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05 December 2008

Change You Can Really Believe In: Attend Obama House Parties on 12/13-14

A phenomenal idea of Medea Benjamin's: sign up at MyBarackObama, find Obama house parties near you, show up and help move the conversation left!

Yes, my first concern is that this will be another MoveOn.org -- a safety valve with no grassroots power. (MoveOn rigged an election when the Demz wanted it; why I quit.) But worth going to anyway, especially since Obama reportedly ain't sharing his 10 million person e-mail list, and to see whether people are motivated by hero-worship or policies.

The site is trying to channel energies in predictable ways; no one has to listen to that, of course. I'll be very interested to see how independent the people at my event will be. MoveOn-ers were feisty. Ultimately got the knife in the back on war funding, but were feisty nonetheless.

The November 5th Movement Video: One Month Later

Instructive to watch this after a month's worth of transitional action. Makes even more sense, don't it?

November 5. 2008 from Tarek Milleron on Vimeo

If you want to sign up, click the title of this post to do so.

CEOs of Big Three Automakers Return to Capitol Hill to Plead for $34B Federal Bailout

Nader and others on this latest bailout....The Consent of Manufacturing?

Here's the site for Auto Worker Caravan, mentioned in the segment. Also: Multinational Monitor.

Ralph Nader and Medea Benjamin on Obama’s Cabinet and Grassroots Organizing Under the Next Administration

David Sirota Nails It: The Mystifying Persistence of Dear Leader-ism

Finally, someone pushes this all-important point hard!

The Mystifying Persistence of Dear Leader-ism

04 December 2008

What I See in Obama's Eyes When He Waxes Lincolnian

Reading this piece (of what, I leave up to you) in the Guardian led me to the following 2005 article by Obama, which I have annotated. Obama's been milking Lincoln's persona for a decade now; I fear he might actually see himself as Lincoln. More's the pity for the rest of us. (I'm guessing the photo to the right is the one Obama's writing about.)

What I See in Lincoln's Eyes

Monday, June 27, 2005

By Barack Obama

He never won Illinois' Senate seat. But in many ways, he paved the way for me.

My favorite portrait of Lincoln comes from the end of his life. In it, Lincoln's face is as finely lined as a pressed flower. He appears frail, almost broken; his eyes, averted from the camera's lens, seem to contain a heartbreaking melancholy, as if he sees before him what the nation had so recently endured.

It would be a sorrowful picture except for the fact that Lincoln's mouth is turned ever so slightly into a smile. The smile doesn't negate the sorrow. But it alters tragedy into grace. [Ask 650,000 dead if they saw grace.] It's as if this rough-faced, aging man has cast his gaze toward eternity and yet still cherishes his memories--of an imperfect world and its fleeting, sometimes terrible beauty. On trying days, the portrait, a reproduction of which hangs in my office, soothes me; it always asks me questions.

What is it about this man that can move us so profoundly? Some of it has to do with Lincoln's humble beginnings, which often speak to our own. When I moved to Illinois 20 years ago to work as a community organizer, I had no money in my pockets and didn't know a single soul. [He did have a Harvard Law degree in his pockets, though, didn't he?] During my first six years in the state legislature, Democrats were in the minority, and I couldn't get a bill heard, much less passed. In my first race for Congress, I had my head handed to me. So when I, a black man with a funny name, born in Hawaii of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, announced my candidacy for the U.S. Senate, it was hard to imagine a less likely scenario than that I would win [This "unlikely" trope was repeated ad nauseum, as we all know. Yes, it was so amazing that a double-Ivy-League-degreed president of the Harvard Law Review could have reached such heights.] --except, perhaps, for the one that allowed a child born in the backwoods of Kentucky with less than a year of formal education to end up as Illinois' greatest citizen and our nation's greatest President. [At this point, I vomited. Sir, I've read much of Lincoln's writings. I've studied, somewhat, his career. You, sir, are no Lincoln.]

In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat--in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. [Uh, wait a second. You, Obama, are comparing your well-constructed prose to one of the three or four greatest writers of American English? I'll leave the law aside.] He also reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of American life--the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams. [The one honest line, probably unintentionally so, in this entire morass of PR/megalomania: this is the key to Obama, or to any politician, really. But please don't extend this conclusion to normal people.]

A connected idea attracts us to Lincoln: as we remake ourselves, we remake our surroundings. He didn't just talk or write or theorize. He split rail, fired rifles, tried cases and pushed for new bridges and roads and waterways. In his sheer energy, Lincoln captures a hunger in us to build and to innovate. It's a quality that can get us in trouble; we may be blind at times to the costs of progress. And yet, when I travel to other parts of the world, I remember that it is precisely such energy that sets us apart, a sense that there are no limits to the heights our nation might reach. [The necessary American Exceptionalism. Always congratulate your marks -- I mean, audience -- by lauding, however incorrectly, accidents of birth.]

Still, as I look at his picture, it is the man and not the icon that speaks to me. I cannot swallow whole the view of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. As a law professor and civil rights lawyer and as an African American, I am fully aware of his limited views on race. Anyone who actually reads the Emancipation Proclamation knows it was more a military document than a clarion call for justice. Scholars tell us too that Lincoln wasn't immune from political considerations and that his temperament could be indecisive and morose.

But it is precisely those imperfections--and the painful self-awareness of those failings etched in every crease of his face and reflected in those haunted eyes--that make him so compelling. For when the time came to confront the greatest moral challenge this nation has ever faced, this all too human man did not pass the challenge on to future generations. [A dig at Bush; this is a campaign document after all.] He neither demonized the fathers and sons who did battle on the other side nor sought to diminish the terrible costs of his war. [This might explain Obama's naive embrace of his opponents -- if opponents they truly be. You see, Obama sees himself as a remaker of the nation. How hard Hillary, Gates, et al, must be laughing, if Obama is actually so deluded. How easy to manipulate such a person. I tend to think it's all PR bullshit, though, but the danger is when you begin to believe your own lies.] In the midst of slavery's dark storm and the complexities of governing a house divided, he somehow kept his moral compass pointed firm and true. [Yes: don't let the South secede, as they had every right to, start a massive and avoidable war, repatriate blacks overseas.]

What I marvel at, what gives me such hope, is that this man could overcome depression, self-doubt and the constraints of biography and not only act decisively but retain his humanity. Like a figure from the Old Testament, he wandered the earth, making mistakes, loving his family but causing them pain, despairing over the course of events, trying to divine God's will. [Such a refreshing change after years of Bush-as-God's-instrument, isn't it? Note the uniform silence by Democrats and "liberals" on Obama's entirely Bushian messiah-and-God-talk.] He did not know how things would turn out, but he did his best.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the commencement at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. I stood in view of the spot where Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held one of their famous debates during their race for the U.S. Senate. The only way for Lincoln to get onto the podium was to squeeze his lanky frame through a window, whereupon he reportedly remarked, "At last I have finally gone through college." Waiting for the soon-to-be graduates to assemble, I thought that even as Lincoln lost that Senate race, his arguments that day* would result, centuries later, in my occupying the same seat that he coveted. He may not have dreamed of that exact outcome. [Yes, I think we can be sure he didn't dream that a black man named Barack Obama would win his seat 150 years later.] But I like to believe he would have appreciated the irony. Humor, ambiguity, complexity, compassion--all were part of his character. And as Lincoln called once upon the better angels of our nature, I believe that he is calling still, across the ages, to summon some measure of that character, the American character, in each of us today.


*See pages 701-721 in vol. 1 of the Library of America Lincoln volumes for "his arguments that day." There's not one argument in there that leads to a black person, let alone Obama, gaining a Senate seat.

I might point out that Obama is hardly the Omega Point he makes himself out to be. In 1871, Hiram Revels took his seat in the Senate. This is important: Obama has very cleverly positioned himself as the embodiment and apotheosis of all that good and true in American history. One desperately hopes he is doing this cynically. God help us all if he actually believes it.

Lincoln opens his rejoinder to Douglas -- I had just re-read all these debates a few weeks ago -- by stating that although Jefferson, as Lincoln argues, did have blacks in mind when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and thus that blacks, too, are created equal,
the Judge will have it that if we do not confess that there is a sort of inequality between the white and black races, which justifies us in making them slaves, we must, then, insist that there is a degree of equality that requires us to make them our wives....I have all the while maintained, that in so far as it should be insisted that there was an equality between the white and the black races that should produce perfect social and political equality, it was an impossibility. This you have seen in my printed speeches, and with it I have said, that in their right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as proclaimed in that old Declaration, the inferior races are our equals. And these declarations I have constantly made in reference to the abstract moral question, to contemplate and consider when we are legislating about any new country which is not already cursed with the actual presence of the evil -- slavery. I have never manifested any impatience with the necessities that spring from the actual presence of black people amongst us, and the actual existence of slavery amongst us where it does already exist; but I have insisted that, in legislating for new countries, wehre it does not exist, there is no just rule other than that of moral and abstract right!
Lincoln goes on to argue that slavery is wrong; that he is not a devotee of "extreme Abolitionism"; that the Republicans aren't any more sectionally divided than the Democrats; and that the right to slavery is not expressly affirmed in the Constitution. He cites Clay and the Colonization Society, favorably, in support of what he takes to be blacks' liberties and closes by supporting "acquisition of territory" -- this is understood as America's right -- but not supporting the expansion of slavery in those territories.

Come to think of it, maybe Lincoln's hypocrisy, Macbethian ambition, and warmongering is a good model for Obama after all!

Crisis and Opportunity, Ralph Nader

In ancient China, the character for “crisis” was associated with “opportunity.” This month Congress will be faced with both challenges from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, whose CEOS are begging for a very rapid $34 billion in emergency government loans.

The three auto giants have few cards to play other than the domino effect on the economy, should they collapse into bankruptcy and liquidation. Once Congress signals that, on behalf of its sullen taxpayers, going into this abyss will not happen, our national legislature will hold all the cards.

So if Congress and George W. Bush agree to have Uncle Sam bail out the auto bosses and their tanking companies, important reforms and models can emerge from this multi-faceted mega rescue.

Let it be called the coming of a vigorous government capitalism, based on rigorous conventional reciprocity. First, since the government is contributing tax dollars, taxpayers should receive taxpayer warrants and preferred shares held by the Treasury Department, for stock in the companies. Second, since the government would be a senior creditor, it should exercise restructuring powers to remove the top executives and the Boards of Directors along with other functional re-alignments.

Third, since the government is essentially performing as an insurer, basic standards of loss prevention should be applied. In this context, this means stronger fuel efficiency, emission-control and safety standards to enhance sales and increase the pressure on foreign auto companies. This insurance-driven requirement would further long-existing federal statutory missions in three areas of engineering performance.

In the past ten weeks, “government capitalism” has been a patsy, absorbing huge taxpayer dollars and liabilities to save an assortment of Wall Street financial corporations. Washington is guaranteeing a clutch of securitized mortgages and consumer loans and even guaranteeing, for the first time, 4 trillion dollars of money market funds.

The bailout of Citigroup illustrates the paucity of reciprocity. It is a sweetheart deal. With Citigroup’s co-executive. Robert Rubin rushing to Washington to structure the deal to save his bank and his own stock portfolio, the Bush regime took on $20 billion in preferred shares and put taxpayers at risk for over $300 billion in the big bank’s loan portfolio. Earlier in October, taxpayers were compelled to buy $25 billion in Citi preferred shares.

Whereas the Feds earlier took a potential 79% ownership of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to save those companies, for Citi the government only took 7.8% stake and left the management and board of directors intact.

Since these enormous bailouts and revisions of bailouts largely occur over weekends in frantic secret huddles between government officials formerly from Wall Street and their former colleagues from Wall Street, the actual agreements are not disclosed. They are considered official secrets, assuming they even have been finalized beyond mere memoranda of understanding.

Since all these deals, and more seem to be coming from other commercial and industrial pleaders, are general and appear to be open-ended, resourceful government capitalism can advance shareholder rights across the board and compel a variety of corporate reforms and accountabilities long-desired by progressives and conservatives alike.

At least the auto companies are being subjected to public Congressional hearings for this latest bailout round. In contrast, the CEOs of the financial goliaths got private roundtable treatment at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve for far greater rescue packages, revealed in brief statements on Monday morning.

Let’s have a level playing field here and treat all corporate welfare demanders under equal procedural rules shaped on Capitol Hill. Remember the Constitution. It says all spending bills start with the House of Representatives and then go to the Senate and then to the President. Secret taxpayer bailouts by Executive Branch press releases are not what the framers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.

With the installation of a new president and a new Congress next month, the process must be reversed and these White House-corporate “understandings” have to be reconsidered and, if maintained, revised.

This is a rare moment in American economic history. Just as the multinational corporations were about to complete the entrenchment of the corporate state in Washington, D.C.—what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described in 1939 as a condition of fascism—their speculative greed, recklessness, mismanagement and de-regulatory license turned them into massive supplicants at the taxpayers’ trough.

In early October, Washington has Wall Street over a Congressional barrel. Still, Wall Street rolled Washington into a $700 billion bailout barrel and rolled it back to New York City.

With a supposedly reformist Democratically dominated Congress and Obama in the White House, the balance of power for the people of our country can turn. But it will take prompt new exertions by the people, citizen groups, organized investors, taxpayers and workers. Seize the moment.

03 December 2008

Robert Gates, as Bad as Rumsfeld? By Ray McGovern

"As Bad As Rumsfeld?" The title jars, doesn't it? The more so, since Defense Secretary Robert Gates found his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, such an easy act to follow.

But the jarring part reflects how malnourished most of us are on the thin gruel served up by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).

Over the past few months, Defense Secretary Gates has generated accolades from FCM pundits — like the Washington Post's David Ignatius — that read like letters of recommendation to graduate school.

This comes as no surprise to those of us – including his former colleagues at the CIA’s analytical division – familiar with Gates's dexterity in orchestrating his own advancement. What DOES come as a surprise is the recurring rumor that President-elect Obama may decide to put new wine in old wineskins by letting Gates stay.

What can Barack Obama be thinking?

I suspect that those in Obama's circle who are promoting Gates may be the same advisers responsible for Obama's most naïve comment of the recent presidential campaign: that the "surge" of U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007-08 "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Succeeded? You betcha — the surge was a great success in terms of the administration's overriding objective. The aim was to stave off definitive defeat in Iraq until President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney could swagger from the West Wing into the western sunset on Jan. 20, 2009.

As author Steve Coll has put it, "The decision [to surge] at a minimum guaranteed that his [Bush's] presidency would not end with a defeat in history's eyes. By committing to the surge [the President] was certain to at least achieve a stalemate."

According to Bob Woodward, Bush told key Republicans in late 2005 that he would not withdraw from Iraq, "even if Laura and [first-dog] Barney are the only ones supporting me."

Later, Woodward made it clear that Bush was well aware in fall 2006 that the U.S. was losing. Suddenly, with some fancy footwork, it became Laura, Barney – and Robert Gates. And at the turn of 2006-07 the short-term fix was in.

But Please, No More Troops!

By the fall of 2006 it had become unavoidably clear that a new course had to be chosen and implemented in Iraq, and virtually every sober thinker seemed opposed to sending more troops.

The senior military, especially CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid and his man on the ground in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, emphasized that sending still more U.S. troops to Iraq would simply reassure leading Iraqi politicians that they could relax and continue to take forever to get their act together.

Here, for example, is Gen. Abizaid's answer at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15, 2006, to Sen. John McCain, who had long been pressing vigorously for sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq:

"Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, ‘in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?’ And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.”

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, sent a classified cable to Washington warning that "proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable," according to a New York Times retrospective on the “surge” by Michael R. Gordon published on Aug. 31, 2008.

Khalilzad was arguing, unsuccessfully, for authority to negotiate a political solution with the Iraqis.

There was also the establishment-heavy Iraq Study Group, created by Congress and led by Republican stalwart James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton. After months of policy review during 2006 – with Gates as a member – it issued a final report on Dec. 6, 2006, that began with the ominous sentence, "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." It called for:

"A change in the primary mission of U.S. Forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly… By the first quarter of 2008…all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

Robert Gates, who had been CIA director under President George H. W. Bush and spent years as president of Texas A&M, had returned to the Washington stage as a member of the Iraq Study Group. While on the ISG, he evidenced no disagreement with its emerging conclusions – at least not until Bush asked him to become Secretary of Defense in early November 2006.

Never one to let truth derail ambition, Gates suddenly saw things quite differently. After Bush announced his nomination on Nov. 8, Gates quit the ISG but kept his counsel about its already widely reported recommendations.

Gates would do what he needed to do to become Defense Secretary. At his confirmation hearing on Dec. 5, he obscured his opinions by telling the Senate Armed Services only that “all options are on the table in terms of Iraq.” Many Democrats, however, assumed that Gates would help persuade Bush to implement the ISG’s plan for a troop drawdown.

With unanimous Democratic support and only two conservative Republicans opposed, Gates was confirmed by the full Senate on Dec. 6, the same day the ISG report was formally released.

Gates to the Rescue

Yet, the little-understood story behind Bush’s decision to catapult Robert Gates into his Pentagon perch was the astonishing fact that Donald Rumsfeld, of all people, was pulling a Robert McNamara; that is, he was going wobbly on a war based largely on his own hubris-laden, misguided advice.

As investigative journalist Robert Parry has reported, in the fall of 2006 Rumsfeld was having a reality attack. In Rumsfeld-speak, he came face to face with a "known known."

On Nov. 6, 2006, a day before the mid-term elections, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House, in which he acknowledged, "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." The rest of his memo sounded very much like the emerging troop-drawdown conclusions of the Iraq Study Group.

The first 80 percent of Rumsfeld's memo addressed "Illustrative Options," including his preferred – or “above the line” – options such as "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases … to five by July 2007" and withdrawal of U.S. forces "from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. … so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Finally, Rumsfeld had begun to listen to his generals and others who knew which end was up.

The hurdle? Bush and Cheney were not about to follow Rumsfeld's example in "going wobbly." Like Robert McNamara at a similar juncture during Vietnam, Rumsfeld had to be let go before he caused a President to "lose a war."

Acutely sensitive to this political bugaboo, Rumsfeld included the following sentences at the end of the preferred-options section of his Nov. 6 memo:

"Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not 'lose.'"

The remainder of the memo listed "Below the Line — less attractive options." The top three in the "less attractive" category were:

"--Continue on the current path.
--Move a large fraction of all U.S. forces into Baghdad to attempt to control it.
--Increase Brigade Combat Teams and U.S. forces substantially."

In other words, a “surge.” (It is a safe bet that people loyal to Rumsfeld at the National Security Council alerted him to the surge-type plans being hatched off line by neoconservative strategists.)

In the White House's view, Rumsfeld had outlived his usefulness. One can assume that he floated his “above the line” trial balloons with Cheney and others before he sent over the actual memo on Nov. 6, 2006. What were Bush and Cheney to do?

Exit Left

It was awkward. Right up to the week before the mid-term elections on Nov. 7, 2006, President Bush had insisted that he intended to keep Rumsfeld in place for the next two years. Suddenly, the President had to deal with Rumsfeld's apostasy.

The Secretary of Defense had strayed off the reservation and he was putting his “above the line” recommendations in writing no less. Rumsfeld had let reality get to him, together with the very strong protestations of all senior uniformed officers save one — the ambitious David Petraeus, who was onboard for the “surge” escalation.

With the bemedaled Petraeus in the wings, the White House just needed a new Pentagon chief who could be counted on to take Rumsfeld's place, do the White House's bidding, and trot out Petraeus ex machina as needed.

On Nov. 5, 2006, Bush had a one-on-one with Gates in Crawford and the deal was struck. Forget the [tortuously, not "torturously" --Doug] hammered-out recommendations of the Iraq Study Group; forget what the military commanders were saying. Gates suddenly found the “surge” an outstanding idea.

Well, not really. That's just what he let Bush believe. Gates is second to none — not even Petraeus — in ambition and self-promotion. He wanted to be Secretary of Defense, to be back at center stage in Washington after nearly 14 years in exile from the big show.

He quickly agreed to tell Gen. Abizaid to retire; offer Gen. Casey a sinecure as Army chief of staff, providing he kept his mouth shut; and eagle-scout his way through Senate confirmation with the help of pundits like Ignatius composing panegyrics in honor of Gates, the "realist."

So relieved were the senators to be rid of the hated-but-feared Rumsfeld that the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Dec. 5 on Gates's nomination had the aura of a pajama party (I was there).

Gates told them bedtime stories. He vowed to show "great deference to the judgment of generals." (sic)

Trying to Explain the Surge

It was hardly two years ago, but memories fade and the Fawning Corporate Media, of course, is no help in shedding light on what actually happened.

Gates did his part in getting rid of Abizaid and Casey, but the administration faltered embarrassingly in coming up with a rationale to "justify" the surge. The truth, of course, was not an option. The White House could not exactly say, "We simply cannot live with the thought of losing a war before we leave town."

On Dec. 20, 2006, President Bush told the Washington Post that he was "inclined to believe we do need to increase our troops, the Army and Marines." He added, tellingly, "There's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops."

And he said he would look to Gates, just back from a quick trip to Baghdad, to help explain.

By way of preliminary explanation for the “surge,” President Bush wandered back and forth between "ideological struggle" to "sectarian violence." He told the Post, "I'm going to keep repeating this over and over again, that I believe we're in an ideological struggle" and, besides, "sectarian violence [is] obviously the real problem we face."

When it became clear that those dogs wouldn't hunt, the White House justified the “surge” as necessary to give Iraqi government leaders "breathing space" to work out their differences.

Breathing space for the leading Iraqi officials was the rationale offered by Bush in a major address on Jan 10, 2007. Pulling out all the stops, he raised the specter of another 9/11, and spoke of the "decisive ideological struggle of our time."

Bush dismissed those who "are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States" and those whose "solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad — or announce a phased withdrawal of our combat forces."

The President did warn that the year ahead would be "bloody and violent, even if our strategy works."

One would be tempted to laugh at Bush’s self-absorption -- and Gates’s ambition -- were we not talking about the completely unnecessary killing of over 1,000 U.S. troops, a quarter of all U.S. troops killed in this godforsaken war/occupation.

In reality, by throwing 20,000 to 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad, Bush and Cheney were the ones who got the two-year breathing space.

But what about that? What about the thousand-plus U.S. troops killed during the “surge”? The tens of thousand Iraqis? The hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes in the Baghdad area?

I fear the attitude was this: Nobody important would get killed, just a bunch of Iraqis and GIs mostly from small-town and inner-city America. And, anyway, our soldiers and Marines all volunteered, didn't they? (I almost did something violent to the last person I heard say that.)

Bush, Cheney and Gates apparently deemed it a small price to pay for enabling them to blame a successor administration for the inevitable withdrawal from America's first large-scale war of aggression.

The FCM missed it (surprise, surprise) but one did not have to be a crackerjack intelligence analyst to see what was happening.

At the time, Col. W. Patrick Lang, USA (retired), and I wrote a piece on Dec. 20, 2006, in which we exposed the chicanery and branded such a “surge” strategy "nothing short of immoral, in view of the predicable troop losses and the huge number of Iraqis who would meet violent injury and death."

Surprisingly, we were joined by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, who explained to ABC's George Stephanopoulos why Smith said on the Senate floor that U.S. policy on Iraq may be "criminal."

"You can use any adjective you want, George. But I have long believed that in a military context, when you do the same thing over and over again without a clear strategy for victory, at the expense of your young people in arms, that is dereliction. That is deeply immoral."

Go West, Young Man

There are a host of reasons why Robert Gates should not be asked to stay on by President-elect Obama. (Robert Parry has put together much of Gates’s history in his 2004 book, Secrecy & Privilege, and you may wish to read what I and other former CIA analysts, who knew Gates during that part of his career, have written at Consortiumnews.com’s Gates archive.)

For me, Gates's role in the unnecessary killing of still more Americans and Iraqis is quite enough to disqualify him.

I have known Gates for almost 40 years; he has always been transparently ambitious, but he is also bright. He knew better; and he did it anyway.

One can only hope that, once President-elect Obama has time to focus seriously on prospective Cabinet appointments, he will discount advice from those taken in by the cheerleading for Gates or from the kind of dullard who suggested that Obama finesse the FCM’s simplistic embrace of the “surge” by saying it “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

[For more on the alleged success of the “surge,” see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Rising Cost of the Iraq Surge.”]

For Gates, Rumsfeld was an extremely easy act to follow. But, at least in one sense, Gates is worse than Rumsfeld, for Rumsfeld had finally begun to listen to the right people and adjust. It now seems the height of irony that the “above the line” adjustments that Rumsfeld proposed in his memo of Nov. 6, 2006, would have had most U.S. troops out of Iraq by now.

But can one portray Gates as worse than Rumsfeld across the board? I think not. When you crank in torture, lying and total disrespect for law, Rumsfeld has a clear edge in moral turpitude. Still, I suspect this matters little to the thousands now dead because of the “surge” that Gates did so much to enable — and to the families of the fallen.

Surely, it should not be too much to expect that President-elect Obama find someone more suitable to select for Secretary of Defense than an unprincipled chameleon like Gates.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). McGovern was Robert Gates's branch chief at the start of Gates's career as a CIA analyst; he never asked McGovern for a letter of recommendation.

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Empire classic or empire lite? Pepe Escobar

Unembeddable, or at least it's not working for me, for the moment. Click the title to view. I'd say Obama's a fraud, but that gives him too much credit. He never really hid his imperial mentality; his supporters, confused and naive, did that work for him.

An Interrogator Speaks: I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq, Matthew Alexander (pseudonym)

Dershowitz -- and a host of other ignorant, sadistic, or dishonest self-appointed "experts" -- should read this.

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I'm still alarmed about that today.

I'm not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me -- both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn't work.

Violence was at its peak during my five-month tour in Iraq. In February 2006, the month before I arrived, Zarqawi's forces (members of Iraq's Sunni minority) blew up the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites, and unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed. Reprisal killings became a daily occurrence, and suicide bombings were as common as car accidents. It felt as if the whole country was being blown to bits.

Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi. What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators' bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules -- and often break them. I don't have to belabor the point; dozens of newspaper articles and books have been written about the misconduct that resulted. These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.

Perhaps he should have. It turns out that my team was right to think that many disgruntled Sunnis could be peeled away from Zarqawi. A year later, Gen. David Petraeus helped boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically.

Our new interrogation methods led to one of the war's biggest breakthroughs: We convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.

But Zarqawi's death wasn't enough to convince the joint Special Operations task force for which I worked to change its attitude toward interrogations. The old methods continued. I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished. Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.

I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

After my return from Iraq, I began to write about my experiences because I felt obliged, as a military officer, not only to point out the broken wheel but to try to fix it. When I submitted the manuscript of my book about my Iraq experiences to the Defense Department for a standard review to ensure that it did not contain classified information, I got a nasty shock. Pentagon officials delayed the review past the first printing date and then redacted an extraordinary amount of unclassified material -- including passages copied verbatim from the Army's unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army's own Web site. I sued, first to get the review completed and later to appeal the redactions. Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don't even want the public to hear them.

My experiences have landed me in the middle of another war -- one even more important than the Iraq conflict. The war after the war is a fight about who we are as Americans. Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can't force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves. One day, when my grandkids sit on my knee and ask me about the war, I'll say to them, "Which one?"

Americans, including officers like myself, must fight to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them. Other interrogators are also speaking out, including some former members of the military, the FBI and the CIA who met last summer to condemn torture and have spoken before Congress -- at considerable personal risk.

We're told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations -- and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.

I'm actually quite optimistic these days, in no small measure because President-elect Barack Obama has promised to outlaw the practice of torture throughout our government. But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We're better than that. We're smarter, too.


Matthew Alexander led an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006. He is the author of "How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq." He is writing under a pseudonym for security reasons.

Confronting the Terrorist Within, Chris Hedges

Absolutely brilliant.

02 December 2008

Woody Allen - A Life In Film

Kafka has a rival. The Foreign Office lectures us on human rights, John Pilger

In an article for the Guardian, John Pilger describes the black irony of an "open day to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" at the Foreign Office, guardian of rapacious British power and policies that invert the meaning of human rights.

Today (December 1), a surreal event will take place in the centre of London. The Foreign Office is holding an open day “to highlight the importance of Human Rights in our work as part of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. There will be various “stalls” and “panel discussions” and Foreign Secretary David Miliband will present a human rights prize. Is this a spoof? No. The Foreign Office wants to raise our “human rights awareness”. Kafka and Heller have many counterfeits.

There will be no stall for the Chagos islanders, the 2,000 British citizens expelled from their Indian Ocean homeland, whom Miliband’s government has fought to prevent from returning to what is now a US military base and suspected CIA torture centre. The High Court has repeatedly restored this fundamental human right to the islanders, the essence of Magna Carta, describing the Foreign Office actions as “outrageous”, “repugnant” and “illegal”. No matter. Miliband’s lawyers refused to give up and were rescued on 22 October by the transparently political judgements of three law lords.

There will be no stall for the victims of a systemic British policy of exporting arms and military equipment to ten out of 14 of Africa’s most war-bloodied and impoverished countries. In his speech today, with the good people of Amnesty and Save the Children in attendance, shamefully, what will Miliband say to the sufferers of this British-sponsored violence? Perhaps he will make mention, as he often does, of the need for “good governance” in faraway places while his own regime suppresses a Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE’s £43 arms deals with the corrupt tyranny in Saudi Arabia -- with which, noted the Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells in 2007, the British had “shared values”.

There will be no stall for those Iraqis whose social, cultural and real lives have been smashed by an unprovoked invasion based on proven lies. Will the foreign secretary apologise for the cluster bombs the British have scattered, still blowing legs off children, and the depleted uranium and other toxics that have seen cancer consume swathes of southern Iraq? Will he speak about the universal human right to knowledge and announce a diversion of a fraction of the billions bailing out the City of London to the restoration of what was one of the finest school systems in the Middle East, obliterated as a consequence of the Anglo-American invasion, along with museums and publishing houses and bookstores, and teachers and historians and anthropologists and surgeons? Will he announce the dispatch of simple painkillers and syringes to hospitals that once had almost everything and now have nothing, in a country where British governments, especially his own, took the lead in blocking humanitarian aid, including Kim Howells’ ban on vaccines to protect children from preventable diseases?

There will be no stall for the people of Gaza of whom, says the International Red Cross, starvation threatens the majority, mostly children. In pursuing a policy of reducing one and a half million people to a Hobbesian existence, the Israelis have cut most lifelines. David Miliband was in Jerusalem recently within a short helicopter flight of the captive people of Gaza. He did not go and said nothing about their human rights, preferring weasel words about a “truce” between tormentor and victims.

There will be no stall for the trade unionists, students, journalists and human rights defenders assassinated in Colombia, a country where the government’s “security forces” are trained by the British and Americans and responsible for 90 per cent of torture, says a new study by the British human rights group, Justice for Colombia. The Foreign Office says it is “improving the human rights record of the military and combating drug trafficking”. The study finds not a shred of evidence to support this. Colombian officers implicated in murder are welcomed to Britain for “seminars”.

There will be no stall for history, for our memory. Stored in the great British libraries and record offices, unclassified official files tell the truth about British policy and human rights, from officially condoned atrocities in the concentration camps of colonial Kenya and the arming of the genocidal General Suharto in Indonesia, to the supply of and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.

As we hear the moralising drone of ex British military “security experts” telling us what to think about terrible events in Mumbai, we might recall Britain’s historic role as midwife to violent extremism in modern Islam, from the rise of the Moslem brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s and the overthrow of Iran’s liberal democratic government to MI6’s arming of the Afghan muhijadeen, the Taliban in waiting. The aim was, and remains, the denial of nationalism to peoples struggling to be free, especially in the Middle East where oil, says a secret Foreign Office document from 1947, is “a vital prize for any power interested in world influence and domination”. Human rights are almost entirely absent from this official memory, unlike fear of being found out. The secret expulsion of the Chagos islanders, says a 1964 Foreign Office memorandum of guidance, “should be timed to attract the least attention and should have some logical cover [so as not to] arouse suspicions as to their purpose.”

How is this wonderland perpetuated? The media play its historic role, following the line of power, censoring by omission. Roland Challis, who was the BBC’s south-east Asia correspondent when Suharto was slaughtering hundreds of thousands of alleged communists in the 1960s, told me, “It was a triumph for western propaganda. My British sources purported not to know what was going on, but they knew... British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in this terrible holocaust.”

Today, public relations propaganda dressed up as scholarship promotes the same rapacious British power while seeking to fix the boundaries of public discussion. A report was released last week by the Institute for Public Policy Research which describes itself as “the UK’s leading progressive think tank”. Having been emptied of its dictionary meaning, the once noble term, “progressive”, joins “democracy” and “centre-left” as deception. Lord George Robertson, the New Labour warmonger, Trident devotee and ex Nato boss, has his moniker at the front, along with Paddy Ashdown, ex viceroy of the Balkans. Couched in crisis management cliches, the IPPR report (“Shared Destinies”) is a “call to action” because “weak, corrupt and failing states have become bigger security risks than strong, competitive ones”. With western state terror unmentionable, the “call” is for Nato in Africa and military intervention “if deemed necessary”.

There is a nod to the “perception” that the current Anglo-American “intervention” in Muslim lands beckons terrorism in Britain: that which is blindingly obvious to most people. In February 2003, almost 80 per cent of Londoners surveyed said they believed that a British attack on Iraq “would make a terrorist attack on London more likely”. This was precisely the warning given Blair by the Joint Intelligence Committee. The warning is no less urgent while “we” continue to assault other people’s countries and allow false champions to steal the human rights of us all.

Obama's war cabinet shows not much will change

More from Democracy Now.

30 November 2008

Cries and Whispers, Bergman (1972)

Mesoamerican Documentaries

The Dawn of the Maya (National Geographic)

The Lost Gods - The Maya (History Channel)

Mystery of the Maya (IMAX)

Engineering an Empire - The Maya (History Channel)

Natural World - Secrets of the Maya Underworld (BBC)

Nova - Cracking the Maya Code

Ancient Apocalypse: The Maya Collapse (BBC)

Places of Mystery - Chichen Itza's Sacred Ceremonies

Secrets of the ancients - Olmec Heads (BBC)

Ancient Voices: Aztecs: Inside the Hidden Empire (BBC)

Ancient Warriors - The Aztecs (Discovery Channel)

In Search of History - The Aztec Empire (History Channel)

Unsolved History - Aztec Temple of Blood

Blood and Flowers - In Search of the Aztecs (BBC)

Conquistadors - The fall of the Aztecs (PBS)

Heroes and Villains - Hernan Cortes (BBC)

Engineering an Empire - The Aztecs (History Channel)

The Aztec Massacre

The Last Aztec

What the Ancients Did for Us - The Aztecs and Maya

Ancient Civilizations - Fall Of The Aztec & Maya Empires (Not embeddable.)

Ancient Mysteries - The Puzzling Pyramids of Mexico (Not embeddable.)

Complete Version of Vidal Interview in Ravello in 1997

Complete version of this.