Saturday, November 28, 2009

The imperialist state's first concern is not to protect the direct investments of any particular company, although it sometimes does that, but to protect the global system of private accumulation from competing systems.

--Michael Parenti, Against Empire: A Brilliant Expose of the Brutal Realities of U.S. Global Domination

In The News

-Government settles for $3 million with ex-DEA agent alleging illegal State Department and CIA interference with his anti-narcotic efforts in Burma in the 1990s.

-Today, the New York Times reports on Afghan allegations of a secret 'black jail' at Bagram Air Base near Kabul:

The site, known to detainees as the black jail, consists of individual windowless concrete cells, each illuminated by a single light bulb glowing 24 hours a day. In interviews, former detainees said that their only human contact was at twice-daily interrogation sessions.

“The black jail was the most dangerous and fearful place,” said Hamidullah, a spare-parts dealer in Kandahar who said he was detained there in June. “They don’t let the I.C.R.C. officials or any other civilians see or communicate with the people they keep there. Because I did not know what time it was, I did not know when to pray.”

The prison is run by Special Operations forces.

It should be noted that although President Obama signed an order closing all CIA "black sites" in January, the order contained a loophole allowing the CIA to continue operating temporary detention facilities abroad.

-President Obama has decided to send an additional 30,000 or so American forces to Afghanistan in an effort to ensure terrorist networks can no longer operate out of Afghanistan. According to the Washington Times:

He [Obama] repeated his contention that the American goal was not to build Afghanistan into a modern, well-functioning state -- something that most experts think is well beyond the capability of any outside force. Instead, he said, it will be to turn the largely lawless and hardscrabble corner of the globe into a place that is sufficiently stable so al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively.

"We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. And Afghanistan's stability is important to that process," the president said.

-A Chinese magazine, Outlook, ran an expose detailing the Chinese government's system of secret jails used to detain petitioners seeking redress from the central government in Beijing.

-A 10-month freeze on settlement building by the Israelis in the occupied West Bank announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a bit misleading. According to Ethan Bronner of the New York Times:

The 10-month settlement freeze excludes more than 2,500 housing units being built or recently authorized. The moratorium allows a limited number of schools, synagogues and community centers, the kind of “natural growth” banned by the dormant 2003 “road map” for peace, agreed to by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

In other words, although this represents a painful political concession by the Israeli government and is causing it internal trouble, there will never be a moment in the coming months when construction will stop in West Bank settlements.

And Israeli building in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital, will be unaffected.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rethinking 9/11

Below is a video of investigative journalist Peter Lance, a former ABC correspondent and current independent writer. Lance is discussing his third book, Triple Cross, which details the gross negligence on behalf of the FBI beginning in the 1980s and continuing right up until 9/11. Lance places special emphasis on Mohamad Ali, al-Qaida's top spy in the US. The story is simply amazing, and quite frightening.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Maher Arar Denied Justice After Being Tortured

I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written, today's majority decision will be viewed with dismay.

--Judge Guido Calabresi, dissenting judge in Arar's appeal

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria and a practicing engineer, was arrested on September 26, 2002 at JFK airport after returning home from a family vacation in Tunisia. Arar's name was on a US watchlist of terror suspects, and while trying to change planes to return home, was arrested and placed into FBI custody. After being questioned for 13 days, without access to a lawyer, Arar was awaken in the middle of the night and put on a plane that eventually took him to Syria. Arar's case was a dramatic example of extraordinary rendition, an official US policy that has been adopted by President Obama's administration. After being sent to Syria, Arar was brutally interrogated and tortured, and forced to confess to having visited Afghanistan. Here is an excerpt of his videotaped testimony to the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee (Arar could not physically be present at the hearing, as he is barred from entering the US) via Democracy Now!:

Let me be clear: I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group. I am here to tell you what happened to me and how I was detained and interrogated by the US government, transported to Syria against my will, tortured, and kept there for over a year.

Upon reviewing my passport, an immigration officer pulled me aside. Officers from the FBI and New York police department arrived and began to interrogate me. My repeated requests for a lawyer were all denied. I was told I had no right to a lawyer, because I was not an American citizen.

On October 8th at 3 in the morning, I was awakened and told that they had decided to move me to Syria. By then, it was becoming more and more clear that I was being sent to Syria for the purpose of being tortured.

There, I was put in a dark underground cell that was more like a grave. It was three feet wide, six feet deep, and seven feet high. Life in that cell was hell. I spent ten months and ten days in that grave.

During the early days of my detention, I was interrogated and physically tortured. I was beaten with an electrical cable and threatened with a metal chair, the tire and electric shocks. I was forced to falsely confess that I had been to Afghanistan. When I was not being beaten, I was put in a waiting room so that I could hear the screams of other prisoners. The cries of women still haunt me the most.

After 374 days of torture and wrongful detention, I was finally released to Canadian embassy officials on October 5th, 2003.

Even after enduring this barbaric ordeal, this headline appeared in the New York Times yesterday: "Appeals Court Rejects Suit by Canadian Man Over Detention and Torture Claim." According to the article:

A federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled on Monday that Maher Arar, a Canadian man who claimed that American officials sent him to Syria in 2002 to be tortured, cannot sue for damages because Congress has not authorized such suits.

The case has been widely watched because Mr. Arar claimed to be a victim of extraordinary rendition, the government policy of sending terrorism suspects to other countries for detention and interrogation.

After years of our country committing numerous and well documented war crimes, including torture, extraordinary rendition (which almost inevitably leads to torture), and the killing of innocent civilians across the globe, our government still cannot be held accountable. What does that say about a country that supposedly prides itself on the rule of law and accountability?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CIA, Espionage, and Sibel Edmonds: Smoking Gun?

According to the New York Times yesterday, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is said to be on the payroll of the CIA, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. According to the article:

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the CIA's direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai's home.
The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the CIA is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the CIA operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike forces has been accused of launching an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also widely believed to be involved in Afghanistan's booming opium trade, a $65 billion global industry.

As our political leaders consider further escalating the war in Afghanistan, a consideration that 54% of Americans oppose, the history of the CIA, foreign intelligence agencies (particularly Turkish, Israeli and Pakistani agencies), and their ties to various U.S. officials is worth remembering. After all, it is widely documented that the CIA had countless dealings with the mujahdeen in Central Asia during the 1980s and 1990s, principally the CIA's funding of Muslim guerillas, including Osama bin Laden, resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Also, as Michael Moore pointed out in his film, Farenheit 9/11, many members of the bin Laden family and other Saudi nationals were flown out of the country shortly after 9/11, and many of them were not even interviewed or questioned by FBI agents. This fact alone should make one rethink what actually happened on 9/11 and who was involved.

The NYT article mentioned above startled me for a number of reasons. First off, why would the U.S. government, through the CIA, be funding a warlord directly involved and personally benefiting from the drug trade, something US and NATO forces have been trying to disrupt and eliminate since the beginning of the invasion? The fact that the CIA, and quite possibly other foreign intelligence agencies, are still involved in covert and illegal dealings with thugs in Central Asia should give every American pause.

On Monday, Sibel Edmonds and John Cole, both former FBI agents, had a lengthy, but detailed, interview with Scott Horton of Anti-War Radio that shed some light on all of this. Edmonds, who worked primarily as a Turkish translator for the FBI, has risen numerous issues regarding 9/11, foreign espionage carried out by US agents on behalf of other countries (principally Israel and Turkey), and other nefarious activities that have not been investigated.

In a recent interview with Philip Giraldi of The American Conservative magazine, Edmonds highlights some important individuals that she claims were highly involved in espionage, bribery, and other illegal activities, including Marc Grossman, Air Force Major Douglas Dickerson, Dickerson's wife (who worked with Edmonds as a translator at the FBI), the Turkish born Can Dickerson, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith. The entire article is simply a must read, but I will highlight some main points here.

-Numerous investigations, dating back to the 1970s, were launched by the FBI against Feith, Perle, Grossman and others who were suspected of providing classified information-- military technology, access to weapons systems, policy proposals, ect.-- to various foreign governments, most notably Turkey and Israel. These investigations were never fully brought to fruition, which explains why Edmonds was fired after raising serious objections to her superiors at the FBI about this activity.

-This classified information was paid for using bribes and front companies, which many of the officials listed above worked for, and was then resold to other foreign intelligence agencies in many instances

-Numerous Congress members and their staffers were involved in some of these dealings

-Can Dickerson, Douglas Dickerson's wife who was hired by the FBI and given top security clearance, had a history with the American Turkish Council and was suspected of hiding intelligence and covering up various wrongdoings

There are many more details to this story that this amateur writer could not possibly cover, and I encourage all to thoroughly research and investigate this story for themselves. It is very confusing, and has not been covered by the mainstream media in any serious way for the past 5 years (or more). What is apparent is that intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, have shady dealings, high level contacts, and enormous budgets to engage in this type of activity (espionage, bribery, extra-judicial killings, ect.) and that should come as no surprise to anyone. What is extremely troubling, especially in light of the recent outrage expressed by Republican members of Congress claiming that the Council on American-Islamic Relations was trying to infiltrate the US government, is that this woman and the claims she makes are hardly noticed by the American public. This is one investigation that needs to take place immediately. Given the fact that numerous high ranking and influential individuals in our government, private sector, and international community are involved in this scandal, any investigation seems unlikely. Not to mention the fact that virtually no mainstream media outlet is covering this story...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is Our Economy Based on War?

With the healthcare debate stirring up fiscal conservatives and even some Blue Dog Democrats who worry about the long-term costs of health care reform, Obama has announced that any bill he will sign will be "deficit neutral", which shows the lengths any politician will go to ensure that they are not irresponsible, tax-spend bueauracrats sitting in Washington "redistributing" wealth around the nation. As if our national debates weren't skewed and slanted enough, the fact that any health care bill has to be "deficit neutral" while we continue to spend billions of dollars in pointless, brutal, and, ultimately, counter-productive wars overseas is a terrible indictment of our political discourse. The Obama administration is even contemplating escalating the war in Afghanistan, and military leaders, particularly Obama's hand-picked man to run the show in Afghanistan, General Stanely McChrystal, have put pressure on the administration to deploy more troops and more resources to Afghanistan. So, while it is perfectly OK and fiscally responsible to advocate and prosecute war in foreign countries thousands of miles away and literally hand over billions of dollars to the most irresponsible and criminal financial institutions in the history of this country, any health care reform bill that is not "deficit neutral" is irresponsible and foolish. Does it sound like we have our priorities in the right places to you?

Below is a conversation Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Jo Comerford had today regarding our insane military spending and where we place our priorities:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Great interview below:

Friday, September 18, 2009

ACORN and the Skewing of Economic Reality by the Right

In light of a dubious video released by an undercover couple investigating ACORN, an organization dedicated to helping poor people obtain essential services, register to vote, and gain proper legal advice (among other initiatives), the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to strip the organization of federal funding. In a campaign to smear ACORN, an organization with a massive staff that is susceptible to corruption like any other large organization, Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have been working overtime to demonize and scapegoat this organization and poor people in general. Everything that is wrong with this country, if you listen to this crowd, is Obama and his "socialist" friends stealing money from "regular Americans" and giving it to poor people and organizations that represent and advocate for poor people, like ACORN. It is greedy poor people who live off the state through welfare and other government handouts and those not responsible enough to afford healthcare and pay their mortgage who are responsible for the economic crisis and the general state of affairs in this country. All of this fear-mongering is manifesting itself in a rapid, anti-Obama hysteria that is being overemphasized by Fox News and the Republican Party in an effort to make their movement appear larger than it is. Instead of scapegoating ACORN, poor people, and Obama, maybe Fox News and the Right-wingers on talk radio could report who really controls and dominates the government that was put on display so blatantly this past year: large corporate interests. Fox News, Beck and Limbaugh make it seem as if ACORN and poor people have such a large influence on our government and are reaping the benefits of Obama and his "socialist" administration. Consider this: last October, in response to the economic crisis, largely fueled by sub-prime mortgage lending and trading, the federal government handed out $700 billion to the financial industry. Taking into account all of the other corporate subsidies, loans and guarantees given out by the Federal Reserve, the corporate community, which literally owns the government, saw the biggest transfer of public money to private corporations. Weren't Beck and Limbaugh upset about that? More recently, the healthcare bill proposed by Senator Max Baucus was written by a former healthcare executive. Who has the power in this country? ACORN, poor people and those working on behalf of poor people? Or large corporations who fund the campaigns of politicians on both sides of the aisle?

In the August 28, 2009 edition of the Socialist Worker, Lee Sustar interviews Andrew Cockburn, the co-producer, along with his wife, Leslie, of the documentary American Casino, an inside look at the financial crisis and sub-prime mortgage meltdown. Here is an excerpt:

Lee Sustar: There has been a claim from the financial industry that this was an unforeseeable crisis- and that all they were tyring to do is make home ownership more possible. Do you buy that?

Andrew Cockburn: Absolutely not. I think we made clear in American Casino, it all came from the top. It was Wall Street banks who pushed this, it was Wall Street banks who had the relationships with the mortgage companies. It was Wall Street that aggressively competed for the mortgage loans sold by mortgage companies, which could then be packaged into securities- those magical instruments, the CDOs [collateralized debt obligations], the CDO-squared and all those other things that we've come to know and love. There were the guilty parties, and certainly not- absolutely not- the homeowners who've gotten blamed for this.


In American Casino, we make it clear that it's not like that. Ordinary people were lied to, were conned, were defrauded into these loans. The system did this. In my view- and I think we say in the film- the system couldn't do anything else. They'd run out of other productive things to invest in. So basically, the option was loan sharking, which is what they did.

So, who is to blame for this mess we are in? And who has the power in our society and political system? Beck, Limbaugh and the like are skewing the economic reality in this country and using it to inflame increasingly dangerous Right-wing movements. The real problem in this country isn't that Obama, poor people and ACORN are stealing tax dollars and redistributing the wealth of this nation. It's that people are actually caught up in this farce and misrepresentation of the reality of the country in which we live. We all need to realize that our economic system preys off those that have the least amount of power, influence and say in policy discussions, namely the poor and disenfranchised. It is corporations and big business that have the clout in this country, and it is so undeniable and obvious that it is amazing people can buy into the propaganda put out by Limbaugh, Beck, and Fox News.

Update: Here is a great perspective on what was discussed above. Worth a read.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Important conversation:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

U.N. Report Issues Report on the Israeli Military Operation in Gaza

In December of last year, Israel launched an invasion of Gaza, purportedly in response to rocket fire launched from Gaza by Hamas militants. When a cease fire was finally declared after about a month of fighting, 1,300 Palestinians were killed, many of them innocent civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed, including 10 soldiers and 3 civilians. A just released U.N. report, headed by South African Justice Richard Goldstone and compiled without the support or participation from Israel, concluded that there is evidence to support the claim that both the Israeli military and militant Palestinian groups committed war crimes and, possibly, crimes against humanity. Following the release today, the Israeli government began a diplomatic effort to ensure that the report will not be presented before the United Nations Security Council and possibly to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where Israeli leaders could face prosecution. According to Haaretz:

On the diplomatic front, following the report's release, [Prime Minister] Netanyahu, [Foreign Minister] Lieberman, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will telephone many of their counterparts around the world. They will stress that the Goldstone report is one-sided, that it rewards terrorism and that it sets a precedent which will make it difficult for any country in the world to defend itself against terror...

"It will be a long diplomatic and legal campaign," said a senior Israeli staffer handling the Goldstone report. "We will invovle our friends from around the world, especially the United States, to prevent Israel's isolation," he said.

Israeli officials have called the report "one-sided" and accused the United Nations Human Rights Council of "regularly and routinely condemning Israel." Israeli officials prefer to launch investigations into war crimes and human rights abuses internally, and have issued reports claiming Israeli soldiers acted in accordance with international law. A Hamas spokesman also called the report unbalanced and completely misrepresenting reality, according to the Haaretz article linked to above.

While both sides of this conflict have demonstrably committed repugnant acts of violence, many of which could amount to war crimes, the latest invasion of Gaza leaves no doubt that the Israeli military had a direct policy of targeting civilians, private property, and essential infrastructure, including hospitals, water and sewage systems. According to a press release put out by the United Nations regarding the report:

The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations, and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still living under the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation.

Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long-lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that some 30 percent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental health problems.

This is what top Israeli leaders are trying to keep from being presented to the U.N. Security Council: a report by the world's most reputable international organization that condemns not only Israeli actions, but also Palestinian tactics in the latest conflict. It is time that Israel stop leaning on the United States to hide the fact that it has committed serious crimes against humanity and that it had a direct policy of targeting Palestinian civilians, public buildings, and private property, not to mention water and sewage systems needed to maintain life.

Interesting debate from January 8, 2009 about the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Does Anyone Really Think This Is Making Us Safer?

According to the New York Times yesterday, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a suspected al-Qaeda leader wanted in connection with numerous bombings in Africa, was killed by US commandos who used four military helicopters to disable two trucks carrying Nabhan and other suspected militants in Somalia. A total of 9 people were killed during the strike. The article declared:

Mr. Nabhan played an increasingly important role as a senior instructor for new militant recruits, including some Americans, as well as a liason to senior Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, the senior American advisor said.

"This is very significant because it takes away a person who's been a main conduit between East Africa extremists and big Al-Qaeda," said the advisor, who like several United States officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the mission.

The extrajudicial killing of "suspected Al-Qaeda leaders" and other "terrorists" is a lamentable policy that has been enacted by both Democratic and Republican administrations, including current President Obama's administration. In all likelihood, Mr. Nabhan was a dangerous man responsible for the deaths of innocents and had links to terrorist groups. However, we will never know this for sure, as he was never investigated and prosecuted by any court of law. The U.S. military, acting on, again, in all likelihood, reliable intelligence about this man, was the judge, jury and executioner in his case. Given the extreme difficulties of fighting this "war on terror", many will argue that this was the best option available to U.S. policy-makers and military leaders. They will argue that arresting, investigating, and prosecuting Mr. Nabhan would have been extremely difficult and dangerous, if even feasible. I would say that engaging in extrajudicial killings by using military force in a sovereign nation is not only unwise, but increases the likelihood of the people we are trying to help of viewing our overt use of military force as unjust and immoral, not to mention contradictory to core Western values of due process, given that collateral damage and the killings of innocent civilians is an inevitability using these methods of justice.

"The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable"

David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University and author of the recently released book titled "The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable", argues in this Democracy Now! segment for the necessity of holding those at the highest levels accountable for the authorization of torture by the CIA and US forces in the war on terror.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quick Note on Obama's Healthcare Speech Last Night

President Obama, in a prime-time address last night before a joint session of Congress, had this to say about the prospect of "radically" reforming the American healthcare system as proposed by those on "the left" and "the right":

There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everybody. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end employer-based systems and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.

I've said- I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both these approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the healthcare most people currently have. Since healthcare represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build a new system from scratch. And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the past several months.

Well, we know what doesn't work, at least for the vast majority of Americans: the private health insurance market. The private health insurance industry's primary concern is making money first and foremost, not providing adequate health insurance to their clients. Just ask Hilda Sarkisyan, whose daughter died at the age of 17 after CIGNA, a private health insurance company, denied her claim for a liver transplant. Or Wendell Potter, the former head of corporate communications for CIGNA, who had this to say about why he decided to leave the health insurance industry:

Well, I was beginning to question what I was doing as the industry shifted from selling primary managed care plans, to what they refer to as consumer-driven plans. And they're really plans that have very high deductibles, meaning that they're shifting a lot of the cost off healthcare from employers and insurers, insurance companies, to individuals. And a lot of people can't even afford to make their co-payments when they go get care, as a result of this.

I thought the whole argument for a public option was because the private health insurance industry in this country does not work and continues to devastate the lives of millions of people across this country? President Obama, what we need most is radical reform, not an approach that continues to placate the very industry that needs reforming.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Congressional Report: US Increases Share of World-Wide Arms Market

An article in the New York Times today begins:

Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world's leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States signed weapons deals valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

You read that correctly; despite the global recession, the United States increased it's share of the global market in armament sales by $12.4 billion over the course of one year. The article goes on:

In the highly competitive global arms market, nations vie for both profit and political influence through weapons sales, in particular to developing nations, which remain "the primary focus of foreign arms sales activity by weapons suppliers," according to the study.

Without a doubt, historians 100 years from now will clearly view the United States as not only the world's leading supplier of weapons and armaments, but also the world's most militarily aggressive country of the past 30 or 40 years. Our permanent military establishment wages war more often and more aggressively than other nations, and sells more weapons globally than other nations. Two distinctions our country could do without. Glenn Greenwald has more on this here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

David Broder's Torture Regime Analysis

David Broder, a longtime skeptic of investigating past abuses by the Bush administration, has a dolorous pablum today in the Washington Post (yes, the same paper that features the columnist I criticized yesterday about his view on the torture regime). After claiming that he "agree(s) on the importance of accountability for illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials -- even at the highest levels," Broder has this completely contradictory statement two paragraphs later:

Nonetheless, I think it is a matter of regret that Holder asked prosecutor John H. Durham to review the cases of the agents accused of abusive tactics towards some captives.
(...) is the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials -- and that is what gives me pause.

Mr. Broder, how exactly to you hold people accountable for "illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials -- even at the highest levels" if there are no trials? After all, we are a country that respects the law and follows due process (supposedly) so it's not as if Cheney and Co. are guilty just as a matter of arbitrary decree. Indeed, numerous laws specify that if there is credible evidence of the types of illegalities and abuses of the law enabled and carried out by the Bush administration, an investigation is warranted and required by law. If an investigation leads up the chain of command in the torture regime, and it certainly has to considering the evidence that is already out, those accused will have their day in court. Remember, due process.

Instead of clarifying how exactly the Bush administration would be held accountable for the Torture Regime, Mr. Broder muses:

In times like these , the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences. This country is facing so many huge challenges at home and abroad that the president cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great.

If I hear that decrepit, depraved, sycophantic excuse of not being able to prosecute Bush-era officials for obvious, blatant crimes because it would be "too partisan and bitter" and upset the cozy, elitist atmosphere of Washington I may puke.

But, alas, this is the same David Broder who wrote this in April:

...(Obama) was just as right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats that devised and justified the Bush administration practices.

Later in the same article, Broder had this ridiculously absurd statement:

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, intelligence agencies, and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials.

The way Broder describes the memos -- "the memos on torture" -- clearly demonstrate his delusional rational for his vapid arguments against investigating, let alone prosecuting, Bush-era officials. Torture is undeniably illegal in the United States or by agents working on behalf of the United States government. By acknowledging these "memos on torture", Mr. Broder has given implicit recognition that the United States government devised a set of memos --"memos on torture" -- that authorized practices illegal under domestic and international law, not to mention morally repugnant to any civilized person. Apparently, Mr. Broder is not only OK with this law-breaking and injustice, he wants to cover it up.

Amazing that one of our leading political commentators and journalists has the audacity to justify covering up crimes committed by the government when that is the exact opposite of what his profession revolves around.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Richard Cohen's Torture Excuses

In a remarkably dishonest opinion piece today in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen argues that the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to open a preliminary investigation of CIA interrogators who may have crossed the legal boundary set by Justice Department lawyers of what constitutes torture will harm America's national security. Cohen begins the article with a hypothetical scenario, in which America has captured "Ishmael", a fictional suicide bomber with knowledge of future terrorist plots against America and her allies. Cohen postulates at the beginning of the article:

Call him a terrorist or suicide bomber or anything else you want, but understand that he is willing-- no anxious-- to give his life for his cause. Call him also a captive, and know that he works with others as part of a team, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, all of whom died, willingly. Ishmael is someone I invented, but he is not a far-fetched creation. You and I know that he exists, has existed and will exist again. He is the enemy.

Nevermind that "Ishmael" and our other supposed enemies that "hate America" almost unanimously have strong objections to our foreign policy, especially in the Muslim world, and our blinding support for Israel at the expense of an entire nation of displaced people (the Palestinians), and not primarily with the American people or way of life. Our "enemies" are our enemies because of our foreign policy generally and current policy specifically in the region. It is no wonder that the people of the Middle East have strong objections to the US invading sovereign nations based on faulty, exaggerated, and, one could make the argument, pre-determined intelligence; the ruthless and brutal campaign of unmanned-aerial drone attacks that inevitably kill innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan; the immoral and illegal treatment of countless numbers of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places of US jurisdiction (think of the former CIA "black sites" in Europe); the general disregard by US policy-makers of the people in the region, who instead focus on backing and strengthening the corrupt ruling elite for insider deals on natural resource exploitation for multinational corporations. Given our current and past policy in the region, of course one would expect to find a dedicated, highly determined enemy willing to give their life in order counteract the relentless, exploitative nature of US policy in the region.

Cohen continues by hypothesizing what will happen to "Ishmael" now that he is in US custody:

Now he is in American custody. What will happen? How do we get him to reveal his group's plans and the names of his colleagues? It will be hard. It will, in fact, be harder than it used to be. He can no longer be waterboarded. He knows this. He cannot be deprived of more than a set amount of sleep. He cannot be beat or thrown up against even a soft wall. He cannot be threatened with shooting or even frightened by the prospect of an electric drill. Nothing can really be threatened against his relatives-- that they will be killed or sexually abused.

Nevermind the fact that torture does not work, has not worked, and will not work in any reliable way for effective intelligence gathering purposes. After all, torture was historically used to induce false confessions. Cohen makes it seem unfortunate that detainees, many of whom are illegally held, now cannot "even be frightened by the prospect of an electric drill." As if that were some noble, humane, effective way of gathering intelligence and assessing what an individual has knowledge of. If someone were to shackle me to the ground after, in one form or another, making me stay awake for days on end and then reeved up a power drill next to my blindfolded head, I would say just about anything to end this situation. The whole point of torture is that it does not work and only induces false confessions and intelligence, further corrupting the justice system if that evidence is used against other suspects (you cannot, in good faith, convict someone of crimes that were the result of evidence gained through torture!).

Cohen goes on:

No one can possibly believe that America is safer now because of the new restrictions on enhanced interrogation and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor.

I disagree. Looking into this conduct and prosecuting those that bended the law to conform to their policy preference or outright broke the law will show the world that we are a nation of laws, not of men, as the old saying goes.

And, in by far the most dishonest statement of the article, Cohen claims:

The CIA inspector general's report on the quite brutal interrogation of Khalid Sheik Mohammed , the so-called Sept. 11 mastermind, suggests he only turned cooperative once he was repeatedly waterboarded and that the information he provided saved lives.

Talk about taking a play right out of Dick Cheney's torture Public Relations playbook!! As many commentators have detailed, the claim that Mohammed cooperated only after being brutally tortured is completely bogus. We know that anyone, when subjugated to brutally harsh interrogation techniques, will do and say anything to end their suffering, thus rendering their "intelligence"to the US military establishment useless. For any doubt on that contention, see here.

What we know from past investigations into the torture regime and from the CIA IG report is that the US government, at the highest levels, enacted a policy that was directly counter to international and national law regarding the treatment of prisoners or detainees in US custody. The law was bended to fit what the high-level political leaders in the Executive Branch, military, CIA and other national security agencies wanted to do, not the other way around. That, in itself, is illegal. An outstanding Q&A regarding the torture regime between Scott Horton and David Cole is highly recommended and can be read here. Posted below is an interview Keith Olbermann did with Jeremy Scahill regarding the torture regime and prospects for prosecution.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"A Kind of Fascism Is Replacing Our Democracy"

In a 2003 article, Sheldon S. Wolin makes the case that the supposed "representative democracy" that we like to think governs our society has been eroded by the convergence of private economic interests and the public/governmental sphere. In the article, Sheldon argues that phrases such as "American empire" or describing the United States as "the sole remaining superpower" are misplaced and misleading. He argues:

Instead of those formulations, try to conceive of ones like "superpower democracy" or "imperial democracy," and they seem not only contradictory but opposed to basic assumptions that Americans hold about their political system and their place within it. Supposedly ours is a government of constitutionally limited powers in which equal citizens can take part in power. But one can no more assume that a superpower welcomes legal limits than an empire finds democratic participation congenial.

The article goes on to compare George W. Bush's administration with totalitarian regimes throughout history. Sheldon claims that the totalitarian nature of the Bush administration should be described as "inverted totalitarianism" which "exploits political apathy and encourages divisiveness" and characterizes our elected legislature as a "system of corruption (lobbyists, campaign contributions, payoffs to powerful interests) [that] short circuits the connections between voters and their representatives."

And yet one wonders how Sheldon would characterize the newly elected Obama administration's conduct so far. Has the new president taken steps to counteract the sweeping seizure of power in the hands of the executive branch that characterized the Bush administration? Has the new president appointed independent, "conflict of interest-free" individuals to run top political and economic departments and set the policy agenda for his administration? Despite all of the campaign rhetoric, it seems President Obama is succumbing to the powerful interests that have dominated Washington and our federal government for years.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bush Administration Using Terrorism for Political Gain

Terrorism: the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

According to the New York Times today:

Tom Ridge, the first secretary of homeland security, asserts in a new book that he was pressured by top advisers of President George W. Bush to raise the national threat level just before the the 2004 election in what he suspected was an effort to influence the vote.

After Osama bin Laden released a threatening video four days before the election, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pushed Mr. Ridge to elevate the public threat posture but he refused, according to the book. Mr. Ridge calls it a "dramatic and inconceivable" event that "proved most troublesome for all of us in the department."

According to the definition of terrorism provided above, Mr. Ridge's assertions prove what many have been claiming for a long time: that the Bush administration used the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the threat of future terrorist attacks for political gain, which is generally what terrorists engage in. As Atrios puts it:

...Using the threat of terrorism to try to achieve political goals is, you know, what terrorists do.

Another stark reminder of why the Bush administration needs to be held to account for the lawbreaking, torture, and senseless war-waging it engaged in and, to put it bluntly, the terroristic political maneuvering asserted here by a former Cabinet level official of the agency responsible for issuing warnings to the public about potential terrorist strikes on this country.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Do Not Conceal War Crimes!

In order to prosecute the people who gave legal permission and political cover for the military and intelligence agencies to engage in torture, there must be evidence. Concealing that evidence is itself a crime. Come on Obama, do not incriminate your administration by blocking the release of evidence of torture and war crimes. Great article on this subject here and here.

Question for Lee Terry

Lee Terry, the Republican Congressman from the 2nd District of Nebraska, will be holding a town hall meeting this Saturday from 8:30 until 10 a.m. at Homestyle Cafe, located at 8807 Maple Street. If I could ask my Congressman one thing about healthcare, here is what I would ask:

Representative Terry, over the past 8 years and counting, our country has spent billions of dollars fighting two separate wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have cost the lives of countless innocent civilians and American soldiers, and bailed out virtually the entire financial sector of our economy at an unimaginable cost. Now, President Obama wants to enact healthcare reform which, obviously, will cost a substantial amount of money. How do we justify waging war and endless corporate welfare at the same time we are saying we cannot afford to pay for health care reform? What are your priorities? Continuing to wage an endless, deceitful and counterproductive war? Allowing the looting of the US Treasury in order to rescue the very same financial institutions-- who also happen to finance many of the people who claim to "represent" the American people-- that enabled our current economic crisis? Or do you think health care reform is a bigger priority, especially considering that millions of Americans, including myself, do not have health insurance?

I am e-mailing this exact question to Terry and will post any response.
Scott Horton at his best. A must read for anyone concerned with national security and, more importantly, the rule of law as it applies to officials at the highest levels of our government.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sarah Palin at her best. Good segment from Democracy Now!

History Lesson: Youngstown v. Sawyer

In response to the American steel workers strike during the Korean War in 1952, President Harry Truman decided he would take over the steel factories in order to keep steel production up to meet the needs of the military. After the Congress refused to authorize, by law, the president to outright seize the steel industry for military use, the Truman administration went to the Supreme Court to make the argument that the federal takeover of the steel industry was essential for national security and the safety of American forces. The Supreme Court ruling rebuffed President Truman, restricting the power of the president to claim unlimited executive authority and discretion in times of national emergency or upheaval. Here is an excerpt of the Supreme Court decision written by Justice Robert Jackson:

We may also suspect that they (the founding fathers) suspected that emergency powers would tend to kindle emergencies. Aside from suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the time of rebellion or invasion, when the public safety may require it, they made no express provision for the exercise of extraordinary authority because of a crisis. I do not think we rightfully may so amend their work, and, if we could, I am not convinced it would be wise to do so, although many modern nations have forthrightly recognized that war and economic crises may upset the normal balance between liberty and authority.

How relevant does this ruling seem today?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Letter to Eric Holder

It was recently reported that you are deciding whether or not to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate torture and detainee abuse. I am writing to say that the time has come for a full and comprehensive investigation into Bush administration torture policies. I am respectfully requesting that you appoint an independent prosecutor with the authority to follow the evidence of torture wherever it leads and to investigate anyone who authorized these heinous acts. Please help restore the rule of law. Thank you for your time.

P.S. How can anyone in good faith allow this type of conduct by US personnel? The detention without due process, torture and death of prisoners, many of whom are completely innocent of any serious charges, is abhorrent and the people responsible for it, including those that gave legal justifications for it and political cover, such as John Yoo, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Alberto Gonzalez, ect, need to be investigated and, when appropriate, prosecuted to uphold the rule of law in this great country. Please do not allow this two-tiered system of justice to continue by immunizing high level political officials who broke the law while prosecuting those who took their advice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Was Nader Right?

A recent article at by Chris Hedges makes for a very interesting read, especially for Nader backers like me. The opening paragraph contends:

The American empire has not altered under Barack Obama. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury to enrich the corporate elite as rapaciously. It will not give us universal health care, abolish the Bush secrecy laws, end torture and "extraordinary rendition," restore habeas corpus or halt the warrantless-wiretapping and monitoring of citizens. It will not push through significant environmental reform, regulate Wall Street or end our relationship with private contractors that provide mercenary armies to fight our imperial wars and produce useless and costly weapons systems.

Hedges main contentions, especially with regard to the war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan by default) specifically and national security in general, not to mention Obama's decision to hire the same people directly involved in the financial meltdown, are correct. Since the election, I have been vindicated, at least in my opinion, in voting for Nader. Many people, especially one of the most influential scholars I have read, G. William Domhoff, argue that voting for third party candidates is a waste of time and only strengthens the party you are trying to challenge. This may be true, but as a matter of principal I could not vote for either Obama or McCain. Nader is the only candidate that spoke to what I wanted in a presidential candidate. I read a great book earlier this summer titled American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter and a quote from the introduction of his book seems quite appropriate here:

Societies that are in such good working order (such as ours) have a kind of mute organic consistency. They do not foster ideas that are hostile to their fundamental working arrangements. Such ideas may appear, but they are slowly and persistently insulated, as an oyster deposits nacre around an irritant. They are confined to small groups of dissenters and alienated intellectuals, and except in revolutionary times they do not circulate among practical politicians. The range of ideas, therefore, which practical politicians can conveniently believe in is normally limited by the climate of opinion that sustains their culture. They differ, sometimes bitterly, over current issues, but they also share a general framework of ideas which makes it possible for them to co-operate when the campaigns are over.

This is a great explanation as to why Nader was always disregarded as a "serious" candidate. Simply put, he talked about ideas and policies that were not to be discussed in front of "serious" candidates such as McCain and Obama, or even in the primary for that matter. Nader and his campaign were such a challenge to the Washington establishment, which the Democrats and Republicans both posture towards, that he was simply described as a radical outcast that could not be taken seriously. I mean think about it, Nader's primary issues were a) ending the corporate control of our government b) ending the illegal, deceitful, imperial wars our government has been engaged in for the past 8 years (this is a whole new post if we are talking historically) and c) enacting a single payer national health insurance plan. He was also a strong advocate of environmental regulation (i.e. corporate regulation) and enacting a living wage of $10 per hour for workers. What Democrat that voted for Obama is not for these policies?

It is painfully obvious who controls our government (not the people) that it is hard for me to support any of the two mainstream parties anymore, no matter how inspiring Obama's rhetoric is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

NYT article: "Clinton Calls for Accountability in Kenya"

In another disgusting display of hypocrisy today, the New York Times reports Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "opened her seven-nation African tour in Kenya with an address to a major United States-African trade conference and other public events on Wednesday, in a visit intended to promote the broad themes of good, trade, food security and women's rights." Following the Kenyan presidential election last year, more than 1,000 people died in post-election violence as the major political factions contested the results. A state-run human rights agency in Kenya released a report implicating more than 200 suspected ringleaders of the violence, including many high-level government officials. Part of Clinton's message was devoted to upholding the rule of law by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the violence. So far, Kenyan officials have been reluctant to open any type of inquiry into the violence, eliciting this response from Clinton:

"We are waiting, we are disappointed....I know this is not easy; I understand how complicated this is. How do you go about prosecuting the perpetrators without engendering more violence?"

It amazes me every time I read or hear American officials lambasting foreign governments for failing to uphold the rule of law, not governing transparently, and for creating a culture of impunity in which high ranking government officials and those with close connections to the ruling elite are immune from the law of the land. These criticisms, coming from the chief foreign policy representative of a nation in which the previous administration constantly and blatantly broke the law with impunity, are hard to take seriously, especially considering the obvious hypocrisies inherent in the message. How can anyone take Clinton, or Obama for that matter, seriously when high ranking government officials in this country break the law and get away with it?

Friday, July 24, 2009

John Talbot and Simon Johnson Exchange Email Part Two

Here is Simon Johnson's reply to John Talbot from the previous post. Equally important read. Johnson seems much more pessimistic about the threat to democracy that large financial and corporate interests have on our government and policy makers. Definitely worth a read.

From: Simon Johnson

To: John Talbott

Subject: Re: Taking Back the Country


I admire your energy and focus in trying to mobilize a broader cross section of people against the big banks in particular and the way our political-financial system operates in general. I'm sure this is worthwhile and not at all a waste of time. Any efforts you or others put into educating people -- or enabling people to better educate themselves -- will surely pay off over time.

However, my sense of the political cycle around these issues is perhaps a bit different from yours. On the first round -- the crisis, immediate policy response and first-round "reform" efforts -- the big bankers have definitely won.

You were right when you argued way back that it would take a crisis before anyone really understood that we have a problem. But even so, most people still do not fully understand what has happened to them over the past 12 months -- and why their future taxes will be so much higher. I spend quite a lot of time talking to relatively well-informed people. After an hour or so of intense discussion and argument, I would say that most people see much more clearly just what the big banks got away with, although they do not necessarily agree with the idea of stricter regulatory controls on those banks. Left to their own devices, or just relying on the usual sources, I'm not sure how clear any of this is to most people.

And I worry that e-mailing friends doesn't necessarily engage people at the necessary level. You need repeated reinforcement of the key themes -- and a lot of back and forth with people you trust -- to really change minds on something this big. Or, as you say, you need to see it again and again, and perhaps you need to worry about the consequences for your own well-being.

If the big banks could just lie low for a while, I honestly think they would get away with everything -- the backlash would fade, and we'd be setting ourselves up for another massive crisis down the road.

Fortunately (in a sense), the banks cannot back off from their most egregious behavior. Perhaps this is in their DNA; definitely it is in their organizational culture and how they see the world -- the people who run the biggest financial institutions really think they are the masters of the universe and are proceeding on that basis.

Their profits, their wages, their bonuses, and their behavior have begun to antagonize people greatly. Already, some of my contacts who are close to the administration wince at the latest news from the financial sector, be it the bonuses that were paid last year to senior people who oversaw major mistakes (some of whom are now rewarded with senior policy roles!) or the blatant bragging about political influence that some CEOs are now making public.

And even if some sensible people at these banks would like to rein in employee compensation to more moderate and reasonable levels, they have a problem. If you lower the wages for your people, another bank -- perhaps one based in Europe -- will hire them away with a crazy package. The rat race, across companies and between people, means that this can only be curtailed through regulation. But the survivor banks are so strong politically that they will defeat all meaningful regulation for compensation.

This very success makes them more vulnerable to further criticism and backlash.

I'm not saying that the banks will simply commit political suicide. Nothing is ever so simple. But they will likely undermine themselves with Congress and eventually even with the administration. The midterm elections in 2010 and the presidential election in 2012 could well be very much about restricting the power of the big banks.

American democracy does not get on well with overweening unelected individuals who pretend to great power. Andrew Jackson saw off Nicolas Biddle in the 1830s. Teddy Roosevelt stood up to -- and eventually towered over -- even J.P. Morgan at the beginning of the 20th century. And FDR remade everything in the 1930s.

As I said before, I'm optimistic that President Obama can do the same. The challenge to democracy is palpable and growing. The fact that two -- and only two -- big banks came through the crisis unscathed is a perfect symbol of the problem. In the past, part of the myth of Wall Street was that it was competitive, that many could enter the industry, and that its political power was not too concentrated. This myth, among many, has now exploded.

We see the power for what it is. Mainstream media increasingly picks up the story line. And still the big banks cannot step back and curtail their most troubling activities.

Keep explaining and let the big banks provide the supportive evidence you need.

Best wishes,



John Talbot and Simon Johnson Exchange Email

Two very important economists, John Talbot and Simon Johnson, today have the third and final segment about the status of the economy at Here is the e-mail that Talbot send to Simon Johnson. Reading this is a mixed bag; he highlights the flaws of our unjust and corrupted economy, but also his desire to organize ordinary Americans to fight back against the establishment.

From: John Talbott

To: Simon Johnson

Subject: Taking Back the Country


I think you and I and most economists suffer from an antiquated belief that if we can just figure out exactly what went wrong, policymakers will beat a path to our door to ask our help in enacting necessary reforms. Unfortunately, the world no longer works that way. Our corrupted government, our criminal businesses and banking institutions, lobbyists, special interests, and the corporate controlled media are not interested in fixing this problem. They are making trillions of dollars through a vast scheme that transfers wealth from ordinary American taxpayers and consumers to their corrupt coffers. You are right that if big business thought about it, they should support efforts at restricting lobbying so that growth-oriented government policies could be implemented without the influence of corrupting special interests. But each lobbying corporation is also its own special interest, and so such internal reform is impossible.

The million-dollar question is: Why haven't ordinary Americans reacted more passionately and angrily in taking real action to end this systemic abuse? A decade ago, I wrote my first book on the corrupting influence of big business lobbying on our government and concluded at the time that average Americans would not focus on the issue until they had suffered real pain. I concluded that you can't defuse a bomb in America until after it has gone off.

But now the bomb has exploded. Forty million Americans are unemployed, millions have lost their homes, and most have taken a very substantial hit to their incomes, retirement savings and wealth. Why aren't Americans in the streets protesting this corrupt, enormously damaging criminal enterprise? I have traveled enough around America to realize that even though the current situation is enormously complex and not all Americans can describe exactly how the CDO market works, almost without exception every American can relate to you his frustration with how corrupt this government is and how unjust corporate lobbying and special influence in Washington has become. They get it. As a matter of fact, some of my high school-educated friends from my home state of Kentucky understand it a lot better than my Harvard-educated friends from Wall Street.

So I don't think the current challenge is figuring out exactly what caused the crisis. Focusing on what caused this episode will lead to narrow regulatory reform that reminds me that we all now take off our shoes at airports because one crazy fellow had the idea of putting a bomb in his heel. So while reform is needed in subprime mortgages, securitization, derivatives, and even in the magnitude of our financial institutions, none of these get at the fundamental problem: The people of this country are no longer making the rules by which they wish to live. If subprime mortgages hadn't blown up, some other area of highly leveraged bank lending would have eventually imploded. Even if the banking industry hadn't crashed, some other sector of the corrupt business/government criminal enterprise would have. Maybe the ice shelf of Greenland would have collapsed into the North Atlantic, maybe we would have run out of oil, maybe Microsoft's monopoly position in operating systems would have led to a worldwide computer virus shutdown, maybe poor consumer safety standards with China would have led to a global disease epidemic. The point is that when corporations make the rules, the results are not always good for the inhabitants of the planet.

So we don't have to decide today exactly what the reforms will be -- we just need to get corporate America out of our government so that the people can deliberate and make these reform decisions themselves without undue influence from bankers and corporations.

But there are two huge impediments to accomplishing this. This is not a traditional economics problem, it is an organizing problem or a collective action problem. People know the system is rigged and broken and unjust, but they feel as if there is very little that any one of them can do to effect much change. The organizing task is further complicated by the fact that our media, including television networks, cable TV, radio, newspapers, and magazine and book publishing, are almost all sponsored, owned and controlled by big corporations. The only hope is the Internet, over which big business has tried but to date failed to successfully exert its dominance. The Internet will prove to be both a source of unbiased news and information as well as the communication tool concerned citizens can utilize to fight back against big government, big business and big media.

What has to happen to get this movement started? First, I think people need to see that there is a channel being constructed that has the potential to be effective in directing their anger into real positive reform and change. I am in the process of beginning just such an organization and encourage people who are interested in fighting back against the system and against corporate lobbyists and special interests to contact me at my e-mail address, johntalbs (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Next, people have to believe that if they invest their time in such an effort they have the potential of winning. In this case, this is rather straightforward and easy to explain. If we are successful in organizing 5 million to 10 million Americans who want to see real change about how business is conducted in Washington, then by definition, we will have not only substantial political and voting power, but more important, the beginnings of a real consumer movement that could easily boycott the products and services of the worst corporate lobbyers in our government.

And this is where the magic of the Internet comes in. No one person could organize a 10 million person database in his lifetime. But Obama was able to accomplish it in less than two years. How? We don't have his money. Instead, we create our own Ponzi scheme. We create the ultimate chain letter. I e-mail 30 of my friends who each e-mail 30 of their friends and so on and so on. If only four cycles of people pass on the info we end up contacting 25 million Americans. We ask people to give us their e-mails and then contact them when we want to boycott a new offender.

It is time for Americans to realize that things are not going to improve until they get involved. It will take time. But the economy is not going to improve until we straighten out our corrupt system. Do you have anything more important that you are working on than this? The survival of liberal democratic society in the world.

Thanks for a great exchange of ideas. And best of luck in your future research and work.



Organizing average citizens against powerful financial interests has always been the central challenge of any democratic society. The only way that is going to happen is if the citizenry is informed and empowered to take a stand against the corrupt state of affairs in this country. In my opinion, the two-party system that is dominated by corporate financial interests is one of the main problems in our political system. Both Democrats and Republicans are heavily influenced by a variety of corporate interests, and corporate interests do not discriminate against either party; they fund both parties, making any real reform incredibly difficult in the face of an unorganized, disenfranchised populace. This will be an ongoing struggle for those of us interested in social justice and an undoing of the corrupted capitalistic economy that has exploited average Americans for decades.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Letter to Dick Morrison

After viewing this segment on The O'Reilly Factor, I had to write Dick Morris a letter explaining why I objected to his distortions of the health care debate. It is because of people like him and O'Reilly that spout propaganda that health care remains such a distorted and misunderstood subject in American society. Here is Obama's former physician in Chicago, Dr. David Scheiner, and Amy Goodman speaking the truth about the state of health care in this county.

Here is the letter I wrote:

I would really appreciate it if you actually used some common sense and stop distorting the facts around the health care debate. Obama and the Dems bill is not perfect, far from it. The main factor hindering health care reform is the insurance industry that has a highly effective public relations campaign. I mean look at all the pharmaceutical drugs they put out each year, and most of the stuff is addicting and gets abused by the very people it is supposed to help. This is one aspect of this very complex issue. There are many problems with our health care system, and the biggest one of them all is the private health care industry that blocks reform by getting people like you to scare impressionable people into believing all the lies and distortions that come out of Fox News. We already have socialized medicine in this country. The VA system, all federal, state, and local employees, Medicare, and Medicaid are perfect examples. Why not universal Medicare, which practically every other country in the world has?

Our Policies Backfire, Once Again

Today, Glenn Greenwald interviewed Jonathan Horowitz of the Open Society Institute who is currently in Afghanistan researching the impact of American policy in the country. The transcript can be read here. Horowitz is primarily concerned with the draconian detention policy of the US, in which hundreds of prisoners are in US custody without legal rights, credible evidence of the crimes they supposedly committed, and humane living conditions. Horowitz's main conclusion, based on the interview, is that this policy specifically, and one could argue our militaristic, "bomb who we please" military strategy generally, has led to increased resistance against US forces and a loss of American credibility. This is just the latest example of "blowback", a term coined by the CIA in which the local population turns against American interests based on the policy implemented. Think about it: if France invaded the US to bring democracy and modernization to our country, for example, and started bombing targets that inevitably kill innocent civilians, indefinitely detained US citizens without any credible evidence or any legal rights, and tortured detainees, sometimes to death, wouldn't you think that would cause a major credibility problem for the French? The problem with the "War on Terror" is that we have abandoned our most basic values in the pursuit of al-Qaida and other terrorist cells. All of this is based on the idea that "we are bringing democracy to the Middle East." At least that is the justification now, especially in Iraq. We are trying to export democracy at the same time we are subverting it in very substantial ways at home.

Monday, July 20, 2009

US Soldier Captured by Taliban

A US soldier was captured in late June by Taliban forces in Afghanistan and a recent video has surfaced showing the soldier eating and being interviewed by his captors. The video can be seen here. Shortly after the video release, commentators, pundits, and political officials condemned the Taliban for the soldier's treatment and exploitation. While the soldier's capture is lamentable, especially after hearing reports that he may have been drunk when captured, it is hard to take seriously any US official scolding the Taliban for "exploiting" this soldier considering the litany of immoral, brutal, and illegal acts committed by the US in the name of fighting terrorism. We all hope this soldier will be treated humanely and released. But after what our government has done to terror suspects, many of whom have turned out to be innocent, how can we expect the Taliban to do any better?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Healthcare Debate

Wendell Potter, a former public relations specialist with CIGNA, was on Democracy Now! today discussing the healthcare debate taking place in this country. Potter dissects the healthcare industry during the interview, exposing the industry's avarice and concern for profits for shareholders over the well-being of their clients. He also breaks down the industry's public relations campaign to discredit any healthcare reform proposed by anyone other than them. An overarching theme of Potter's characterizations of the healthcare industry is the incredible influence it has on members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats alike. It is amazing how distorted the debate is over healthcare, with critics demonizing anyone who supports a public plan as a socialist. The recent bank bailout and various forms of corporate welfare, from tax breaks to outright subsidies, are a revealing indication of how our political system works. Healthcare is socialist and would bankrupt the country, but Wall Street and major financial interests are rescued in a heartbeat by the Fed and US Treasury. Private interests essentially took over and looted the American government at the expense of taxpayers in the last few months. But because the healthcare industry is a for-profit industry that has a highly manipulating (and, regrettably, effective) public relations arm and an extraordinary influence over Congress, millions of Americans remain uninsured.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New York Times' "News Analysis" by Scott Shane

Scott Shane, a New York Times national security correspondent, had a revealing "news analysis" in yesterday's edition regarding the Obama administration's possible decision to open an investigation into Bush-era national security policies.  Shane cites four different examples of the Bush administration's national security policies coming under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and civil liberties groups, including a highly classified counterterrorism policy kept secret (presumably illegally) by former Vice President Cheney, the torture of detainees in US custody, the recent report about the National Security Agency's domestic spying activities and the massacre of Afghan prisoners by Afghan security forces allied with American forces directly after the 9/11 attacks.  Shane characterizes these disturbing revelations as a "distraction from Mr. Obama's domestic priorities."  Here is a brief excerpt from the article:

It is just the kind of distraction from Mr. Obama’s domestic priorities — repairing the economy, revamping the health care system, and addressing the long-term problems of energy and climate — that the White House wanted to avoid.

A series of investigations could exacerbate partisan divisions in Congress, just as the Obama administration is trying to push through the president’s ambitious domestic plans and needs all the support it can muster.

“He wants to dominate the discussion, and he wants the discussion to be about his domestic agenda — health care, energy and education,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor of political science at Towson University who studies the presidency.

The Bush national security controversies “are certainly a diversion from what he wants to do,” Professor Kumar said. “He wants to talk about the present and not the past.”

In the establishment world of our mainstream media outlets and politicians, breaking the law, at least when it is done by the nation's highest political leaders, is acceptable and any investigation into this law-breaking would be a "distraction" to Obama's domestic agenda (as if Republicans would be willing to acquiesce to Obama's "socialist" agenda anyways).  It doesn't matter how much evidence there is for such crimes.  Any investigation, according to the standard establishment argument, would be purely for partisan gain and would ignite a deep divide in Washington (as if Dems and Reps agreed on everything anyways).  In Shane's view, upholding the law is secondary to Obama's domestic agenda.  Why can't anyone seem to understand that this is not a partisan witch-hunt to go after Dick Cheney and Co. but a matter of upholding the rule of law.  After all, we are supposed to be "a nation of laws, not of men."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

President Obama, making a speech this morning in Accra, Ghana to the Ghanian Parliament, had this to say:

"No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to to the rule of brutality and bribery.  That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end."

President Obama, like most journalists and establishment politicians, refuses to apply this same logic to the country he actually lives in.  Instead of lecturing Africans on democracy and the rule of law, the President could have included this in his speech:

"Look, upholding the rule of law is the most important thing any democracy can do, especially when the law applies to the most senior government officials.  That is why I am opening an independent investigation into the conduct of the former Bush administration in their prosecution of the War on Terror.  9/11 was a horrific event, no one can deny that.  But the truth of the matter is that 9/11 was a direct response to US foreign policy in the Middle East, specifically the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, something Osama bin Laden took particular offense to, considering the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, are both located in this country (which also happens to have a large supply of oil).  Under my administration, it will not be the policy of the US government to lecture and criticize other countries for their failures to uphold the rule of law, democracy, and human rights when we have clearly not lived up to those standards, especially since 9/11.  Investigating the previous administration is not a partisan, vindictive attack on Republicans.  It is a matter of upholding the law.  We have clear stipulations, under domestic law and international treaties that we have signed and the US Senate has ratified, that our government does not torture, physically or psychologically.  There have been numerous reports, from the International Red Cross to Congressional investigations, that have highlighted the flawed legal opinions justifying the expansion of executive power and abuses of the law under the auspices of national security.  Under our system of governance, everyone is afforded a fair trail before an impartial judge.  Everyone, even so-called enemy combatants, has access to defense and is assumed innocence until proven guilty.  I am not here today to convict anyone for anything.  What I am saying is that the law applies to everyone in my country, not just ordinary citizens."

Just a thought...