Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Many Faces of John McCain

While Barack Obama is said to be outraged about the latest sound bytes coming from his former minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, where is our outrage at the nonstop coverage of this nonsense, and the egregious efforts to abort the First Amendment guarantee of separation between church and state?

Now that we know everything we ever wanted to know about Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and more that we didn't, now that ballistics tests show the efficacy of weapons of mass distraction when it comes to news delivery vehicles, maybe it's time some chickens come home to roost for those who have gotten a free ride from the mainstream media.

Forget about how many people can name even one Supreme Court justice. How about---how many people can name John McCain's position on abstinence-only HIV/AIDS funding? Roe v. Wade? Gun control? Iran? Who cares, after all, anyway?

Why interrupt a politcal lynching to interject substance into an otherwise vacuous campaign. After all, who can forget when the senator from Arizona numbly repeated "We do not torture" while on a recent visit to Europe. I'd like to ask Senator McCain if the Justice Department will look any different under him than under his predecessor, George W. Bush, or if we may expect to see the FBI look the other way when the CIA engages in interrogation techniques that violate Geneva, and the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. But, why challenge him when nobody else does.

Why, after all, would anyone question the current dangerous liaision between Hillary and McCain---both claiming that Obama is out of touch with "ordinary Americans" while benefiting from millions raked in by their spouses, both pushing for a reprieve from the pump. Oh, and excuse me, but does anyone really believe that the Clintons earned over $100 million, over the past seven years, from book sales and lectures? But, who cares about the truth when fiction is so compelling.

Like the truth that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain want to move us from supply side economics to "bandaid "economics, to a place where we'll be happy with the meagre 18 cent saving on gas tax while the capital gains tax continues to be reduced, and corporate America gets to gorge itself on even more tax credits and tax write-offs. Who cares if, as Obama suggests, reducing the cost of gas, for the summer, is only a "short-term, quick-fix,", and doesn't solve the problem. Who wants to solve the problem anyway? What for? After all, isn't that what a second term is for?

And, who cares about credibility? So what if John McCain has more faces than the legendary Greek goddess, Janus, all sharing one common denominator---they aim to please. So, if you don't like this side of McCain, he's got another, and yet another. John McCain has more sides than your average garden variety cineplex, but nobody in the mainstream media is going to let his many inconguities interfere with their insatiable urge to vomit sound byte invectives from the mouth of Obama's retired minister. Rather sinister the treatment the Arizona senator gets from those whose job it is not merely to cover, but to uncover, the news; almost as sinister as a one size fits all nightmare.

How can we resist photo-ops from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee? Shots of McCain retracing the footsteps of another president, Lyndon Johnson, in Appalachia, talking about how he plans to help those who suffer through no fault of their own. And, oh, how he likes to help those who suffer effortlessly--like those who lost their homes, as long as they didn't buy those homes for investment purposes, ahnd those who are jobless because they are looking for work, but can't find it. Can it be that his Party is setting it up so that only those in the upper one percentile have the opportunity to see profit from anything they do? And, where are the sound bytes for that one!

Yes, watch Johnny venture forth into New Orleans where he assures us that, like his compassionate conservative brothers, he will never allow another "failure in leadership" like Katrina while, at the same time, virtually guaranteeing a projected budget shortfall of $400 billion. Indeed, this is responsible leadership with a capital "R"-- as in "recession." Oh, and all this noise about suspending the tax on gasoline, for the summer, so that people can not only drive more, and vacation, but spend more of those tax rebates that are in the mail. Gas tax relief is not unlike the Bush rebate---yes, folks, both shining examples of bandaid economics.

Neither Clinton nor McCain is atttacking the gaping hole that lurks in America's driveway---the one that threatens to consume us all while making the oil barons richer, with their spend until you mend ethos. Oh, and let's not increase the corporate gains tax, people, let's decrease corporate income tax, and enhance the list of things businesses get to write off while one in five children in America goes to bed hungry.

Remember, too, McCain announced Tuesday a proposed $5,000 tax credit for health insurance, and his so-called free market approach to health care. How remarkably like Bush's approach to social security reform. So close, we won't feel a thing after the inauguration. In fact, we may not feel a thing for years to come until it hits. The idea of privatizing social services, and leaving it up to the individual to find their way out of hardship, especially at a time when 40 million Americans are uninsured, is not merely reckless, it's downright neanderthal.

So, who is the Republican nominee-in-waiting trying to kid when he says he wants to fight a war on poverty. Isn't that kind of like a war on terror--except it costs a lot less? Just how many of the millions of those without health insurance will benefit from the tax credit to choose their own health care provider McCain proposes? You can bet many more who belong to his country club will benefit from his suppport for capital gains cuts, and tax breaks for the wealthy.

Yet, why does the mainstream media remain so fixated on the hyperbole of Reverend Wright? Are we witnessing, yet again, media complicity in a campaign of distortion and disinformation in the name of boosting corporate revenue? Yes, and what about that very public face McCain put forward in Kentucky when he said that Barack Obama is out of touch with America's poor? How can anyone claim to care about poverty and hunger while, at the same time, striving to ease the tax burden on those who least suffer from tax burdens?

Let's not forget, too, the side of Senator McCain that just voted against a Senate bill which would ensure gender equity with respect to wages.

Irony of ironies: the John McCain we saw in New Orleans is the same one who didn't think Martin Luther King's birthday should be a national holiday, and the same McCain whose parody "Bomb Iran" exploded all over the Internet; yes, the same one who suffered painful, lifelong injuries at the hands of his captors while a prisoner of war, and wants to send our sons and daughters back for another hundred years.

With all this focus pocus on the excesses of one Democratic candidate's former Baptist preacher, John McCain remains largely impregnable. He 's getting away with not not talking about his stand on Roe v. Wade, gun control, stem cell research, withdrawal of troops from Iraq, how it is that the oil companies are making record profits when, by his own admission, his tax proposals will cost taxpayers close to $200 billion annually. He's getting away with economic policies that virtually guarantee college, and cars, are possible only for the very rich.

Not only can we not look forward to an exit strategy with respect to Iraq from the Republicans. It's clear they have no exit strategy for recession, either.

Information is often the first casualty of arbitrary power, and there is nothing more tenacious than arbitrary power. In a culture of rabid narcissism, how refreshing to see a candidate take time out to split himself into as many parts as necessary to make sure that he wins as big a chunk of the election pie as humanly possible.

The question isn't so much who is pulling McCain's strings as who has been in bed with him throughout the process, as well as who is helping the Republicans "politicize" Reverend Wright to sabotage a candidate who has been consistently ahead in pledged delegates, and popular votes. If the phenomenon that is Barack Obama is larger than Obama, the McCain factor is larger than anything McCain himself could ever have imagined.

I guess the good news is that nobody can say this election was stolen. The Democrats are giving it away.

Friday, April 25, 2008


"In individuals insanity is rare, but in groups, parties, nations and epochs it is the rule."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Special Interests"

Barack Obama was right when he said in Pennsylvania, last night, that the next president must take on the corporate special interests that have had their way for generations in this country.
But, make no mistake, whether we elect John McCain, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton in November, and even if all three miraculously agree to withdraw troops from Iraq, we will be involved in combat somewhere for years to come. Too many people are getting too damn rich from war in this country.

So, we can continue to expect to hear more noise coming from Hillary in Tehran’s direction, while Barack inches towards Afghanistan, or Pakistan, and McCain, well, he may not be clear about where his target is, but guaranteed he’ll come out swinging anyway. Yes, even if he has to outsource his foreign policy, we can rest assured there will be lots of heavy lifting, with a McCain presidency. What’s more, regardless of who sits in the White House, we can expect no let up in combat as long as there is money, and big money, to be made in war.

The challenge for Senator Obama is not just to take on the nebulous, and omnipresent “special interests,” which presumably include the pharmaceutical companies, the health care industry, the gun lobby, and the tobacco industry, but challenge the merchants of death, the military contractors, whose deconstruction of Baghdad has resulted in obscene profits, the likes of which are inconceivable, and grow fatter every day.

If we learned nothing else from the stunning disclosure, last Sunday, by The New York Times that so-called military analysts for major T.V. news networks like MSNBC, Fox, and CNN were not only scripted by the likes of Cheney and the Pentagon, but receiving billions of dollars in revenue from their defense contracts, we should learn this: we’re not only paying the price for their exploits at the pump, but every time we turn on the news, and expect to hear the truth about this war that will continue to cost the lives of the poorest among us while filling the coffers of those who inhabit the upper one percent.

Until we’ve figured out how to switch from a wartime, to a peace-time, economy, we will continue to see redeployments, or repositioning of troops, and not withdrawal.

And, any presidential candidate who vows to address the conflict of interest posed by taking money from corporate lobbies must also work to stop those who peddle influence while flagrantly profiteering off the blood, hopes, and dreams of our troops. Anything less will be business as usual in Washington.


When faced with two alternatives, I always pick the truth.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

This confirms...

what we already knew, and have been saying for years, that the first casualty of the war in Iraq was the mainstream media...

"But The (New York) Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated."

(excerpt from "Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon's Hidden Hand," an article in today's "New York Times.")

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Best Argument Against McCain

Democratic Party chair Howard Dean was right, in his Saturday morning radio address, when he said that Senator John McCain has no plan to fix our broken economy, and that nothing will change from the Bush years if he were to win election. Dean was right to suggest, too, that the economy is the number one issue, and will be for some time regardless of who becomes president.

But, recession and prosperity are cyclical, they come and go. Appointments to the Supreme Court are for life and, despite what the White House might like us to think, nominating a judge to the highest court in the land isn't like guesting on "Deal or No Deal."

This week's decision by the Supreme Court to end the moratorium on the death penalty by striking down a case that challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection should help bring the demographics of the Court into sharper focus.

And, regardless of who the Democratic presidential nominee is, come November, before casting a vote, think about this:Only two of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices were nominated by a Democratic president, both by Bill Clinton; the remaining seven were nominated by Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush. President George H.W. Bush picked Justice Souter who, compared with Alito and Roberts, is a flaming liberal. His son, as you know, nominated Justices Roberts and Alito.

Importantly, all but three of the justices are over 60. Justice John Paul Stevens will turn 88 on Sunday. He was nominated by President Ford; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton nominee, is 75. We can expect someone's water to break imminently, and to find another vacancy sooner rather than later.

With their latest decision, we got a sneak preview of the direction in which Chief Justice Roberts, who is a young'un compared with his associates, plans to take the Supreme Court given their 7 to 2 ruling against a challenge to lethal injection.

Justice Roberts argued that there wasn't sufficient proof that executing someone by a three-tiered protocol violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But, he didn't suggest how one is supposed to obtain that proof---interview someone after he's been executed? And, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Over the coming years, the Supremes will have the opportunity to hear more challenges, like whether or not D.C. has the right to ban handguns, whether a woman has the right to control her own reproductive destiny, as well as decide on issues from electronic surveillance, retroactive immunity, what constitutes torture to if you must forfeit your right to litigate against an employer for pay discrimination because you didn't file your lawsuit on time.

In your grandchildren's lifetime, the Court will hear cases that deal with crime and punishment, as well as just how far the "unitary executive" can go in claiming privilege.

Be scared, be very scared, and remember that the one who wrote the strongest opinion of all, on Wednesday, against capital punishment, calling it a "pointless and needless extinction of life," Justice Stevens, is the closest to retirement while his conservative colleagues, Justices Alito, Roberts, and Thomas, are young enough to be his children. Indeed, these Bush nominees to the bench are in their infancy.

Remember, too, that over the next 35 years, the Supremes will decide on issues we care about most, as well as those we can't even imagine. So, given that this President has already nominated nearly a third of those sitting on the Court, all lifetime appointments, one shudders to think what his chosen successor will do if given his turn up at bat, given that this executive branch has all but shredded not only the First and Fourth Amendments, but the Eighth Amendment, too.

Odds are, whoever occupies the Oval Office next will get to pick two more Supreme Court justices.

Imagine what this country will be like if six of nine on the bench were appointed by George W. Bush or one whose stated intentions are to follow in Bush's nu-cu-lar footsteps. When we retire a president, in January, the future of the Court, and the country, will be at stake.

If protecting the integrity of the Supreme Court, and the balance of power, by keeping a level ideological playing field, isn't a good enough reason to defeat John McCain then what is?

While it hurts a lot to have to choose between an empty refrigerator and an empty gas tank, the Democratic Party chair is right to highlight meat and potatoes issues, but the ramifications of electing any president with an ideological agenda who has the power to make two more appointments to the Supreme Court will reverberate for generations to come.

Monday, April 14, 2008

British Author Barred from U.S. for "Moral Turpitude"

Something we don't hear about enough from the mainstream media, thanks to the cat fight that has become the Democratic Party nomination process, is not only what we are doing to our detainees, who's giving the thumbs-up to do it, but also this administration's quiet jihad against foreign scholars, and writers.

Those who enter our borders for the purpose of giving readings, attending festivals, or otherwise entertaining us are treated in a most inhospitable, and often egregious, way. Such is the case with a British author who, last month, took a flight across the pond for the sole purpose of doing a reading to launch his recently published memoir.

PEN American Center reports that Sebastian Horsley, author of "Dandy in the Underworld," flew from London's Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport where he was denied entry into the United States.
"It is of course a matter of grave concern to us when a writer is exluded from the United States after searching his writings and statements for grounds of inadmissibility," PEN says in a press release. Indeed, it is a matter of concern for all of us who love literature and free speech. It is of even graver concern when customs officials take it upon themselves to become the arbiters of what constitutes right conduct or principles.

Think about what it must be like to book a flight to make an appearance, know that lots of people are waiting to hear what you have to say, spend 8 to 12 hours on an airplane, exit in a foreign land, and be greeted by some guys in customs who pull you over because they don't like the way you look. On March 18th, this is, reportedly, what happened to Mr. Horsley.

When Horsley explained that he is a writer, Horsley was detained for hours while officials Googled him, and searched the Internet to find as much of his writing as possible to use as incriminating evidence. They also allegedly spoke with him at length, got him to admit his previous involvement with "drug use and prostitution" and, on the basis of this, he was denied entry into this country. The stated reason for the denial: "moral turpitude."

Yes, a bad case of "MT" kept a noteworthy, and much-anticipated author from attending a major literary festival scheduled for the end of April, in New York, despite the fact that he, ostensibly, no criminal charges have ever been leveled against Sebastian Horsley.

What noxious irony. Reading about his plight, this morning, I couldn't help but think about what "moral turpitude" means, and how we can be audacious enough to call anyone else base or depraved especially in light of ABC News' stunning recent revelations that the highest level of government was involved in orchestrating a systematic program of prisoner abuse which received an enthusiastic thumbs-up, back in 2002, from the President's key henchmen --Messrs. Cheney, Tenet, Powell, and Madame Rice, all except, of course, for then attorney-general, John Ashcroft, a program we now know that Mr. Bush personally signed off on. Excuse me, but we let these guys pass through customs, and not an author who may, at worst, be accused of dandyism?

But, can somebody explain how what happened at Abu Ghraib can be described as anything other than "moral depravity?" What do you call setting a dog on someone, or holding their hooded head down, while pouring water on them, to simulate drowning? Moral virtue?

Yes, this group of "elitists," Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, met often, back in 2002, to discuss what interrogation tactics they could use, as well as how many times they could use it, on a case by case basis. Then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice chaired the committee and, in the face of growing opposition from then Secretary of State Colin Powell, acted as a cheerleader, encouraging the CIA with statements like "This is your baby. Go do it." Now that she is at the helm of the State Department, we'd like to hear what Condi Rice has to say about her department's recent practice of banning not just this one British author, but any who come from countries we now label "axis of evil," and/or whose opinions are deemd to be controversial?

A memo written in October, 2001, which is still classified, is said to detail unprecedented ways in which the military may be used domestically to protect the U.S. against itself, or to stifle dissent against what has become a top-down authoritarian state. J. Edgar Hoover would be very impressed.

But, how can it be called anything less than perverse, and depraved, when practices which most of the so-called civilized world has, for generations, considered torture are ratified in the White House; still, no one has charged anyone in this administration with "moral turpitude." Indeed, how would Mr. Cheney or Ms. Rice feel if, after retiring from government, and writing the inevitable memoir, they are denied entrance into a foreign country based on "moral turpitude?" Yes, that's right, and in this case, it would even be justifiable.

Yes, way back when those Situation Room meetings took place, in which Mr. Bush's advisors met to approve torture, John Ashcroft was outraged that they were holding meetings in the White House, no less. "History will not judge this kindly," the former attorney-general said.
But, how will history will judge those customs officials, in New Jersey, who singled out a British author, and refused to admit him based on his discussion of past drug use, and dalliance with prostitutes, what they call his "moral turpitude?" And, how will history judge those other prominent writers from Iran, and other officially verboten countries, who are routinely denied entrance for a host of reasons, but mainly to suppress the free flow of information, and do to the First Amendment what was done to those unfortunate enough to find themselves at Abu Ghraib.

How dare U.S. customs agents detain a foreign writer at one of our airports, subject him to hours of torturous interrogation, use his written works as ammunition against him, and then refuse to admit him to the country all because they consider him morally unfit. What an insult to civilization.

Barring British author Sebastian Horsley from entering the U.S. denies him the right to participate in an important festival, but it also sends a clear message just how perverse a nation we've become, as well as how far we've strayed from a free, and open society.
This absurd notion of customs enforcement demeans us as a principled country, one that respects the value of the world of letters, as well as the rule of law.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

a cruel struggle to forget...


Infatuated with
a slim
winding road
that leads
from his
hips to
the floor
he sits
talking to himself in
several languages.
sea-tossed and
broke he plots
his escape.
he can even smell
the time
his bicycle slips on
ice his thighs like a whisper
on the sheets.
there are those
who make a career of
how easily they dissolve
still others mark time.
what happens next often
surprises a cruel struggle to
even when it lasts.

by Jayne Lyn Stahl

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Just when it looked like it was safe to go back in the water, along comes Hillary Clinton doing her instant remake of “Jaws.” Is this how she plans to close the now 6 point gap with Obama, in Pennsylvania, by pouncing on statements he made at a private gathering, last week, in Northern California ?

Or, better still, is this high octane hardball how she intends to gain leverage, and widen the three point lead a recent poll gives her over McCain if the election were to be held today?It’s hugely absurd to watch an unholy alliance between the senators from Arizona and New York, both of whom smell blood in the water, neither of whom thinks principles are anything more than something one finds in one’s bank account.

But, what was it exactly that Barack said that has Hillary agitated, and showing off her newly cleaned fangs? Clinton assailed Obama for observing that working class voters, out of bitterness, “cling to guns or religion.” Obama later elaborated that his focus was on how guns and religion are often security blankets for those who have no other way to deal with their frustration, a frustration that is virtually guaranteed to continue if either Clinton or McCain occupy the Oval Office come January, 2009.

What fascinates most is how conveniently, and readily, both Clinton and McCain channel another senator, Joe McCarthy, when challenging whether or not Obama is “American” enough. It’s not so much her insistence that the Illinois senator is “demeaning,” but that he is arrogant and, more importantly, that his remarks “are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans.” But, the question is, which American’s values does Hillary reflect?

How convenient now for her to invoke what she calls her “Midwestern values and an unshakable faith in America and its policies.” Are we to infer from this attack, as was the case with Reverend Wright,, that she thinks Obama’s faith in America is shakable? And, if so, how can we sit idly by and allow yet another politician to challenge the “patriotism” af another in order to accrue political advantage? It’s terrifying to think that anyone running for office, in 2008, can be allowed to swoop down, and play the Joe McCarthy card against their opponent, without being called on it.

Again, specifically, which American values are the former First Lady endorsing, those, as she says, of “Americans who believe in the Second Amendment because it’s a matter of constitutional right. Americans who believe in God because it’s a matter of personal faith” and, if so, what about the First and Fifth Amendment separation of church and state? Does Mrs. Clinton support those, too, or just the amendment most likely to push her lead, in both Pennsylvania and Indiana, back to the double-digit range?

Her nascent love affair with the Second Amendment, and big thumbs-up to those folks who think they have a divine right to bear arms, is her way to reassure the gun guys that, if elected, she won’t take their toys away at a time when the Supreme Court is, for the first time in 70 years, deciding whether or not to let the Washington, D.C. ban on handguns stand. Her support of the gun lobby puts her squarely in McCain’s lap, and in his camp.

This latest Second Amendment posturing of hers is egregiously ironic in light of the fact that her husband, while president, attempted to get serious gun legislation through Congress a decade ago in response to the school shooting in Flint, Michigan of Kayla Rolland by her six year old classmate.

Yes, indeed, it was Hillary’s husband, Bill Clinton, who appeared on primetime TV, nine years ago, to say that “every single day there are 13 children who die from guns.” Imagine how many more children die today. Notably, Clinton ’s gun control legislation stalled because he faced a Republican Congress. Now, nearly a decade later, were she to be elected president, gun control legislation would stall not because of a Republican Congress, but because of a Democratic president. What next? A campaign ad showing Hillary Clinton lighting up a Virginia Slim, and pledging her support of the tobacco lobby?

Just to be clear, Hillary is taking up what she calls “unshakable faith” in America, she’s taking up the Almighty, defense of constitutional entitlement to possess weapons, and there are even some who contend that she might go so far as to neutralize her position on a woman’s right to choose if that’s what it takes to widen her margin of victory in Pennsylvania.

Moreover, the Clinton camp’s argument that Obama is “elitist and out of touch,” and that they are the ones whose values best reflect those of the working-class in this country, is especially ludicrous in light of recent revelations that Obama’s net worth is a fraction of the Clintons. But, one’s net worth shouldn’t be used as a yardstick for one’s values, one way or another, any more than the fact that one is a Harvard-trained attorney should be used to impugn him as one who has a superiority complex.

How can one fail to notice that Obama is a gentleman. He is a gentleman to concede that his remarks were poorly chosen. Indeed, it’s not his remarks, but his running mate that is poorly chosen. Is it now a prerequisite for one campaigning to know how to fend off a shark attack? Do we want jaws, and wars? Presidents who deprecate the notion of diplomacy as naivete? Ones who visualize military urgency , in the form of 3 A.M. phone calls, instead of foreign policy strategies?

After today’s unwarranted, and unsound, attack on Barack Obama, there can be little doubt that Hillary Clinton is every ounce a political opportunist whose posturing on so-called “Midwestern values” instantly morphed when she ran for senator of New York, and who will morph again should she run against John McCain when she may try to prove that she’s a better Christian, bigger defender of the right to bear arms, has higher testosterone levels, hence would be a stronger commander-in-chief, and may even push alternatives to legal abortion by increasing funding to programs like Aid to Dependent Families.

As for health care reform, the only major change we may expect from a Hillary White House, in that arena, will be more Americans required to carry medical insurance at the expense of stocking their shelves, and refrigerators with much needed groceries.

When all is said and done,, Clinton and McCain are not only united in challenging Barack Obama’s American values, but they both ensure that George W. Bush’s agenda will remain intact for at least another four years. And, if Hillary were to win back the White House, we’d be exchanging one bully for another.

Not that voting for Obama guarantees things will change radically, but it does assure one thing, that the iron hand can thrive in the velvet glove, and the possibility for dialogue and statesmanship still exists, as well as leadership that doesn’t resort to the tired old practice of impugning patriotism in order to prosper.

If, as we suspect, Senator Clinton is setting herself up to run against Senator Obama as McCain lite, in Pennsylvania and Indiana. so she can gain more working-class votes, then we should be hearing concession speeches from Hillary not from Obama.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Swiftboating John McCain?

On Monday, Senator John McCain, the Republican's lady in waiting for the presidential nomination, spoke vigorously of what he considered to be a "failure of leadership," on the part of his Democratic opponents, with respect not only to how the war in Iraq will flourish, but how it will be characterized to the public at large. The senator from Arizona even went so far as to suggest that Democratic candidates are being less than truthful when they call for troop withdrawal.

These remarks were made before an organization calling itself the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but another group, Vietnam Veterans against John McCain, has a thing or two to say about the wannabe commander-in-chief, and his prisoner of war record.

It now appears that John Kerry and John McCain have more in common than the fact that both their first names are John, and their years of service in Vietnam War. The Arizona senator is about to be swift boated by the same group that attempted to blow away John Kerry’s candidacy by launching a kamikaze attack against his miltary record.

The masterminds of the swiftboat blitzkrieg against Kerry, in 2004, formed Vietnam Vets against McCain last March. As Raw Story revealed, Jerry Kiley, one of the group’s founders, says that the Arizona senator “pretends to be a conservative Republican, but he’s not the man that people have projected onto him.," and this may be the best thing they have to say about McCain.

In a series of television ads Vietnam Vets plans to air soon, they aim to “expose” his support of the Communist regime in Vietnam, as well as allege that, as president, the presumptive Republican nominee would grant drivers licenses to “illegal immigrants.”

There are others who have gone so far as to allege that, while a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, McCain fabricated his war hero persona, collaborated with the Communists in order to avoid being tortured, recorded dozens of propaganda tapes for the North Vietnamese, as well as provided classified information thereby jeopardizing the lives of other American pilots. These wildeyed allegations, like those leveled against Senator Kerry, have been largely unsubstantiated, and may, in fact, derive from the same sources as the accusations that not only took Kerry down, but brought us another four years of George W. Bush.

As we later learned, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was a Republican-funded group that went after John Kerry with claims that he lied about acts of bravery in order to bolster his reputation as a Vietnam War hero, and to get two of his three purple hearts. Navy records repudiate those claims.

What is known is that initial financing for the 2004 Swift Boat venture came from a prosperous Houston contractor, Bob J. Perry, who gave millions to the Republicans, in support of the election of President Bush, and more than $25,000, in 2004, to the campaign of Tom DeLay.

But, who’s putting up the bucks this time around? Odds are, it isn’t anyone in either the Obama or Clinton camp. Maybe some folks in the Republican Party, fearful now that the neo-cons are on the endangered species list, folks who want to push through a more conservative agenda, and/or a more conservative presidential nominee. Like, for instance, former Republican congressman from Georgia, and newfangled Libertarian, Bob Barr who is now said to be “exploring” the possibility of a White House run.

Yes, the same Bob Barr who has been an outspoken proponent of the First Amendment, but also served as U.S. attorney under Ronald Reagan, and on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association.And, let’s not forget that Bob Barr has the dubious distinction of being among those who led the call for the impeachment of another president—Bill Clinton.

Perhaps, this time around, the swift boaters have an agenda to crash the Republican party, and infuse it with one whose values more closely resemble their own rich, white, Anglo-Saxon, male, conservative one?

But, regardless of their motivations, if allowed into the livingrooms of Mr. and Mrs. Undecided, the upcoming effort by the folks from Swift Boat may inadvertently turn the spotlight on what John McCain really stands for, and help end the love affair the mainstream media has had with the Arizona senator. If nothing else, maybe this time around, their hyperbolic, and inflammable ads will call attention to the absence of substantive investigative reporting, in this country, and we may yet come to know a bit more not just about McCain's service to his country, but to the disservice he pays to to returning veterans by not backing programs that will enable them to improve their lives once they return from what can only be seen as a futile, and failed war.

Indeed, maybe a primetime advertising campaign that questions not the honor, but the honesty of his war hero status will bring John McCain back to earth with regard to what are rightfully this country's priorities after seven plus years of ravaging the environment and the economy. If it takes swift-boating to show the Arizona senator is more concerned with what he calls the “calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people” that will result from an American withdrawal than he is for the casualties of this war, which now number more than 4,000 dead, and nearly ten times as many injured, then so be it.

And, if this group manages to take a seismic shift of attention away from Reverend Wright, and make us focus instead on the more than half a million folks who come under the heading of “collateral damage,” as well as other issues, posted on Senator McCain’s Web site, that deserve our immediate, and undivided attention like his position on appointing judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade, his support of what he considers the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and his position that “gun control is a proven failure in fighting crime,” so much the better.

Whatever it takes to ignite a wild fire of righteous indignation on the part of the American public is surely worth the sound byte as righteous indignation is justified when John McCain attempts to pass himself off as Obama lite, and blur the lines between red and blue. Righteous indignation is also a reasonable response to anyone who tries to extend his personal appeal beyond the upper one percent of the population who will benefit from his presidency, and on to our youngsters, especially our youngsters of color.

We already know how much John McCain supports the war in Iraq, the troop escalation, General Petraeus, and the continuation of George W. Bush's legacy as demander-in-chief with respect to the military, but does he support the vets? As a veteran of another less than distinguished battle himself , and a prisoner of war, to boot, he will have to prove his support, as well as stop posturing on where he stands on giving the green light to the CIA to waterboard. It is no longer okay to say we don't support torture, but legislatively allow techniques that can only be called torture.

If another Swift Boat campaign picks up momentum, like it did in 2004, maybe John McCain will be embarrassed into sponsoring a new G.I. bill, the Post 9-11 Veterans Assistance Act, which will help Iraq war veterans out with tuition, room, and board, and provide them with opportunity, a bill he currently has declined to sponsor. Maybe he will also work with Congress to come up with some solution to the agonizing problem of homelessness among returning veterans.

A little air time won’t hurt with respect to demanding answers on other issues like whether or not it's okay for the next president to have to consult an advisor before getting back to us on the economy, as well as whether or not to extend an abstinence-only requirement for HIV/AIDS funding. Which part of the word Africa is not worth saving?

While it may, after all, be child’s play to discredit any veterans group that makes such explosive claims about a presidential candidate, the love affair between the media and John McCain must end, and there must be a closer examination of his stand on everything from how he plans to solve the health care crisis, deal with carpetbagger oil conglomerates to his plans for government assistance to corporate America.

It's too bad if it takes something like swiftboating to set the record straight. That just means those who bring us the news aren't doing their job, or maybe their efforts are being obstructed. Either way, where John McCain is concerned, the hard questions are not being asked, and they’re long overdue.

Monday, April 07, 2008

but the truth matters more...

Bill Moyers has just been awarded the prestigious Ridenhour Courage Prize. The following excerpt from his extraordinary acceptance speech comes courtesy of The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation:

"So for all the blunders for which we are culpable; for all the disillusionment that has set in among journalists with every fresh report of job cuts and disappearing news space; for all the barons and buccaneers turning the press into a karaoke of power; for all the desecration visited on broadcast journalism by the corporate networks; for all the nonsense to which so many aspiring young journalists are consigned; and for all the fears about the eroding quality of the craft, I still answer emphatically when young people ask me, "Should I go into journalism today?" Sometimes it is difficult to urge them on, especially when serious questions are being asked about how loyal our society is to the reality as well as to the idea of an independent and free press. But I almost always answer, "Yes, if you have a fire in your belly, you can still make a difference."

I remind them of how often investigative reporting has played a crucial role in making the crooked straight. I remind them how news bureaus abroad are a form of national security that can tell us what our government won't. I remind them that as America grows more diverse, it's essential to have reporters, editors, producers and writers who reflect these new rising voices and concerns. And I remind them that facts can still drive the argument and tug us in the direction of greater equality and a more democratic society. Journalism still matters.

But I also tell them there is something more important than journalism, and that is the truth. "

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Phi Beta Interrogator

While their numbers may be alarmingly small, there are more interrogators who witnessed investigation techniques that they found reprehensible, indeed, and some who even refused to participate, than we know about. In some cases, their statement of resistance to what they considered egregious, immoral acts came in the suicide notes they left behind.

We may never know the exact number of those whose euphemistic "non-hostile weapons discharge," death by their own hand, had to do with what they witnessed, or what they were forced to engage in, while in combat in Iraq, but we do know that suicides, as a result of service in Iraq, have reached their highest level since the military started keeping records twenty years ago. And, the number of those soldiers who attempt suicide, but don't succeed, is now almost as great as the number of U.S. war casualties.

We question, too, why those who acquiesce, remain neutral, and go along with these practices can flick lit cigarettes at prisoners, then look themselves in the mirror the next day.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered 40 years ago yesterday, once said: "The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict." But, what part of Hell is reserved for those who force us into times of great moral conflict? If nothing else, this administration's decision to bomb Baghdad, invade and occupy Iraq, has put us into one of those times.

What a horrific statement that some have opted to take their own lives rather than participate in practices that go against their principles and that, as an ineluctable consequence of an illegal war, there is now an honor society of interrogators, and career officers, whose disgust with the way their government has chosen to run this war has come to be known posthumously.

While there are only a handful of cases where we know that the decision to end one's life can be directly correlated with what was witnessed on the battlefield during this so-called war on terror, there are doubtless many more we will never hear about. One wasted, gifted life that is documented is that of Alyssa Peterson, trained Army interrogator, who, in 2003, found the interrogation techniques being used at her prison, in northeastern Iraq, so disturbing that "She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit." (E & P)

So, in mid-September, 2003, this 27 year old devout Mormon, psychology major, career intelligence officer, put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.

Coincidentally, that same year, 2003, the Justice Department was busy drafting a memo, classified until last week. John Yoo, a deputy in the department who wrote the memo, argued that military interrogators should be granted immunity from federal prosecution when using "aggressive" techniques. His reasoni: whatever happens to the detainee, interrogators must be protected by "a national and international version of self-defense." But, it really boils down to the Nuremberg defense--namely, that they were just following orders, and that, in times of war, the president's ubiquitous powers allows him to even defy Geneva, and international law.

According to Yoo's memo, the only time acts by an interrogator can be considered criminal is when they "shock the conscience," and/or are inspired by "malice or sadism." A few prominent senators, Carl Levin and Patrick Leahy among them, pointed out that Abu Ghraib is a shining example of interrogation techniques that fall into that category. Right they are, but there are many more Abu Ghraibs, and worse, that we never hear about, cases like that of Gitmo inmate, Binyam Mohamed, a British citizen, and one of the only British detainees left at the naval base in Cuba, who states that interrogators where he was held in Morocco "sliced his chest with a razor and then made cuts in his genitals."

Mohamed was initially held in Pakistan for a few months, where he was routinely tortured, then transferred to Morocco for more of the same, and then on to the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. One wonders if slicing one's chest with a razor, and then one's genitals would "shock the conscience" of someone in the Justice Department today, or if we have become so desensitized by reports of brutality, of Web decapitation, of primetime hangings of former world leaders, that like so much water, it would roll off their back? . Moreover, one also wonders how the definition of what "shocks" has changed, over the past half dozen years or so, and what that says about our society. Indeed, if we were "waiting for the barbarians," they are here and, for the most part, waving American flags.

Even more scary, we may not know, in our lifetimes, if more horrible punishment was inflicted by our military interrogators as a method of coercing confessions if the Pentagon gets its way. Now that the war crimes tribunals are in session, at Gitmo, our first military tribunals since World War II, journalists are under orders, from the Pentagon, not to divulge any comments, names, or proceedings that the Pentagon assigns a "protected," or classified status.

Perhaps as a way to preclude future war crimes charges for interrogators, the Department of Defense has put a silencer on 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed's testimony about whether or not he was waterboarded, a practice which is prohibited by the Army Fields Manual. Members of the jury, at these kangaroo courts, are military officers, and they are the only ones who have access to evidence withheld from the press, and American taxpayers.

What's more, transcripts from military hearings in which Mohammed and others may provide evidence they were tortured remain sealed, something the American Civil Liberties Union is currently fighting in federal court. After all, if we have to wait another five years for the contents of these transcripts to be revealed, as we did with the Yoo memo, those at the top who were responsible for giving the command to execute torture will no longer be in power.

Even the proceedings, in court, of the military commissions are being withheld from the public. Press members must agree not to repeat anything said in court, or they will be in violation of Pentagon rules. Think about this, for a moment, it is the Pentagon, not the Judge, who is issuing a gag order here. As staff attorney for the ACLU, Ben Wizen, points out "governments don't censor information to conceal lies. They censor information to conceal the truth."

We're waiting for members of Congress, and candidates for the presidency to ask-- why all the secrecy if what the government is doing is aboveboard, honorable, and legal?

When he vetoed the Intelligence Authorization Act, last month, a measure which would require that the Central Intelligence Agency adhere to the principles laid out in the Army Field Manual which bans waterboarding, and other so-called enhanced alternative interrogation methods, President Bush claimed that the CIA may need to use harsh tactics, calling these methods "one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror." The president even contends that these techniques have "a proven track record of keeping America safe." Congress failed to override his veto.

By the way, when you hear, in the coming months, that there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans, bear in mind that all but 5 Republicans voted to allow the CIA to use waterboarding, and other interrogation techniques that are tantamount to torture. It's time to give a dishonorable discharge to those whose flagrant contempt of human rights hide behind four letter words like "safe."

How can we not ask what Alyssa Peterson, who witnessed these methods being used firsthand, and then turned her gun on herself when forced to participate, response might be to the president's claim that techniques like waterboarding are "valuable tools?" Peterson was a career intelligence officer.

Likewise, how can we not help but ask what Army colonel Ted Westhusing's response to the president's claims that torture keeps America safe would be.

Westhusing, a full professor at West Point whose specialty had been military ethics, was "the highest ranking officer to die in Iraq," and he died by his own hand leaving a suicide note, redacted by his superiors, which implicates his commanders, General Petraeus and Major General Joseph Fil. The note says simply "I cannot support a mission that leads to corruption, human rights abuses and liars. I am sullied--no more...I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored." His widow suggests that her husband chose to end his life so that others could see "what was going on" in Iraq. (E & P)

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is now considering a new measure, HR 1352, the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act, which will not only require the Secretary of State to give Congress an annual rundown of those countries known to practice torture (including our own, according to Canada), but prohibit the U.S. from extraordinary rendition---transferring detainees, whether directly or otherwise, from countries where torture is officially prohibited to those that allow for torture.

Should this legislation pass, British citizen Mohamed, who was rendered from Pakistan to Morocco to Guantanamo Bay, won't be the only one to benefit. We will no longer associate military suicide with an honor society for interrogators, and career officers, who have themselves become casualties of a war without ethics, and without end.

Often, there is more courage in refusal, and defection than in resignation, and compliance. And, to those military interrogators who persist in going along for the ride, remember, in the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, "A man can't ride your back unless it's bent."

Friday, April 04, 2008


"The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."

Martin Luther King

Thursday, April 03, 2008

And another...

from Aunt Sylvia, my father's big sister, who fast approaches 95. Sylvia, you'll recall, was precluded from submitting stories to her local newspaper because the arthritis in her hands is so severe she can barely move her fingers. Notably, arthritis hasn't dampened her spirits nor her sense of humor.

Thrilled by the idea of blogging, Sylvia asks me to post the below, on her behalf, something else she recalls from her girlhood:

"During the Depression, there was a song called '10 cents a dance. That's all they pay me.' Today, with inflation, it is $4,300 a night. Pity the poor who were not able to accompany Spitzer."