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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

News & Analysis
Stocks plunge on Wall Street as bailout fails in Congress

US government brokers Citigroup takeover of Wachovia Bank

US-Pakistani skirmish points to threat of wider war

Israel's plan to attack Iran confirmed

Germany: Left Party leader supports Wall Street bailout

Political power struggle in Malaysia continues unabated

Amid allegations of Enron-style fraud
Major Australian child care corporation at risk of bankruptcy

Monday, September 29, 2008

News & Analysis
Democrats take charge of pushing through Bush's bailout of Wall Street

The Obama-McCain debate: Right-wing politicians agree on bailout and militarism

Fighting intensifies as Sri Lankan army advances on LTTE stronghold

Finland: Second school shooting in less than a year

Afghanistan: US, NATO, Karzai regime investigate Azizabad massacre

Indian CEO killed after negotiations with group of dismissed workers go awry

Philippine government renews its communal war in Mindanao

Saturday, September 27, 2008

IRAQ: The Biggest Hospitals Become Sick

Inter Press Service
By Arkan Hamed and Dahr Jamail

BAGHDAD, Sep 25 (IPS) - Not even the elevators work now at Baghdad Medical City, built once as the centre for some of the best medical care.

One of the ten elevators still does, and the priority for this is patients who have lost their legs -- and there are many of them. The rest, the doctors, patients and students at the four specialised teaching hospitals within the building complex, just take the stairs, sometimes to the 18th floor.

This is in a city that had been given dreams of great development five years back, around the time of the U.S.-led invasion. And much of the corporate-led media in the U.S. and Europe still insists that the situation in Baghdad has "improved".

The improvement that such media sees, no one in Iraq does. As with Baghdad Medical City, so with Baghdad, and so with Iraq. The elevators are just another reminder of a country that's not working.

"It's so bad here that patients who are moderate cases don't come for treatment at all," says Abdul Razak, an elevator serviceman at the complex. "They just send a family member to describe their condition and collect medicine."

It's a hard day's work for Razak when he is operating the elevator. "The smell of my sweat mixes with the smell of at least 20 other people who crowd into the lift." It gets less sweaty to the extent there are more wheelchairs.

Razak has been doing his job for the last ten years, the first five of them quite happy ones. "We used to have a special elevator just for doctors and professors," he says. "But by now most have left, and some have been killed. I know three doctors who have been killed."

Past the elevators and up the stairs, it gets worse.

"There is no air-conditioning in the building, when temperatures can be 48C, almost no qualified staff to serve patients, no antibiotics, and sometimes not even basic material for intravenous treatment," says Dr. Samir Abdul Zahra, who treats patients while also doing his medical studies.

There are no senior doctors around. "Most of them left because of the situation in the city, the lack of security," Dr. Zahra says. And that affects teaching as much as treatment. "We are educating ourselves now. This means also that young doctors are taking on complex cases they are simply not qualified to deal with."

This dilemma is particularly acute at Baghdad Medical City because it is the largest medical complex in Iraq, and the most serious cases are usually taken to this hospital.

At this complex now, it is not even safe to drink tap water any more. Sometimes doctors cannot find water even to wash their hands. Equipment is often not sterilised.

And the prescriptions they write can mean little. "Most of the medicines we have here are out of date, and we lack almost all basic antibiotics," says Dr. Saad Abu Al-Noor, a pharmacist at the supply warehouse at Baghdad Medical City. "We cannot get medicines from the stores because of lack of security, and because there is just too much corruption all over."

Patients in need or their family members are sent out to the shops to buy catheters, disposable syringes and essential medicines, Dr. Noor said. "If the patient is lucky, he can find the items on the black market. And then the question is if they can afford these things. The price is ten to 20 times higher than it should be."

And finally, when all is at hand for the very few, and a doctor of some kind is available, electricity is often lacking for serious treatment. The hospital gets about two hours of electricity a day. It has some generators, but these have to be cut out frequently.

The Medical City, located in central Baghdad, includes the Baghdad University College of Medicine. The largest hospital in the complex is the Surgical Specialties Hospital built in 1980. The second largest is the Baghdad Teaching Hospital, built in the early 1970s, which contains the out patient clinics and the emergency department. The complex has over a thousand beds for patients.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gore urges civil disobedience to stop coal plants

Wed Sep 24, 2008 3:29pm EDT

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmental crusader Al Gore urged young people on Wednesday to engage in civil disobedience to stop the construction of coal plants without the ability to store carbon.

The former U.S. vice president, whose climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Academy Award, told a philanthropic meeting in New York City that "the world has lost ground to the climate crisis."

"If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration," Gore told the Clinton Global Initiative gathering to loud applause.

"I believe for a carbon company to spend money convincing the stock-buying public that the risk from the global climate crisis is not that great represents a form of stock fraud because they are misrepresenting a material fact," he said. "I hope these state attorney generals around the country will take some action on that."

The government says about 28 coal plants are under construction in the United States. Another 20 projects have permits or are near the start of construction.

Scientists say carbon gases from burning fossil fuel for power and transport are a key factor in global warming.

Carbon capture and storage could give coal power an extended lease on life by keeping power plants' greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere and easing climate change.

But no commercial-scale project exists anywhere to demonstrate the technology, partly because it is expected to increase up-front capital costs by an additional 50 percent.

So-called geo-sequestration of carbon sees carbon dioxide liquefied and pumped into underground rock layers for long term storage.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Christine Kearney and Xavier Briand)

Financial wizards try to clean up own mess
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If President Bush seems oddly unshaken, what with a 19 percent approval
rating and an astonishing zero percent of the public optimistic about
the economy, it’s because for him, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra,
the Wall Street meltdown basically amounts to déjà vu all over again.
Previous to inheriting the White House, financial crises were the story
of Bush’s life. He’d talk college friends into backing a Texas wildcat
oil venture, drill some dry holes, then get bought out by Daddy’s
friends at a profit. Before Daddy’s friends bought the Texas Rangers,
his biggest payday came from cashing out of a troubled oil company days
ahead of a lousy earnings report. Sure, there was that Securities and
Exchange Commission investigation into allegations of insider trading,
but Poppy Bush was president, so you know how far that went; the inquiry
ended in 1993 without any charges being filed. Joe Conason narrated the
sordid tale for Harper’s back in 2000, but nobody wanted to hear it. The
make-believe Texas rancher was a “compassionate conservative” everybody
wanted to have a beer with. So now we’re all in what Poppy once called
“deep doodoo,” and the same brilliant economic team that assured us that
all was well two weeks ago warns, in Paul Krugman’s words, that “the sky
is falling, and that to save the world we have to do exactly what it
says now now now.”

People have often said that if fascism came to America, it would arrive
with a smiley face, so maybe it’s fitting that if we’re going to have
Marxist-style fiscal nationalization, it should mainly benefit
multimillionaires—socialism for the wealthy, market discipline for you
and me.

Judging by the plan sketched out by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson,
henceforth to be known as the nation’s “money czar,” he must imagine God
as a celestial real estate agent with lots of listings in Greenwich,
Conn., where Wall Street tycoons erect competing palaces.

A recent New Yorker article by Nick Paumgarten limned the scene. Uncle
Scrooge McDuck’s mansion would be a tear-down opportunity for these
jokers. Only one bullion pool to dabble in? Rather like John and Cindy
McCain, they require 35,000 square feet, 10-car garages, and indoor and
outdoor heated pools, along with movie theaters, basketball arenas, wine
cellars, skeet shooting ranges and servants quarters modeled upon
Versailles. Literally.

They’re not so much houses as theme parks, the theme being fathomless
greed and elemental primate status frenzy: basic chimp stuff. Except,
oops, foreclosures are mounting in Greenwich, too.

Money czar Paulson definitely knows the territory. In 2005, his last
full year as CEO of the (now shaky) investment bank Goldman Sachs, he
was paid a reported $38 million as investors were persuaded to buy
so-called mortgage-backed securities based upon loans that will never be

At bottom, Republican economic thinking has been based upon two
manifestly false ideas. The first, endlessly flogged by Rush Limbaugh
and his cohorts, is that sharply reducing taxes on people like the
Bushes, the Paulsons and the McCains results in increased government
revenue and greater prosperity for all. In practice, it’s led to
staggering budget deficits, decreasing opportunity and rising
inequality. More palaces, fewer jobs.

The second is an updated version of the early Christian Pelagian heresy,
denying the universality of original sin. Always and everywhere
denouncing government oversight and regulation of banks, investment
firms, brokerage houses and insurance companies, free-market
fundamentalists assured us that the financial system was inherently
self-regulating. Gentleman geniuses presided; greed was a cardinal
virtue. The result was the creation of a gigantic Ponzi scheme.

The quaint concept of due diligence vanished from the financial system
from bottom to top. Fee-churning brokers sold adjustable-rate mortgages
on over-valued real estate to suckers incapable of making the payments,
then pawned off the bad loans on speculators who repackaged them as (now
worthless) securities. Nobody ever expected to pay. A greater fool would
borrow more to buy the property tomorrow.

Persons like Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul
Krugman, who warned that the speculative bubble was sure to burst with
potentially catastrophic consequences, were scorned as backward-thinking
pessimists and lampooned for their clumsy prose. Fearing collapse,
Paulson demands an estimated $700 billion blank check to buy up the bad
paper from his Wall Street friends. Here’s his idea of taking
responsibility: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of
this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may
not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”
Everybody says that something like what Paulson proposes must be done.
Everybody’s probably right. Democrats, moreover, aren’t without blame.
Bill Clinton signed legislation greatly reducing regulatory safeguards
in 1999. We must now pray that the financial wizards who created this
maze can find their way out. Meantime, here’s a phrase that should
vanish from the language forever: “Republican fiscal conservative.”

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

Gene Lyons's Column from 9/17/2008

Without exception
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2008

By actual count, Sen. John McCain has favored five of the last two
American wars. For the GOP presidential nominee, it’s evidently not
enough to have U. S. troops stalemated in Iraq and losing ground in
Afghanistan. If McCain had his way, we’d be at war with nations
stretching from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas. It’s legitimate to
wonder where he thinks the Pentagon would find the soldiers. Definitely
not at the “think tanks” where the neo-conservative loons who dreamed up
this grandiose scheme of world domination hang out, that’s for sure.
Dubious readers should examine a world map. Since 9/11, McCain, who’s
rarely seen a bombing target he doesn’t like, has not only vigorously
advocated attacking Iraq, a conflict he championed a year before
President Bush caught the fever, but also has proposed to deal with the
Middle East’s 1,200-year-old Sunni-Shiite schism by giving both sides an
ultimatum to “stop the bull ****.”

Now comes his excellent vice-presidential nominee, Alaska’s 1984 Miss
Congeniality, to suggest war with Russia, a nation whose remote Siberian
arctic is dimly visible from the Aleutian Islands. Gov. Sarah Palin
imagines that this qualifies her as a foreign policy thinker. Meanwhile,
it’d be interesting to know if she’s heard of Napoleon Bonaparte or
Adolf Hitler, who actually tried invading Russia.

Readers who suspect exaggeration are mistaken. Sarcasm, yes;
overstatement, alas, no. In the waning years of the American empire,
grandiose bluster about waging war against the theological concept of
evil masquerades as “tough.” Seduced by bombastic slogans like “global
war on terror,” “ shock and awe, ” and “full-spectrum dominance,” much
of the public holds an instinctive belief in the myth of American
invincibility that makes sensible election year discussion of foreign
policy impossible. Anything hinting at geopolitical realism draws
accusations of cowardice and defeatism from hairy-chested patriots.

Don’t I know the world is full of evildoers? Yes, and I also know that
history is replete with the collapse of empires that became overextended
militarily and overwhelmed by debt.

Andrew J. Bacevich defines the problem in his astringent new book, “The
Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” A West Point
graduate and retired U.S. Army colonel, Bacevich teaches international
relations at Boston University. Although he’s reluctant to talk about it
in the context of his book, his son, 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, died
serving in Iraq last year.

Bacevich argues compellingly that America’s most dangerous problems
begin at home. By “exceptionalism,” he means the myth that the U.S. won
both world wars almost single-handed due to the innate superiority of
our economic system and the American warrior spirit, and—people like
Palin insist—because we’re uniquely favored by God.

It takes nothing from the heroes of Normandy and Iwo Jima to observe
that the gods are always on the emperor’s side. Until they aren’t

Bacevich basically thinks that America has grown fat, dumb and lazy.

“The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism,” he
writes, “has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on
imported oil and on credit. The chief desire of the American people is
that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil and
that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that
desire, which it does in part through the distribution of largesse here
at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad.”

Borrowing a phrase from historian Charles Maier, he writes that since
World War II, the U.S. has become an “empire of consumption” instead of
production, rendering Americans “no longer masters of their own fate.”
Where Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoined citizens to make sacrifices, Bush
urged them to go shopping and visit Disneyland; hence, we find ourselves
reacting to the insane criminal conspiracy that is al-Qa’ida by
launching a grandiose, ultimately doomed effort to remake the Middle
East by force.

Even Gen. David Petraeus’ masterful handling of “the surge” —more a
combination of diplomacy, police work and bribery than warfare—has been
misinterpreted by McCain as a military triumph enabling the U.S. not to
exit Iraq but to go blundering ever wider and deeper into the folly
conservatives once derided as nation-building. Bacevich endorses neither
presidential candidate. Given the decayed state of the Republic, he
recently told Bill Moyers, “People run for the presidency in order to
become imperial presidents.” Under new leadership, however, there’s some
chance of a gradual return to reality. Elect McCain and we’re due for a
hard landing.

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama vows not to rescind tax cuts for the rich if recession deepens

By Bill Van Auken
9 September 2008

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Backing away from one more of his meager campaign promises, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has said he would reconsider his proposal to rescind the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the rich when he takes office if the US economy is in recession.

The continuing retreat by the Democrats and their candidate has only emboldened the Republican Party, which continues its uncompromising defense of the financial elite, while portraying the extreme right-wing program of its candidates, Senator John McCain and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, as some kind of reform agenda for shaking up Washington.

In an interview aired Sunday by ABC’s “This Week” program, Obama cast doubt on whether he would seek to implement the modest increases that would go into effect for those earning more than $250,000 a year, by ending the Bush tax reductions.

Obama appeared on the program after being briefed on the impending government seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two insolvent mortgage loan giants, and just two days after the Labor Department announced that unemployment had hit a five-year high.

That the US economy will be in a recession come January increasingly appears to be a foregone conclusion.

In the interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the following exchange took place:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, even if we’re in a recession next January, you come into office, you’ll still go through with your tax increases.

OBAMA: No, no, no, no, no, no. What I’ve said, George, is that, even if we’re still in a recession, I’m going to go through with my tax cuts. That’s my priority.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not the increases?

OBAMA: I think we’ve got to take a look and see where the economy is. I mean, the economy is weak right now. The news with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, I think, along with the unemployment numbers, indicates that we’re fragile.

The implication of Obama’s statement is that imposing any further tax obligations on America’s financial oligarchy could be excluded if the economy is in serious crisis.

The plan that the Obama campaign originally advanced, and which is incorporated into the Democratic platform, would have restored the top two income tax rates to their pre-2001 levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent, from their current near historic lows of 33 percent and 35 percent.

An additional facet of Obama’s tax plan would set the cutoff amount for the estate tax exemption at $3.5 million. This represents a considerable increase over the current $2 million level, not to mention the $1 million level it would revert to in 2011 without the enactment of new legislation. The Democratic candidate would also reduce the top taxation rate on massive inherited wealth to 45 percent from the 55 percent to which it would return automatically in 2011.

The Republican Party has called for the outright repeal of the tax, which it refers to as the “death tax,” echoing a concerted campaign waged by some of the wealthiest layers within the US financial oligarchy.

That Obama is backing away from even the minimal changes to the tax giveaways to the rich calls into question his entire platform and is a powerful indication that his semi-populist appeals to anger over the economic conditions confronting the vast majority of the population are nothing but empty campaign rhetoric.

Under conditions in which millions of American workers are confronting the loss of their jobs as well as their homes, the Democratic candidate failed to explain why an economic crisis would make untenable any increase in the tax rates for the super-rich.

It should be recalled that during World War II, the tax rate for the top income bracket rose to 90 percent and as late as 1980 was still 70 percent.

Part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, enacted in the depths of the Great Depression, was a wealth tax that increased taxes on the super-rich as well as the corporations in order to pay for limited social welfare programs and public works employment. The Democratic president implemented these measures in large part to stave off the threat of social revolution in the face of growing upheavals within the working class.

Obama’s shying away from any increase in the tax burden on the rich is a clear indication that, should he be elected in November, his administration will enact no significant social programs to ameliorate the conditions confronting the millions of unemployed, the great majority of working people confronted with dramatically declining real wages and the tens of millions trapped in poverty.

Indeed, the Democratic campaign had previously presented the reversion to the earlier tax rates imposed upon the country’s millionaires and billionaires as a source of revenue that would be used to offset the provision of minimal tax breaks for working class and middle class families together with less well defined proposals for social initiatives.

Given the central thrust of Obama’s economic policy—fiscal discipline—the logical corollary of any move away from returning the top tax brackets to the taxation levels of 2001 is the scrapping of these proposals.

In the television interview, Obama criticized his Republican rival from this standpoint, declaring, “John McCain likes to talk about fiscal responsibility, but there is no doubt that his proposals blow a hole through the budget.”

The statement on ABC on taxes has given the lie to the pretense that an Obama presidency would mean reinvigorated spending on education, health care and social welfare, just as his recent statements embracing the US “surge” in Iraq have put paid to the illusions that his was an “antiwar” candidacy.

Why a deepening of the economic recession would make a reversion to even 2001’s low tax rates for the financial elite untenable is something that Obama failed to explain and which his interviewer obviously saw as self-evident.

The underlying conception is that under conditions of economic crisis, any attempt to carry out even the most minimal policy of redistributing wealth would undermine the profit system.

The reality is that no serious changes in terms of employment, living standards, social conditions, health care and education can be undertaken in the US without confronting the most pervasive feature of American society: social inequality.

The vast majority of wealth created by working people has flowed to an ever-narrower layer of society. According to one recent study, between 1997 and 2001 the top 10 percent income bracket accounted for nearly half of the growth in real wages and salaries. Still more staggering, the top 1 percent—those averaging $365,000 annually—appropriated 24 percent of this growth, close to double the amount that went to the hundreds of millions of people who constitute the bottom half of the US economic ladder.

Any genuine attempt to confront the economic crisis from the standpoint of the interests of working people, the great majority of society, would take as its minimal starting point the repeal not only of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but those carried out under the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton, and those of his Republican predecessors Bush Sr. and Reagan.

Obama and the Democrats have no intention of mounting any such challenge to wealth and privilege, much less the exploitative and unequal social order that underlies it.

Elsewhere in the ABC interview, Obama was at pains to emphasize the right-wing character of his program. He reiterated his support for “merit pay” for teachers, a longstanding hobbyhorse of the Republican right.

The candidate predicted he would “have some big arguments with some Democrats about the need to eliminate programs that don’t work, that have just gone on and on ... because of inertia.”

He also repeated his call for beefing up the ranks of the American military. “There are, as you know, a whole bunch of folks on the left who think that that is a waste of money,” Obama said of his plan, which would add another 100,000 soldiers and Marines to the US war machine. “I think it’s important for us to do.”

While taking a hard line against the “left,” Obama and his vice-presidential running mate, Senator Joe Biden, continued to cower before the Republican Party and the extreme right. Both repeatedly dodged questions about the politics of McCain’s own running mate, Sarah Palin.

As ABC News reported following the Sunday interviews, “What became clear is that the Democrats still have not settled on a strategy for responding to Palin.”

In his interview with ABC, Obama called Palin “a skilled politician” and refused to comment on her breathtaking lack of political credentials. For his part, Biden, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” described Palin as “a smart, tough politician,” adding, “and so I, I think she’s going to be more formidable.” Biden went on to claim he had “no idea what her policies are.”

The Democrats are well aware of Palin’s politics. She was chosen for the Republican ticket to appease the extreme right Christian fundamentalist wing that has gained virtual veto power over the Republican Party’s policies and decisions. A virulent opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, an advocate of teaching creationism in public schools and someone who has enjoyed intimate ties to forces that can best be described as theocratic fascist, the very possibility that someone like Palin could be placed “a heart-beat away” from the US presidency is an immense political issue in the 2008 election.

Yet the Democrats have made a deliberate decision to avoid any confrontation with these politics, instead seeking to accommodate themselves to religious backwardness and the political right.

The most recent polls have indicated significant gains for McCain. A voter survey released by USA Today-Gallop Monday showed McCain ahead by 54 percent to 44 percent for Obama among voters most likely to go to the polls in November.

While the media and the Democrats have attributed this swing to a post-Republican convention “bounce” and to enthusiasm for Palin, a more plausible explanation is declining support for Obama and the Democrats as their policies become ever more indistinguishable from those of McCain and the Republicans.

With every day of the election campaign, it is becoming increasingly clear that an Obama presidency will signal not a turn towards liberal reformism or a turn away from militarism, but rather the use of pseudo-liberal rhetoric to better pursue a continued assault on the basic rights and conditions of the working class at home combined with new and even greater acts of military aggression abroad.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

McCain launches fall campaign as Obama embraces Iraq “surge”

By Patrick Martin
6 September 2008

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The events of Thursday, September 4 demonstrate the two overriding political facts of the 2008 US presidential election campaign: a Republican Party in deep political crisis and widely hated for its program of social reaction and war, and a Democratic Party that represents no alternative whatsoever, galloping to the right.

Senator John McCain gave an acceptance speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention. The 72-year-old candidate, a 26-year veteran of Congress, postured absurdly as the proponent of change, seeking to run as far away as possible from his own party and the Bush administration whose major policies he has supported for the past eight years.

Only a few hours earlier, Democrat Barack Obama, in an interview on Fox television, waved the white flag on what had once been the principal issue in his campaign, the war in Iraq. He told right-wing talk show host Bill O’Reilly that the escalation of US military aggression in Iraq, dubbed the “surge” by Bush and McCain, had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” He went on to threaten military action against Iran as well.

The myth of the “maverick”

The focus of McCain’s speech was his persona as a supposed “maverick” in American politics, an opponent of corruption and “business-as-usual” politics in Washington. The goal of this contrived and false presentation was to distance himself from the Bush administration. McCain spoke for 30 minutes, but never named the president of his own party or took responsibility for the policies of his administration.

Instead, he claimed for himself the status of a tribune of popular anger against official Washington, declaring, “And let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second crowd: Change is coming.”

Both liberal and conservative media representatives noted the preposterous character of this political masquerade. The New York Times wrote, “As Senator John McCain accepted the Republican nomination for president, he and his supporters sounded the call of insurgents seeking to topple the establishment, even though their party heads the establishment.”

Writing in the Washington Post, neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer commented, “The problem is the inherent oddity of the incumbent party running on change. Here were Republicans—the party that controlled the White House for eight years and both houses of Congress for five—wildly cheering the promise to take on Washington. I don’t mean to be impolite, but who’s controlled Washington this decade?”

McCain made an extraordinary admission in the early part of his speech—in a passage greeted with stony silence by the Republican convention delegates. “We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption,” he said.

He did not, of course, acknowledge that it was the launching of a criminal war of aggression in Iraq, and a domestic policy of tax cuts for the wealthy and indifference to the poor—expressed so starkly after Hurricane Katrina—that has made Bush the most unpopular president in recent history. Instead, the Republican candidate claimed that it was the failure of the Republican Party to enact sufficiently right-wing policies on cutting government spending that cost it public support.

McCain’s remarks revealed the political crisis of the Republican Party, which faces a heavy defeat in the congressional elections, both in the House and Senate, and is trailing in the presidential polls, both in the national popular vote and, more significantly, in the state-by-state polls that give Obama a sizeable lead in electoral votes.

Campaign officials have admitted privately that it was his deteriorating position in internal state-by-state polling that triggered McCain’s gamble on the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain abandoned his preferred election strategy of picking Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman or former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge as a running mate and seeking to make inroads in the northeast and industrial Midwest, in favor of mobilizing the Christian fundamentalist base of the party through the nomination of Palin, a political cipher but a fervent opponent of abortion rights.

The myth of Vietnam

Both McCain’s acceptance speech and several of the other major speeches at the convention—by former senator Fred Thompson, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Palin herself—suggested that his principal qualification for the presidency was his military record during the Vietnam War, and especially his six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

The constant invocation of McCain’s POW status gave a militaristic character to the entire Republican convention, whose theme appeared to be that only a former soldier could be entrusted with the office of commander-in-chief. Palin’s speech was typical in that respect, as she sneered at her Democratic opponents for their posturing as “fighters” for working people, declaring, “There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you, in places where winning means survival and defeat means death, and that man is John McCain.”

The depiction of McCain as a man who “fought for freedom” has gone unchallenged in the corporate-controlled media, but it is profoundly and utterly false. The war in Vietnam was not a war for the freedom of the American people; it was a war against the freedom of the Vietnamese people, an attempt by the most powerful imperialist power to enslave or destroy the people of an oppressed former colonial country.

When John McCain arrived at his Navy squadron in 1967, the Vietnamese people were in their 22nd year of a war which began with the uprising against French colonialism in 1945, continued until the historic victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 which shattered the French army, paused for seven years while the French withdrew and were replaced in the southern half of the country by the American-backed puppet regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, and then raged with increasing fury from 1961 until the final victory of the Vietnamese in 1975.

At no time in this epic 30-year struggle was the freedom of the American people ever at stake, except insofar as successive US presidents, Lyndon Johnson and then Richard Nixon, sought to suppress the freedom of the American people to oppose the increasingly unpopular war. It was the exposure of these antidemocratic conspiracies, following the Watergate break-in, that ultimately compelled Nixon to resign as president in August 1974.

This history is a closed book as far as both of the big business parties, Democrats as well as Republicans, are concerned. The media obediently echoes the portrayal of McCain as a war hero and, by implication, the war itself as a noble enterprise. In fact, however, the war in Vietnam was a crime of world-historic dimensions, one that in some respects approaches the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War II.

More American bombs were dropped on that tiny country than the entire bomb tonnage dropped by all combatants in World War II, including the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some 3 million Vietnamese died, and countless more were maimed, tortured, raped or poisoned by chemical weapons like Agent Orange (dioxin) and sarin nerve gas. The cities of North Vietnam were subjected to relentless aerial bombardment against which the population had no defenses.

Those who organized and directed the onslaught on the Vietnamese people were, if the term has any meaning, war criminals. Among those was McCain’s father, Admiral John S. McCain, who was head of the Pentagon’s Pacific Command and had command responsibility for the saturation bombing of North Vietnam. If there had been a Nuremberg-style tribunal after the Vietnam War, McCain’s father would have had a place in dock alongside Johnson, Nixon, McNamara, Westmoreland and other architects of the mass killings.

McCain’s personal role was more modest—he merely delivered the bombs that killed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of innocent Vietnamese. His imprisonment as a POW, however harrowing, was no longer and no more brutal than the treatment meted out by US torturers at Bagram, Guantanamo and the secret CIA prisons, for the most part to men who have done far less than McCain to slaughter other human beings.

Obama on his knees

The most important factor propping up both the Bush administration and the Republican presidential campaign is the complicity and cowardice of the Democratic Party. McCain’s claim to be leading an insurgency against the government of his own party is undoubtedly preposterous, but he is able to adopt this posture with at least a fig leaf of credibility because the Democratic Party does not fulfill the role of an “opposition” party in any serious sense.

Obama’s performance Thursday on Fox television’s “The O’Reilly Factor” was a case in point. After winning the Democratic nomination in large measure because of his purported opposition to the war in Iraq, Obama has sought repeatedly to demonstrate to the US political establishment that he can be a credible commander in chief for American imperialism.

He told O’Reilly that he “absolutely” believed that the United States was engaged in a worldwide war against terrorism, including not only Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but “a whole host of networks that are bent on attacking America who have a distorted ideology.”

Obama described Iran as a “major threat,” and said it would be “unacceptable” to an Obama administration for Iran to possess nuclear weapons. “It would be a game-changer,” he said, adding, “I would never take a military option off the table.” He called for a more aggressive military posture towards Pakistan, the day after a major US military strike within that country.

But his starkest reversal came on Iraq, as O’Reilly pressed him to admit that the Bush administration’s troop “surge,” the escalation of the war by the addition of some 30,000 US combat troops, had been a success. Obama has sought to dance around the issue for months, but he finally embraced the surge emphatically on Thursday.

“I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated,” he said, adding, “It’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” This demonstrates not only Obama’s cringing submission to the pressure of the right wing, but a staggering degree of political blindness. Like Bush, Cheney, McCain and the rest of official Washington, Obama truly believes that US imperialism can, by military force alone, impose its will on the world. His only disagreement is with the Bush administration’s obsessive focus on Iraq, which Obama and many other spokesmen for the military and foreign policy establishment believe has undermined US interests in other parts of the globe.

The Democratic Party is a capitalist party that defends the same social interests as the Republicans—the massive fortunes of the superrich financial aristocracy which is the real ruling force in American society. The Democrats play a specific role in the political division of labor: while the Republicans consistently and unabashedly uphold the rights of the wealthy, the Democrats pretend to represent working people, while ensuring that there is no challenge from below to the profit system.

This division of labor explains the half-hearted and spineless performance of the Democrats in the current presidential campaign. Obama, Biden & Co. are at pains to demonstrate that they will make no appeal to mass discontent that goes beyond what is acceptable to the ruling elite. The Democrats offer their services to the financial oligarchy to win at least a certain degree of mass support for the reactionary program that both parties fundamentally share.

See Also:
Democrats and media cower in face of Republicans’ right-wing demagogy
[5 September 2008]
Obama’s abbreviated Labor Day in Detroit: A sop to the bureaucracy
[3 September 2008]

Friday, September 05, 2008

News & Analysis
US attack inside Pakistan threatens dangerous new war

The Sarah Palin speech:
Democrats and media cower in face of Republicans' right-wing demagogy

Cheney in Georgia: Gunboat diplomacy in pursuit of oil

Productivity rises as US workers see real income cut

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Role of a lifetime: Commander-in-chief
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, September 3, 2008

With presidential elections increasingly resembling what are
inaccurately styled “reality TV” programs, it shouldn’t surprise us to
find U.S. foreign policy treated as an action/ adventure film scenario.
We’re not choosing a president so much as casting a cinematic
commander-in-chief whose capacity for violent action in an international
crisis is deemed his main qualification. Republicans audition
enthusiastically for the role, but Democrats answer casting calls, too.
Witness Hillary Clinton’s famous 3 a.m. telephone call commercial. A
perceived diffidence about dispatching bombers and launching missiles to
pound Third World villages is seen as a disqualifying weakness. The
nation’s crack corps of op-ed commandos and talk show bombardiers, many
of whom last experienced violence in third grade, sell popcorn and lead
cheers. It makes them feel important. Artistically, the prototype may
have been “Air Force One,” an enjoyably preposterous 1997 picture
featuring Harrison Ford as an action-hero president who foils a mid-air
hijacking by Kazakh terrorists. It’s a role the younger Ronald Reagan
would have loved. The film also features Glenn Close as the shaken but
loyal vice president and Gary Oldman as the sneering, ego maniacal
terrorist ringleader one-dimensional evil personified.

To quote Huckleberry Finn, “It would make a cow laugh” to watch Ford
flinging the last hijacker out the plane’s cargo bay into the ocean with
a Reaganesque “Get off my airplane.”

A cow perhaps, but not one overheated Netflix reviewer, who reported
watching the movie several times, awarding it four stars: “Who wouldn’t
like a president like Harrison Ford’s character, he kicks butt!”

Who, indeed? Not for nothing were 14-inch action figures of President
Bush in fighter pilot regalia for sale soon after he announced, “Mission
accomplished,” in Iraq. Today it’s Sen. John McCain who most obviously
seeks the role with his cocky, wisecracking fighter jock persona and
penchant for blustering tough talk.

Yeah, McCain was joking when he sang. “Bomb, bomb Iran.” But in the most
serious sense, he wasn’t. There’s no doubt that Mc-Cain actually thinks
hitting Tehran would accomplish something apart from killing thousands
of Persians and convincing much of the world that the United States has
become a dangerous, irrational bully.

Does Iran have an anti-democratic, authoritarian government? It does.
You definitely wouldn’t want to live there. But is Iran a threat to you
and me? In rational terms, it’s hard to see how.

Besides being located on the opposite side of the planet, Iran’s total
military budget, estimated at $4.5 billion, is roughly equal to mighty
Finland’s. During the ’90s, its army fought Saddam Hussein’s invasion to
a bloody standoff. Iran scarcely has an air force. Its navy can’t
project force outside the Persian Gulf, where U.S. aircraft carrier
groups patrol constantly.

The Iranians haven’t attacked anybody since the 18th century. There’s no
sign they’re planning to. So here’s how the voice-over narrator of the
latest Mc-Cain TV ad frames it:

“Iran. Radical Islamic government. Known sponsors of terrorism.
Developing nuclear capabilities to ‘generate power’ but threatening to
eliminate Israel.

“Obama says Iran is a ‘tiny’ country, ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’
Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren’t ‘serious threats’?

“Obama—dangerously unprepared to be president.”

Courtesy of Steve Benen’s Washington Monthly blog, here’s what Barack
Obama actually said:

“Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries.
That’s what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That’s what Reagan did with
Gorbachev. That’s what Nixon did with Mao. I mean, think about it: Iran,
Cuba, Venezuela—these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union.
They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a
threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the
time when they were saying, ‘We’re going to wipe you off the planet.’
And ultimately, that direct engagement led to a series of measures that
helped prevent nuclear war and over time allowed the kind of opening
that brought down the Berlin Wall.”

Let’s ignore the flagrant dishonesty of the McCain ad. Read it aloud.
What does it sound like? It’s basically a promo for “Air Force One: Part
II,” featuring kebab-eating Persians instead of Kazakhs. Never mind that
Iranians hate and fear al-Qa’ida as much as Americans do. That’s too
complicated for audiences waddling into Wal-Mart to buy the DVD. Ever
since 9/11 the script has called for equal measures of boasting and
hysteria. We’re No. 1! (And we’re scared of our own shadow.) Poor little
nuclear-armed Israel, perennially agitated by its own Chicken Little
faction, plays the damsel in distress. Is it possible that a nation like
Iran, constantly threatened by U. S. and Israeli bombing attacks, might
seek a deterrent? Perish the thought. Perish thinking. The given of the
action/adventure genre is that evil has no point of view. It exists as a
purely one-dimensional phenomenon. Only melodramatic, purifying violence
can vanquish it. Until the next cartoon villain comes along.

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

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Today---------- 2 September 2008

News & Analysis
European Union summit sides with Georgia

A bloody month in Afghanistan

Police raid protest headquarters as Republican National Convention opens

Alaska Republican senator renominated despite indictment

World Bank: Two and a half billion people live on less than $2 a day

Monday, September 01, 2008

News & Analysis
Danger grows of NATO-Russian clash in Black Sea

As Republican convention opens
McCain bows to ultra-right with Palin selection

Obama's Denver speech: Populist demagogy in the service of militarismw

Hurricane Gustav threatens New Orleans, Gulf Coast