Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Updated: Pentagon: Wounded troops at Walter Reed can't talk to the media

By Joshua Holland
Posted on February 28, 2007, Printed on February 28, 2007

In the aftermath of the Washington Post's series detailing the horrendous conditions faced by some of the soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Pentagon, in typical Pentagon fashion, is trying to white-wash the whole mess, both literally and figuratively.

Here's Dana Milbank last week:

It's not every day one gets to witness a whitewash in action, but Walter Reed Army Medical Center provided just such an opportunity yesterday.
... Dana Priest and Anne Hull described the woeful conditions of Room 205 in Walter Reed's Building 18: "Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole."
The Army mobilized. Painters were deployed to cover the offending wall with a fresh coat of white semigloss. And television crews were invited in to inspect the result.
"Some of the paint is still wet against that wall, so be careful," Walter Reed public affairs officer Donald Vandrey, standing on the bed in his socks, advised the film crews. "They just finished repainting it about 10 minutes ago."
Mission accomplished?
Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley thought so. After the media tour of Building 18, the Army's surgeon general gave a news conference. "I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard," he said of a facility Priest and Hull found full of "mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses" and other delights. "We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren't serious, and there weren't a lot of them."
Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn't walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn't acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation.

It gets worse. The Navy Times [via Nitpicker] reports that the Army has ordered patients at WR not to speak to the media. In fact, some wounded vets think they're being punished because a few did talk to the WaPo.

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet
Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.
"Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media," one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.
Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters. [...]
The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said. [...]
The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: "It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place," referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.

Support the ... yeah.

PS: How crazy are the wing-nuts when called out on the hollowness of their support-the-troops-but-only-as-symbols rhetoric? This crazy.

UPDATE: Louise Slaughter, fast becoming one of my favorite legislators, reacted to this story today:

"Any attempt to silence the very soldiers who brought their own mistreatment to light, or to hide ongoing abuses from the public eye - if such attempts are occurring - would be morally reprehensible. It would be an abdication of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our government: the protection of those who have fought to protect us.”

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Updated: the White House's latest bald-faced lie: 'The UN authorized our invasion of Iraq'

By Joshua Holland
Posted on February 27, 2007, Printed on February 27, 2007

ThinkProgress caught this wild bit of revisionism during Friday's White House presser by Mini-Tony Snow, Tony Fratto:

"The president said this isn't the fight we entered in Iraq, but it's the fight we're in," Fratto told reporters Friday. "We went in as a multinational force under U.N. authorization to take military action in Iraq. We were there as an occupying force, and now we're there at the invitation of the sovereign, elected government of Iraq."

Actually, Bush promised to go to the Security Council for a vote, but then realized he couldn't purge any of those darkie countries from the UN voter roll and blew it off. As ThinkProgress noted, Kofi Annan described the invasion of Iraq as "not in conformity with the UN charter...from the charter point of view, it was illegal."

What's pretty amazing is that a room full of journalists let the statement go unchallenged. But Fratto wasn't done. "I'm not sure if the Democrats are contemplating that the United States should not enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions," he added. "If that's something that they're contemplating, I think that would be interesting to some people, to say the least." No, Tony. What's interesting, to say the least, is that the White House's deputy press flack doesn't know that the UN charter specifically prohibits countries from enforcing UN resolutions without specific Security Council authorization.

These people are so wanton in their criminality.

Update: MediaMatters notes that the Washington Post contradicted its own reporting and "parroted [the] White House claim that Iraq war was authorized by U.N. Security Council." Thanks, WaPo, for the great journalism!

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Monday, February 26, 2007

Torture Is Finally on Trial

By Naomi Klein, The Nation
Posted on February 26, 2007, Printed on February 26, 2007

Something remarkable is going on in a Miami courtroom. The cruel methods US interrogators have used since September 11 to "break" prisoners are finally being put on trial. This was not supposed to happen. The Bush administration's plan was to put José Padilla on trial for allegedly being part of a network linked to international terrorists. But Padilla's lawyers are arguing that he is not fit to stand trial because he has been driven insane by the government.

Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an "enemy combatant" and taken to a navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a cell 9ft by 7ft, with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a "truth serum," a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defence. He is convinced that his lawyers are "part of a continuing interrogation program" and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that "the extended torture visited upon Mr Padilla has left him damaged," his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that "Padilla is competent" and that his treatment is irrelevant.

The US district judge Marcia Cooke disagrees. "It's not like Mr Padilla was living in a box. He was at a place. Things happened to him at that place." The judge has ordered several prison employees to testify on Padilla's mental state at the hearings, which began yesterday. They will be asked how a man who is alleged to have engaged in elaborate anti-government plots now acts, in the words of brig staff, "like a piece of furniture."

It's difficult to overstate the significance of these hearings. The techniques used to break Padilla have been standard operating procedure at Guantánamo Bay since the first prisoners arrived five years ago. They wore blackout goggles and sound-blocking headphones and were placed in extended isolation, interrupted by strobe lights and heavy metal music. These same practices have been documented in dozens of cases of "extraordinary rendition" carried out by the CIA, as well as in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. According to James Yee, a former army Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, there is an entire section of the prison called Delta Block for detainees who have been reduced to a delusional state. "They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over." All the inmates of Delta Block were on 24-hour suicide watch.

Human Rights Watch has exposed a US-run detention facility near Kabul known as the "prison of darkness" -- tiny pitch-black cells, strange blaring sounds. "Plenty lost their minds," one former inmate recalled. "I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors."

These standard mind-breaking techniques have never faced scrutiny in an American court because the prisoners in the jails are foreigners and have been stripped of the right of habeas corpus -- a denial that, scandalously, was just upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington DC. There is only one reason Padilla's case is different -- he is a US citizen. The administration did not originally intend to bring Padilla to trial, but when his status as an enemy combatant faced a supreme court challenge, the administration abruptly changed course, charging Padilla and transferring him to civilian custody. That makes Padilla's case unique -- he is the only victim of the post-9/11 legal netherworld to face an ordinary US trial.

Now that Padilla's mental state is the central issue in the case, the government prosecutors are presented with a problem. The CIA and the military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration -- that's the whole point. "The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure." That comes from Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a declassified 1963 CIA manual for interrogating "resistant sources."

The manual was based on the findings of the agency's notorious MK-ULTRA programme, which in the 1950s funnelled about $25m to scientists to carry out research into "unusual techniques of interrogation." One of the psychiatrists who received CIA funding was the infamous Ewen Cameron, of Montreal's McGill University. Cameron subjected hundreds of psychiatric patients to large doses of electroshock and total sensory isolation, and drugged them with LSD and PCP. In 1960 Cameron gave a lecture at the Brooks air force base in Texas, in which he stated that sensory deprivation "produces the primary symptoms of schizophrenia."

There is no need to go so far back to prove that the US military knew full well that it was driving Padilla mad. The army's field manual, reissued just last year, states: "Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and antisocial behaviour" -- as well as "significant psychological distress."

If these techniques drove Padilla insane, that means the US government has been deliberately driving hundreds, possibly thousands, of prisoners insane around the world. What is on trial in Florida is not one man's mental state. It is the whole system of US psychological torture.

Naomi Klein is the author of "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" and "Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate."

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tony Blair Finally Concedes Defeat in Iraq

By Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch
Posted on February 24, 2007, Printed on February 24, 2007

Tony Blair has admitted what George Bush still desperately denies: defeat. Iraq is turning into one of the world's bloodiest battlefields in which nobody is safe. Blind to this reality, the British prime minister said earlier this week that Britain could safely cut its forces in Iraq because the apparatus of the Iraqi government is growing stronger.

In fact the civil war is getting worse by the day. Food is short in parts of the country. A quarter of the population would starve without government rations. Many Iraqis are ill because their only drinking water comes from the highly polluted Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Nowhere in Mr Blair's statement was any admission of regret for reducing Iraq to a wasteland from which two million people have fled and 1.5 million are displaced internally.

Nadia al-Mashadani, a Sunni woman with four children, was forced from her house in the Hurriya district of Baghdad under threat of death by Shia militiamen on December 25. She was not allowed to take any possessions and is living with her family in a small room in a school in a Sunni neighborhood. She told me: "They promised us freedom and now we find ourselves like slaves: no rights, no homes, no freedom, no democracy, and not enough strength to say a word." Like many Sunni she believed the US had deliberately fomented sectarian hatred in Iraq to keep control of the country.

Mr Blair's description of Iraq might have been of a different country from that in which Mrs Mashadani is trying to survive. He dodged the question of why Britain can reduce its forces in Iraq below 5,000 by late summer at the same time as the US is sending a further 21,500 soldiers as reinforcements.

He stressed that the situation where British troops are based around Basra is very different from Baghdad and central Iraq where the bulk of US forces are concentrated.

The speed of the reduction in British forces in southern Iraq will be slower than many senior British officers had privately urged. Mr Blair said "the UK military presence will continue into 2008." But long before then almost all the remaining British forces will be located at Basra air base and act in support of Iraqi military and police units.

Mr Blair gave the impression that the presence of US and British forces is popular among Iraqis. In fact an opinion poll cited by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report of senior Democrats and Republicans in Washington showed that 61 per cent of Iraqis favour armed attacks on US and British forces.

Even as Mr Blair was speaking there were bitter divisions within Iraq over the alleged rape of a Sunni woman in Baghdad by three members of the Shia-dominated security forces last Sunday. The predominantly Shia

government denounced the alleged rape victim, claimed she was lying and commended the three officers she accused of raping her. Although UN figures show that almost 3,000 Iraqis are murdered by sectarian killers every month, the alleged gang-rape has the capacity to move the country more deeply into a civil war.

Mr Blair painted a picture of Iraq in which political and economic progress is only being hampered by mindless terrorists. He claimed that the aim of these groups was "to prevent Iraq's democracy from working." But one of the main problems is that the constitution and two elections in 2005 have embedded differences between Sunni, Shia and Kurds.

The Prime Minister said there were 130,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army and 135,000 in the police force. He showed only limited appreciation, however, of the extent to which these forces are allied to the Shia militias or the Sunni insurgents.

US government officials were putting on a brave face yesterday in reacting to the drawdown of British troops in Iraq. US spokesman still refer to "the coalition" but it is now a very small group of countries. The largest group after the British contingent is 2,300 soldiers from South Korea. Denmark announced yesterday that it would withdraw its 470 soldiers by August.

The government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is being torn apart by conflicting pressures from the US and its own Shia supporters. The US has considered forcing him out of office but any succeeding government might be closer to the US but would have even more limited popular support.

Meanwhile Mr Maliki has complained that, for all the coalition talk of respecting Iraqi sovereignty, he cannot move a company of soldiers without US permission.The partial British military withdrawal from southern Iraq announced by Tony Blair this week follows political and military failure, and is not because of any improvement in local security.

In a comment entitled "The British Defeat in Iraq" the well-known American analyst on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, asserts that British forces lost control of the situation in and around Basra by the second half of 2005.

Mr Cordesman says that while the British won some tactical clashes in Basra and Maysan province in 2004, that "did not stop Islamists from taking more local political power and controlling security at the neighborhood level when British troops were not present." As a result, southern Iraq has, in effect, long been under the control of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the so-called "Sadrist" factions.

Mr Blair said for three years Britain had worked to create, train and equip Iraqi Security Forces capable of taking on the security of the country themselves. But Mr Cordesman concludes: "The Iraqi forces that Britain helped create in the area were little more than an extension of Shia Islamist control by other means."

The British control of southern Iraq was precarious from the beginning. Its forces had neither experience of the areas in which they were operating nor reliable local allies. Like the Americans in Baghdad, they failed to stop the mass looting of Basra amid the fall of Saddam Hussein and never established law and order.

American and British officials never appeared to take on board the unpopularity of the occupation among Shia as well as Sunni Iraqis. Mr Blair even denies that the occupation was unpopular or a cause of armed resistance. But from the fall of Saddam Hussein, mounting anger against it provided an environment in which bigoted Sunni insurgents and often criminal Shia militias could flourish.

The British forces had a lesson in the dangers of provoking the heavily armed local population when six British military police were killed in Majar al-Kabir on June 24, 2003. During the uprising of Mehdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in 2004, British units were victorious in several bloody clashes in Amara, the capital of Maysan province.

But in the elections in January 2005, lauded by Mr Blair this week, SCIRI became the largest party in Basra followed by Fadhila, followers of the Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr. The latter's supporters became the largest party in Maysan.

The British suffered political defeat in the provincial elections of 2005, and lost at the military level in autumn of the same year when increased attacks meant they they could operate only through armored patrols. Much-lauded military operations, such as "Corrode" in May 2006, did not alter the balance of forces.

Mr Cordesman's gloomy conclusions about British defeat are confirmed by a study called "The Calm before the Storm: The British Experience in Southern Iraq" by Michael Knights and Ed Williams, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Comparing the original British ambitions with present reality the paper concludes that "instead of a stable, united, law-abiding region with a representative government and police primacy, the deep south is unstable, factionalised, lawless, ruled as a kleptocracy and subject to militia primacy."

Local militias are often not only out of control of the Iraqi government, but of their supposed leaders in Baghdad. The big money earner for local factions is the diversion of oil and oil products, with the profits a continual source of rivalry and a cause of armed clashes. Mr Knights and Mr Williams say that control in the south is with a "well-armed political-criminal Mafiosi [who] have locked both the central government and the people out of power."

Could the British Army have pursued a different strategy? It has been accused of caving in to the militias. But it had little alternative because of the lack of any powerful local support. The theme of President Bush and Mr Blair since the invasion has been that they are training Iraqi forces.

Police and army number 265,000, but the problem is not training or equipment but lack of loyalty to the central government. Vicious though the militias and insurgents usually are, they have a legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis which the government's official forces lack. Periodic clean-ups like "Corrode" and "Sinbad" do not change this.

There is no doubt the deterioration in the situation is contrary to the rosy picture presented by Downing Street. Messrs Knights and Williams note: "By September 2006, British forces needed to deploy a convoy of Warrior armored vehicles to ferry police trainers to a single police station and deliver a consignment of toys to a nearby hospital." Some British army positions were being hit by more mortar bombs than anywhere else in Iraq. There was continual friction with local political factions.

Why is the British Army still in south Iraq and what good does it do there? The suspicion grows that Mr Blair did not withdraw them because to do so would be too gross an admission of failure and of soldiers' lives uselessly lost. It would also have left the US embarrassingly bereft of allies.

Reidar Visser, an expert on Basra, says after all the publicity about the British "soft" approach in Basra in 2003, local people began to notice that the soldiers were less and less in the streets and the militias were taking over. "This, in turn, created a situation where critics claim the sole remaining objective of the British forces in Iraq is to hold out and maintain a physical presence somewhere within the borders of the governorates in the south formally left under their control, while at the same minimising their own casualties.' Mr Visser said.

In other words, British soldiers have stayed and died in southern Iraq, and will continue to do so, because Mr Blair finds it too embarrassing to end what has become a symbolic presence and withdraw them.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Friday, February 23, 2007

American Liberty at the Precipice

February 22, 2007

In another low moment for American justice, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that detainees held at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to be heard in court. The ruling relied on a shameful law that President Bush stampeded through Congress last fall that gives dangerously short shrift to the Constitution.

The right of prisoners to challenge their confinement — habeas corpus — is enshrined in the Constitution and is central to American liberty. Congress and the Supreme Court should act quickly and forcefully to undo the grievous damage that last fall’s law — and this week’s ruling — have done to this basic freedom.

The Supreme Court ruled last year on the jerry-built system of military tribunals that the Bush Administration established to try the Guantánamo detainees, finding it illegal. Mr. Bush responded by driving through Congress the Military Commissions Act, which presumed to deny the right of habeas corpus to any noncitizen designated as an “enemy combatant.” This frightening law raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions. And it gives the government the power to take away habeas rights from any noncitizen living in the United States who is unfortunate enough to be labeled an enemy combatant.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which rejected the detainees’ claims by a vote of 2 to 1, should have permitted the detainees to be heard in court — and it should have ruled that the law is unconstitutional.

As Judge Judith Rogers argued in a strong dissent, the Supreme Court has already rejected the argument that detainees do not have habeas rights because Guantánamo is located outside the United States. Judge Rogers also rightly noted that the Constitution limits the circumstances under which Congress can suspend habeas to “cases of Rebellion or invasion,” which is hardly the situation today. Moreover, she said, the act’s alternative provisions for review of cases are constitutionally inadequate. The Supreme Court should add this case to its docket right away and reverse it before this term ends.

Congress should not wait for the Supreme Court to act. With the Democrats now in charge, it is in a good position to pass a new law that fixes the dangerous mess it has made. Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, have introduced a bill that would repeal the provision in the Military Commissions Act that purports to obliterate the habeas corpus rights of detainees.

The Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties does not end with habeas corpus. Congress should also move quickly to pass another crucial bill, introduced by Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, that, among other steps, would once and for all outlaw the use of evidence obtained through torture.

When the Founding Fathers put habeas corpus in Article I of the Constitution, they were underscoring the vital importance to a democracy of allowing prisoners to challenge their confinement in a court of law. Much has changed since Sept. 11, but the bedrock principles of American freedom must remain.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dispatch From Post-Constitutional America


NY TIMES EDITORIAL - A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration's behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president's use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

The newly enacted provisions upset this careful balance. They shift the focus from making sure that federal laws are enforced to restoring public order. Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any "other condition."

Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate. The president made no mention of the changes when he signed the measure, and neither the White House nor
Congress consulted in advance with the nation's governors.


This, of course, was the intent.

RICHARD WOLF, USA TODAY - Voter identification requirements designed to combat fraud can reduce turnout, particularly among minorities, a new study shows. A study by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University shows turnout in 2004 was about 4% lower in states that required voters to sign their name or produce documentation. Hispanic turnout was 10% lower; the difference was about 6% for blacks and Asian-Americans.

Yes, It's Lost But It's Only 12 Billion...

JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY, CHICAGO TRIBUNE - This week, we were treated to the spectacle of the former U.S. civilian overlord of Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, squirming in the hot seat as he attempted with little success to explain what he did with 363 tons of newly printed, shrink-wrapped $100 bills he had flown to Baghdad. That's $12 billion in cold, hard American cash, and no one, especially Bremer, seems to know where it went.. . . Bremer, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in totally screwing up the first two years of the Iraq Occupation, said that a lot of the cash was delivered to ministries of the Iraqi government to meet payrolls that were patently fraudulent. The Department of Defense's special inspector general for Iraq, Stuart Bowen, said that a 2005 audit he conducted found that in some ministries the payroll was padded with up to 90% "ghost employees" --- people who didn't really work there or perhaps didn't really exist.

Bremer said that he decided to provide the money to meet those payrolls, even though he knew they were bogus, for fear of starting riots and demonstrations among the Iraqis, real and imagined. After all, the former czar told the representatives, it wasn't really our money anyway. It was Iraqi money -- oil earnings and bank accounts seized from Saddam Hussein's government -- that we were holding in trust.

I can think of no period in American history when we sat idly by while $12 billion just disappeared, poof, without a paper trail; without heads rolling; without someone going to prison. And all this was happening at a time in the war when American soldiers and Marines were going without properly armored vehicles, without lifesaving body armor and even without some of the weapons they needed. . .

During the dark days of World War II, Congress established a Committee on War Profiteering and put a little-known senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, in charge. Truman, a veteran of combat service in World War I, was a bulldog. His committee went after not only those who stole money but also those who provided shoddy or worthless equipment and supplies for our troops. He had the power to shut down an offending company or contractor, and he used it.

Where's our Truman Committee today? Where are the righteous representatives of the people charged with standing guard over our troops and our money?

The "What Balls" Dept.

The Onion

Bush Likens Terror War To U.S. Independence

In a speech at Mount Vernon, President Bush likened the war on terror to the Revolutionary War. What do you think?

The Lies They Tell: How to Stop the Fox Propaganda Machine

By Don Hazen, AlterNet
Posted on February 22, 2007, Printed on February 22, 2007

As presidential aspirants announce their candidacies in an already mind-numbing procession, the "Sliming Bowl" is well under way. No candidate has been smeared more than Barack Obama, and no smearer more relentless than Fox News, as the short video (right) by Brave New Films demonstrates.

"Sliming" is the rabid, rapid, media barrage of persistently repeated lies and innuendo mastered by the right-wing media machine, which aims to tar candidates with negative associations before their campaigns get rolling. Or alternatively, to bruise them enough so that they will suffer under the burden of damaged goods as they try to gain footing.

The conservative roots usually puts out a speculative story through Fox News or Matt Drudge (of the Drudge Report), a powerful mouthpiece for the Bush White House. Then the right-wing echo reverberates as the lies make their way to talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere. Eventually, it gets picked up and carried by the mainstream media, with few understanding where the story originated.

In fact, disinformation conjured by the conservatives often has its most profound impact with the steady cooperation of the corporate press in repeating their lies. How many people still think that Al Gore said he invented the Internet?

The power of Fox and Matt Drudge to serve as kingpins of the Bush White House echo chamber, while at the same time being key agenda-setters for the mainstream press is a daunting problem for Democrats, progressive media makers, and bloggers.

Fox's ability to be blatantly partisan, yet be treated like serious news journalists, is an unprecedented and thus far successful, juggling act. Furthermore, Fox critics are perpetually frustrated with the counter-productive collusion of Democrats and some activists to cooperate with Fox by appearing on its shows, aiding Fox's claims of the legitimacy of its new organization.

But bloggers and activist groups are fighting harder to discredit Fox News for its bias. Just last week, it was announced that Fox News Channel, working with the Nevada Democratic Party and the Western Majority Project, will host an August 2007 Democratic Debate in Reno, Nevada, "which is expected to attract the top Democratic contenders for President."

Not so fast says MoveOn, Free Press, and others. Petition campaigns are under way, aimed at the Nevada Democrats and the DNC, applying serious heat to drop Fox's control of the event because it is not a legitimate news organization. There are also plans to target Fox's advertisers in a campaign reminiscent of an earlier successful one against Sinclair Broadcasting for its nightly rabid right-wing harangues that were forced upon their affiliate's news shows.

Push back on McCain hypocrisy

Willing to fight dirtier and make up bigger lies, the right wing has dominated smear campaigns going back decades -- remember Donald Segretti and Nixon's dirty tricks? Most recently the "Swiftboaters for Truth" campaign mercilessly and inaccurately maligned John Kerry's military record, playing a role in his defeat to Bush in 2004. The anti-Kerry campaign stands as the gold standard for conservatives' ability to get the mainstream media to carry their message without doing their own work -- even creating a new verb for the political lexicon -- swiftboating.

But the progressive internet media and blogosphere are pushing back, using the speed and versatility of the web to whack the conservative "wing nuts" and pandering candidates with some of their own tools -- albeit stopping far short of making stuff up.

Most recently John McCain felt the sting of the blogosphere as the hypocrisy of his "Straight Talk Express" persona, applauded and enhanced by the mainstream media, has been nailed in the video McCain vs. McCain produced by Robert Greenwald and his team at Brave New Films.

More than 300 blogs linked to the video and thrust Greenwald onto the front page of the L.A. Times to tell the story. Other media are now covering the hypocrisy angle as a N.Y. Times front page story focused on dissent in McCain's own back yard among the grassroots conservative Republicans in Nevada. There, Rob Haney, a Republican state committeeman in McCains's own district told the Nation's Max Blumenthal, "The guy has no core, his only principle is winning the presidency. He likes to call his campaign the 'straight talk express.' Well, down here we call it the 'forked tongue express.'"

Obama bashing

While McCain has taken a much-deserved beating for his hypocrisy, blatant efforts at total disinformation have been aimed at Barack Obama, the fresh-faced Democratic candidate and senator from Illinois.

Obama has been hammered for a whole grab-bag of alleged misdeeds, most which he had nothing to do with -- such as his name, his early schooling, and his parentage -- while other "nuggets of expose," like the fact that he smokes cigarettes, is treated like a deep, dark media secret.

Fox News, with its Muslim bashing, leads the way in the smear campaign against Obama. A catalogue of Fox's propaganda aimed at Obama has been collected by Greenwald, who's highly popular film OutFoxed got wide distribution through Blockbuster, Net Flicks, and thousands of house parties across the country two years ago.

Paul Waldman, of Media Matters and the Gadfly, charts the first of what are already many false stories spread about Barack Obama -- that he attended a fundamentalist madrassa when he lived in Indonesia as a boy. Waldman writes:

When, a website owned by the right-wing Washington Times, put out a breathless report trumpeting the fantasy, Fox News immediately jumped on board, as did Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of the talk radio bile spewers. "Why didn't anybody ever mention," asked Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, a man who makes Larry King look like Oscar Wilde, "that that man right there was raised -- spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father -- as a Muslim and was educated in a madrassa?"
This sentence contained no fewer than five falsehoods: Obama wasn't raised by his father, his father left the family when Obama was two years old, his father wasn't a practicing Muslim, Obama wasn't raised as a Muslim and he didn't go to a madrassa. "Well, he didn't admit it," chimed in co-host Brian Kilmeade. "I mean, that's the issue."

What to do

Lots of people tend to dismiss Fox's influence, saying that they have been discredited among those who matter, and its audience is mainly conservatives who are beyond reason. But that notion misses the point, as Fox's audience is larger than CNN and MSNBC combined, and many watch it for its perceived entertainment value.

More importantly, Fox, as one part of the right-wing echo chamber, is a key component in the feeder system into the mainstream media. Many journalists and editors revel in the right-wing disinformation machine as something akin to watching a car wreck and seem obliged to report accusations by right-wing media, even if made up.

And in the big picture, mainstream media does not seem to comprehend that in being unable or unwilling to find the truth before they report misinformation, they are contributing to their own demise. As the media system is increasingly transformed into polarized voices, mainstream media has already lost a good deal of its credibility and its audience.

As Waldman notes:

In their repugnant book "The Way to Win," ABC News political director Mark Halperin and John Harris of The Politico (and formerly of the Washington Post) explain that, as journalists, "Matt Drudge rules our world."
In other words, when Drudge -- a right-wing operative who closely coordinates his activities with the Republican National Committee -- puts up a sensational story on his website, Halperin, Harris and the rest of their cohorts simply have no choice but to run off and cover it, whether it is true or not.

In the case of the Madrassa issue, in what was seen as a marketing ploy to crow about the differences between CNN and Fox, CNN actually investigated the Insight/Fox lie about Obama's school being a hotbed of fundamentalism. Their journalist found the truth -- that the school Obama attended was benign and taught about various religions. But not before, as one example, the Washington Post's media reporter Howard Kurtz, who is also CNN's media reporter, featured the charges prominently in the Post, framing his story with the Insight/Fox lies, not with skepticism. He eventually followed up with more critical reporting and also debunked the story on CNN.

Many were cheered when Obama drew a line and seemed to take the position of refusing to go on Fox, in response to their disinformation campaign about him.

As Waldman sees it, "this kind of hardball is long overdue, not because Fox itself can be shamed into exercising some journalistic responsibility (shamelessness is one of the primary employment requirements at Fox) but because it sends a message to other journalists: We will hold you accountable for your actions. If you spread lies, we'll treat you like a liar, and we don't talk to liars." In terms of Fox's role in the possible candidates debate in Nevada, Hugh Jackson, writing for the Las Vegas Gleaner, writes that the Nevada Dems are getting "outfoxed."

An example of how disrespectful and counterproductive such Fox News-sponsored Democratic debates are, consider the Sept. 9, 2003, Democratic debate in Baltimore, Md., hosted by Fox News in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus. Fox News graphics, as well as a banner over the stage, titled the event as the "Democrat Candidate Presidential Debate," a misconstruction of "Democratic" used as an epithet. Fox News then summarized the debate with a story titled "Democratic Candidates Offer Grim View of America," continuing with such jabs as "the depiction of the president as the root of all evil began at the top of Tuesday night's debate."

Don't go on Fox

Filmmaker Greenwald feels adamant that in order to hold Fox accountable, Democratic candidates should not go on their shows:

Day after day, week after week, Fox viciously and brutally attacks, maligns and tries to destroy our values. And we participate in this obscenity to get some airtime? We are nuts to keep going on without a good fight about the rules. We should push back on them.
The idea that we will outsmart, outmanipulate, out-talk Hannity and O'Reilly on an ongoing basis is nonsense. And I say this having studied O'Reilly for a year. But there seems to be little appetite from our side, especially the politicians, to play hardball. Remember, Fox News is dead and gone if we don't go on so they have someone to fight with.

Jane Fleming may be an exception to the Greenwald rule. As head of Young Democrats of America, she has become a regular on Fox, and sees it differently:

I think if we don't go on Fox, it is a mistake. It allows them to continue to portray us as weak and not willing to fight back. I enjoy going on -- I think it gives us an opportunity to get our message out to Republicans and Independents and to show the Dems that are watching we are present.
I get emails from Republicans and Democrats thanking me for talking back to Hannity like: "Saw your clip from Fox News -- just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your performance against the she-devil and Hannity. You are making us proud -- keep up the good work!" and "I've seen you numerous times on Fox News representing the Democrats, and I wanted to let you know that you do a hell of a job! Some of our representatives on Fox are so lame, I think they might be closet Republicans, but you do very well handling the likes of Hannity and Coulter. Keep kickin' butt, Jane."

It remains to be seen if Obama and the other Democratic candidates are truly willing to hold journalists responsible for their actions. But, in the end the blogs and the progressive Internet can play a forceful role against Fox.

"They spread the facts, they put pressure on the media to report them accurately and they generally made the kind of ruckus the right wing has been much more effective at creating," wrote Waldman. "During the 2004 campaign, blogs were still a novelty ... years later they have become a major player, and journalists ... have finally realized that blogs can't be ignored. And if there's one thing bloggers don't hesitate to do, it is calling journalists to account when they have sinned ... The 2008 election will be a test of whether blogs have the power to enforce some standard of truth and shame on those news organizations that buy into made-up tales like the Obama madrassa story."

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires

By Matt Taibbi,
Posted on February 20, 2007, Printed on February 21, 2007

"Now, after she shaved her head in a bizarre episode that culminates a months-long saga of controversial behavior, it's the question being asked by her fans, her foes and the general public: What was she thinking?"-- Bald and Broken: Inside Britney's Shaved Head, Sheila Marikar,, Feb. 19

What was she thinking? How about nothing? How about who gives a shit? How's that for an answer, Sheila Marikar of ABC news, you pinhead?

I'm not one of those curmudgeons who freaks out every time that Bradgelina moves the war off the front page of the Post, or Katie Couric decides to usher in a whole new era of network news with photos of the imbecile demon-spawn of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I understand that we live in a demand-based economy and that there is far more demand for brainless celebrity bullshit than there is, say, for the fine print of the Health and Human Services budget.

But that was before this week. I awoke this morning in New York City to find Britney Spears plastered all over the cover of two gigantic daily newspapers, simply because she cut her hair off over the weekend. To me, this crosses a line. My definition of a news story involves something happening. If nothing happens, then you can't have "news," because nothing has changed since the day before. Britney Spears was an idiot last Thursday, an idiot on Friday, and an idiot on both Saturday and Sunday. She was, shockingly, also an idiot on Monday. It will be news when she stops being an idiot, and we'll know when that happens, because she'll have shot herself for the good of the planet. Britney Spears cutting her hair off is the least-worthy front page news story in the history of humanity.

Apparently, from now on, every time a jackass sticks a pencil in his own eye, we'll have to wait an extra ten minutes to hear what happened on the battlefield or in Congress or any other place that actually matters.

On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution. All the same, the Bush budget is an amazing document. It would be hard to imagine a document that more clearly articulates the priorities of our current political elite.

Not only does it make many of Bush's tax cuts permanent, but it envisions a complete repeal of the Estate Tax, which mainly affects only those who are in the top two-tenths of the top one percent of the richest people in this country. The proposed savings from the cuts over the next decade are about $442 billion, or just slightly less than the amount of the annual defense budget (minus Iraq war expenses). But what's interesting about these cuts are how Bush plans to pay for them.

Sanders's office came up with some interesting numbers here. If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.

The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.

Some other notable estimate estate tax breaks, versus corresponding cuts:

  • Cox family (Cox cable TV) receives $9.7 billion tax break while education would get $1.5 billion in cuts

  • Nordstrom family (Nordstrom dept. stores) receives $826.5 million tax break while Community Service Block Grants would be eliminated, a $630 million cut

  • Ernest Gallo family (shitty wines) receives a $468.4 million cut while LIHEAP (heating oil to poor) would get a $420 million cut

And so on and so on. Sanders additionally pointed out that the family of former Exxon/Mobil CEO Lee Raymond, who received a $400 million retirement package, would receive about $164 million in tax breaks.

Compare that to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which Bush proposes be completely eliminated, at a savings of $108 million over ten years. The program sent one bag of groceries per month to 480,000 seniors, mothers and newborn children.

Somehow, to me, that's the worst one on the list. Here you have the former CEO of a company that scored record profits even as it gouged consumers, with gas prices rising more than 70 percent since January of 2001. There is a direct correlation between the avarice of oil company executives and the increased demand for federal aid for heating oil programs like LIHEAP, and yet the federal government wants to reward these same executives for raising prices on the backs of consumers.

Even if you're a traditional, Barry Goldwater conservative, the kinds of budgets that Bush has sent to the hill not only this year but this whole century are the worst-case scenario; they increase spending generally while cutting taxes and social programming. They commit taxpayers to giant subsidies of already Croseus-rich energy corporations, pharmaceutical companies and defense manufacturers while simultaneously cutting taxes on those who most directly benefit from those subsidies. Thus you're not cutting spending -- you're just cutting spending on people who actually need the money. (According to the Washington Times, which in a supremely ironic twist of fate did one of the better analyses of the budget, spending will be 1.6 percent of GDP higher in the 2008 budget than in was in 2000, while revenues will be 2.6 percent of GDP lower). This is something different from traditional conservatism and something different from big-government liberalism; this is a new kind of politics that transforms the state into a huge, ever-expanding instrument for converting private savings into corporate profit.

That's not only bad government, it's bad capitalism. It makes legalized bribery and political connections more important factors than performance and competition in the corporate marketplace. Beyond that, it's just plain fucking offensive to ordinary people. It's one thing to complain about paying taxes when those taxes are buying a bag of groceries once a month for some struggling single mom in eastern Kentucky. But when your taxes are buying a yacht for some asshole who hires African eight year-olds to pick cocoa beans for two cents an hour ... I sure don't remember reading an excuse for that anywhere in the Federalist Papers.

I also don't remember reading much about this year's budget. It was a story for about half a minute when it came out two weeks ago. It barely made TV newscasts, and even when it did, only the broad strokes made it on air. There was some fuss about the Alternative Minimum Tax and a mild uproar over the fact that the 2008 budget failed to account for estimates of the costs for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But overall, the budget was a non-starter as a news story. As it does every year, it takes a back seat to hot-button issues like gay marriage, the latest election scandal, etc. Already, the 2008 election presidential campaign has gotten far more ink than the 2008 budget. As entertainment, bullshit politics always triumphs over real politics.

Here's the thing about the system of news coverage we have today. If the Walton family, or Lee Raymond, or the heirs to the Mars fortune actually needed the news media to work better than it does now, believe me, it would work better. But they have no such need, because the system is working just fine for them as is. The people it's failing are the rest of us, and most of the rest of us, apparently, would rather sniff Anna Nicole Smith's corpse or watch Britney Spears hump a fire hydrant than find out what our tax dollars are actually paying for.

Shit, when you think about it that way, why not steal from us? People that dumb don't deserve to have money.

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Monday, February 19, 2007

What do you think?

The Onion

7,000 Iraqis U.S. Bound

The United States has agreed to admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees into the country. What do you think?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

You just can't write this stuff!

ANDREW BUNCOMBE, INDEPENDENT UK - In the hugely popular television series 24, federal agent Jack Bauer always gets his man, even if he has to play a little rough. Suffocating, electrocuting or drugging a suspect are all in a day's work. As Bauer - played by the Emmy Award winner Kiefer Sutherland - tells one baddie: "You are going to tell me what I want to know - it's just a matter of how much you want it to hurt.". . .

The US military has appealed to the producers of 24 to tone down the torture scenes because of the impact they are having both on troops in the field and America's reputation abroad. (!)

Forget about Abu Ghraib, forget about Guantanamo Bay, forget even that the White House has authorized interrogation techniques that some classify as torture, that damned Jack Bauer is giving us a bad name!

The United States Military Academy at West Point yesterday confirmed that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan recently traveled to California to meet producers of the show, broadcast on the Fox channel. He told them that promoting illegal behavior in the series - apparently hugely popular among the US military - was having a damaging effect on young troops.


JOHN VIDAL, GUARDIAN, UK - Evidence has emerged that the Monsanto chemical company paid contractors to dump thousands of tons of highly toxic waste in British landfill sites, knowing that their chemicals were liable to contaminate wildlife and people. The Environment Agency said it had launched an inquiry after the chemicals were found to be polluting underground water supplies and the atmosphere 30 years after they were dumped. According to the agency it could cost up to L100m to clean up a site in south Wales that has been called "one of the most contaminated" in the country.

A previously unseen government report read by the Guardian shows that 67 chemicals, including Agent Orange derivatives, dioxins and PCBs which could have been made only by Monsanto, are leaking from one unlined porous quarry that was not authorized to take chemical wastes. . .

Much of the new information about Monsanto's activities in Britain in the 1960s and early 1970s has emerged from court papers filed in the US and previously unseen internal company documents. They show how the company knew from 1965 onwards that the PCBs - polychlorinated biphenyls used mainly as flame retardants and insulaters - manufactured in the US and at its plant in Newport, south Wales, under the trade name Aroclor, were accumulating in human milk, rivers, fish and seafood, wildlife and plants.

The documents show that in 1953, company chemists tested the PCB chemicals on rats and found that they killed more than 50% with medium-level doses. However, it continued to manufacture PCBs and dispose of the wastes in south Wales until 1977, more than a decade after evidence of widespread contamination of humans and the environment was beyond doubt. . .,,2011024,00.html


JACK E. LOHMAN, WIS POLITICS - With the vast majority of the public -- and even the "non-healthcare" business leaders -- supporting universal health care, why are our politicians not on board?

It makes every bit of financial sense for businesses to get out of providing health care and to turn it over to the most successful ever public-private venture: Medicare. As a Medicare patient I have the same coverage and physician choice I had before retiring. It's just managed by a single payer: WPS in Madison.

Don't think for a moment that single-payer is just another liberal giveaway; it is the most fiscally conservative way possible of financing health care for Wisconsin citizens. . .

Medicare-for-all would do wonders for businesses by reducing labor costs by 15 percent; reducing worker compensation costs by 50 percent; and cutting their and everybody else's auto insurance rates in half. With these reduced costs they could add jobs in Wisconsin rather than sending them to other countries. Health care would no longer be a labor union negotiation and job changes would not involve gaps in insurance, preexisting disease exclusions or delays, or COBRA costs.

New jobs would mean new tax revenues, increased property values, and less unemployment, welfare and associated costs. New businesses will move to Wisconsin and old businesses will keep their doors open. And when businesses no longer have to add their health costs to the price of their product, we will see lower prices at the cash register and greater competitiveness against foreign products that aren't burdened with health care costs.

Who wouldn't like these single-payer benefits?

For one, the insurance companies that are currently reaping 20-30 percent of health care dollars won't like it a bit, and neither will the politicians who receive campaign contributions from health care interests. Nor will the board members that sit on both health care and non-health care corporate boards, though business associations that serve both factions owe it to the latter to sit this issue out. The conflicts of interest that stand in the way of good public policy abound.

If corporations are not willing to provide employee health care at least equivalent to Medicare, they should get out of the way and let the government do it. We don't want their inadequately funded solutions or a mish-mash of prohibitively expensive half-way measures. Or health savings accounts that are time bombs waiting to explode in credit card debt and bankruptcies.

Nor do we want an incremental approach that will not cover all citizens and is sure to fail. The public wants it done right and wants it done now.

Think about it. For the same amount of money we are paying to cover 85 percent of the public now, we could cover 100 percent under a single-payer plan like Canada's -- but without the wait times. Over 80 percent of Canadians prefer their system to ours. Their life expectancy is two years longer and infant mortality 35 percent less than ours -- mostly because everybody is insured under a single-payer plan.

Canada spends 10 percent of its gross domestic product on health care while we spend 15 percent of GDP and get less for it. They cover 100 percent of their people and we cover 85 percent and that is shrinking. Their administrative costs are 10 percent compared to our 20-30 percent. They have no wait times for urgent procedures, and those for elective care could be eliminated with a simple increase in funding by 10 percent -- to 11 percent of GDP. While their problem is funding, ours is systemic.

Missing In Action: The American Left

Sam Smith

IF nothing happens to change things, it looks as if Hillary Clinton will be running against Rudy Giuliani in 2008. Let's hope something happens to change things because it is hard to imagine a more depressing choice, the final triumph of money and media over democracy and sanity.

Yet, even on the left, one doesn't get much sense that we seem to be moving from frying pan to fire. Six years bitter experience has left many liberals and progressives convinced that exorcising the demon in the White House and finding a Democratic replacement is all we need for happiness.

It doesn't work like that. It is a reasonable bet that after eight years of the next administration - of whatever party - the overwhelming majority of the sins of the Bush years will remain, quietly institutionalized either because of lack of will, lack of votes or an excess of inertia.

The primary reason for this is that in politics we get the presidents we deserve and a Clinton-Giuliani race would reflect the fact that in neither party is there sufficient will to do things differently - to rebel against the corrupt, cynical anti-democratic spirit that these two power-obsessed leaders represent.

As the right has demonstrated over the past quarter century, the creation of a new popular paradigm is a complex, expensive and lengthy business. One can argue that the right had a grossly unfair advantage by controlling the hearts of corporations, mass media and evangelicals who happily and mindlessly spread its message to an unwitting electorate.

This is true, but there is another factor that hardly ever gets discussed. The left has blown it.

In fact, since the beginning of the Reagan administration there has not been a single mass movement on the part of the left that has made any significant impact on the country.

Part of this has been a matter of priorities. Under Reagan and the Bushes, the left was happy to do what it seems to like best: protest. Under Clinton it switched gears and quietly and obediently complied. In either case - dissenter or drone - the left did little to offer Americans an alternative vision, platform or movement.

Twenty years ago, as a member of the board of a national liberal organization, I found words for my concern as we discussed the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork. Defeating Bork, I noted, was a necessity but it was not a policy. And we needed more policies.

I could tell from the room that I had said something alien. Who are we, I sensed around me, if we are not in opposition?

As recently as the last presidential campaign, I suggested a national progressive confab at which a list of major priorities would be compiled so everyone would know what we wanted, instead of leaving it to Fox News and David Broder to define for us. Again, it fell flat.

I suspect a part of the problem is that liberals behave much like many abused children; they view themselves more as victims than as survivors. This is not surprising given that two of their major constituencies - blacks and Jews - place particular emphasis on victimhood in their political rhetoric. But in the end, it is a choice that even the worst treated make in different ways, which is why some of the most impressive survivors are found in some of America's worst neighborhoods.

Rather than exhibiting the will to rewrite the story of themselves and America, too often liberals wallow in the mud pits into which their opponents have driven them and, when they can't take any more, willingly grab the hand of whatever hustler comes their way.

In this way, 2008 already reminds one of 1992 when liberals lined up for Clinton because he looked like he would win and might throw them a few bones along the way. In fact, in different ways, both Hillary Clinton and Brack Obama are modeling their efforts on Bill Clinton.

With HRC it's a quality that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found in her husband: "It is not the compromises [Clinton] has made that trouble so much as the unavoidable suspicion that he has no great principles to compromise." With Obama it's the cynical use of hope - or, as Clinton put it, Hope - treated as though it was the candidate's personal gift to provide. In fact, in the last days of his campaign, Clinton ran a television commercial filmed from the window of a moving bus. The voice-over said: "Something's happening out there. A feeling. Call it hope. That a country can move in a new direction. That the future is something to look forward to. Not fear. If that's what you're feeling, you may have noticed something else. You are not alone." Obama before his time.

In either case there is a quality that Christopher Hitchens found in early Clinton Washington as being like that in Peter Pan, in which the children are told that if they stop clapping, Tinker Belle will die.

That pretty well sums up today's liberalism: you either oppose or you clap.

There are at least three other reasons beyond the psychological why this is so.

First: Major liberal organizations function much like all lobbying groups. Not only are they too far removed from the grassroots and too close to power, they are extremely protective of their own position in among the elite. Thus the mere notion of an effective coalition is troubling.

Second: Since they don't have as much money as the right, it would seem logical that liberal groups became expert as grass root organizing. They're not. One explanation for this is that since the advent of television, everyone has played by the rules of virtual communication and part of this reduces the voter to a viewer, petition signer, or contributor. One rarely finds anymore the sort of organizing spirit of, say, Saul Alinsky or the anti-poverty era and - on the left - scarcely ever does one see the multi-faceted organizing of the Christian right. If the left only uses the tools of mass media, they will have their Move Ons to be sure, but the right will just keep moving on.

Third: Much of the power and the money in liberal organizations comes from a new liberal elite - including large numbers of successful urbanites, women, gays, blacks etc. This elite has its own agenda which - regardless of its virtues - tends to ignore or deemphasize agendas of the less powerful and less well off who, incidentally, vote in much larger numbers. This is not an incurable problem but it at least has to be faced.

One big exception to all this is the Democratic populist wing, an ill-formed amalgam that believes Democrats are here to do the most good for the most people. But it, too, has yet to find good footings for a new movement. Even the efforts of John Edwards in this regard will ultimately fail unless people rally to his cause and not just to his candidacy.

Another major exception is the Green Party which, good as its heart is, has yet to tie its platform into a small and neat enough package that the media, let alone America, can grasp.

In short, the American left has a choice. Either it remains the victim of alternative predators - the right on one hand, the Clintons and Obamas on the other. Or it takes charge of its own future and that of the country by agreeing within itself on a clear program and then - in the manner of the abolitionists, populists, socialists, suffragettes and civil rights activists - takes this message to every little corner of the land it is trying to change for the better.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

This is, in my opinion, an absolutely essential documentary from Britain's BBC 2. It has been made available online by Information Clearing House.

The doc concerns the manufacture of consensus, in this case through politicians weaving tales of monsters outside the door and promising everlasting protection from them if only you'll just do your patriotic (sic) duty and support them in this endeavor. It gives a great amount of capsulized history regarding the current battle of the Gods between the "Christian" West and the "Muslim" Middle East. Let the video speak for itself, when you have the time. Bookmark it, it's well worth it.--Pete

The Power of Nightmares

Thursday, February 15, 2007

US Sponsored Terrorism in Iran?

By Larisa Alexandrovna
Posted on February 15, 2007, Printed on February 15, 2007

I think people should be very concerned about the following:

"A car loaded with explosives blew up near a bus carrying members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran, killing 18 of them, the state-run news agency reported today.
The car stopped in front of the bus near Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan Province, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. It called the attack a terrorist operation and said the car's occupants fled on motorbikes seconds before the car exploded.
"This blind terrorist operation led to the martyrdom of 18 citizens of Zahedan," IRNA quoted a Guards commander, Qasem Rezaei, as saying.
State-run television said the bus had been taking them to work when the attack took place. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Rezaei blamed "insurgents and elements of insecurity" for the attack. Hossein Ali Shahriyari, a deputy representing Zahedan, told an open session of the parliament today that "insurgents and drug traffickers" were behind the attack.
Shahriyari called lawless regions in southwestern Pakistan a safe haven for Iranian insurgents and drug traffickers, and called on the government to take up the issue with Islamabad."

Why should we be...


"The Pentagon is bypassing official US intelligence channels and turning to a dangerous and unruly cast of characters in order to create strife in Iran in preparation for any possible attack, former and current intelligence officials say.
One of the operational assets being used by the Defense Department is a right-wing terrorist organization known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), which is being "run" in two southern regional areas of Iran. They are Baluchistan, a Sunni stronghold, and Khuzestan, a Shia region where a series of recent attacks has left many dead and hundreds injured in the last three months.
One former counterintelligence official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the information, describes the Pentagon as pushing MEK shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The drive to use the insurgent group was said to have been advanced by the Pentagon under the influence of the Vice President's office and opposed by the State Department, National Security Council and then-National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.
According to all three intelligence sources, military and
intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a
known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of
terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world -
including US civilian and military casualties
- Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on
special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran
They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all," one intelligence source said."

and the below is just one example of a policy to support terrorists for use as proxy groups:

"Bomb blasts struck Iranian government buildings in the capital of an oil-rich border province, followed within hours by two other bombs in central Tehran, killing nine people, days before presidential elections."

I believed that the attacks by MEK had been halted in March of last year. If this attack is shown to be tied to MEK terrorists or any other "group" we are funding, arming, and training in the region, then the US will be implicated - even if we had nothing to do with the bombing directly.

Let's use Al Qaeda and the US as an example to illustrate how the MEK-US relationship might look to Iranians:

Imagine that this morning you woke up to find that 18 US national guardsmen were assassinated on US soil via a car bomb on their way to a work facility. Now imagine that it was determined that Al Qaeda was behind the attack and that Syrian government officials were behind the funding, training, and harboring of this Al Qaeda cell. How would you react? Would you not see this as a declaration of war against our country? How then would this look to Iranian citizens if it turns out MEK or any other organization being run by Israel and the US is behind this attack?

We can only hope that the US backed groups had nothing to do with this bombing, but I fear given what we already know, the case against us is looking very strong.

Larisa Alexandrovna is a journalist, essayist and poet. She is currently managing news editor for Raw Story.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So what if Iran is arming Shiite militias?

By Joshua Holland
Posted on February 12, 2007, Printed on February 13, 2007

At the risk of being repetitive, let me again say that the "left's" -- for lack of a better term -- crucial error in the lead-up to the war with Iraq was accepting the argument that an invasion would be justified -- legally and morally -- if Saddam Hussein possessed WMD.

That meant that we were debating the intelligence, and hawks within the administration always had more access to it than any of us outside the government did. We lost that debate when we accepted its terms -- the response should have been that Iraq was a piss-poor country that was well contained whether or not it had some old stocks of gas or germs buried in some hole somewhere.

So here we come to Iran. As everyone and their cousin has pointed out, it's just like the last time around, with anonymous government sources using dubious intelligence to blame Iran for the occupation's woes. We even have the same reporters carrying the neocons' water this time around as did the last.

We certainly have to counter the administration's claims. The briefing given in Baghdad doesn't add up; even if it did, we're still talking about 5 percent of U.S. fatalities; there's no smoking gun, and weapons manufactured in Iran could have come into Iraq via Hezbollah or could have been acquired on the international arms market; the focus on Iran is a distraction, and ignores evidence that the Saudis are lending support to the Sunni insurgents responsible for the lion's share of American casualties -- all of these are important points to make.

But let's not forget to make the bigger argument: even if Iran is furnishing weapons to Shiite militias, it's not a legitimate casus belli. I'll skip the fact that international law guarantees all people the right to resist armed occupation and go to the real heart of the matter: in the bloody mess that Iraq has become, the U.S. and Tehran are backing the same factions. We're on the same page with Tehran -- we're allies, or at least strange bedfellows.*

Recall Bush's typically simplistic narrative of what went wrong in Iraq, from his speech in January:

Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis … in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate.

Tehran would not argue with that.

Within the Shia community, there are pro-Iranian factions -- represented most visibly by SCIRi and the Dawa party in the parliament and the Badr Organization on the streets, and nationalists like Moktada al-Sadr, who chafes at the idea of either Iranian or U.S. influence.

The administration has declared the Mahdi Army to be the leading cause of instability in Iraq, and Tehran sees it as an obstacle to Iran's growing influence in the region.

Tehran's closely allied with SCIRI -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. In December, Bush hosted SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, and said of him:

This is a man whose family suffered unbelievable violence at the hands of the dictator, Saddam Hussein … yet rather than being bitter, he's involved with helping the new government succeed.
…I appreciate so very much His Eminence's commitment to a unity government. I assured him the United States supports his work and the work of the Prime Minister to unify the country. Part of unifying Iraq is for the elected leaders and society leaders to reject the extremists that are trying to stop the advance of this young democracy.

Those fawning remarks were about the Shiite faction that Iran wants to see prevail in Baghdad.

So, yeah, they may be training and arming members of Iraq's Shiite militias, and some of the weapons may end up killing American GIs. But so are we. The difference is that Iran is training and arming the Shiite groups we've decided are the good guys (the pro-Iranian militias), whereas we're arming and training the Mahdi Army, who we've declared the leading cause of strife in Iraq (see previous link).

Whether the information we're getting is solid or not -- and as bizarre as it may seem -- Iran's on roughly the same side as we are in Iraq, so where's the problem?

*This is, of course, somewhat over-simplified, but when has that gotten in the way of a good political argument?

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

On Iran Allegations, Consider the Source

On February 10, the New York Times ran a story about "an increasing body of evidence" suggesting "an Iranian role" in supplying the "deadliest weapon aimed at American troops in Iraq." Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell wants readers to consider the source. The sources cited are "civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies," almost all anonymous. And the author of the piece is Michael R. Gordon, who "on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion," including the infamous "aluminum tubes" story. In other Iran news, the Washington Post reports that Vice-President Cheney's national security adviser, John Hannah, called 2007 "the year of Iran." President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said the U.S. has "no intention of attacking Iran."

A Strike on Iran would signify the Beginning of an Epoch of Nuclear War

Global Research, February 10, 2007

In my paper entitled “2007: Opening a New Page in the World’s History”, published in September, 2006, I examined the possibility that a US strike on Iran using small-scale nuclear munitions [mini-nukes] would be launched, and that the strike would become the beginning of an epoch of nuclear wars. There were various responses to the paper. Some authors, including recognized experts, doubted the possibility of such a development. At present, few people doubt that there will be a strike on Iran. Rather, the question is whether nuclear or conventional weapons will be used in the offensive.

In this context, I would like to present the following considerations.

1. An attack on Iran is motivated by nothing but the US domestic political expediency and the unlimited appetites of the country’s military-industrial complex. President G. Bush has no choice – his only option is a breakthrough. The problem does not originate from the total failure of his doctrine of the “war on international terrorism”. If the US political elite represented by Bush based its decisions solely on the estimates of the damage to its public image that might be caused by the fiasco of the global anti-terrorist campaign, it would have extremely serious reservations about starting a new regional war. However, they are motivated by something else – they need to continue Bush’s politics backed by a conglomerate of weapons suppliers, who established control over the country’s oversized military spending. Should Bush recognize being defeated and withdraw the US military forces from the Middle East, the Democrat’s elite would overtake the financial leverage, and a major redistribution of the military commissioning would follow. When such enormous funds are at stake, people’s lives and those of entire nations become tokens in the game. For these operations, the destiny of the Middle East and its nations means absolutely nothing, just as the lives of the Vietnamese and the Cambodians showered with napalm and defoliants meant nothing either. One must be naïve to suppose that the Pentagon machine will stop and miss the new incredibly high profits.

2. The coming war between the US and Iran has to conform to certain parameters defined a priori. The US is tired of Iraq, and the public opinion in the country is turning increasingly anti-war. Therefore, the offensive against Iran has to be swift and victorious. This will save Bush’s political group and give it a higher rating in the country. There can be no doubt that a successful aggression will make Bush extremely popular in the US – in this anti-Christian society the pagan god of victory has long taken the place of the Savior. A triumph will make the US public blind and deaf – it will remain unaware of the price of the US victory for the nations of the Middle East. The crucial circumstance is that only nuclear weapons can guarantee the US victory in this war. Knowing that the US failed to win even in Iraq, a country plagued by religious and ethnic strife, one cannot expect it to prevail in the united and spiritually strong Iran. Only the use of nuclear weapons can make it possible to cause severe damage to the Iranian control system hidden in bunkers and, importantly, to behead its leadership no matter how deep underground it might be hiding. Iran without its leaders and with a paralyzed system of control, with an army devastated by “baby nukes”, is the only option which suits the US - it agrees to talk about peace only to a totally subdued offender. Such talks would let the US leaders’ old dream of a Middle Eastern Disneyland, mastered by the US and Israel, come true.

Here are the facts which illustrate the process of preparation for the devastation of Iran:

- The UN Security Council Resolution envisions that a further tightening of the sanctions imposed on Iran must take place after February 21, 2006. From the standpoint of international law, this is a pretext (essentially, a poor one, but one that does exist) to legalize an aggression against the country.

- Two US aircraft carrier groups armed with nukes are moving into the region. The US aircraft carrier groups have been on missions 5 times over the past 15 years. In 4 cases out of the 5, they launched military offensives. In March, 2007 both groups are to take their combat positions.

- Additional ground forces have been shifted to the border between Iraq and Iran. Preparations for a new phase of hostilities are underway.

- In February, Patriot missile defense systems will be ready to defend Israel and the aircraft carrier groups from enemy airstrikes.

- British combat engineers are entering the regions of the future fighting, clearly in order to operate in the Strait of Ormuz, where Iranians are most likely to lay mines.

- The US and Israel launched a powerful information and propaganda campaign preparing the global public opinion for the aggression.

- CENTCOM’s Commander John Abizaid, an opponent of the war with Iran, resigned. His position was taken over by Admiral W. Fallon, a veteran of the 1991 Iraq and 1995 Bosnia campaigns.

- John Negroponte has been removed from his position as the Director of National Intelligence for persistently resisting the use of force against Iran.

- Tony. Blair, the “staff peacemaker” for the Middle East, never mentions a peaceful settlement of the Iran dossier. He makes no attempts to find a way to resolve the crisis in a peaceful way, and this is highly indicative.

All of the above constitute evidence of Iran being prepared for sacrifice. Will a major provocation be orchestrated for this purpose?

A number of observers opine that Washington needs one. We believe that what we will see is going to be a plain cowboy-style scenario like the one which materialized in Iraq. The media has never stop debating the issue of the “Iranian atomic bomb” – just as they focused on “Saddam. Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction”. It is time for them to start. It absolutely does not matter that eventually nothing of the kind will be found in Iran. Those who disagree will be silenced by force.

The question is – will such a “breakthrough” do George Bush any good? The idea of attacking Iran was born in the primitive minds of those who, just for the sake of their profits, can sell the rope on which they will be hanged. This time it will be neither they nor their children who will perish in the nuclear Holocaust, and they’d rather not worry that by this they will take the whole of mankind a step closer to total catastrophe.

© Copyright Dmitriy Sedov, Strategic Cultural Foundation (Russia), 2007

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Bush's masked men make case for attacking Iran...

By Evan Derkacz
Posted on February 12, 2007

On Sunday, "under unusually secretive circumstances," three US officials attempted to show that Iran was aiding the insurgency in Iraq. That is to say, the three Defense and Intelligence officials would not allow their identities to be made public.

This is just slapstick.

Plus, I don't see why anyone in the Bush Administration should need to shield themselves against future repercussions when you get a damned medal of honor for effing things up in their Bizarro world.

Eason Jordan of IraqSlogger writes:

After weeks, if not months, of US official planning to present a damning "dossier" of incriminating evidence against Iran, and after this same US administration presented us with lopsided, erroneous information about the capability and evil intentions of the Saddam Hussein regime, the best the US government can give us today is incendiary evidence presented at a Baghdad news conference by three US officials who refuse to be quoted by name?

According to Jordan one of the three masked men was unmasked by an Iraqi news service (why we oughtta attack you... if we hadn't already...) as Major General William Caldwell who, Jordan notes, is a PR guy who regularly gives interviews. So what gives?

And what of all those semi-mea culpas given after the lousy Iraq coverage by the Times, the Post and others? At least Colin Powell had the cojones to lie to the world as himself.

More on media credulousness HERE.

RUMSFELD'S GHOST BONUS: Rummy may be gone but his legacy is alive and kicking. When asked why so little evidence of Iranian interference in Iraq was shown, one of the three amigos responded in rumsfeldeverse: "There's a gap between what we know and what we can show."

Evan Derkacz is an AlterNet editor. He writes and edits PEEK, the blog of blogs.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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