Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What is Hamas, Really?

A Beginner's Guide
By Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch

Since it became clear that the intention of Israel's latest military assault on Gaza is to destroy Hamas, various newspapers in the US have printed opinion pieces echoing the Washington line that it is Hamas' fault that Gaza is being pummeled by Israeli warplanes. Now, there may be some things one can blame Hamas for, but firing missiles at people and buildings in Gaza from Israeli warplanes is not one of them. It has been the desire of Tel Aviv and Washington to eradicate Hamas as a political force for a long time. The military Israeli assault currently going on is but the latest installment in fulfilling that desire.

Just prior to the assault there was a Israeli-enforced blockade on Gaza. This blockade prevented necessary goods from reaching the people living there. There was also an Israeli incursion in November that was the culmination of a series of border clashes between Israel and Palestinian gunmen. These clashes resulted in the deaths of at least 16 Palestinians. Of course, these occurrences were but a continuation of the low-intensity conflict between Hamas and Israel that in themselves are but a part of the conflict between Israel and Palestine that has continued since 1948. Hamas is but the most recent organization to represent the militant wing of the Palestinian resistance and, therefore be at the receiving end of Israel's most violent responses. At this point in history if Hamas did not resist, there would be no resistance to Tel Aviv's plans to render the Palestinians completely irrelevant in their own land. Most Palestinians understand this and are understandably angry at the current campaign in Gaza, no matter which political faction has their allegiance.

Despite the constant presence of Hamas in the news of the western world, most people reading that news know very little about the group. Back in 2006 journalist Khaled Hroub wrote a clear, concise and informative guide to Hamas. Simply titled Hamas: A Beginner's Guide the author utilizes a question and answer format to explain the politics and tactics of Hamas, their relationship to and with other Palestinian organizations, Israel and the rest of the world Hroub, a Palestinian supporter of a secular and independent Palestinian state, also examines the role of religion in Hamas' internal and external politics, as well as the group's opinion of democracy and theocracy.

The picture presented in these pages is certain to hold some surprises for its English readers. Having been fed anti-Palestinian propaganda for years, the Hamas described here is of a group that understands its religious desires are not what garnered it enough support to win the aforementioned elections. Although Hroub never denies that there are those in Hamas that would like to impose an Islamic state in a free Palestine, his text proves that this is but one element of the Hams organization. Indeed, the organization described in these pages is an organization that listens to its members and, even more importantly, listens to those it wants to represent -- the Palestinian people. Given this, Hamas proves to be a surprisingly democratic organization with a degree of political understanding rarely attributed to an Arab or Muslim organization. It is Hroub's contention that the results of the January 2005 election that gave Hamas a solid majority not only substantiates Hamas' claim that their positions on the essentially dead Oslo Agreements and the Israeli occupation of Palestine are the predominant positions of the Palestinian people, the aftermath of their victory has also shown that Hamas understands that it is its role as an agent of national liberation (and not its religious agenda) that has the support of the Palestinian majority. In the same way that the Israeli failure to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon, the current assault will most likely only strengthen this support should Hamas merely remain intact as an organization once the attacks are over.

As the attack continues in Gaza one wonders if Hamas will respond with a campaign that includes suicide bombings. These grisly news events are examined in Hamas: A Beginner's Guide. Hroub traces their beginnings to the 1994 massacre of Muslim worshipers by Baruch Goldstein in a Hebron mosque. While acknowledging that suicide attacks have cost the Palestinian movement dearly in some quarters of the world, Hroub explains (without endorsing) the Hamas position on these attacks as tactically necessary. At the same time, he notes that Hamas targets only Israeli citizens and soldiers in the Territories and Israel itself. Although this may not be much solace to the western reader, the fact is, as Hroub tries to make clear throughout the book, Hamas considers the Israelis and Palestinians to be in a state of war. Consequently, the tactics of war are what rules Hamas' military actions.

The intention of Hamas: A Beginner's Guide is not to gloss over the harsh realities of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Nor is it the book's intention to portray Hamas -- an important part of that struggle -- as a group without imperfections that sometimes engages in reprehensible tactics. This book will certainly not satisfy those whose notion of Hamas is framed solely by the US and Israeli characterization of the group as terrorists. However, for the average reader interested in trying to understand the group's motivations, philosophy, and plans, Hamas: A Beginner's Guide is an essential starting point. Furthermore, it might allow those an understanding as to why Israel's expressed hope to eradicate Hamas and bargain with the Palestinian Authority for a Tel Aviv-Washington imposed peace will most likely fail. Bare of propaganda either for or against the group, this text is the most fair-minded and balanced piece of literature on Hamas in the English language.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at:

Monday, December 29, 2008

War On You

Nestled in recently declassified transcripts of former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's telephone conversations is an exchange between him and counter-culture icon, peace activist and poet Allen Ginsberg on how to end the Vietnam war. The following is a transcript of the call, which took place on April 23, 1971.

G: I am calling at the request partly of Senator McCarthy. Senator McCarthy told me to, call you. My idea is to arrange a conversation between yourself, [CIA Director Richard] Helms, McCarthy and maybe even Nixon with Rennie Davis, Dillinger and Abernathy. It can be done at any time. They were willing to show their peaceableness and perhaps you don't know how to get out of the war and who by private meeting --

K: I have been meeting with many members representing peace groups but what I find is that they have always then rushed right out and given the contents of the meeting to the press. But I like to do this, not just for the enlightment of the people I talk to but to at least give me a feel of what concerned people think. I would be prepared to meet in principle on a private basis.

G: That's true but it is a question of personal delicacy. In dealing with human conscienceness, it is difficult to set limits.

K: You can't set limits to human conscienceness but --

G: We can try to come to some kind of understanding.

K: You can set limits to what you say publicly.

G: It would be even more funny to do it on television.

K: What?

G: It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television.

K: (Laughter )

G: It might be too . . . but under some kind of circumstances. What shall I tell them that would be encouraging?

K: That I would think about it very seriously.

G: Good deal.

K: I will call Senator McCarthy. I am leaving town for a conference that I have had scheduled for some time but I will be back on Monday. When did you intend to do this?

G: During the May Day Meetings in Washington. They will be lobbying and they could meet with you. May 2 or 3.

K: May 2nd or 3rd. Damn it! I would like to do it in principle but --

G: It is a good principle.

K: Now wait a minute. I don't know about those dates, I may not be in town. If not, we can do it at some other reasonable date.

G: I gather you don't know how to get out of the war.

K: I thought we did but we are always interested in hearing other views.

G: If you see [CIA Director Richard] Helms, ask him if he has begun meditating yet.

K: [About what. ]

G: . . . . . . . . . . on the opium market . . . . . . Long Chin (spelled phonetically). He promised to meditate one hour a day. I still have to teach him how to hold his back straight.

K: How do I reach you?

G: City Lights, San Francisco.

K: Where are you calling from?

G: Sacramento, California -- I just gave a talk on gay liberation (?) to the students here, and I am going to San Francisco to join the march there. I will be at the following number --

K: I won't be able to call you, I am leaving town. How can I reach you after Monday ?

G: I will be there until June 15th.

K: You are not coming here?

G: If I were needed, I could arrange --

K: No, no - - I will call McCarthy.

G: Talk to him, I will try to arrange a private meeting. It would be good to talk to the Army too, you know the war people and the anti-war people.

K: It i s barely conceivable that there are people who like war.

G: They might have some ideas, they have been to Hanoi.

K: I will call McCarthy. If we can set it up on a basis of --

G: You may have to subject yourself to prayer.

K: That is a private matter that is permissable.

G: Of course.

K: Okay, I will call McCarthy.

The Other Eartha Kitt

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media - [Eartha] Kitt's independence and sense of self influenced the coming generations of young female entertainers and personalities from Oprah to Beyonce to Madonna. They owe her a debt of gratitude.

But even that side of Kitt obscured the Kitt who was passionately devoted to and supported peace and civil rights causes. The clash with Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson at the celebrity women's luncheon in January 1968 gave the first public hint of that.

Lady Bird Johnson had invited Kitt to the luncheon and in an innocent moment asked Kitt what she thought about the problems of inner city youth. Kitt didn't mince words and lambasted the Johnson administration for not doing more about poverty, joblessness, and drugs in black communities. Kitt didn't stop there, she tied her outburst directly into an attack on the Vietnam War, a war she said was without reason or explanation.

Kitt's verbal assault on the war and racial problems made headline news. A badly shaken first lady and an enraged LBJ denounced her. The next few years she was hounded and harassed by the FBI, the IRS and Secret Service agents. The CIA even compiled a gossipy, intrusive dossier on her that attempted to paint her as a sex starved malcontent. The public storm and the negative press proved too much for Kitt.

Kitt's career was effectively dead in the United States. But she stuck by her guns and did not apologize, retract or soften her criticism of Johnson's war and racial policies. Kitt in fact hadn't said anything at that luncheon that thousands of others hadn't said about Johnson's hopelessly failed, flawed and losing war and racial problems. The difference was who said it; namely a celebrated star, and where it was said, at the White House. Kitt took the heat and paid the price for giving an honest opinion and deep felt belief about the cause of peace and social justice. She was branded as a racial agitator.

Just a note regarding corporate media's assertion of Israeli retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks...

...over the last seven years only 17 Israeli citizens have been killed by Palestinian rocket fire, which makes it extremely difficult for Israeli politicians, which are in the midst of an election, to argue that their response has been proportionate or defensible in any way.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Consumption Season Worst Ever, Says WSJ

Wall Street Journal - Price-slashing failed to rescue a bleak holiday season for beleaguered retailers, as sales plunged across most categories on shrinking consumer spending, according to new data. Despite a flurry of last-minute shoppers lured by the deep discounts, total retail sales, excluding automobiles, fell over the year-earlier period by 6% in November and 8% in December through Christmas Eve, according to MasterCard Inc.'s Spending Pulse unit.

When gasoline sales are excluded, the fall in overall retail sales is more modest: a 3% drop in November and a 4% decline in December. A 40% drop in gasoline prices over the year-earlier period contributed to the sharp decline in total sales. [Retail sales chart]

But considering individual sectors, "This will go down as the one of the worst holiday sales seasons on record," said Mary Delk, a director in the retail practice at consulting firm Deloitte LLP. "Retailers went from 'Ho-ho' to 'Uh-oh' to 'Oh-no.'"

The holiday retail-sales decline was much worse than the already-dire picture painted by industry forecasts, which had predicted sales ranging from a 1% drop to a more optimistic increase of 2%.

Luxury goods, once considered immune from economic turmoil, were hardest hit, with sales falling 21%, compared with a jump of 8% a year ago, when the economy had just begun to sputter. Including jewelry sales, the luxury sector plunged by a whopping 35%.

During the same period last year, overall retail sales rose a modest 2%, helped by late-season discounting that enticed procrastinating shoppers. But this year, after a moderate uptick in shopping activity boosted by steep promotions the Friday after Thanksgiving, shoppers closed their wallets and reopened them only cautiously, worried by job losses, a sinking stock market and a recession climbing into its second year.

Opening of Seattle's first public squat

On January 1st, 2009, a new squat will be opening up in Seattle. A rally of homeless residents from the U-District's Tent City, which the community simply calls "Nickelsville" after Seattle's Mayor Greg Nickels, will have live music and speakers giving talks on the need for free housing for the homeless and impoverished.

At 12:30 in the afternoon, residents and supporters of Nickelsville will gather to discuss their situation, and at 2:30 all will march to the house we intend on expropriating. As a group we will clean up the house, stuff it full of food and goodies, and secure it for our own use.

The rally is being held on the corner of 15th and 45th at the Tent City at 12:30 in the afternoon on Jan. 1st. Please bring signs pertaining to housing rights, squatting, anti-capitalism, and direct action. Bring noise makers and bring friends!

For contact info in the Seattle area please call:
(206) 850 9626
or email:

Inside Gaza: A Living Hell

By Sami Abdel-Shafi, Independent UK

I am safe, and yet I feel like a walking dead person. Everything around me shows it. It is hard to write something of any coherence while exposed to cold winter air and to the smell that lingers after the detonation of Israeli bombs. They must have been massive. During the bombing I opened all the windows around my apartment to avoid them imploding as a result of the vacuum shocks sweeping through Gaza City after each enormous bang. While the bombing continued, I jumped down two flights of stairs to my father's house, to make sure he was OK. Should I open up all his windows too? That would expose the old man to the risk of illness. We have no medical care or medication. However, the risk from shattering glass was greater, so I opened them all.

Mobile phones did not work, because of electricity outages and the flood of attempted calls. I flipped the electricity generator on so that we could watch the news. We wanted to understand what was going on in our own neighborhood. However, this was impossible. Israeli surveillance drones flew overhead, scrambling the reception. All I could do was step outside, where I found crowds of frantic people, lines of rising smoke and the smell of charred buildings and bodies that lay around targeted sites nearby. Somebody said the bombs had been launched in parallel raids over the entire Gaza Strip. What was the target here? Perhaps a police station about 200 meters away. Other bombs annihilated blocks less than a kilometer away, where one of the main police training centers stood. When the strikes began, a graduation ceremony for more than 100 recruits in a civil law enforcement program was under way. These were the young men trained to organize traffic, instil civil safety and maintain law and order. Many of them were killed, it is said, in addition to the Gaza Strip's police chief.

News came by word of mouth. There had been more than 150 deaths and more than 200 people were injured or missing under rubble after the first two hours of bombing. Israel had said it would continue the offensive and deepen it if necessary. Likewise, it was said that Hamas had launched more rockets at southern Israeli towns, causing one death and four injuries. Gaza had never seen anything like the numbers of dead bodies lying on its streets. Hospital morgues were already full. The dead were piled on top of each other outside.

Bombs targeting a Hamas security force building badly damaged an adjacent school, and several children were injured. We heard of many other targets around the Gaza Strip. It reminds me of the "shock and awe" campaign the Allies launched over Baghdad in 2003. But shock and awe did not bring stability or peace.

These bombs were launched by Israel, as we had known they would be. The world watched the situation simmer then boil over, but did nothing. There are some who believe that hell is divided into different classes. The ordinary people of Gaza have long been caught in the tormenting underworld. Now, if the world does not heed what has happened here, our situation will worsen. We will be trapped in the first class of hell.

© 2008 Independent UK All rights reserved.

Israel attack on Gaza: Fragile peace shattered again

The young Palestinian cadets who gathered in Gaza City’s police headquarters on Saturday would have been buzzing with excitement as they prepared for their passing out ceremony.
Gaza attacks: bodies outside Hamas police HQ
A Palestinian cradles the body of a Hamas policeman as others look for survivors outside the Hamas police headquarters following the Israeli air strike on Gaza City.

Proud mothers and fathers would have been invited to the parade, where the salute was to be taken by Major-General Tawfiq Jaber, the commander of the police force in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by the militant Islamist movement, Hamas, since June 2007.

What nobody on the ground knew was that, just as the band played and the cadets formed up to march past Gen Jaber, they were in the cross-hairs of the Israeli air force.

It is not yet known if the gathering was hit by a guided missile or, as is more likely, a laser-guided bomb. What is certain is that a huge explosion ripped through the scene, killing at least 40 people, including the General.

Within minutes fifty sites, all Hamas police and security force facilities located from Rafah in the south to Gaza City in the north, were attacked by 60 jet fighters. Saturday is a normal working day in Gaza and all these buildings were occupied.

Plumes of thick black smoke rose into the grey winter sky the length and breadth of the Strip as the first wave of Israeli air strikes took place.

F-16 jets were heard overhead, along with the clatter of helicopter gunships and the whine of engines from unmanned drones.

At ground level, the air was filled the sound of ambulance sirens and the wailing of relatives gathered at Gaza’s numerous mortuaries, places that have seen plenty of carnage-fuelled grief over the years.

Once the smoke and dust cleared at the police headquarters, rescuers gingerly began searching the scene for signs of life. There were few.

Most of the fatalities appeared to be in uniform, although it is probable civilians were killed in the police compound.

With Israel restricting the entry of foreign reporters to Gaza, authoritative accounts of what happened came from local sources. The Telegraph’s fixer in Gaza went into mourning after losing a cousin in the attack.

A local television cameraman filmed uniformed bodies piled up on top of each other as all around the wounded writhed in pain.

Rescuers carried those showing signs of life to cars and ambulances, while others tried to revive the unconscious. Several of the rescuers beat their heads and shouted: "Allahu akbar (God is greatest)." One badly wounded, prostrate man quietly recited verses from the Koran.

Islam Shahwan, the Hamas police spokesman, gave the death toll at the police headquarters as at least forty. This was the most prominent target of Israel’s most punishing assault on the Gaza Strip since the end of the Second Intifada in 2004.

The Israeli government gave the green light for the military operation at a meeting of the National Security Cabinet on Christmas Day. The NSC met to deliberate how to deal with the expiry of a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Dec 19.

Hopes for a renewal of the truce had been scuppered by tit-for-tat exchanges that began when Israeli ground forces raided Gaza in November. Their aim was to close down a tunnel linking Gaza with neighbouring Egypt. Militants were preparing to use this to smuggle in rockets to launch at southern Israel.

That ground operation, during which three Palestinian fighters were killed, sealed the fate of the ceasefire. The militants began to fire rockets in large numbers at the towns of southern Israel for the first time in months, placing commanders under immediate pressure to respond.

Israel will hold a general election in February and politicians cannot appear anything but robust in dealing with the threat posed by rocket fire from Gaza.

After the NSC’s decision to authorise a military operation, the only question was what kind of attack would follow. Israel has used ground forces before, but this has never provided a lasting solution to the menace of the rockets launched from Gaza.

This time, Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, and other security chiefs decided on something quite different.

Instead of a ground offensive or pinprick air attacks, they would order a massive air assault on all known Hamas security targets. Hamas operatives did not fire all the rockets launched from Gaza - other militant groups such as the Islamic Jihad Party fired many. But Israel believes that Hamas, as the governing power in Gaza, could be held responsible and targeted accordingly.

The office of Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, issued a statement explaining that the "cabinet has tasked the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister with deciding on the time and manner of the said action". this added: "Following a unanimous decision, the three have decided on the Israeli Air Force strike which took place this morning. Israel stresses that it will continue to take action against the terror attacks and rocket fire emanating form Gaza against Israeli citizens.’’

After the first round of air attacks, the Israeli air force sent up patrols to deal with the predicted wave of retaliatory rocket launches.

After the initial round of strikes, sources inside Gaza reported more explosions as the air force sought to destroy rocket-launching parties.

However, they failed to stop all the retaliation. Late in the morning, an Israeli man was killed by a rocket in the Israeli town of Netivot. He was the first Israeli to die as a result of Palestinian rocket attacks since June.

In total, nine Israelis have been killed by rockets launched from Gaza since 2005, when it withdrew from the territory and dismantled all settlements.

Yesterday alone saw over 200 Palestinian deaths.

Telegraph, U.K. story

US vetoes motion on Gaza attack

The US has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning an Israeli attack in Gaza that killed 18 civilians, including women and children.

The draft, which also condemned Israeli military operations in Gaza, followed Wednesday's attack in Beit Hanoun.

The US ambassador at the UN, John Bolton, described the text as unbalanced and politically motivated.

Ten of 15 Security Council members backed the resolution. Four abstained - Denmark, Japan, Slovakia and the UK.

This was the second time this year the US used its veto on a draft resolution on Israeli military operations in Gaza.

The US has a history of vetoing resolutions condemning Israel which it feels are biased against the country, says the BBC's Laura Trevelyan at the UN in New York.

'Not even-handed'

The draft resolution - backed by Arab, Islamic and non-aligned states and formally proposed by Qatar - called for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.

It also asked the UN secretary general to set up a fact-finding mission into the deaths in Beit Hanoun.

The draft urged the Palestinian Authority to act to end violence - including rockets fired at southern Israel.

The US ambassador said he regretted the Palestinian loss of life, but disagreed with the language used in the resolution.

"This resolution does not display an even-handed characterisation of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace to which we aspire and for which we are working assiduously," he said.

'Green light'

An Israeli government spokesman described the veto as "very satisfactory".

"The draft resolution did not stipulate that what happened at Beit Hanun was a tragic error," Avi Pazner told AFP news agency.

But Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad of Hamas told Reuters the veto was "a signal that the US had given legitimacy to the massacres and a green light to [Israel] to ... carry out more massacres".

Qatar's ambassador said the credibility of the Security Council had been called into question by the vote and the cycle of violence in the Middle East would continue.

Israel launched its operation in and around Beit Hanoun last month in an effort to root out militants firing rockets.

The deaths were caused when what witnesses described as a volley of tank shells hit a built-up civilian area. Many of the dead were from one extended family, and included several women and children.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologised for the attack, describing it as a "technical failure".

Story from BBC NEWS:

Solidarity With Gaza

The International Action Center condemns the criminal U.S.-backed Israeli bombing massacre on Gaza, and the mass murder of 200 and serious wounding of another 300 Palestinians. We call upon the progressive, anti-war and workers’ movement in the United States to join the angry, growing worldwide protests of these latest Israeli war crimes with U.S. complicity. We refuse impunity to the Israeli state and its backers.

The rightist Zionist regime had the arrogance to announce in advance its intention to strike Gaza’s embattled civilians. Like every serious Israeli move, this latest assault was done with a U.S. green light using U.S. weapons and spy services.

Compounding this arrogance, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has already said, "The operation will go on and be intensified as long as necessary," (AFP, Dec. 27) exposing his genocidal intent. The Israeli attacks, targeting civilian population centers and coinciding with the end of the school day, reveal a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible, including on children.

Under Israeli siege for over a year, the people of Gaza had been struggling to survive with insufficient food, power and a damaged and depleted medical-care system. The world has condemned this siege as an Israeli crime against humanity. The Israelis have carried out this murderous siege without protest from their powerful allies in Western Europe and the United States. And the Palestinian people in Gaza have faced down the siege over 18 months, providing once again an example for the world’s people that the criminal U.S.-Israeli alliance has grown desperate to tear down.

Like the bombing, the siege itself is a U.S.-Israeli war crime, with the billions in yearly U.S. aid used to bomb the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, cut off their electricity, and kick them out of their homes. Meanwhile, back home, the same U.S. government lets banks foreclose on workers’ homes and bosses lay off millions of workers and let tens of millions live in fear of an illness that will wipe out their savings—if the crisis hasn’t already.

We have no interest in allowing the U.S.-Israeli genocidal attacks on the Palestinian people of Gaza. We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people against U.S. imperialism and Israel, Washington’s outpost in the Middle East.

We demand that U.S. aid to Israel be cut to zero, and that this money be used instead for reparations for the Palestinian people, to ensure their right to return, and for homes, jobs, health care and education for working people in the U.S.

Protest demonstrations have taken place already in Amman, Damascus, Cairo, in the cities of the West Bank and in mostly Arab towns within Israel’s 1967 boundaries. Organizations in Brussels, Madrid and other European centers have also called for protests. In the United States, the first action has been called for New York’s Rockefeller Center, at 50th Street and Fifth Avenues, for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 28.

There demonstrators will say:

Defend Palestine!

Solidarity with heroic Gaza!

Stand in solidarity with Palestine!


Saturday, December 27, 2008

AlterNet: Rove's IT Guru Warned of Sabotage Before Fatal Plane Crash; Was Set to Testify

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman: A top Republican internet strategist who was set to testify in a case alleging election tampering in 2004 in Ohio has died in a plane crash. Mike Connell was the chief IT consultant to Karl Rove and created websites for the Bush and McCain electoral campaigns. He also set up the official Ohio state election website reporting the 2004 presidential election returns.

Connell was reportedly an experienced pilot. He died instantly Friday night when his private plane crashed in a residential neighborhood near Akron, Ohio.

Michael Connell was deposed one day before the election this year by attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis about his actions during the 2004 vote count and his access to Karl Rove's e-mail files and how they went missing.

Velvet Revolution, a non-profit investigating Connell's activities, revealed this weekend that Connell had recently said he was afraid George Bush and Dick Cheney would "throw [him] under the bus." Cliff Arnebeck had also previously alerted Attorney General Michael Mukasey to alleged threats from Karl Rove to Connell if he refused to "take the fall."

Well, Mark Crispin Miller joins us now, a professor of media culture and communication at New York University, the author of several books, including Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 and Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too. Mark Crispin Miller us now in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

Mark Crispin Miller: It's good to be here, Amy. Thank you.

AG: Alright, well, we had you on right before the election, because that's when Mike Connell was being deposed. This news that came out of his death in a plane crash on Friday night, talk about what you understand has happened.

MCM: Well, I cannot assert with perfect confidence that this was no accident, but I will say that the circumstances are so suspicious and so convenient for Rove and the White House that I think we're obliged to investigate this thing very, very thoroughly. And that means, first of all, taking a close look at some of the stories that were immediately circulated to account for what happened, that it was bad weather. That was the line they used when Wellstone's plane went down. There had been bad weather, but it had passed two hours before. And this comes from a woman at the airport information desk in Akron. We're told that his plane was running out of gas, which is a little bit odd for a highly experienced pilot like Connell, but apparently, when the plane went down, there was an explosion, a fireball that actually charred and pocked some of the house fronts in the neighborhood. People can go online and see the footage that news crews took. But beyond the, you know, dubiousness of the official story, we have to take a close look at -- and a serious look at all the charges that Connell was set to make.

AG: Now, he had asked the Attorney General Mukasey for protective custody, because of threats to him and his wife?

MCM: He reported threats to his lawyer, Cliff Arnebeck, and Arnebeck -- also, Velvet Revolution heard from tipsters, as well, tipsters who also claimed that Connell's life was at risk. Stephen Spoonamore, the whistleblower who was the first -- who was the one to name Connell in the first place, also had an ear to the inside. He's also very connected. And all these people were saying Rove is making threats, the White House is very worried about this case.

Having heard all this, Arnebeck contacted Mukasey, he contacted Nancy Rogers, who is the Ohio Attorney General, and he wrote a letter to the court, telling all of them that "This man should be in protective custody. He is an important witness in a RICO case. Please do something to look after him." And they didn't respond to this.

AG: So, explain what this case is all about and exactly what Mike Connell has been doing over these last years. What does it mean to be Karl Rove's IT guru?

MCM: Well, the lawyers in the case refer to him as a high-IQ Forrest Gump, by which they mean that he seems to have been present at the scene of every dubious election of the last eight years. We're talking about Florida in 2000. We're talking about Ohio in 2004. We're talking about Alabama in 2002. He seems to have been involved in the theft of Don Siegelman's re-election for governor. There's some evidence that links him with the Saxby Chambliss-Max Cleland Senate race in Georgia in 2002. To be Karl Rove's IT guru seems to have meant basically setting it up so that votes could be electronically shaved to the disadvantage of the Democrats and the advantage of Republicans.


Friday, December 26, 2008

The Founding of the Church of Gay

By AndyS in Colorado, Daily Kos

This will be a church and a religion with the following precepts (and ONLY the following precepts):

  1. "Sexual orientation is OK" -- to the Church of Gay, being gay (or straight, or
    bi, or just not interested, for that matter) is ok, and any
    disagreement with the above precept is sacrilege and heresy.
  1. The individual choice of marriage between any two consenting non-related
    adults is Holy. Those partaking of the Act are, by definition, Holy in
    the eyes of the Church of Gay.
  1. Discrimination or treating societally differently any person on the grounds of sexual
    orientation in any manner is an abomination.
  1. The existence or non-existence of a creator is beyond the bounds of Church of Gay philosophy.

First, we can demand immediate tax exempt status for all activities of the Church of Gay as any other Church.

And, any funds disbursed for public referenda on gay rights would be tax exempt to the extent that such similar activities of the Mormon, Catholic, or any other Churches, would also be tax exempt for the Church of Gay.

That's right -- your taxpayer funds will be used to fund our activities in overturning all laws contrary to our religious precepts. That's the way it is, and too bad for you. We will of course abide by non-endorsement-of-candidate IRS guidelines. The fact that in many cases this doesn't matter very much if we still bad-mouth candidates who believe in things contrary to our position is, again, too bad for you.

Secondarily, the State forbidding or interfering in any manner with the marriage of any two consenting non-related adults, along with all the legal rights attendent therefrom is heresy and an abomination to our church.

The state therefore would be restricting our freedom of religion to prohibit any civil marriage covered under Church of Gay religious law. Our First Amendment right to freedom of religion, you see, trumps every other right.

And, yes, any disagreement with our religious precepts is religious bigotry.

We demand in addition, chaplains for our religious philosophy furnished and paid for by the military for all military personnel here in the United States or overseas.

Happy Festivus, all you heathens!

© 2008 Daily Kos All rights reserved.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Maddow Busts Morgan Stanley Board Member for Conflict of Interest

By David Sirota, Blog For Our Future

Last night, Rachel Maddow did something I never thought I'd see a journalist do: In the name of transparency, she went back and clarified that a bailout-justifying guest of hers actually had a blatant conflict of interest. Watch the clip here [1].

On Monday, Maddow had on Berkley professor Laura Tyson to talk about the bailout. You can watch that clip here [2]. As you'll see, Tyson defended the firms that have received bailout money, saying they are not at fault in either how they are using the money, or in how they are refusing to answer questions about their use of the money. She also insisted that companies that get bailout money should be able to keep paying dividends to their shareholders.

Yet, Tyson didn't tell viewers that she sits on the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, a bank that has received $10 billion in bailout money [3]. That's right - according to Morgan Stanley's SEC filings [4], Tyson makes about $350,000 a year from Morgan Stanley in total compensation from that position, and she now owns about 79,000 shares of the company. In other words, she has a direct financial interest in defending the bailout, absolving bailout recipients of wrongdoing, and justifying the use of bailout money for shareholder dividends.

Obviously, it's really unethical to appear on a show billing yourself as an objective disinterested professor at the same time you aren't telling people you are on the board of directors of the company you are effectively defending. But, as a recent New York Times story about defense commentators shows [5], this kind of thing happens all the time. It's completely corrupt - quite literally, paid industry spokespeople are being allowed to cloak themselves in the veneer of objectivity and use the media to limit the parameters of our political debate on major issues.

Thankfully, when I pointed Tyson's conflict of interest out to Maddow and her show's staff, they did the responsible thing and made a big effort to inform viewers about what happened. Indeed, in doing this follow-up piece, the Rachel Maddow Show displayed the kind of integrity and respect for their audience that is almost unheard of in political journalism. In being so honest about this, they really showed what their program is all about, and how they aren't willing to be used or deceived by corporate spokespeople.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wealth Creation or a Ponzi Scheme

Intro to a Global Research article detailing the similiarities between the capitalist concept of "wealth creation" and Ponzi schemes. Excellent piece--Pete

Last week the Good Lord evidently realized that not enough people had been reading Hyman Minsky’s explanation of how financial cycles end in Ponzi schemes – the stage in which banks keep the boom going by lending their customers the money to pay interest and thus avoid default. So He sent Bernie Madoff to dominate the news for a week and give the mass media an opportunity to familiarize newspaper readers and TV watchers with just how Ponzi Schemes work. What Mr. Madoff did was, in a nutshell, what the economy as a whole has been doing under the moniker “wealth creation.”

If the media were able to wait until as late in the financial collapse as last week to provide helpful diagrams about how Ponzi schemes need to keep on growing exponentially, it is simply because bad foreign financial news is not deemed newsworthy in North America. But Europe has been having its own run-throughs, headed by Spain – which by no coincidence is now experiencing the biggest real estate bust outside of the post-Soviet economies.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Worthy Group of the Day

echoed from Counterpunch

Socialist Worker

Follow Madoff money straight into Washington because the corporate media won't

Pam Martens - Counterpunch

The forces of the universe sent us a corruption triple play the week of December 8th. Just in case there were any slumbering souls still doubting the multi headed monster we need to slay to avoid becoming Rome, those benevolent forces assaulted our senses with a politician, a lawyer, and a Wall Street icon in a three-day sweep of unimaginable crime. Unimaginable, at least, to those of us bereft of adequate imaginations to keep up with the criminals.

The trifecta began on Monday, December 8, with Marc Dreier charged by Federal prosecutors in Manhattan with selling bogus promissory notes to steal what currently adds up to over $380 million. Mr. Dreier, a graduate of Harvard Law and Yale College, is the owner and founder of Dreier LLP, a prominent law firm employing over 250 lawyers.

On Tuesday, December 9, the Feds arrested Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, revealing transcripts of taped phone calls where the governor was strategizing on how to sell the U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder or career enhancer and, separately, getting revenge on the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune whose writers were saying bad things about him (for some strange reason).

We had a day off to allow our psyches to mend and then Thursday, December 11 arrives.

We are told that Wall Street icon, Bernie Madoff, a key player in self regulation of Wall Street, has stolen $50 billion from investors in a Ponzi scheme stretching over what is now emerging as a three-decade crime spree, or longer. Despite our sprawling Homeland Security apparatus that regularly catches Democratic governors, law enforcement did not catch Madoff; his two sons turned him in after he confessed.

As of December 19, Blagojevich had been released and was in the Governor’s Mansion issuing pardons; Madoff was in his $7 million penthouse in Manhattan after being allowed to post, as collateral for his bond, the East Coast mansions he likely bought with Ponzi money stolen from an eclectic group of charities, Florida pensioners and a well-heeled country club set. Dreier was still in jail even though he stole less than 1 percent of the Madoff take. Apparently, Mr. Dreier lacks the right friends in high places.

The major beneficiary of the week was Citigroup. The leaky piggy bank disappeared from the news along with the investor lawsuit charging it with running its own Ponzi scheme on a scale to dwarf Madoff to piker status. Had it not been for the Madoff media frenzy, folks might have started connecting the dots to a $300 billion taxpayer bailout of a bank serially charged with global misdeeds, market maneuvers internally named “Dr. Evil” and “Black Hole,” and recent press reports that Citigroup had stashed over $1.2 trillion off its balance sheet.

I seldom have the urge to give a comforting pat on the back to people profiled in the Wall Street Journal. But that was my reaction when I read the 21-page whistleblower document about Madoff that was written by Harry Markopolos to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on November 7, 2005. The Journal still has the document on its web site and Markopolos provides a step by step plan for the SEC to follow to nail Madoff as a Ponzi fraudster. The letter followed a five-year effort by Markopolos, who supplied documentation and made repeated requests to the SEC to investigate Madoff.

Here’s how the SEC characterized the letter from Markopolos in a January 4, 2006 memo: “The staff received a complaint alleging that Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, a registered broker-dealer in New York (“BLM”), operates an undisclosed multi-billion dollar investment advisory business, and that BLM operates this business as a Ponzi scheme. The complaint did not contain specific facts about the alleged Ponzi scheme…”

Here’s a tiny sampling of what Markopolos told the SEC in his 21-page November 7, 2005 letter. You decide if these are “specific facts.”

“I am a derivatives expert and have traded or assisted in the trading of several billion $US in options strategies for hedge funds and institutional clients…(Highly Likely) Madoff Securities is the world’s largest Ponzi Scheme…The [Madoff] family runs what is effectively the world’s largest hedge fund with estimated assets under management of at least $20 billion to perhaps $50 billion…The third parties organize the hedge funds and obtain investors but 100% of the money raised is actually managed by Madoff Investment Securities, LLC in a purported hedge fund strategy. The investors that pony up the money don’t know that BM [Bernie Madoff] is managing their money…Some prominent US based hedge fund, fund of funds, that “invest” in BM in this manner include: A. Fairfield Sentry Limited (Arden Asset Management) which had $5.2 billion invested in BM as of May 2005…Access International Advisors…which had $450 million invested with BM as of mid-2002…Tremont Capital Management, Inc…Tremont oversees on an advisory and fully discretionary basis over $10.5 billion in assets. Clients include institutional investors, public and private pension plans, ERISA plans, university endowments, foundations, and financial institutions, as well as high net worth individuals…Madoff does not allow outside performance audits. One London based hedge fund, fund of funds, representing Arab money, asked to send in a team of Big 4 accountants to conduct a performance audit during their planned due diligence. They were told ‘No, only Madoff’s brother-in-law who owns his own accounting firm is allowed to audit performance’…Only Madoff family members are privy to the investment strategy. Name one other prominent multi-billion dollar hedge fund that doesn’t have outside, non-family professionals involved in the investment process. You can’t because there aren’t any…There are too many red flags to ignore. REFCO, Wood River, the Manhattan Fun, Princeton Economics, and other hedge fund blow ups all had a lot fewer red flags than Madoff and look what happened at those places…”

Here is what the SEC’s memo of November 21, 2007 said following its investigation:

“The staff found no evidence of fraud…All files have been prepared for closing…Termination letters have been sent to Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, Bernard L. Madoff, and Fairfield Greenwich Group. The staff has no objection to the eventual destruction of the files and has no knowledge of any impediment to such a disposition.”

Let me run that by you again. Mr. Markopolos, a private citizen, uses his personal time and energy over a seven year period to document a fraud occurring under the nose of the SEC that could impact the international reputation of the United States along with the financial well being of pensioners, university endowments, foundations and private investors. After losing track of the case for five years, the SEC finally gets around to investigating using taxpayers’ monies. They come up with nothing despite being given a perfect path to follow to the fraud. And their final suggestion for dealing with the investigation is to destroy the files! With regulators like these, who needs Ponzi artists?

In 1992, eight years before Mr. Markopolos started hounding the SEC to take action against Madoff, the SEC was settling an investigation against two Florida accountants, Frank Avellino and Michael Bienes. The pair had started raising money for Bernie Madoff to manage in 1962, just two years after he came to Wall Street. Avellino and Bienes has sold over $440 million in unregistered notes to thousands of people over yet another three-decade period when the SEC was napping. Mr. Madoff was not charged.

Representing Avellino and Bienes in that matter was Ira Lee Sorkin, the former head of the SEC region in New York City. Mr. Sorkin represents Bernie Madoff today. Put in charge as trustee of the Avellino and Bienes funds and records was Lee Richards. The SEC has put Mr. Richards in place as a receiver and document custodian in the current matter, overseeing the London black hole operation known as Madoff Securities International Ltd.

Marc Mukasey, the son of the U.S. Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, is representing Frank DiPascali, a key Madoff employee. This has resulted in the highest law enforcement officer in the nation recusing himself from the investigation of the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

Naturally, the Madoff money trail of special favors and exceptions leads straight to Washington. From 1998 through 2008, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities paid $590,000 lobbying Congress and the SEC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His lobby firm for most of those years was Lent, Scrivner & Roth, with Norman F. Lent III signing the disclosure documents in the House and Senate. One of Madoff’s hot button issues during those years according to the disclosure documents was getting a single regulator. That meant, for starters, merging those prying eyes over at the New York Stock Exchange into the clubby pool of self-regulators at the National Association of Securities Dealers where the Madoff family held numerous seats of power. That wish came true when NASD Regulation merged with the enforcement and arbitration units of the New York Stock Exchange in July 2007 to create the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). CEO of the consolidated body is Mary Schapiro, who formerly headed up NASD Regulation, one of the most conflicted bodies in the history of finance. Ms. Schapiro has just been nominated by President-Elect Barack Obama to be the new SEC Chair. Expect to hear more about killing off the SEC (instead of giving it some teeth) and giving Madoff and his fellow miscreants their ultimate dream of just one compromised regulator instead of three.

The Madoff family almost uniformly gives to the same candidates. Cumulatively, since 1993, they have given more than $400,000 to political candidates, committees and PACS.

The Madoff family is also a uniquely telepathic group. When one member had an idea, invariably they all had the same idea. For example, in May 1998, June 1999 and June 2004, a total of seven members of the Madoff family (all living in New York) decided to enrich the coffers of the Ed Markey Committee to the tune of $30,000. Mr. Markey does not represent New York. He is a Democrat who has represented the 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts for more than 30 years. What could have been the motivation?

On February 24, 1997 I flew on US Air flight 6431 from New York to DC along with producer Dean Irwin and a film crew from ABC’s 20/20. We were all heading to Ed Markey’s Congressional office to talk about one of Wall Street’s dirtiest secrets: their denial of an employee’s right to sue the Wall Street firm in an open courtroom, mandating instead, as a condition of employment, that the workers contractually agree to usher all claims (even whistleblower claims) into a crony system of arbitration run by Wall Street firms where case law and legal precedent are not followed and discovery is limited. The system draws a dark curtain around the misdeeds of Wall Street and is an enabling agent for ever greater crimes sealed in secrecy. A dream come true for a Ponzi operator.

Congressman Markey was a threat to Wall Street because he continued to introduce legislation known as the Civil Rights Procedures Protection Act that would have outlawed mandatory arbitration for certain employee claims and allowed those claims to proceed to an open courtroom.

The 20/20 crew spent a good portion of the afternoon filming Congressman Markey and myself talking about arbitration. When the program aired, Congressman Markey was gone from the film and just a brief statement was inserted. For decades now, that legislation, or similar legislation, has been introduced and then died a quiet death; much like the SEC investigations of Madoff.

Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years; she has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire. She can be reached at

Horrific: 12-Year Old Girl Beaten By Police for 'Resisting Arrest'

By Jill Filipovic, Feministe

This is horrific.

It was a little before 8 at night when the breaker went out at Emily Milburn's home in Galveston. She was busy preparing her children for school the next day, so she asked her 12-year-old daughter, Dymond, to pop outside and turn the switch back on.

As Dymond headed toward the breaker, a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me."

Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat.

As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.

All this is according to a lawsuit filed in Galveston federal court by Milburn against the officers. The lawsuit alleges that the officers thought Dymond, an African-American, was a hooker due to the "tight shorts" she was wearing, despite not fitting the racial description of any of the female suspects. The police went to the wrong house, two blocks away from the area of the reported illegal activity, Milburn's attorney, Anthony Griffin, tells Hair Balls.

After the incident, Dymond was hospitalized and suffered black eyes as well as throat and ear drum injuries.

Three weeks later, according to the lawsuit, police went to Dymond's school, where she was an honor student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant. Griffin says the allegations stem from when Dymond fought back against the three men who were trying to take her from her home. The case went to trial, but the judge declared it a mistrial on the first day, says Griffin. The new trial is set for February.

"I think we'll be okay," says Griffin. "I don't think a jury will find a 12-year-old girl guilty who's just sitting outside her house. Any 12-year-old attacked by three men and told that she's a prostitute is going to scream and yell for Daddy and hit back and do whatever she can. She's scared to death."

Since the incident more than two years ago, Dymond regularly suffers nightmares in which police officers are raping and beating her and cutting off her fingers, according to the lawsuit.
Griffin says he expects to enter mediation with the officers in early 2009 to resolve the lawsuit.

So plain-clothed police officers beat up a little girl who they were wrongly arresting, and now the girl and her father are the ones in trouble for trying to defend her?

Dymond and her father did exactly what most people would do in that situation -- if anything, Dymond was exceptionally brave in fighting back and yelling for help. The fact that she's being criminalized for it is beyond comprehension.

Apparently the Milburns have filed a lawsuit against the police department. Hopefully they're successful.

This case is especially compelling because it involves an innocent 12-year-old girl who did not fit the description of the alleged criminal the police were looking for, and instead was targeted because she happened to have the bad luck of opening her own front door while wearing shorts and being black. But if the allegations against the police are true, it's troubling on an even deeper level -- because it's an illustration of what sex workers face every day, but are rarely able to fight back against.

Police offiers and other people in positions of power can victimize and abuse sex workers with almost no fear of retribution or legal consequence. The police beat up a 12-year-old girl because they thought she was a prostitute, and, if the news report is accurate, have said as much. Had she actually been a prostitute, that treatment would have apparently been acceptable.

The whole story is disgusting. I haven't read anything about the officers being suspended or fired, but I sure hope they're out on their asses for this.

Galbeston Chief of Police, Charles Wiley, can be reached by phone at 409-765-3790, or by email at

Jill Filipovic is a New York-based freelance writer and a law student at NYU. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.

© 2008 Feministe All rights reserved.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Will Obama give Bush and Cheney an illegal pass on their war crimes?

Raw Story - Vice President Dick Cheney confessed to approving torture, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. During an interview with ABC News on Monday evening, Cheney had said "I supported it," referring to the practice known as "water boarding," a form of simulated drowning.

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."

"Did he just admit to condoning torture?" Maddow queries.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what he admitted," Levin said after a pause to shut his eyes, and shake his head as if still in disbelief. . .

Senator Levin oversaw an 18-month long investigation into the Bush administration's torture policy that established that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay resulted from policies introduced by George W. Bush. . . .

"Do there need to be prosecutions?" Maddow asked, steering the discussion towards the possibility of prosecution and indictments by noting that the Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of U.S. detainees seemed as if its purpose had been the gathering facts for an indictment.

Levin spoke hopefully that the Obama administration would take some "major steps" as "clearly this Justice Department is not willing," and the need for an independent commission that could be appointed by the Obama administration to examine the role of the CIA in the treatment of U.S. detainees as their role has not yet been made clear. Then with all the facts they "may or may not lead to indictments, or civil action."

Glenn Greenwald, Salon - Demands that Bush officials be held accountable for their war crimes are becoming more common in mainstream political discourse. . . The mountain of conclusive evidence that has recently emerged directly linking top Bush officials to the worst abuses -- combined with Dick Cheney's brazen, defiant acknowledgment of his role in these crimes (which perfectly tracked Bush's equally defiant 2005 acknowledgment of his illegal eavesdropping programs and his brazen vow to continue them) -- is forcing even the reluctant among us to embrace the necessity of such accountability.

It's almost as though everyone's nose is now being rubbed in all of this: now that the culpability of our highest government officials is no longer hidden, but is increasingly all out in the open, who can still defend the notion that they should remain immune from consequences for their patent lawbreaking? As Law Professor Jonathan Turley said several weeks ago on The Rachel Maddow Show: "It's the indictment of all of us if we walk away from a clear war crime." And this week, Turley pointed out to Keith Olbermann that "ultimately it will depend on citizens, and whether they will remain silent in the face of a crime that has been committed in plain view. . . . It is equally immoral to stand silent in the face of a war crime and do nothing."

That recognition, finally, seems to be spreading -- beyond the handful of blogs, civil liberties organizations and activists who have long been trumpeting the need for this accountability. The New York Times editorial page today has a lengthy, scathing decree demanding prosecutions: "It would be irresponsible for the nation and a new administration to ignore what has happened . . . . A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top officials at the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse." Today, Politico -- of all places -- is hosting a forum which asks: "Should the DOJ consider prosecuting Bush administration officials for detainee abuse as the NYT and others have urged?" Even Chris Matthews and Chris Hitchens yesterday entertained (albeit incoherently and apologetically) the proposition that top Bush officials committed war crimes. . .

Those who demand accountability will be derided as past-obsessed partisans who want to impede all the Glorious, Transcendent Gifts about to be bestowed on us by our new leaders. The manipulative claim will be endlessly advanced that our problems are too grand and pressing to permit the luxury of living under the rule of law. When all else fails in the stonewalling arsenal, impotent "fact-finding" commissions will be proposed to placate the demand for accountability but which will, in fact, be designed and empowered to achieve only one goal: to render actual prosecutions impossible.

But with these new, unprecedentedly stark revelations, this facade will be increasingly difficult to maintain. It is already the case, as the Times Editorial today notes, that "all but President Bush's most unquestioning supporters [i.e., this] recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services." That leaves only two choices: (1) treat these crimes as the serious war crimes they are by having a prosecutor investigate and, if warranted, prosecute them, or (2) openly acknowledge -- to ourselves and the world -- that we believe that our leaders are literally entitled to commit war crimes at will, and that we -- but not the rest of the world -- should be exempt from the consequences. The clearer it becomes that those are the only two choices, the more difficult it will be to choose option (2), and either way, there is great benefit just from having that level of clarity and candor about what we are really doing.

Marjorie Cohn, Global Research - U.S. courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone's nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies.

Under the doctrine of command responsibility, enshrined in U.S. law, commanders all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief can be held liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.

Why is Cheney so sanguine about admitting he is a war criminal? Because he's confident that either President Bush will preemptively pardon him or President-elect Obama won't prosecute him. Both of those courses of action would be illegal.

First, a president cannot immunize himself or his subordinates for committing crimes that he himself authorized. On February 7, 2002, Bush signed a memo erroneously stating that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment, did not apply to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the Supreme Court made clear that Geneva protects all prisoners. Bush also admitted that he approved of high level meetings where waterboarding was authorized by Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey says there's no need for Bush to issue blanket pardons since there is no evidence that anyone developed the policies "for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful." But noble motives are not defenses to the commission of crimes.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, said, "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Second, the Constitution requires President Obama to faithfully execute the laws. That means prosecuting lawbreakers. When the United States ratified the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, thereby making them part of U.S. law, we agreed to prosecute those who violate their prohibitions.

The bipartisan December 11 report of the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that "senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

Lawyers who wrote the memos that purported to immunize government officials from war crimes liability include John Yoo, Jay Bybee, William Haynes, David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. There is precedent in our law for holding lawyers criminally liable for participating in a common plan to violate the law. . .

During the campaign, Obama promised to promptly review actions by Bush officials to determine whether "genuine crimes" were committed. He said, "If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," but "I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."

Two Obama advisors told the Associated Press that "there's little-if any – chance that the incoming president's Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.". . .

Obama has promised to bring real change. This must be legal and moral change, where those at the highest levels of government are held accountable for their heinous crimes. The new president should move swiftly to set an important precedent that you can't authorize war crimes and get away
with it.


Sam Smith, Undernews

Barack Obama is one of the best con artists I've seen in a half century of covering politics. He's not quite the Bernie Madoff of liberalism, but there are some striking similarities, such as taking large sums of money from unsuspecting persons, using it for purposes quite contrary to those implied and leaving them, at the end of day, with little to show for their investment.

Admittedly, Obama really didn't deny his agenda; he merely concealed it behind clouds of platitudes, ambiguities and vague promises. But this is true of any good con; if the victims had just been a little more attentive and cautious they might not find themselves in a mess.

And there were plenty of clues. Almost a year ago, Obama said: "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating."

As Matt Stoller of Open Left said at the time, "Those excesses, of course, were feminism, the consumer rights movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the antiwar movement. . . . It is extremely disturbing to hear, not that Obama admires Reagan, but why he does so. Reagan was not a sunny optimist pushing dynamic entrepreneurship, but a savvy politician using a civil rights backlash to catapult conservatives to power."

Then there was the fact that Obama made it from obscure state senator to presidential nominee in four years. That simply doesn't happen unless an individual does something extraordinary - and Obama did nothing - or if the candidate is seen as the right face and the right brand for something that others want to do.

To get a sense of how substantial the deception was, liberals should ask themselves this question: would you - on principle and not personality - have voted for someone who promised to appoint as secretary of agriculture an ethanol booster and ally of Monsanto, an education secretary who would continue the war on public education, an energy secretary who is pro nuke and pro Yucca Mountain, a defense secretary who has been part of the Iraq disaster, a budget director who favors cutting Social Security for those under 59, an attorney general who helped increase the prison time served by young blacks on minor drug offenses, a secretary of state involved in numerous scandals, a transportation secretary who is an extreme conservative and knows little about the field, a staff stuffed with a team of revivals form the Clinton years, and an inaugural preacher who treats gays and women as lesser beings much as others once did to blacks?

That is not change we can believe in. That's a lot of problems.

In short, Obama is not what he pretended to be nor what his most enthusiastic fans believed him to be. The sooner progressives and liberals face up to this the better off we all will be. The mere fact that so many are urging patience towards Obama suggests at least a nascent appreciation of the problem, but many, many more have to let him know that they feel let down or deceived. It doesn't have to mean total alienation; it does mean challenging his post-partisan hustle and his palling around with the very sorts that have brought America down. Just call his con and start treating him as what he really is: another politician who is only as good as the pressure he feels.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Got yer "Wonderful Life" right here...

From the New York Times:

Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life

MR. ELLMAN didn’t tell us why he wanted us to stay after school that December afternoon in 1981. When we got to the classroom — cinderblock walls, like all the others, with a dreary view of the parking lot — we smelled popcorn.

He had set up a 16-millimeter projector and a movie screen, and rearranged the chairs. Book bags, jackets and overcoats were tossed on seat backs, teenagers sat, suspicious, slumping, and Mr. Ellman started the projector whirring. “It’s a Wonderful Life” filled the screen.

I was not a mushy kid. My ears were fed a steady stream of the Clash and the Jam, and I was doing my best to conjure a dyed-haired, wry, angry-young-man teenage persona. But I was enthralled that afternoon in Brooklyn. In the years that followed, my affection for “It’s a Wonderful Life” has never waned, despite the film’s overexposure and sugar-sweet marketing, and the rolling eyes of friends and family.

Lots of people love this movie of course. But I’m convinced it’s for the wrong reasons. Because to me “It’s a Wonderful Life” is anything but a cheery holiday tale. Sitting in that dark public high school classroom, I shuddered as the projector whirred and George Bailey’s life unspooled.

Was this what adulthood promised?

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

I haven’t seen it on a movie screen since that first time, but on Friday it begins its annual pre-Christmas run at the IFC Cinema in Greenwich Village. I plan to take my 9-year-old son and my father, who has never seen it the whole way through because he thinks it’s too corny.

How wrong he is.

I’m no movie critic, and I’ll leave to others any erudite evaluation of the film as cinematic art, but to examine it closely is to experience “It’s a Wonderful Life” on several different levels.

Many are pulling the movie out of the archives lately because of its prescience on the perils of trusting bankers. I’ve found, after repeated viewings, that the film turns upside down and inside out, and some glaring — and often funny — flaws become apparent. These flaws have somehow deepened my affection for it over the years.

Take the extended sequence in which George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. It’s been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter, Lionel Barrymore’s scheming financier.

Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.

And what about that banking issue? When he returns to the “real” Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George’s idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).

But isn’t George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right?

I checked my theory with Frank J. Clark, the district attorney for Erie County upstate, where, as far as I can tell, the fictional Bedford Falls is set. He thought it over, and then agreed: George would still face prosecution and possible prison time.

“In terms of the theft, sure, you take the money and put it back, you still committed the larceny,” he said. “By giving the money back, you have mitigated in large measure what the sentence might be, but you are still technically guilty of the offense.”

He took this a bit further: “If you steal over $3,000, it’s a D felony; 2 ½ to 7 years is the maximum term for that. The least you can get is probation. You know Jimmy Stewart, though, he had that hangdog face. He’d be a tough guy to send to jail.”

He paused, and then added: “You really have a cynical sense of humor.”

He should have met me when I was 15.

The movie starts sappily enough, with three angels in outer space discussing George’s fate. Maybe that’s what turned my dad off, that or the saccharine title. I’m amazed they didn’t spoil it for me in 1981, but I may not have been paying attention yet.

Soon enough, though, the darkness sets in. George’s brother, Harry (Todd Karns), almost drowns in a childhood accident; Mr. Gower, a pharmacist, nearly poisons a sick child; and then George, a head taller than everyone else, becomes the pathetic older sibling creepily hanging around Harry’s high school graduation party. That night George humiliates his future wife, Mary (Donna Reed), by forcing her to hide behind a bush naked, and the evening ends with his father’s sudden death.

Disappointments pile up. George can’t go to college because of his obligation to run the Bailey Building and Loan, and instead sends Harry. But Harry returns a slick, self-obsessed jerk, cannily getting out of his responsibility to help with the family business, by marrying a woman whose dad gives him a job. George again treats Mary cruelly, this time by chewing her out and bringing her to tears before kissing her. It is hard to understand precisely what she sees in him.

George is further emasculated when his bad hearing keeps him out of World War II, and then it’s Christmas Eve 1945. These scenes — rather than the subsequent Bizarro-world alternate reality — have always been the film’s defining moments for me. All the decades of anger boil to the surface.

After Potter takes the deposit, George flies into a rage and finally lets Uncle Billy know what he thinks of him, calling him a “silly, stupid old fool.” Then he explodes at his family.

If you watch the film this year, keep a close eye on Stewart during this sequence. First he smashes a model bridge he has built. Then, like any parent who loses his temper with his children, he seems genuinely embarrassed. He’s ashamed. He apologizes. And then ... slowly ... he starts getting angry all over again.

To me Stewart’s rage, building throughout the film, is perfectly calibrated — and believable — here.

Now as for that famous alternate-reality sequence: This is supposedly what the town would turn out to be if not for George. I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbie’s blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement.

Gary Kamiya, in a funny story on in 2001, rightly pointed out how much fun Pottersville appears to be, and how awful and dull Bedford Falls is. He even noticed that the only entertainment in the real town, glimpsed on the marquee of the movie theater after George emerges from the alternate universe, is “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

Now that’s scary.

I’ll do Mr. Kamiya one better, though. Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.

On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.

I checked my theory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, and he agreed, pointing out that, of all the upstate counties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.

“The reason is that it is a resort, and it has built an economy around that,” he said. “Meanwhile the great industrial cities have declined terrifically. Look at Connecticut: where is the growth? It’s in casinos; they are constantly expanding.”

In New York, Mr. Moss added, Gov. David A. Paterson “is under enormous pressure to allow gambling upstate because of the economic problems.”

“We ease up on our lot of cultural behaviors in a depression,” he said.

What a grim thought: Had George Bailey never been born, the people in his town might very well be better off today.

Not too long ago I friended Mr. Ellman on Facebook. (To call him by his given name, Robert, is somehow still unnatural to me.)

I asked him about inviting us to stay after school to eat popcorn and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He said it was always one of his favorite films, if a little corny and sentimental, and that he always saw staying late with us as part of his job. If anything, he said, there was just as much to learn after school as there was during it.

He reminded me that it was an actual film print we saw; this was before video took hold. And he also proved to be a close viewer. It was Mr. Ellman who pointed out to me how cruel George is to Mary the night they first kiss, and who told me to keep an eye out for Ernie’s vacant stare when George gets into the cab. He said he cried the first time he saw it.

I asked him if he’d continued those December viewings.

“In later years,” he wrote, “it became too difficult to get students to stay. We started doing a festival of student-written/student-directed one-act plays right after the end of the fall show. Everyone was too busy to stay and watch a movie.”

It’s a shame.

So I’ll tell Mr. Ellman a secret. It’s something I felt while watching the film all those years ago, but was too embarrassed to reveal.

That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up.

And I still do.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Fed Refuses to disclose recipients of 2 trillion in loans!
Who could have predicted that the Federal Reserve would abuse its authority by giving away over $2 trillion in "emergency loans" and then refuse to disclose the recipients of those loans when faced with a FOIA request by Bloomberg? Bloomberg:
The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral. Bloomberg filed suit Nov. 7 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act requesting details about the terms of 11 Fed lending programs, most created during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The Fed responded Dec. 8, saying it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about trade secrets and commercial information. The institution confirmed that a records search found 231 pages of documents pertaining to some of the requests. If they told us what they held, we would know the potential losses that the government may take and that’s what they don’t want us to know,” said Carlos Mendez, a senior managing director at New York-based ICP Capital LLC, which oversees $22 billion in assets.
Hmmm... I wonder why they would want to hide from the public who is getting all that money? It's sometimes hard to wrap your head around that huge sum of money, but when all is said and done, that is our money. We deserve to know who's getting it.

Blackwater Faulted In Baghdad Killings

Iraq Bans Security Contractor

by Joshua Partlow and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD, Sept. 17 -- The Iraqi government on Monday said it had revoked the license of Blackwater USA, an American security company involved in a shootout in Baghdad that killed at least nine people, raising questions over which nation should regulate tens of thousands of civilian hired guns operating in Iraq.

The Iraqi government's announcement was its most public assertion to date of its right to take action against foreign security companies when a suspected crime has been committed.

Several violent episodes involving Blackwater have infuriated Iraqi officials. An Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said the decision meant Blackwater "cannot work in Iraq any longer."

"Blackwater has made many mistakes resulting in other deaths, but this is the last and the biggest mistake. This is unjustified," Khalaf said. "Security contracts do not allow them to shoot people randomly. They are here to protect personnel, not shoot people without reason."

Martin L. Strong, a Blackwater vice president, said that the company's guards had responded appropriately to an ambush and that the company had received "no official indication" of Iraqi action against Blackwater.

Blackwater, based in North Carolina, has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq. The company has a high profile because it guards U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and other diplomats in the country. The company's black SUVs and agile, armed "Little Bird" helicopters escort diplomatic convoys throughout Baghdad.

Blackwater obtained a one-year operating license from the Interior Ministry in 2005, according to a scanned copy of the document provided by the company. After The Washington Post reported in June that the company was effectively operating outside of Iraqi law, Blackwater approached the Private Security Company Association of Iraq to request assistance to obtain a license, according to the trade group.

"We have a license renewal in process with the Ministry of Interior," Strong said.

The shooting started at noon on Sunday when a car bomb exploded near a State Department motorcade traveling through the western Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad near Nisoor Square, U.S. officials said. Following the explosion, Blackwater employees guarding the diplomats exchanged fire with armed attackers, Blackwater and U.S. officials said.

The subsequent battle killed at least nine people and wounded 14, Iraqi police and hospital workers said. Khalaf put the death toll at 11.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's time someone stood up to the bottled water industry. Looks like it's gonna be Toronto!

Toronto's decision last week to ban the sale and distribution of bottled water on city premises was a watershed moment for water justice advocates the world over. What was truly significant about Toronto's action was not that it banned an environmentally destructive product, but that it included a commitment to ensuring access to tap water in all city facilities.

Toronto is now the largest city in the world to pass such far-reaching regulations controlling the distribution of bottled water on municipal property and promoting the use of publicly delivered tap water. Other Canadian and American municipalities have enacted policies encouraging the consumption of tap water and limiting the distribution of bottled water using taxpayer money, but none as large as Toronto has taken such a comprehensive approach.

Toronto's action is in many ways the result of a diverse North American public campaign that has successfully raised awareness about bottled water as an unnecessary and wasteful product when the majority of people in Canada and the United States have access to clean drinking water from the tap.

In Canada, this campaign gained significant exposure in early 2005 when the Polaris Institute published Inside the Bottle: an Exposé of the Bottled Water Industry, which provided an overview of the 10 key problems with bottled water. Over the nearly four years since, a popular movement to challenge the bottled water industry has emerged at an astonishing pace – as schools and universities, restaurants, hospitals, faith-based organizations, unions and municipalities have decided to turn on the tap and kick out the bottle.

As is often the case, Toronto's initiative had its own elected champions steering it forward. City Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker and Mayor David Miller had the progressive vision to include bottled water in their goal of keeping unnecessary packaging out of city landfills. Their efforts were coupled with a concerted grassroots push by Ontario-based activists, public interest organizations, community and student groups, labour unions and environmental networks.

In the days leading up to the Toronto vote, city councillors faced a barrage of lobbying from the bottled water industry. These frantic attempts to defeat the resolution continued over the two days of debates when the industry brought a battery of lobbyists, corporate executives and industry associations into the council chamber to influence the vote. Representatives from the Canadian Bottled Water Association, Refreshments Canada and Nestlé Waters, along with their hired lobbyists from the Sussex Strategy Group and Argyle Communications, intensively lobbied councillors during the entire six-hour debate. However, their high-priced strategy ultimately failed to influence elected officials, who voted with a two-thirds majority to ban bottled water and reinvest in the public delivery of drinking water.

For many, Toronto has now become the champion of the "Back to the Tap" municipal movement in Canada. To date, this movement has already seen 17 municipalities from five provinces ban the bottle. With 45 others indicating an interest to follow suit, Toronto's leadership will no doubt inspire more municipalities to stand up and speak out in support of public water. To further enable this municipal movement, Toronto City Council also passed a motion to circulate its resolutions and amended staff report to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario.

Increasingly across Canada, municipal leaders are showing that there is a strong political will for reinvestments in public water services. However, access to municipal drinking water is dwindling with new buildings constructed without water fountains and older ones decommissioning existing fountains. Now is the time to issue strong calls to all levels of government for greater public access to free potable water and a wholesale reinvestment in water infrastructure and services

It's becoming clear that the recent love affair with bottled water has reached its limits. Bottled water's 15 minutes are up, the marketing scam is out of the closet and the tap is back. The simple fact is that there is no "green" solution to bottled water. While it might serve a function during natural disasters or other contingencies, it is no alternative to the tap.

Toronto has made the right choice to support public water infrastructure and to increase city residents' access to clean, convenient and environmentally sound drinking water – the only question now is which municipality or province will be next.

Tony Clarke is the executive director of the Polaris Institute in Ottawa and author of the book, Inside the Bottle.