Wednesday, July 30, 2008

McCain Ad

While Obama goes to Paris, McCain goes to Paris Hilton!

from Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

The below piece comes courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

The Wave of "Capitol Crimes" Continues

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Like the largesse he spread so bountifully to members of Congress and the White House staff -- countless fancy meals, skybox tickets to basketball games and U2 concerts, golfing sprees in Scotland -- Jack Abramoff is the gift that keeps on giving.

The notorious lobbyist and his cohorts (including conservatives Tom Delay, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed) shook down Native American tribal councils and other clients for tens of millions of dollars, buying influence via a coalition of equally corrupt government officials and cronies dedicated to dismantling government by selling it off, making massive profits as they tore the principles of a representative democracy to shreds.

A report earlier this summer from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform builds on an earlier committee investigation that detailed some 485 contacts between Abramoff and the Bush administration. According to the new report, "Senior White House officials told the Committee that White House officials held Mr. Abramoff and members of his lobbying team in high regard and solicited recommendations from Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues on policy matters."

Now Abramoff's doing time in Maryland, at a minimum security Federal prison, serving five years and ten months for unrelated, fraudulent business practices involving a fake wire transfer he and a partner fabricated to secure a loan to buy SunCruz Casinos, a line of Florida cruise ships that ferried high and low rollers into international waters to gamble (its original owner, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, was gunned down, Mafia-style, in February 2001).

But come September, Abramoff will be sentenced for his larger-than-life role in one of the biggest scandals in American history, a collection of outrages that has already sent one member of Congress to jail, others into retirement and dozens of accomplices running for cover.

Over the last couple of years he has been singing to the authorities, which is why he has been kept in a detention facility close to DC and the reason his sentencing for tax evasion, the defrauding of Indians and the bribing of Washington officials has been delayed -- the FBI is thought to be using Abramoff's testimony to build an ever-expanding case that may continue to shake those who live within the Beltway bubble for months and years to come.

Bill Moyers Journal is airing an updated edition of "Capitol Crimes," a special that was first produced for public television two years ago, relating the entire sordid story of the Abramoff scandals. Produced by Sherry Jones, the rebroadcast comes at a moment of renewed interest, with not only Abramoff's sentencing imminent, but the most important national elections in decades little more than three months away and continuing, seemingly daily revelations of further, profligate abuses of power.

Monday saw the publication of a 140-page report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, confirming that, as the Washington Post recounted, "For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a 'farm system' for Republicans at the Justice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.

"That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department's second-in-command... [The report] concluded yesterday that Goodling and others had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in 'misconduct,' a finding that could expose them to further scrutiny and sanctions."

With the next day's sunrise came the indictment of Alaskan Republican Ted Stevens, the first sitting US Senator to face criminal charges in 15 years. Apparently, the senator was playing the home version of "The Price Is Right," for among the gifts a grand jury says were illegally rewarded him by the oil company VECO were a Viking gas grill, tool cabinet and a wraparound deck for his mountainside house in Anchorage. In fact, VECO allegedly gave the place an entire new first floor, with two bedrooms and a bath. How neighborly.

(By the way, just to round the circle, Senator Stevens received $1000 in campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff directly, which subsequently he donated to the Alaskan chapter of the Red Cross, and $16,500 from Native American tribes and others represented by Abramoff, which Stevens gave to other charities.)

Coincidentally, this week also marks the publication of a new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, written by Thomas Frank, the author of What's the Matter with Kansas? In an essay in the August issue of Harper's magazine, adapted from the book, Frank adroitly weaves the actions of Abramoff and his pals into a vastly larger ideological framework.

"Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident," he writes, "nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, what follows from that: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.

"... The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school. Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action."

Have we the stamina, commitment -- or even the attention span -- to take such action? Abramoff may be cooling his heels in minimum security, but his pals Delay, Norquist and Reed appear on television and radio whose hosts treat them as political savants with nary a nod to their past nefarious association with Abramoff. Few in the audience seem to notice or care.

Former House majority leader Delay's awaiting trial on money laundering charges, and the incorrigible Ralph Reed, who played Christian pastors in Texas for suckers in enlisting their unwitting help for Abramoff's gambling clients, even has a political potboiler of a novel out -- Dark Horse, the story of a failed Democratic presidential candidate who finds God, then runs as an independent, funded, presumably, by the supreme being's political action committee.

"Do we Americans really want good government?" That's a question asked, not by Thomas Frank, but the muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, writing more than a century ago in his book, The Shame of the Cities. He wrote, "We are a free and sovereign people, we govern ourselves and the government is ours. But that is the point. We are responsible, not our leaders, since we follow them. We let them divert our loyalty from the United States to some 'party;' we let them boss the party and turn our municipal democracies into autocracies and our republican nation into a plutocracy. We cheat our government and we let our leaders loot it, and we let them wheedle and bribe our sovereignty from us."

From more than a hundred years' distance, Steffens would recognize Abramoff & company for what they are. And we for who we are; a nation too easily distracted and looking the other way as everything rightfully ours is taken.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

The Terror Gang

Both Barack Obama and John McCain are chomping at the bit to use military force, a strategy that, according to a recent Rand center report, is effective only 7% of the time.

The study also asserts "there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," that the phrase "war on terror" only perpetuates what is essentially a criminal act, and what we already know, that there is no such thing as a terror "war." (AP) Indeed, the think tank financed by our tax dollars says good intelligence, and policing, are the most effective ways of dealing with counterterrorism efforts.

Notably, in Berlin, Obama not only echoed JFK's ardent pledge to fight communism, he acknowledged that he will continue the so-called "war on terror," adding that "we must defeat terror." But, how does he propose to do that and, more importantly, what will he do with the terror infrastructure we ourselves created in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Iran with the introduction of mercenaries, a.k.a. war contractors?

We're growing insurgents in Iran, and fighting insurgents in Iraq. It's now conventional wisdom that the U.S. entered a sovereign country illegally, seized its assets, pummeled its president and his palace, and now has the gall to call the resistance "insurgents." Don't believe the "surge" freaks, like McCain, who tell you the insurgency, in Iraq, is disappearing. Anywhere there is illegal occupation, there will be justifiable insurrection.

And, judging by his latest foreign policy photo ops, don't expect to see any seismic shift in an Obama administration, but instead the same old preemptive military war games of his predecessor, that is, unless we call him on this, and do it now.

Moreover, while he's making noises about "torture," we need to hear that, as president, Mr. Obama will stop the heinous practice of using international airspace to fly those we detain to countries that openly torture.

As a prospective commander-in-chief, he must also make it known that he not only has an exit strategy for our troops, in Iraq, but for Halliburton, Blackwater, and the countless bloodsuckers who have been carpetbagging in that stolen country for the past 6 years. It's time to tell the terror gang to fold up their tents, and come home.

It's also time for Obama to speak out against the latest outrage coming from the desk of Attorney General Michael Mukasey who now urges Congress to issue a "new" declaration of war against Al Qaeda. Does anyone remember an old declaration of war against Iraq, or Al Qaeda, being ratified by Congress? Yes, of course, Congress approved funding, but for an undeclared war.

But, why this sudden urgency, on the part of the Justice Department, to legitimize a bastard war? Can it be that the attorney general is worried that the promise of immunity from war crimes, given by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, will be rescinded by a new Congress, and/or president?

If Mukasey succeeds and, despite the findings of a governmental research group that treating so-called terrorists like warriors flat out doesn't work, he manages to get a formal declaration of war against Al Qaeda, George W. Bush won't be the only commander-in-chief who can sleep better at night knowing that waterboarding, and other "enhanced alternative interrogation techniques," can be applied with impunity, and that we can call whomever we please an "unlawful enemy combatant," continue to hold them indefinitely without ever charging them, or giving them access to the evidence against them.

John McCain is right. We know way more where he stands on "national security" than we do about Barack Obama, but that may not be such a good thing. After all, we know where McCain stands on what he calls Islamofascism. Let's just say that it's in keeping with his stand on affirmative action, and a stone's throw from his position on electronic eavesdropping. Remember, too, that his campaign advisors are also on the boards of AT&T, and other telecoms who will benefit from the new F.I.S.A. retroactive immunity clause.

Who can believe, but it was nearly 50 years ago that we got to see a presidential debate for the first time on television with Kennedy and Nixon. And, with Obama and McCain, we now know what a presidential chat room looks while the pair talk at each other as if text messaging. If the medium is the message, then presidential politics may be forever trivialized, and substantively neutralized.

"No one welcomes war," says Obama. Not true---the holders of those huge military contracts, like Halliburton, do; Blackwater does, manufacturers of battle gear, and cluster bombs, do. The question isn't who welcomes war, but who will do something to prevent it, and who has the moxie to stand up to the war machine? Not McCain, of course, who's angling for a way to keep a base of operations in Baghdad for generations, and not Obama who intends to redeploy troops into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and is eyeballing Tehran. But if not Mr. Obama, then who?

What Barack Obama's argument boils down to is---right war, wrong theatre. Or, put differently, the notion of a "war on terror" isn't inherently flawed, only our execution of it is. In the end, do we have any more confidence that a President Obama will oppose those forces in the Pentagon, and intelligence agencies, who are working overtime in a clandestine effort to topple the Ahmadinejad leadership, as well as those who strive for a military strike against Iran? Can we expect fairness, and balance, from a Barack administration, or just the usual laissez-faire policies when it comes to the shameful Israeli embargo of Gaza?

With his talk of nuclear non-proliferation, Obama is clearly heading in the right direction while McCain is still waiting for that 3 A.M. phone call, but nuclear non-proliferation is not the same as disarmament. A world without nuclear weapons must start with a world without cluster bombs, and those who gorge themselves on profits from their manufacture.

When, in the 1920's, Al Capone and his gang terrorized New York, and the country, then President Calvin Coolidge didn't declare a "war on the Mafia." Ironically, too, a war of that nature would have been far more winnable than a war on "terror."

And, if more members of Congress had bothered to read the USA Patriot Act before signing off on it, making it law, we wouldn't be facing such a grave threat to civil liberties today.

Both Senators McCain and Obama will be well-advised to familiarize themselves with findings that admonish American leadership for using hackneyed, and hopelessly abstract, phraseology like "war on terror," and instead call for "counterterrorism" efforts.

Counterterrorism doesn't sound as sexy, and won't be nearly as profitable, but is guaranteed to save more lives, and to keep us from continuing to be a global embarrassment.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Remember the 1968 Democratic Convention

in Chicago? Amazing, isn't it, that it's nearly 40 years ago to the day. Who can forget the tsunami of our discontent? Not just with the war in Vietnam, but with all the vestigial lies, and gratuitous distortions we've come to associate with how governments are run.

Only a year or two later, I joined J.M. Coetzee, and others, who were staging a sit-in at the administration building of the State University of New York Buffalo campus.

Am I dating myself? You got a better suggestion?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Andrew McCain Resigns from Silver State Bank

On the eve of President Bush's signing of the housing bill which will regulate, as well as bail out, mortgage behemoth Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and create a $300 billion program to expand the Federal Housing Administration's capacity to guarantee mortgages, comes word that Andrew McCain, son of presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, has resigned today from Silver State Bank's board of directors. The bank cites "personal reasons" for Mr. McCain's sudden departure (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

McCain was appointed to the board of the Henderson, Nevada bank in February where he served on the Audit Committee.

Prior to coming to Silver State, he was director of the Choice Bank in Scottsdale, Arizona until its merger with Silver State Bancorp which has 13 branches in Southern Las Vegas, and 4 branches in Arizona, and California. While, according to Yahoo Finance, construction and land loans make up more than 70% of the bank's lending portfolios, Silver State also lists residential mortgage loans as among its specialties.

"When the casinos treat you poorly, let Silver State treat you like a valued customer" is the bank's declared mission statement. Given widespread speculation about the prospect of hundreds of bank failings, a motto like this one is enough to cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up, as well as ask a few hugely important questions.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What the banks did...

What the banks did to mortgage holders can properly be called date rape.

As filmmaker and media critic, Danny Schechter, says "You can't blame the victim for the crime."

What's more, the generation that coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption" is now conspicuously consuming itself.

by Michael Winship

The below article comes courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal and Public Affairs Television:

The Company We Keep

By Michael Winship

At one point during the five and a half years John McCain spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he was tortured and beaten so badly he tried to kill himself.

After four days of this brutality, he gave in and agreed to make a false confession, telling lies to end the unbearable pain. Later, he would write, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

Similar techniques were utilized in the Asian war preceding Vietnam – Korea. The Communist Chinese used them to interrogate US POW’s and force them to confess to things they didn’t do, such as germ warfare.

A chart of the Chinese methods, compiled in 1957 by an American sociologist, lists the methods, among them, “Sleep Deprivation,” “Semi-Starvation,” “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” “Prolonged Constraint,” and “Exposure.” The effects are listed, too: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns,” and others.

On July 2, The New York Times reported that the chart had made a surprise return appearance, this time at Guantanamo Bay, where in 2002 it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators “Coercive Management Techniques,” to be used when interrogating detainees held there as prisoners in the war on terror.

In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of enemies past, tactics we once were quick to call torture. Tactics created not to get at the truth but to manufacture lies that we then characterize as credible. How can we expect this to be an effective way to extract real information from terrorists?

Since 2005, Congress has banned the use of such methods by the military but we have no way of knowing whether the CIA continues to use them (For example, The Associated Press reported Thursday that, “CIA Director Michael Hayden banned waterboarding in 2006, but government officials have said it remains a possibility if approved by the attorney general, the CIA chief and the president).”

Such is the secrecy and deliberate obfuscation that have characterized our nation’s descent into lawlessness and duplicity, depicted brilliantly in New Yorker magazine investigative reporter Jane Mayer’s new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.

Post 9/11, she reports, “For the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment US-held detainees, making torture the official law of the land in all but name.” The late American historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., she says, told her that “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.”

Over lunch in 2006, the year before Schlesinger died, he said, “No position taken had done more damage to the American reputation in the world -- ever.”

Read all of this in light of the series of hearings on Capitol Hill over the last weeks in which members of Congress have tried to find out how in the name of protecting us from further terrorist attacks, the Bush White House has twisted or abandoned the law to allow what most of the international community recognizes as torture.

The administration remains in denial. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee, “I don’t know of any acts of torture that have been committed by individuals in developing information,” he said. “So I would not certainly make an assumption. I would attribute the absence of an attack [since 9/11] at least in part, because there have been specific attacks that have been disrupted, to the excellent work and the dedication and commitment of people whose lives are dedicated to defending the country. Interrogators have used enhanced interrogation techniques but they haven’t used torture.” Grim hairsplitting.

This week, as the result of a Freedom of Information Act suit, the ACLU received a heavily redacted copy of an infamous August 2, 2002 memo, signed by then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee and written with his subordinate, the equally infamous John Yoo. “An individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” it reads. “… The absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.”

Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU’s national security project told Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent, “Imagine that in an ordinary criminal prosecution a bank robber tortures a bank manager to get the combination to a vault. He argues that the torture was not to inflict pain, but to get the combination. Every torturer has a reason other than to cause pain. If you're going to let people off the hook for an intention other than to cause pain, you're not going to be able to prosecute anyone for torture.”

Deborah Pearlstein, a constitutional scholar and human rights lawyer who has spent time at Guantanamo monitoring conditions there, testified to Congress that, “As of 2006, there had been more than 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel have, incredibly, alleged to have abused or killed detainees. This figure is based almost entirely on the U.S. government's own documentation. These cases involved more than 600 U.S. personnel and more than 460 detainees held at U.S. facilities throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. They included some l00-plus detainees who died in U.S. custody, including 34 whose deaths the Defense Department reports as homicides. At least eight of these detainees were, by any definition of the term, tortured to death.”

Pearlstein cited a recent British study that discovered that our detainee policies had led to Britain’s withdrawal from joint, covert counterterrorism operations with the CIA “because the U.S. failed to offer adequate assurances against inhumane treatment.” The House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has issued a report stating the United States can’t be trusted to tell the truth about how it interrogates detainees. “Given the clear differences in definition,” the report concludes, “the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.”

On Monday, the first American war crimes trial in since World War II opened at Guantanamo, the United States presenting its case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan before a jury of US military officers. Hamdan, who at the time of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden’s driver, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Two surface-to-air missiles were found in a car he was driving – he says it was a borrowed vehicle and that he had no idea what was in the trunk. The judge has thrown out confessions Hamdan made in Afghanistan after his capture. “The interests of justice are not served by admitting these statements,” the judge said, “because of the highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made.” Hamdan was bound for long periods of time, with a bag over his head.

You will know us by the company we keep. The burners of witches and the medieval masters of thumbscrews and Iron Maidens, the interrogators of the Spanish inquisition, the North Vietnamese soldiers who beat John McCain and his fellow American prisoners of war into false confessions. We have joined their ranks.

In the almost seven years since 9/11, we have countered terror not only with vigilance and war but fear, imprisonment without due process and yes, torture. Torture is no more about learning the truth than rape is about sex. Both are about the violent abuse of power.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs programBill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Words to live by...

"We don't beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well, and living fully."

Randy Pausch

If you live...

If you live long enough, you get to see everything go on sale!



Ever wonder why California has earthquakes? It can't afford a face lift!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Any Surprise Here?

According to the Progress Report, the latest Internal Revenue Service data indicates that "the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation's adjusted gross income for two decades" and "possibly the highest since 1929.” Meanwhile, "the average tax rate of the wealthiest 1% fell to its lowest level in at least 18 years."

Excuse me, but whose policies can we attribute this gross economic inequity to, and which party do we want to elect to give us four more years of this financial disenfranchisement?

by Paul Krassner

Welcome to Camp Mogul

By Paul Krassner

My irreverent friend, Khan Manka, Chairman & CEO of Manka Brothers Studios, had broken his ankle and was afraid he wouldn’t be able to attend the 26th annual gathering of the nation’s most powerful executives and their trophy wives in Sun Valley, Idaho. I really wanted to spy on this summer camp for billionaires, so I suggested that Manka get a wheelchair, then I could serve as his official wheelchair pusher, and he immediately went for the idea.

This by-now traditional five-day extravaganza for 300 guests has been hosted by Wall Street investment banker Herbert Allen, President and CEO of Allen & Company. There were moguls all over the campground, overflowing with the country’s most influential leaders in business, entertainment and media. I could feel myself developing a severe case of imposter syndrome.

Saturday was Talent Night, and it was absolutely hysterical. Part-time Sun Valley resident Tom Hanks served as the emcee. Warren Buffet was the opening act, with a medley of Jimmy Buffet songs, all sung out of tune. founder Jeff Bezos skillfully juggled five Kindels (wireless electronic books). Edgar Bronfman from Warner Music--dressed like the character Tevya in *Fiddler on the Roof*--sang with zest, “If I Were a Rich Man.” Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang--who had turned down an offer from Microsoft to buy Yahoo earlier this year--sang a duet with the ex-CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, harmonizing on a song from *Annie Get Your Gun,* “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” Meg Whitman of eBay did a striptease, auctioning off each item of clothing, one at a time, and over 3-million dollars was raised for an unnamed charity.

There had been a lot of drinking in the evening, and it was obviously too much booze that loosened up Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch’s tongue. He was shouting at the moon: “Who says there are 27 million slaves around the fucking world? How would anybody know? Do they have census takers or what? Where can I get one? You tell me! I’ll decide!”

Also, a screaming match broke out between the co-founders of Google, Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt, over the infamous cover of the *New Yorker,* which depicted Barack and Michelle Obama as the new President and First Lady, as a terrorist couple doing the fist-bump gesture in the Oval Office. Sergei thought it was a brilliant satirical illustration, but Eric thought it was racist and irresponsible.

Last year, the surprise guest was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This year, it was Steven Beschloss, the editor of a new magazine which will be launched this fall and be delivered to 100,000 U.S. households with an average net worth of $25-million. There were piles of preview copies scattered about.

While Beschloss was holding court in an outdoor area, annoying mosquitoes kept buzzing around the crowd. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, yelled at him, “I gues we’ll never hear *your* readers whining about a mental recession. And those of your subscribers who are in the sub-prime mortgage industry--these mosquitoes are *their* fault, because, along with all the home foreclosures they’re responsible for, the stagnant water in abandoned pools turns into new breeding grounds for mosquitoes.”

Others drowned him out by singing the mogul version of good old-fashioned camp songs, such as “This Land Is *My* Land, This Land Is *My* Land” and “KumBuyYahoo.” I couldn’t help but notice that billionaire activist Carl Icahn snapped his fingers as if having an epiphany; a week later he ended up on Yahoo’s board of directors.

Khan Manka explained that the bigwigs at these events have so-called “informal” meetings which always take place where a pair of individuals can have their discussions alone without any interruption--on the golf course, hiking along an isolated trail, fly-fishing at Silver Creek--but Manka had been privy to only one specific example that he could share.

“Back in 1995,” he told me, “Disney honcho Michael Eisner met with Robert Iger, who was then the head of ABC. And exactly one month later, these two giant companies merged into one media megamonster. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Their deal had been sealed when Eisner and Iger exchanged friendship bracelets that they had worked on at Camp Mogul.”

Courtesy of Paul Krassner
Originally posted on Arthur Blog on

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fact-Finding Missions

Last night, I did something I seldom do these days. I sat through about 30 minutes of punditry on CNN to get a sense of how the mainstream media is spinning Sen. Obama's trip to the Middle East.

One CNN house commentator, David Gergen, with whom I usually agree, said that Obama made his "first mistake" of his campaign not by meeting with Iraq Prime Minister Maliki, but by divulging a private conversation in which Maliki agreed with the presumptive Democratic candidate that it's time for a timetable, and that 2010 is as good a deadline for withdrawal as any.

"He's (Obama) in no position to negotiate withdrawal. He's not the commander-in-chief," Gergen said. A network staff reporter then responded by saying that Obama is "presumptuous" not presumptive, and that the trip overseas was intended to be a "fact-finding mission" only. Given what this country has done with "facts," over the past eight years, and all the two-bit fact counterfeiters, that contention is laughable.

The larger issue is what is Obama supposed to do, when confronted with what has come to be called, euphemistically, the "situation on the ground"-- play deaf, dumb, and blind?

Does Maliki have to serve Bush with an eviction notice to make it any more obvious that the country we've occupied for the past six years no longer wants us there?

Have we had so much secrecy, during the Bush years, that an attempt at openness, on the part of a prospective president, looks like presumptousness to us? The obdurate insistence by the mainstream media of maintaining control of information by selectively spinning it is, ultimately, no different than the campaign of redaction, and revision, it is seeking to expose.

If former secretary of state, Colin Powell, went shopping for uranium in Niger before accepting that there was any, and if Dick Cheney went hunting for weapons of mass destruction before committing us to an irrelevant, and seemingly endless, military engagement, this country, and planet, would be in far better shape.

Likewise, if secretarys of state, as well as our current president, paid attention to facts on the ground, we'd be out of Iraq by now, and a strike against Iran would be no more imminent than walking on Mercury.

timetables work--not only for Iraq

The world would be in much better shape if George H.W. Bush knew when to pull out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Non-Sequitur of the Day

"I hate war and I know how to win wars."

Presumptive Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain
(courtesy Associated Press)

Deregulation and Choice

There is one more element in the equation that goes into the effort to roll back legal abortion in test cases like South Dakota, and that is how strange it is that an administration that prides itself on a "free market" economy, daily pollutes the environment by deregulating greenhouse gas emissions, by allowing gross polluting trucks, under NAFTA, to pour toxic waste into California's air, now wants to regulate decisions a woman makes in the privacy of her own home, and in consultation with her physician.

In fact, these "free market" folks want to transform licensed physicians into government pitch men who function as FDA warning labels on a pack of cigarettes. Yep, they're into free markets, not free women.

A country that has infrastructure in place to deprive women of pay equity, and equal opportunity while, simultaneously, peddling "welfare to work" programs only succeeds in creating a faux caste system from which only the most indigent suffer, and these are the women they want to deprive of choice when choice is the only thing they have.

Moreover, should Roe v. Wade be overturned, or turned over to the states to decide, there won't be fewer abortions, only fewer poor women having abortions, so this is not about ideology, after all, but about privilege.

Keep in mind, too, that the word "regle," in French, means "rule." Fascinating, isn't it, how those who are best at breaking the rules, in Washington, these days, are working hard at making rules from which they may, someday, too claim immunity.

As a society, we're willing to immunize cheats, liars, war criminals, and law breakers, but prosecute any physician who acknowledges a woman's constitutional right to seek remedy from an unwanted pregnancy.

Governmental interference in a woman's personal decision to terminate her pregnancy is no different from governmental intervention in the bedroom. It's the same principle really.

The arranged marriage of health, politics, and religion is one that can only lead to divorce.
After the National Security Agency scandal, and revelations of telecom eavesdropping, any illusions we had, as citizens, to privacy have been quickly dispelled.

The "war on terror" is really a war on privacy, after all, is it not?

Leave regulation for the oil companies, military contractors, banks, and credit card companies that are gouging the consumer, and keep them the hell out of our private lives.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Whole and Separate"

What's happening to women's reproductive rights in South Dakota, and how are they getting away with it?

As of Friday, doctors in that state, before performing an abortion, are required, by law, to tell their patient that the procedure will "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

Yes, and that's only part of the script. As if it's not bad enough that a medical practitioner, in that state, must now ask a woman if she'd like to see a sonogram of the fetus, they must also let her know that an abortion will increase her chances of suicide, and she must confirm, in writing, that she understands this.

This isn't the first we've heard from South Dakota on this subject. Over the past two years, their legislature has attempted to place the most draconian restrictions on legal abortion of any in the country. While other states require informed consent, South Dakota is the only state currently audacious enough to describe a fetus as a separate, but equal being.

Remember the days when doctors used the word "script" as shorthand for prescription? Well, those days might are over if anti-choice folks get their way as health care practitioners may soon be pitching abstincence, and adoption, over abortion, and practicing ideology, not gynecology, between the stirrups.

And this from an executive branch which will, for generations, be remembered as the signature signing statement White House, along with a proposal that all federally-funded funded health programs certify, in writing, not to discriminate against hospitals, doctors, or health-care workers who refuse to perform abortions or provide emergency contraception which may include, but not be limited to, the morning-after pill, and oral contraceptives. How's that for chutzpah from a government whose own Justice Department has been shown to be discriminating against prospective staff hiring based on political party affiliation?

An administration that has made abstinence-only programs a requirement for federal funding in HIV/AIDS clinics both at home and abroad, has made survival itself, in much of the AIDS-devastated world, a matter of privilege. Now, as this latest proposal stipulates, "any of the various procedures--including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any action--that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth" may no longer be eligible to receive tax dollars.

To add insult to injury, the Bush camp claims that Congress led the way with legislation that protected health care providers from being coerced to perform abortions. If this is so, why were we, whose taxes pay their salaries, not aware that Congress was signing off on what amounts to an affirmative action program for medical ideologues?

Those who made selective deception their mantra for the past eight years want, as their legacy, selective discrimination. Discrimination against those who discriminate, rightly, against an attempt to break down the boundaries between religious precepts and scientific practice. It is not the patient's business what the doctor's personal belief system is any more than it is the doctor's business what his patient's personal beliefs are.

How dare any government, state or federal, to force its way between a woman and her doctor, and transform medical practitioners into cops with scripts in their ongoing surge of ideology.

And, what an impressive, unforgettable, if unbelievable, display of concern for what happens to the "life of a human being" while it is in utero from an administration that has shown no concern whatsoever for poor children without health coverage, and one whose economic policies have led to the abhorrent reality that 1 in 5 children will go to bed hungry tonight. We can only hope to be spared from all this hypocritical concern about the life of the unborn.

This commander-in-chief, and generals in Iraq and Afghanistan, should show their concern, too, and be given a pitch to read to their troops that going to war will terminate "the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being." Wonder how many generals would go along with the script, and how many would enlist were they required to hear those words a few hours before leaving for their tour of duty.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Mother's Milk of Politics Turns Sour"

Courtesy of Bill Moyers' Journal, and Public Affairs Television...

"Mother’s Milk of Politics Turns Sour"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Once again we're closing the barn door after the horse is out and gone. In Washington the Federal Reserve has finally acted to stop some of the predatory lending that exploited people’s need for money. And like Rip Van Winkle, Congress is finally waking up from a long doze under the warm sun of laissez faire economics. That's French for turning off the alarm until the burglars have made their getaway.

Philosophy is one reason we do this to ourselves; when you worship market forces as if they were the gods of Olympus, then the gods can do no wrong -- until, of course, they prove to be human. Then we realize we should have listened to our inner agnostic and not been so reverent in the first place.

But we also get into these terrible dilemmas – where the big guys step all over everyone else and the victims are required to pay the hospital bills – because we refuse to recognize the connection between money and politics. This is the great denial in democracy that may ultimately mean our ruin. We just don't seem able to see or accept the fact that money drives policy.

It's no wonder that Congress and the White House have been looking the other way as the predators picked the pockets of unsuspecting debtors. Mega banking and investment firms have been some of the biggest providers of the cash vital to keeping incumbents in office. There isn't much appetite for biting – or regulating – the manicured hand that feeds them.

Guess who gave the most money to candidates in this 2007-08 federal election cycle? That's right, the financial services and real estate industries. They stuffed nearly $250 million dollars into the candidate coffers.

The about-to-be-bailed-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac together are responsible for about half the country's $12 trillion mortgage debt. Lisa Lerer of reports that over the past decade, the two financial giants with the down home names have spent nearly $200 million on campaign contributions and lobbying. According to Lerer, “They’ve stacked their payrolls with top Washington power brokers of all political stripes, including Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign manager, Rick Davis; Democrat Barack Obama’s original vice presidential vetter, Jim Johnson; and scores of others now working for the two rivals for the White House.”

Last Sunday's New York Times put it as bluntly as anyone ever has: “In Washington, Fannie and Freddie's sprawling lobbying machine hired family and friends of politicians in their efforts to quickly sideline any regulations that might slow their growth or invite greater oversight of their business practices. Indeed, their rapid expansion was, at least in part, the result of such artful lobbying over the years.”What a beautiful term: "artful lobbying." It means honest graft.

Look at any of the important issues bogged down in the swampland along the Potomac and you don't have to scrape away the muck too deeply to find that campaign cash is at the core of virtually every impasse. We're spending more than six percent of our salaries on gasoline, and global warming keeps temperatures rising but the climate bill was killed last month and President Bush just got rid of his daddy's longtime ban on offshore drilling.

Only in a fairy tale would anyone believe it's just coincidence that the oil and gas industries have donated more than $18 million to federal candidates this year, three-quarters of it going to Republicans. They've spent more than $26 million lobbying this year – that's seven times more than environmental groups have spent.

Follow the money – it goes from your gas tank to the wine bars and steak houses of DC, where the payoffs happen. Or ponder that FISA surveillance legislation that just passed the Senate. It let the big telecommunications companies off the hook for helping the government wiretap our phones and laptops without warrants.

Over the years those telecom companies have given Republicans in the House and Senate $63 million dollars and Democrats $49 million. No wonder that when their lobbyists reach out and place a call to Congress, they never get a busy signal. Do the same without making a big contribution, and you'll be put on "hold" until the embalmer shows up to claim your cold corpse.

The late journalist Meg Greenfield once wrote that trying to get money out of politics is akin to the quest for a squirrel-proof birdfeeder. No matter how clever and ingenious the design, the squirrels are always one mouthful ahead of you. Here's an example. Corporations are limited in how much they can contribute to candidate's campaigns, right? But someone's always figuring out how to open another back door.

So Democrats have turned to Steve Farber. He's using the resources of his big K Street law and lobbying factory to help raise $40 million for the Democratic National Convention. Half a dozen of his clients have signed up, including AT&T, Comcast, Western Union and Google. Their presence at the convention will offer lots of opportunities to curry favors at private parties while ordinary delegates wander Denver looking for the nearest Wendy's. By the way, just as you pay at the gas pump for those energy lobbyists to wine and dine your representatives in Washington, you'll pay on April 15 for Denver –corporations can deduct their contributions.

Another back door – one quite familiar to Steve Farber and his ilk – leads to presidential libraries. Bill Clinton’s in Arkansas required serious political bucks, and we're not talking penny ante fines for overdue books. Again, there's no limit to the amount a donor can give and no obligation to reveal their names. Clinton's cost $165 million and we still don’t know the identities of everyone who put up the dough, even though four years ago a reporter stumbled on a list that included Arab businessmen, Saudi royals, Hollywood celebs and the governments of Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei and Taiwan.

Hmmm…Once George W. is out of the White House, he, too, plans what one newspaper described as a “legacy polishing” institute – a presidential library and think tank at Southern Methodist University in Dallas costing half a billion dollars.

Last Sunday, The Times of London released a remarkable video of one of the president's buddies and fund raisers –Stephen Payne, a political appointee appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

The Times set him up in a video sting, and taped a conversation in which Payne offers an exiled leader of Kyrgyzstan meetings with such White House luminaries as Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice – provided he makes a whopping contribution to the Bush Library, and an even bigger payment to Payne's lobbying firm. Payne tells him, “It will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush Library... That's gonna be a show of 'we're interested, we're your friends, we're still your friends.'”

The White House denies any connection between library contributions and access to officials and harrumphed at the preposterous idea that Payne had a close relationship with the President. Unfortunately, there's at least one photo of Payne with the President cutting brush at his Crawford ranch. There’s also one of Payne demonstrating more guts than common sense, on a rifle range with Deadeye Dick Cheney.

Payne, who now is supporting John McCain, says he's done nothing wrong, but a congressional investigation intends to find out. So from the financial meltdown brought on by predatory lending to global warming to tax breaks and other favors, the late California politician Jesse "Big Daddy" Unruh got it right: Money is the mother's milk of politics. He knew what he was talking about, because Big Daddy swigged it by the gallon. Now it has curdled into a witch's brew.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Politics of Codependency

When Barack Obama warns that a vote for John McCain is a vote for a third term of George W. Bush, he's not speaking figuratively. However hard he might appear to try, McCain can't seem to be able to shake Bush. The Arizona senator's plans for the economy, health care, his foreign policy, or war plan, are almost identical to that of the current president. He's even going along with off shore drilling. A McCain presidency will come about as close to cloning Dolly the Sheep as humanly possible.

Indeed, the relationship between Republican presumptive presidential nominee and his President is more than merely symbiotic, it is one of textbook codependency, a maladaptive, obsessive behavior acquired in order to survive in an emotionally turbulent and chaotic environment.

After all, what is it if not compulsive after five years of nonstop combat for a prospective commander-in-chief to say "I know how to win wars." He'd better---at the rate of $10 billion a month! With all the foreclosures, job cuts, the fall of Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae, and predicted volatility in the banking industry, we may need that $10 billion a month just to bail out the FDIC.

So, save us from any presidential candidate who claims to be strong on national security while, at the same time, going along with an economic policy that is bound to perpetuate an unstable housing, and financial market, as well as an shaky global economy. How pray tell, can that possibly be good for national security? Unless, of course, Sen. McCain's plan is for economic isolationism. If so, someone ought to tell him it's a little late for that---after all, we're not only dependent on the Middle East for oil, we are China's biggest debtor after the second largest banking failure in U.S. history, and a cash-eating bacteria is quickly spreading from Wall Street to the global markets. We may not have learned much, over the past several years, but we have learned one thing. We've learned how to say "national security" in Chinese---John McCain!

Oh, and the Republican candidate boasts of supporting the surge in the face of mounting evidence it was effective. There's only one problem with his logic, as Barack Obama has deftly shown, we're "winning" the war in the wrong battlefield. Senator McCain doesn't want an exit strategy--he wants to continue an irrelevant war, one that the puppet leadership itself now considers an occupation.

And if, as Mitt Romney suggests, McCain invented the surge, bragging about that is the equivalent of bragging about inventing bait and switch!

To think you've accomplished victory in combat when you're in the wrong battlefield is like a surgeon who declares an amputation a success after being told he amputated the wrong limb. Bottom line: can McCain say he knows how to win wars if he needs a map to find them?
If you want good foreign policy--show people some return for their money.

What does the average working man and woman have to show for the past eight years we've had a Republican in the White House? The overwhelming majority, 270 million, have seen our annual income decline while the upper one percent has seen its income grow astronomically, by 650% since 1975. LBJ's "war on poverty" was transformed into GWB's "war on terror" which, as Senator Obama rightly says, was never a war at all, but what looks increasingly like a failed effort to gain leverage in a region that contains the vast majority of the world's oil.

Not that I think foreign policy should come down to who is better at target practice, mind you, but it would help if one didn't have to consult Thomas Guide before taking the wheel. And, apart from his willingness to dialogue with those who might otherwise harm us, Obama combines the charm, wit, and eloquence of JFK with the political shrewdness, and dealmaker savvy, of LBJ, an unbeatable combination.

But, don't let the mainstream media fool you. This election isn't about who will make the best commander-in-chief in Iraq, any more than it is about race. After all, we're the progeny of another global adventurist, Christopher Columbus, who didn't have a sense of direction either and who would, no doubt, also be hunting down Al Qaeda in Iraq.

This election isn't about photo ops, and comfort zones, either. It's as simple as this---are you better off today than you were eight years ago? If your answer is yes, then vote for John McCain, and give this executive, George W. Bush, the privilege of claiming permanent incumbency and, guaranteed, you won't be dancing in the streets eight years from now.

Quote of the Day

After today's announcement that President Bush has now claimed executive privilege to protect his attorney-general, Michael Mukasey, from having to honor a House subpoena, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, had this to say...

"This unfounded assertion of executive privilege does not protect a principle; it protects a person. If the vice president did nothing wrong, what is there to hide?"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Fear of Fun"

The below comes courtesy of Paul Krassner, and first appeared on The Huffington Post:

Fear of Fun
by Paul Krassner

Oh, no! That New Yorker cover is going to ruin everything for Obama. This is the tipping point. Now he’ll never get elected. I’m so disappointed. I had such great hopes. What can I do? Cancel my subscription to the First Amendment?

Fear. It’s all about fear. I’ve always been instilled with fear by TV commercials. From the woman who was afraid that her mother-in-law would disapprove of her because she couldn’t see the reflection of her face in a dish, to the man who’s afraid that he has restless penis syndrome.
And now I have such great fear of a dumbed down public. You know, those who still believe there was a connection between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. They’re going to believe that an editorial cartoon is an actual photo of Barack and Michelle.

What’s next? A cover showing Jesse Jackson cutting off Obama’s nuts? Maybe the New Yorker can redeem itself by publishing an image of John McCain singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Nah, that concept would be too far fetched. I’d have to cancel my subscription to real life.

If McCain wins the election because of this misunderstanding, I promise I’m going to move to Dubuque. Sorry, I don’t mean to whine. It’s just that I never ever thought that in my lifetime I would see a president of the United States who was half-white. And now the dream is over.


Monday, July 14, 2008

The Freedom to Offend

Thinking about the fracas surrounding The New Yorker cover reminds me of other political cartoons like, for instance, the cariacature of the Prophet Muhammad, in violation of Islamic law, which drew the wrath of the Muslim world.

I'm reminded, too, of a speech made by a young congressman, before the House of Representatives, on February 18, 1947; Richard Nixon:"Mr. Speaker, on February 6, when the Committee on Un-American Activities opened its session at 10 o'clock, it had by previous investigation, tied together the loose end of one chapter of a foreign-directed conspiracy whose aim and purpose was to undermine and destroy the government of the United States...It is essential as Members of this House that we defend vigilantly the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But we must bear in mind that the rights of free speech and free press do not carry with them the right to advocate the destruction of the very government which protects the freedom of an individual to express his views."

And, here we are, more than 60 years later, in the same ballpark, with another pitcher, and dealing with the same mindset, as reflected by President George W. Bush who observes that: "Every nation in every region now has a decison to make--either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." All we need do is substitute the word "Communist" for "terrorist," et voila! But, can we sit back, and let the First Amendment be sodomized by those who understand control better than consciousness, and allow artists to be called over the coals for what amounts to a dumb joke?

The New Yorker is a magazine, founded in the 1920's, which has been around longer than the administrations of either Presidents Nixon or Bush. Notably, too, in the 1920's, the greatest novel of the English language, James Joyce's "Ulysses," was banned by the Tariff Act , and confiscated at American borders, on grounds of obscenity. This was right around the time that an organization of writers, PEN, was formed to protect artists from the arbitrary stroke of the censor's hand.

Who can forget the memorable words of another president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, about a decade after the launching of a magazine whose name has become synonymous with quality, humor, satire, poetry, political commentary, and first-rate cartoons: "We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way. The third is freedom from want...The fourth is freedom from fear."

Arguably, humor is optional with the vehicle, and it is subjective. One person may feast on what another finds tasteless. While there may be some who find a political cartoon disturbing, the ramifications of self-censorship, as well as societal pressure to redact that which offends, must be resisted as an outrage to all who view dissent as a vital ingredient for democratic, and higher order, thinking.

Whether we think the Obama cartoon was satire, flawed or otherwise, or simply over-the-top, we must agree with author, and past president of PEN American Center, Salman Rushdie, when he asks: "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." When public opinion dictates what is acceptable, there can be no art, and without art, there can be no diversity.

Visions and Plans

Illinois Senator, and presidential candidate, Barack Obama outlined his plan for Iraq today, as well as for a timetable for withdrawing the troops in an editorial for The New York Times. Obama says he is working on a "phased redeployment of combat troops," and removing all but a "residual force" by summer, 2010.

And, as we now know, President Kennedy also had a plan, an exit strategy that included the withdrawal of 1,000 advisors in December, 1963, and a complete withdrawal of ground forces in Vietnam by the end of 1965.

Kennedy not only had a plan, he had a vision. What is the difference between a plan and a vision? Those who have a plan see a fence and try to find a way to climb over it. Those with vision see over the fence to the other side.

There can be no question, from his State of the Union Address in January, 1963, that JFK had a vision: "Our commitment to national safety is not a commitment to expand our military establishment indefinitely. We do not dismiss disarmament as merely an idle dream. For we believe that, in the end, it is the only way to assure the security of all without impairing the interest of any. Nor do we mistake honorable negotiation for appeasement. While we shall never weary in the defense of freedom, neither shall we ever abandon the pursuit of peace."

Senator Obama now says his plan for ending the Iraq war is "essential" in order to accomplish "broader strategic goals" in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. We gather from this that he doesn't plan to end the "war on terror," merely the war on Iraq. He would simply move the estimated 140,000 troops, over time, from the battlefield in Iraq to Afghanistan without ever addressing "the multiplication of awesome weapons beyond all rational need" about which JFK warned, or Kennedy's calls for "new checks on surprise or accidental attack, and, ultimately, general and complete disarmament."

Indeed, there are some who might say that JFK had a vision, and Barack Obama has a plan. There are some who call themselves progressives, and condemn the Illinois senator for his flexibility, and willingness to adjust his plans depending on conditions on the ground. But, what would they say were they to learn that President Kennedy, who also had a plan for phased withdrawal from Vietnam by the end of 1965, which was not publicized, was, like Obama's, subject to conditions on the ground.

An exit strategy in Vietnam was only one thing JFK envisoned. Weeks before he was assassinated, should he, and we, have had the good fortune to see his second term, Kennedy was laying the groundwork for an end to the Cold War--by approaching John K. Galbraith to serve as ambassador to Russia, and working toward ending the trade embargo on Cuba.

But, there are others who might think of themselves as visionaries, too, but who are militarists, and would have us believe that a strong defense is in the best interest of national security, those like President George W. Bush, and Sen. McCain, who have all but abandoned Kennedy's dream of "complete and total disarmament," and "pursuit of peace" in favor of a missile defense shield infrastructure in Europe. Yes, those who would agree with the Arizona senator, and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, that Obama is "naive" for thinking he can dialogue with our adversaries rather than drive them into bomb shelters. But, beware of those who come to the table with only a fist and a dare.

Ostensibly, Sen. McCain isn't familiar with the findings of a scientific group, back in 2004, that multibillion dollar anti-ballistic military shields are "incapable of shooting down any incoming warheads," and are little more than placebos against perceived threats from Iran, and North Korea which could only provoke more hubris from commanders-in-chief who think they're impervious from harm.

Sen. McCain, and other interested parties, might wish to note that Barack Obama isn't only willing to talk--he's willing to talk to us, the people. What was the last op-ed piece you read by Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, or Dick Cheney? Do we want four more years of a glorified covert operation, or transparency --the kind of transparency that will figure out a way to resurrect the thousands, arguably millions, of conveniently disappeared White House e-mails that, when revealed, will doubtless incriminate those highest in command.

Without question, JFK would prefer Obama's plan to contain any threat from Tehran using diplomacy and tighter economic sanctions to a continuation of the Defense heavy foreign policy of the Bush years. After all, last week's signing of a pact that will use the Czech Republic as a construction site for part of a missile shield has only elicited the threat of military response from Russia, and if McCain prevails in his quest for the presidency, the Bush legacy may well be a return to the days of the Cold War.

Kennedy had vision---he wanted to be the first to land a man on the moon, live in a world in which global competition didn't lead to global danger and, more importantly, he wanted us to turn our energies "to the great unfinished tasks of our own people." But, over the past forty-five years, we've seen that being a visionary is not necessarily a good thing. There are nightmare visions, not just honorific ones.

We, as a nation, are still struggling to survive the dark vision of Richard Nixon whose efforts to sabotage our republic, and our elections, have been born again in the administration of George W. Bush, a presidency that puts immunity from prosecution for contractors, and service members, in Iraq on the table as a bargaining chip in negotiations for troop withdrawal, and one that has managed to get Congress to go along with giving retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies who broke privacy laws by warrantless surveillance of our phone calls and e-mails. We have seen unprecedented subrogation of the separation of powers.

And there have been other "visionaries," or glorified strategists, like Newt Gingrich whose "Contract for America" was a blueprint for the divisiveness, and economic inequities, we experience today, and still others like Oliver North, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and now John McCain, who think that they have a divine right to infest us with their neo-Conservative agenda, and who would lead us to the brink of nuclear disaster, all the while telling us it's a war against Islamo-fascism, when we know too well that theirs is a war on diversity and dissent. Save us from these so-called visionaries who use the American flag as a prophylactic, who operate in secrecy while working to divest us of our voice, and our future.

So, to have a senator who envisons a country that does not consist of red states and blue states, but one that is united, who strives to articulate a specific course after eight years of an orgy of abstractions, one who wants to form a coalition of those on opposite sides of an issue may not work for some designer progressives, but may, after all, work for the country.

And, to those who warn about a unitary executive, and abuse of power, consider that we are the ones who vest, and imbue, the president with supernatural powers, and then complain when the executive branch, like a runaway train, attempts to secede from government. We are the ones who can't get enough of Camelot, and celebrity presidencies, while stripping the vision like an abandoned Ford Explorer.

In the end, a president is only as effective, or powerful, as Congress and the Supreme Court allows him to be. If we have a White House on steroids, we have only ourselves to blame for failing to collaborate on governing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

January 18, 1963

Economist and Prof. James K. Galbraith reports that, weeks before his death, President John F. Kennedy spoke to friends about wanting to get out of Vietnam after the 1964 election. You'll recall, too, that the former president acknowledged he was "rethinking" his commitment of 15,000 troops to the troubled region in what was to be his last press conference on Nov. 12, 1963. Below is an excerpt from Kennedy's January 18, 1963 State of the Union Address; one that is instructive to those in power today who push for the military option, an attack on Iran:

"Threats of massive retaliation may not deter piecemeal aggression--and a line of destroyers in a quarantine, or a division of well-equipped men on a border, may be more useful to our real security than the multiplication of awesome weapons beyond all rational need.

But our commitment to national safety is not a commitment to expand our military establishment indefinitely. We do not dismiss disarmament as merely an idle dream. For we believe that, in the end, it is the only way to assure the security of all without impairing the interests of any. Nor do we mistake honorable negotiation for appeasement.

While we shall never weary in the defense of freedom, neither shall we ever abandon the pursuit of peace. In this quest, the United Nations requires our full and continued support. Its value in serving the cause of peace has been shown anew in its role in the West New Guinea settlement, in its use as a forum for the Cuban crisis, and in its task of unification in the Congo.

Today the United Nations is primarily the protector of the small and the weak, and a safety valve for the strong. Tomorrow it can form the framework for a world of law--a world in which no nation dictates the destiny of another, and in which the vast resources now devoted to destructive means will serve constructive ends.

In short, let our adversaries choose. If they choose peaceful competition, they shall have it. If they come to realize that their ambitions cannot succeed--if they see their "wars of liberation" and subversion will ultimately fail--if they recognize that there is more security in accepting inspection than in permitting new nations to master the black arts of nuclear war--and if they are willing to turn their energies, as we are, to the great unfinished tasks of our own peoples--then, surely, the areas of agreement can be very wide indeed: a clear understanding about Berlin, stability in Southeast Asia, an end to nuclear testing, new checks on surprise or accidental attack, and, ultimately, general and complete disarmament."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sen. Obama responds...

to Sen. Phil Gramm's ludicrous assertion today that the recession is "mental," and his feeble attempt to make an analogy between economic gloom, and clinical depression...

"I want all of you to know that America already has one Dr. Phil. We don't need another one when it comes to the economy. We need somebody to actually solve the economy. It's not just a figment of your imagination, it's not all in your head...

It isn't whining to ask government to step in and give families some relief. And I think it's time we had a president who doesn't deny our problems or blame the American people for them but takes responsibility and provides the leadership to solve them."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Positional Vertigo

In a move today bound to make anyone think Congress has a touch of positional vertigo, the Senate voted, by a 3 to 1 margin, to give the president a belated birthday gift, and pass his FISA reform bill with the retroactive immunity clause intact. Notably, Sen. McCain was missing in action because he is "campaigning."

A provision by Senators Dodd, Feingold, and Leahy which would nullify telecom immunity was struck down by a 2 to 1 margin. While more Democrats voted against the bill than for it, 27 to 21, the fact that Sen. Obama was among those willing to go along with retroactive immunity disappoints even the most obdurate among us.

Cynics might suggest Obama isn't the only one suffering from positional vertigo; the Democratic party is, too. Trying to appear strong on "homeland security" is clearly a strategy to defeat the "national security" credentials of a defense-heavy McCain candidacy. But, there is a deep fault line in any party platform that works in the interest of expediency, not authenticity, and one can think of few things less authentic than the image of Dukakis mounting a tank, or John Kerry shining one of his medals.

To think of Barack Obama massaging the Patriot Act to win the hearts of faux moderate Republicans, and midwest ranchers, is, at the very least, unsettling. Presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican, are answerable to their party's platform, as well as to their party's leaders, and all politicians must answer to the voters.

Yes, after today, we know that Sen. Obama is telling the truth when he says he is not perfect, and history will know it, too. We will take candidate Obama up on his invitation to hold him accountable after we elect him president, and hold him accountable we will, knowing that, in the end, there's more at stake here than who hangs his hat in the Oval Office like, for instance, the prospect of making lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, and then, of course, there's the alternative--the prospect of having a wannabe general posing as president of the United States.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A postscript to...

my piece "Hands Off Obama:"

Whoever thinks that Barack Obama is shifting to the right is suffering from positional vertigo, and is definitely off-balance.

Senator Obama has been clear all along that he supports what he calls Second Amendment rights to bear arms, but he also says that he supports the government's right to regulate firearms.

If you read Obama's piece a few days ago, on HuffPost, he addressed the F.I.S.A. issue, and clearly stated that he is working fervently with Sen. Dodd to mitigate against the president's clause which allows for retroactive immunity for telecoms.

Oh, and btw, you might also wish to read Dodd's piece on F.I.S.A., if you question Barack Obama's intentions with respect to the retroactive immunity clause.

And, with regard to the war in Iraq, Sen. Obama is only suggesting, wisely, that any decision he makes about when to pull the troops will be impacted by the situation on the ground. Would you prefer a commander-in-chief, like the current one, who obdurately insists on picking a position on a subject, and not budging.

Come on people, four months goes by in the bat of an eye. It is destructive, and foolish, to try to throw the only candidate who has a snowball's chance in hell of making some kind of progressive shift in foreign policy, and the economy, off balance with all this sensationalistic chatter which is neither nuanced nor accurate.

In a country that has more bullies than bully pulpits, it's hard to fathom an ideology that embraces analysis instead of one whose default position is "bomb Iran." If you want intelligence in leadership, and not just military muscle, the ability to rethink must come with the vehicle, not just the ability to react.

All presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican, are answerable to their party's platform, as well as to their party's elders. There will be many crucial congressional races, too. While the president is top gun, so to speak, he still has to work with Congress. We turned up the heat, during the midterm election, and made ending the war in Iraq a campaign issue. We can do it again in 2008.

If you think Hillary Clinton would be sounding any differently now than Barack Obama, think again. Voting for those congressional candidates who pledge to work to end the war is one way to increase pressure on Obama to stick to his timetable. Rest assured, no amount of pressure from Congress will move Sen. McCain, should he become commander-in-chief, to withdraw troops before he's good and ready.

And, in the end, there's more at stake here than who hangs his hat in the Oval Office. There's lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, and whether or not we have a general in presidential drag running the White House.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hands Off Obama

Lately, Barack Obama has become everybody's favorite punching bag.

What's left of the Left are going after him for abandoning gun control in support of dubious Second Amendment rights, as well as his revised stance on FISA, newly-nuanced views on troop withdrawal in Iraq, and his desire to extend, and expand, George W. Bush's faith-based initiative programs, to name but a few. Then, of course, there's Obama's recent contention that a woman's mental state should not exempt her from the Supreme Court ban on late-term abortion.

These are all full-throated assertions, and no one is suggesting, for a moment, that these recent seismic shifts to the center aren't letting the air out of the Obama balloon. But, they are also showing that Houdini isn't running for president, and even Houdini would be hard-pressed to run a campaign without interference from party elders.

The Democrats, and so-called progressives, are doing such a good job of attacking Obama that McCain is struggling to come up with a campaign strategy. If the barbs against the Illinois senator keep up at a steady rate, McCain won't even need a strategy---all he'll need to do is keep his mouth shut.

Clearly, the single most precarious issue, for Obama, is the war. While the economy may be the ultimate concern for working Americans, nobody takes John McCain's economic plan as anything but a continuation of that of his predecessor's, but those who oppose the ongoing occupation of Iraq will account for a greater presence at their polls than voters who support Nader or Barr.

For some, it is too bad the world comes in three dimensions. How much easier it would be if one could merely say "let's roll up our tent and go home." Yes, there are serious questions about whether a President Obama will allow for the continued occupation of Iraq long after the military leaves. But, Obama's mistake might not be that he said he intends to revisit the idea of troop withdrawal in the first 16 months he's in office, or that his decisions, as a commander-in-chief, will depend on the situation in Iraq at the time.

Curiously, like President Kennedy before him, Obama's biggest mistake might be that he recognizes, and acknowledges, that his decisions are nuanced, not obdurate, and subject to change. Doubtless, JFK kicked up a lot of dust, behind the scenes, from those whose interests were better served by maintaining, and expanding, troop presence in Vietnam, and Obama is kicking up a lot of dust by saying he is thoughtful, willing to move into the gray zone and out of the binary field of black and white, right and wrong, progressive and conservative. This scares the wits out of people.

Nothing bothers this country of the Puritans, by the Puritans, and for the Puritans more than a thinking president. Look at all the crap thrown at Jimmy Carter for not blowing up Iran when he had the chance.

But, hey, simply yelling out "stop the war, I want to get off" won't do it either nor will voting for Ralph Nader (read: John McCain). The solution is to work with the problem, not abandon it, and hold Obama to task for his pledge to have better judgment.

More importantly, we need leadership that will move us from a wartime to a peacetime economy, and one whose vision is to de-escalate, not look for more parts of the globe to preempt or provoke.

Those who argue that Senator Obama doesn't have a "plan" to get us out of Iraq are naive if they think that a Kucinich, Nader, or any other "plan" would not meet with fatal resistance from the military industrial complex. Didn't we just come out of eight years of pathological lying? Do we want to elect another president who will lie to us?

The infrastructure for war, and wartime profiteering, are deeply embedded in our country's ethos. Patriotism is inseparable from militarism. If you have any questions about that, just listen to what conservative talk show pundits, like Bill Bennett, say about guys like Wes Clark---that he's a four-star general makes him perfect presidential material. Okay, so why did we ask Pakistan's Musharraf to take off his uniform if generals are so ideally-suited for governance?

We need leadership that will address the need to continue affirmative action programs at a time when we have more youngsters of color in our nation's prisons than in our nation's universities.

In the end, those who contend that Obama represents a movement are right, and he must account to that movement, and it is up to the talking heads, pundits, progressives, and Congress to hold him accountable once he takes the oath of office.

In the meantime, efforts to sabotage him by pointing out his flip-flops will only result in a president, McCain, who has the opportunity to appoint another neanderthal to the Supreme Court, and provoke greater global hostility in the name of homeland security.

While McCain may be limping, he's not wounded, just a bit dazed. Who'd have thought that he'd be up against this kind of opponent---clearly not the designated heir-apparent. But, make no mistake, while he may need to refresh his settings, or regain his balance, McCain is far from down for the punch, and this recent effort to expose, and attack Obama can only help McCain in November.

If nothing else, we've learned from American History 101 that nobody shoots themselves in the foot better than Democrats. In the next four months, those who want to see a Democrat in the White House must get behind Barack, and not pander to Republican talking points about flip-flopping.

There will be plenty of time to pontificate on his weaknesses once he's in office, and call him to task on his pledge to work with Chris Dodd on the retroactive immunity clause in FISA reform. After all, like the others before him, Barack Obama's first task, on becoming president, will be brainstorming about how best to win another term.

So, leave the swift-booting of Obama to the Repugs. Let the McCainites call him Sergeant Flip Flop. Hell, they'd call JFK a flip-flopper, too, for talking about making changes in his Vietnam policy, as well as thinking about lifting the trade embargo against Cuba not, as he said for moral reasons, but because, unlike those who followed, Kennedy had the wisdom, and foresight, to work toward a global economy.

Higher order thinking is lost on a unitary executive, as well as a country caught up in dichotomies of "good guys" and "bad guys," so what happens to a presidential candidate who is more comfortable playing Hamlet, and entering the gray zone, in a country without Hamlets that is overrun by Macbeths, Macdonalds and, unless we're careful, McCains.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

"At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."

from The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. II
Pre-Civil War Decade 1850-1860

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day?

Lately, talking heads and civic-minded folk have been concerned about how to gain energy independence, so we don't have to beg, borrow, or steal to fill our gas tanks.

Yes, and there are even some who recognize that energy comes in different forms besides petrol, and uranium, and contemplate how to free ourselves from the yoke of power in a whole bunch of ways.

Well, after some thought, a solution came to me which might help diffuse the high cost of driving, anyway. If, on this holiday weekend, we happen to run out of gas, we can always look to Washington.

So, forget offshore oil drilling, the fast track to energy independence may not be electricity, or coal, but simply to bottle and distribute all the flatulence coming from every orifice of our nation's capital.

Happy Fart of July!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

and remember...

the only thing that corrupts more absolutely than power is the promise of power.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Michael Winship: "What Patriotism Is, and Is Not"

Courtesy of Bill Moyers' Journal, and Public Affairs Television...

What Patriotism Is, and Is Not

By Michael Winship

At the beginning of the week, a friend sent me a scurrilous, anonymous e-mail attacking Barack Obama that has been circulating around her elderly cousin’s Jewish senior living community in New Jersey. Headlined “Something to Think About,” it lists 13 acts of assassination, kidnapping, war and terrorism, all of which, it notes, were committed “by Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40.”

After several other claims, including a bogus citation from the Book of Revelation, the e-mail concludes, semi-literately, “For the award winning Act of Stupidity Now... the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position on the face of the Planet -- The Presidency of the United States of America to A Muslim Male Between the ages of 17 and 40? Have the American People completely lost their Minds, or just their power of reason? I'm sorry but I refuse to take a chance on the 'unknown' candidate Obama.”

To point out the obvious errors, that Barack Obama’s a Christian, not Muslim, and that he’s 46, not “between the ages of 17 and 40,” feels a bit lame, like damning with faint fact checking. Let’s call this appalling missive what it is – bigoted, hysterical and more than a little nuts. Unless, of course, it comes from the hands not of a mere delusional crank, but one of those beneath-the-radar smear forces that we all know are out there, ratcheting into higher and higher gear as November gets closer.

E-mail’s such as the one my friend passed along are insidious, appealing to our deepest fears and prejudices. A front-page story in Monday’s Washington Post profiled retired worker Jim Peterman of Findlay, Ohio. He’s a decent guy who “believes a smart vote is an American’s greatest responsibility,” the Post’s Eli Salsow wrote. “Which is why his confusion about Barack Obama continues to eat at him… “Does he trust a local newspaper article that details Obama's Christian faith? Or his friend Leroy Pollard, a devoted family man so convinced Obama is a radical Muslim that he threatened to stop talking to his daughter when he heard she might vote for him? “’I'll admit that I probably don't follow all of the election news like maybe I should,’ Peterman said. ‘I haven't read his books or studied up more than a little bit. But it's hard to ignore what you hear when everybody you know is saying it. These are good people, smart people, so can they really all be wrong?’” So it goes across the nation.

Chances are, many of the perpetrators of this nonsense think they’re being patriots, saving us from Obama and ourselves. And goodness knows, there’s a long history of this kind of guttersnipery in American politics. As Obama pointed out in his Monday speech on the nature of patriotism, “Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule… the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic.”

Details of Obama’s speech got buried in the wake of General Wesley Clark’s politically lunkheaded comment about John McCain that, “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.” But over the Fourth of July weekend, it might be appropriate and enlightening to take a few minutes to read or watch the whole thing. It’s a good speech.

The senator talks about American history and his own patriotism, about the need for service and sacrifice. “For those who have fought under the flag of this nation,” he said, “for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides.”

And this: “I believe those who attack America's flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America… But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism.”

Which brings me to what I think was an unusual and especially fine expression of American patriotism. It’s the June 19 closing argument of Air Force Reserve Major David J.R. Frakt, arguing for the dismissal of charges against Mohammed Jawad, a young detainee at Guantanamo, charged with throwing a hand grenade that wounded two GI’s and their interpreter in Afghanistan.

Frakt argued that Jawad should be released because sleep deprivation – two weeks’ worth – was used to torture him. You can read it on the website of the ACLU (

Frakt stood before the military commission upholding the inviolability of the American principle of due process, even for an alleged enemy of the United States. “Under the Constitution all men are created equal, and all are entitled to be treated with dignity,” he said. “No one is ‘undeserving’ of humane treatment. It is an unmistakable lesson of history that when one group of people starts to see another group of people as ‘other’ or as ‘different,’ as ‘undeserving,’ as ‘inferior,’ ill-treatment inevitably follows… “After six and a half years, we now know the truth about the detainees at Guantanamo: some of them are terrorists, some of them are foot soldiers, and some of them were just innocent people, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the detainees at Guantanamo have one thing in common — with each other, and with us — they are all human beings, and they are all worthy of humane treatment.”

Thus, in the face of adverse public opinion and White House opposition, Frakt bravely defended a constitutional principle as all-encompassing, including under its protections even those who might seek to destroy us and the very constitutional principles for which we stand. In fact, he said, “It is a testament to the continuing greatness of this nation, that I, a lowly Air Force Reserve Major, can stand here before you today, with the world watching, without fear of retribution, retaliation or reprisal, and speak truth to power. I can call a spade a spade, and I can call torture, torture.”

To me, that makes Major David Frakt a patriot and this a great country. Happy Fourth of July.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

The Rapture Party

The way things have been shaping up lately, it looks like we no longer have a Republican party, or a Democratic party, we now have a Rapture party. And, the way things are going, instead of pledging allegiance to the flag, we may soon be pledging allegiance to a shiny gold crucifix.

In the past week alone, both presidential candidates McCain and Obama have had high profile pow-wows with evangelist Billy Graham, and his son, Franklin. McCain has even prayed, with Frankin, “for God’s will to be done in this upcoming election.” And, while the senator from Arizona envisons America as a “Christian nation,” the senator from Illinois is quick to point out that faith, for him, is a “personal commitment to Christ.”

Yes, and both the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders are enraptured by the thought of the Second Coming; both are trying to buy the Apocalypse on an installment plan.

Remember that, for some, the war in Iraq isn’t just about acquisition of oil, but about establishing, through military means, the Lord’s dominion on earth, and breaking down any pesky little irritations like constitutional amendments, the First Amendment, that insist legislators “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

But, luckily for McCain and Obama, sodomy laws don’t apply to what they’re now doing to the First Amendment. And, while the senator from Illinois touts what he considers the Second Amendment right to bear arms, we don’t hear a peep from him about any constitutional guarantees of separation between church and state.

Indeed, while both Bush and McCain are proponents of privatizing social security and health care, Obama now supports privatizing anti-poverty efforts by turning them over to clergy, and religious organizations, thereby secularizing clergy and endowing government with religious powers.

And, sounding more and more like a neo-con every day, on a trip to Zanesville, Ohio, yesterday, Obama said that the country’s current challenges “are simply too big for government to solve alone,” and that, if elected president, he plans to enhance Bush’s faith-based initiatives by steering taxpayer federal bucks, formerly used on social service agencies, to religious groups, and renaming the president’s program the “Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”

Yes, Obama pledges to expand the budget for social services by another half a billion a year which would go to an education fund for poor youngsters. Apart from looking to religious organizations for funding, his plan will also allow them to hire and fire based on faith, but only when there is no taxpayer money attached.

But, the thought of looking to the neighborhood ministry, or YMCA, to provide food, shelter, and sustenance to the indigent instead of to the government is ludicrous, and insolent, when one compares the Pentagon budget to that of one’s church.

What’s more, a budget of $500 million a year for 1 million indigent inner city youngsters is a drop in the bucket when compared with the obscenity of an estimated $3 trillion spent on the war in Iraq, and many millions more approved for future military exploits.

Frankly, any proposal to let religious charities be earmarked for federal funding only if they use religious observance as a criterion for endowment is strongly reminiscent of the programs that use abstinence-only requirements in order to secure HIV/AIDS funding. This is not only reactionary, but dangerous thinking.

Obama finds himself in the awkward position of being in bed with the president when it comes to his agreement that faith-based organizations have a much larger role to play in serving those most needy among us. There is an important distinction, however. When it comes to employment, Bush backs permitting all religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious belief whereas Obama would only allow discrimination in faith-based employment as long as there are no tax dollars involved. Either way, this movement into Bush country comes so close to cloning it would make Dolly the Sheep pale by comparison.
In a country where 80% of its electorate practices some form of religion, it seems like a plausible campaign move to exploit religion.

That said, ironically, in a nation founded in response to the need for religious diversity, neither Obama nor McCain allow for the existence of religious minorities like Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, or the freedom not to believe altogether. Both exploit through emphasis the monologue of Christianity—McCain calling this a “Christian nation,” and Obama talking about the role his Christian faith played in his work as a community organizer to “fulfill God’s will,” and do “the Lord’s work.” (AP) Within the a framework that recognizes Christians only, there is no room for dialogue, and there is no role for peace without dialogue.

And, who needs a pajama party, when you can have a Rapture party?

By now, Thomas Jefferson would be rolling over in his grave were he to hear this nonsense from either of the contenders for it was Jefferson who wrote “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest of ignorance of which their civil as well as their religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” Indeed, and avail they will.

With this talk of doing the Lord’s work, his recent professions of pulp patriotism, his defense of McCain’s military service, and references to Ronald Reagan, not to mention response to Supreme Court rulings overturning the death penalty for child rapists and the D.C. handgun ban, as well as his endorsement of the latest FISA legislation that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms that engaged in electronic surveillance, thus transforming them into agents of the National Security Agency, Senator Obama reminds us of another senator, Bill McKay, in the 1972 box office hit, “The Candidate.”

You’ll recall that Bill McKay, played memorably by Robert Redford, was a liberal lawyer with no political ambition who was chosen, and primed, to run for an important Senate seat against a popular Republican. Many saw parallels between the character of McKay, and that of John F. Kennedy. The movie’s tagline was: “Nothing matters more than winning. Not even what you believe in.”

Well, there are more than a few parallels between Bill McKay and Barack Obama not only insofar as McKay’s opponent was portrayed as old, and haggard, but inasmuch as, the closer he got to election day, the more McKay’s support for abortion rights, and gun control started to wane. And, the more pliable, and maleable he was to party elders, the more success he had in the polls. McKay wins the Senate seat, of course, but he is a shill, a shell of his former self.
During this summer re-run, pre-election, season, it might be instructive for those, including Sen. Obama, who have yet to see “The Candidate,” to rent the DVD. Otherwise, come January, we may well hear President Obama echo McKay’s words “what do we do now?”