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25 October 2008

Nader/Gonzalez Wall Street Rally against the Bailout, 10/17/08

Third Party Debate: Nader and Chuck Baldwin, Chris Hedges, Moderator

Watch on RealPlayer here. Or just watch here:

Abu Nidal, notorious Palestinian mercenary, 'was a US spy', Robert Fisk, Oct 25, 2008

Secret papers claim the feared assassin was hired to find links between Saddam and al-Qa'ida. Robert Fisk reports

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Iraqi secret police believed that the notorious Palestinian assassin Abu Nidal was working for the Americans as well as Egypt and Kuwait when they interrogated him in Baghdad only months before the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Hitherto secret documents which are now in the hands of The Independent – written by Saddam Hussein's brutal security services for Saddam's eyes only – state that he had been "colluding" with the Americans and, with the help of the Egyptians and Kuwaitis, was trying to find evidence linking Saddam and al-Qa'ida.

President George Bush was to use claims of a relationship with al-Qa'ida as one of the reasons for his 2003 invasion, along with Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. Western reports were to dismiss Iraq's claim that Abu Nidal committed suicide in August 2002, suggesting that Saddam's own security services murdered him when his presence became an embarrassment for them. The secret papers from Iraq suggest that he did indeed kill himself after confessing to the "treacherous crime of spying against this righteous country".

The final hours of Abu Nidal, the mercenary whose assassinations and murderous attacks in 20 countries over more than a quarter of a century killed or wounded more than 900 civilians, are revealed in the set of intelligence reports drawn up for Saddam's "presidency intelligence office" in September of 2002. The documents state that Egyptian and Kuwaiti intelligence officers had asked Abu Nidal, whose real name was Khalil al-Banna, to spy for them "with the knowledge of their American counterparts". Five days after his death, Iraq's head of intelligence, Taher Jalil Habbush, told a press conference in Baghdad that Abu Nidal had committed suicide after Iraqi agents arrived at the apartment where he was hiding in the city, but the secret reports make it clear that the notorious Palestinian had undergone a long series of interrogations prior to his violent demise. The records of these sessions were never intended to be made public and were written by Iraqi "Special Intelligence Unit M4" for Saddam. While Abu Nidal may have lied to his interrogators – torture is not mentioned in the reports – the documents appear to be a frank internal account of what the Iraqis believed his mission in Iraq to be. The papers name a Kuwaiti major, a member of the ruling Kuwaiti al-Sabbah family, as his "handler" and state that he was also tasked to "perform terrorist acts inside and outside Iraq". His presence in the country "would provide the Americans with the pretext that Iraq was harbouring terrorist organisations," the reports say.

"Coded messages indicate that the Kuwaitis asked him indirectly to find out whether al-Qa'ida elements were present in Iraq. Our conclusions were confirmed when he [Abu Nidal] started to mitigate his actions with irrational answers when asked about the data against him. He attempted to sidetrack his answers by not being specific and referring to historical matters. It was noted by the investigators that he went from short, ambiguous and unclear replies to generalities ... he seemed perturbed ... But once he became convinced of the weight of the evidence against him concerning his collusion with both the American and Kuwaiti intelligence apparatuses in co-ordination with Egyptian intelligence, he realised that his treacherous crime of spying against this righteous country had been exposed ..."

Abu Nidal was no stranger to Iraq. He had operated from Baghdad, Damascus and the Libyan capital of Tripoli when the regimes wanted to use him as a "gun for hire". It was Iraq which paid him to organise the attack on the Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov, in 1982, an attempted assassination which prompted Israel to accuse Yasser Arafat of responsibility and to begin its disastrous invasion of Lebanon, and Colonel Muammur Gaddafi later established a close relationship with Abu Nidal. In 1985, his crazed gunmen attacked Israeli-bound passengers at Rome and Vienna airports, killing a total of 18 people. His biographer Patrick Seale, who suggests that for some time Abu Nidal even worked for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, has written of how, when he feared treachery in his own ranks, a suspected spy would be buried alive, fed through a tube for days and then – if Abu Nidal's "court" deemed death appropriate – a bullet would be fired down the tube.

His own interrogation at the hands of Saddam's secret police, will therefore appear equally appropriate punishment for so cruel a man. Among the other crimes of which he was accused in the Iraqi intelligence report was the preparation of 14 booby-trapped suitcase bombs to be used on foreigners – Swiss and Austrian, according to the intelligence file – in the northern Kurdish area of Iraq, at the time a US-supported "safe haven", and an attempt to recruit new members for his so-called Fatah Revolutionary Council among Palestinians wounded by the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza who were recovering in Baghdad hospitals.

There are some oddities in the report and some unanswered questions. It says, for example, that Abu Nidal originally infiltrated Iraq from Iran on a false Yemeni passport years earlier, but that this was facilitated by his own representative in Kuwait, named as Nabil Uthman. Abu Nidal was said to have communicated to Kuwait via coded messages sent through Lebanon and Dubai. The papers give his date of birth as 1939 – he is believed to have been born in Jaffa in what was then Palestine in 1937 – and state that he resided in Libya in 1984 but "had no links with the Libyan authorities". He is also stated to have been imprisoned by the Egyptian security services for two months. The man who is said to have provided Abu Nidal with a "safe house" in Baghdad was interrogated in 2002 alongside the Palestinian and is named as Abdulkareem Mohammed Mustapha.

Could Abu Nidal really have entered Iraq from Iran, whose own intelligence services, would surely have questioned him? Could Abu Nidal have lived in secret in the Baathist state of Iraq without Saddam's own mukhabarat finding him? And for how long was he interrogated? The documents give us no answers to these questions.

His end is, however, recorded bleakly. "Upon being asked to accompany those charged with guarding him to a more secure location to continue the interrogation procedures, he requested that he be allowed to change his clothes. On entering his bedroom, he committed suicide. Unsuccessful attempts were made to resuscitate him ..." Nothing is known of the fate of Abdulkareem Mustapha, only that he was "submitted to court". But we do know where Abu Nidal now lies.

"The corpse of Sabri al-Banna", the final report concludes, "was buried on 29/8/2002 in al-Karakh's Islamic cemetery [in Baghdad]. Until a final resting place is found, a marker designates the place of burial and it was documented on video as well as on still photographs as 'M7'." No "final resting place" for this savage man appears ever to have been found.

Years of terror: A man as feared as Bin Laden

Abu Nidal, was once as feared as Osama bin Laden. His most notorious attacks included:

  • 1978. His "Black June" movement blamed for murdering PLO members in London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Kuwait and Rome.
  • 1982. Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, shot in Mayfair, leaving him permanently paralysed.
  • 1984 Jordanian airliner attacked by rocket on take-off from Athens. Assassinations included the British cultural attaché in Athens and the British deputy high commissioner in Mumbai.
  • 1985. Egyptian airliner hijacked – six passengers murdered and 60 killed when the plane is stormed by Egyptian commandos
  • 1985. Gunmen massacre 18 and wound 120 in attacks on El Al ticket desks at Vienna and Romeairports, bottom left.
  • 1986. Machine-gun attack kills 22 in a synagogue inIstanbul; at least 20 passengers and crew are killed when Pan Am jet hijacked in Karachi, bottom right.
  • 1988. Nine killed and 98 wounded when gunmenattack the Greek cruise ship the City of Poros.

Unedited Version of Palin-Kouric Interview

Zinn on the Economy and American Foreign Policy

Pretty good argument against voting for Obama, despite what Zinn himself suggests....

24 October 2008

Gore Vidal on Lincoln on the Buchanan/Braden Crossfire (1984)

Zinn on Taxes, the Economy, and Class War

Noam Chomsky's Video Message to the European Humanist Forum of Milan with Italian Subtitles

23 October 2008

Noam Chomsky on Myth and Fear in America


Ambassador Akbar Ahmed of American University has taken a sabbatical year with a team of young Americans to study the Muslim experience in the United States. The project is a 6 month continental journey throughout the US. They are meeting with politicians, students, professors, religious figures, etc.

Please be sure to track our journey at journeyintoamerica.wordpress.com
Also check out their YouTube channel.

Do We Really Need an Eighth-Grade SAT? Ben Paris

A guest essay by a friend. Ben wrote this back in August, but here's an article about this test in today's NYT. Feel free to comment or e-mail him directly. I'll send this link to him so he can respond; we'll figure it out.

This op-ed was not published anywhere, unfortunately.

Do We Really Need an Eighth-Grade SAT?

Parents and teachers are appropriately mystified by the news that the College Board, the organization that brings you the SAT and the PSAT, is planning on introducing a new national exam for eighth-graders. But don't we have enough tests? What possible value could there be in taking one more? The answer, if you're a student, a teacher, or a parent, is "none." If you're the College Board, however, this new exam is dripping with marketing potential. You have to admire their creativity, but that's still no reason to stress out our children with yet another test.

The College Board claims that the new test would measure help students figure out if they should sign up for advanced courses. That sounds reasonable at first, but the logic behind it quickly falls apart. Even if the eighth grade were the best time to make this decision, what information would we get out of this new test that we couldn't gather from a student's entire academic record? How about the piles of tests they already take? The notion that the new test will be good practice for the SAT makes even less sense. Anyone can take a practice SAT for free. Given the extraordinary amount of time and resources that already go into assessment, it is unrealistic to believe that a watered-down SAT would provide enough additional information to justify its existence.

Of course, there are more cynical (and persuasive) explanations for the College Board's new test. The first cynical explanation is that the new test is designed to generate testing fees for the College Board's coffers. Maybe, but the real financial value of this new test has nothing to do with testing fees. While a new test has little value for most students and teachers, it has tremendous potential to help the College Board develop its brand.

Like businesses in the for-profit world, the College Board has competitors, and it competes for market share. No one is forced to take a College Board test, but students in states where the SAT dominates are often unaware that another test, the ACT, is a viable alternative. In "SAT states," students, parents and teachers believe that the ACT is "for Midwest colleges" or "for students in the Midwest." Neither of these statements is true. Anyone can take the ACT, and it is accepted virtually everywhere. As a matter of practice, the ACT is most popular in the Midwest, but this is a result of culture and marketing as opposed to anything resembling a rule.

From the College Board's perspective, lack of awareness of the ACT and the belief that you need to take the SAT are both good things. No one has to take the PSAT either, but millions do, and when they do they build a brand relationship with the College Board. An eighth-grade SAT would be a logical next step in this process. It's never too early to build brand loyalty. Just as for-profit businesses build brand relationships with children who will one day use their products, this new test would give eighth-graders early exposure to the College Board brand. When kids grow up playing with toy tractors from John Deere or Caterpillar brand bulldozers, they build a relationship with those companies. An eighth-grade SAT could work the same way, except that little kids like playing with toy tractors and bulldozers.

The new test could also be a way to defuse a threat. Every year close to one million middle school students take the Explore test offered by ACT. An eighth-grade SAT could keep many more of these students in the College Board family. There's plenty of cross-marketing potential, too. If students do well on an eighth-grade SAT, more of them may be steered towards advanced placement (AP) courses. Who makes the AP exams that one takes at the end of AP courses? The College Board, naturally. A new test could also help the College Board influence high school curricula by steering students to different courses. And why stop there? The new test could even influence the curriculum in lower grades. You might hear that your fifth-grade curriculum is designed to prepare students for the eighth-grade SAT, which is a precursor to the PSAT, the SAT, and so on.

Trying to positively influence high school curricula is a laudable goal, but building the College Board's brand awareness is no reason to make millions of students take an unnecessary test.


Benjamin Paris is a member of the national advisory board of the California Learning Strategies Center, a think tank for parents of gifted students.

The Middle East Over Time....

Interesting map-movie....

Words and terms that must die


Since the world sucks, and looks as though it will continue to suck for the foreseeable future, and since more than one person has asked for some comic relief, I thought we might amuse ourselves as Rome burns as follows.

I thought it might be fun to list terms/words people hate. If I may make a suggestion, please be as ornery (=funny) as possible.

So, I'll list a few:

  • Table -- as in, "on/off the table," "bring to the table," etc. I'm sick of this Platonic table already. Fuck the table.
  • To reach out to -- as in, "I'm going to reach out to X on that issue that's on the table." I only reach out to someone if I want to have some serious hardcore intimacy or if they're holding out a flotation device and I'm in the North Sea in February.
  • Beg(s) the question -- when used improperly. Begging the question does not mean raising a question -- as in, "Doug's little-read blog begs the question of why does he bother?" -- it indicates a tautology, as in, "To say that Doug annoys me because he's annoying begs the question." I'm trying to be funny here, not annoying.
  • [any term from the natural or social sciences brought into the business world] As in, paradigm, tipping point, and so on. A sublist, for sure, on which should be incubate, a term now used in business, which I learned when a friend used it during my trip to Colorado last summer. For a minute, I thought his company had moved into Huxleyan cloning. Throw in solution set and other terms hijacked from mathematics.
  • Skillset. I fucking hate this term more than life itself. "Skills" works fine. That little "s" at the end of a word tends to make things plural in English. A little pattern I just noticed. "Skillset" just makes one sound more "mathy," "hard," and rigorous -- which is hilarious because we're in the land of "soft" metaphor.
  • X is in Y's DNA -- as in, "Winning is just in Lance Armstrong's DNA." The misuse of "DNA" to mean "character" is more than annoying; it reinforces bad biology and worse misconceptions about the sources of behavior.
  • To multitask. I'm not a computer. The proper term is, "to be exploited." You can put interface on that list, too. I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you use that term.
  • Mission critical, and any number of other military terms that have been seconded to other duties. Such terms are legion. It's a cheap way to sound tough, focused, and hypermasculine. Instructional design, being mostly fifth-rate behaviorism and DoD-influenced (a historical, not rhetorical statement), has been heavily infiltrated by such terms. No one has yet come up with "e-mission," though.
  • To partner. As in, "Bill and Monica will partner on that e-missions project." "Collaborate" is a perfectly good word; "work together" are two words that work well together in this sense.
That should get it going. Every field of endeavor has its bullshit terms; god knows instructional design, history, social theory, philosophy, and all that crap I'm into does. So have at it.

Since we want to be as negative as possible, I suggest we not argue for terms others hate but rather against terms we hate but are not yet on the list. But feel free to ignore that.

The Chomsky Sessions: Noam Chomsky on the World on Uprising, 10/22/08

Click title to hear...it's a fundraising show, so you have to toggle forward to find the actual lecture segments.

Zinn on Economic Crisis

22 October 2008

George Will Patronizing Colbert...And Citing the Wrong Adams Book

This is great. Watch this clip. At 6:20-ish, Will alludes to a famous quote of Henry Adams. The quote is, "Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatreds...." No, I don't care that Will paraphrased it. What I find funny is that Will was so busy patronizing Colbert, he attributed that quote to Adams' (hilarious, satirical) novel Democracy when it actually appears in the first chapter of The Education of Henry Adams. Dipshit.

Pew Report on the 2008 Election: It's Going to Be a Mess

Click the title for the PDF.

Zinn on Obama and Change

Comment on Dowd's Powell Piece

Here is Dowd's opinion piece. My comment has yet to be allowed on the site, even though dozens of posts written later have already been posted. I assume it won't be posted, so here it is:

October 22, 2008 10:05 am

Powell sat in the UN and knowingly lied (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-schwarz/lie-after-lie-what-colin_b_85058.html) to the American people about a war of aggression. There's no coming back from that for me. He should be on trial, not feted by the supposedly transformational Obama. Or his supporters. This isn't about abortion rights or welfare -- both very important. This is about the supreme international crime, a war of aggression. We hanged Nazis and Japanese fascists for that.

So, by embracing a war criminal, Obama shows his foreign-policy credentials? I mean, after trouncing Hillary in the primaries for supposedly having the wrong judgment? That was before embracing Biden, the surge, Israel, and now Powell. I'm supposed to be impressed by this?

This kind of rightward move after the primaries leaves me with only one hope: Obama is lying as much as the right claims he is. Considering his foreign-policy team, he isn't. American foreign policy will remain essentially the same, as per usual. As Albright pointed out in Foreign Affairs (http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20030901faessay82501/madeleine-k-albright/bridges-bombs-or-bluster.html?mode=print), you don't say the Bush Doctrine out loud; you do maintain the right of "pre-emption"/"prevention" -- really, aggression -- in your back pocket. Key quote from Albright: "When the administration published its 2002 National Security Strategy last September, it took this process even further, transforming anticipatory self-defense -- a tool every president has quietly held in reserve -- into the centerpiece of its national security policy."

Yes, the Bush admin moved aggression front and center and dropped the pretense. The Democrats would like the pretense back, along with a saner, but still imperial, desire to deign to speak to our enemies. You know, what Nixon and Kissinger, two other war criminals, were happy to do. Some transformation. Whether we speak softly or loudly means very little to the recipients of our big-stick wars for "democracy" and should mean very little to us. If we're not Nazis, that is.

Finally, it is well past time for someone to say what Powell said about Muslims. That no one seems to have noticed that this came from a man who was instrumental in starting a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims -- yes, some of whom were Americans, like the poor fellow mentioned by Powell whose blood is on Powell's hands -- says quite a lot about the state of our media and so-called intellectual culture.

— Doug Tarnopol, Cranston, RI

Red Alert: What went wrong in the capitalist casino, Tony Benn, Tribune

Tony Benn argues the credit crunch is the result of too much economic power ending up in too few hands

“THE great inter-war slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of the concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men. These men had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic state, They had and they felt no responsibility to the nation.”

These words are from the 1945 Labour manifesto Let Us Face The Future which brilliantly identified the very same crisis which is now described as a “credit crunch” as if it were a mere hiccup in an otherwise wonderful neo-liberal globalised world which could be corrected with a vast subsidy from the taxpayers to put the Wall Street casino and its partners worldwide back into profit. It reminded me of the fact that when slavery was abolished it was the slave owners, and not the slaves, who received compensation from the government of the day.

Perhaps more important – and never mentioned in the media – is that all the news we get every day and every hour is all about the bankers while presidents, prime ministers and other elected leaders of the world have been reduced to the role of mere commentators who are expected to supply taxpayers’ money whenever it is needed to bail out the wealthy.

Indeed, what we are watching is nothing less than the steady transfer of real political power from the polling station to the market and from the ballot to the wallet – reversing the democratic gains we have made over the last century when we were able, increasingly, to use our votes to shape our economic future.

Our 1945 manifesto made that clear in the very next passage following the quote above. This is what it said: “The nation wants food, work and homes. It wants more than that. It wants good food in plenty, useful work for all and comfortable labour-saving homes that take full advantage of the resources of modern science and productive industry.”

That was the policy that swept Labour MPs into power in 1945 and gave this country the National Health Service, the welfare state and a massive house building programme, made possible by elected local authorities who had the resources made available to them by the Treasury.

Now, 63 years later, we are back facing a similar situation and we need to understand why it has happened if we are to see our way forward.

We have been told every day by the media that we should put our faith in the market and that elected governments are the problem and not the answer and, for that reason, should not interfere.

These ideas began to emerge in the political mainstream when Margaret Thatcher came to power and in 1994 “new” Labour adopted them as the basis of its own approach which explains why she once described “new” Labour as her “greatest achievement”.

Trade union rights are now more restricted than they were in 1906, wages have been held down and people have been advised to borrow and spend as an alternative – which explains why the stock market has fallen and locked more and more people into debt, which is a subtle form of slavery itself.

This is why so many people are frightened and frightened people can sometimes be persuaded to seek an answer by identifying an enemy who can be made a scapegoat for failure – as Hitler did when he blamed the Jews, the Communists and the trade unions for the mass unemployment in Germany and set up a fascist dictatorship which led to the Holocaust and war.

Hitler dealt with the unemployed by giving them jobs in the arms factories and the armed forces which led to the Second World War and the massive human cost it caused.

Whatever the left does it must never respond by splintering into a mass of tiny ideological sects forever fighting each other – for that way leads to failure, frustration and defeat.

This is the time for co-operation across the left to tackle the problems that face us on a non-sectarian basis as we have seen in the Stop the War Coalition, the campaigns for trade union rights, civil liberties, pensions, nuclear disarmament, council house building and a fair tax system – all of which require full trade union backing if they are to succeed.

If the economic situation gets worse, as it very well may, we have also to be on the look out for the “coalition” solution which could well be presented to us as the only way that these problems can be tackled, an argument that is being put forward now in America when George Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama rallied round to back the $700 billion bail-out that Wall Street demanded.

That same argument was used by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 when he formed a National Government which nearly destroyed the Labour Party in the general election when only 51 Labour MPs survived and, without the courage of Ernie Bevin and the TUC, it might never have recovered, as it did in 1945.

I hope that the re-appointment of Peter Mandelson to the Cabinet in the latest reshuffle does not lead to that idea being re-floated as the best way to see us through the crisis for that could be the end of democracy – allowing the European Commission to prevent the re-emergence of public ownership and control of the banks which many will now see as the best way forward.

For the first time in my life, the public are to the left of a Labour government and common sense points us in a direction quite different from the one we have been following since 1979 when Thatcher set out to destroy the trade unions, cripple local authorities and privatise our public assets which we need now more than ever.

In 1945, the nation realised that the problems of peace required the same intensity of commitment as the problems of war.

And with the disastrous experience of Iraq and Afghanistan that argument, too, is beginning to register again and people are asking why we waste so much money on those illegal, brutal and unwinnable wars and on new nuclear weapons when people are losing their jobs and facing repossession of their homes.

The case for peace and socialism is intensely practical and, put like that, will command wide public and electoral support as it did then, in 1945, and could again do now.

Bernie Sanders, I-VT, on Bill Maher

This is what a socialist sounds like. Ooooooooo -- scawy! America, learn a little about socialism, already, will you? Find out who Eugene Debs is. Find out what he and the Socialist Party of America stood for. Stop your knee-jerk reactions already. Democratic socialism does not equal Marxism does not equal totalitarianism.

Like not having child labor? Thank the left. Like your weekends? Thank the left. Like civil rights? Thank the left. Like a fully expanded voter franchise (on paper at least)? Thank the left. Like some level of accountability for product safety, workers' safety? Thank the left. The list goes on and on.

Democratic socialism, libertarian socialism, anarchism -- these are frankly the species' only hope.

The Right's Final Attack: Obama is a Black Muslim, Anti-Christian Socialist Plotting with an Evil Jewish Billionaire, David Corn, Mother Jones

With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, time is running out on the rightwing effort to delegitimize Barack Obama. At the last debate between John McCain and Obama, McCain finally confronted his opponent directly with the Bill Ayers charge. It was a half-hearted effort: he noted that he didn't "care about an old washed-up terrorist" but insisted that "we need to know the full extent" of Obama's relationship with the former Weather Underground radical, who has since become an education expert. Though McCain succeeded in appeasing conservatives who demanded he pounce on the Ayers matter, the polling evidence has indicated that whining about Obama's casual association with Ayers has not yet become a winning tactic for McCain and Republicans trying to depict Obama as an untrustworthy pol outside the American mainstream. But Ayers is not the only ammo for rightwingers striving to brand Obama as anti-American. Various conservatives are pushing other lines of attack to achieve this goal. And as they mount various ploys, their desperation is showing. Here are some of the last-minute blasts being waged by conservatives hoping to convince voters that they ought to be afraid--very afraid--of Obama:

Mohamed Atta's Driver License. An outfit called the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee has sent out an email to potential conservative donors calling Obama "dangerous" and boasting that it has hit on the killer issue that "will nail him." That issue: Obama supports allowing undocumented aliens to obtain driver's licenses. This means, the group says, that the next Mohamed Atta could obtain a valid driver's license--and somehow make use of it in a plot to kill thousands of Americans. "We are days away from our new TV ad exposing Obama's support for driver's licenses for illegals," the email says. Message: Obama doesn't understand the dangers facing the country and will help terrorists conspiring to destroy the United States.

Obama is a Socialist. McCain came close to saying this at that final debate, when he derided Obama for wanting to "spread the wealth" and maintained that Obama's plan to raise taxes on the well-to-do to help finance tax cuts for the middle class was "class warfare." But McCain did not use the S-word. Others are not so reticent. Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com and a founder of the modern conservative movement, proposes that Obama be slammed in a simple manner. "The Obama economic policy," he says, "can be summed up in two words: Marxism/Socialism." In Viguerie's view, the McCain campaign and others must reveal that Obama wants to "re-make America along the lines of socialist countries in Europe, most of which are headed toward collapse." Drop the S-bomb, he urges. Message: Obama is a commie who hates the rich and wants to kill the American Dream.

Obama Is a Secret Muslim Plotting With an Evil Billionaire. Human Events, a leading conservative magazine, sent out a promotional email the other day for an anti-Obama book co-written by Floyd Brown, a conservative activist infamous for having cooked up the Willie Horton ad during the 1988 presidential election. The email notes that there are "many Islamofascists who are sworn to the destruction of America" who are "actively campaigning for Obama" and that Muslims would demand and receive "special rights" from a President Obama. The email asks, "Being a Black Muslim doesn't disqualify [Obama] from running for President, so why won't he be honest about it?" In other words, yep, he's a covert Muslim. But beyond circulating this canard, the email claims that George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire financier who has supported Democratic and liberal causes, is "planning to sack the US economy, make himself billions richer, and put Obama in the White House marching to his mad tune." Message: A black Muslim in league with an evil Jewish billionaire--you do the math.

Obama Is Fronting for Islamic Jihadists. Writing in The Washington Times this week, former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, charges that Obama's campaign has received "between $30 million and $100 million" from the Mideast, Africa and other places [where] Islamists are active." He asserts it "seems likely" that "these funds come not only from Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood types and jihadists of other stripes but from non-U.S. citizens." (His evidence? Don't be so picky.) Gaffney adds that "Obama hopes to win the White House by relying, in part, on the Jihadist vote." He writes: "The next three weeks afford the American people--and the media, the courts and the [Federal Elections Commission]--an opportunity to get to the bottom of Barack Obama's ties to and affinity for jihadists who have their own reasons for relishing his promise of 'change]' for this country. Unfortunately, the change his Islamists supporters have in mind is for global theocratic rule under Shariah, and the end of our constitutional, democratic government." Message: Obama will destroy Christianity in the United States and enslave you within an Islamic dictatorship.

This is heady stuff. And there are, no doubt, more 11th hour assaults in the works. Right-wing bloggers have promoted a British news story reporting that an African-American poet and friend of Obama's grandfather in Hawaii--when Obama was being raised by his grandparents--wrote pornography and engaged in sex with a 13-year-old girl. (Stop everything: Obama, when he was a teenager, received advice on how to be a black man from a pervert!) And one right-wing blogger has been pushing the conspiracy theory that it was Bill Ayers who actually wrote Obama's book Dreams From My Father.

For months, the McCain camp and conservatives have attempted to persuade voters that Obama is not one of them, not a truly loyal American--that, for instance, he pals around with domestic terrorists, as Governor Sarah Palin put it. (And the McCain campaign and the Republican Party this week launched a robocall operation that tells potential voters that they "need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans.") If the recent polling is accurate, this anti-Obama crusade has not tilted the electorate toward McCain. But one final push--with or without references to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright--will be coming from rightwingers anxious to prevent an Obama win. In a letter sent to supporters, Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, declares, "If the liberals win the upcoming election, America as we have known it will no longer exist. This country that we love, founded on Judeo-Christian values, will cease to exist and will be replaced by a secular state hostile to Christianity."

Some of these attacks do seem silly and are probably designed more to squeeze money out of paranoid rightwing contributors than to sway swing voters. (Don't vote for Obama because he will let Soros loot the US treasury?) But they are something of a warning: if Obama wins, this is the tenor of the conservative opposition he will face right out of the box: sensationalized, racialized, apocalyptic, and crazy.

21 October 2008

What the Next President Can Do in His First 100 Days to Restore the Republic

Keep an eye on this if Obama wins. Will tell you more than anything whether he's full of shit or not.

The End of America: Free Online Documentary on the Rise of Fascism in the US, Naomi Wolf

Click above for the direct link; they're only allowing embeds for the preview. It has commercials, unfortunately.

Chomsky on the Economy

Nader on NBC Evening News

Here's more -- the web-only interview. Notice that the reporter is pretty hostile (not in tone, people, as if that mattered much), even pulling out the "socialism" boo-word at the end. Constantly hammering home that Nader is ineffective, should step aside, should step down. Nader handles it all very well, as per usual.

Roundtable on the Economy, Such as it Is

"Can We Save the Global Economy?"

George Soros, global financier and philanthropist, founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute and the Soros foundations network, and chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.

Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics and international business at the Stern School of Business, New York University.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Moderated by John Roberts of CNN.

An open and frank conversation on the breakdown of financial markets around the world and if we can save the global economy. Will the Wall Street bailout plan work? What steps need to be taken in Europe and Asia to stem the market’s downward spiral? Are we headed for a global recession? Three of the leading minds in global economics will discuss the options.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University

The Bagman Cometh: Obama Embraces War Criminal's Endorsement, Chris Floyd

With a follow-up here: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien: Obama's New Advisor Stands By His War Crimes

July 25, 2008 House Judiciary Committee Hearings Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations

20 October 2008

Palin for President

The Idiots Who Rule America, Chris Hedges

Posted on Oct 20, 2008

Our oligarchic class is incompetent at governing, managing the economy, coping with natural disasters, educating our young, handling foreign affairs, providing basic services like health care and safeguarding individual rights. That it is still in power, and will remain in power after this election, is a testament to our inability to separate illusion from reality. We still believe in “the experts.” They still believe in themselves. They are clustered like flies swarming around John McCain and Barack Obama. It is only when these elites are exposed as incompetent parasites and dethroned that we will have any hope of restoring social, economic and political order.

“Their inability to see the human as anything more than interest driven made it impossible for them to imagine an actively organized pool of disinterest called the public good,” said the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul, whose books “The Unconscious Civilization” and “Voltaire’s Bastards” excoriates our oligarchic elites. “It is as if the Industrial Revolution had caused a severe mental trauma, one that still reaches out and extinguishes the memory of certain people. For them, modern history begins from a big explosion—the Industrial Revolution. This is a standard ideological approach: a star crosses the sky, a meteor explodes, and history begins anew.”

Our elites—the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools—do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of the common good. They are stunted, timid and uncreative bureaucrats who are trained to carry out systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions which will satisfy the corporate structure. They are about numbers, profits and personal advancement. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are able to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they think, is a secondary product of the free market. And they slavishly serve the market.

Andrew Lahde, the Santa Monica, Calif., hedge fund manager who made an 870 percent gain last year by betting on the subprime mortgage collapse, has abruptly shut down his fund, citing the risk of trading with faltering banks. In his farewell letter to his investors he excoriated the elites who run our investment houses, banks and government.

“The low-hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking,” he said of our oligarchic class. “These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.”

“On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal,” he went on. “First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have [reined] in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government.”

Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy, like individualism, is not based on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens. This is not happening. The corporate managers and government officials trying to fix the economic meltdown are pouring money and resources into the financial sector because they only know how to manage and sustain established systems, not change them. Financial systems, however, are not pure scientific and numerical abstractions that exist independently from human beings.

“When the elite begin to think that money is real, the crash is coming,” Saul said in a telephone interview. “That is just a given in history. Because what they’ve done is pull themselves out of the possibility of looking in the mirror and thinking, this is inflation, speculation, this is fluff. They can’t do it. And when you say to them, gosh, this is not real. And they say, oh, you don’t understand, you’re so old-fashioned, you still think this is about manufacturing. And of course, it’s basic economics. And that’s what happens every single time.

“The difficulty is you have a collapse, you have a loss of face by the people who are there, and it’s not just George Bush, it’s very, very deep,” Saul said. “What we’re talking about is the need to rethink the departments of economics, of political science. Then you have to rethink the whole analytic method of the World Bank. If I’m the secretary of the treasury, and not a guy like [Henry] Paulson, but I mean a sort of normal secretary of the treasury or minister of finance, and I say, OK, we’ve got a real problem, let’s get the senior civil servants in here. Gentlemen, ladies, OK, clearly we have to go in another direction, give me some ideas. Well, those people don’t have any other ideas because at this point they’re about the fourth generation of what you might call neoconservative globalist managers, unfairly summarized. So they then go to the people who work for them, and you work down; there’s no one in there with an alternate approach. I mean they’ll have little alternatives, but no basic differences in opinion. And so it’s very difficult to turn anything around because they’ve eliminated all opposing ideas inside. I mean it’s the problem of the Soviet Union, right?”

Saul pointed out that the first three aims of the corporatist movement in Germany, Italy and France during the 1920s, those that went on to become part of the Fascist experience, were “to shift power directly to economic and social interest groups, to push entrepreneurial initiative in areas normally reserved for public bodies” and to “obliterate the boundaries between public and private interest—that is, challenge the idea of the public interest.”

Sound familiar?

“There are a handful of people who haven’t been published in mainstream journals, who haven’t been listened to, who have been marginalized in every way,” Saul said. “There are a couple of them and you could turn to them. But then who do you give the orders to? And the people you give the orders to, they are not going to understand the orders because it hasn’t been a part of their education. So it’s a real problem of a good general who suddenly finds that his junior generals and brigadiers and corporals, you want them to do irregular warfare and they only know how to do trenches. And so how the hell do you get them to do this thing which they’ve never been trained to do? And so you get this kind of disorder, confusion inside, and the danger of what rises up there is populism; we’ve already had populism in a way, but we could get more populism, more fear and anger.”

We may elect representatives to Congress to end the war in Iraq, but the war goes on. We may plead with these representatives to halt Bush’s illegal wiretapping but the telecommunications lobbyists make sure it remains in place. We may beg them not to pass the bailout but 850 billion taxpayer dollars are funneled upward to the elites on Wall Street. We may want single-payer, not-for-profit health care but it is not even discussed as a possibility in presidential debates. We, as individuals in this system, are irrelevant.

“I’ve talked to several Supreme Court justices, several times in several countries,” Saul told me, “and I say, look, in your rulings, can you differentiate easily in cases between the social contract and the commercial contract, and to which the answer is, we can no longer differentiate. And that lies at the heart of the problem. You don’t have the concept of the other, and of obligation of the individual leading to individualism. You can’t have that if the whole legal system has slipped over the last, really, 50 years, increasingly, to a confusion between the social contract and the commercial contract. Because they are two completely different things. The social contract is about the public good, responsible individualism, imagining the other. The commercial contract is a commercial contract. They’re not supposed to be confused. They don’t actually fit together. The commercial contract only works properly when the social contract works in a democracy.”

The working class, which has desperately borrowed money to stay afloat as real wages have dropped, now face years, maybe decades, of stagnant or declining incomes without access to new credit. The national treasury meanwhile is being drained on behalf of speculative commercial interests. The government—the only institution citizens have that is big enough and powerful enough to protect their rights—is becoming weaker, more anemic and less able to help the mass of Americans who are embarking on a period of deprivation and suffering unseen in this country since the 1930s. Consumption, the profligate engine of the U.S. economy, is withering. September retail sales across the U.S. fell 1.2 percent. The decline was almost double the 0.7 percent drop analysts expected from consumers, whose spending represents two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. There were 160,000 jobs lost last month and three-quarters of a million jobs lost this year. The reverberations of the economic meltdown are only beginning.

I do not think George W. Bush or Barack Obama or John McCain or Henry Paulson are fascists. Rather, they are part of a cabal of naive, mediocre and self-deluded capitalists who are steadily weakening political and economic structures to a point where our democracy will become so impotent that it can be blown aside, probably with broad popular support. The only question is how this will happen. Will there be a steady and slow decline as in the late Roman Empire when the Senate ended as a farce? Will we see a powerful right-wing backlash from those outside the mainstream political system, as we did in Yugoslavia, and the rise of a militant Christian fascism? Will there be a national crisis that allows those in power to instantly sweep away all constitutional rights in the name of national security?

I do not know. But I do know that what is coming, as long as our oligarchy remains in charge, will not be good. We will either recover the concept of the public good, and this means a revolt against our bankrupt elite and the dynamiting of the corporatist structure, or we will extinguish our democracy.

Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes: In My Time Of Dying

The Crowes and Page rip out my favorite Zep tune:

Wall Street banks in $70bn staff payout: Pay and bonus deals equivalent to 10% of US government bail-out package

Should anyone be surprised by this?

Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government's cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.

Pay plans for bankers have been disclosed in recent corporate statements. Pressure on the US firms to review preparations for annual bonuses increased yesterday when Germany's Deutsche Bank said many of its leading traders would join Josef Ackermann, its chief executive, in waiving millions of euros in annual payouts.

The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed.

At one point last week the Morgan Stanley $10.7bn pay pot for the year to date was greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank.

In the first nine months of the year Citigroup, which employs thousands of staff in the UK, accrued $25.9bn for salaries and bonuses, an increase on the previous year of 4%. Earlier this week the bank accepted a $25bn investment by the US government as part of its bail-out plan.

At Goldman Sachs the figure was $11.4bn, Morgan Stanley $10.73bn, JP Morgan $6.53bn and Merrill Lynch $11.7bn. At Merrill, which was on the point of going bust last month before being taken over by Bank of America, the total accrued in the last quarter grew 76% to $3.49bn. At Morgan Stanley, the amount put aside for staff compensation also grew in the last quarter to the end of August by 3% to $3.7bn.

Days before it collapsed into bankruptcy protection a month ago Lehman Brothers revealed $6.12bn of staff pay plans in its corporate filings. These payouts, the bank insisted, were justified despite net revenue collapsing from $14.9bn to a net outgoing of $64m.

None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well."

Many critics of investment banks have questioned why firms continue to siphon off billions of dollars of bank earnings into bonus pools rather than using the funds to shore up the capital position of the crisis-stricken institutions. One source said: "That's a fair question - and it may well be that by the end of the year the banks start review the situation."

Much of the anger about investment banking bonuses has focused on boardroom executives such as former Lehman boss Dick Fuld, who was paid $485m in salary, bonuses and options between 2000 and 2007.

Last year Merrill Lynch's chairman Stan O'Neal retired after announcing losses of $8bn, taking a final pay deal worth $161m. Citigroup boss Chuck Prince left last year with a $38m in bonuses, shares and options after multibillion-dollar write-downs. In Britain, Bob Diamond, Barclays president, is one of the few investment bankers whose pay is public. Last year he received a salary of £250,000, but his total pay, including bonuses, reached £36m.

Q&A on Language and the Mind, Noam Chomsky

Chomsky Says Pick the Lesser of Two Evils (If You're In a Swing State)

I was surprised to hear him mention that people have done better under Democrats than Republicans -- implying: over many decades -- not because it's false, but because I wonder whether that was the case over the past 30 years. Is it in fact true that people did better under Clinton than Reagan-Bush-Bush? And, if so, which people?

Anyway, I don't live in a swing state, so I'm voting for Nader. If I were in a swing state, especially with the addition of Palin, I'd think long and hard about it.

Misused words misrepresent facts, by Dr. Walter Ehrlich

An unpublished essay by Dr. Walter Ehrlich. Had I written it, I'd've put Obama in my sights as well -- in fact, the two candidates stances on Iraq are indistinguishable, once the rhetoric is peeled away -- but otherwise, I agree:

Over five years have passed since the United States invaded Iraq, but in the media and in our everyday discourse we still use inappropriate and misleading words for describing our actions there. Language itself has become a weapon in this conflict, a tool for misrepresenting vital problems and a way to mislead the country.

We hear and read every day, for example, that there is a "war" in Iraq. Senator John McCain promises to bring the boys home after 16 months, but only if the "war" has been won. The truth, however, is that after the first 6 weeks of the unprovoked invasion, the U.S. Army had already destroyed the badly outnumbered and outgunned Iraqi Army. It was five years ago that President George W. Bush, standing on a battleship and flanked by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, proclaimed victory in the war with Iraq. We saw in the media how the monument of Saddam Hussein was toppled with a rope. Only far later did we see other photos showing that it was not the liberated Iraqi population which pulled the rope, but rather an American tank.

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, so a new pretext for the grab of oil deposits and strategic positions was needed. The military adventure was rebaptised: it was now a Fight for Democracy. Under this new slogan, the occupying army consolidated power in the country. It soon controlled all activity, all media, and all movement—just as Hitler, and later Stalin, did when they occupied foreign countries. As in previous occupations, when there was no longer an organized army left to defend the occupied country, individuals or groups of citizens tried to drive the invader out. When Hitler or Stalin was the occupier, we called such people "patriots," and we supported them. When the U.S. is the occupier, we call these people "insurgents" and "terrorists" and we destroy them and their surroundings. If a suicide bomber is called a terrorist, what should we call the military forces who throw grenades into occupied houses (throw first, ask questions later), who bombard isolated houses or whole areas with gunfire, who wound or kill innocent men, women, and children? Hitler and Stalin installed puppet governments in the occupied countries to execute their orders. We called these institutions "collaborators" or "quislings." The United States has also installed a collaborating Iraqi government, Iraqi police, and Iraqi army to execute its orders.

During the 5 weeks of the initial invasion, the U.S. and Allied forces reported 184 battle fatalities. During the ensuing occupation, around 4,600 fatalities have been reported, and the number grows. In other words, more than 25 times as many soldiers lost their lives during the occupation than during the actual invasion! And for the Iraqi people—including collaborating and non-collaborating soldiers, the police, and most of all, civilians of all ages—it is estimated that there have been several hundred thousand fatalities! The occupation has caused enormous losses of lives, limbs, and valuables, borne by U.S. citizens, Allied Forces, and the Iraqi population alike.

We are told that the U.S. cannot leave Iraq now. We are told that it would cause chaos. But is there not terrible chaos even now, during the occupation? We do not know what Iraq would look like in 16 months if the U.S. were to leave now, but why should there be less chaos after another 16 months of deaths, torture, disease, and destruction? Why do politicians speak about bringing our soldiers home, rather than about getting out of Iraq? Does it mean, perhaps, that they really have no intention to ever leave Iraq? Do they dream, perhaps, of withdrawing the bulk of the U.S. forces only after they have successfully installed—by bloody terror, by economic isolation, by bribery and intrigue—a stable puppet government with a collaborating Iraqi Army and Police Force who will enforce the American occupation of their own country forever? The U.S. was not able to establish such a self-enslavement, as the Romans once were in their colonies, during a five-year occupation. Why should we imagine that it will succeed if given another 16 months? Why should we imagine it will ever succeed? Is this the victory Senator McCain promises now, more than five years after the so-called "victory" on the battlefield? These vital questions are either evaded or answered deceitfully. Instead, we pretend—against all logic—that remaining in Iraq will save the country from possible chaos. In reality, the U.S. government wants to ensure with all existing means its eternal possession of Iraq.

Thousands of U.S. soldiers lost their lives in the unprovoked invasion and cruel occupation, and their families are told that these loved one made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The question naturally arises: How did the United States benefit from the painful sacrifices of its citizens? The story about weapons of mass destruction was clearly invented, as the claims of the Bush Administration stood in direct contradiction to the findings of international weapon inspectors. Due to its violation of international law, the U.S. lost prestige and became internationally isolated, even hated in many parts of the world. And the costs of this half-decade military adventure have been astronomical. These expenses, which conferred no benefits on local U.S. communities, together with several decades of irresponsible financial deregulation, have contributed to the economic catastrophe the U.S. now faces. Is it this political and economic situation for which so many Americans and Iraqis had to sacrifice their lives? There are, no doubt, some who have benefited greatly from the invasion and occupation of Iraq—namely, weapons manufacturers and military contractors like Halliburton. But even their windfall may shrink as we sink into a deep recession caused partly by their own shortsighted influence on the Bush Administration.

Words matter. A prolonged occupation of a country after an unprovoked invasion should not be called a "liberation" of this country, nor a war for its "democratization." As our adventures in Iraq have shown, such an attack devastates not only the invaded country, but also the invading country. The United States has suffered terrible losses of life and limb and has inflicted grave damage on its own financial system and sense of moral decency. And it is not simply the U.S. and Iraq that have suffered. Unprovoked invasions and lengthy occupations diminish the power of international law and therefore threaten the security of all countries.

Biography of Dr. Walter Ehrlich

I was a leading functionary of the student movement against fascism and war. I edited a student journal for this movement. I was a member of Czechoslovak delegation to the World Congress of Students against War and Fascism in the summer of 1937. After the invasion of part of Czechoslovakia by Hitler's army in1938, I left the country illegally. When WWII started, the Czechoslovak Army in Exile was formed in Agde in the South of France. I joined in October 1939. In the summer of 1940 we defended France against Hitler's invasion from the North. Without proper weapons and equipment, the front retreated. Reorganized as part of the British Army, we took part in the English costal defense. Subsequently, we participated in the liberation of France. In December 1944 on a voluntary mission, I was gravely wounded. I was evacuated by air to a special military hospital in Basingstoke England. Several operations, just introduced penicillin and morphine, saved my life.

After the war I decided to return to my country which, we were told, had been liberated by the Russian army. I finished my medical degree, worked in a hospital and later I became a member of the Cardiovascular Research Institute in Prague. However, it became clear that Soviet Russia was not the peace loving, freedom loving country, as it proclaimed to be, but was a backward, cruel dictatorship. Its army did not come as liberator, but as an occupier. Misleading the population with expressions like human rights, freedom and social justice, the occupying Russia dictated everything, the thinking and speaking, the government, the army and the police, the courts, the prisons, the labor camps and the executions, the economy, the education, the travel and the recreation. Legally it was not possible to leave the country. I decided to bring my family out of this total dictatorship illegally, even though this was difficult and dangerous. We succeeded. Here in the US I could continue my medical research in the Hopkins School of Public Health until I retired. I love the US. However, my life experience has taught me that unprovoked war and unprovoked occupation of foreign countries are evil.

19 October 2008

Block the Vote, Greg Palast and RFK, Jr., Rolling Stone

Will the GOP's campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?


Posted Oct 30, 2008 11:10 AM

Video: Behind the Story With Kennedy Jr. and Palast

These days, the old west rail hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is little more than a dusty economic dead zone amid a boneyard of bare mesas. In national elections, the town overwhelmingly votes Democratic: More than 80 percent of all residents are Hispanic, and one in four lives below the poverty line. On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas.

Maez was not alone in being denied his right to vote. On Super Tuesday, one in nine Democrats who tried to cast ballots in New Mexico found their names missing from the registration lists. The numbers were even higher in precincts like Las Vegas, where nearly 20 percent of the county's voters were absent from the rolls. With their status in limbo, the voters were forced to cast "provisional" ballots, which can be reviewed and discarded by election officials without explanation. On Super Tuesday, more than half of all provisional ballots cast were thrown out statewide.

This November, what happened to Maez will happen to hundreds of thousands of voters across the country. In state after state, Republican operatives — the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics — are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November. "I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states."

Suppressing the vote has long been a cornerstone of the GOP's electoral strategy. Shortly before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Paul Weyrich — a principal architect of today's Republican Party — scolded evangelicals who believed in democracy. "Many of our Christians have what I call the 'goo goo' syndrome — good government," said Weyrich, who co-founded Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell. "They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. . . . As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

Today, Weyrich's vision has become a national reality. Since 2003, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, at least 2.7 million new voters have had their applications to register rejected. In addition, at least 1.6 million votes were never counted in the 2004 election — and the commission's own data suggests that the real number could be twice as high. To purge registration rolls and discard ballots, partisan election officials used a wide range of pretexts, from "unreadability" to changes in a voter's signature. And this year, thanks to new provisions of the Help America Vote Act, the number of discounted votes could surge even higher.

Passed in 2002, HAVA was hailed by leaders in both parties as a reform designed to avoid a repeat of the 2000 debacle in Florida that threw the presidential election to the U.S. Supreme Court. The measure set standards for voting systems, created an independent commission to oversee elections, and ordered states to provide provisional ballots to voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls.

But from the start, HAVA was corrupted by the involvement of Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked to cram the bill with favors for his clients. (Both Abramoff and a primary author of HAVA, former Rep. Bob Ney, were imprisoned for their role in the conspiracy.) In practice, many of the "reforms" created by HAVA have actually made it harder for citizens to cast a ballot and have their vote counted. In case after case, Republican election officials at the local and state level have used the rules to give GOP candidates an edge on Election Day by creating new barriers to registration, purging legitimate names from voter rolls, challenging voters at the polls and discarding valid ballots.

To justify this battery of new voting impediments, Republicans cite an alleged upsurge in voting fraud. Indeed, the U.S.-attorney scandal that resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales began when the White House fired federal prosecutors who resisted political pressure to drum up nonexistent cases of voting fraud against Democrats. "They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments that would scare these alleged hordes of illegal voters away," says David Iglesias, a U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was fired in December 2006. "We took over 100 complaints and investigated for almost two years — but I didn't find one prosecutable case of voter fraud in the entire state of New Mexico."

There's a reason Iglesias couldn't find any evidence of fraud: Individual voters almost never try to cast illegal ballots. The Bush administration's main point person on "ballot protection" has been Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney who has advised states on how to use HAVA to erect more barriers to voting. Appointed to the Federal Election Commission by Bush, von Spakovsky has suggested that voter rolls may be stuffed with 5 million illegal aliens. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. According to a recent analysis by Lorraine Minnite, an expert on voting crime at Barnard College, federal courts found only 24 voters guilty of fraud from 2002 to 2005, out of hundreds of millions of votes cast. "The claim of widespread voter fraud," Minnite says, "is itself a fraud."

Allegations of voter fraud are only the latest rationale the GOP has used to disenfranchise voters — especially blacks, Hispanics and others who traditionally support Democrats. "The Republicans have a long history of erecting barriers to discourage Americans from voting," says Donna Brazile, chair of the Voting Rights Institute for the Democratic National Committee. "Now they're trying to spook Americans with the ghost of voter fraud. It's very effective — but it's ironic that the only way they maintain power is by using fear to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to vote." The recently enacted barriers thrown up to deter voters include:

1. Obstructing Voter-Registration Drives

Since 2004, the Bush administration and more than a dozen states have taken steps to impede voter registration. Among the worst offenders is Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature created hefty fines — up to $5,000 per violation — for groups that fail to meet deadlines for turning in voter-application forms. Facing potentially huge penalties for trivial administrative errors, the League of Women Voters abandoned its voter-registration drives in Florida. A court order eventually forced the legislature to reduce the maximum penalty to $1,000. But even so, said former League president Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, the reduced fines "create an unfair tax on democracy." The state has also failed to uphold a federal law requiring that low-income voters be offered an opportunity to register when they apply for food stamps or other public assistance. As a result, the annual number of such registrations has plummeted from more than 120,000 in the Clinton years to barely 10,000 today.

2. Demanding "Perfect Matches"

Under the Help America Vote Act, some states now reject first-time registrants whose data does not correspond to information in other government databases. Spurred by HAVA, almost every state must now attempt to make some kind of match — and four states, including the swing states of Iowa and Florida, require what is known as a "perfect match." Under this rigid framework, new registrants can lose the right to vote if the information on their voter-registration forms — Social Security number, street address and precisely spelled name, right down to a hyphen — fails to exactly match data listed in other government records.

There are many legitimate reasons, of course, why a voter's information might vary. Indeed, a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 20 percent of discrepancies between voter records and driver's licenses in New York City are simply typing mistakes made by government clerks when they transcribe data. But under the new rules, those mistakes are costing citizens the right to vote. In California, a Republican secretary of state blocked 43 percent of all new voters in Los Angeles from registering in early 2006 — many because of the state's failure to produce a tight match. In Florida, GOP officials created "match" rules that rejected more than 15,000 new registrants in 2006 and 2007 — nearly three-fourths of them Hispanic and black voters. Given the big registration drives this year, the number could be five times higher by November.

3. Purging Legitimate Voters From the Rolls

The Help America Vote Act doesn't just disenfranchise new registrants; it also targets veteran voters. In the past, bipartisan county election boards maintained voter records. But HAVA requires that records be centralized, computerized and maintained by secretaries of state — partisan officials — who are empowered to purge the rolls of any voter they deem ineligible. Ironically, the new rules imitate the centralized system in Florida — the same corrupt operation that inspired passage of HAVA in the first place. Prior to the 2000 election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and her predecessor, both Republicans, tried to purge 57,000 voters, most of them African-Americans, because their names resembled those of persons convicted of a crime. The state eventually acknowledged that the purges were improper — two years after the election.

Rather than end Florida-style purges, however, HAVA has nationalized them. Maez, the elections supervisor in New Mexico, says he was the victim of faulty list management by a private contractor hired by the state. Hector Balderas, the state auditor, was also purged from the voter list. The nation's youngest elected Hispanic official, Balderas hails from Mora County, one of the poorest in the state, which had the highest rate of voters forced to cast provisional ballots. "As a strategic consideration," he notes, "there are those that benefit from chaos" at the ballot box.

All told, states reported scrubbing at least 10 million voters from their rolls on questionable grounds between 2004 and 2006. Colorado holds the record: Donetta Davidson, the Republican secretary of state, and her GOP successor oversaw the elimination of nearly one of every six of their state's voters. Bush has since appointed Davidson to the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency created by HAVA, which provides guidance to the states on "list maintenance" methods.

4. Requiring Unnecessary Voter ID's

Even if voters run the gauntlet of the new registration laws, they can still be blocked at the polling station. In an incident last May, an election official in Indiana denied ballots to 10 nuns seeking to vote in the Democratic primary because their driver's licenses or passports had expired. Even though Indiana has never recorded a single case of voter-ID fraud, it is one of two dozen states that have enacted stringent new voter-ID statutes.

On its face, the requirement to show a government-issued ID doesn't seem unreasonable. "I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I've got to show a little bit of ID," Karl Rove told the Republican National Lawyers Association in 2006. But many Americans lack easy access to official identification. According to a recent study for the Election Law Journal, young people, senior citizens and minorities — groups that traditionally vote Democratic — often have no driver's licenses or state ID cards. According to the study, one in 10 likely white voters do not possess the necessary identification. For African-Americans, the number lacking such ID is twice as high.

5. Rejecting "Spoiled" Ballots

Even intrepid voters who manage to cast a ballot may still find their vote discounted. In 2004, election officials discarded at least 1 million votes nationwide after classifying them as "spoiled" because blank spaces, stray marks or tears made them indecipherable to voting machines. The losses hit hardest among minorities in low-income precincts, who are often forced to vote on antiquated machines. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in its investigation of the 2000 returns from Florida, found that African-Americans were nearly 10 times more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected, a ratio that holds nationwide.

Proponents of HAVA claimed the law would correct the spoilage problem by promoting computerized balloting. Yet touch-screen systems have proved highly unreliable — especially in minority and low-income precincts. A statistical analysis of New Mexico ballots by a voting-rights group called VotersUnite found that Hispanics who voted by computer in 2004 were nearly five times more likely to have their votes unrecorded than those who used paper ballots. In a close election, such small discrepancies can make a big difference: In 2004, the number of spoiled ballots in New Mexico — 19,000 — was three times George Bush's margin of victory.

6. Challenging "Provisional" Ballots

In 2004, an estimated 3 million voters who showed up at the polls were refused regular ballots because their registration was challenged on a technicality. Instead, these voters were handed "provisional" ballots, a fail-safe measure mandated by HAVA to enable officials to review disputed votes. But for many officials, resolving disputes means tossing ballots in the trash. In 2004, a third of all provisional ballots — as many as 1 million votes — were simply thrown away at the discretion of election officials.

Many voters are given provisional ballots under an insidious tactic known as "vote caging," which uses targeted mailings to disenfranchise black voters whose addresses have changed. In 2004, despite a federal consent order forbidding Republicans from engaging in the practice, the GOP sent out tens of thousands of letters to "confirm" the addresses of voters in minority precincts. If a letter was returned for any reason — because the voter was away at school or serving in the military — the GOP challenged the voter for giving a false address. One caging operation was exposed when an RNC official mistakenly sent the list to a parody site called GeorgeWBush.org — instead of to the official campaign site GeorgeWBush.com.

In the century following the Civil War, millions of black Americans in the Deep South lost their constitutional right to vote, thanks to literacy tests, poll taxes and other Jim Crow restrictions imposed by white officials. Add up all the modern-day barriers to voting erected since the 2004 election — the new registrations thrown out, the existing registrations scrubbed, the spoiled ballots, the provisional ballots that were never counted — and what you have is millions of voters, more than enough to swing the presidential election, quietly being detached from the electorate by subterfuge.

"Jim Crow was laid to rest, but his cousins were not," says Donna Brazile. "We got rid of poll taxes and literacy tests but now have a second generation of schemes to deny our citizens their franchise." Come November, the most crucial demographic may prove to be Americans who have been denied the right to vote. If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat John McCain at the polls — they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering.

Contributing editor Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is one of the nation's leading voting-rights advocates. His article "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002] sparked widespread scrutiny of vote tampering. Greg Palast, who broke the story on Florida's illegal voter purges in the 2000 election, is the author of "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." For more information, visit No Voter Left Behind and Steal Back Your Vote.