Thursday, November 24, 2005

What We Progressives Have to be Thankful For

By MARC MCDONALD

At first glance, it might appear that we on the left don't have much to celebrate this Thanksgiving. After all, the country is ruled by a criminal Republican administration. Young working-class Americans are dying daily in Iraq for an illegal and immoral war. And America seems to be going to hell in a hand basket (made, of course, in China--the same nation that is financing our nation's nightmarish trade and fiscal deficits).

But this Thanksgiving, it's important to remember that, despite all that is wrong in Bush's America, we progressives still have a number of things to be thankful for:

1. Cindy Sheehan. When you gather today with your family to celebrate Thanksgiving, give a word of thanks for this brave mother of a fallen soldier, who is once again returning to Crawford. Sheehan stood up to the forces of the right and demanded accountability from Bush over his immoral war when no one else would, including our gutless mainstream media.

2. U.S. Rep. John Murtha. He was a brave soldier who served in Vietnam and he continues to show his bravery as a politician, daring to speak the painful truth about the Iraq war. His wise words carry weight, too, (as indeed they should coming from a twice-wounded retired Marine Corps colonel).

3. BuzzFlash and the rest of the growing progressive online media. These might not be the best of times for the American left, but I'll say one thing: today, we are more networked and informed than ever, thanks to online alternative media. With the rise of the Internet, the media is splintering into thousands of independent voices, that corporate America (much to its horror) cannot control.

4. The prospect of impeachment. Granted, this one probably has a remote chance of ever happening, at least as long as the GOP controls Congress. But admit it, it's something that is at least fun to fantasize about, as we watch the ongoing TreasonGate investigation unfold.

5. Tom DeLay's indictment. Delay is the first House leader to be indicted while in office in at least a century and, man, has this case been entertaining to watch.

6. Bev Harris. The director of Black Box Voting (which refers to voting on electronic machines that do not print paper ballots) is still out there on the front lines, working to make America's elections fair.

7. Air America. A breath of fresh air on the nation's airwaves, this growing radio network is a slap in the face to right-wing commentators who previously had arrogantly assured us that liberal talk radio would never fly.

8. John Conyers. Back in June, the Democrats finally re-discovered their backbone when Conyers kicked off a lonely fight against long odds to investigate the Downing Street memo.

9. Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. Some of the smartest, and funniest, progressive discussions on the boob tube happen on Maher's HBO show. His only rival is the incredibly incisive and right-on-target political humor on Stewart's "The Daily Show."

10. Noam Chomsky. After all these years, this activist, author and national treasure is still telling the truths that America needs to hear. Chomsky's inspiring words of wisdom are more important than ever today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Despite Cheney Claim, Iraq Documented That It Had No WMDs in 2002

By MARC MCDONALD

As he continued to accuse war critics of "revisionism," Dick Cheney insisted that the "burden of proof" was on Saddam Hussein to show that Iraq had no WMDs.

Actually, it is Cheney who is engaging in revisionism. The fact is, Iraq went to great pains in 2002 to document that it had no WMDs.

For example, on Dec. 7, 2002, Iraqi officials presented the U.N. with a 12,000-page dossier disclosing Iraq's programs for weapons of mass destruction (as demanded by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441). Also, on that day, Iraqi officials agreed to open the country to another round of U.N. weapons inspections.

No one could accuse Iraq of skimping on details in the dossier. The declaration included 11,807 pages of information, with 1,334 pages devoted to biological weapons and 1,823 pages devoted to chemical weapons and 12 CD-ROMs containing 529 megabytes of information, according to a CNN report.

At the time, Iraqi General Hasam Amin said the dossier shows "that Iraq is empty of weapons of mass destruction. I reiterate Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction."

Of course, the Bush White House denounced the dossier--but offered no evidence to show that the document was in any way inaccurate.

On Dec. 5, 2002, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer ridiculed the idea that Iraq might not have WMDs after all:

"President Bush has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Donald Rumsfeld has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction ... Iraq says they don't. You can choose who you want to believe."

In hindsight, I suppose it's quite predictable that the Bush White House would casually dismiss Iraq's accounting of its WMDs in its reckless rush to war.

But one point that has been overlooked in this whole episode is that when Iraq presented its dossier to the U.N. in December 2002, its information was actually not much different than that which had been presented by the Bush White House the previous year.

Colin Powell made this clear when he praised the U.N. sanctions as effective during a Feb. 24, 2001 press conference.

"(Saddam) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

As it turns out, Iraq was telling the truth after all in 2002 when it declared that it had no WMDs. It was the Bush White House that was lying to the American people and the world.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hard Truth From Murtha, More Ludicrous Lying From Cheney

By MANIFESTO JOE

It looks like the gloves, at long last, may finally be off. And the fellow now leading the charge against a tragic and needless war is an unlikely one.

U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania is a Democrat, but a very hawkish one. He's a retired Marine Corps colonel who was wounded twice in Vietnam. He was an early supporter of the Iraq war.

But after 32 months and the loss of over 2,000 American lives, it was time at last for someone of his background to state the obvious.

"The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily," Murtha said. "It is time to bring them (the troops) home."

This came just after our "vice president," Dick Cheney, said that accusations that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify the war were a "dishonest and reprehensible" political ploy. He went on to call Democrats "opportunists" who are peddling "cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to gain advantage while U.S. troops are dying in Iraq.

Cheney's absurd venom would be laughable if it weren't so audacious. It comes from the quintessential political opportunist, and someone whose approval rating in one poll has plummeted to 19 percent -- probably a little higher than Lyndon LaRouche's.

Cheney's habitual lying about Iraq is well-documented. AMERICAblog.com has a link to an online document, prepared for U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., presenting 51 instances of Cheney misleading the country about Iraq. And the contradictions, one upon another, over time, are so blatant that it would be a sick joke to try to pass this stuff off as lapses of memory, a la Karl Rove's ostensible defense over Leakgate.

The "vice president" has also been a shameless prevaricator about other things. During his debate with John Edwards in 2004, the perpetually sneering Cheney apparently lied in his snide, petty comments about never having met Edwards. The idea, it would seem, was to cast aspersions on Edwards' attendance record in the Senate. The fact is that they were photographed together more than once, years before the debate. The proof surfaced the next day.

Unfortunately, Edwards is a nice guy who decided to keep the gloves on. He didn't call Cheney a liar right on the spot. He just showed the news media the pictures the next day. But the damage had been done. And this graciousness is a mistake Democrats have been making for decades.

But now an unlikely Democrat, an ex-Marine with views similar to the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, has his knuckles out. And he seems ready to decorate them with a little brass.

He said sardonically of chickenhawk Cheney, "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

It is sad that our political discourse has degenerated so much into the muck of ad hominem attacks. But hey, newsflash -- this whole thing got far too personal long ago. When one is dealing with foes as unscrupulous and disingenuous as the perpetually sneering Herr Cheney, dirty, ruthless and mean fighting is somewhat necessary.

It is not the way we would normally choose. And I'm not talking about stooping all the way down to their pond-scum level. (That would actually be hard to do.) But the gloves have to come off, and stay off.

All Democrats, and all Republicans who still have half a brain and half a conscience, should follow Murtha's example. One way or another, it is imperative to put an end to this administration's brazen contempt for public responsibility, honesty and just plain decency.

MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Did U.S. Forces Seize Fallujah Hospital to Conceal Evidence of White Phosphorus Attacks?

By MARC MCDONALD

The recent revelation that U.S. forces used white phosphorus weapons during its assault on Fallujah raises questions about the seizing of Fallujah's general hospital early in the campaign.

U.S. military officials have recently admitted using white phosphorus weapons in Fallujah after long denying it. The devastating chemical weapons melt human flesh and can burn through skin, right down to the bone.

When the U.S. military forces bombarded Fallujah in November 2004, their first act was to seize the city's main hospital and arrest the doctors. U.S. officials claimed at the time that the hospital was selected as an early target because it was a "center of propaganda."

Author Noam Chomsky has pointed out that the hospital seizure was a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions. The treaties state that "medical units and transports shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack."

Chomsky notes that after the U.S. military's seizure of Fallujah's general hospital, "patients were kicked out of their beds and doctors and patients were forced to lie on the floor, handcuffed."

And it raises an interesting question: did the U.S. military seize the hospital to suppress news about the use of its white phosphorus attacks in Fallujah? After all, the U.S. official's stated rationale for seizing the hospital was to control the flow of information. And what better way to conceal reports of civilian casualties bearing telltale white phosphorus burns than to seize Fallujah's hospital?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Republicans Don't Understand Capitalism

By MARC McDONALD

If you're a progressive, you know how tedious it can be to engage in an argument with a Republican these days. Conservatives delight in rambling on about topics that they believe they understand (but are actually clueless about). "American values" for one thing.

But no topic gets Republicans more passionate than "capitalism." After all, the GOP is supposed to be the party of capitalism, free markets, and unbridled free enterprise.

It's interesting, though, how little Republicans seem to know about capitalism. It's probably just as well, because if they delved into the history of capitalist theory, they'd likely have a heart attack.

Take, for example, the bible of capitalism, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Smith wrote this book after an extended visit to Paris in the 1760s in which he met with French economic thinkers and listened to their theories about laissez faire.

Therefore, much of what we identify as "capitalism" these days originated in France, of all places. So the next time your conservative brother-in-law starts bending your ear about capitalism, free markets, and economic competition, you might point out to him that he's supporting French ideas.

This really shouldn't be surprising, though. I mean, what could be more French than George W. Bush taking a 5-week vacation?

When I hear the likes of Bush and Dick Cheney talking about capitalism and free markets, I have to laugh. Neither man would know capitalism if it ran over him on the highway.

For example, Bush was a total failure in the business world. He drove three companies he founded into the ground (despite the fact that his daddies' rich friends gave him financial backing).

Bush only became rich when his daddies' wealthy friends linked him up with a sweetheart deal: The Ballpark stadium in Arlington, Texas. The stadium was funded by taxpayers. It was hardly an example of "capitalism". In fact, it was the very definition of corporate welfare.

It's obvious that Bush knows nothing about capitalism, or what it takes to survive and prosper in the private sector. But that, of course, doesn't keep him from constantly rambling on as though he were a seasoned expert on topics like capitalism, the private sector and free markets.

It's clear that Bush's idea of "capitalism" consists of socialism for the rich, and brutal, dog-eat-dog capitalism for the rest of us.

As a result, in Bush's America, U.S. corporations pocket over $300 billion a year in corporate welfare. And over 60 percent of corporations pay zero income taxes.

Meanwhile, small mom-and-pop businesses across the land are struggling to compete with the likes of corporate-welfare-collecting giants like Wal-Mart. As a result, Wal-Mart's success in crushing its smaller rivals has nothing to do with "the free market" or "capitalism."

Republicans know nothing about capitalism. And the fact that they control all the levers of power in this country at the moment is worrying for anyone who's concerned about America's economic health.

A big problem is Bush's lackadaisical attitude toward deficits. America's trade deficits and government deficits are both at unprecedented levels and are soaring into the stratosphere.

If Bush was a seasoned, experienced businessman with real-world success in the private sector, he might be alarmed at the deficits he's racking up.

People like George Soros (who have real-world experience in the dog-eat-dog capitalist jungle) ARE alarmed. They realize that America's nightmarish deficits are unsustainable. In fact, to a growing number of economic commentators, America's mammoth deficits are by far the biggest threat facing America these days.

I believe that Bush & Co. not only don't understand capitalism, but that their ignorance is responsible for an unfolding economic train wreck that will end America's dominance in the world.

One might wonder: why ISN'T Bush alarmed at America's deficits? After all, we're talking about deficits that are unprecedented in world history. We're talking about a government deficit so massive that it costs the U.S. over $300 billion a year just to service the debt interest.

As author Gerald J. Swanson pointed out in his recent book, America the Broke, our nation's total future obligation, in current dollars, now totals at least $44.2 trillion. (That's trillion, with a "T").

Actually, there's a simple reason for Bush's complacency. He's confident that other nations will always be happy to finance our debt. Republicans in general have a "don't worry, be happy" approach to this crisis.

To Republicans, it's perfectly rational to dole out billions of dollars in tax breaks for the rich, while launching two costly wars. They give little thought to where all this money is coming from. They're quite confident that the likes of China and Japan will always be happy to dole out billions to finance our deficits.

Republicans remind me of wealthy, naive, trust-fund-collecting kids who regularly jump into their BMWs and drive up to their ATM machines to withdraw money. They never give a second's thought about where that money is coming from.

To those of us who actually understand capitalism, though, we have reason for alarm about America's future.

We understand what it takes to run a successful business and balance our books. And we know that America's soaring deficits are simply unsustainable.

We understand that the nations that finance America's debt could get cold feet at any moment and yank the rug out from underneath the U.S. With the dollar already in steady decline, investing in the U.S. Treasury bills is an increasingly unattractive option for the likes of Japan and China these days.

Unlike the Bush & Co., anyone with even a passing knowledge of capitalism understands that the U.S. dollar is headed for meltdown. And the era of U.S. economic global dominance is about to end.

People born with a silver spoon in their mouth like Bush & Co. and their smug wealthy supporters are about to get a harsh dose of cold reality in the lessons of Basic Capitalism 101.

Unfortunately, it'll be the American people who pay the price for Republicans' ignorance about the fundamentals of capitalism.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

An Open Letter: Don't Be a Coward Again, Mr. Bush, Meet With Cindy

By MARC MCDONALD

Cindy Sheehan is planning to resume her protest during the Thanksgiving holiday at Bush's Crawford ranch. So I figured this would be as good a time as any to send an open letter to Bush:

Mr. Bush, we all know you were a coward who ran like a little girl from serving in combat when our nation was at war in Vietnam. But I urge you not to be a coward this time. Please go ahead and meet with Cindy Sheehan. She doesn't bite.

I don't know if you're aware of this, Mr. Bush, but the United States is not a monarchy. And you are not a king. Instead, you are merely a government employee. You work for the taxpayers (like Cindy and myself) who pay your salary.

So please don't be a coward, Mr. Bush. Go ahead and meet with Cindy---you owe it to her, as she lost her son in your illegal invasion of Iraq. This war, which was based on lies, has led to the senseless deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers, as well as 100,000 Iraqis.

I find it interesting, Mr. Bush, how you don't have time to meet with Cindy---and yet you've always found time to warmly receive Saudi princes at your Crawford ranch. (You know, the same Saudis who have admitted that they funded Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. The same Saudis who have steadfastly refused to cooperate in any way with U.S. 9/11 investigators).

Granted, unlike the Saudis, Cindy doesn't have billions of dollars to give you, your family, and your business associates. But I still urge you to meet with her and hear what she has to say. Please, I urge you. Don't be a coward again, Mr. Bush.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What's Really Going on Behind the Scenes During Bush's Asia Trip

By MARC MCDONALD

With the ever-growing scandals plaguing his administration, Bush is now spending as much time as possible far away from Washington. And you can't get much farther away than Asia, where Bush departed this week, shortly after returning from his Latin American trip.

For anyone wondering what business Bush will conduct behind closed doors while in Tokyo, know this: the U.S. media's reporting of Bush's trip will almost certainly be inaccurate and misleading.

There are several reasons for this. One is the fact that few, if any, members of the U.S. press corps traveling with Bush are fluent in the Japanese language. In fact, even the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has a severe shortage of Japanese speakers. A second factor is that few Americans have any sort of grasp on how Japanese culture works. An idiot abroad like Bush is likely to be completely in the dark on such matters as the fact that the Japanese routinely smother everything they say with ritual self modesty. Another problem is that the Japanese rarely bluntly say exactly what's on their minds---they tend to speak ambiguously. The person they're speaking to is expected to "read between the lines."

When Bush meets with Japan's leaders, there will be public, high-profile issues to be discussed (like the current beef import dispute). But what's really important is what will be discussed behind closed doors in Tokyo. While no one really knows for sure what Bush will be talking about in secret with Japan's leaders, I'd like to offer some speculation on this issue.

For a start, the high-profile beef issue is nothing more than a red herring issue offered up by Tokyo to (A) give the U.S. media something to talk about and (B) create an issue by which Bush can "save face" during which what will likely be a humbling experience for the U.S. president. Look for Tokyo to soon announce a "breakthrough" agreement on beef that Bush will be able to present to the U.S. public as a negotiating "triumph."

However, the fact is, Tokyo (correctly) regards beef as nothing more than a simple commodity that can be sourced from scores of nations around the world. Tokyo is simply using the beef issue as a means of deflecting attention away from what it considers the real, urgent issues of importance.

First among these is the fact that Japan wants the U.S. to continue to cooperate with Tokyo's economic, trade and industrial policies. The U.S. has been playing ball with Tokyo (from an ever-diminishing position of strength) ever since America's trade deficits with Tokyo began to explode during the Reagan administration.

I'd expect that the Japanese will gently make it clear to Bush that, if the U.S. continues to cooperate with Japan's policies, then Tokyo will continue to fund America's titanic trade and fiscal deficits.

And what sort of cooperation are the Japanese looking for? Well, for a start, they do not want the U.S. to consider tariffs or embargoes, or any other actions that would halt the gigantic flood of Japanese imports into the U.S. market. I find it interesting how a quarter of a century ago (before the U.S. became critically dependent on Japanese capital) the U.S. trade deficit with Japan was an issue with a vastly higher profile in U.S. politics and media than it is today. This, despite the fact that today, the U.S. has vastly larger deficits with Japan than it did then.

Note that I am not criticizing Tokyo in any way for its approach on trade issues. Japan is simply looking out for the best interests of its people. By contrast, the same cannot be said of America's leadership, sadly. In fact, in playing ball with Tokyo, Bush and the rest of America's leadership is doing nothing less than selling out America's long-term interests for short-term gain.

It's clear that Tokyo's leadership recognizes that America's officials are basically corrupt and will do anything for money. Tokyo saw this as far back as the Reagan administration. It's important to remember that Reagan routinely cooperated with Tokyo on trade matters (much to the detriment of U.S. industry). And in the end, Reagan was rewarded by Tokyo: when he left office, he was able to pocket several million dollars for merely giving a couple of speeches in Tokyo.

I've long believed that a big flaw of American-style capitalism is that it focuses too much on the short term and pays zero attention to the long term. This, clearly, is a problem that also plagues America's political system today. While Tokyo is looking ahead the next quarter of a century, U.S. leaders look no further ahead than the next fiscal quarter.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bush White House Borrows A Trick From Nixon In Altering Transcripts

By MARC MCDONALD

It's clear that we're dealing with a corrupt administration when the White House can't even be trusted to provide accurate transcripts of its own statements. In altering the words of Press Secretary Scott McClellan, the Bush White House is taking a cue from the Nixon administration, which resorted to the same dirty trick in its embattled final days.

The Web site Think Progress has documented how the Bush White House altered the transcript of McClellan's words from an Oct. 31, 2004 press conference.

From Think Progress:

There is a brewing controversy about what exactly was said at the White House press conference on October 31. Everyone agrees NBC’s David Gregory said this:

Q: Whether there’s a question of legality, we know for a fact that there was involvement. We know that Karl Rove, based on what he and his lawyer have said, did have a conversation about somebody who Patrick Fitzgerald said was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. We know that Scooter Libby also had conversations.

Both Congressional Quarterly and FNS transcribed McClellan’s answer as "That’s accurate." The White House transcript lists McClellan’s answer as "I don't think that’s accurate."

This episode is likely to trigger a sense of deja vu among those of us who recall a similar controversy that emerged during the Watergate scandal.

In his book, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, author Anthony Summers documents how the Nixon White House also altered transcripts, which it released in lieu of the Watergate tapes that were subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee. When the latter compared the transcribed conversations to several that the panel had already received in audio form, it discovered a number of troubling discrepancies.

One example cited by Summers:

Transcript for March 22, 1973, as released by Nixon:

PRESIDENT: Well, all John Mitchell is arguing then, is that now we use flexibility in order to get off the cover-up line.

Judiciary Committee transcript:

PRESIDENT: But now--what--all that John Mitchell is arguing, then, is that now, we, we use flexibility.
JOHN DEAN: That's correct.
PRESIDENT: In order to get on with the cover-up plan.

Summers notes that the Nixon White House also made other alterations in the transcripts, including the deletion of the now-infamous passage in which Nixon ordered: "I want you all to stonewall it...cover up, or anything else."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Torture Is As American As Apple Pie

By MARC MCDONALD

George W. Bush raised a lot of eyebrows when he emphatically stated that the U.S. does not engage in torture. It was an ironic comment, especially in view of the White House's recent fierce lobbying against a congressional drive to outlaw torture.

I'm not sure how Bush defines "torture." But, as journalist Seymour Hersh has pointed out, the U.S. government has videos that depict children being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The White House has fought to prevent the public release of these videos.

As Hersh noted:
"...the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking."

I have to admit, I was a bit baffled at Bush's "we do not torture" comment. Torture has been well documented at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities. Torture techniques range from the practice of "water boarding" (which simulates the effect of drowning) to vicious beatings. Other torture techniques include the pressing of lit cigarettes against detainees' flesh. Prisoners were also reportedly forced to walk on broken glass and barbed wire.

Although the Bush White House has embraced torture and vigorously defended the practice, it's important to note that torture is nothing new in American history.

For example, torture was widely employed by the Reagan-backed Central American death squads, which massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1980s. One secret CIA manual, from 1983, offered advice in various torture techniques.

If Bush really believes the U.S. doesn't engage in torture, he really ought to bone up on his history. Bush wouldn't have to venture far from his Crawford ranch to find ample evidence---after all, nearby Waco knows a thing or two about torture.

For example, in 1916, a mentally retarded African-American youth, Jesse Washington, was arrested on the flimsiest of evidence in the murder of a Waco-area woman. After a short sham trial, the 17-year-old youth was dragged out of a courtroom by the trial spectators. He was slashed repeatedly with knives, castrated, and had his fingers and toes cut off. Then, before a crowd of 15,000 in downtown Waco, he was burned alive at the stake. City officials did nothing to stop the lynching, which was observed by the mayor and chief of police.

But I suppose it's unfair to single out Waco for this atrocity. In fact, Washington's torture-murder was only one of tens of thousands of lynchings that occurred during what historians have referred to as the era of "spectacle lynchings" from the 1880s to the 1920s. In many cases, the victims were tortured for hours, before they were soaked with kerosene and set on fire by cheering mobs. Like the Washington murder, many of the lynchings occurred in broad daylight, in crowded downtown areas, while city officials looked on, or even participated.

This ugly chapter of widespread torture has been largely forgotten by Americans today. Taking a cue from Stalinist Russia, the U.S. has carefully airbrushed away its atrocities when presenting the official, sanitized version of American history.

Some people might argue that, although thousands of lynchings did occur, they all happened a long time ago. They might wish to tell this to the family of James Byrd, Jr. In 1998, Byrd was chained to a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas.

In the aftermath of the Jasper lynching, a grass-roots effort in Texas urged the state to pass a hate crimes act to help prevent future atrocities. However, the bill failed to pass in the Texas Legislature after then-Governor George W. Bush refused to support the bill.

When Bush claims that the U.S. doesn't engage in torture, he's simply carrying on a rich tradition of denial and suppression of the truth that is as American as apple pie.