Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remember When We Sang About a Cup o' Kindness?

We make a big fuss when one year rolls over into another -- they sell tons of fireworks for the occasion here in Southern New Mexico -- but if we used a calendar other than the Roman one today would be just another day.  (We also got the notion of empire from the Romans and you see what that did for us.)

Take away the fireworks, the hangovers from last night's parties and a few other silly conventions and what we've got is the same old screwed-up country, in the same old war-torn and hate-filled world that we had for the last 12 months or more. What, indeed, is "new" about this Happy New Year except the page in the calendar pad?

We're still the country where the biggest, most profitable retail giant in the history of money actually had a store that ran a food-donation drive for their impoverished employees.

We still have more jobless would-be workers than we can count, simply because so many of them have become so discouraged that they've quit looking and so disappeared from the official rolls of the unemployed. Roughly 3.5 workers for every joib that turns up -- most of which pay the minimum wage.  

We're the same country that gleefully spends trillions of dollars fighting wars all over  the globe, then periodically shuts down the government because of worries over its debt.  The shutdown ends when our elected geniuses decide to punish the people who caused the debt -- the elderly, the poor, the children of the poor -- by taking pittances away from them and cutting the taxes of the wealthiest one per cent of us so that they can become much richer.

We're still the same country where benefits for 1.3 million of the unemployed were terminated by the party that, according to the most recent polls, voters want to control every part of government.

We're still the country where the government by gawd had better not pay for a woman to get a pill to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, but that same government by gawd better not try to keep guns out of the hands of any damned cockamamie jackass with a simmering hatred and a yen to massacre a schoolful of 8-year-olds.

We're the same country whose industries poison our air and water while compiling record profits and whining about "government controls" that no longer exist, that extract planet-stifling fossil fuels from our public lands while leaving toxic tailings behind. Where mythology and ignorance overrule science.  Where rape victims got what they had coming and  we're not racist but we stuff our prisons with people of color and hire corporations to starve them for profit.  Feeding an adult male for less than a dollar a meal?

Look around today.  What's different from two weeks ago?  What reason is there to hope today that wasn't there four months ago?  Resolve what you will but neither you nor anything around you is going to change in any meaningful way.

Happy New Year.

Or, as the unpunished war criminal Dick Cheney once told a citizen, "Go f--k yourself."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guns in a Sick, Ignorant Society

Another school shooting.  Eight miles from Columbine.  Ten miles from Aurora.

What a sick society.  What a tragically ignorant society.  One that deludes itself into thinking that, in attempting to found a democratic republic, the framers of its constitution somehow intended to invent an inherent human "right" to bear lethal arms. One that shrugs and tolerates carrying firearms into schools a year after the callous slaughter of 7- and 8-year-olds in a grammar school.  One whose bloody history records thousands of killings of fellow mortals by gunslingimng vermin somehow transmogrified into "heroes" of our past.  One that willingly finances massive lobbying of corrupt elected officials to sustain a brotherhood of beer-swilling bubbas with shotgun racks on their pick-up trucks who insist that guns don't kill, people kill, and that THEIR rights are guaranteed by Smith & Wesson.

What infantile madness!  Our intimidated media respond to events like the  school shooting in Littleton the other day by reviving the myth of a national "debate" about gun control, by giving equal weight to the reactions of, say, Wayne LaPierre and Gabby Giffords.  What garbage!

Nothing.  Nothing.  NOTHING  in a modern civilized society justifies the possession of lethal arms by anyone who is not part of a legitimate, controlled police organization or of the military.  There is no debate.  This is a moral absolute.  When it comes to årms, Wayne LaPierre is a bloated bag of bovine excrement.  Gabby Giffords is a lucky survivor of a mindless, moronic, vile shooting by someone who should never have been allowed to have a gun, and she speaks from the deep, deep pain of having her career and nearly her life ended because of the cowardice of those who should be making laws against the possession of firearms.

Don't give me the responsible hunters and sportsmen bullshit.  Nobody in these United States needs to hunt to put food on the table.  Population, profiteering and political patronage have reduced the acreage in which game can be safely hunted in this country to to a paltry few plots of public land that must, by law and by reason, be shared with a host of other users with equal rights to its use, without risking their lives in a barrage of quail season, or deer season, or whatever season gunfire.

No society respectful of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by every single one of its citizens can reasonably tolerate the "right" of some of  its citizens to possess the means of assassinating others.  

Is it any wonder that in a country with such an insane gun culture, " we the people" are unable to find solutions to hunger, racism, war mongering, inequality, ignorance, unemployment, sickness, death, pollution, pestilence, intolerance, bullying, deceit, thievery . . . . all of which, like the myth of the "right" to bear arms, are part of the American Way.

Ready. Aim . . . . . .

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thoughts on Mandela and the U.S.A.

Thinking back over the long and extraordinary life of Nelson A. Mandela, I began to feel a twinge of something almost like hope that the United States might one day again be a democracy.

What odds Mandela and his followers had to overcome!  Apartheid -- separation of the races, absolute suppression of people of color by a white minority -- was not just a practice, it was the law of South Africa.  Whites built enormous fortunes on the backs of slaves or "indentured" workers who were virtual slaves while raping the natural resources of the country.

Mandela himself spent 26 years in prison as a "terrorist." His most loyal followers lived subhuman lives in the bantustans, segregated supposedly "independent" states walled off from the basic government services the ruling white class enjoyed.

Enormous wealth, the force of arms and the law itself were on the side of the ruling class.  What possible chance did Mandela and the blacks and the coloreds -- the enslaved, the impoverished, the suffering --  have against such strong and brutal forces?

And yet Mandela emerged to see apartheid stricken from the law in 1990, and, in 1994, to be elected president of a new, multiracial democracy.  He would win the Nobel Peace Prize and become arguably the most widely respected national leader of his time.

Surely, if Mandela and his people could win their struggle against such overwhelming odds, there must be hope for the the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the jobless, the growing underclass of the United States, mustn't there?

The gap between rich and poor in the United States is racing to exceed that which existed in South Africa 65 years ago.  Racism, if not enshrined in law here, is enshrined in practice and in the political realities of our corrupt system.  An enormously wealthy corporate oligarchy manipulates that system to continually engorge its own wealth and power.  Citizenship and the vote are next to meaningless. Peacable people are required to pay taxes to support endless war, wars in which their country slaughters innocent civilians by the thousands  "to protect us from terrorists."  Terrorists like Nelson Mandela?

We are hurtling toward a repressive police state, one in which the kindly cop on the corner is replaced by armour-clad bullies with tasers, lasers, tommy guns, tanks, drones and  night-scopes on their grenade launchers. They have the same capacity to slaughter those in insurrection that the authorities of South Africa had.

Our truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are in prison or in exile. If only the truth can keep us free, then we are already enslaved.

Can we rise up and win freedom, equality and justice in the example of Nelson Mandela and his people?

Alas, we don't have a Nelson Mandela.  We have Barack Obama and his drones and his Wall Street masters.

Alas, we don't have a people willing to lay down their lives fighting for a dream of peace and freedom.  We have the Tea Party.

Alas, we are a nation condemned to not only the poverty of economic inequality, but also a stifling, enfeebling poverty of the spirit.

Mandela once said, "Poverty is not an accident.  Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings."

Such is our flicker of hope.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Intriguing, If Imaginary, Meeting

Imagine an opulent room somewhere in the Vatican, and six people are locked up in it: five of the six highest-ranking Roman Catholics in U.S. government, and their spiritual leader, Pope Francis.

The  five are Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court, and associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  These are the five who decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in favor of big corporations, holding that they are people and as such cannot be limited in the amounts of money they spend to influence the outcomes of elections. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. It argued that the government had no place in determining whether large expenditures distorted an audience's perceptions, and that the type of "corruption" that might justify government controls on spending for speech had to relate to some form of "quid pro quo."

Pope Francis has warned the world that “we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”  In the first major document of his papacy (Evangelii Gaudium), he condemned the "new tyranny of unfettered capitalism" and the "idolatry of money."

While Alito and Scalia have supped at the lavish table of the corporate oligarch Koch brothers, and Roberts is close friends with the Bush dynasty, Pope Francis likes to dress as a humble priest  and sneak oout of the Vatican to rub shoulders with the homeless and give them alms.

I wonder if, in that opulent room, Pope Francis would ask the court's Catholic Five if, since they hold corporations to be people, corporations have souls? If they sin, must they confess? If so, who must do so: the officers? shareholders? directors? Surely the voluble Scalia -- a member of the church's powerful secret society, Opus Dei -- would wish to enlighten His Holiness on such matters.

How would he justify the American court's clear approval of ever expanding corporate power to the Pontiff who wrote:

“The absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” creates “a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”

“What I would tell the youth is to worry about looking after one another and to be conscious of this and to not allow themselves to be thrown away,” he told a television audience in his native Argentina. “So that throwaway culture does not continue, so that a culture of inclusion is achieved.”

In his manifesto, the pope decried the current “economy of exclusion and inequality.” “Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

What, indeed, would the Citizens United justices say to their Pontiff?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Anti-Bibi: Rabbinical Voices in U.S.

You could read every word in the mainstream press today about the Iran nuclear agreement, listen to every prattling face on what TV calls newscasts, and you'd still not be aware of one of the most significant reactions to the event.

Bibi says this, the Brits raise these questions, Kerry says that, the White House blah blither, blah, blather, blah, argle, bargle . . .

Heed thee this from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, courtesy of the eminent Middle East scholar, William O. Beeman of the University of Minnesota and Stanford University:

One hundred Jewish clergy (Rabbis, Cantors, Maggidim, Kohanot) – – a minyan of minyanim –  have signed  the Rabbinic Statement  “Step by Step toward Shalom with Iran.”

The process of working out the statement and then gathering signatures began four weeks ago. The 100th signature arrived shortly after Shabbat ended last night, just minutes before breaking news reports came that the Great Powers and Iran had come to an interim agreement toward settling the major differences between them.

Luminaries of the Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Humanist streams of Judaism have already signed.

The text of the Rabbinic statement follows:

 Step by Step toward Shalom with Iran

 As Rabbis, Cantors, and other Clergy serving the American Jewish community, we are deeply committed, as Jewish tradition teaches –

§  to the shalom –-  peace, social justice, functioning democratic process, and ecological sanity –of the country where we live  – all of which would be damaged by still another unnecessary war;

§  to the shalom, peace and security, of the State of Israel, to its democratic character, and to its special relationship with the Jewish people;

§  to unequivocal action by all the Arab-majority and Muslim-majority states to make peace with Israel, and to Israel’s unequivocal action to make peace with all its neighbors, including an emergent Palestine;

§  to our respect and our prayers for salaam, peace and justice, among our cousins in the Abrahamic tradition, Arab and Muslim civilizations;

§  to the peace and prosperity of all the “70 nations” of the world;

§  and to the healing of our wounded planet.

For all these reasons, we welcome warmly the greatly increased possibility of a peaceful resolution of the conflicts among the US, Iran, Israel, and other nations.
 We especially welcome the new attitudes toward the Jewish people and toward the nuclear issue set forth by the new President of Iran, and his assertion that Iran will never hold nuclear weapons. We also recall the repeated assertions and fatwas by Grand Ayatollah Khameini that for Iran to possess nuclear weapons would violate Islam.
 We urge the US and Iran to move swiftly to agree on a step-by-step process of reducing and ultimately ending sanctions against Iran in accord with steps by Iran to make its nuclear research transparent and to allow verification that its research is directed wholly toward civilian uses of nuclear energy. We believe that such a step-by-step process is the best way to guarantee that both parties are fulfilling their commitments.
 We urge Iran to make clear its full acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state in the fabric of international relations, protected like all other states from aggression and attack.
 We urge the Government of Israel to welcome steps by Iran to make clear and verifiable its commitment to use nuclear energy and research for peaceful purposes only, not for pursuit of nuclear weaponry, and while this process is under way, we urge Israel to end hostile acts and statements toward Iran.
 We urge the peoples of the United States, Iran, and Israel to reject and oppose all statements and actions from whatever source that undermine the swift and thorough achievement of agreements to ensure the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program and to end sanctions against Iran.
 We urge the American people to recognize and do tshuvah (“turning” or “repentance”) for the ethical errors of our own government toward Iran – particularly, the US Government’s intervention in 1953 to overthrow the democratically elected reform government of Iran; US actions to support the tyrannical regime of the Shah until the Iranian people overthrew it in 1979; and US support for Iraq’s wars of aggression against Iran in the 1980s, including US support for Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons to kill 100,000 Iranians.
 We urge the Iranian people to do tshuvah for their government’s demonization of the United States and Israel, for its holding US diplomats hostage for more than a year in 1979-1980, and for the support it seems to have covertly given for attacks on Israeli citizens.
 We believe that this combination of governmental acts and public rethinking and re-feeling can move American society, the entire Middle East, and the world toward the shalom that Judaism yearns for. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Is That Thing Called Hope?

Is there any hope of ever fixing this sorry-assed country?

Will the Democrats who control the Senate unlock whatever vault their cojones are locked up in, and reform the idiotic institution called the filibuster? It's their President who plays Charlie Brown to the Republicans' Lucy, and keeps trying to kick that football only to have it pulled away at the last second.  When Obama's third well-qualified nominee for the federal district court in Washington was prevented from having a confirmation vote, somebody in Washington had the good sense to say, "Enough is enough." The same somebody ought to tell Harry Reid that LBJ would never have tolerated such excrement.

* * *

Talk about cojones!  The Walmart in Canton, O., is asking customers to donate to a holiday food drive -- for its own employees. “Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner,” reads a sign accompanied by several plastic bins. Do you suppose the stores that made billionaires of a legion of Waltons might consider paying those associates a living wage? Nah.

 * * *

On a recent television appearance, criticizing the Affordable Care Act, Michelle Bachmann, whose retirement from Congress can't come soon enough, described herself as a "genius."  Honest.

* * *

In Seattle, Machinists District Lodge 751 rejected a take-it-or-leave-it contract with Boeing Aircraft that would have frozen or altogether taken away their pensions and increased their health insurance costs by 30 percent. These cutbacks in entitlements came from a company whose CEO is guaranteed a pension of $250,000 a month; a company that received $8.7 billion in subsidies from the state of Washington as a bribe to keep the manufacture of the new B777X in Seattle.  Boeing is now threatening to take its B777X to Texas, where another "genius," Gov. Rick Parry, is ready with a ban on unions, historically low wages -- and a school system that teaches creationism as science.

* * *

An imperfect health care law, most of whose imperfections were either demanded by Republicans or bought by powerful industries like Big Pharma, is now under brutal attack by Republicans and powerful indusrtries like Big Pharma.  Not content with attacking their own bad provisions in the law, they're attacking with lies about the law.  And the President, who used every trick in his political bag to get the thing passed, neglected to see to it that the computer system that operated it actually worked.  It didn't. Reminds me of the bank robbers who thought of everything but forgot to put gas in the getaway car.
* * *

And this is the government that had the high-tech savvy to put together the biggest, most sophisticated system of spying on everyone in the history of the planet. And to jail, kill or banish into exile the handful of brave patriots who told us that they were doing this.

* * *

 A murder trial jury in Florida bought into the idea that a black kid carrying candy in a white community at night deserved killing.  Now the man they acquitted in the slaying of Trayvon Martin is flouting the law all over the place, having just been jailed on charges of threatening his girlfriend with a shotgun.  Juries don't get second chances.

* * *

Did you know that local police departments, some in towns as small as 20,000, are being supplied with drones, tanks, grenade launchers, tactical vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan, military-grade helicopters or  heavily-armored vehicles intended to withstand IED blasts? All of this to lurk behind a culvert and nab speeders? And why is Homeland Security sitting on a stockpile of ammunition sufficient to fight a war in, say, Somalia? It's to use on us, dummy, if we get too uppity.

* * *

Nope.  No hope at all.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Test of Truth in Iran Negotiations

Parsing the language of diplomacy is always a dicey business, and it behooves journalists who try to do so to walk the extra mile in pursuit of truth.

 Some years ago Japan sent a high-level delegation to Washington to try to resolve a trade and monetary issue that was driving a wedge into the two nation's relationship.  When the first session ended,  the two sides addressed reporters from the American media. The Japanese spokesperson seemed to echo the American briefer with cautiously optimistic comments that suggested Japan was beginning to soften its position.  Then the Japanese delegates went to another venue to brief the Japanese media corps.  Dick Halloran, the New York Times reporter covering the talks, who had become fluent in Japanese preparing for a stint as Tokyo correspondent, went to the briefing for the Japanese press and heard an entirely different story: Japan, its spokesperson said, was standing firm on its hard line.

The lede of Halloran's story, which I edited,  reflected the two-faced briefing.  It had barely begun to move on the wire when my phone rang.  It was the Japanese Embassy press attache insisting Halloran had it wrong and demanding that we change it.  I beckoned for Halloran to listen on another phone. When Halloran, in flawless Japanese, quoted exactly what was said at the second. all-Japanese briefing there was an embarrassed silence and the line went dead.

Last week, when the first session of the *Gang of Six talks with Iran ended with no progress on nuclear issues, no American reporter went the extra mile, and the U.S. public was handed the usual "we blame them and they blame us but our case is stronger" coverage.

*(Gang of Six=P5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- U.S., U.K., China, Russia and France -- plus Germany.) 

Gareth Porter, a Brit and one of the best reporters now covering the Middle East, did his footwork.  Turns out that as the talks were ending, there was a preliminary deal, a set of conditions that would enable the delegations to pursue an end game to more than 30 years of strife, sanctions, sabre-shaking and mutual recrimination.

Our dear ally, Bibi Netamyahu of Israel, saw the most dire threat yet to his dream of dominion in the entire Middle East.  He pulled out all the stops to persuade his pals in France to redact the final draft with more hawkish language on critical issues, particularly the heavy water production facility in Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has known about the facility since 2002 and believes that that it is intended as a benign facility. 

 France's draft changes on Arak, and other issues, were unacceptable to Iran, which learned about them only at the very last minute just as signing of the earlier agreement was about to take place.

The talks are to resume this week, and despite Israel's Franco-shenanigans, there is a glimmer of actual sanity from the black hole of U.S. foreign policy under Obama. Lost in the fooferaw about health care at his news conference last week, were his comments about Iran. Few in the United States media quoted at length from them, because to do so would have made clear that he was sending placating signals to Iran, whose new president's policy shifts opened the door to meaningful talks with the Gang of Six.

He said that negotiation is better than the alternative of military action, which Netanyahu, with his quasi-secret trove of nuclear weapons, craves. ‘‘No matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, are always difficult, always have unintended consequences,” Obama said. Urging Congress not to toughen the already tight economic sanctions against Iran, Obama told the yellow hawks of the house,  "If we're serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there's no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective, and that brought them (the Iranians) to the table in the first place." 

He felt compelled, of course, to reiterate that he doesn't want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon (without acknowledging that Iran has said all along that it doesn't want one, either).

And, like that Japanese trade delegation years ago, he sent a spokeswoman, Susan Rice, out to rattle swords.  We retain the option, she assured the yellowhawks, to stiffen the sanctions if we decide to declare bad faith on Iran, adding ominously that the military option was still very much on the table.

 As titular head of a government whose actual overlords are super-rich corporations dependent for some or all of their profit on ongoing war, Obama, the Peace Nobelist who once called for a world without nukes, faces a truth test this week.

Was that glimmer of sanity just another spurt of Kidglove doublespeak? Or will a process that is terribly important to the entire world move forward toward peaceful resolution?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dammit, They Deserve Their Poverty!

It is 1964 in the city room of the Detroit Free Press, where the brilliant young editor Derick Daniels has built an editorial staff teeming with talent.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson has just delivered a State of the Union address in which he declared a war on poverty in these United States.  His speech resonates particularly in Detroit, a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

A young reporter, the ink barely dry on his Ivy league masters degree in journalism, is in earnest discussion with Neal Shine and the other city desk editors.  The young man, the editors decree, will illuminate the poverty story in the most compelling way possible: he will live in subsidized public housing, and survive on the minimum wage plus whatever token public assistance he might qualify for if he were truly destitute.  After a month, he will write about his experiences and the people with whom he shared squalor.

On the second night of the venture, the young reporter calls Shine's home in the middle of a cold February night.  "Neal," he whines, "can I go home? I'm freezing and some kind of bugs are eating me!"

          * * *
At least the young reporter cared.  He had suggested the story to his editors.  He believed with all his heart that it was wrong for so many people to be destitute in the richest country in the world. But until that cold, hungry night he had no idea of what poverty really was. In less than 48 hours, it had devastated him.

In almost half a century, not much has changed.  Too many of us still live in poverty, and too many of those are children.  The people who make our laws, sit in judgement of us, and manage our government know less about the reality of poverty than that Ivy league reporter in Detroit.  Unlike him, they don't even pretend to care.

Some on the far right are so sadistically hateful of the "other" that they have slashed public assistance in the form of food stamps.  Food stamps! How dare those shiftless beggars actually want to eat!  This is the Congress you and I elected.  This is the President we elected, the Dr. Kidglove who reaches out time and again to "compromise" with those whose only interest is their own political careers and the profitability of the corporations who bought their offices for them. The people be damned.

In the town where I live, the newspaper call-in column for people who utter their inanities from behind the veil of annonymity is filled these days with comments about the poor from those who are still clinging desperately to the last vestiges of the middle class. The tenor of all of them is, "If you can't get by on $5 worth of food a day, get up off your lazy arse and get a job." (Never mind that the number actually was $4.50 and now is below $4.) They echo the falsehoods of their man in Congress, who holds "job fairs" which, he says, are poorly attended because most of the unemployed couldn't pass drug tests.  He doesn't mention that virtually all of the jobs at his fairs pay the minimum wage, and that most of the employers limit the hours of those jobs so they don't have to pay benefits like health care.

Back in the day when that Detoit reporter was learning the hard lessons of real poverty, the conservative Barry Goldwater was running for president.  The late Bill Mauldin drew a cartoon for the Washington Post that depicted the multimillionaire Goldwater lecturing a tattered pair of poor folk sitting on the curb, faces full of despair.

Goldwater is telling them: "Show some ambition!  Go out and inherit a department store."

Plus ça change. . . .

Friday, November 1, 2013

We're Killers and Nobody Gives a Damn

A guy with an assault rifle opened fire in the crowded Los Angeles airport today.  Killed one person, injured two others

(Yawn) Any celebrity babies on the way this week?

Depending upon who's counting, it was the 62nd or 63rd or 66th mass shooting in the United States since Columbine.

(Yawn) Who's  the latest pop star to flash a boob onstage?

Gun violence kills 33 Americans each day.

(Yawn) How's the stock market doing today?

We kill one another with guns at a rate 20 times that of any other wealthy country.  (People in poor countries can't afford assault rifles.)

(Yawn) How 'bout that Senator who called Harry Reid an asshole?

Guns kill more children each year -- between 112 and 150 -- than cancer.

(Yawn) Di'jou see them nekkid pitchers of Britney Spears on the innernet?

The gun lobby lavishes about $13 million a year on Washington.  Top recipients of their blood money are Senators John Cronyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).  Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) are among the top takers in the House.

(Yawn) Gotta stop that Obamacare.  It's worse than slavery!

Since Sirhan Sirhan gunned down Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, American gunmen have slain nearly 1.4 million of their fellow citizens.  The death toll of Americans in all the country' s wars, from the Revolution through Afghanistan, is less than 1.2 million.

(Yawn) Who wore Miley Cyrus costumes for Hallowe'en?

About 32,000 Americans die by gunfire each year. If current trends continue, our annual toll of shooting victims will exceed the number killed in automotive accidents by 2015.

(Yawn) What's the early line in Vegas on Kentucky-Michigan State hoops?

In 2011, the United States manufactured one milliion more guns than all the other nations in the world combined.  American gun manufacturers have produced more than 100 million guns in the last 25 years. Gun manufacturers have contributed nearly $40 million to the National Rifle Association's propaganda campaigns against rational gun control.

(Yawn)  Is George Cloony dating Julian Assange's lawyer? (BTW, who's Julian Assange?)

Friday, October 18, 2013

How Fox Lies Masquerade as Journalism

A Guest Post

I happened to turn on the Hannity show on Fox News last Friday evening. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity announced, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”  Three married couples were neatly arranged in his studio, the wives seated and the men standing behind them, like game show contestants.
As Hannity called on each of them, the guests recounted their “Obamacare” horror stories: canceled policies, premium hikes, restrictions on the freedom to see a doctor of their choice, financial burdens upon their small businesses and so on.
“These are the stories that the media refuses to cover,” Hannity interjected.
But none of it smelled right to me. Nothing these folks were saying jibed with the basic facts of the Affordable Care Act as I understand them. I understand them fairly well; I have worked as a senior adviser to a governor and helped him deal with the new federal rules.
I tracked down Hannity’s guests, one by one, and did my own telephone interviews with them.
First I spoke with Paul Cox of Leicester, N.C.  He and his wife Michelle had lamented to Hannity that because of Obamacare, they can’t grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers.
Obamacare has no effect on businesses with 49 employees or less. But in our brief conversation on the phone, Paul revealed that he has only four employees. Why the cutback on his workforce? “Well,” he said, “I haven’t been forced to do so, it’s just that I’ve chosen to do so. I have to deal with increased costs.” What costs? And how, I asked him, is any of it due to Obamacare? There was a long pause, after which he said he’d call me back. He never did.
There is only one Obamacare requirement that applies to a company of this size: workers must be notified of the existence of the “healthcare.gov” website, the insurance exchange. That’s all.
Next I called Allison Denijs.  She’d told Hannity that she pays over $13,000 a year in premiums. Like the other guests, she said she had recently gotten a letter from Blue Cross saying that her policy was being terminated and a new, ACA-compliant policy would take its place. She says this shows that Obama lied when he promised Americans that we could keep our existing policies.
Allison’s husband left his job a few years ago, one with benefits at a big company, to start his own business. Since then they’ve been buying insurance on the open market, and are now paying around $1,100 a month for a policy with a $2,500 deductible per family member, with hefty annual premium hikes.  One of their two children is not covered under the policy. She has a preexisting condition that would require purchasing additional coverage for $800 a month, which would bring the family’s grand total to $19,000 a year.
I asked Allison if she’d shopped on the exchange, to see what a plan might cost under the new law. She said she hadn’t done so because she’d heard the website was not working. Would she try it out when it’s up and running? Perhaps, she said. She told me she has long opposed Obamacare, and that the president should have focused on tort reform as a solution to bringing down the price of healthcare.
I tried an experiment and shopped on the exchange for Allison and Kurt. Assuming they don’t smoke and have a household income too high to be eligible for subsidies, I found that they would be able to get a plan for around $7,600, which would include coverage for their uninsured daughter. This would be about a 60 percent reduction from what they would have to pay on the pre-Obamacare market.
Allison also told me that the letter she received from Blue Cross said that in addition to the policy change for ACA compliance, in the new policy her physician network size might be reduced.  That’s something insurance companies do to save money, with or without Obamacare on the horizon, just as they raise premiums with or without Obamacare coming.
If Allison’s choice of doctor was denied her through Obamacare then, yes, she could have a claim that Obamacare has hurt her. But she’d also have thousands of dollars in her pocket that she didn’t have before.
Finally, I called Robbie and Tina Robison from Franklin, Tenn.  Robbie is self-employed as a Christian youth motivational speaker. (You can see his work here.) On Hannity, the couple said that they, too, were recently notified that their Blue Cross policy would be expiring for lack of ACA compliance. They told Hannity that the replacement plans Blue Cross was offering would come with a rate increase of 50 percent or even 75 percent, and that the new offerings would contain all sorts of benefits they don’t need, like maternity care, pediatric care, prenatal care and so forth.  Their kids are grown and moved out, so why should they be forced to pay extra for a health plan with superfluous features?
When I spoke to Robbie, he said he and Tina have been paying a little over $800 a month for their plan, about $10,000 a year. And the ACA-compliant policy will cost 50-75 percent more? They said this information was related to them by their insurance agent.
Had they shopped on the exchange yet, I asked? No, Tina said, nor would they. They oppose Obamacare and want nothing to do with it. Fair enough, but they should know that I found a plan for them for, at most, $3,700 a year, a 63 percent less than their current bill.  It might cover things that they don’t need, but so does every insurance policy.
It’s true that we don’t know for sure whether certain ills conservatives have warned about will occur once Obamacare is fully enacted. For example, will we truly have the same freedom to choose a physician that we have now? Will a surplus of insured patients require a scaling back (or “rationing,” as some call it) of provided healthcare services?  Will doctors be able to spend as much time with patients? These are all valid, unanswered questions. The problem is that people like Sean Hannity have decided to answer them now, without evidence. Or worse, with fake evidence.
I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions (Paul Cox, for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to Paul’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist.
Strangely, the recent shutdown was based almost entirely on a small percentage of Congress’s belief that Obamacare, as Ted Cruz puts it, “is destroying America.”  Cruz has rarely given us an example of what he’s talking about.  That’s because the best he can do is what Hannity did—exploit people’s ignorance and falsely point to imaginary boogeymen.
Eric Stern lives in Helena, Montana. He was senior counsel to Brian Schweitzer, former Governor. This article appeared on the website SALON.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Land Is Alive With the Sound of Flatulence

Too many people being paid to practice my old craft -- journalism -- have become unctuous bags of hot air.

If their bias is centrist, President Obama just won a big victory because the damned fools in Congress decided after 16 days of theatrical idiocy to allow the government to resume governing.

If they are biased to the right, as ever increasing numbers are, the end of the shutdown and avoidance of debt default have killed democracy and created a socialist dictatorship or, as Tea Pot Minister of Propaganda Rush Limbaught put it, "it feels like we lost a war to a Communist country."

Theyre all simply bloviating.

Nobody "won" or "lost" in this sad, sad parody of democracy.

The country, the citizens who elected these buffoons, are the losers.  In monetary terms alone, the most conservative estimate is that the antics of the morons cost an already battered and bruised economy $24 billion.  As Sen. Elizabeth Warren put it, "How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?  The Republicans keep  . . . trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they . . .flush away $24 billion on a political stunt."

All that was accomplished by yesterday's events was to fund government operations for a few months and set up an apparatus for agreeing on a budget.  The same cockeyed contretemps that just ended could very well resume early next year.

The biggest loss is that while Congress was dancing around its Constitutional obligation to fund the government programs it has already created, terribly important matters have been pushed off the national agenda.

Warren touched on one of them when she mentioned bridges and trains.  Our national infrastructure is Third World.  Water mains, bridges, rails and trains, dams, roads, schools and other public facilities desperately need repair or replacement.  Meanwhile, we are suffering a crisis of joblessness. When this happened 85 years ago, government stepped in and put people to work building things that still benefit people today. This has to be addressed.  How many bridges have to collapse, how many long-term jobless citizens have to commit suicide because they can't feed their families, before the millionaires in Congress realize the obvious?

We are on the brink of an environmental crisis that could destroy the planet as a habitat for human and other forms of life.  If that doesn't deserve immediate and serious attention from our government, what does?

We have crippled our scientifc community, thanks, again, to some of the idiots we have elected to office.  If the richest nation on earth cannot, or will not, lead the way in the quest for cures, the development of safe and renewable sources of energy, the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink, who will?

We are pursuing a policy of endless war that not only is inhumane, immoral and illegal but also is bankrupting our treasury. Yes, Ted Cruz, you uncredible fool, and all of your moronic allies, we need to cut spending; we need to cut spending on war and divert the money to increasing Social Security, improving health care for every single person in these United States, and making our government's top priority the improvement of the quality of life of its citizens.

No, members of the nattering class, there were no "winners" or "losers" in Washington yestrday. The same zoo is still there, monkeying around, behaving like asses, burying their heads in sand, flying off the handle, changing colors, lying like magpies and fluffing their tailfeathers for the camera while toadying faux journalists treat them like celeberities.

A pox on all their houses.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Land of Racism, Home of Haters

A group of white American citizens gathered yesterday to exercise their Constitutional rights of assembly and free speech, exposing to the world the true colors of the Republican party: racism and hate.

Exhorted by the likes of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, they flaunted the ultimate symbol of racism, the flag of the Confederacy.  They cheered a speaker whose message to President Obama was, “put the Quran down … get up off  (your) knees, and …  come out with (your) hands up.”

This is how the most ignorant and mean-spirited among us deal with their frustrations at having their most cherished and most noxious notions rebuffed in the democratic process: 40 losing votes in the House on repealing the Affordable Care Act, repeated refusals by the Congress to attach draconian social issue caveats to proposed spending bills that could have ended the government shutdown they caused.

They are no longer just a loud and vexing minority. They are a national disgrace,

They and the propaganda tanks like the National Heritage Foundation, which pull their puppet strings, provided the impetus for the governmental follies that have destroyed whatever influence and prestige the United States once retained among the nations of the world.  All it has left is the capacity of bombs, nukes, drones and military incursions to create ever smaller "coalitions of the willing" in the manner of playground bullies.

Forget the moral high ground.  We relinquished the last vestiges of that a decade or more ago. We are an empty suit in the eyes of the civilized world.  "Land of the free and home of the brave" is an international laughing stock.  "The beacon of democracy" in Washington is a flickering myth. "Hope of the free world" is an outright lie.  We are morally bankrupt.  We have allowed two successive administrations to whittle away our civil rights, cancel the Constitutional balance of powers, create a ruling corporate oligarchy and turn most of the public into lemmings and sheep.  Those who dare to dfissent are bullied into silence or jailed. (The Occupy movement.) Those who speak the truth, to Power and to us, are jailed or forced to flee into exile. (Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning.) A subservient mainstream press has enlisted full throat in the conspiracy to hide these unpleasant truths from us. (Miller to Sanger to Fox.)

This is the legacy of those who made a spectacle of themselves Sunday in Washington. Their brothers and sisters in ignorance all through this land watched approvingly.  But abroad in lands where wisdom and prudence  are more cherished than they are here, observers turned their heads from this ugly demonstration of racism and hate in a country many of them once admired. Japan and China, holders of roughly two-thirds of our national debt, have warned our so-called leaders to grow up, but to no avail.

If the nations of the world are going to solve the great problems confronting them -- war, starvation, massive global climate change, poverty, human rights abuses -- they will have do do so without the leadership or even the cooperation of the United States.

It can't even figure out how to pay its bills on time.  Some superpower.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Criminality of Teapot Republicans

Money buys power in these United States and power corrupts. Koch brothers petroleum money -- more money than god -- is behind the imbecilic behavior of the Republicans in Washington.  They can't help being imbeciles but having run for the House of Representatives, and somehow been elected by their comrades in ignorance, they need to be held accountable for their crimes.

For it is indeed criminal that they are refusing to perform what has always been a routine function -- approving the payment, and authorizing the borrowing required for the government to do so, of the costs of government programs they have already voted for.  It is criminal because, as a result of their actions:

-- The United States is powerless to join other countries in the desperate search for a Fukushima solution before the earth is rendered unfit for habitation.  Water contaminated by more than 7,000 times the maximum tolerable amount of radiation is flowing into the Pacific Ocean.  Flotsam from the tsunami that hit the Japanese nuclear plant has already washed up on the shores of other countries, including our own.  The killer wastewater is on its way and en route nobody can even guess the devastation it will wreak on marine life, let alone people on the coasts.

--No responsible government entity or individual is working on the biggest threat to mankind since Biblical times: climate change.  Most of the same morons who brought us the government shutdown deny that there is such a thing, or that humans caused it, or should attempt to stop it and save the human race.  Such insanity simply cannot be tolerated in a crisis of this magnitude -- yet it's happening.

--Our illegal wars continue around the globe, and our illegal military incursions into sovereign nations (Libya, Somalia) continue as well, and our Secretary of State proudly declares there will be more.  But the Veterans Administration doesn't have money even for burial costs of our slain military, can't pay benefits to our disabled veterans and the imbeciles in John Boehner's cuckoo's nest do not give a damn.

--Families living below the poverty line with children cannot get assistance to buy basic food. The infantile asses who shut down the government think their problem is lack of good old American ambition.

--Hard-working American citizens who are fortunate to have a bit of discretionary money to spend cannot use our national parks and monuments, our national museums and cultural institutions, our memorials to the dead of yesteryear's wars,  Yet the exploiters of public lands, the drillers and diggers in our natiional parks and monuments, the polluters of the waterways that run through them and the exploders of their mountain majesties -- these makers of billionaires like the Kochs, takers who pay no income tax -- are able to come and go on public lands willy-nilly to extract and transport their spoils.

--People with terminal diseases have been cut off from the experimental drug treatments that  are their last desperate hope.

--The Slimeballs who caused the government shutdown say they want to control the deficit -- which actully has been shrinking for months -- but their shutdown is costing us as least $300 million a day.

None of this needs to have happened.  Millions of Americans  are suffering and some -- too many -- will die because a relative handful of amoral fools, wrapped in the flag and shouting the praises of a vengeful Old Testament god, full of hatred for all the "others" in this world, clinging to the material wealth of their class and jealous of the aspirations of those others to live in health in decent houses with adequate food, spiteful and juvenile and resentful and angry all at once, these blind and bloated  ignoramuses just do not care. They have no sensitivity, no empathy, no compassion.

But we let them control our destiny.  And so we are criminal, as well.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Journalism in the U.S. Fails Us Again

Sometimes the U.S. media complicity in the national madness seems to border on treason.

"News" coverage of the run-up to government shutdown, and possible default on the national debt has been abominable, in the disastrous tradition of the three I's (Iraq, Iran, Israel), recent poitical campaigns and Congress (in all of its actions, inactions and assininity).

The remaining contemporary giants of journalism have been pointing out these failures for a long time now, and largely been ignored. Bill Moyers comes to mind. A former newspaper publisher who turned Newsday from a conservative little rag into one of the country's most respected newspapers, Moyer then spent three decades showing us how good television could be in the right hands.  Many of his finest TV hours exposed the deficiencies of the media that give us most of our "information," too much of which is stenography, "he said, she said" claptrap, or unvarnished propaganda. A recent review of pre-shutdown coverage on the BillMoyers.com website magnified these criticisms.

Chris Hedges, a great New York Times reporter who left the Old Gray Lady when its journalistic standards began to plummet, only to become one of the most important writers on contemporary affairs in the nation today, is another frequent critic of today's pathetic journalism. "The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state," he writes, "the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, severs the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems."

Such corporate state journalism accounts for what Paul Krugman calls "wildly distorted ideas" about Obamacare, the nickname for the Affordable Care Act that Republicans have contrived to drag into the national economic debate. Extremist GOP congressmen have brought communism, slavery and pederasty into the ignorant fooferaw that set up the present shutdown. The best reporting on all of this has come from peudo-journalists like Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart.  Kimmel took to the streets with camera and microphone to ask common citizens whether they preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.  Every respondent went Bonkers demeaning Obamacare; all of them preferred the Affordable Care Act.  Never mind that they are one and the same; right wing propaganists, with full support of the popular media, have succeeded in demonizing Obamacare (a repeat of their success in making "liberal" a nasty word). Stewart summarized the hollowness of the GOP position by telling Rep. Peter King of the GOP: "It's a f*c*ing LAW!!"

Indeed it is -- debated, compromised and passed by both houses of the previous Congress; signed by the President and upheld by the uber-conservative Supreme Court.  Our laws and Constitution provide a process: those who dislike all or parts of the Act can move in the appropriate committees of either house of Congress to amend or repeal it. If it gets out of committee, it goes to a vote. Of course, the members of the House the ultra-Republican New York Daily News calls "Turds" have tried that legitimate tactic 40-some times and failed.  So now they're using an illegal tactic, shutting down government and threatening to force it into default. And our media still play "he said, she said," giving equal weight to what, say, Michelle Bachman says, and what, say, Elizabeth Warren says.

Another great contemporary journalist, the inimitable Seymour Hersh, says: "Get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist. Close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you.  That's what we're supposed to be doing, Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say, 'here's a debate.' Our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues.

Mort Persky, who spent five distinguished decades making American journalism better, decries the New York Times's nerdy-wordy or plain right-biased coverage yesterday and today of the start up of Obamacare. This sentence -- "A trouble-plagued start, accompanied by the complaints of frustrated consumers, may undermine political support for the law and discourage people from signing up."
(Then again, it just as likely may not, but The Times didn't speculate on that.) -- could have been written at the NRC.

As could these headlines:

"Details of Available Plans Offer Vast, Varied Picture,"

"A Committed Group of Conservatives Outflanks the House Leadership."

"Opening Rush to Insurance Markets Hits Snags -- Millions of Online Visits, Many to No Avail"

(Why not: MIllions of Would-Be Insurance Buyers Overwhelm New Exchanges)?

But that would be too much like, well, old-fashioned journalism. The kind Bill Moyers, Chris Hedges, Sy Hersh and Mort Persky practiced.  I know because I was there, too.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bleeding All Over the Yellow Carpet

The recent monsoons have left our part of the Chihuahuan desert with a carpet of yellow wildflowers accented by clusters of pale violet blossoms amid the varying shades of green of the native lechuguilla, mesquite, creosote bush, yucca and ocotilla. Once this was considered the most biologically diverse desert in the world but man and his cattle have seriously degraded it.  Ranchers have great political clout in these parts and own a big piece of the congressman who represents us.  Efforts to reintroduce the extirpated Mexican gray wolf are failing, off-road riders have savaged huge chunks of fragile desert topsoil and the ocotillo has vanished from areas where cows graze virtually for free on land that belongs to all of us. (The hooved locusts love the sweet blossoms atop the plant's whiplike branches -- which are the plant's reproductive method.  No more flowers, no more ocotillo.)

All of this aside, it's a wonderful time of year, with the cooling change-of-season winds announcing autumn, to visit favorite desert walkways and hide-aways.  The road across public land  to the trails of the Picacho Mountain national recreation area had several wash-outs that required careful navigation when Brandi and I drove out there this morning.  I doubt that they'll get fixed any time soon, what with the idiots in Washington refusing to appropriate the money to operate the federal government as of midnight tonight.  The Bureau of Land Management, which manages these lands on behalf of we, the people who own them, isn't likely to have money for a 'dozer to come out and make the road right. All across this desert, and all the deserts and all the parks and monuments and scenic and historical sites the People own out here, we common folk will suffer the consequences of the  shutdown by the liars and dunderheads who govern us. The little things that make life worth the struggle are the first to be declared non-essential when the idiots shut off the faucet that directs our tax money into the federal agencies and bureaus.

 Oh, they'll find the money for all our wars; for the drones that take out Taliban and children alike; for the spooks who read our e-mail, monitor our Facebook pages and listen in on our telepone conversations; and you can bet that Dr. Kidglove and his playpen pals in Congress will draw down their salaries.  But park rangers and wildlife veterinarians and the people who process things on behalf of citizens will just have to figure out some other way to put beans in the pot and bread on the table.  New Mexico has already cut off any new unemployment benefits for those who lose their jobs, because the state doesn't know when its federal funds will resume.

The pampered nincompoops who hold office in Washington don't give a damn about real people who are jobless or hungry or too old or too sick to fend for themselves.  They don't give a damn about parks and things, about programs that bring free or affordable bits of beauty, of music, of art or of healthful recreation into lives otherwise filled only with frantic hours of strife to survive from one meager paycheck to another.

The Congress is full of people like our guy, whose personal worth is said to be about $30 million, and who cavalierly voted to cut off the SNAP funding that saved nearly 40,000 children from his own district from starvation every day. Their families earn on average less than $17,000 a year. Meanwhile, he's comfortable having $40 lunches delivered to his office for himself, at taxpayer expense.

He's part of the financial elite, the handful of plutocrats and oligarchs who run this sorry-assed country. Few if any of them will feel anything when the shutdown of government comes, despite the fact that the stock markets are down because of it.  We would like to think -- those of us looking through the window from the outside at the lavish lifestyles of our leaders -- that Wall Street's reaction to the upcoming default would pinch some of them enough to order their toadies in Congress to do the right thing.

"But what if," as Paul Krugman writes today, "even the plutocrats lack the power to rein in the radicals? In that case, Mr. Obama will either let default happen or find some way of defying the blackmailers, trading a financial crisis for a constitutional crisis.

"This all sounds crazy, because it is. But the craziness, ultimately, resides not in the situation but in the minds of our politicians and the people who vote for them. Default is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

The clock is ticking down.  Even out there in the peace  of our yellow-carpeted desert, Brandi and I can hear it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How Dare They Attempt Civility!

The England-based American author, Gerald Meyer, taking note of the moderation and friendly gestures of the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, rightly remarked that the U.S. government "doesn't really welcome his overtures, finds the whole thing rather distasteful and wishes it would go away."

Most Americans who actually have knowledge of Iran, its people and its history, immediately recognized Rouhani's unexpected victory in the recent election as an opportunity for President Obama to stop bullying Iran and engage in actual diplomacy.  Now that both presidents will be attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, these knowledgeable Americans are urging them to meet face-to-face. So far the nearest thing is that Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to get together with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, perhaps for a game or two of mah jongg. 

Even this modest first step toward civilized, meaningful engagement seems to have scared the very excrement out of Bibi Netanyahu's neocon hawks in Washington. Mein Gott! Rouhani is making nice and Washington is sort of paying attention!

All a-tremble, the hawks turned to their propaganda minister sans portfolio, David Sanger of the New York Times.  "Unless a good deal of the current infrastructure is dismantled," Sanger wrote just the other day, "Iran will be able to maintain a threshold nuclear capability -- that is, it will be just a few weeks, and a few screwdriver turns, from building a weapon."


Sanger as usual offers absolutely no evidence.  Not even his usual unidentified sources among the most war-mongering officials in the Israeli government have gone that far. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz says Iran is still at least six months away from building The Bomb -- and nobody among the international community's weapons experts takes that seriously. Last March, Obama said, "Right now, we think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon."

Right now, the Great Bogeyman in this charade is a single fact: Iran is enriching uranium.  But its enrichment program stops at 20 percent, enough for medical or domestic energy purposes, but far short of the 90+ percent required to make weapons.  The Islamic republic has said repeatedly that it has no interest in making nuclear weapons.  Rouhani not only reiterates that policy, but he does so from a background of credibility and respected service in international diplomatic circles.  To rebuff his overtures is for the United States to shed the last pretenses of sincerity in the quest for Middle East peace. As a lawyer might put it, Obama goes to the United Nations with unclean hands.

Mr. Meyer, seeing these affairs through the clearer air of rural England, offers a tongue-in cheek suggestion for Rouhani and Javad Zarif:

"The U.S. so prefers to deal with countries on which it has had a reasonable opportunity to expend some of its munitions, thereby creating the need to manufacture some more munitions.  Which brings up the subject of cruise missiles.  They're so much more expensive than mere bombs, and therefore so much more constructive. Iran should let Uncle Sam have a prolonged cruise-missile orgasm, its best since the good old days of shock and awe, after which the two sides can have the equivalent of a post-coital cigarette  (what would that be -- some cluster bombs maybe?) and plan their future together.

"Better yet, let israel send the cruise missiles.  That way we eliminate the middle man, and everybody  will be happy!"

Scary thing is, that's exactly  what might happen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Toward Fulfilling the Neocon Dream

There is great division of opinion regarding potential U.S. military action in Syria. However, one group is ecstatic over President Obama’s endorsement of a military attack on Damascus. These are the Neconservatives who dominated the George W. Bush administration, and who still hold tremendous influence in Washington. An attack on Syria would be one step in fulfilling “stage two” of a longstanding neoconservative plan to bring about regime change throughout the Middle East in three stages: Iraq, Syria and finally Iran. 

The pattern for this plan has been to wait for an event that can be sold to the world public as justification for military attack, and then to push forward, pressuring the military and government officials to move forward with the next stage of regime change. 

President Obama is, perhaps unwittingly, fulfilling this plan, conceived in 1996 by an informal organization, the Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, headed by Richard Pearle and including well-known neo-conservatives, Douglas Feith, Meyrav Wurmser, David Wurmser, Robert Loewenberg, Charles Fairbanks, Jr. and James Colbert. All are connected with organizations favoring right-wing extremist Israeli policies toward Palestinians and other Middle East nations. The Study Group plan, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” was prepared for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The “clean break” refers to their advice that Israel break from the 1993 Oslo peace accords. 

The 1996 plan explicitly calls for attacks on Iraq, Syria and eventually Iran. It states: "Israel can shape its strategic environment . . . by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions."

Many of the same figures carried this plan forward two years later under another rubric, The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan. In a letter to President Clinton and House Speaker Gingrich in 1998, the members of the PNAC, including Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Zoellick called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, carrying out the first stage of the agenda of the “Clean Break” plan. 

Once George W. Bush was elected president, many of these figures took up prominent positions within his administration. Following the tragic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the removal of Saddam Hussein became a policy objective for the United States. 

The PNAC wrote a letter to President Bush in 2001 stating: “...even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”

It was at this time that Iran came more clearly into focus for the neoconservatives. The theory they promulgated was that Iran was the prime mover in all anti-Israeli activity in the region through Iran’s purported support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Syria was seen as complicit in this, and was regularly identified as a “client state” for Iran. However, neither legislators nor the public could be incited by this theory, for which there was, and continues to be, no credible evidence. 

In 2003, the neoconservatives, working through right-wing think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were able to convince the Bush administration that Iran’s 40 year old nuclear energy program was really a plot to develop nuclear weapons to be used against Israel. This theory eventually became accepted as gospel in Washington, notwithstanding that American and International intelligence agencies asserted there was no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, based on this baseless assertion, these same players called for military action against Iran.

Following the “Arab Spring” popular revolts against standing regimes in the Middle East the longstanding tension between the Sunni Muslim majority and the Alawite ruling minority in Syria exploded in resistance against Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad. This conflict had been festering for two generations. In 1982, armed resistance from the Sunni population resulted in a massacre in the city of Hama under orders from Hafiz al-Assad, Bashar’s father. Bashar retaliated to the more recent revolt with unprecedented cruelty, and has been accused of using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels. Whatever the United States or other nations might do to remove the Assad regime, the civil war there will continue unabated. 

However, neoconservatives have seized on this more recent revolt against the Assad government as justification for military action to carry out regime change there, but not just because the Assad regime is objectionable, but rather because in an attack on Syria they see an opportunity to strike a crippling blow against Iran. As conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks stated on the PBS News Hour on September 6, “this isn’t really about Syria. . . . the real issue is the broader credibility of the President, the international credibility of the United States, especially vis-à-vis Iran. This is really about Iran more than Syria.”

Brooks’ widely held view is a miscalculation. Even if the Assad regime is removed from power, Iran will not be significantly damaged in its foreign, nuclear or economic policy.

A quick examination of all of these efforts—the pretext based on the 9/11 tragedy for ousting Saddam Hussein, weak justification for U.S. involvement in a longstanding and ongoing civil war in Syria, and the claim that Iran is not only directing all anti-Israeli action in the Middle East, but is also a nuclear threat show that the neoconservative agenda is a tissue of fantasy designed to convince the world, episode by episode, to completely reshape the region with U.S. military firepower. 

Americans should not be listening to these neoconservative voices. They have been responsible for a debilitating and useless conflict in Iraq already. Their “advice” to President Obama and his administration will only drag the United States into another useless and debilitating conflict in the Middle East that will accomplish nothing, and will exacerbate violence rather than bringing the world closer to peaceful resolution of the tensions in the region. 

*   *   *   *

William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and Visiting Professor at Stanford University. He has worked in the Middle East for more than 40 years.