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?