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Wednesday, May 30, 2007
By Guest Blogger
Posted on May 30, 2007
This post originally appeared on The Smirking Chimp
Advocates for impeachment can take some measure of encouragement not just from the 85 cities and towns and 14 state Democratic parties that have passed impeachment resolutions, or the 11 state legislatures that have introduced them (Maine was #11 on Tuesday), but also from comments made Tuesday evening in Detroit by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers.
For about a year now there have been two Congressmen Conyers, the defender of our Constitution and the follower of Nancy Pelosi in her ban on impeachment. Citizens in Detroit organized a town hall forum on impeachment and invited the Congressman. Both John Conyerses came on Tuesday, and they both left partway through the event. But, judging by the Associated Press story, Conyers the impeachment advocate was winning the internal battle.
The report reads in its entirety:
"Detroit Congressman John Conyers says he supports a national effort calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. But he stopped short today of pledging to take action to back it. The veteran democratic [sic] lawmaker chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which would lead any impeachment hearings. Conyers did say that he encourages nationwide efforts to build support for impeaching Bush."
Judging by that story, Conyers is not yet committed to acting, but he wants to be able to, and he wants to see an increase in public pressure to make it easier for him to move ahead. Let's give it to him!
This longer article begins:
"U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said Tuesday he supports a national effort calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, but stopped short of pledging to take action to back it. 'I've been supportive of that movement,' said Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee that would lead impeachment hearings. 'I encourage that nationwide.' But Conyers, who left a Detroit church before a town-hall meeting attended by a standing-room-only crowd of about 250 people, remained noncommittal about lending his official backing for impeachment proceedings. Conyers had also convened a separate town-hall meeting in Detroit on Tuesday evening to discuss high gas prices. 'The goal is whether to impeach or follow up on the defects and disabilities of an administration' that has shut out Congress, he said."
So far, the longer article gives about the same impression as the shorter one as to Conyers' position. And, reading on, it continues to do so, but the reporter throws in material from other sources:
"A message was seeking comment were left [sic] Tuesday night with the Republican National Committee. Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, suggested Conyers was simply indulging old obsessions, adding, 'It has no legs, it's gaining no support in Michigan, let alone nationally.'"
This charge is called into question later in the same article by the report that Detroit City Council recently passed a resolution to petition the US House for impeachment. And pronouncements on public support for impeachment, or lack thereof, are almost always complete guesses or fabrications. The few polls that have been done show strong support for impeachment: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/polling but none of these polls are recent, none are focused on Michigan, and none are likely to be repeated anytime soon, since polling companies are refusing to touch the subject even for cold hard cash. The article continues:
"Anuzis cited the recent approval by Congress to fund the Iraq war, and he said there is serious analysis going on to determine how best to deal with the situation there. 'This is moving along the way it should in the normal course of action and I think that the Democrats in Congress that are a little more reasonable are working with the president,' he said."
More reasonable than Conyers? Or more reasonable than the public? Or more reasonable than the Detroit City Council?
"Speakers and audience members expressed frustration and disappointment Tuesday that Conyers did not return by the event's conclusion. The town-hall meeting featured panelists who took questions from the audience. Behind the panel, a large sign bearing handwritten signatures hung endorsing impeachment proceedings. On May 16, the Detroit City Council unanimously passed an impeachment resolution that claimed the two [presumably this means Bush and Cheney] had conspired to defraud the public to justify the Iraq war. The resolution was sponsored by Councilwoman Monica Conyers, the Democratic congressman's wife. Nationwide, more than 70 cities and 14 state Democratic parties have urged impeachment or investigations that could lead to impeachment."
Not 70, but at least 85: http://www.impeachpac.org/resolutions-list
Next the AP article simply quotes from a McClatchy article that came out Tuesday about the national movement for impeachment:
"'There's a lot growing in support [sic],' Tim Carpenter, director of the liberal group Progressive Democrats of America, told McClatchy Newspapers for a Tuesday story. 'Whether Congress will respond, that's another question.' On the Judiciary Committee, Conyers has been criticized by Republicans for his vocal opposition to the White House's handling of the Iraq War."
Yeah? What does the public think? Any idea?
"During the last session, when Republicans controlled Congress, he introduced a bill calling on lawmakers to determine whether there are grounds for impeachment over the government's warrantless wiretapping program."
In fact, Congressman Conyers introduced H Res 635 before the warrantless wiretapping program was first reported on. The bill would have created "a select committee to investigate the Administration's intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, and retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment." http://afterdowningstreet.org/635
Conyers released a report at the time on some of the apparent crimes of Bush and Cheney, which his staff later updated to include the warrantless spying. http://afterdowningstreet.org/constitutionincrisis
Tuesday night's AP article adds a final sentence that appears not to be a quotation or even to derive from Tuesday night. It reads:
"But amid pressure from party leaders, Conyers has said that he does not intend to move forward with any impeachment effort."
Of all the things Conyers has said for and against impeachment, why pick this one to paraphrase? The people packed into the meeting in Detroit might have preferred a beauty like this one:
"I have a choice. I can either stand by and lead my constituents to believe I do not care that the president apparently no longer believes he is bound by any law or code of decency. Or I can act."
Here's a description of Tuesday evening's event from the media advisory sent out beforehand:
Metro Detroiters to Hold Impeachment Town Hall Discussion Congressman John Conyers, Jr., is expected to appear
Tuesday, May 29th @ 5 pm (Refreshments & Organizing 5pm; Panel Starts Promptly at 5:45pm; Parking Available at Church) Central United Methodist Church
23 E. Adams Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
with Special Guests: Jazz Great Spencer Barefield & Friends Panel & Discussion to Include:
*Jack Lessenberry: Detroit Metro Times editorialist. *Bill Goodman: Former Legal Director of Center for Constitutional Rights, local Detroit NLG attorney. *JoAnn Watson: Detroit City Council Member. *Maureen Taylor: State Chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. *Malik Rahim: Co-founder Common Ground, New Orleans; Green Party Candidate for NO City Council in 2002; former Black Panther Party member. *Ann Wright: U.S. Army Colonel and diplomat who resigned in protest the day before the war began. *Ray McGovern: Former CIA analyst who prepared the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates; Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity member. *Debra Sweet: National Coordinator, World Can't Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime!
Initial List of Sponsors: National Lawyers Guild, Detroit & Michigan Chapter; MIImpeach.org; Veterans for Peace; Latinos Unidos of Michigan; Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; Democrats.com; AfterDowningStreet.org; Progressive Democrats of America; World Can't Wait--Detroit Chapter; A28; Green Party of Michigan.
Reporting on recent passage of impeachment resolution by Detroit City Council:
The Detroit Free Press: http://tinyurl.com/2tp8gc
The Detroit News: http://tinyurl.com/32gu72
AfterDowningStreet.org, including full text of the resolution: http://tinyurl.com/3yvmdm
As more reports come in from Tuesday's event they'll be posted at http://afterdowningstreet.org/mi
To contact and encourage John Conyers and his colleagues, go here: http://afterdowningstreet.org/judiciarycommittee
David Swanson is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers//52616/
By Don Hazen, AlterNet
Posted on May 30, 2007
Going against the grain of many progressive voters thought to be among his potential supporters, Cleveland area Congressman Dennis Kucinich has decided to join Delaware Senator Joe Biden as the only Democratic presidential candidates planning to attend a September debate that Fox News intend to hold in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus.
Kucinich said: "... for Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama to skip the debate simply because it was to be broadcast on Fox was a snub of the Congressional Black Caucus." He added: "Those candidates planning to skip this debate clearly are trying to avoid a forum where there will be hard-hitting questions from people who may not agree with them."
James Rucker, head of the on-line group The Color of Change, who along with MoveOn and others has been leading the campaign challenging Fox News' legitimacy as a news organization, responded, "If Congressman Kucinich actually paid any attention to what African-Americans are saying about the Fox debate, he'd know better than to accuse the leading candidates of snubbing black voters. Refusing to attend this debate isn't about avoiding an unfriendly forum, it's about refusing to lend further legitimacy to a network that regularly distorts the truth and attacks black leaders, institutions, culture, and black people in general."
Rucker added: "If Kucinich wants to help legitimize a race-baiting propaganda network, that's his business, but he shouldn't claim black voters are on his side. Rather, this is a cynical political ploy to get press attention and airtime."
In a press release from May 27th, Kucinich said, "This (boycott of the debate) is particularly troublesome because the concerns of African Americans should take precedent over what network is broadcasting the debate." The irony here is that many Black voters despise Fox, namely its coverage of racial issues. Two videos produced by Brave New Films and Robert Greenwald have documented Fox's attitudes about race and, particularly, candidate Barack Obama. These videos have been viewed by many hundreds of thousands of people on YouTube and sparked spirited debates.
To many observers it seems that Fox is using its partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus -- one where Fox has made considerable financial contributions because it allows them to claim they're sensitive to the concerns of African-Americans, while continuing to broadcast bigoted views on race issues. It certainly can be argued that leading candidates have shown respect for black voters by refusing to attend this debate.
It remains to be seen whether the Fox Debate actually happens. The debate is scheduled to be held in the Detroit District of Congresswomen Carolyn Kilpatrick, currently the chairperson of the CBC, who along with Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, are the two most vocal supporters of the debate from the Caucus. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, from Los Angeles, a CBC member who is also prominent in the congressional Progressive Caucus, where Kucinich is a leading member, was quoted in the New York Times as being against the FOX-CBC Partnership. Neither Waters nor another CBC member, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, from Berkeley, frequently seen as one of the most principled members of Congress, signed the letter from the CBC asking for presidential candidates to attend the Fox debate.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/52568/
By Guest Blogger
Posted on May 30, 2007
This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post
Fred Thompson hasn't been a real prosecutor for 35 years, but he plays one on TV. You might think he'd be careful about slandering a real prosecutors' prosecutor on behalf of a convicted perjurer. But you'd be wrong.
Ol' Fred may yet regret allowing his name to be used as a member of the Advisory Board of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust. I'm not sure, but to ordinary folks that may look like "Arthur Branch" is just a mite too cozy inside the Beltway.
As you may recall, for some inexplicable reason, the CIA sent the husband of one of its employees to Niger on a sensitive mission. She had suggested it. He came back to the U.S. and proceeded to publicly blast the administration. Naturally, everyone wanted to know "who is this guy?" and "why was he sent to Niger?" Just as naturally, the fact that he was married to Valerie Plame at the CIA was leaked.
Having virtually guaranteed that Ms. Plame's identity would be ultimately disclosed by using her, shall we say, "politically active" husband, the CIA then demanded that this leak of her name be investigated by the Justice Department for a possible violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
The Justice Department, bowing to political and media pressure, appointed a Special Counsel to investigate the leak and promised that the Justice Department would exercise no supervision over him whatsoever -- a status even the Attorney General does not have.
The only problem with this little scenario was that there was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody -- the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a "covered person" under the statute and it was obvious from the outset.
Furthermore, Justice and the Special Counsel knew who leaked Plames's name and it wasn't Scooter Libby. But the Beltway machinery was well oiled and geared up so the Special Counsel spent the next two years moving heaven and earth to come up with something, anything. Finally he came up with some inconsistent recollections by Scooter Libby, who had been up to his ears studying National Intelligence Estimates. But he worked for Dick Cheney, so that apparently was enough for the special counsel.
I didn't know Scooter Libby, but I did know something about this intersection of law, politics, special counsels and intelligence. And it was obvious to me that what was happening was not right. So I called him to see what I could do to help, and along the way we became friends. You know the rest of the story: a D.C. jury convicted him.
I've highlighted the parts that the sentencing memo demolishes. She was a covered person: working covertly, having her identity actively protected, and having traveled abroad seven times under cover in the five years prior to the leak, and while Libby wasn't the only leaker he burned her to at least three different people before the Novak column ran. Note also the wonderful passive construction -- Plame's CIA identity "was leaked" (by no one in particular), and the deniably but unmistakably racist crack about a "D.C. jury."
And this is the conservatives' Great White Hope against Rudy McRomney? On this showing, I could make a better President out of paper maché.
Mark Kleiman is Professor of Public Policy in the UCLA School of Public Affairs. He teaches courses on methods of policy analysis and on drug abuse and crime control policy.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers//52588/
Distorting the Venezuelan media story
The story is framed in U.S. news media as a simple matter of censorship: Prominent Venezuelan TV station RCTV is being silenced by the authoritarian government of President Hugo Chávez, who is punishing the station for its political criticism of his government.
According to CNN reporter T.J. Holmes (5/21/07), the issues are easy to understand: RCTV "is going to be shut down, is going to get off the air, because of President Hugo Chávez, not a big fan of it." Dubbing RCTV "a voice of free speech," Holmes explained, "Chavez, in a move that's angered a lot of free-speech groups, is refusing now to renew the license of this television station that has been critical of his government."
Though straighter, a news story by the Associated Press (5/20/07) still maintained the theme that the license denial was based simply on political differences, with reporter Elizabeth Munoz describing RCTV as "a network that has been critical of Chávez."
In a May 14 column, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl called the action an attempt to silence opponents and more "proof" that Chávez is a "dictator." Wrote Diehl, "Chávez has made clear that his problem with [RCTV owner Marcel] Granier and RCTV is political."
In keeping with the media script that has bad guy Chávez brutishly silencing good guys in the democratic opposition, all these articles skimmed lightly over RCTV's history, the Venezuelan government's explanation for the license denial and the process that led to it.
RCTV and other commercial TV stations were key players in the April 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chávez's democratically elected government. During the short-lived insurrection, coup leaders took to commercial TV airwaves to thank the networks. "I must thank Venevisión and RCTV," one grateful leader remarked in an appearance captured in the Irish film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The film documents the networks’ participation in the short-lived coup, in which stations put themselves to service as bulletin boards for the coup—hosting coup leaders, silencing government voices and rallying the opposition to a march on the Presidential Palace that was part of the coup plotters strategy.
On April 11, 2002, the day of the coup, when military and civilian opposition leaders held press conferences calling for Chávez's ouster, RCTV hosted top coup plotter Carlos Ortega, who rallied demonstrators to the march on the presidential palace. On the same day, after the anti-democratic overthrow appeared to have succeeded, another coup leader, Vice-Admiral Victor Ramírez Pérez, told a Venevisión reporter (4/11/02): "We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you."
That commercial TV outlets including RCTV participated in the coup is not at question; even mainstream outlets have acknowledged as much. As reporter Juan Forero, Jackson Diehl's colleague at the Washington Post, explained (1/18/07), "RCTV, like three other major private television stations, encouraged the protests," resulting in the coup, "and, once Chávez was ousted, cheered his removal." The conservative British newspaper the Financial Times reported (5/21/07), "[Venezuelan] officials argue with some justification that RCTV actively supported the 2002 coup attempt against Mr. Chávez."
As FAIR's magazine Extra! argued last November, "Were a similar event to happen in the U.S., and TV journalists and executives were caught conspiring with coup plotters, it’s doubtful they would stay out of jail, let alone be allowed to continue to run television stations, as they have in Venezuela."
When Chávez returned to power the commercial stations refused to cover the news, airing instead entertainment programs—in RCTV's case, the American film Pretty Woman. By refusing to cover such a newsworthy story, the stations abandoned the public interest and violated the public trust that is seen in Venezuela (and in the U.S.) as a requirement for operating on the public airwaves. Regarding RCTV's refusal to cover the return of Chavez to power, Columbia University professor and former NPR editor John Dinges told Marketplace (5/8/07):
What RCTV did simply can't be justified under any stretch of journalistic principles…. When a television channel simply fails to report, simply goes off the air during a period of national crisis, not because they're forced to, but simply because they don't agree with what's happening, you've lost your ability to defend what you do on journalistic principles.
The Venezuelan government is basing its denial of license on RCTV's involvement in the 2002 coup, not on the station's criticisms of or political opposition to the government. Many American pundits and some human rights spokespersons have confused the issue by claiming the action is based merely on political differences, failing to note that Venezuela's media, including its commercial broadcasters, are still among the most vigorously dissident on the planet.
When Patrick McElwee of the U.S.-based group Just Foreign Policy interviewed representatives of Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists—all groups that have condemned Venezuela's action in denying RCTV's license renewal—he found that none of the spokespersons thought broadcasters were automatically entitled to license renewals, though none of them thought RCTV's actions in support of the coup should have resulted in the station having its license renewal denied. This led McElwee to wonder, based on the rights groups' arguments, "Could it be that governments like Venezuela have the theoretical right to not to renew a broadcast license, but that no responsible government would ever do it?"
McElwee acknowledged the critics' point that some form of due process should have been involved in the decisions, but explained that laws preexisting Chávez's presidency placed licensing decision with the executive branch, with no real provisions for a hearings process: "Unfortunately, this is what the law, first enacted in 1987, long before Chávez entered the political scene, allows. It charges the executive branch with decisions about license renewal, but does not seem to require any administrative hearing. The law should be changed, but at the current moment when broadcast licenses are up for renewal, it is the prevailing law and thus lays out the framework in which decisions are made."
Government actions weighing on journalism and broadcast licensing deserve strong scrutiny. However, on the central question of whether a government is bound to renew the license of a broadcaster when that broadcaster had been involved in a coup against the democratically elected government, the answer should be clear, as McElwee concludes:
The RCTV case is not about censorship of political opinion. It is about the government, through a flawed process, declining to renew a broadcast license to a company that would not get a license in other democracies, including the United States. In fact, it is frankly amazing that this company has been allowed to broadcast for 5 years after the coup, and that the Chávez government waited until its license expired to end its use of the public airwaves.(emphasis mine-Pete)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
SAM SMITH - Whenever a new crisis develops in an election year and it's not nature's or the stock market's fault, the odds are pretty good that it's not a crisis.
Witness the sudden discovery of immigrants, a much more comfortable topic for some than Iraq, global warming, globalization, or runaway corporate greed.
The debate, however, has its bizarre aspects. For example, the Texas Rangers, who should know, list their last serious concerns with Mexican terrorists as occurring nearly 100 years ago when "when authorities in McAllen, Texas, arrest Basilio Ramos, Jr. Ramos is carrying a copy of the Plan of San Diego, a revolutionary manifesto supposedly written and signed at the South Texas town of San Diego. It calls for the formation of a 'Liberating Army of Races and Peoples,' of Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Japanese, to 'free' the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado from United States. Versions of the plan call for the murder of all white citizens over 16 years of age. The goal is an independent republic, which might later seek annexation to Mexico.' Since then things have been pretty quiet, although some guerillas from another continent did considerable damage in 2001 by using the border crossing technique known as "buying airline tickets."
But it's not really about terrorism. It's about finding a scapegoat for America's increasing problems. What America's white elite is doing is just what its southern branch did under segregation: teach non-elite whites to blame their problems on a minority. It worked well then and it seems to be working now.
But those wishing to test the extent of the immigrant problem might want to conduct this quick test:
1. Has a Mexican ever fired or laid you off?
2. Was the plant you worked for until it was sent overseas been bought by Mexicans or is it still owned by the same people you used to work for?
3. Has a Mexican ever cut your pension or health benefits? Outsourced your job to India?
4. How much does Latin America contribute to global warming and its results - such as bigger hurricanes and more tornados - compared with the United States?
5. Was Enron run by Mexicans?
6. Are Mexicans responsible for NSA's spying you?
7. Do you think Mexicans or the pharmaceutical corporations are more responsible for high drug costs?
8. How much of the corruption in Washington has been instigated by the Mexicans?
9. Did the Mexicans' make us invade Iraq?
10. Are the Mexicans responsible for George bush being so dumb?
Chances are most your answers will be in the negative which is a clue to stop spending so much time worrying about immigration and turn your attention to something else.
Posted on May 29, 2007
Visualize this spectacle: a debate between a neocon and a progressive. The subject is religion. One of them is there to defend religion, to praise God, to cheerlead for even the most devout. The other -- his opponent -- is an atheist. He skewers deities and those who follow deities. He calls them evil. Toxic. Childish. He mocks doctrine. Railing that the devout want to kill us and control the world, he is on a mission, as it were, to vanquish missions. You'd expect the liberal to be the atheist and the neocon to vouch for the devout. No-brainer, right? Well, no.
As Christopher Hitchens debated Chris Hedges in a Berkeley auditorium last Thursday night, it was Hedges who praised the pious. And it was 9/11-neocon Hitchens who railed against "Abrahamic man-made filthy propaganda," proclaiming that "human emancipation begins when this nonsense ends."
Both men are the authors of brand-new books, both of which share a basic premise. Truthdig columnist Hedges, who won an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights in Journalism five years ago for his New York Times reportage on terrorism, has just published American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2007, $25). Hitchens' latest is God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Twelve, $24.95), its title saucily skewering the English translation of Allahu Akbar.
While in American Fascists, Hedges lambastes fundamentalist Christianity and what he calls its divisive good-vs.-evil, us-vs.-them "binary worldview," he is also a Presbyterian minister's son and has a Harvard divinity degree. Which qualifies him for the ostensibly odd role -- a game of Twister unto itself -- of supporting religious ritual and belief in the supernatural while being denounced as a callow hypocrite by a world-famous colleague who might once have agreed with him on everything.
That colleague now disagrees with him on nearly everything, though before the night was over both expressed a loathing for the KKK. That was a hard bill to fill: chewing the fat about faith with a celebrity atheist -- an "ex-socialist," as the evening's emcee would call Hitchens, succinctly -- in a stalwartly secular college town, during an arguably religious war, at an event bristling with contradictions.
Its cosponsors were Cody's independent bookstore, Berkeley free-speech-radio station KPFA and the Zaytuna Institute -- a traditionalist Islamic education center and seminary in nearby Hayward that maintains a strict dress code including long-sleeved shirts and scarves for female students and whose Web site outlines its mission to use "the most effective tools of our time as a means of serving our Lord and honoring our Prophet, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam."
Sharing the middle-school auditorium lobby with a Zaytuna table and a book-selling table were representatives of the Revolutionary Communist Party. A Christian booth of some kind would have made for an even more provocative mix, but that contingent -- along with Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha'i and, for that matter, Berkeley's thriving neopagans -- was either not invited to set up a table or declined. Hitchens spoke first, smirking that "since I'm in Berkeley, California, the mush-headed view" pervading the audience was surely that faith inspires ethics. Yet "our morality, our human solidarity," he avowed, "are innate."
Rather than springing from some religious code whose every behavioral prompt is "either a bribe or a threat," drawn from doctrine that "either demands total abjection or proposes that you are the egomaniacal center of the universe," acts of kindness and activism and the saving and taking of lives spring, he believes, from some universal interior monitor that gauges right and wrong.
"It also makes me rejoice in the deaths of my enemies," he said and stood back, as if the hostility in the hall was palpable. "I can't change that. And neither can you, pray as you might." Scorning a classic Christian tenet, Hitchens snarled, "Go ahead and love your enemies. Don't go loving mine."
His enemies are "the enemies of civilization" and they "should be beaten." He spoke of hordes aching to kill us and our children and burn our libraries. He cited "the Iranians, [who] have a tooth-fairy god called the Twelfth Imam," and who "managed by piracy to have acquired an apocalyptic weapon to drive the lesson home. These people are coming after you, too, and it's time you woke up to it." Hedges bristled. "The problem," he countered, "is not religion. The problem is religious orthodoxy." Religion isn't as toxic as "that disease of nationalism" from which "comes a blind racism." What spurs evil acts, he told the crowd, was "the clamor of the tribe or the nation" -- though anyone might argue that the lines between faith, tribalism and nationalism are fuzzy these days at best.
"God is better understood as a verb than as a noun," he ventured. "God is a process." Invoking Tillich, Flaubert and Freud, Hedges finished his introductory remarks by proposing that "the danger is not Islam. ... The danger is the human heart." Thus began a discussion around a low coffee table with KPFA's Interim Program Director Sasha Lilley moderating.
Hitchens mocked the leisurely arrangement. Leaning far back in his flexible chair and describing his posture as "semi-reclining," he offered to "do it lying down if you want me to," before calling Hedges simplistic and self-serving and asking him to reconsider -- "if you can think at all." "I hate institutionalized religion as much as Christopher does," Hedges put in. Cheers erupted when he called the Christian Right "the most frightening mass political movement in American history."
Hitchens broke in, repeatedly overrunning Lilley, disdaining as "callow leftism" the "evil nonsense taught by Hedges ... that Palestinian suicide bombers are driven by despair.... These are people in a state of exaltation [for] their mullahs and their filthy religion," Hitchens raged, dismissing at once "any other explanation of Islamic jihad" besides a religious one, then likewise dismissing "anyone who eulogizes this evil wicked thing." Boos shook the hall. But so did cheers. As Hitchens rocked back in his chair, it was clear from the clamor that a fair portion of the crowd supported him: maybe thirty percent, maybe forty. What trumps what, these days, in Berkeley?
Hedges likened Hitchens to The End of Faith (Norton, 2004, $24.95) author Sam Harris, condemning the "binary worldview" both men share. Taking up the jihad gauntlet, Hedges riposted that "the only route we have given these young kids is [that of] affirming themselves through death," with its attendant promise of paradise and huge funeral processions. "Self-immolation is the only route they have," he insisted, to wild and lasting applause. Hitchens eyed him, incredulous, across the coffee table strewn with water glasses and stacks of notes. "Who makes excuses for suicide-murderers?" Hitchens marveled. "Shame on you." From the crowd came a shout: "Shut up!"
Hitchens shook his head: "You rationalized murder." As Lilley and Hedges struggled to restart the dialogue, Hitchens kept repeating that phrase with mingled accusation and wonder: You rationalized murder. "I haven't finished," Hedges protested.
"You have finished," Hitches snorted. "You are finished." Debates are fights, but bloodless ones. They are our teensiest, cleanest, most demure wars. And their frontline artillery comprises words: not just their meanings, not just Hitchens drawling "Comrade Hedges" but their sound, the whole Toastmasters rimshot rise-and-fall, that performative badda-bing that makes us flinch in principle but which works behind a mic. In those stage-lit, miniature wars our secret weapons are whatever we know of our adversaries' pasts. Missteps. Alliances. In that vein, Hedges could have asked Hitchens why in November 2005, under the auspices of an overtly Christ-centered far-right think tank known as the Family Research Council, he addressed fundamentalist Christian college students who received course credit for attending that event.
Yet Hedges did not broach that subject. And luminous as his writing can be, onstage he was rather trounced, at least in a Toastmasters sense. "What's dangerous," he declared as the evening drew to a close, "is when one person thinks he has an absolute truth.... To believe that we have an understanding of the truth ... is to carry out an evil."
Funny how truth keeps popping up everywhere these days. Well, not truth itself so much as its spectre: now you see it, now you don't, either dazzling or puzzling, changing in the shifting light from a right to an ideal to a bludgeon. How to get this straight? We seek truth. Well enough. But how much? Because its opposite is ignorance, or lies. On the evil-absolutism connection, Hitchens seconded Hedges -- but again, and ironically, only up to a point.
"We can't use the word 'totalitarian,'" he boomed sarcastically, "about the one religion that actually practices totalitarianism." He meant Islam. He waxed nostalgic for bygone days when his debates about religion were predictable: when the devout would just come right out and announce that unbelievers were doomed. "At least we knew where we were," he mused. "Now it's all relative. It's made up a la carte and cherry-picked." Applause shook the hall. Sometimes, even in Berkeley, you don't know where you are.
Anneli Rufus is the author of several books, including "Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto."
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/52449/
By Guest Blogger
Posted on May 29, 2007
This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post
In a Dailykos diary entitled "Good Riddance Attention Whore" Cindy Sheehan announces that she is going home, resigning, as she puts it, from the role of "the face of the American anti-war movement." She is obviously exhausted, embittered, frustrated, and angry, saying that being called "an attention whore" is one of the milder rebukes she's faced. The Iraq funding bill was the last straw for her. Like so many other anti-war activists, she felt betrayed by the Democrats who supported the bill; after the vote she publicly quit the party.
On Memorial Day, (her dead son Casey was born on Memorial day in 1979), she wrote:
"I am demonized because I don't see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person's heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?"
And she added this:
"The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most."
For what it's worth, Cindy, you didn't fail Casey. We all did--his fellow citizens who didn't do enough to prevent a shameful, needless war, and the politicians who won't do what it takes now to stop it.
We owe a huge debt to Cindy Sheehan, who was as brave in her own way as her son Casey was. Even now, as she leaves the fray, she's demonized by the right wing nutblogs.
Meanwhile, our government, and the Iraqis' leaders, have clearly decided that the best way to make certain we Americans get the full story about how well things are going in Iraq is to decree that we don't see its failures. No photos of bombings, no photos of the wounded (without their prior consent in writing) and, of course, no photos of flag draped coffins.
The war grinds on, and grinds up the lives of so many good people.
Shelley Lewis is author of the book, “Naked Republicans: A full frontal Exposure of Rightwing Hypocrisy and Greed”
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers//52493/
Monday, May 28, 2007
By Guest Blogger
Posted on May 25, 2007
This is a guest post by regular AlterNet commenter Eddie Torres.
Earlier this month, Judge Kenneth Robertson Jr. of Attalla City, Alabama, ordered two shoplifters convicted of stealing from a Wal-Mart Supercenter to serve a a 60-day jail sentence or stand in front of the store for 8 hours wearing a sign reading "I am a thief; I stole from Wal-Mart."
After the two shoplifters decided to wear the signs, the judge convinced Wal-Mart to allow the sentence to be carried out. However, after the first 4 hours of the sentence had been served, Wal-Mart abruptly changed its mind, stating "…upon further review, we simply would rather the punishment not be carried out on store property."
Before Wal-Mart's higher-ups reversed their position, the manager of the Attalla City Superstore said that "the only comments we've heard so far have been positive… most of them thought it was a good thing… maybe they [the shoplifters] will think twice about doing it." In contrast, convicted shoplifter Lisa Fithian said some people who read the sign described the punishment as "cruel".
America's protections against "cruel and unusual punishment" have been under constant pressure since well before 9/11, with plea-bargaining that is weighted against the poor and uneducated, an informant system that pays criminals to turn in other criminals in exchange for immunity, and sentencing rules that fill prisons faster than authorities can build them.
But why does shoplifter Lisa Fithian's punishment sound so chillingly familiar? Because similar placard-around-the-neck punishments were used by German judges both domestically and in "People's Courts" in occupied territories after the Nazi party rose to power in the 1930s:
The use of placards around the necks of condemned criminals has historically had two specific purposes: to humiliate the criminal and to send a message to the rest of the population. But Judge Robertson in Alabama is not a member of an occupying regime.
He is a cog in a justice system that uses the US Constitution, a 220 year-old document, as the basis of its authority. And it appears that fear of setting a precedent for "cruel and unusual punishment" was not on Judge Robertson's mind at the time of his decision.
More worrisome is the tolerance of unusual judicial methods by a wider population in this event - including (temporarily) Wal-Mart. It brings to mind the 1961 film "Judgment at Nuremberg," where the accused German judge Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster) describes the climate of fear in pre-war Nazi Germany that enabled judges to justify increasingly extreme decisions:
There was a fever over the land… We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. There was, above all, fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, fear of ourselves… What about us, who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we participate? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later…
Judge Dan Haywood (played by Spencer Tracy) responds to Janning in his closing remarks:
There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the protection of the country. Of survival. The answer to that is: survival as what? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult. Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth… and the value of a single human being.
As long as America tolerates Wal-Mart justice and Jack Bauer methods, the world waits for influential Americans to stand up for a higher purpose. The world has been waiting a long time.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers//52377/
Sunday, May 27, 2007
By Brian Ross and Richard Esposito
Tuesday 22 May 2007
The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.
"I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region.
A National Security Council spokesperson, Gordon Johndroe, said, "The White House does not comment on intelligence matters." A CIA spokesperson said, "As a matter of course, we do not comment on allegations of covert activity."
The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community.
Officials say the covert plan is designed to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program and end aid to insurgents in Iraq.
"There are some channels where the United States government may want to do things without its hand showing, and legally, therefore, the administration would, if it's doing that, need an intelligence finding and would need to tell the Congress," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official.
Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.
"Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side favoring a military strike," said former CIA official Riedel, "but I think they have come to the conclusion that a military strike has more downsides than upsides."
The covert action plan comes as U.S. officials have confirmed Iran had dramatically increased its ability to produce nuclear weapons material, at a pace that experts said would give them the ability to build a nuclear bomb in two years.
Riedel says economic pressure on Iran may be the most effective tool available to the CIA, particularly in going after secret accounts used to fund the nuclear program.
"The kind of dealings that the Iranian Revolution Guards are going to do, in terms of purchasing nuclear and missile components, are likely to be extremely secret, and you're going to have to work very, very hard to find them, and that's exactly the kind of thing the CIA's nonproliferation center and others would be expert at trying to look into," Riedel said.
Under the law, the CIA needs an official presidential finding to carry out such covert actions. The CIA is permitted to mount covert "collection" operations without a presidential finding.
"Presidential findings" are kept secret but reported to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and other key congressional leaders.
The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding means CIA officers may not use deadly force in carrying out the secret operations against Iran.
Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.
"I think everybody in the region knows that there is a proxy war already afoot with the United States supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well as opposition groups within Iran," said Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow," Nasr said.
Other "lethal" findings have authorized CIA covert actions against al Qaeda, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Also briefed on the CIA proposal, according to intelligence sources, were National Security Advisor Steve Hadley and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams.
"The entire plan has been blessed by Abrams, in particular," said one intelligence source familiar with the plan. "And Hadley had to put his chop on it."
Abrams' last involvement with attempting to destabilize a foreign government led to criminal charges.
He pleaded guilty in October 1991 to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about the Reagan administration's ill-fated efforts to destabilize the Nicaraguan Sandinista government in Central America, known as the Iran-Contra affair. Abrams was later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush in December 1992.
In June 2001, Abrams was named by then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to head the National Security Council's office for democracy, human rights and international operations. On Feb. 2, 2005, National Security Advisor Hadley appointed Abrams deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy, one of the nation's most senior national security positions.
As earlier reported on the Blotter on ABCNews.com, the United States has supported and encouraged an Iranian militant group, Jundullah, that has conducted deadly raids inside Iran from bases on the rugged Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan "tri-border region."
U.S. officials deny any "direct funding" of Jundullah groups but say the leader of Jundullah was in regular contact with U.S. officials.
American intelligence sources say Jundullah has received money and weapons through the Afghanistan and Pakistan military and Pakistan's intelligence service. Pakistan has officially denied any connection.
A report broadcast on Iranian TV last Sunday said Iranian authorities had captured 10 men crossing the border with $500,000 in cash along with "maps of sensitive areas" and "modern spy equipment."
A senior Pakistani official told ABCNews.com the 10 men were members of Jundullah.
The leader of the Jundullah group, according to the Pakistani official, has been recruiting and training "hundreds of men" for "unspecified missions" across the border in Iran.
Click Here to See Photos of the Players in Another Iran Operation - the Iran-Contra Affair: Where Are They Now?
Published: 24 May 2007
It is a place of Palestinian fury - and almost as much Palestinian blood. The bandage-swaddled children whimpering in pain, frowning at the strange, unfatherly doctors, the middle-aged woman staring at us with one eye, a set of tubes running into her gashed-open stomach, a series of bleak-faced, angry, young men, their bodies and legs torn apart.
There was eight-year Youssef al-Radi who was cut open by shrapnel in the arm and back yesterday morning and brought to the Palestinian Safad hospital at Badawi, another refugee camp in Tripoli, his feet bleeding, a tiny figure on a huge stretcher. He hasn't been told that his mother died beside him. Nor that his father is still in the Nahr el-Bared camp.
And let us not forget six-year-old Aiman Hussein, who was hit by up to a hundred pieces of metal from a Lebanese army shell - in the neck and the spine, the tibia, the foot, the back, you name it. The doctors had to rush him to Tripoli because they could not operate. Visit the Safad hospital if you dare. Or climb gingerly out of your car on the Lebanese army's front line at Nahr el-Bared and walk past the sweating, tired soldiers who have been told they are defending Lebanon's sovereignty by doing battle with the gunmen of Fatah al-Islam - who are still hiding in the smashed, smoking ruins on the edge of the Palestinian camp.
Some of the buildings look like Irish lace and a mosque's green minaret has a shell hole just below the platform where the muezzin's call would be heard five times a day, as if a giant had punched at it in anger. There is even a field of ripped-up tents, which must have been what this camp looked like when the grandfathers of those wounded children arrived here from Palestine in 1948.
The Lebanese armoured personnel carriers were dug into the rich earth, and the soldiers were sheltering behind a collection of smashed houses, petrol stations and lock-up garages. We found two colonels in one garage, who politely offered us coffee, and a lieutenant who had lived in Montreal and who called a mutual friend of ours - a Lebanese army colonel in the south of Lebanon - who roared with laughter down his mobile phone: "Robert, what are you doing in Nahr el-Bared?" As if he didn't know.
I looked across the camp. Was it worth all this pain, the grotty, empty streets, the broken apartment block with dirty grey smoke still drifting from its windows? The Lebanese soldiers claim they try never to hurt civilians (I can think of another army which says that!), but did so many Palestinians have to be killed or wounded for the crimes of a few, some - we do not know how many - not even from "Palestine" but from Syria or Yemen or Saudi Arabia? Just behind me was the checkpoint where the gunmen of Chaker el-Absi (born Jericho 1955, later a MiG pilot in Libya, according to his brother in Jordan) butchered four soldiers at the weekend, slitting their throats and leaving their severed heads on the road.
Most of the troops around me were from the north of Lebanon - so were the murdered soldiers. Had there been feelings of revenge rather than military discipline when they first opened fire? There were certainly growls of retaliation in the Safad hospital - named, with terrible coincidence, after the very town in pre-Israel Palestine from which many of Nahr el-Bared's refugee families originally came - and Fatah, the old Arafat PLO Fatah, now had armed men on the streets to protect the medical personnel and the new, wounded refugees from the next burst of fury.
All day, the ambulances ran a ferry service of wounded from the camp, sirens shrieking through the wards, spilling out the wounded and the sick and the ancient men and women who could bear no more. They were given small sacks of bread - like animals newly arrived at market, I couldn't help thinking - and led away.
They had heard all the political statements. Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French President, had been on the phone to the Lebanese Prime Minister, insisting that he should not give in to "intimidation" - perhaps he thought the Palestinians were the same kind of "scum" that he called the rioting Arabs of the Paris suburbs last year - and President Bush gave his his support to the Lebanese government and army.
And Walid Jumblatt said of the Syrian President that "the Lebanese Army ought to crush Fatah al-Islam once and for all to prevent Assad from turning Lebanon into a second Iraq". That's all the talk now, that another sovereign Arab nation might become a new Iraq. The Algerians were saying the same two days ago, that Islamist suicide bombers were trying to turn Algeria into "a new Iraq".
What, I kept asking myself yesterday, have we unleashed now? Well, you can ask Suheila Mustafa who stood yesterday at the bedside of her 45-year-old sister, Samia, so terribly wounded by army shellfire in the face that she could neither talk nor focus upon us with her bloated left eye. "We had just woken up when we heard the first barrage of gunfire," she said. "My sister was beside me and fell down with her head bleeding. She haemorraged from 5.50 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. At last my brother brought us all out in his car. But let me tell you this. The Palestinian people have heard Walid Jumblatt and we say 'thank you' to him and let us have more shelling.
"And I would like to thank Prime Minister Siniora, and say thanks - really thanks - very much to George Bush and to Condoleezza Rice. I really want to thank them for these shells and these wounds we are suffering. And if Rice really wants to send more materiel to the Lebanese Army, she had better hurry up. There is a woman still in the camp who is very pregnant and the child in her womb will be born and will grow into a man - and then we'll see!"
Of course, one wants to remind Suheila - perhaps not her dreadfully wounded sister - that the Palestinians are guests in Lebanon, that by allowing Fatah al-Islam to nest on the edge of their north Lebanon camp, they were inviting their own doom. But victimhood - and let us not doubt the integrity or the dignity of that victimhood - has become almost a pit for the Palestinians, into which they have fallen. The catastrophe of their eviction and flight from Palestine in 1948, their near-destruction in the Lebanese civil war, their cruel suffering at the hands of Israeli invaders - the massacre of Sabra and Chatila in 1982 where 1,700 were slaughtered - and now this, have sealed these people into a permanent prison of suffering.
I found an old lady in Safad hospital, whimpering and sobbing. She was 75, she said, and her daughter had just brought out her own two-month-old child and this was the fifth time she had been "displaced". She used that word, "displaced". She had lost her home in Palestine in 1948 and four more times in Lebanon her home had been destroyed. And on what date did she leave Palestine, I asked? "I can read and write," she said. "But I no longer have the memory of being so exact."
No wonder that in all the Palestinian camps of Lebanon yesterday, they were protesting the "massacre" at Nahr el-Bared with gunfire and burning tyres.
And so we continued through the wards. There was Ghassan Ahmed el-Saadi, who had arrived at the camp's medical centre to distribute bread with his friends Abdul Latif al-Abdullah and Raad Ali Shams. "A shell came down and my friends both fell dead at my feet," said Mr Saadi, who is a mass of tubes and wounds and a bloody foot.
There was Ahmed Sharshara, just eight years old, with a huge plaster over his chest. A hunk of shell had entered his back and broken into his spine and partly emerged from his chest. The X-ray showed a piece of metal like a leaf in his stomach. His lungs were still being drained.
And there was Nibal Bushra who went to his balcony on Sunday morning to find out why the camp was being shelled when a single bullet hit his brother. Then a sniper's bullet hit him. For two days he lay bleeding in the camp before being brought out.
"I wish they would take us to a European country because we are not safe here, and the Arab nations are beasts, monsters to us," he said. "I won't even talk to Arab journalists. They are not prepared to tell the truth." And what has become of his desire to return to the old Safad of Palestine, I asked. "We will never go home," he said. "But I trust the Europeans because they seem good and kind people."
And then - a little annex to this story - there was a small room where I found Ahmed Maisour Sayed, 24, part-paralysed and unable to speak, who was not a victim of the Lebanese army. He was brought here on 3 May after being shot by two gunmen from Fatah al-Islam because he was a PLO supporter. "His family and one of their families had quarreled about ideology," his father told me. "So they shot him and killed two other men. They are a terrorist organisation and we don't know what they want. There's only about 700 of them. But now my son can never work, We need help from an international organisation." I dared not tell him that I come from the land of Lord Balfour.
But I did notice, back at Nahr el-Bared, a heap of empty Lebanese army machinegun cartridges, and I picked one up as a souvenir. And when I got home to Beirut, I put it with a much older cartridge case which I picked up back in the late Eighties when the same army was besieging the Palestinians in Sidon. Of course, the two cases were identical in calibre. The tragedy goes on. And its identical nature has made it normal, routine, typical, easy to accept. And woe betide if we believe that.
Posted on May 26, 2007
* 3,300 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead.
* Rumsfeld said the Iraq attack would cost $50 billion. The tab so far exceeds $500 billion.
* Almost two million Iraqis have fled the country and only 30% of kids can go to school.
On Easter Morning, George W. made another of his periodic shows of Standing With The Troops. He attended church services in the chapel at Fort Hood in Kileen, Texas, after which he offered to the assembled media this pious little announcement: "I had a chance to reflect on the great sacrifice that our military and their families are making. I prayed for their safety. I prayed for their strength and comfort. And I pray for peace."
He prayed for our troops' safety? How clueless is he?
George, you have the troops stuck in another country's vicious civil war. They're under attack from every direction by every faction, every hour of every day, hit by car bombs, roadside bombs, chlorine bombs, IEDs, suicide bombs, rocket fire, mortar rounds, snipers, and assassins. There is no safety in Iraq.
He prayed for peace?
George, YOU made this war. Don't put it on God! The ONLY reason that America is in Iraq is because you, "Buckshot" Cheney, Rummy, and the rest rode us into an invasion and occupation on a pack of lies.
God didn't do this, YOU did. Praying won't get it done. God helps those who help themselves. You have peace in your own hands.
Yet the war goes on
Only three days after George the Pious told us about his prayers for safety, strength, comfort, and peace, his Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, announced that all active-duty soldiers already in Iraq or going there will have their tours of duty extended from 12 months to 15. "Our forces are stretched," Gates admitted, but he said that this added burden is "necessary" in order to carry out Bush's latest war strategy, his "surge" scheme. The extension order affects 100,000 soldiers. Plus their families. Bear in mind that many of these families have already gone through two or three tours in Iraq.
Back at Fort Hood, where Bush prayed, families were angry. "A year is so long apart you hardly know your husband," said Nichol Spencer. "Now they're making it longer?"
Theresa White said, "To a civilian, three months is 12 weeks. To an army wife, three months is the straw that broke the camel's back."
Of course, that's three more months in hell that Bush is committing these people to endure (this from a guy who could not even complete an Easy Street tour of duty stateside in the "champagne unit" of the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War). To add insult to injury, after saying that he had prayed for the "comfort" of these soldiers and their families, Bush didn't even have the courtesy to inform them in advance that the extension was coming. "It was disrespectful," said Mindy Shanahan, also from Fort Hood. Her husband is in Iraq and will now be stuck there an extra three months, assuming he survives. "We should have had at least 48 hours notice, instead of having to see this on CNN," she said.
Read the full commentary
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Posted on May 23, 2007
With his approval rating topping out these days at around 35 percent, President Bush has fallen back on an oft-used strategy: he's declassified information from two years ago about links between Osama bin Laden and the deceased terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and a planned attack within in the United States. What's the purpose of releasing this information now? To scare the living daylights out of every man, woman and child in America. It's worked before, but will it work this time? I don't think so.
There are several reasons why Bush is so consistently, woefully unpopular right now. But I believe one of the fundamental ones is that he's become a parody of himself and the country just isn't falling for his scare and then sooth act. "We're gonna get attacked again" followed by "we're winning the war on terror". It's tragic that every time information like this is released I have to assume that it's for political reasons. Of course the hypocrisy of Bush's declassifications is also clear for anyone to see. Whenever the press breaks a story that includes classified info, Bush cries foul, but when it serves his needs all classified information is fair game.
Today, Bush is delivering a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, where he will use this declassified information to yet again try to justify the War in Iraq. I'm sure the audience will politely applaud as Bush goes through his familiar litany ("they'll follow us here" etc. etc.) but most likely the cadets will be thinking to themselves-haven't we heard this before?
Adam Howard is the editor of PEEK.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers//52270/
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
By Dara Colwell, AlterNet
Posted on May 21, 2007, Printed on May 23, 2007
Americans are working harder than ever before. The dogged pursuit of the paycheck coupled with a 24/7 economy has thrust many of us onto a never-ending treadmill. But of workaholism's growing wounded, its greatest casualty has been practically ignored -- the planet.
"We now seem more determined than ever to work harder and produce more stuff, which creates a bizarre paradox: We are proudly breaking our backs to decrease the carrying capacity of the planet," says Conrad Schmidt, an internationally known social activist and founder of the Work Less Party, a Vancouver-based initiative aimed at moving to a 32-hour work week -- a radical departure from the in early, out late cycle we've grown accustomed to. "Choosing to work less is the biggest environmental issue no one's talking about."
A backlash against overwork fatigue, the Work Less Party is one of a growing number of initiatives aimed at cutting work hours while tackling unemployment, environmentally unfriendly behavior and boosting leisure time. According to Schmidt, author of "Workers of the World RELAX," which examines the economics of reduced industrial work, working less would allow us to produce less, consume less, pollute less and -- no complaints here -- live more.
"As a society, we're working exponentially hard to decrease sustainability and it's making us miserable -- just look at how antidepressants are on the rise," he says. "In order to reduce our ecological footprint, we have to take working less very seriously."
Americans work more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world. According to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, we work 250 hours, or five weeks, more than the Brits, and a whopping 500 hours, or 12 and a half weeks, more than the Germans. So how does ecological damage figure in to the 40-plus workweek?
Do the math: Longer hours plus labor-saving technology equals ever-increasing productivity. Without high annual growth to match productivity, there's unemployment. Maintaining growth means using more energy and resources, both in manpower and raw materials, which results in increased waste and pollution.
Unsurprisingly, the United States is the world's largest polluter. Housing a mere 5 percent of the world's population, it accounts for 22 percent of its fossil fuel consumption, 50 percent of its solid waste, and, on average, each citizen consumes 53 times more goods than a person in China, according to the environmental nonprofit, Sierra Club.
When people work longer hours, they rely increasingly on convenience items such as fast food, disposable diapers, or bottled water. Built-in obsolescence has become standard business practice -- just throw it away and make more -- leaving mountainous landfills in its wake. "Earning more often means spending money in ways that are environmentally detrimental. We're finding that to compensate for lack of time, you actually need more money to work those extra hours," says Monique Tilford, acting executive director of the Centre for a New American Dream, a Maryland group promoting environmentally and socially responsible consumption. "When people are time-starved they don't have enough time to be conscious consumers. The overarching theme of our organization is to remind Americans that every single dollar they spend has a carbon impact, to make the connection."
If the world started clocking American hours, then it would be detrimental to its environmental health. According to a paper issued by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., if Europe moved towards a U.S.-based economic model, it would consume 15-30 percent more energy by 2050. This would impact fuel prices worldwide and boost carbon emissions, resulting in additional global warming of 1-2 degrees Celsius. Any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made through conservation, cleaner fuels or green technology would be overwhelmed by increased industrial output.
"Productivity normally increases every year, but we haven't seen massive productivity gains reflected in our working hours," says Mark Weisbrot, CEPR's co-director, who also authored the study "Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment?" "Because there's no limit to what we can consume, a change of values has to take place if the planet stands a chance of survival."
The problem is, France has already begun following America's lead by increasing the workload. In 2005, France effectively abolished its 35-hour workweek to counter high unemployment -- the highest in the European Union, hovering at roughly 10 percent -- though a subsequent International Monetary Fund paper examining the impact concluded there was no significant increase. And this May, the new French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, whose campaign to "work more, earn more" helped win him the presidential seat, promised to make overtime largely tax-exempt. His goal: strengthen consumer purchasing power and galvanize the economy.
Only if Weisbrot's research is correct, France's increased productivity would create even larger problems, especially considering France's current productivity is greater than America's, with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per hour of $37.01 versus $33.77. Today's push towards a heavier workload is in many ways a historical precedent. In both the United States and Europe, work hours declined steadily from the beginning of the industrial revolution until World War II, when labor unions were key in fighting for shorter hours. After the war, the 40-hour workweek was legally in place, and governments promoted economic growth in order to match it.
But since the 1970s, with the advent of technological advances and increased automation, most European governments have continued shortening work hours whereas the United States has opted instead to let wages fall. In the late 1960s futurists predicted an Age of Leisure, hypothesizing that the largest issue facing the country at the end of the century would be too much leisure. "It was the kind of problem I thought I could deal with -- in fact, I was looking forward to it," says John de Graaf, producer of the groundbreaking 1997 PBS documentary "Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic" and a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and overconsumption. "Of course, I didn't reason we'd put all our productivity gains into more stuff."
Quoting data from his current campaign, "What's the Economy for Anyway?" which examines America's economic policies in light of quality of life issues, de Graaf says the evidence proves we're not better off. "It's staggering. The USA has declined relative to all other industrial countries in virtually every quality of life measured -- health, equality, savings, sustainability -- though that's not so with the GDP and certainly not with the number of billionaires," he says. "Yet we're still constantly being told we're better off."
Yet suggest alternatives to the status quo of GDP worship, like shortening the work week, and resistance is great. "Here, the business community fiercely opposes any mandates relating to time," says de Graaf, noting that by controlling or regulating time, they maintain the upper hand. "What's happened in Europe is people have discovered it's nice to have some time in their lives, and in getting some, they've wanted more. Whereas here, business has kept that door completely shut."
But even many overburdened Americans fear change will signal further sacrifice -- mostly to their paychecks. "But the fact is, we're already sacrificing our time and our lives right now," says de Graaf. De Graaf is also the national coordinator of "Take Back Your Time Day," an annual event scheduled for Oct. 24, the date on which the 40-hour workweek was first inaugurated in the United States. A national organization with 10,000 members, Take Back Your Time has launched a campaign calling for national legislation guaranteeing a minimum of three weeks of paid vacation, an issue it hopes to make part of the 2008 presidential campaign.
As it stands, America is the only industrial nation that offers no legal protection for vacations. The average vacation in the United States is now only a long weekend, and 25 percent of American workers have no paid vacation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that to Sweden, which mandates 32 vacation days per year. President Bush, however, does know the value of vacation time. In 2005, he took five weeks off to visit his Texas ranch, taking the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years.
"We see overwork as a social, legal problem that needs political legislation," says de Graaf. "We are utterly unique in our dismissal of the need for time and the environmental costs; not to mention, the costs to our health and our families have been enormous."
But by shelving time, we continue to suffer from overload, debt, and anxiety, and are stuck in a fatalistic rat race generated by heightened consumerism. So what fuels this need to accumulate in the face of time deprivation? Devoting his career to what drives materialism, Tim Kasser, associate professor of psychology at Knox College and author of "The High Price of Materialism," has sought scientific explanations, examining the relationship between materialism and psychological well-being.
"Materialism is driven by an underlying sense of insecurity," says Kasser, who conducted a study where subjects were randomly assigned writing about death or writing about listening to music. The former experience an increased desire for consumption and were "greedier," according to Kasser. "Death is the ultimate end of time; it's interpreted as that feeling of not having enough time. In the last decade politicians have played off that insecurity. It keeps getting people elected, but it also drives us to think we need to work harder and harder," he says, noting the signs of insecurity around us are numerous: We don't know our neighbors and suffer from high divorce rates; our social safety nets have been dismantled; we have no mandatory overtime laws and minimal vacation. "All these work to create an underlying sense of insecurity, and we need to break out of that cycle," he says.
Interestingly, Kasser conducted an empirical study comparing 200 adherents of Voluntary Simplicity to a control group of 200 mainstream Americans and found the Voluntary Simplicity group was "simultaneously happier while using fewer resources," and that their happiness was derived from "less materialistic, intrinsic goals, such as personal growth, family and community." While the Voluntary Simplicity group was "still awfully far from having a sustainable ecological footprint," Kasser feels it's a positive start. "The correlation between the VS group being happy was due to those no-consumeristic, intrinsic values, and the reason they're living in a more ecologically sustainable fashion is also due to those values."
It's just those kind of values Schmidt has tried to encourage in his Work Less Party. Schmidt, a former computer programmer, started by getting rid of his car and cycling to work, then took advantage of the savings by reducing his workweek, which allowed him enough time to write his book, make two documentaries, and organize a community theater group -- all in the last three years.
"People spend so many hours working they have no idea of how much creative potential they have, but you get a taste of mental freedom you want more of it. It's an explosion of creativity." says Schmidt, quickly adding, "I'm a workaholic, but it's the type of work that's the problem. Our society is focused on work that makes stuff that goes directly into landfills. Essential work such as art, music, creativity, community, the kind necessary to create a healthy society and planet, is being negated in favor of that."
If there's any solution to increasing our well-being, as well as the planet's, Schmidt's advice flies counter to our driven consumerism. "If you want to protect the environment, you have to consume less, which means you have to produce less, and you have to work less. We have to keep the message positive -- our standard of living will improve hugely. I think people are starting to make the connection."
Dara Colwell is a freelance writer based in Amsterdam.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/52077/
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Terry J. Allen, In These Times
Posted on May 22, 2007
Congratulations: You have lived long enough to cringe at the bad decisions you were seduced, dared, stoned, bullied, or inspired into making as a teenager.
Thousands of America's children, however, are not so lucky. Almost 600,000 of America's 1 million active and reserve soldiers enlisted as teens. The military lures these physiologically immature kids with a PR machine that would make Joe Camel proud.
While the age of legal and cultural adulthood can vary, science is now able to determine the physiological markers of maturity. A recent study headed by Jay Giedd of the National Institutes of Health using MRI scans shows that the brain of an 18-year-old is not fully developed, with the limbic cortex-brain structures, the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex still undergoing substantial changes.
As of March 31, the U.S. military included 81,000 teenagers. Its 7,350 17-year-olds needed parental consent to enlist, and only this April were all barred from battle zones.
But the military aims even lower, marketing itself to children as young as 13 with multimedia videos, school visits and cold calls to teens' homes and cell phones. In Junior ROTC, kids get uniforms, win medals, fire real guns and play soldier, while adults trained in psychological manipulation steer them toward the army. The Army's JROTC website lists such motivating activities as "eating at concession stands."
A mature prefrontal cortex, "the area of sober second thought," is vital not only to deciding whether to enlist, but also to choices made under the stress of deployment and the terrors of combat. But the prefrontal cortex, "important for controlling impulses, is among the last brain regions to mature," according to Giedd, and doesn't reach "adult dimensions until the early 20s."
Teenagers' brains simply lack the impulse control that can prevent a lifetime of regret, psychological and physical disability, and preventable deathstheir own, their fellow soldiers' and those of civilians.
The child soldier problem Is global and so is America's part in it. More than 300,000 children around the world, some as young as seven, serve as soldiers, or, in the case of girls, as military sex slaves. The State Department reports that 10 countries are violating international treaties against child soldiers. Washington provides military assistance to nine of these outlaw nations: Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
The reason the United States and other militaries target children is their need for cannon fodder, coupled with the vulnerability of youth. In 2002, almost half of Marine recruits were 17 or 18. A Pentagon survey found that "for both males and females, propensity [to enlist] is highest among 16- and 17-year-olds." That "propensity" quickly declines with age.
A 2004 Pentagon database listed the number of 16- and 17-year- olds who applied for active service enlistment at 69,000 and 18- year-olds at 73,000. By 19, the count had dropped to 49,000 and by age 24 had plummeted to 9,700.
The Department of Defense (DoD) spends more than $4 billion a year on recruiting, with $1.5 billion for advertising and maintaining the recruiting stations staffed by more than 22,000 recruiters. Much of that money goes to convincing children to become soldiers.
A recruiters' handbook discusses creepy seduction techniques with all the subtlety of predatory stalking. Adult recruiters skilled in "projecting credibility" lurk in snack joints, set up laptops playing action-packed videos, proffer rides and promise friendship and fatherly advice. With blacks particularly skeptical of the war effort, the military is aggressively targeting Hispanics with multimillion dollar marketing campaigns that include chatting up mothers and attending church. Recruiters get non- English speaking parents to sign enlistment papers for 17-year- olds by letting them believe that service is mandatory, or that they were approving blood tests, according to the New York Times.
Recruiters also try to win over high school guidance counselors with offers of "extended tours, VIP trips ( A day in the life of a sailor') or workshops."
A DoD training manual instructs recruiters to appropriate the techniques that pharmaceutical salespeople use to convince doctors to prescribe the most profitable drugs: "Pharmaceutical representatives court doctors and provide incentives to them in exchange for listening to a sales pitch and considering their products." DoD advises following the pharma model by offering "personalized incentives in exchange for some of their time (bring food when asking favors.)"
The manual suggests bribing teachers: "Provide lunch for teachers in exchange for information." It quotes an anonymous teacher: "Giving teachers pencils and calendars lets us know that you understand our needs and support us. We, in turn, are more likely to support your efforts in the future."
"Chiefs of warfare reach out to children precisely because they are innocent, malleable, impressionable," says Olara Otunnu, the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
The science is clear: Turning children below the age of brain maturity into soldiers, whether in the United States or Sudan, exploits that vulnerability.
Terry J. Allen is a senior editor of In These Times. Her work has appeared in Harper's, The Nation, New Scientist and other publications.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/51889/
How touchy is the Bush administration about criticism?
Very touchy, indeed, especially if the source of that criticism is a certain former president.
When Jimmy Carter, whose approval ratings dwarf those of George Bush these days, gets to talking about what's wrong with the current president the White House spin machine goes into overdrive.
And Carter has been talking.
He told the conservative Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper Saturday that, "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."
Suggesting that the president has presided over an "overt reversal of America's basic values," Carter drew a clear line of distinction between the current Bush policies and those of another Bush who has occupied the Oval Office, former President George Herbert Walker Bush.
With his misguided approach to the war in Iraq, Carter said, Bush made a "radical departure from all previous administration policies," including those of the president's father.
"We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered," explained Carter, who has long been a critic of the Bush administration but whose comments in recent days have been particularly pointed.
In another interview late last week, with the BBC, Carter effectively referred to outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as Bush's poodle.
Carter criticized Blair's "blind" support of Bush's war in Iraq, suggesting that the British prime minister had been "subservient" to the American president. Noting that Blair's "almost undeviating" allegiance to Bush's Middle East dogmas had done much to legitimize them at precisely the time when they should have been challenged, Carter argued that the prime minister's promotion of "the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq had been a major tragedy for the world."
Lest there be any doubt about his assessment of Blair's contribution to global stability, the Nobel Peace Prize winner termed the prime minister's failure to counter Bush's messianic march to war "abominable."
It is difficult to argue with Carter, not just on the basis of his stature but on the basis of his astute read of the current circumstance. And that's what scares the Bush White House. When a well regarded former president gets specific about the current president's dramatic failures -- and about the damage that is done when foreign leaders align with Bush -- this embattled White House gets tense.
So the president's aides are hitting back, with all the muscle they can muster, at Carter.
"I think it's sad that President Carter's reckless personal criticism is out there," griped White House spokesman Tony Fratto, as part of an unusually bitter and specific response issued Sunday from Bush's compound in Crawford, Texas.
In what the Associated Press correctly referred to as "a biting rebuke," Fratto said of Carter's observations: "I think it's unfortunate. And I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments."
The irony is that there is nothing unfortunate about Carter's remarks for the United States. By making it perfectly clear that Americans are unsettled by their president's reckless disregard for the rule of law and common sense at home and abroad, Carter helps to separate Bush from America in the eyes of the world, which is a very, very good thing for the American people.
Of course, then, the Bush White House is not attacking Carter's comments on their merit. Rather, the attack boils down to a suggestion that, even though they represent a rare example of a former president bluntly criticizing a sitting president, Carter's remarks of a little or no consequence.
What is fascinating is that the White House is claiming that Carter is "increasingly irrelevant" by going out of its way to attack him on one of the current president's many days of rest.
It seems that, if Carter really was as "irrelevant" as the Bush White House would have us believe, the president's aides would not be attacking the former president in such immediate and aggressive terms.
The truth is that Carter is relevant, perhaps more so now than ever. Even as Bush's fortunes decline, the need of dissenting voices is great. And Carter's dissents go to the very heart of the darkness that this administration has brought down upon the United States. For a body politic sorely in need of the tonic of truth, Jimmy Carter's comments are not just relevant, they are an essential to the renewal of a country and a planet badly battered by the madness of a 21st-century King George.
John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com