Thursday, February 28, 2008

Two Views on Nader’s Candidacy

Posted on Feb 24, 2008

Ralph Nader has announced that he will run for the presidency for a third time. In the past months on Truthdig, the case has been made both for and against such a campaign. Here Chris Hedges says why he should run, while Robert Scheer tells Nader himself it would be better if he didn’t.

Excerpt from “Pariah or Prophet?” By Chris Hedges:

It was an incompetent, corporatized Democratic Party, along with the orchestrated fraud by the Republican Party, that threw the 2000 election to Bush, not Ralph Nader. Nader received only 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000 and got less than one-half of 1 percent in 2004. All of the third-party candidates who ran in 2000 in Florida—there were about half a dozen of them—got more votes than the 537-vote difference between Bush and Gore. Why not go after the other third-party candidates? And what about the 10 million Democrats who voted in 2000 for Bush? What about Gore, whose campaign was so timid and empty—he never mentioned global warming—that he could not carry his home state of Tennessee? And what about the 2004 cartoon-like candidate, John Kerry, who got up like a Boy Scout and told us he was reporting for duty and would bring us “victory” in Iraq?

Nader argues that there are few—he never said no—differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. And during the first four years of the Bush administration the Democrats proved him right. They authorized the war in Iraq. They stood by as Bush stacked the judiciary with “Christian” ideologues. They let Bush, in violation of the Constitution, pump hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into faith-based organizations that discriminate based on belief and sexual orientation and openly proselytize. They stood by as American children got fleeced by No Child Left Behind. Democrats did not protest when federal agencies began to propagate “Christian” pseudo-science about creationism, reproductive rights and homosexuality. And the Democrats let Bush further dismantle regulatory agencies, strip American citizens of constitutional rights under the Patriot Act and other draconian legislation, and thrust impoverished Americans aside through the corporate-sponsored bankruptcy bill. It is a stunning record.

Bush is the worst president in American history. If Gore, or Kerry, had the spine to take him on, to challenge corporate welfare, corporate crime, the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate bailouts and issues such as labor law reform, if either had actually stood up to these corporate behemoths on behalf of the working and middle class, rather than mutter thought-terminating clichés about American greatness, he could have won with a landslide. But Gore and Kerry did not dare to piss off their corporate paymasters.

There are a few former associates in the film ["An Unreasonable Man, a documentary about Nader] who argue that Nader is tarnishing his legacy, and by extension their own legacy. But Nader’s legacy is undiminished. He fights his wars against corporate greed with a remarkable consistency. He knows our democratic state is being hijacked by the same corporate interests that sold us unsafe automobiles and dangerous and shoddy products. This is a battle not for some unachievable ideal but to save our democracy.

Read more

Excerpt from Robert Scheer’s debate with Ralph Nader:

Scheer: I think you’re being a demagogue.

Nader: Why, because some people are clapping?

Scheer: I hesitate to say that, but I really want to say, I really don’t think you’re engaging the argument. So let me state it again. I have no objection, not only no objection, I applaud your role as a social critic, as I do my own. To answer your question specifically, yes, we must criticize the Democrats, we must up the ante, and I do it as a columnist. You do it as a lawyer, public interest lawyer. And that is our obligation, and that’s what The Nation should do. That is not at issue here. I think I was one of Clinton’s harshest critics when he was president about the very issues that you outlined.

Nader: It’s not an issue at all; why do you keep repeating yourself? What do we do? That’s the issue.

Scheer: First of all, we can be civil; this is supposed to be a conversation. And I would suggest that, in terms of our roles, social critics, we’re not talking about giving the Democrats a bye. I never advocated it; I don’t do it. And I’m not asking you to do that. I’m asking you to recognize that running an independent campaign, which I gather you’re still considering, that asking people to support an independent campaign, to suggest that the differences between the Democrats that are in Congress now and the leadership, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman and others, and the Republicans that the similarities tower over the differences, is just not true. It’s just wrong. It’s inaccurate. And I don’t think that’s educating people. That doesn’t mean you give them a bye.

I’m all for putting pressure on Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi. But to not acknowledge the differences of their approach, or forget even their approach, the differences between what used to be moderate Republicans and the true ideologues, the fanatics that are actually running this government now, the Richard Perles, you know. I think it’s to miss this moment in history. I honestly do. And I think, so I will repeat, I think that we’re not talking about Ralph Nader or Robert Scheer or The Nation as social critics. We’re talking about how you organize politically. And you chose to run an independent campaign with no base, you didn’t build a party, you didn’t build an alternative. There is no third party; a third party did not come out of your campaigns. And you’re now considering even another campaign which will not produce a third party. And you, when you suggest that there is not a profound difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, your claims are saying that we shouldn’t, therefore, put emphasis into struggling with these people. I would take the opposite position. I think we got better candidates running. If we find some moderates we should back them. But I do think that getting a progressive Democratic candidate now matters.

I think people should be involved in these primaries. I’m not going to tell them whom to support, but I do think, for instance, if Al Gore would come into the campaign I would be quite enthusiastic in supporting him. I keep getting very enthusiastic about a Gore/[Barack] Obama ticket, for example. [Editor’s note: This debate was held in July 2007.] I think [John] Edwards has indicated a progressive agenda. I think [Dennis] Kucinich would be very strong if not electable. I think that there are good candidates out there. I think the people in this audience should figure out which ones they are going to support, and if they don’t like the ones that are there, encourage others to run. But I think the next election matters a great deal. I think it’s incredibly important to a Democrat—and hopefully a better one. But I don’t think we should be distracted from that.

And I think you can hold these two ideas in your head at the same time. Be the social critic, up the ante, criticize them when they’re wrong. You know? I think that’s important to do. On the other hand, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is this cabal in this country right now that has enormous power. And they are taking us down a very dangerous road. And let me just raise another question here. I don’t think all the corporations are the same. That’s a great slogan, you know. The fact is there’s a world of difference between a corporation that is willing to do business around the world, willing to observe certain laurels and so forth, and a corporation that wants to get wars in an old imperial matter so they can sell us a lot of equipment and junk that we don’t need. There are splits in what used to be considered the ruling class, OK. And I suggested before, there’s a rather important split between, say, the George Bush Sr. and the Iraq Study Group and their proposals, and why George [H.W.] Bush argued against capturing Baghdad. And the caution that he evidenced. And George W, who has the recklessness of the old imperial model, which we are now following. And I think to fail to understand that difference is to understand, fail to understand, the danger of the current moment. That our civil liberties, and you know it’s not true that things have somehow gotten, there’s all just murky.

The fact is, things are far more dangerous in very specific ways, and you have not addressed that. One is the Supreme Court. We have a Supreme Court now thanks to these Republican appointees that has absolutely no concern of civil liberties, separation of powers, any kind of accountability. It’s out of control and gives the imperial president a blank check. That is not unimportant. And I don’t believe that a Democratic president would have had the same kind of Supreme Court. And I think to insist that that doesn’t matter is to deny reality.

Read more


Was Montel Williams Kicked Off the Air for Criticizing Fox News? [VIDEO]

Ya know, ya talk about the craven, corporate consolidation of the media, and ya have to endure people saying that it's no big deal if they're all owned by fewer and fewer mega-national defense contractors (4!!!), and then a celebrity speaks the truth on television and he has his 17-year-old show canceled. Coincidence? I think not.--Pete

By Manila Ryce, The Largest Minority
Posted on February 2, 2008

After 17 years on the air, Montel Williams was canceled for speaking out against Fox's choice of news coverage. When asked his opinion of Heath Ledger's death, Williams turned the tables and asked why Fox, or any corporate media station for that matter, is not giving as much time to the 28 soldiers who died in January. Montel has 22 years of military service under his belt. If any television host is entitled to comment on casualties of war, it's him.

The sphincters of the hosts were clearly tightening, and Montel consequently did not return after the commercial break for a second segment. Then, just 4 days after he insulted Fox News by insisting that they support the troops and give them more coverage, a number of stations owned by Fox decided against renewing his show for another year. It was a rather heavy-handed punishment even Sylvia Brown didn't see coming, but was done to send a clear message. Send one of your own to Fox here.

h/t to Robert Ruszkowski, Director of Social Media/Virtual Outreach for the Kucinich Campaign, for the video.

Manila Ryce is a regular blooger for The Largest Minority

© 2008 The Largest Minority All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Refusing to commit war crimes - and testifying

Published Feb 23, 2008 11:11 PM

The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraqby Joshua Key

Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía by Camilo Mejía

Other books of interest: Letters from Fort Lewis Brig:A Matter of Conscience by Sgt. Kevin Benderman; Mission Rejected:U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq by Peter Laufer; Dissent:Voices of Conscience—Government Insiders Speak Out Against the War in Iraq by Col. (Ret.) Ann Wright and Susan Dixon; Anti-War Soldier: How to Dissent Within the Ranks of the Military by Jonathan W. Hutto

“Trained to kill! Kill we will!” That’s what U.S. Army recruits must shout while marching to the mess hall for a meal. That’s all it took for Pvt. Jeremy Hintzman to know he had to get out. He was the first U.S. war resister from the Iraq war to seek refugee status in Canada.

It took a little longer for Pvt. Joshua Key, but he still was not rabid enough for them. If you fail to show sufficient enthusiasm, you’re “smoked.”

“They made me do push-ups, duck walks, crawl around on my hands and knees, and stand at attention while every man in my platoon hollered that I was a ‘useless asshole’ and a ‘stupid shit,’” says Pvt. Key in “The Deserter’s Tale.”

“One day, all 300 of us lined up on the bayonet range, each facing a life-size dummy that we were told to imagine was a Muslim man. As we stabbed the dummies with our bayonets, one of our commanders stood at a podium and shouted into the microphone: ‘Kill! Kill! Kill the sand n——-rs!’ We were made to shout out [the same thing]. While we shouted and stabbed, drill sergeants walked among us to make sure we were all shouting.”

That was basic training. Key remembers advanced training with the 43rd Combat Engineer Company. His officers repeated warnings, “If you feel threatened, kill first and ask questions later.”

“I had army chants buzzing through my head, like ‘Take a playground, fill it full of kids. Drop on some napalm, and barbecue some ribs.’”

The real thing was yet to come. In Iraq, Key’s first duty assignment was to set off explosives to blast open doors of Iraqi people’s homes, join a six-person assault team storming in to terrorize everyone inside, and take prisoner any male over 5 feet tall. “We put our knees on their backs, pulled their hands behind them, and faster than you can bat an eye we zipcuffed them. Zipcuffs are plastic cuffs that lock on tight. They must have bit something fierce into those men’s skin. ... The Iraqi brothers were taken away to an American detention facility for interrogation. ... I never saw one of them return to the neighborhoods we patrolled regularly.”

Later Key had to pull guard duty in front of a hospital in Ramadi, for weeks on end. A little girl who lived near the hospital would run up to the fence he was guarding and call out “the only English words she knew: ‘Mister, food!’”

Key said, “She was about seven years old. She had dark eyes, shoulder-length brown hair, and—even for a young child—seemed impossibly skinny. She usually wore her school uniform—a white shirt with a blue skirt and a pair of sandals.’”

Several weeks into his guard duty at the hospital in Ramadi, Key said, “I was back at my post in front of the hospital. I saw the girl run out of her house, across the street, and toward the fence that stood between us. I reached for an MRE [meals ready to eat-ed.], looked up to see her about 10 feet away, heard the sound of semiautomatic gunfire, and saw her head blow up like a mushroom. ...

“My own people were the only ones with guns in the area, and it was the sound of my own people’s guns that I had heard blazing before the little sister was stopped in her tracks.”

The bulk of Pvt. Key’s duty in Iraq was “busting into and ransacking homes. ... Before my time was up in Iraq, I took part in 200 raids. ... We never found weapons or indications of terrorism. I never found a thing that seemed to justify the terror we inflicted every time we blasted through the front door.”

U.S. terrorists

“It struck me,” Key said, “that we, the American soldiers, were the terrorists.”

Joshua Key was a dirt-poor 19-year-old from Guthrie, Okla., married with two infant children, who was lured from his job delivering pizza by an Army recruiter. His experiences in Iraq “got me thinking,” he said. “How would I react if foreigners invaded the United States and did just a tenth of the things that we had done to the Iraqi people? I would be right up there with the rebels and insurgents, using every bit of my cleverness to blow up the occupiers.”

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía’s experiences were essentially identical to those of Pvt. Joshua Key, except he was a squad leader. When he and his squad were ordered to blast into an Iraqi home, he was responsible to make sure it was done properly. And to deal with his men afterward—including when the orders they carried out subjected them to unnecessary danger. Mejía said he and his men were ordered to “draw the enemy out” in “fierce firefights and roadside bomb attacks, most of which could easily have been avoided.” Tensions and resentment mounted, and “I heard rumors that soldiers in our unit were plotting [the commander’s] assassination.”

Both Mejía and Key had sufficient direct experience of being ordered to commit war crimes in Iraq that they had enough. As soon as they were allowed out of Iraq on leave, they decided not to come back. Mejía chose to refuse publicly and apply for conscientious objector status. He was rejected, and was sentenced to a year in military prison and a bad conduct discharge.

Key just left. He rejoined his wife and their then three small children, and went underground for over a year. Finally, after “googling” the Internet with “deserter needs help,” he got in touch with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto.

“Sucking up the courage to drive to the border of my own country was the hardest thing I had ever done,” he said.

Camilo Mejía found support for his refusal here in the U.S.—first with the Citizen Soldier support organization and its legal director Todd Ensign, and later with the pacifist Peace Abbey, which gave him sanctuary until he turned himself in to fight for his right to be recognized as a conscientious objector.

Despite losing his case before the military kangaroo court, and serving nine months in military prison, Camilo Mejía came out of prison fighting, and has traveled around the country speaking and organizing. He is now the chairperson of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and deeply involved in building for the Winter Soldier Hearings to be held in mid-March in Washington, D.C.

A growing number of others have followed Mejía’s example. In December 2004, Navy Petty Officer Pablo Paredes from the Bronx refused to board ship in San Diego and sail to the Persian Gulf. He didn’t want to be “part of a ship that’s taking 3,000 Marines over there, knowing a hundred or more of them won’t come back.” He said he “never imagined, in a million years, we would go to war with somebody who had done nothing to us.”

After his May 2005 court-martial, Pablo Paredes was sentenced to three months hard labor while confined to base and then discharged. He then became a counselor for the GI Rights Hotline. That year the Hotline reported an estimated 32,000 individual callers, about 30 percent of whom were asking for help with being AWOL. Tens of thousands of GIs have gone AWOL since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. About 11,000 have deserted, according to Pentagon figures.

African-American GIs are not a visible part of the resistance community, which does not, of course mean Black GIs are not resisting. The Pentagon figures make it obvious that the vast majority of resisters are living underground in the U.S. And Canada is far less often perceived as an option for a young Black man, despite the fact that racism is less intense and strident in Canada than it is in the U.S.

Lt. Ehren Watada, who in January 2006 became the first officer to refuse to serve in Iraq, told the Veterans for Peace Convention in August of that year, “I speak with you about a radical idea. It is one born from the very concept of the American soldier (or service member). It became instrumental in ending the Vietnam War. ... The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”

In November 2005, Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and veteran of 37 years in the Marine Corps, switched from supporting to opposing the U.S. war in Iraq. Why? “The future of our military is at risk,” he told Congress. “Many say the Army is broken. ... Choices will have to be made.”

The GIs who have refused made their choices. And they have begun to change history.

IVAW has found enormous interest and support among both veterans and active-duty GIs to testify at the Winter Soldier Hearings, set for March 13-16, about their experiences in Iraq. And the organization has become a potent force in organizing GIs both here in the U.S. and in Iraq, to oppose the illegal and racist orders they receive as standard operating procedure.

Most recently, IVAW has built vibrant chapters among active-duty soldiers at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Drum, N.Y.—the major deployment points for combat duty in Iraq. It has chapters at other bases, including Fort Bragg, N.C., the “home of the Airborne”; Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego, and Fort Hood in Texas.

IVAW has the strong support of Veterans for Peace, the Vietnam-generation group that has thousands of members nationally. The two generations of veterans have forged a strong bond, based on their common experience of having been ordered to commit war crimes in senseless wars of aggression. They also share the experience of finding strong support in the general population when they tell the truth they were forced to live: that the government had sent them to war with lies and terror. The truth they tell is hard to refute.

Articles copyright 1995-2007 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news

Page printed from:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nader: Now The Slander Begins Again

SAM SMITH - AP started it in their lead story on Ralph Nader's announcement that he is running for president: "He is still loathed by many Democrats who call him a spoiler and claim his candidacy in 2000 cost the party the election by siphoning votes away from Al Gore in a razor-thin contest in Florida."

More on that below, but even if what the Democrats said were true, the behavior of the party in the years that followed 2000 did absolutely nothing to correct the situation. For example:

- The Democrats could have supported and worked for instant runoff (also known as ranked-choice) voting which dramatically changes the effect of third parties on elections and politics.

- They could have avoided gratuitously angering Green voters through such cheap tricks as redistricting Maine's one Green state legislator.

- They could have adopted some Green policies, much as European major parties do when pressed by from the left or right.

- They could have stopped being so consistently indistinguishable from the Republicans.

- Obama could have said he would add one or more Greens to his cabinet just as promised he might with one or more right wingers.

None of this happened.

I supported Nader's run in 2000 but, for pragmatic reasons, suggested he not run in 2004. In my memo on the topic, I argued that just because you had something righteous to say didn't mean that standing in the middle of an interstate at rush hour was the best place to argue it. The drop in returns for Nader and the Green candidate, David Cobb, supported my thesis.

At the same time, I believe that anyone who feels there is something wrong with their neighborhood, city, state or country not only has the right to run for public office but honors that office by doing so. To criticize someone for exercising this right is repulsively anti-democratic and, when the target is Nader or the Greens, reflects the political trust fund baby mentality of the Democratic Party, living off the hard efforts of its past and doing little or nothing for the present and future.

The party of denial needs to look at its own defects and not seek salvation in blaming others for exercising their constitutional rights. Deceive yourself once or twice and you can chalk it up to political error. Deceive yourself thrice and you really need therapy.

Nader Announces New Bid for White House

We should really work on a ranked-choice/proportional representation system here...Pete

By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer

Sunday, February 24, 2008
Ralph Nader speaks at a news conference in Reading, Pa.

(02-24) 12:10 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

Ralph Nader said Sunday he will run for president as a third-party candidate, criticizing the top White House contenders as too close to big business and pledging to repeat a bid that will "shift the power from the few to the many."

Nader, 73, said most people are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties due to a prolonged Iraq war and a shaky economy. The consumer advocate also blamed tax and other corporate-friendly policies under the Bush administration that he said have left many lower- and middle-class people in debt.

"You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized and disrespected," he said. "You go from Iraq, to Palestine to Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bumbling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts."

"In that context, I have decided to run for president," Nader told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Nader also criticized Republican candidate John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for failing to support full Medicare for all or cracking down on Pentagon waste and a "bloated military budget. He blamed that on corporate lobbyists and special interests, which he said dominate Washington, D.C., and pledged in his third-party campaign to accept donations only from individuals.

"The issue is do they have the moral courage, do they have the fortitude to stand up to corporate powers and get things done for the American people," Nader said. "We have to shift the power from the few to the many."

Nader also ran as a third-party candidate in 2000 and 2004, and many Democrats still accuse him of costing Al Gore the 2000 election.

Obama, responding Saturday to Nader's earlier criticisms that he lacked "substance," praised Nader as a "heroic figure."

"In many ways he is a heroic figure and I don't mean to diminish him. But I do think there is a sense now that if somebody is not hewing to the Ralph Nader agenda, then you must be lacking in some way," Obama said.

Clinton called Nader's announcement a "passing fancy" and said she hoped his candidacy wouldn't hurt the Democratic nominee.

"Obviously, it's not helpful to whomever our Democratic nominee is. But it's a free country," she told reporters as she flew to Rhode Island for campaign events.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, speaking shortly before Nader's announcement, said Nader's past runs have shown that he usually pulls votes from the Democrat. "So naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race," the former Arkansas governor said on CNN.

Nader vociferously disputes the spoiler claim, saying only Democrats are to blame for losing the race to George W. Bush. He said Sunday there could be no chance of him tipping the election to Republicans because the electorate will not vote for a "pro-war John McCain."

"If the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form," Nader said.

Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Ralph Nader presidential campaign:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Getting Ready To Deal With President Obama

Sam Smith

It is now reasonable to think about Barack Obama becoming our next president. There are a number of significant virtues in this, such as the end of the dismal Bush-Clinton-Bush era of corruption, corporatization and cultural decay. Such as our first reasonably honest president in over 30 years. Such as a president desiring not just a more powerful America but a better one. Such as a president who might deal with other countries decently and not as a schoolyard bully.

On the other hand we will still have a president who supports the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind law, the basic fallacies of the war on terror, the continued abuse of the war on drugs and a medical industry controlled by profiteering insurance companies. He also appears largely indifferent to the collapse of constitutional government. There is nothing liberal, progressive or enlightened in any of these positions and it is a marker of the dismal state of liberalism that Obama has not been called on them.

Instead of mindlessly shouting "Yes, we can," liberals and progressives should be telling the Obama crowd, "Yes, but."

They could take a few lessons from the GOP rightwing which, even with the nomination all but sewed up, has still been able to force John McCain to change his positions on a number of key matters. Even when they lack a majority, they know how to stand their ground and shape the politics of the situation.

Liberals, on the other hand, not only never once forced Clinton to back down on one of his conservative moves, they never even tried. The same pattern is now clearly growing with Obama.

Liberals didn't used to be like that. They understood - as the GOP right does today - that politics is a two front war: one front takes on the other party and the second front confronts elements of your own party with which you disagree.

This was obvious when liberals had to deal with the likes of George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Richard Daley or Camine DeSapio. Today, however, this same constituency - so deep into iconic rather than programmatic politics - is happy to help any Democrat enter the White House with no questions asked as long as the candidate, like a fine wine or classy car, adds gloss to their own image.

The effect of this phenomenon is likely to be quite different with Obama than it was with Clinton. Clinton, after all, was a con artist who corrupted others even as he enjoyed his own corruption. Further, the falsely premised enthusiasm he inspired was largely used for the benefit of himself and those close to him.

Obama is a more traditional politician, flawed to be sure, but without the depth of cynicism that propelled the Clintons and their friends. I imagine at times that as president he might be a bit like Dwight Eisenhower, placidly non-productive, occasionally exploited by corrupt friends, but mainly running the country like it was the world's largest 7-11, adequate but unchanging. Hope will be replaced by calm.

The advantage of this is that you have a president who is not going to do anything as stupid as invade Iraq or start a war with Russia. On the other hand, when the Eisenhower administration ended we found ourselves at the beginning of an era we now know as the Sixties. Imposed tranquility can keep a lot from coming to the surface, but only for so long.

The other possibility is that Obama will be a Jimmy Carter-like transitional figure. Carter served as the bridge between New Deal-Great Society social democracy and the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush robber baron neo-capitalism that was waiting on the other side of the Seventies. In a similar way, Obama - far too careful and conservative to actually fulfill the hopes he has aroused - may at least ease us from the Reagan era in which we still suffer to something demonstrably better. Sometime after his tenure, we might actually discover a reason for hope.

We can, of course, only guess. A major recession could quickly raise the level of public impatience with the lies of neo-capitalism and put aside Obama's caution. America's fourth great awakening - the religious revival some believe began on the left in the Sixties only to end up later as a major tool of the right, could wear itself out. What we may actually be seeing in the fundamentalist fervor of Obama's supporters is a sign of the transfer of faith from God back to politics again. It has been noted that after earlier great awakenings, something positive happened: the American revolution, the abolition movement and later the rise of progressive politics.

We can only guess, but it is safe to say that the excessive enthusiasm for the gossamer promise of Obama suggests that something important is happening well beyond the candidate himself. He just seems to have been at the right place at the right time - exploiting but not controlling.

In any case, if all goes about as well as can be expected these days, beginning on January 20 we will be introduced for the first time to the real Barack Obama. Hope and other cliches will take a back seat to budget and bills.

It is reasonable to expect to find a man far more timid than we have been led to believe. It is interesting to learn only just recently from Vanity Fair that Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review on the 19th ballot, as the overtly compromise candidate. This compromise law student would grow into a man who would promise to put right-wingers like Chuck Hagel in his cabinet, notably without similar promises to Democratic progressives or members of the Green Party. Compromise is clearly his safe haven; he is far more concerned with not doing wrong than with doing right.

And he is a lawyer. It is popular to consider that an asset for a politician, even though nearly half the members of our dysfunctional legislatures are lawyers, a job otherwise held by less than one percent of our population.

Observers as far back as de Tocqueville have railed against the American tendency to overload its politics with attorneys. And if you look at the record of lawyer presidents it's pretty mixed. We've had 26 of them. With the exception of four founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln and FDR, the list also includes Millard Fillmore, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Hardly an argument you want to present to the jury.

My view is that lawyers in politics tend to be okay if they are clearly on your side. Otherwise they can be a pain in the butt. When people complained to me that John Edwards was a trial lawyer, I would respond, "Yeah, but he would be our trial lawyer."

The other good lawyers are those for whom the law is simply a part of their life, informing it but not inspiring or guiding it, as in the case of FDR and Lincoln.

But Obama appears to be a lawyer through and through, which is why, for example, his healthcare plan is so awful. A pointlessly complex miasma designed for no higher purpose than to keep the insurance industry off his back. If you watched that recent debate in which attorneys Obama and Clinton spent a half hour trying to wriggle around the politics of the issue, you'd had little idea that they were actually talking about a large number of ill people not being able to afford to be ill because of the insurance industry.

In short, lawyers like Obama are great for handling divorces and settling disputes at the Harvard Law Review - perhaps even in the Mid East - but you don't want them to lead movements. Their minds are too weighed down with caveats.

So if you want anything really good to happen in an Obama administration you will have break through the infinite subsections and footnotes of his brain and convince him that it is, on balance, better and easier to do the right thing.

Obama is an empty vessel. If liberals and progressives are as pathetically obsequious towards Obama as they were towards Clinton, that vessel will be filled with the desires of large financial institutions, health insurance oligopolies and foreign policy experts attempting to compensate for hormonal insecurities by invading this or that. And Obama will end his term with the status of Reid or Pelosi rather than of JFK.

It could be happen differently if liberals and progressives were to follow the techniques of the civil rights movement with the Democrats or the contemporary GOP right, a politically sophisticated blend of intramural pressure and cooperation.

It could begin with a list of no more than a half dozen demands that would become as familiar to the media and the public as have such rightwing nemeses as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.

Single-payer healthcare and an end to American military invasions should be top contenders for the list because they already have sizable constituencies, media attention and are embarrassing to the Democratic Party establishment.

But first, an awful lot of people have to get their heads straight, starting with the poodle libs who have done so much damage to the cause of positive change by their loyalty to deceptive hustlers and their indifference to political substance.

We need a movement in which Obama is a key target, a healthy ally or a major opponent based not on warm and cuddly feelings but on the reality of his reaction to, and participation in, progressive change.

In short, the Obamania needs to die on Inauguration Day, replaced by a movement to end American imperialism, restore the Constitution, unravel the evils of neo-capitalism and instill some eco-sanity. It will be the strength of such a movement, and not the new president's virtues, that will largely determine whether he does the right thing and whether the right things happens.

If, on the other hand, we just wait for Obama, we will wake up one morning and the words on our lips will not be "Yes, we can" but "Why the hell didn't we?"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

To All US GIs in Okinawa

A Message From The Women Of Okinawa
By CounterPunch News Service

Once again, American GIs have raped an Okinawan girl, one from junior high. We are angry.

We do not believe that all of you are rapists. But given the long history of similar crimes over the sixty years from the Battle of Okinawa continuing to today, one could be forgiven for thinking so. If you are a female GI, can you trust these male GIs ?

We know that this incident is only the tip of the iceberg. There have been so many rape victims who have told no one and wept silently in their beds, that you are probably confident that you could get away with it, aren't you. But those days are now over.

We are not going to let us and our mothers, our sisters and our daughters be humiliated any longer. Whatever you do, wherever you go, we'll be watching you.

You have been turned into killing machines. The military organization has sought to teach you to see people not as people, but as something to kill. It is that same training that has taught you see us as someone you can rape casually. Go back to your hometown, where your mother is, and try to get yourself back to being a decent human being.

We do not hate you as individuals. But as members of the US military organization, you are unwelcome here. Maybe you imagine you are protecting Okinawa. But because you are here, we never feel safe. Because you are here, we feel constant fear.

You think that because the US military shed blood to seize Okinawa in World War II, the place belongs to you and you can do anything you want here, don't you.

But whatever countries or governments may have won or lost whatever wars, we have our dignity, our honor, and our freedom, and these are our islands, our land, our sky, our sea. It is here that we maintain the chain of life, giving birth to children, and raising them to be adults. This is the women of Okinawa. And this is what we are proud of. We will not allow you to continue to insult the pride, the honor, the dignity of us and our mothers, sisters and daughters. Go back to America. Now.

Okiinawan women are handing this statement to US military personnel. Contact address:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


SAM SMITH - The assumption held by many is that Obama is exceptionally eloquent. So what happened when Hillary Clinton accused him of relying on words rather than experience? He gave a somewhat immodest speech which inferred he was up there with Martin Luther King and the Declaration of Independence - quoting some of their epic phrases and then adding sardonically, "just words." The words he used to defend his eloquence, however, turned out to have been lifted (or borrowed)from his pal, Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts.

This is not a criminal offense but neither should it pass unnoticed because it sheds light not only on the candidate but on the time in which we live, a time of such persistent illusions that we can easily find ourselves accepting the fake as the real and even praising it as eloquent.

I got to thinking about Obama last night as 12 men competed on American Idol. I suddenly realized why so many contemporary singers leave me uneasy or confused: their words and their facial expressions aren't in sync. One singer crooned an extremely sad lyric as he grinned and flirted with the women in the audience. Another, in a typical pose of the contemporary vocalist, contorted his face as though he was being waterboarded, even while singing lyrics that were maniacally bland.

I mentioned this to a friend, who referred me to a tale by Lesley Stahl of CBS News, describing a critical interview with Ronald Reagan in 1984:

"I knew the piece would have an impact, if only because it was so long: five minutes and 40 seconds, practically a documentary in Evening News terms. I worried that my sources at the White House would be angry enough to freeze me out."

But, reported Bob Somerby in the Daily Howler, that isn't what happened. "When the piece aired, [Dick] Darman called from the White House. 'Way to go, kiddo,' he said to Stahl. 'What a great piece. We loved it.'"

Stahl replied, "Didn't you hear what I said?"

"Nobody heard what you said."

"Come again?"

"You guys in Televisionland haven't figured it out, have you? When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you."

Wrote Somerby, "Stahl's critical report about President Reagan had been accompanied by generally upbeat visuals. According to Darman's theory, the pictures registered more with viewers than anything Stahl had said."

These are our times: when upbeat visuals contradict a critical interview, when you can sing a sad tale and flirt at the same time, and when you can be eloquent while stealing somebody else's cliches. And the participants, the media and the public hardly notice anymore and, when they do, defend it as normal.

So, in Obama's case, I adapted with the thought that if Clinton and Obama were to deadlock, perhaps Deval Patrick could be the perfect compromise candidate - of the same hue as Obama and you'd get the eloquence first hand.

But then I discovered that Governor Patrick had an approval rating of only 48% so maybe these eloquent black Harvard Law grads get boring after a while.

Then I read today that some of the younger voters may be thinking of Obama as like so yesterday. Does that mean that we don't have to like consider him so you know eloquent anymore?

Isn't living in a fantasy fun?

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS - Speaking to the New York Times Sunday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick attempted to excuse his friend Sen. Barack Obama's lifting of part of his October 2006 "Just words" speech.

"In a telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Patrick said that he and Mr. Obama first talked about the attacks from their respective rivals last summer, when Mrs. Clinton was raising questions about Mr. Obama's experience, and that they discussed them again last week," the Times' Jeff Zeleny wrote. "Patrick said he told Mr. Obama that he should respond to the criticism, and he shared language from his campaign with Mr. Obama's speechwriters."

But Obama was quoted using Patrick's language before the Summer of 2007.

"'We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.' Those are just words," Obama was quoted as saying in a March 19, 2007 New Republic story. " 'I have a dream.' Just words."

So the claim that Patrick an Obama "first" discussed this last summer does not make sense.

It should also be noted that in addition to the "Yes We Can" slogan that Obama used in 2004, Patrick used in 2006, and Obama uses today, other language from the two clients of political guru David Axelrod has come from both men's mouths.

To wit:

Patrick in June 2006, at the Massachusetts Democratic party convention: "I am not asking anybody to take a chance on me. I am asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations."

Obama one year later, as quoted in USA Today: "I am not asking anyone to take a chance on me. I am asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations."

Just words?

Man arrested at gunpoint for using mp3 player

If it weren't so flat-out, embarrassingly ridiculous--not to mention an all-too-familiar story in a time when fear is used as political capital--this story might be almost funny! -AB

Thanks to RRC for sending it out


Next time you're reaching down for that iPod or Zune (or anything else for that matter), take care that you don't alarm the authorities with any suspicious movements -- or you could end up like the UK's Darren Nixon. Apparently, the mild-mannered mechanic was on his way home from work when the Bobbies surrounded him and drew their guns, believing that the MP3 player in his pocket was a firearm.

According to the Daily Mail, Mr. Nixon was tracked on CCTV, arrested at gunpoint, swabbed for DNA, fingerprinted, and thrown in a cell -- all for listening to a bootleg of Chinese Democracy on a 4GB Philips GoGear. Said Darren, "I was really shocked when I saw the guns. They were pointing them right at me. It was a pretty scary experience. I had no idea what was going on."

After the team of Mentat cops realized their mistake, they couldn't even offer an apology, said Nixon, "They just dropped me off at home and said a quick 'sorry for any inconvenience', and that was all I got from them, which I thought was pretty out of order."

Once again, a hot serving of sweet justice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


BBC - A controversial website that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously post government and corporate documents has been taken offline in the US., as it is known, was cut off from the internet following a California court ruling, the site says. The case was brought by a Swiss bank after "several hundred" documents were posted about its offshore activities.

Other versions of the pages, hosted in countries such as Belgium and India, can still be accessed. However, the main site was taken offline after the court ordered that Dynadot, which controls the site's domain name, should remove all traces of wikileaks from its servers.

The court also ordered that Dynadot should "prevent the domain name from resolving to the website or any other website or server other than a blank park page, until further order of this Court."

Other orders included that the domain name be locked "to prevent transfer of the domain name to a different domain registrar" to prevent changes being made to the site.

Wikileaks claimed that the order was "unconstitutional" and said that the site had been "forcibly censored".

The case was brought by lawyers working for the Swiss banking group Julius Baer. It concerned several documents posted on the site which allegedly reveal that the bank was involved with money laundering and tax evasion.

The documents were allegedly posted by Rudolf Elmer, former vice president of the bank's Cayman Island's operation. . .

The court hearing took place last week and Dynadot blocked access from Friday evening.

Wikileaks says it was not represented at the hearing because it was "given only hours notice" via e-mail.

A document signed by Judge Jeffery White, who presided over the case, ordered Dynadot to follow six court orders.

As well as removing all records of the site form its servers, the hosting and domain name firm was ordered to produce "all prior or previous administrative and account records and data for the domain name and account".

The order also demanded that details of the site's registrant, contacts, payment records and "IP addresses and associated data used by any person...who accessed the account for the domain name" to be handed over.

LIBERTYPEN - In July 2000, the United States Department of the Treasure Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued an advisory states stating that there were "serious deficiencies in the counter-money laundering systems of the Cayman Islands",

"Cayman Islands law makes it impossible for the supervisory and regulatory authority to obtain information held by financial institutions regarding their client's identity",

"Failure of financial institutions in the Cayman Islands to report suspicious transactions is not subject to penalty" and that

"These deficiencies, among others, have caused the Cayman Islands to be identified by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. As of 2006 the U.S. State Department listed the Cayman Islands in its money laundering "Countries of Primary Concern".


BACK WHEN BILL CLINTON was governor of Arkansas, an investigating Congress member found %50 million had been electronically transferred froms the Arkansas Development Financial Authority to a bank in the Cayman Islands. At the time the Grand Cayman's had 570 banks with one bank regulator.

BOB DROGIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES, December 17, 2007 - While in private business, Mitt Romney utilized shell companies in two offshore tax havens to help eligible investors avoid paying U.S. taxes, federal and state records show.

Romney gained no personal tax benefit from the legal operations in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. But aides to the Republican presidential hopeful and former colleagues acknowledged that the tax-friendly jurisdictions helped attract billions of additional investment dollars to Romney's former company, Bain Capital, and thus boosted profits for Romney and his partners.. . . In the Cayman Islands, Romney was listed as a general partner and personally invested in BCIP Associates III Cayman, a private equity fund that is registered at a post office box on Grand Cayman Island and that indirectly buys equity in U.S. companies. The arrangement shields foreign investors from U.S. taxes they would pay for investing in U.S. companies.

Romney still retains an investment in the Cayman fund through a trust. Campaign disclosure forms show the investment paid him more than $1 million last year in dividends, interest and capital gains.

JOSEPH N. DISTEFANO, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: To manage its far-flung financial interests, avoid local taxes and shroud high-stakes deals from investor scrutiny, Enron Corp. organized a sprawling network of 2,000 corporate subsidiaries in 23 states and 62 countries. Hundreds of Enron units were set up in offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands; others were under the laws of Brazil, England and other places Enron did business, according to the bankrupt company's annual report.


CHARLOTTE NEWS & OBSERVER - Three high school students were sent to an in-school suspension classroom after refusing to take a military aptitude test at Cedar Ridge High School. Principal Gary Thornburg said the students were not being disciplined, but rather that the in-school suspension teacher was the staff person available to supervise them. More than 300 juniors spent two hours Tuesday and again Wednesday in the school cafeteria taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Thornburg said the test, which the U.S. military calls the ASVAB, is traditionally administered to juniors at his school and is part of a larger career assessment program. The military provides the tests, proctors and grading without charge. In exchange, the scores are sent to military branch recruiters and the school. . .

By federal law, the contact information for any junior or senior who doesn't sign an opt-out form is passed along to recruiters by the school district. . .

Dakota Ling, one of the juniors sent to the suspension classroom, said he didn't think he would benefit from the test. Ling, an honors student, has a better than 4.0 grade point average and plans to become a graphic designer. "I just really don't want the military to have all the info it can on me," he said. . .

Students in Durham and Wake counties have to sign up for the test. So do students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and at the Orange County school system's other high school, Orange.

When it opened in 1996, East Chapel Hill High School tested all sophomores, said Winslow Carter, career development coordinator. "We had such an outrage from the parents and the community that we didn't do that anymore," Carter said. He said he still thinks the aptitude test is valuable for nonmilitary career guidance.
Now, fewer than 10 students a year take the test at East Chapel Hill High School.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Capitalism disparages government regulation until government regulation is needed ...

...and government regulation is needed quite often of late

Britain nationalizes mortgage lender Northern Rock

Sun Feb 17

Britain said on Sunday it will nationalize ailing mortgage lender Northern Rock (NRK.L) for a temporary period as it was not in the taxpayer's best interests to sell it to the private sector now.

"In the current market conditions we do not believe the two proposals deliver sufficient value for money for the taxpayer," Finance minister Alistair Darling told a news conference.

"So the government has decided to bring forward legislation to bring Northern Rock into a temporary period of public ownership."

A consortium led by billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group (VA.UL) had been the front-runner, ahead of an offer led by the bank's management team. Both were told last week to improve their offers because neither offered taxpayers a good enough deal.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by David Clarke)

The French Are Not Lazy (Deleting Sarkozy)

By Andre Vltchek
ZNet Sustainer Commentary

For decades, the French economic and social system has been haunting Anglo-Saxon market fundamentalists. While Americans work late into the evenings, often with only 2 weeks vacations, worrying about inadequate health insurance, education for their children and crumbling infrastructure, the majority of the French seem to enjoy their lives to the fullest. With 6 weeks paid leave they travel the globe. Their state run medical system is free and excellent. Education for talented students is still considered something of a human right instead of an "investment".

The French chat with their friends and colleagues over long lunches, read newspapers and books in cafes; most of them work only 35 hours a week. They live longer than the citizens of the US and Great Britain and their HDI - Human Development Index (normalized measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide) - is higher.

While there is an undeniable movement of educated, mostly business and trade oriented, men and women seeking opportunities across the Channel, an incomparably larger number of British citizens are settling down in France, which is renowned for its high quality of life and pleasant living conditions. To many around the world, France is synonymous not only with elegance, but also with a high quality in scientific, academics, culture and creative standards.

Yet the French system is constantly under fire, at home and abroad. It is often described by its critics as archaic or even obsolete. The left and center want to reform it while the right seems determined to destroy and replace it with the standardized Anglo-Saxon model. French citizens show periodically erratic and confused behavior, showering with votes extremists like Jean-Marie Le Pen a French far-right nationalist politician, founder and president of the Front National (National Front) party. Le Pen has run for the French presidency five times, including in 2002, when in a surprise upset he came second, securing more votes in the first round than the main left candidate, Lionel Jospin.

Were French voters "punishing the establishment" yet again when they elected Nicolas Sarkozy?

It seems that it had already been decided by the corporate world (and therefore by the media that it controls) that the French system is gangrenous, deadly and highly contagious. The French don't work enough, they are not stimulated to work; they waste precious time on frivolous activities, mostly leisure.

While the mainstream English-language press rarely reviews contemporary French fiction or non-fiction books, there was plenty of fuss around Corinne Maier's "Hello Laziness" ("Bonjour Laziness - Jumping Off The Corporate Ladder"). As one reader put it, "Maier encourages an anarchistic approach to corporate life, one which professes that the avoidance of responsibility and action is the best revenge against an oppressive bureaucratic structure, and that increased job satisfaction will come with working less." That seemed to be exactly what critics of the French social state were waiting for. Maier and her short best seller were immediately brought to the spotlight; allegedly the book was proving that work ethics and the social state couldn't share the same bed. Commentaries had an almost identical conclusion: the present French system encourages laziness and makes France uncompetitive.

False. Of course the French tend to work fewer hours than citizens of other industrialized nations. That's what they fought for and won. According to a Forbes reported survey (03.22.05 "France, Bastion of Productivity") of 25 industrialized countries conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the French do work less than most others. They clocked an average 1,431 hours per year. Even allowing six weeks vacation, this works out to just 31 hours per week, less than even "les heures" would dictate. But Norwegian and Dutch employees worked even less. German workers, who traditionally have been viewed as paragons of industrial effort, put in 1,446 hours, barely more than the French. British (1,673 hours), Americans (1,792 hours) and Koreans (2,390 hours) worked substantially more." But the article continues: "Still, French workers remain among the most productive in the world, ahead of Britain, Germany, the United States and Japan, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat, the AP reports."

France produces first-rate automobiles and airplanes (Airbus is assembled in Toulouse). Its state run energy and transportation sectors are probably the most efficient, high-tech and ecological in the world. France has the fastest trains in the world, connecting almost all major cities. Its urban areas as well as countryside are elegant, served by modern public transportation, with large public spaces, combining centuries-old history and cutting edge technologies. French design, arts and fashion are considered an etalon of quality all over the world. So are the food and wine.

But that doesn't seem to be enough and it probably isn't, at least from the corporate point of view and from the angle of the New World Order. France may have some of the mightiest companies in the world, some of the largest banks and some of the richest people on the planet. But it also has an "extremely spoiled" work force; men and women who are stubbornly convinced that their country should serve its citizens, not the corporate culture, convinced that they should work in order to eat and travel and enjoy life, not in order to make a few corporate tycoons outrageously rich.

And these annoying people are determined to fight for their rights, as they did for decades and centuries.

That may be unacceptable in a world where daring to even criticize the present system may be synonymous with extremism, even terrorism.

To a large extent thanks to its free and excellent education system, French citizens are extremely well read and informed. Although the circulation of major newspapers (like everywhere else) is declining, France has still some of the mightiest alternative publications in the world and these in turn have a global impact, like Le Monde Diplomatique. French films may not be as revolutionary and avant-garde as they once were, but many still carry strong social messages. Politics, globalization, the environment and imperialism are some of the topics still discussed at those long and leisurely-spent hours in cafes, restaurants and bars. The French dare to take precious time off and trash the system, instead of making the companies and their CEOs richer and richer. It would be unacceptable from the point of view of New Labor in Britain or the Democratic Party in the US.

And to make things worse, even conservative French Presidents like Jacque Chirac actually opposed several US military actions, including the US-British invasion of Iraq. At least pro-forma and for a time. Not that the French government would ever send troops or the air force to defend some desperate country under US attack (like Laos or Vietnam), but at least it made sufficient noise to help show that the world is not yet fully run by global dictatorship.

French "dissent" is not taken lightly by the ruling powers. France has become a target of ridicule and criticism, similar to that unleashed, for different reasons, against China (PRC).

But to neo-cons and market fundamentalists in Washington and London (and also in places like Singapore, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur or Riyadh), France's social system represents a much greater danger than its foreign policy.

Fear of becoming unemployable, fear of being labeled as extremists, fear of being photographed and marked: all that prevents American and British workers from doing what they were doing in earlier decades and centuries: fighting for improvement of their conditions even if it meant trashing their own cities in order to get better pay and benefits, to gain free education for their children and free and decent medical care for their sick. Surveillance techniques employed by the state and private sector, a general lack of political opposition, and the deeply implanted belief that it is impossible to change the system: all this has thrown the workers in Anglo-Saxon countries and elsewhere back to the ages of pre-industrial revolution.

But in France, people are still fighting. They strike. They riot. Sometimes the opposition is fragmented or marginalized (Dominique Vidal, deputy editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, once explained to me how the state went far out of its way to sow the seeds of mistrust between the French poor, workers and foreign migrants: groups that should naturally form one strong alliance).

Despite the setbacks, alliances are periodically forged and some unions are playing more than a decorative role. French people are deeply suspicious of capitalism. They know well that if unchecked, the market system will act like that old computer game Pac Man, eating all there is on its way. Only the state can prevent it from taking full control of the society. Only the state can act in the interest of the people, of the majority. It can hardly be expected from private enterprise, as history has repeatedly proven.

Multi-national companies hate it, but French people simply know too much. They understand too much. They have too much time on their hands to think and to read. They don't worry enough about their health and education, and about their mortgages. Their children can even go to subsidized kindergartens. Six weeks a year, often longer, French citizens can travel the world, compare and learn how it ticks. And they want more social securities, not fewer. And when monied forces try to take all that away from them, they go to the streets and Paris burns. And other regional capitals burn. "Chaos!" screams mainstream media all over the world.

"Well, better than the chaos of tens of millions of people dying prematurely because of inadequate or non-existent medical insurance, like in the United States," many French would argue. "Better than the chaos of working day and night and feeling too scared to even complain to the face of your boss."

But it is not easy to be different. Mainstream media, as well as foreign media, bombards French voters with assiduous criticism of their country's social and economic system. The thousand times repeated lie, about how uncompetitive of a system they have inherited, is becoming truth. Unemployment is being mentioned relentlessly; the unemployment that is, at 7.9%, definitely high, but still lower than in Germany (8.1%) and just slightly higher than the EU average of 7.2%. Often given as comparison is the unemployment rate of only 4.9% in the US, but what is not pronounced is that almost no French worker in his or her right mind would accept salaries and "benefits" offered to low-paid American workers, many of who are "fully employed" on paper only.

The French are being told that they are missing the train, that they will not be able to compete with Asia, with the US, the Irish Republic, Britain. There are no solid indicators backing it, but the need for a change is emphasized so frantically and repeatedly, that last year many French voters opted for a radical move and elected an over-ambitious pro marketer and self-proclaimed ally of the United States - Nicolas Sarkozy.

And Nicolas Sarkozy went to work as he promised: determined to dismantle the French social state in the shortest time possible. He is, of course, facing street protests and growing resentment from the French people. But he is on a crusade; he is determined and inspired by multitudes of "reformers" of recent years and decades: from Ms. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to Tony Blair, Helmut Kohl and Berlusconi; by all those "leaders" who took advantage of the disappearance of global pluralism and began turning back the clock of history.

This return to an early stage of capitalism may not go as smoothly in France as it went elsewhere. The country was on the vanguard of social movements and revolutions for decades and centuries. It was a home base of some of the greatest humanists, rebels and social thinkers, from Anatole France to Victor Hugo and Emil Zola and countless others. That's where La Marseillaise was written, sung and later became the national anthem, where The Internationale - the famous socialist, anarchist, communist, and democratic anthem was born.

France is the country where democracy and striving for equality and social justice didn't fall from the sky or arrive from abroad: the country fought for them, step by step. And each step had tremendous and often terrible costs, counted in human lives and lakes of spilled blood. Some of the bravest and brightest sons and daughters of France died in the barricades, on the streets and in the prisons. Nicolas Sarkozy has no right and no mandate to dismantle the legacy of centuries long struggle for justice and social rights.

France may be one of the last bastions of social and socialist ideals, along with several countries in Latin America and a few in Europe. It is not a perfect country, far from it. Its colonial past is appalling and its periodic outbursts of intolerance deeply regrettable. But there is no perfect country on this planet and there is definitely more in modern France and its system worth defending and improving than rejecting and discarding.

Unlike Britain (and to some extent Germany), France will not go without a fight. Europe, unlike Venezuela, does not allow referendums where the people can freely vote for the economic system (socialism or capitalism) that they desire. Therefore we don't know what percentage of people will join on each side. The outcome of the fight is uncertain. But it is fair to predict that unless Sarkozy wants to trigger riots on the scale of the civil war, he will not dare to touch the core of the social system of France.

"Punishing the system" went too far. French voters already made their point. And they saw the face of the alternative. The face is scary. It is time to return to real progress, to build on the foundations of solidarity, fraternity and equality. Otherwise French people may end up, like elsewhere, as servants and slaves of the faceless corporate monster.

As a nightmare, as a computer virus, an inflated Sarkozy is now hanging over Paris, threatening to bring France some hundred years back to the beginning of the 20th Century. He should be quickly deleted from political power, reduced to normal human size.

The French people are definitely not lazy, no matter what the market fundamentalists say. Lazy people can't make the most comfortable passenger planes, trains that run well over 300km/h, they wouldn't be able to design architectural masterpieces and write hundreds of great novels, direct wonderful films and make delicious cheeses and noble wines. They can do all this on 35 hours a week average. Why should they do more? There is no shortage of anything in the stores as it is!

Now that we determined that they are not lazy at all, we should ask French people to work feverishly on one particular project that is so important for them and for the rest of humanity: the project to get rid of Sarkozy. Maybe they should try to find a way to send him as a cheerleader to Washington. Or he should be offered to run an outsourcing company in Britain. Anything, just not this, not what he is allowed to do now. If not deleted soon, he may really try delete all of France as we know it.

Andre Vltchek: novelist, playwright and journalist. Co-founder of Mainstay Press (, publishing house for political fiction. Editorial director of Asiana Press Agency ( He lives and works in Asia and South Pacific and can be reached at:

First rumblings of resistance at Chrysler

Published Feb 15, 2008

Those who collect oxymorons can add a new one to their list: job security.

Any doubters can ask a Chrysler worker. Last week four assembly plants closed abruptly over a parts shortage, caused by a dispute with bankrupt parts supplier Plastech that threatened to shut every plant of the corporation. The company typically treated the parts shortage as a situation beyond its control, yet would there be parts shortages if Chrysler—which outsources more parts than either Ford or General Motors—would let UAW members do the work in house?

In fact this development was the latest of the conflicts between automakers and suppliers over the price of commodities, a tug-of-war in which workers are treated as mere strands on a fraying rope. While production resumed two days later, the situation underscored the precariousness of a Chrysler worker’s well-being.

The latest threat to their livelihoods, “a plan to right-size”—read shrink—“ts product line and dealership network”—and the workforce—is called “Project Genesis.” It follows earlier-announced cuts of 25,000 U.S. and Canadian jobs. While thousands of Chrysler workers will be seduced, with large sums of money, to quit or retire, unemployment looms on the horizon for thousands more.

Chrysler has set an ugly precedent with its treatment of the 119 “highly specialized surfacing designers” who were pink-slipped Jan. 31. That Thursday afternoon they were permanently laid off, and given one hour to pack up their things and leave. Members of UAW Local 412, these skilled designers represent over 20 percent of their bargaining unit.

Although Chrysler workers have grown accustomed to a steady decline in numbers, layoffs categorized as “permanent” come as a shock. Though drastic, cuts under the past few contracts had been achieved through attrition, i.e., not filling vacancies when workers die, quit or retire.

By imposing permanent layoffs that are not specifically “volume [sales] related,” Chrysler and the parent company Cerberus are flagrantly disregarding the contract with the UAW. That contract, almost rejected last October, passed by a few thousand votes on the promise of job security.

The aggressive moves on the part of the number three U.S. automaker reveal the impact and depth of the banking crisis. The short-lived euphoria over the sale of Chrysler has dissipated. The underwriters—the banks that financed the buyout with billion-dollar loans to Cerberus—are now desperately seeking investors to help take the debt off their backs.

With billions of dollars invested in both real estate and finance—including a 51 percent stake in the financial arm of General Motors—Cerberus itself has taken a big hit from the sub-prime mortgage/credit crunch. Now that the mortgage meltdown is turning into a global capitalist economic crisis, how will Chrysler’s restructuring—the destroying of more than 25,000 jobs—be financed? The bosses only know one solution to their quandary, and that is to further reduce the price of labor power with additional restructuring.

With its ranks so decimated, and with those most affected already out on the street, the UAW is in a highly defensive position. Workers are being stripped away from where they have the most leverage: at the point of production. Nevertheless, history shows—and UAW history is the rule not the exception—that workers will fight back. The question is not if but when.

Local 412 President Jeff Hagler has vowed to fight these layoffs. “It’s like war against the union, and we’re going to go back to war against them,” Hagler stated.

Right now the “war” is taking the form of a grievance. This is a necessary step, but it means essentially arguing the workers’ case in front of the very bosses who have ordered the layoffs in the first place. However, if the rank-and-file foot soldiers are mobilized to take the war to a higher level, the company’s absolutely ruthless agenda can be pushed back.


Articles copyright 1995-2007 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news

Page printed from:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Christian Right's Emerging Deadly Worldview: Kill Muslims to Purify the Earth

By Chris Hedges

Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani are the three stooges of the Christian right. These self-described former Muslim terrorists are regularly trotted out at Christian colleges—a few days ago they were at the Air Force Academy—to spew racist filth about Islam on behalf of groups such as Focus on the Family. It is a clever tactic. Curly, Larry and Mo, who all say they are born-again Christians, engage in hate speech and assure us it comes from personal experience. They tell their audiences that the only way to deal with one-fifth of the world’s population is by converting or eradicating all Muslims. Their cant is broadcast regularly on Fox News, including the Bill O’Reilly and Neil Cavuto shows, as well as on numerous Christian radio and television programs. Shoebat, who has written a book called “Why We Want to Kill You,” promises in his lectures to explain the numerous similarities between radical Muslims and the Nazis, how “Muslim terrorists” invaded America 30 years ago and how “perseverance, recruitment and hate” have fueled attacks by Muslims.

These men are frauds, but this is not the point. They are part of a dark and frightening war by the Christian right against tolerance that, in the moment of another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would make it acceptable to target and persecute all Muslims, including the some 6 million Muslims who live in the United States. These men stoke these irrational fears. They defend the perpetual war unleashed by the Bush administration and championed by Sen. John McCain. McCain frequently reminds listeners that “the greatest danger facing the world is Islamic terrorism,” as does Mike Huckabee, who says that “Islamofascism” is “the greatest threat this country [has] ever faced.” George W. Bush has, in the same vein, assured Americans that terrorists hate us for our freedoms, not, of course, for anything we have done. Bush described the “war on terror” as a war against totalitarian Islamofascism while the Israeli air force was dropping tens of thousands of pounds of iron fragmentation bombs up and down Lebanon, an air campaign that killed 1,300 Lebanese civilians.

The three men tell lurid tales of being recruited as children into Palestinian terrorist organizations, murdering hundreds of civilians and blowing up a bank in Israel. Saleem says that as a child he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights, although no incident of this type was ever reported in Israel. He claims he is descended from the “grand wazir” of Islam, a title and a position that do not exist in the Arab world. They assure audiences that the Palestinians are interested not in a peaceful two-state solution but rather the destruction of Israel, the murder of all Jews and the death of America. Shoebat claims he first came to the United States as part of an extremist “sleeper cell.”

“These three jokers are as much former Islamic terrorists as ‘Star Trek’s’ Capt. James T. Kirk was a real Starship captain,” said Mikey Weinstein, the head of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The group has challenged Christian proselytizing in the military and denounced the visit by the men to the Air Force Academy.

The speakers include in their talks the superior virtues of Christianity. Saleem, for example, says his world “turned upside down when he was seriously injured in an automobile accident.”

“A Christian man tended to Kamal at the accident scene, making sure he got the medical treatment he needed,” his Web site says. “Kamal’s orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist were also Christian men whom over a period of several months ministered the unconditional love of Jesus Christ to him as he recovered. The love and sacrificial giving of these men caused Kamal to cry out to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob acknowledging his need for the Savior. Kamal has since become a man on a new mission, as an ambassador for the one true and living God, the great I Am, Jehovah God of the Bible.”

This creeping Christian chauvinism has infected our political and social discourse. It was behind the rumor that Barack Obama was a Muslim. Obama reassured followers that he was a Christian. It apparently did not occur to him, or his questioners, that the proper answer is that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim, that persons of great moral probity and courage arise in all cultures and all religions, including Islam. Christians have no exclusive lock on virtue. But this kind of understanding often provokes indignant rage.

The public denigration of Islam, and by implication all religious belief systems outside Christianity, is part of the triumphalism that has distorted the country since the 9/11 attacks. It makes dialogue with those outside our “Christian” culture impossible. It implicitly condemns all who do not think as we think and believe as we believe as, at best, inferior and usually morally depraved. It blinds us to our own failings. It makes self-reflection and self-criticism a form of treason. It reduces the world to a cartoonish vision of us and them, good and evil. It turns us into children with bombs.

These three con artists are not the problem. There is enough scum out there to take their place. Rather, they offer a window into a worldview that is destroying the United States. It has corrupted the Republican Party. It has colored the news media. It has entered into the everyday clichés we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. It is ignorant and racist, but it is also deadly. It grossly perverts the Christian religion. It asks us to kill to purify the Earth. It leaves us threatened not only by the terrorists who may come from abroad but the ones who are rising from within our midst.

basketball team

AP photo / Carlos Osorio

Hugo Chávez and High Anxiety at the NYT


Although President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela continues to excite fits of hysteria north of the Rio Grande, Simon Romero of the New York Times (Feb. 9, 2008) wants us to know that Chávez is "increasingly on the defensive."

Mirna de Campos, a nurse's assistant, tells Romero that "I cannot find beans, rice, coffee or milk." Romero mentions other problems in Venezuela, but this food shortage is the one you remember.

Romero goes on to say that "Mr. Chávez has stirred deeper anxiety by intensifying threats to expand state control of the economy and society. For instance, Mr. Chávez warned Monday that he would nationalize large food distributors caught hoarding groceries."

In the process of alerting us to this "deeper anxiety," Romero has raised the issue of "distributors caught hoarding groceries." My deeper anxiety would involve food, not "threats to expand state control of the economy." But I don't understand the mysterious world of the New York Times.

Eight days before Romero's article appeared in the Times, Australia's Green Left Weekly carried "Venezuela: Combating Food Shortages" by Federico Fuentes and Tamara Pearson. They interviewed Luis Albonoz, a shopkeeper in Venezuela, who told them of widespread shortages of basic foods. They asked him the cause of the shortages. "It's a problem of smuggling," he told them. "Some people hoard large quantities and then they sell them at much higher prices."

Fuentes and Pearson go on to mention another cause of the food shortages. According to a report prepared by the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "between 2004 and 2006, the real income of the poorest 58% of the population increased by 130% after allowing for inflation." Because poor people now have more money, they buy more food, thereby contributing to the shortage. In addition to this, food is available at the Mercals-the state-subsidized supermarkets-for 39 percent less than the usual price.

Problems like these are common in young socialist economies. In Cuba, shortly after the revolution, the government established a fixed low price for milk by subsidizing the stores that sold it. Overnight, milk shortages occurred. Parents who previously couldn't afford milk for their children now found that they could. This option didn't exist under the Batista regime. The U.S. press used this "milk shortage" to show that socialism had failed, when it actually had succeeded, especially for parents who could now afford to buy milk.

Romero's article is not his only effort to relieve our fears about Venezuela. Back on November 10, 2007, he offered a stirring account of the "nascent student movement" that opposes President Chávez. This movement received a great deal of air time on U.S. television news, where we learned that Venezuelan students opposed changes to a TV station. Next we discovered that they opposed the much-discussed amendments to the Venezuelan constitution.

Romero's article continues this saga. He interviews Yon Goicoechea, a leader of the nascent anti-Chávez student movement mentioned above. Goicoechea is studying law at the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas. How does he hope to get rid of Chávez?

"We believe in exhausting the democratic options available to us through peaceful action," the leader says. "We want social transformation, not a coup. The real coup d'état is coming from Chávez, who wants to perpetuate himself in power."

At this point, Romero launches into a discussion of "the students." We learn that "the students first burst onto the scene over the summer." Moreover, President Chávez doesn't care much for "the student movement." And the American government has "denied supporting the students." For line after line, it's "the students" this and "the students" that.

As he approaches the end of the article, Romero finally acknowledges that some students actually support President Chávez. But the clear implication of everything else is that "the students" oppose Chávez, included a working-class student that Romero drags into the Times to prove how diverse "the students" really are.

Why don't more students support Chávez?

In an interview with Pepe Escobar, MediaBite asks much the same question. Escobar is a native of Brazil who now writes for The Real News Network, Asia Times Online, and elsewhere. MediaBite is an online journal that wants us to know that it takes "a shot at bias in the media."

Escobar says, with a good deal of verbal animation, that the mainstream Western media have created the impression that Venezuelan university students are largely opposed to President Chávez. "It was impossible to read anywhere that these students came from elite, private universities, were more interested in fleeing the country after graduation to snatch an MBA in the U.S., and were a minority," Escobar says. "The majority studies in public schools, and they are Chavistas with widely varied degrees of fervor."

We've been conditioned to believe the New York Times. By contrast, you assume that anything owned by Rupert Murdoch is full of lies, and that's what you always get. This predictability has a calming effect on the mind. It reassures you. The Times is more subtle. Sometimes one line of truth among all the lies makes you believe the entire article. This agitates the reader, makes him fearful.

In the past, Romero wrote some fairly evenhanded pieces about Venezuela. I foolishly expected the same from him now.

Patrick Irelan is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at