, but also of information and of space.

"The U.S. strategy is firm and unchanging," a political analyst at Diyala University told IPS on condition of anonymity, given widespread fear of U.S. forces. "It makes no difference whether one wins or the other. The general strategy is well established, and is never affected by the changing of the president."

"I do agree with this point of view," local merchant Abdul-Rahman told IPS. "During the nineties we wished that Bill Clinton would win in order to stop the economic sanctions that caused us so much suffering. When Clinton became president, sanctions remained as they were, and even worsened."

At that time, the majority of Iraqis had wished for Clinton to be president, but year after year of sanctions left them embittered.

Barak Obama has made public statements that he will withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. But his advisors speak of plans to keep at least 60,000-90,000 troops in Iraq, and at least until 2013, the year his first term in office would end if he is elected.

Many Iraqis appear to be skeptical of the promises made by Obama.

"I'll believe the troops are gone from Iraq when they are no longer on our streets and their warplanes no longer bomb our homes," a local merchant told IPS. " All politicians are liars, even school children know this."

(*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).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sleezy Cowards--All-Talk-Barack leads the pack

Obama backs House Democrats’ cave-in on Bush spying bill

By Patrick Martin
23 June 2008

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, announced Friday that he would support the bill passed by the House of Representatives rubber-stamping the Bush administration’s illegal program of widespread electronic surveillance and wiretapping.

The bill passed the House Friday and the Senate is expected to follow suit before the Fourth of July holiday. The Democratic-controlled Congress will thus mark Independence Day with a major attack on the democratic rights of the American people, justified, as so many other crimes of the past seven years, in the name of the struggle against “terrorism.”

The House approved the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (so named because it changes provisions in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) by a margin of 293 to 129. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and 103 other Democrats sided with a near-unanimous Republican caucus (188-1) to pass the legislation.

The warrantless wiretapping program was initiated by the Bush administration after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The White House set aside the previous legal framework for communications intercepts, which required the government to show probable cause to a judge of the special federal court established under the FISA law.

The National Security Agency began to intercept communications by issuing secret directives to the telecommunications companies, who delivered their entire databases of e-mail traffic and in many cases set up special facilities for NSA spying inside their own premises. The full extent of the surveillance remains secret, but it is likely that virtually all e-mail traffic in the United States is now subject to some form of government monitoring, either of the addresses used, the subject lines or the full contents.

The House bill grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that collaborated in the warrantless wiretapping program, the key issue on which the legislation has been deadlocked for nearly a year. These corporations currently face at least 40 lawsuits charging them with illegal invasions of privacy. They can now have these suits dismissed simply by showing that they were responding to a written request from a government agency, whether that request was lawful or not.

The bill authorizes indiscriminate monitoring of all telecommunications and e-mail traffic into and out of the United States, without the previous requirement that a FISA court judge find probable cause that particular individuals are engaged in illegal activity. The FISA court will review only the general procedures for targeting—everyone telephoned from a particular cellphone, for example—and not the actual identities of those under surveillance.

While prohibiting generalized “reverse” targeting—i.e., if a terrorist suspect calls a pizza shop, this cannot be used to justify wiretapping everyone else who calls the same location—even this prohibition can be waived under a provision allowing the government to target anyone for up to seven days based on “exigent circumstances,” without waiting for court review. Such surveillance can continue even if the FISA court rejects the request—something that has only happened a half dozen times in 30 years—while the government appeals the decision.

House Speaker Pelosi cited a provision declaring that wiretapping is conducted on the basis of the FISA law, and claimed that this was a rebuff to White House assertions that the president has inherent powers, under Article II of the Constitution, which makes him commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to ignore the FISA law and order any spying he deems necessary.

A Republican critic of the bill, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said that there was nothing to prevent future warrantless wiretapping again without FISA court review, since the White House could simply declare that the president’s inherent constitutional power overrides the new legislation as well.

Last August, when the legislation to expand federal wiretapping powers under FISA first came before Congress, Obama voted against the so-called Protect America Act, which granted a six-month authorization for the NSA wiretapping but did not resolve the immunity issue. In February, the Democratic congressional leadership allowed the PAA to expire, and both Obama and his main rival for the presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, supported that action.

In a statement last January, as he was posturing in Democratic presidential primaries as the most consistent opponent of the Bush administration, Obama declared, “No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people—not the President of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program. We have to make clear the lines that cannot be crossed.”

Obama issued a statement Friday to explain why, after opposing the warrantless wiretapping and retroactive immunity for telecoms for nearly a year, he has now reversed himself. He begins by accepting the “war on terror” framework laid down by the Bush administration, which has used terrorism as the all-purpose pretext for massive incursions against civil liberties. “Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike,” Obama declares.

He then concedes the essential criminality of the White House policy: “There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.”

Despite this admission, Obama claims that the latest bill is a “compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year’s Protect America Act. Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over.”

The linguistic contortions cannot conceal the reality: the illegal spying by the Bush administration is only “over” because it has been legalized by the Democratic Congress. Obama & Co. are embracing legislation that declares the wiretapping legal going forward, and retroactively immunizes those who violated the law since 2001.

The statement concludes on a note that seems calculated to placate those with illusions in Obama, but which upon serious consideration is quite ominous. Obama declares, “I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives—and the liberty—of the American people.”

In other words, he urges his audience to trust that a future Obama administration will exercise this arbitrary police-state power more judiciously than the Bush White House. But his pledge that he will “take any additional steps I deem necessary” amounts to demanding a blank check, and could easily justify even more sweeping inroads against democratic rights.

In embracing the war on terror and the claim that there must be a trade-off between security and democratic rights, Obama is echoing the reactionary arguments of the Bush White House. No section of the Democratic Party is prepared to tell the American people the truth: that the greatest threat to democratic rights comes not from a handful of Al Qaeda terrorists, but from the American state machine itself.

Osama bin Laden cannot overthrow the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and establish a police state in the United States. Only an American president or an American general can do that, at the head of a military-intelligence apparatus that already absorbs more than $700 billion a year, more than the combined armies of every other country in the world.

See Also:
US: Democratic Congress approves war funding, legalizes domestic spying
[21 June 2008]

Saturday, June 21, 2008

News & Analysis
US: Democratic Congress approves war funding, legalizes domestic spying

LTTE front group claims responsibility for Sri Lankan bombings

Northern Territory intervention-an on-the-spot report
Rudd Labor deepens Howard's assault on Aboriginal communities
Part 1

Britain: Labour refuses to answer Davis's by-election challenge

Tim Russert honored: A "state funeral" for services rendered

India's government plots break with Left Front to implement Indo-US nuclear treaty

Social crisis in Detroit: An investigative report
Part 2: The impact of gas prices

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim Russert and the decay of the American media

By David North and David Walsh
16 June 2008

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

Tim Russert, longtime moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and the television network’s Washington Bureau Chief, died June 13 of a heart attack in Washington at the age of 58. Russert also hosted a CNBC/MSNBC weekend interview program and was a frequent correspondent and guest on NBC’s “The Today Show” and “Hardball.”

Russert was comparatively young, and he leaves behind a wife and grown son. It is appropriate to extend sympathy to his friends and family. However, inasmuch as the death of Russert is being treated by the political establishment and the media as a major national political event, one must treat it on those terms.

Indeed, tributes to the NBC newsman have filled the airwaves since his death on Friday. President Bush as well as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his Republican counterpart John McCain have all gone before the TV cameras to mourn his passing. The coverage of his death and the tributes themselves have been vastly out of proportion to the real significance and accomplishments, such as they were, of the deceased.

The treatment of Russert’s demise, in its own peculiar fashion, speaks more eloquently about the state of American journalism and the milieu of which he was a part than it does about Russert. No doubt there is shock over the abruptness and unexpectedness of his death, for it is a troubling reminder to the social elite that success, celebrity and immense amounts of money do not bestow immortality, or even, necessarily, a long life.

In the end, after all, Russert was a celebrity, little more than that. Was he an important or insightful journalist? Or a serious political thinker? There is no evidence to support such claims. In spite of his lengthy tenure as anchor of a major news program (he was the longest-serving moderator of “Meet the Press”), it is not possible to link Russert’s name to a significant journalistic work or even an instance of acute political analysis. On the contrary. He was a typical representative of what passes for journalism in the United States’ corporate-controlled media: conformist and philistine in his views, a purveyor of received wisdom who had no doubts whatever about the values and legitimacy of the political establishment.

One has only to consider certain of the events that occurred “on his watch”: the Clinton impeachment, the stolen 2000 election, September 11, the Iraq war and its aftermath. None of these events evoked from Russert a critical examination of the claims of the state and its representatives.

In each case, Russert’s essential role was to bolster the establishment and lull the population to sleep. His role in the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, an episode that did a great deal for his career, was particularly filthy. In the first days of the crisis, Russert breathlessly asserted that if the allegations about Clinton’s sexual impropriety were true, the president would have to resign. “Whether it will come to that,” Russert continued, “I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s right or fair to be in the speculation game. But I do not underestimate anything happening at this point. The next 48 to 72 hours are critical.” The population largely rejected the media campaign.

As the WSWS wrote in 2000, in a survey of television personnel: “Russert was one of those who claimed to be taking the moral high ground, castigating Clinton’s behavior, while spreading the salacious gossip put out by the right wing. (Typical Russert sound-bite: ‘There are lots of suggestions coming out of people close to Ken Starr that perhaps the Secret Service ‘facilitated’ [i.e., pimped] for President Clinton. Remember that code word—it was used by state troopers in Little Rock.... Was the Secret Service—was a Secret Service agent—an accomplice in trying to cover up a relationship with Monica Lewinsky?’ The fact that this story, and dozens like it, attributed to ‘unnamed sources,’ proved to be false, never stopped Russert and his media cohorts.)”

It is pathetic to hear eulogists praise, as a moment of unsurpassed inspiration and an indication of his uncanny ability to summarize complicated events in a popular manner, Russert’s holding up of a white board with the word “Florida” written three times on election night 2000. This on the very night when FOX News was rigging the election outcome.

The notion that Russert asked the “tough questions” of those he interviewed, advanced by a host of former colleagues on a tribute broadcast this Sunday in place of “Meet the Press,” is absurd.

During the run-up to the war, Russert, along with the rest of the media, provided a platform for Vice President Dick Cheney and others to present their lying claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction without seriously calling any of them into question.

On March 16, 2003, only days before the US-led invasion of Iraq, Russert virtually handed his program over to Cheney, providing the latter with a propaganda opportunity in front of a large national audience, much of it skeptical about the administration’s claims. Russert’s particular role here was to politely raise certain doubts and allow Cheney to allay them.

For example, Russert asked Cheney: “What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?” The vice president replied, “Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Russert responded: “And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?”

Cheney: “I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. ... And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” That matter being settled, Russert was on to the next question.

In Bill Moyers’ documentary, Buying the War, Russert claims that he didn’t raise sufficient doubts about what Cheney and others were telling him because critics and skeptics weren’t contacting him. He tells Moyers: “To this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.”

Millions were protesting in the streets, United Nations inspectors, the International Atomic Energy Agency, various foreign governments, not to mention the World Socialist Web Site and other left-wing publications, were refuting the Bush government’s claims, but none of this was accessible to Russert. In this, he’s probably being honest. Attuned to what the powerful thought and considering left-wing opinion to be illegitimate, Russert only had ears for Cheney and his fellow conspirators.

In any event, Russert learned nothing from the Iraq war. His program continued to provide a platform for the powerful and the cruel. In July 2006, in the immediate aftermath of the Israeli massacre in the southern village of Qana, in which dozens of women and children perished, he played host on “Meet the Press” to Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, who proceeded in a predictably cold-blooded fashion to blame the atrocity on Hezbollah.

It is revealing, in its own way, that Russert’s celebrity credentials were burnished with a bestseller about his father, “Big Russ.” It is worth recalling that William Shirer—the old CBS hand who worked with Edward R. Murrow in the 1930s and 1940s—established his reputation with Berlin Diary, his account of Germany in the first years of the Nazi regime. He later went on to write (after he had been witch-hunted out of the broadcast media) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Other reporters from that era, such as Eric Sevareid, left behind memoirs that contained interesting social commentary.

Russert’s Big Russ, on the other hand, was nothing but a saccharine account of an America were “traditional” values were honored, where “men were men,” etc. In other words, a fictionalized America, conceived in the mind of a conformist. The book is part of a marketable genre, which includes Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a self-deluding slap-on-the-back account of life in post-war America. It was fitting, in its own way, that Brokaw broke the news of Russert’s death.

Russert was born in Buffalo, New York in 1950, at the height of the Cold War and the anti-communist hysteria in the US, and grew up in an Irish Catholic, working-class family. In his various comments and writings there was not a hint of protest or rebellion against the upbringing. Russert had nothing but praise for the Jesuits and “the nuns.” He intended to become a lawyer or teacher in Buffalo, and had not political and media history intervened, Russert would most likely have become one more figure in and around the corrupt Democratic Party machinery in Erie County.

According to Maria Shriver, former colleague of Russert at NBC and presently wife of the governor of California, Russert had “faith in God, faith in country, faith in family.” There is no particular reason to doubt it.

If one wants to get some picture of life in the Buffalo area in the early 1950s, it is worth turning to Joyce Carol Oates’ You Must Remember This. In one of the key early scenes, the father of the lead character, the owner of a furniture store, is hauled in by police on charges of “suspected subversion” and “promulgating of Communist propaganda,” and interrogated for hours, for pointing out in an argument with a customer that the USSR and China “constituted a significantly larger land mass, in toto, than did the United States.”

There were however, others from similar backgrounds, particularly from Russert’s generation, who developed quite differently. Their formative experiences were the Vietnam War, the urban rebellions of the 1960s and the Watergate crisis, and they came to reject the hypocrisy, social conservatism and anti-communism of the church and state. There was never any indication in Russert’s public persona that he drew any critical conclusions from these experiences.

In 1976, after graduating from university and law school, Russert worked on the senatorial campaign of Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who made his name by attacking the poor and blaming them for their own poverty, and served as Moynihan’s chief of staff for five years. Russert then worked for Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, before leaving politics and going to work for NBC in 1984. One of his initial accomplishments was arranging for Pope Paul II’s first interview on American television.

Russert became a household name during the period of the severe decline of the American media, when ignorance, superficiality and cynicism became the hallmarks of all that passed for news and analysis. It is worth noting that in its original format “Meet the Press” had a single guest and a panel of questioners. It went through various permutations, until “Under Russert,” as one commentator notes, “the show was expanded to one hour, and became less of a televised press conference and more focused on Russert, with longer interviews and Russert hosting panels of experts.”

He became immensely wealthy in the process, like many of his media colleagues. Russert’s 6,220-square-foot vacation home on Nantucket Island, for instance, was valued at $7.2 million in 2008. When reminded of his humble beginnings and eventual success, Russert would apparently exclaim, “What a great country!” No—what bad times!

The media, especially NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, has devoted hours to coverage of Russert’s death. Why? What is being mourned? Human beings, even famous ones, die every day. There are individuals who have made significant contributions in the arts, sciences and even journalism whose deaths go largely unnoticed.

In the case of Russert, it would not be possible for his eulogists to produce a single one of his broadcasts that would evoke a significant emotional, let alone intellectual response—where one would watch and appreciate his insight. There is no “moment” remotely comparable to Murrow’s denunciation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy or Walter Cronkite’s criticism of the Vietnam War on CBS. There is not even a narration of an honest television documentary into some troubling aspect of the American social reality. There is next to nothing
News & Analysis
Detainee torture: further proof of US government criminality

McCain and Vietnam: revising history to pave the way for new wars

Iraq: New offensive targets Sadrist movement in Amarah

US: Officials warn of more levee breaks as Midwest flooding spreads

Government price hikes and war cause devastating inflation in Sri Lanka

Britain: Scottish National Party steps up independence rhetoric

Fighting erupts over Eritrean armed incursion into Djibouti

Canada: CAW bureaucracy ends protest at GM headquarters

Report to United Nations indicts Britain for mistreating children

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tragic Traps: Make a Mistake in America and You Will Pay Plenty

The justice system in this country is truly sick. Anybody that really cares about justice ought to read this.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It’s not tough to be stupid
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Given the wholesale failure of the Bush presidency and the
bankruptcy of Republican ideology, Sen. John McCain’s only shot at the
White House is to caricature Sen. Barack Obama as an elitist girly-man
who can’t keep America safe. Unfortunately, Obama has given GOP
propagandists a fair amount to work with. Although the national press
ignored it during the great anti-Clinton crusade, his Chicago past is
replete with potential embarrassments. One example: Remember when
everybody got huffy at ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for asking Obama
about William Ayers, the Weather Underground radical who bombed the
Pentagon in 1972? Obama described him as an “English professor” and
slight acquaintance who happened to live in his neighborhood. That was
disingenuous at best. Ayers is a professor of education and a prominent
figure in Chicago school circles, sufficiently well-known that Mayor
Richard M. Daley publicly defended him from Stephanopoulos’
insinuations. Moreover, one of Obama’s earliest Chicago jobs was as the
director of a controversial school reform organization in which Ayers
was a major player. (Ayers’ father once ran Commonwealth Edison, the
city’s electric utility.) Obama’s earliest political fund-raiser in 1995
was held at Ayers’ home. They appeared together in forums at the
University of Chicago for whom the school’s public relations contact
was, yes, Michelle Obama.

I’m prepared to believe that Ayers has matured. Nor is Obama responsible
for acts Ayers committed when Obama was 8. So why does it matter? Partly
because a publicity photo for Ayers’ 1993 book, “Fugitive Days: A
Memoir,” telling the story of his anti-Vietnam radicalism shows the
bespectacled professor wiping his feet on an American flag. He’s also
boasted about never going to prison despite his terrorist acts. Obama
favorably reviewed the book in the Chicago Tribune. Puts a new spin on
his mockery of Baby Boomer “psychodrama,” no?

Partly, too, because while the Clinton campaign was too dainty to use
such inflammatory imagery, Republican operatives won’t be. As with Rev.
Jeremiah Wright’s bizarre ramblings, it strikes me as evidence of (A)
political immaturity, (B) arrogance or (C) both for Obama not to have
given Ayers his “Sister Souljah” moment years ago. Also as with Wright,
his first instinct was to dissemble. Did even Obama’s most enthusiastic
supporters ever believe that “God damn America” was news to him?

Republican TV ads depicting Hillary Clinton calling Obama “naïve” are
merely the opening gambit. Things are sure to get very rough before it’s
over. The national media will join in. Just yesterday, somebody sent me
a cbsnews. com article headlined, “Obama’s Radical-Left Ties Broad and
Deep.” It’s filled with information that the press neglected during the
anti-Hillary bitch hunt.

Maybe I’ve lived too long in the South, ground zero in the GOP’s
“Southern Strategy.” And maybe Obama can transcend it all with feel-good
rhetoric about “change,” possibly not the most original political
slogan, but something everybody wants.

I’d also bet a lot that the only way he offers Clinton the
vice-presidential nomination is as political theater after she’s
privately agreed to turn it down. Why would she choose VP over Senate
majority leader, a more powerful job definitely within her reach? Were I
Obama, I’d take a long look at Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel: a
strong conservative, an Iraq war skeptic from the get-go, a Vietnam
combat veteran and a serious man.

Obama’s initial outing at last week’s AIPAC convention—American Israel
Public Affairs Committee—didn’t do much to foster confidence. Seeking to
win over Jewish voters leery of the Wright/Farrakhan ties, he came off
as a bigger Likudnik (Israeli neo-conservative) than Clinton, and that’s
going some. Obama drew applause by declaring that the city of Jerusalem
“must remain undivided” under Israeli rule. After Palestinian leaders
objected, he backtracked within 24 hours, retreating to the Bush
administration’s more sensible view that Jerusalem’s status be
negotiated during peace talks.

So how does Obama get around the “naïve” business? Not by dissembling,
but fighting back. Consider Jerusalem, for example. You wouldn’t call
the hardline Likudnik position naïve. Words like “delusional,” and
“tribal,” however, do come to mind. Sacred to all three monotheistic
religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—Jerusalem was a divided city
from 1948 to 1967, when the Israelis conquered it by force. Its hundreds
of thousands of Palestinian residents, whose ancestors have lived there
since biblical times, are not considered Israeli citizens and cannot
vote. Meanwhile, Israelis keep taking Palestinian land for illegal
settlements as the Arab slums fester and decay. So long as these things
are true, there can never be peace or justice. The great majority of
Israeli citizens understand that. So do most American Jews. So does
Obama. Instead of mimicking McCain’s cartoonish neo-conservatism, he
owes it to the American people to explain that ignoring reality isn’t
evidence of strength, but stupidity.

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

Monday, June 09, 2008

News & Analysis
US Air Force purge: Growing tensions within a militarized state

Senate report on Bush war lies: Another cover-up of war crimes

Largest US unemployment spike in 22 years

The world food crisis and the capitalist market
Part One

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Human rights group charges: US continues “renditions” and operates a floating gulag

By David Walsh
3 June 2008

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

In a new report, the human rights organization Reprieve (UK) alleges that the US government has continued its program of “rendition” and secret imprisonment — despite a claim by George W. Bush in 2006 that the illegal practices had been stopped — and also that it holds an unknown number of “ghost” detainees aboard US navy vessels.

The report has not been issued, but Reprieve made a press release available Monday and the Guardian in Britain carried a story the same day providing some of the study’s details.

According to the Guardian, the rights group “claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition [handing prisoners over to regimes likely to torture them] since 2006.” Reprieve points to Bush’s statement on September 6, 2006 that “the secret prisons are now empty,” and says this is not true. Reprieve and other human rights groups, writes the newspaper, “have uncovered over 200 new cases of rendition and secret detention. Many prisoners remain unaccounted for, held without any legal protection.”

In its press release, Reprieve cites the comment of its director, Clive Stafford Smith: “By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”

As for the detainees held on US ships, Reprieve alleges in its statement that as many as 17 ships have been employed as “floating prisons” since 2001, and that the “prisoners have been interrogated under torturous conditions before being rendered to other, often undisclosed locations.”

The details have emerged from various sources, including the US military and Bush administration officials, the Council of Europe, parliamentary bodies and journalists, “as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves.”

Ships that are known to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu. An additional 15 ships operating around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, used as a military base by the UK and the US, are suspected by Reprieve of being involved in the practice.

The Guardian notes that the forthcoming human rights report “will raise particular concerns over the activities of the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007 conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaida terrorists.”

At that time many individuals were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces and interrogated by what were most likely FBI and CIA agents. “Ultimately more than 100 individuals were ‘disappeared’ to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time,” reports the Guardian.

Prisoners believed by Reprieve to have been imprisoned on board US ships include Ibn Al Sheikh Al Libi, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, John Walker Lindh, and David Hicks.

Sheikh Al Libi, the alleged number three in Al Qaeda, was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. He was handed over to the US and held on the USS Bataan. According to Reprieve, “Information derived from Sheikh Al Libi under torture in Egypt—later recanted and admitted by the Administration to be false—was relied upon by George Bush and Colin Powell as justification for going to war in Iraq. Instead of being taken to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006 with the fourteen other ‘high-value detainees’, Sheikh Al Libi was returned to Libya where he is apparently being held incommunicado and is dying of untreated tuberculosis.”

The Guardian provides the account of a former Guantánamo detainee who passed on another inmate’s description of being held on board an amphibious assault ship: “One of my fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantánamo ... he was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo.”

The allegations about an American “floating gulag” are not new. In June 2004 Human Rights First issued a report (“Ending Secret Detentions”) on the network of secret global prisons operated by the US. It alleged that in addition to the notorious US military prisons at Guantánamo, Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib, “there are detention facilities that multiple sources have reported are maintained by the United States in various officially undisclosed locations, including facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, on the British possession of Diego Garcia, and on U.S. war ships at sea.” US officials refused to confirm or deny the existence of such facilities.

A year later the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism, Manfred Nowak, told the Agence France Presse wire service in June 2005 that there were “very, very serious accusations that the United States is maintaining secret camps, notably on ships,” adding that the vessels were believed to be in the Indian Ocean region.

The AFP commented: “The use of prison ships would allow investigators to interrogate people secretly and in international waters out of the reach of US law, British security expert Francis Tusa said.

“‘This opens the door to very tough interrogations on key prisoners before it even has been revealed that they have been captured,’ said Tusa, an editor for the British magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review.”

The American media has been largely uninterested in the existence of a global network of torture facilities, but the Washington Post did carry a piece in December 2004 on a secret ‘camp within a camp’ at Guantánamo, in which it commented in passing, “CIA detention facilities have been located on an off-limits corner of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, on ships at sea and on Britain’s Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean.”

However, in November 2005, in a more extensive piece on the CIA’s secret prisons, a Post reporter wrote: “One early idea was to keep them on ships in international waters, but that was discarded for security and logistics reasons.” This seems to have been a piece of misinformation.

In response to Reprieve’s new allegations, a US navy spokesman, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, told the Guardian: “There are no detention facilities on US navy ships.” Gordon qualified this denial by adding that it was a matter of public record that certain individuals had been put on ships “for a few days” during what he termed the initial days of detention. (In one of the few cases whose details are known, John Walker Lindh was held for nearly six weeks on two US navy vessels.) Gordon “declined to comment on reports that US naval vessels stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as ‘prison ships.’”

Such denials, of course, are meaningless. They contradict comments made previously by US military spokespeople.

In December 2001, for example, General Tommy Franks acknowledged that the US was holding Lindh on one of its vessels, when he told the press, “We will continue to control him on the Peleliu until the determination is made regarding whether we handle him within the military or whether he is handled on the civilian side.”

Also in 2001, questioned about the purpose of detaining prisoners on ships, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, spokesman for the US joint chiefs of staff, admitted the practice, when he replied, “I don’t know the specifics. Central command determines for either medical considerations, for the protection of those individuals, for the isolation in the sense of not having forces that would try to come get somebody out of a detention centre, for a security aspect, and obviously an interest to continue interrogation.”

Reprieve’s Stafford Smith commented this week, “The US administration chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their human rights.”

See Also:
FBI files indict Bush, Cheney, and Co. as war criminals
[23 May 2008]

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A cat among the pigeons

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Samuel Johnson, the iconoclastic 18th century English essayist, put
it best: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” So,
sure, former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan
compiled his memoirs with an eye toward making a buck. Since when are
Republicans opposed to profit? McClellan’s memoir, “What Happened:
Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” has
caused quite a stir. But can there be any American not currently on the
White House payroll who doesn’t know that the administration hoodwinked
the nation into invading Iraq with a tidal wave of meretricious
propaganda? Condi Rice alibis that President Bush never intended to
mislead the public and “was very clear about the reasons for going to
war.” Yeah, well, I recall Rice testifying under oath that a CIA
briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” was
“historical” in nature, before its contents were declassified and
everybody saw that it had predicted everything but the precise location
of the 9/11 attacks before they happened. Bush went fishing.

McClellan calls Rice “sometimes too accommodating” as national security
adviser. She was worse than that. Her 9/11 testimony exhibited two
qualities essential to rising in the Bush administration: shameless
sycophancy and an incapacity to be embarrassed. Give her the motorcade
and the big corner office and there’s no falsehood so brazen that Condi
won’t embrace it.

Then there’s Bush himself, whom Mc-Clellan depicts as a charming fellow
who frequently “convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the
moment” and engages in “self-deception.” Do tell. Would this be the same
president who’s repeatedly claimed that Saddam Hussein forced him to
invade Iraq by refusing to admit U.N. arms inspectors? This despite the
fact that mocking those inspectors’ incompetence—never mind they proved
100 percent correct about Iraq’s nonexistent “weapons of mass
destruction” —kept White House imagineers busy until the “shock and awe”
bombardment began.

So which do you believe, your president or your lying eyes? The sheer
brazenness of Bush’s fictions suggests a classic con-man’s personality:
intellectually insecure, but inwardly contemptuous of how gullible and
easily manipulated people are. He may even buy into that make-believe
about Saddam at some level. Even for a stone sociopath, a story’s an
easier sell when it’s halfway sincere. But his strongest belief is that
George W. Bush is a big cat in a world of pigeons.

McClellen even reports overhearing Bush telling a supporter that he
couldn’t remember if he ever used cocaine. If you believe that, chances
are your brains are made of feathers.

Granted, for McClellan to suggest that the Bush White House’s critical
mistake was “a decision to turn away from candor and honesty when those
qualities were most needed” suggests an only-virgin-in-the-whorehouse
naiveté not in keeping with his performance as press secretary. Writing
at salon. com, Louis Bayard reminds us that the Texan was particularly
unpersuasive: “Watch McClellan’s old press briefings and you’ll see a
man who is deeply uncomfortable,” he writes, adding: “His eyes are wary,
his manner stiff—his evasions actually sound like evasions.”

But what really provided sardonic amusement during the book’s roll-out
was the disingenuous reaction of the high-dollar press.

“If anything,” McClellan wrote, “the national press corps was probably
too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard
to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in
Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.

“The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became
apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a
surprise.... In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its
reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

Got that, pigeons? The Bush administration’s former press spokesman
surrounds the phrase “liberal media” with ironical quotes to indicate
what most people with the intellectual acumen of a basset hound already
know: that far from being an independent check on government power,
today’s corporate controlled, courtier-dominated Washington/ New York
media function as reliably, and far more smoothly, to advance White
House propaganda than McClellan himself ever did. But this is
unthinkable, so the networks, Glenn Greenwald noted, rolled out “their
full stable of multimillionaire corporate stars who play the role of
authoritative journalists on the TV to join with their White House
allies in mocking and deriding McClellan’s claims. One media star after
the next—Tom Brokaw, David Gregory, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams,
Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer—materialized in sync to insist that nothing
could be more absurd than the suggestion that they are ‘deferential,
complicit enablers’ in government propaganda.” That said, quality
journalism definitely got done amid the Iraq propaganda barrage. One
news organization, then Knight Ridder, now McClatchy, and a handful of
terrific reporters—Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, Joe Galloway, etc.
—were all over this story back when it counted. See their response to
McClellan at washingtonbureau. typepad. com / nationalsecurity/.

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

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

War Criminals Must Fear Punishment.

That's why I went for John Bolton

As long as the greatest crime of the 21st century remains unprosecuted, we all have a duty to keep the truth alive

By George Monbiot

03/06/08 "
The Guardian" -- - I realise now that I didn't have a hope. I had almost reached the stage when two of the biggest gorillas I have ever seen swept me up and carried me out of the tent. It was humiliating, but it could have been worse. The guard on the other side of the stage, half hidden in the curtains, had spent the lecture touching something under his left armpit. Perhaps he had bubos.

I had no intention of arresting John Bolton, the former under-secretary of state at the US state department, when I arrived at the Hay festival. But during a panel discussion about the Iraq war, I remarked that the greatest crime of the 21st century had become so normalised that one of its authors was due to visit the festival to promote his book. I proposed that someone should attempt a citizens' arrest, in the hope of instilling a fear of punishment among those who plan illegal wars. After the session I realised that I couldn't call on other people to do something I wasn't prepared to do myself.

I knew that I was more likely to be arrested and charged than Mr Bolton. I had no intention of harming him, or of acting in any way that could be interpreted as aggressive, but had I sought only to steer him gently towards the police I might have faced a range of exotic charges, from false imprisonment to aggravated assault. I was prepared to take this risk. It is not enough to demand that other people act, knowing that they will not. If the police, the courts and the state fail to prosecute what the Nuremberg tribunal described as "the supreme international crime", I believe we have a duty to seek to advance the process.

The Nuremberg principles, which arose from the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, define as an international crime the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances". Bolton appears to have "participated in a common plan" to prepare for the war (also defined by the principles as a crime) by inserting the false claim that Iraq was seeking to procure uranium from Niger into a state department factsheet. He also organised the sacking of José Bustani, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, accusing him of bad management. Bustani had tried to broker a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Some of the most pungent criticisms of my feeble attempt to bring this man to justice have come from other writers for the Guardian. Michael White took a position of extraordinary generosity towards the instigators of the war. There are "arguments on both sides", he contended on the Guardian politics blog. Bustani might have received compensation after his sacking by Bolton, "but Bolton says that does not mean much". In fact, Bustani was not only compensated at his tribunal, he was completely exonerated of Bolton's accusations and his employers were obliged to pay special damages.

White suggested that Iraq might indeed have been seeking uranium from Niger, on the grounds of a conversation he once had with an MI6 officer. Alongside the British government's 45-minute claim, this must be the best-documented of all the false justifications for the war with Iraq. In 2002, the United States government sent three senior officials to Niger to investigate the claim. All reported that it was without foundation. The International Atomic Energy Agency discovered that it was based on crude forgeries. This assessment was confirmed by the state department's official Greg Thielmann, who reported directly to John Bolton. No evidence beyond the forged documents has been provided by either the US or the UK governments to support their allegation.

White also gives credence to Bolton's claims that the war in 2003 was justified by two UN resolutions - 678 and 687 - which were approved in 1990 and 1991, and that it was permitted by article 51 of the UN charter. The attempt to revive resolutions 678 and 687 was the last, desperate throw of the dice by the Blair government when all else had failed. When it became clear that it could not obtain a new UN resolution authorising force against Iraq, the government dusted down the old ones, which had been drafted in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

This revival formed the basis of Lord Goldsmith's published advice on March 17 2003. It was described as "risible" and "scrap[ing] the bottom of the legal barrel" by Lord Alexander, a senior law lord. After the first Gulf war, Colin Powell, General Sir Peter de la Billiere and John Major all stated that the UN's resolutions permitted them only to expel the Iraqi army from Kuwait, and not to overthrow the Iraqi government. Lord Goldsmith himself, in the summer of 2002, advised Tony Blair that resolutions 678 and 687 could not be used to justify a new war with Iraq.

Article 51 of the UN charter is comprehensible to anyone but the lawyers employed by the Bush administration. States have a right to self-defence "if an armed attack occurs against" them, and then only until the UN security council can intervene. On what occasion did Iraq attack the United States? Is there any claim made by the Blair and Bush governments that Michael White is not prepared to believe?

Conor Foley, writing on Comment is free, suggested that my action "completely trivialises the serious case" against the Iraq war and claimed that I was seeking to "imprison ... people because of their political opinions", as if Bolton were simply a commentator on the war, and not an agent. Does he really believe that the former under-secretary did not "participate in a common plan" to initiate the war with Iraq? What other conceivable purpose might the state department's misleading factsheet have served? And what more serious action can someone who is neither a law lord nor a legislator take? Bolton himself maintains that my attempt to bring him to justice reflects a "move towards lawlessness and fascism". This is an interesting commentary on an attempt to uphold a law which arose from the prosecution of fascists.

But there is one charge I do accept: that my chances of success were very slight. Apart from the 300-pound gorillas, the main obstacle I faced was that although the crime of aggression, as defined by the Nuremberg principles, has been incorporated into the legislation of many countries, it has not been assimilated into the laws of England and Wales. This does not lessen the crime but it means that it cannot yet be tried here. This merely highlights another injustice: while the British state is prepared to punish petty misdemeanours with vindictive ferocity, it will not legislate against the greatest crime of all, lest it expose itself to prosecution.

But demonstration has two meanings. Non-violent direct action is both a protest and an exposition. It seeks to demonstrate truths which have been overlooked or forgotten. I sought to remind people that the greatest crime of the 21st century remains unprosecuted, and remains a great crime. If you have read this far, I have succeeded.