Mar 23, 2008

Response to a Friend's Criticism of Obama's Speech

I've been out of the information loop for the past few days with my friend MK in town, and during the great three days we spent touring LA, going to Disney Hall for the LA Phil, visiting other friends, I received an email message that essentially said that partisans of Obama will like his speech in response to the attacks on him for tolerating his pastor's statements critical of the United States. Those who oppose Obama, however, will not be persuaded, essentially, because Obama "played the race card" and didn't "throw his pastor under the bus," or adequately explain why Obama has attended the Congregation for twenty years. The email spurred me to start listening to the snippets of Reverend Wright's speeches that have been publicized and to do some research as to what he actually said.

I have not had a chance to go into every single one of the sermons yet, but luckily I happened to run across the one in which he talked about the chickens coming home to roost. I glibly had suggested to this friend that the snippets were probably a form of "cherry picking" from many sermons he had given. Since he's a Christian, I suspect a lot of them might have had messages of love and toleration and understanding. I was glib but probably correct. At least on the first one I looked at.

Here is one of "snippets" from Reverend Wright as reported by ABC News: “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Thanks to Paul Woodward on the website The War in Context; ABC didn't provide context, because here's what the Rev. Wright said in his speech immediately after that snippet:

Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y’all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.

And so who was Wright referring to? Woodward points out that the man Rev. Wright referred to in his speech is Edward Peck:

It’s worth listening to what he has to say. It’s worth taking into consideration the opinion of a man who had been the Deputy Director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism under President Ronald Reagan, former Deputy Coordinator, Covert Intelligence Programs at the State Department, U.S. Ambassador and Chief of Mission to Iraq (1977-1980), and a 32-year veteran of the Foreign Service. At least, as far as Rev Wright was concerned, Edward Peck was worth listening to and that’s what he told his congregation.

On October 8, 2001, on CNN, Peck was asked: “Wouldn’t this war against terrorism be a mistake if we stop at Osama bin Laden and don’t take out Saddam Hussein as well?”

Peck said it would not be a mistake because, “when you take out Saddam Hussein, the key question you have to ask then is, what happens after that? And we don’t have a clue. Nobody knows, but it’s probably going to be bad. And a lot of people are going to be very upset about that, because that really is not written into our role in this world is to decide who rules Iraq.”

So the big question when I see this context, is why was it omitted? Answer? It's inconvenient, it doesn't fit the cartoon version of this attack on Obama. Wright is referring to an establishment white man for his notion which is, in essence, that of "blowback" originally a CIA term for "what goes around comes around." Establish the context and you see the propaganda machine in smooth operation.

So, I read that, and I decided I am going to, slowly but surely, work myself through the rest of the Wright snippets, because who knows what context they might have been taken from? As far as I can tell just from having listened to a few You Tube snippets, the one about AIDS as a plot by the US Govt sounds wacky, but no more than Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell saying 9/11 was God's punishment for gay sex, a woman's right to choose, and women's liberation. And given the kind of program carried out by the government in the Tuskegee Experiments Wright's got a sensitivity to the matter that might not be understandable to a white audience.

I have to say that when my friend wrote in his email that Obama is "playing the race card" I thought it really unfair. The speech addressed directly and honestly the very essence of the attack, which is essentially that of "guilt by association" that we should be very familiar with--the tactic that Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon carried out against pinko commie antiwar anti-American radicals.

In this case the whole organized and orchestrated publicity given to snippets from Wright's sermons was "race baiting" of the worst kind. (It appeals to fear fantasies of the worst kind, like "See, I told you they really want to kill us," "they hate the U.S., they will rise up and kill us in our beds just like the Jihadis" . . .I have even seen today surfing some right wing sites that black people are now being referred to as having "sleeper cells," thereby amalgamating the old racial bias with the new--Islamofascism.)

Wright's an ex-Marine-- the same kind of attack was made on another Marine, John Murtha, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, when he attacked the war from his position as head of the Armed services committee. It's the same whack job that was perpetrated on Max Cleland down in Georgia by associating him with pictures of Osama bin Laden.

Contrary to my friend's assertion that we didn't get an explanation of why Obama attended Rev. Wright's church for twenty years, the speech very clearly explained why. What it said was he had complicated reasons, and he explained them.

I think people who are against Obama aren't really looking for an explanation. They are looking for complete out and out condemnation and perhaps evidence of Obama having stomped out in high indignation. They want a cartoon. They want validation for their own conviction that the country can do no wrong; in short, the guilt by association that is being made here is just another version of the same old Bushit expressed by the patriotic fringe: that criticism of the US is treason.

In a minor form it was the criticism of Michelle Obama saying that she felt proud of this country for the first time when she saw the energy for change coming from all demographic groups to support a campaign that will reverse over seven years of Constitutional abuse.

In short, the attacks are baloney.

The people wanting Obama to throw Wright under the bus are the same ones who insist that we must march in lockstep to the drumbeats for war. They are the ones who wear their lapel pins on their egos, not their lapels. The direction of that march is not in any direction of a compass. It's toward totalitarianism. I'll take Obama's pretty sophisticated and adult responses any day.

There's enough to find fault with in his moderate approach so far that are of more substance than this current hunt for "sleeper cell" "Jihadi sympathizers" and disaffected radical "blacktivists."

But then I am radical: I could start promising to go after administration officials including Cheney, Rumsfeld, David Addington, John Yoo, and Alberto Gonzales who, having broken the law, ultimately should be under criminal prosecution. Obama would never go that far in his condemnation. Top flight American politicians tend not to be punished for their crimes, and Scooter Libby has already gotten his get out of jail free card.

What pisses me off more than Reverend Wright's diatribe is Dick Cheney being reminded that two thirds majority of citizens wants us--and have wanted us--to leave Iraq, and he says, then smirks, "So?" (Unfortunately I can't get the You Tube video here, so the reportage will have to suffice. Believe me, he smirked. Or was it his built in sneer that I remember? That's a hell of a lot more irritating than Wright saying the chickens have come home to roost.

I ran across an apposite quote from Eric Fromm: "Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. 'Patriotism' is its cult... Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship." I'll use that to give some insight into Obama's problem with the opposition.

Mar 19, 2008

News in the Shadows

I started this blog after returning from Memphis in January 2007. I had attended the Third National Conference on Media Reform and was enthusiastic about the work that needed to be done on correcting the continuing failures of the mainstream media to cover essential issues of the day. Few friends were aware, when I spoke to them, of the many stories that go without coverage.

Over this past weekend, friends dropped by for a Saint Patty's Day party and lots of refreshments, food, and conversation. And over the course of the party, despite the political talk, no one seemed aware of one of the bigger uncovered stories, the Winter Soldier 2008 Conference held outside of Washington D.C. in Silver Spring Maryland.

"Winter soldier" is a term derived from Thomas Paine, who spoke of "summer soldiers and summer patriots" who did not want to fight in the Revolution when the cold weather came. It was the name used by Vietnam veterans testifying about the atrocities that they had committed and had witnessed during the Vietnam War. And the name has been recast for this year with veterans of the War in Iraq and Desert Storm testifying to the abuses and atrocities that have occurred during this misbegotten adventure in Iraq under the leadership of George W. Bush.

More on this later: but for now it is enough to suggest some additional stories that do not appear in the mainstream media or that have received only scant attention:

First, the efforts of the CIA and the Bush Administration to finance a coup in Gaza, the thwarting of which was the real story behind the violence of Hamas against Fatah;

Second, the story of the suppression of evidence and investigation on the part of the United States into the death of Rachel Corrie, killed as she was attempting to stop the demolition of a Palestinian house. She was crushed by a
Caterpillar Corporation bulldozer driven by a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces;

Third, Winter Soldier 2008, which brought hundreds of veterans to the Washington, D.C. area but received so little coverage you would have thought it took place in the wilds of Indonesia;

Fourth, the failure of the United States government to uphold its International obligation in the case of Luis
Posada Carilles, a known terrorist who has been given sanctuary in the United States;

Fifth, the story of the continuing settlement building by the Israeli government in the Occupied Territories and Israel's clear violation of International law and the Geneva Conventions, the collective punishment of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories.

Sixth and finally for now, the subject of my next post, the unjust treatment here in the United States of a Palestinian activist--and it should be noted, a Florida supporter of George W. Bush in the 2000 election--named
Sami al-Arian. The Justice Department and Federal judges have kept him in incarceration despite his acquittal by a jury. This travesty of justice is our version of the Dreyfus Affair, and it should be shouted in all the atriums of every courthouse in the United States until justice prevails.

On this last matter, there is important news to be gotten in the morning, and when that news breaks I will be able to present the full story.

Mar 7, 2008

Democratic Candidates' Foreign Policy: as Misguided as Bush's

Colombia, backed with millions of US military aid over the past few decades, the source of much of the South American drug trade, and a brutal government whose practices are condemned by almost every human rights group, invades Ecuador, probably with intelligence and technical assistance from the United States, under the guise of “self defense.”

Naturally, President Bush supports the attack, saying that Colombia has a right to “defend itself.” I would expect no less from the war criminal in chief of our country, who has now invaded two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, out of a “right to defend.”

In the case of Iraq, we have known for many years now that the invasion was justified on false, fabricated, or deliberately distorted information and an intention to control the second largest oil source in the Middle East. (And as the years spin by more information from various sources and countries is revealed to confirm that the invasion of Iraq was not justified and was a clear violation of International laws, laws incorporated into our Constitution as the supreme law of the land.)

In the case of Afghanistan, I at first thought thought that at least in that case we were justified, but further reading and research over the years has convinced me that my discomfort with the minimal diplomatic strategy, lack of immediate and massive criminal investigation, and the failures to give the citizens of this country hard evidence of who was responsible for the 9-11 attacks, was a correct response. I never bought the argument that we were in an everlasting war against terror.

I had other specific reasons as well. The first is that Bush demanded that the Taliban—the oppressive government ruling Afghanistan in 2001—turn over Osama bin Laden to us. The Taliban asked for evidence of bin Laden's guilt. I truly thought that the President would have shown the evidence for all the world and the American public to see, but none was forthcoming.

The second is that months after the invasion, the FBI admitted that they still had not conclusively determined that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks. In his testimony before Congress, FBI director Robert Muller indicated that investigators “believed” and “thought” that bin Laden was responsible for the attack, but was unable to state conclusively that they were.

The third reason is that President Bush—without informing Congress, illegally began deploying materiel and troops to the Middle East in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. And finally, what spurred me to suspect further was when President Bush declared that he wasn't concerned about capturing Osama bin Laden any more. That implied to me that operations in Afghanistan had been a pretense.

I don't believe that most Americans easily accept Bush's abandonment of his intentions to bring bin Laden to justice. Bush desires a legacy, but surely his failure to go after bin Laden, as he boasted he would do shortly after 9-11, will be seen as one of the more damning failures in his presidency.

The man is incorrigible. Having decided that invading another country has been justified in the past, he has no hesitation to support another country refusing to pursue diplomatic means and refraining from attack. Thus, he does not even chastise Colombia for having violated international law by invading Ecuador, and then indicating that Colombia was justified in so doing. Immediately he sanctions Columbia's raid.

The Organization of American States, however, had the courage to speak out and chastise Colombia. The bottom line, they said, was that the borders of a country were not to be violated. Columbia at first tried to explain that they had been in hot pursuit of the rebel FARC group, but that was quickly dropped when evidence showed that the attack had been made against the camp while the members were sleeping. Further, Colombia actually went to the site and took away two bodies, one being the leader of the FARC, Raul Reyes, and some computers, leaving the other corpses and some survivors behind.

Now, you would have thought that at least some judicious comments would have been made by the Democratic candidates, but none were. Obama has built so much of his campaign on his judgment in being against the Iraq War, but it is clear to me now that violation of International law in invading another country is not part of his reasons for opposing the war. Instead, he indicates—as quoted by Robert Naiman for that Colombia has “every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)” and refers to the invasion of Ecuador as a “targeted killing.” And indeed, this strikes me as being very close to the rationale he gave for carrying out a strike within Pakistan based on “actionable intelligence.”

Even worse, I think, is Hillary Clinton's statement outrageous criticism of Hugo Chavez for moving troops to secure Venezuela's border, and implying that Ecuador has allowed itself to be a “safe haven” for the FARC. Ecuador is expected to cooperate with Colombia, which has just committed acts of aggression against it. Clinton cannot see beyond the cliché that Chavez is "a dictator" even though he has been democratically elected, and indeed, even had the balls to admit defeat of his proposed changes to the Constitution were the "voice of the people." I know he's a blowhard, I know he doesn't like the government of the United States. He's not a "dictator" in the way that Augusto Pinochet was. Of course, such distinctions are incapable of being made by our politicians. Let's prefer the politically correct conservative clichés above all.

I don't know about you, but I am extremely concerned by the responses of our two Democratic candidates to the Colombian action. It tells me that at best they are “Bush lite” and have accepted as normal the same kind of aggressive behavior, with no thought of handling the matter in a truly diplomatic fashion. Their responses on the matter show me that we are not going to get very much of a change if either is elected.

That's a real shame. It tells me that this country is really heading in a direction that will continue to make us more and more irrelevant to the rest of the world, no matter who enters the White House on January 20, 2009.