Showing posts with label George W. Bush. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George W. Bush. Show all posts

14 August 2013

Lamar W. Hankins : How George W. Bush Aided the Terrorists

Mission accomplished! Have Bush's (and Obama's) policies boosted terrorist recruitment? Photo from Reuters.
How George W. Bush aided the terrorists
(According to the government)
Bush’s bogus war in Iraq; the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and “black site” prisons; waterboarding and other uses of torture; and the civilian death toll from drone strikes have all served as recruiting tools for Al Qaeda and the terrorists.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / August 14, 2013

Peter Hart, from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, recently discussed the provocative idea that George W. Bush, as well as others in his administration, aided terrorism. This idea arises as a result of evidence introduced at the trial of whistleblower Private Bradley Manning.

To show that Manning’s unauthorized release of information about American actions during the war in Iraq had harmed the U.S. by encouraging attacks against the West, the prosecution did the following, as reported by The New York Times:
A prosecution witness in the sentencing phase of the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning told a military judge on Thursday that Al Qaeda could have used WikiLeaks disclosures, including classified United States government materials provided by Private Manning, to encourage attacks in the West, in testimony meant to show the harm done by his actions... The witness, Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, an adviser to the Pentagon's Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism, said that WikiLeaks materials showing that the United States had killed civilians, for instance, could help Al Qaeda.
Aboul-Enein said, "Perception is important because it provides a good environment for recruitment, for fund-raising and for support for Al Qaeda’s wider audience and objectives.”

Hart suggests that “the potentially most damaging part of Manning's disclosures was that the war kills civilians -- and that U.S. enemies could use that fact to recruit others.”

The standard, then, appears to be, as Hart wrote: “the killing of civilians might rally people behind the cause of Al Qaeda.” Hart identifies the invasion of Iraq itself as the cause of all of the killing, but that just scratches the surface of the disclosures of horrendous acts that inflame hatred of the U.S. and lead to enhanced recruitment of people by Al Qaeda to commit acts of terrorism against both the U.S. and its allies.

When the horror of Abu-Ghraib was revealed, Bush’s Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could not stop talking publicly about how horrible such practices were, always blaming anyone but the administration for the “stuff” that happens in war.

In his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld seems to admit that Abu Ghraib atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers harmed the U.S. once they were revealed. Of course, Iraqis who were abused eventually would have been released and passed stories around of their horrendous treatment by U.S. troops, or their families would have revealed their abusive treatment.

It was the Bush administration that opened the prison in Guantanamo that has been one of the greatest aids to terrorist recruitment in the modern world, largely because the U.S. tortured the prisoners at that facility and held many who had done nothing wrong or adverse to U.S. interests. Earlier this year, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said that the Guantanamo prison “has become an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists.”

In an April article in The Atlantic magazine, Thérèse Postel, a policy associate in international affairs at The Century Foundation, wrote: “Guantanamo Bay has often been the focus of jihadist media and propaganda... Guantanamo Bay has become a salient issue used in jihadist propaganda.”

Of course, the jihadist use of Guantanamo as a recruiting tool can now be attributed to the Obama administration, which is responsible for the prosecution of Manning. Irony and hypocrisy know no bounds when it comes to government tyranny and abuse of power.

And we should never forget the “black site” prisons located in strategic places around the globe where U.S. prisoners were tortured at will (and still are). In 2005, the Washington Post reported:
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement... The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.
Other black sites have been identified as located in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. CIA interrogators in such overseas sites used "enhanced interrogation techniques," some of which are prohibited by the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and by U.S. military law.

Among the techniques used is "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he is drowning. For a time, waterboarding became a household word in the U.S. and around the world as the morality of the practice was debated. Although the U.S. is a party to the U. N. Convention, it has blatantly violated it, giving more reasons for Al Qaeda to attract new jihadist recruits.

Especially destructive to U.S. interests is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, known widely as drones, which can be armed with weapons to kill enemies. They have been used by the U.S. since 2001 when they were launched from Uzbekistan and Pakistan. One of the unfortunate effects of drone use has been the killing of civilians in large numbers. Attacks have been launched from drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

In 2009, a report from the Brookings Institute said that 10 civilians are killed for every militant killed in Pakistan drone attacks. Pakistani authorities have claimed that in 2009 alone, over 700 innocent civilians were killed by drone attacks and many more injured.

Armed drone use has grown dramatically since drones were first employed by the Bush administration. The killing of civilians by drones is widely acknowledged as a significant recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups.

If “the killing of civilians might rally people behind the cause of Al Qaeda,” then the worst perpetrator of actions that might harm U.S. interests is the government of the U.S. Of course, the government will not prosecute itself for aiding the enemy, but it will torture and punish low-level personnel like Bradley Manning for actions that it claims do what it has done.

But we know that governments can be far worse than what I. F. Stone said about them -- that all governments lie. We know, if we pay attention, that the U.S. government is duplicitous, sanctimonious, and deceitful, as well as given to lying on a regular basis.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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20 May 2013

Bob Feldman : Texas Governors Bush and Perry, and Their Network of the Ultra-Rich, 1996-2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry with then President (and former Texas Governor) George W. Bush at a 2002 campaign event in Dallas. On the left is Texas Sen. John Cornyn. Photo by Larry Downing / Reuters.
The hidden history of Texas
Conclusion: 1996-2011/1 -- Bush, Perry, and their network of Texas ultra-rich
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / May 20, 2013

[This is the first section of the conclusion to Bob Feldman's Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]

When George W. Bush became the Republican Governor of Texas, “he arrived indebted to dozens of industries and wealthy patrons” and “repaid some of his supporters with choice political appointments,” according to the Center for Public Integrity’s The Buying of the President 2000.

The same book indicated what the political situation was like in Texas state politics in 2000 -- before Texas’s governor moved into the White House in 2001 after receiving fewer popular votes than the Democratic Party candidate in the 2000 U.S. presidential election:
One of the most prestigious political appointments is a seat on the University of Texas board of Regents. The board is filled with Bush’s top-dollar donors. The chair of the UT Regents is Donald Evans, Bush’s old friend and longtime fund-raiser who, as the finance chairman for Bush’s presidential bid, has overseen the campaign’s record-shattering fund-raising drive. Evans is the chief executive officer of Tom Brown, Inc., an oil and gas company based in Midland, Texas .

In 1989, Bush joined the board as an outside director. He received $12,000 a year plus stock options for attending several meetings and participating in conference calls... Shortly after he was elected governor of Texas, Bush sold his Tom Brown holdings for a profit of $297,550.

Another regent and top Bush patron is A.R. `Tony’ Sanchez, the chairman and chief executive of Sanchez-O’Brien Oil and Gas Corporation... Sanchez and his mother also own a controlling stake in International Bancshares Corporation, the holding company of International Bank of Commerce, a Texas banking chain founded by his father in 1966. Over [George W.] Bush’s career, Sanchez, members of his family, and employees of his companies have given him at least $230,150, making them his No. 2 career patron…

Bush owed few people more than Richard Rainwater, the Fort Worth financier... Rainwater launched an investment company in 1994, Crescent Real Estate Equities Company... In 1997, Bush backed a plan to cut state property taxes that would have saved Crescent some $2.5 million in state taxes... Later that year,...Bush signed a bill into law that produced a $10 million windfall for Crescent... Dallas taxpayers were to foot most of the bill for the new sports arena…Rainwater, through Crescent, bought a 12 percent stake in the Mavericks. Under the purchase agreement, Crescent will get $10 million when the arena is completed…

The Texas Teachers’ Retirement System...sold two office buildings and a mortgage on a third to Crescent in 1996 and 1997 at a $70.4 million loss... At the time of at least one of the sales, Bush owned about $100,000 worth of Crescent stock... The University of Texas Investment Management Company [UTIMCO]...has steered close to $1.7 billion of its assets into private investments; a third of that money has gone into funds run either by...[UTIMCO Chairman Hicks]’s business partner or by Bush patrons...

Industries that have provided the bulk of Bush’s campaign contributions have gotten his help in a variety of endeavors, from staving off pesky environmental regulations and shielding themselves from consumer lawsuits to driving off meddlesome investigators... According to a study by Public Research Works, Bush raised $566,000 from...polluters for his two gubernatorial campaigns. And from March 4, 1999 to March 31, 1999 Bush raised $316,300... They included: Enron ( Bush’s No. 1 career patron); Vinson & Elkins (Bush’s No. 3 career patron), a law firm that represents Enron and Alcoa, a...polluter; and companies owned by the Bass family (Bush’s No. 5 career patron).
And, coincidentally, some of the same ultra-rich folks who bankrolled former Texas governor Bush’s campaigns in the 1990s have apparently been donating a lot of money in the 21st-century to fund the campaigns of the current governor of Texas, former 2012 GOP presidential primaries candidate Rick Perry.

Between 2001 and Oct. 23, 2010, for example, Perry (a former U.S. Air Force officer who is the son of former Haskell County Commissioner Ray Perry) received $337,027 in campaign contributions from Lee Bass, $100,000 in campaign contributions from Sid Bas, and 265,000 in campaign contributions from Ray Hunt, according to the Texans for Public Justice website.

The same website also recalled that “as Texas' longest-serving governor, Rick Perry raised $98.9 million from 2001 through Oct. 23, 2010,” and that “Perry raised almost $49 million (or 50 percent of this money) from 193 mega donors who gave him $100,000 or more.”

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people who lived in Austin increased from 465,622 to 656,562; and the number of people who lived in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area increased from 846,227 to 1,249,763 during the same period.

According to the “Forty Acres and a Shul: `It’s Easy as Dell’” essay by Cathy Schechter that appeared in Lone Stars of David: the Jews of Texas, between 1990 and 2000,  Austin ’s Jewish-affiliated population also increased from 5,000 “to more than 10,000," and “by 2002, the American Jewish Yearbook estimated the city’s Jewish population at 13,500.”

But “the appearance of young `Dellionaire’ Jews who made millions in the brave new world of high-technology took the mellow Austin Jewish community by surprise.” Yet by 2007, Texas billionaire Michael Dell -- with an estimated personal wealth that year of $17.2 billion -- was the wealthiest ultra-rich person in Texas .

But in 2007 Robert Bass was still worth $5.5 billion, Ray Hunt was worth $4 billion, Sid and Lee Bass were worth $3 billion, and Ed Bass was worth $2.5 billion, according to Bryan Burrough's The Big Rich. The same book also noted that in 2007, coincidentally, “Hunt Oil received a lucrative concession to drill in northern Iraq,” and “Sid Bass, whose family, along with the Hunts, ranked among Bush’s largest financial backers, was photographed alongside the president, Laura Bush, and the queen of England...”

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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07 May 2013

Bob Feldman : The Influence of Texas' 'Big Rich,' 1974-1995

Texas oil patriarch H. L. Hunt. The Hunt family was reputed to be the world's wealthiest. Image from The Famous People.
The hidden history of Texas
Part 14: 1974-1995/2 -- The influence of Texas' 'big rich'
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / May 7, 2013

[This is the second section of Part 14 of Bob Feldman's Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]

During the 1970s and early 1980s the folks who inherited the oil industry-based wealth of ultra-rich white Texans like Sid Richardson and H. L. Hunt continued to make big money -- and to use that big money to exercise a special influence in both Texas state politics and U.S. national politics.

As Bryan Burrough’s The Big Rich observed:
For the state’s actual oilmen, the party that began with the 1973 [Arab oil] embargo, ran for 5 solid years. Drilling boomed. Profits mushroomed. Then, in 1978, things got even better... In just 7 short years prices rose 2,000 percent... By 1976...the children of H.L. Hunt’s two Dallas families and the corporations they controlled, were thriving as never before.

Thanks in large part to rising oil prices, the Hunts were probably the world’s wealthiest family... Their net worth hovered in the $6 billion to $8 billion range, easily topping the next wealthiest American families, the Mellons and Rockefellers...

The most successful Hunt during the 1970s was Ray, who began making over his father’s old Hunt Oil Company much as his Reunion project was changing the face of downtown Dallas... In 3 short years he quadrupled the size of Hunt Oil’s staff, increased its offshore leases from 100,000 to 1 million acres... Ray started a new magazine just for Dallas, D... By 1982 Texas Oil had luxuriated in a solid 10 years of record-high prices...
And, coincidentally, the sixth-largest contributor of campaign funds for one of Texas’s representatives in the U.S. Senate during the 1980s and 1990s, Phil Gramm, came from the Bass Enterprises investment firm that the Bass family relatives of Sid Richardson formed after Richardson’s death, while the seventh-largest contributor of campaign funds for former U.S. Senator Gramm during this period was Ray Hunt’s Hunt Corporation, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s 1996 book, The Buying of the President.

But once the demand and market price for oil began to drop after 1982, many of the independent local oil companies in Texas began to lose money or go out of business; and many could not pay off the loans that major banks in Texas had given them during the boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s. So “in October 1983... First National of Midland collapsed” and “in the next decade 9 of the 10 largest Texas banks would follow suit,” according to The Big Rich.

In 1981, membership in the Texas labor union locals that were affiliated with the Texas AFL-CIO had “peaked at more than 290,000," according to the website. But the number of Texas workers who were Texas AFL-CIO-affiliated union members “then dropped dramatically during the oil bust of the 1980s;” and by 1995 membership was just 197,462, according to the Texas AFL-CIO’s website.

By the end of the 1980s many of the deregulated Savings and Loan (S&L) thrift institutions in Texas’s banking industry also had collapsed in a big way, after “real estate developers bought thrifts so they could have a private piggy bank to finance office buildings and condos no one needed,” “con artists set up loan scams and used thrifts to launder money,” and “thrift executives cooked the books and paid themselves high bonuses when their banks were actually losing money,” according to the 1991 edition of Louis Rukeyser’s Business Almanac.

As The Buying of the President observed in 1996, “Texas has the unpleasant distinction of topping the list of states with the most S&L failures with 65,” and “the state was second only to California in terms of the value of assets held by failed thrifts: California thrifts had $18,358 billion in assets compared with Texas’s $18,279 billion.”

And, coincidentally, the U.S. president who signed the S&L industry bail-out bill in 1989, George Herbert Walker Bush, was both a former Texas oil industry and banking executive and the father of Neil Bush -- who was sued by federal regulators “for regulation violations that allegedly contributed to the $1 billion collapse of Silverado Banking, a Denver thrift,” according to Louis Rukeyser’s Business Almanac.

Between 1974 and 1995 another son of the U.S. President who launched Gulf War I against Iraq in early 1991 (who, himself, would become the governor of Texas in 1995 and the U.S. President who launched both the endless U.S. war in Afghanistan in October 2001 and the endless U.S. war in Iraq in March 2003) -- George W. Bush II -- also worked as an executive in Texas’s oil industry.

Before joining with the Bass family’s former money manager and other business partners to purchase the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989, former Republican Texas Governor Bush was an executive at the Harken Oil and Gas firm that both Harvard University and the ultra-rich Bass family financially backed.

Another ultra-rich Texas billionaire, Ross Perot, was able to exercise a special influence on the direction of U.S. presidential politics during the 1990s -- by spending $65 million of his surplus personal wealth to finance his own 1992 campaign to gain control of the White House -- for which over 19.7 million U.S. voters cast ballots in November, 1992 (and for which over 7.8 million U.S. voters also cast ballots in November, 1996).

Perot had gained his initial big wealth in 1966 after his private family business, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), suddenly became super-profitable when Texas Blue Shield/Blue Cross -- whose computer/data processing department Perot then headed -- received a lucrative contract from the U.S. government’s Social Security Administration to develop a computerized system for paying the Medicare bills;” and Perot’s Texas Blue Shield/Blue Cross employer then gave Perot’s private EDS firm “a subcontract to take over their data processing on the new Medicare program using, of course, the system just developed at government expense” (by the same firm whose computer/data processing department Perot headed), according to a November 1971 Ramparts magazine article.

And it was also during the 1974 to 1995 period of Texas history that a Democrat, Ann Richards, was the governor of Texas (between 1991 and 1995), and that more than 70 people were killed on April 19, 1993, following a 51-day siege and an armed attack by U.S. federal government law enforcement agents on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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20 March 2013

Ron Jacobs : Raining Shock and Awe in Iraq

Image from
Raining shock and awe:
'Mission accomplished' in Iraq?
There was nothing good about this war unless you owned stock in the arms industry. Thousands of U.S. men and women were sent to Iraq over and over again to fight against an enemy that was essentially created by the U.S. invasion.
By Ron Jacobs / The Rag Blog / March 20, 2013

The news had come overnight. U.S. planes were raining a shock and awe of murderous destruction on the people of Baghdad, rendering parts of the city into ruins. The residents hid in shelters if they could and prayed their children would survive.

Meanwhile, soldiers and marines clad in the desert-camouflaged fatigues of their respective branches, began their trek up various Iraqi highways shooting, hiding, and killing. The war they were bringing was not a new one, although this facet of it was. Previous engagements had been extremely one-sided, with deaths of the Iraqi “enemy” being more than 20,000 times greater than those of the invading U.S. in the salvo called Desert Storm; and 500,000 to perhaps 50 in the years between when the U.S. and Britain enforced their “no-fly” zone and sanctions against Iraq.

This new invasion would not be such a cakewalk, however.

One of the lasting images of Desert Storm is the carnage of the so-called Highway of Death. The photographs of this savage and criminal event show human corpses literally burnt to a charcoal crisp, rendered to ash by incendiary weapons and napalm by U.S. weaponry as the Iraqis who became these corpses retreated in defeat.

There were no apologies forthcoming from the command that ordered this massacre. As for the Pentagon and its civilian paymasters, the crows over their victory were appalling in their brashness and delight. As the Tao te Ching tells us: “He who rejoices in victory, delights in killing (31)." It can be argued that this epigram defined the U.S. mindset at the time. As we reach the tenth anniversary of the second U.S. attack on Iraq, perhaps the only solace we can take is that the sentiment described by it is not so popular as it was in 1991.

Back to those soldiers and marines on the road to Baghdad in 2003. By the third day of fighting, the casualties of the invaders were rising. Yet, there was little to indicate anything but another devastating massacre perpetrated on the Iraqis in the name of liberation.

Indeed, by May 1, 2003, George Bush felt confident enough to stride onto the deck of the U.S. Navy carrier Abraham Lincoln in a flight suit straight out of central casting and announce to the world that the U.S. military had accomplished its mission. In a public relations episode that would be mocked for years, Bush boldly told those listening that the U.S. and its allies (read Britain) had “prevailed.”

Less than two years later, U.S. casualty numbers were climbing and the media commentators who had championed every move George Bush had made since September 12, 2001, were beginning to mildly question his war. The Iraqi resistance was becoming better organized and was more than just a few thousand angry Baathists and Sunni citizens who had lost power in the wake of the Hussein government’s overthrow.

It would not be long before various terror organizations began their own war against the occupation troops and, eventually, their Shia cousins.

In the months that followed, the acronym IED became a familiar one to Iraqis and Americans. Humvees and body armor became part of the common parlance too, especially in relation to the lack of the latter for U.S. troops, despite the billions of dollars being spent to protect the generals and their civilian counterparts inside the relatively luxurious air-conditioned buildings of Baghdad’s Green Zone.

There was nothing good about this war unless you owned stock in the arms industry. Thousands of U.S. men and women were sent to Iraq over and over again to fight against an enemy that was essentially created by the U.S. invasion. Defense spending in the United States went from around $450 billion to almost a trillion dollars between the years 2003 and 2010, when the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq was completed.

Most of that money went straight into the war industry’s profit columns. These increases are replicated in many other countries, as well. Those who argue that the only reason for this war was to improve war industry profits have a lot of fuel for their argument in those figures alone.

The invasion and occupation of that nation remains a vile and reprehensible stain on the U.S. national conscience, or at least what remains of it. Those officials, politicians, and military officers who planned and fought it; the CEOs, board members, and major stockholders of the corporations and banks that profited from it; and the sycophantic media who trumpeted it as shamelessly as Goebbels championed Hitler’s heinous deeds; all of them deserve their own special trial before a jury of those whose families they killed, maimed and otherwise destroyed.

Unfortunately for those survivors, the only justice these sociopaths might ever find will be in their afterlife, if such a thing exists. We can’t change that past. We can prevent such a thing from happening in the future. Don't forsake the opportunity.

[Rag Blog contributor Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. He recently released a collection of essays and musings titled Tripping Through the American Night. His novels, The Co-Conspirator's Tale, and Short Order Frame Up will be republished by Fomite in April 2013 along with the third novel in the series All the Sinners Saints. Ron Jacobs can be reached at Find more articles by Ron Jacobs on The Rag Blog.]

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27 February 2013

Jim Turpin : Is the Imperial Presidency the 'New Normal'?

The Imperial Obama? Image from The Express Tribune.
The 'new normal'?
The Imperial Presidency
"Same as it ever was..."
Talking Heads ("Once in a Lifetime")
By Jim Turpin / The Rag Blog / February 27, 2013

First of a two-part series.

Many presidents throughout our history, from revered to despised, have ignored the Constitution and taken on the mantle of imperial power. From Lincoln to FDR to Nixon, the examples are easily found.

In the ancient Roman world, the term imperium refers to the amount of power given to individuals of authority such as dictators or consuls and was frequently applied to generals with military power. The term “imperial” usually is linked to an empire or the concept of imperialism.

But how have we gotten to where we are today, where the president of the United States can detain or assassinate an American citizen without due process? Where American citizens are constantly monitored and personal information is subject to review? Where whistleblowers are now detained and prosecuted for exposing war crimes and corruption?

The development of the executive branch’s imperial power has its gnarled roots deep in American history. Frequently presidents have used it as an excuse during times of war, but this has not always been the case.

Abraham Lincoln famously suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War on April 27, 1861, in response to riots, local militia actions, and the threat that the border slave state of Maryland would secede from the Union. Habeas corpus (literally in Latin “you shall have the body [in court]”) is specifically detailed in the U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 9: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

A writ of habeas corpus is used to bring a prisoner or other detainee before the court to determine if the person's imprisonment or detention is lawful.

Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 over 70 years ago on February 19, 1942, which led to the forced internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans that lived on the west coast.
The U.S., citing national security interests, demanded that Japanese-Americans be interned without due process or, it would eventually turn out, any factual basis. Whole communities were rounded up and sent to camps, sometimes just clapboard shelters or converted horse stables, in arid deserts and barren fields in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arkansas.
Nixon's paranoid presidency..
Richard M. Nixon’s deep paranoia over the civil rights and peace movement led to the continued use of the secret FBI program Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), as a means to monitor, sabotage, and neutralize legitimate dissent across the country. COINTELPRO infiltrated the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the NAACP, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the National Lawyer Guild, and many other groups and organizations.

But what drives today’s constitutional overreach by the Executive Office? Recent history points to a number of factors, including:
  • Codification of the Executive’s Imperial Power
  • America’s One Party System

Codification of the Executive Imperial Power

Within days of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Congress responded by ramroding a number of open-ended laws that gave the Executive branch a blank check to wage war world-wide and indefinitely detain civilians at home and abroad.

Joanne Mariner of neatly fits together the convoluted pieces of the Patriot Act, the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which, though initiated by George W. Bush, is now fully promulgated by Barack Obama:
During the Bush years, despite massive public and press attention to the administration’s detention policies, Congress remained largely out of the picture. While the USA PATRIOT Act contained some provisions on detention, they were never put to use; the Bush administration preferred to create a detention system that was, it assumed, largely free of legal constraints and judicial oversight.

The military prison at Guantanamo and the CIA’s secret prison system were therefore created by executive fiat, without congressional input or restriction. When cases challenging Guantanamo and the military detention of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil got to court, however, the administration claimed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution passed by Congress in September 2001, gave congressional approval for those detentions.

The AUMF, which authorizes the president to use “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11 attacks, or who harbored such persons or groups, is silent on the issue of detention. A plurality of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the administration, nonetheless, that the power to detain is necessarily implied by the power to use military force.
The NDAA, which is renewed every year, also contains sections, according to Mariner, that are deeply troubling to human rights activists:
What is now known as Subtitle D of the NDAA -- the section on detention -- made its first appearance in March of this year (2011). Called the Detainee Security Act in the House, and the Military Detainee Procedures Improvement Act in the Senate, the bills, introduced by Representative Buck McKeon and Senator John McCain, respectively, were meant to shift counterterrorism responsibilities from law enforcement to the military.

The clear goal of the two bills was to require that suspected terrorists either be tried before military commissions or be held in indefinite detention without charge... every provision in subtitle D is objectionable from the standpoint of human rights and civil liberties. Among the controversial provisions are sections 1026, 1027 and 1028 of the bill, which restrict detainee transfers and releases from Guantanamo. But while human rights organizations are worried about these limitations, their gravest concerns pertain to sections 1021 and 1022.
Glenn Greenwald, while still at Salon, addresses Sections 1021 and 1022:
There are two separate indefinite military detention provisions in this bill. The first, Section 1021, authorizes indefinite detention for the broad definition of “covered persons” discussed above in the prior point. And that section does provide that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” So that section contains a disclaimer regarding an intention to expand detention powers for U.S. citizens, but does so only for the powers vested by that specific section.

More important, the exclusion appears to extend only to U.S. citizens “captured or arrested in the United States” -- meaning that the powers of indefinite detention vested by that section apply to U.S. citizens captured anywhere abroad (there is some grammatical vagueness on this point, but at the very least, there is a viable argument that the detention power in this section applies to U.S. citizens captured abroad).

But the next section, Section 1022, is a different story. That section specifically deals with a smaller category of people than the broad group covered by 1021: namely, anyone whom the President determines is “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force” and “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.”

For those persons, section (a) not only authorizes, but requires (absent a Presidential waiver), that they be held “in military custody pending disposition under the law of war.” The section title is “Military Custody for Foreign Al Qaeda Terrorists,” but the definition of who it covers does not exclude U.S. citizens or include any requirement of foreignness.

That section -- 1022 -- does not contain the broad disclaimer regarding U.S. citizens that 1021 contains. Instead, it simply says that the requirement of military detention does not apply to U.S. citizens, but it does not exclude U.S. citizens from the authority, the option, to hold them in military custody.
The annual renewal of the NDAA by the Congress of the United States is a sad and deeply troubling testimony to how we empower an Executive branch that is ironically supposed to have their overreach limited by the very branch voting for this law.

America’s One Party System

John Kerry, Winter Soldier.
During the presidential election last fall, if I closed my eyes and listened to speeches on national security, there was basically no policy difference. Both parties called us the “Greatest nation on Earth” and tried to outdo the other with patriotic and nationalistic proclamations and slogans.

As pointed out by Mother Jones during coverage of the election for both party’s conventions, John Kerry (who coincidentally became our new Secretary of State in 2013) spouted, “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."

The story went on:
...Democrats have adopted the kind of language that might have been derided as "cowboy rhetoric" four years ago. And Kerry wasn't the first or last speaker to invoke Bin Laden in Charlotte last week [in 2012]. Asking for four more years of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden intoned that "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!" Eight years ago, Democrats trying to act tough on national security sounded like kids playing pretend; at times, this year's convention sounded like a Roman triumph.
Let’s remember, this is the same Lieutenant John Kerry who as a member of Vietnam Veteran’s Against the War (VVAW) spoke at Winter Soldier in 1971 in Washington, D.C., decrying militarism and war:
We are here in Washington also to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate to people in this country, the question of racism, which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions also, the use of weapons, the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions, in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners, accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel of everything.
I would be curious to know if Kerry as the new Secretary of State remembers the importance of his testimony in 1971 and what his brothers at VVAW think of him now.

The same Mother Jones article deftly points out that:
Barack Obama has a plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but neither candidate [Democratic or Republican] actually has a plan to end the war that started on September 11, 2001. Both parties accept that conflict as a permanent feature of American life. An American citizen in the U.S. is as likely to be killed by their own furniture as a Muslim terrorist, but fear of violent Islamic extremism has changed this country almost irrevocably.
But let’s compare... are the Democratic and Republican Party really just the same party on issues like national security?

ProPublica recently did a side-by-side comparison of Bush and Obama policies on the use of torture, surveillance, and detention and the results are not very surprising.

To Obama’s credit, CIA “black sites” (outsourced torture sites to foreign countries) and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (also known in the vernacular as “torture”) have been, as far as the American public is aware, discontinued and stopped by this administration.

But... Obama has continued the following policies started by Bush and ramped them up dramatically under his administration:
  • Continued renewal of the Patriot Act;
  • Wiretaps and data collection of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals;
  • Continuation of Guantanamo prison as an indefinite detention center;
  • Targeted killings (also known as “assassinations”) of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals without legal oversight;
  • Significant increase of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and possibly now in Mali, that have killed thousands of civilians;
  • The use of military commissions to nullify the rights of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in civilian court.
On issues of national security, America really remains a one-party system that use the “War on Terror” as an excuse to abrogate civil liberties of its’ citizenry.
“You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?” -- Talking Heads ("Once in a Lifetime")
In the second installment of this article, I will investigate the use of assassination by "Star Chamber” and how a subjugated and cravenly media has led us down the highway of a fearful nation with fewer and fewer civil liberties.

[Rag Blog contributor Jim Turpin is an Austin activist and writer who works with CodePink Austin. He also volunteers for the GI coffeehouse Under the Hood Café at Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas. Read more articles by Tim Turpin on The Rag Blog.]

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14 January 2013

Lamar W. Hankins : Obama Continues Immoral Bush Policies

Four more years. Image from NewsOne.

Obama embraces five
immoral Bush policies
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period... was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / January 14, 2013

Looking back over the last four years, it has become clear that President Barack Obama has enthusiastically continued (and expanded in at least one case) five troubling policies of George W. Bush: foreign interventionism, the use of armed drones, extraordinary rendition, torture, and incarcerating alleged terrorists in Guantanamo.

Foreign adventurism encompasses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continued and expanded use of armed drones to kill people President Obama and his staff (including especially Obama’s new nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan) believe should die for their actions. Reportedly, Brennan maintains a “kill list” approved by President Obama. These drone killings occur throughout the Middle East, but particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Killing in a war zone is relatively easier to justify under international legal principles to which the United States subscribes, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, than are killings elsewhere. But under Bush’s view, which relies on the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by the Congress seven days after 9/11, the “international war on terror” justifies killing anyone who the President and his agents believe is a terrorist, wherever they may be. Obama has accepted that view.

Under the International Covenant, lethal force by our military against enemy fighters in an armed conflict is permitted if done for military necessity, and if impact on civilian lives and property will not be disproportionate to the military objective. Currently, that limits such actions to Afghanistan, which we attacked because of its relationship to al Queda, the group responsible for the terrorist attack on 9/11.

Self-defense is also permitted by the International Covenant against another state that is responsible for an attack against the U.S. Drone attacks other than in Afghanistan appear to violate the International Covenant, no matter what the Congress may have authorized in 2001.

CNN reports that 4,400 people have been killed in U.S. drone attacks since 2002, most in Pakistan. Obama has ordered six times more drone attacks than Bush ordered. Of those 4,400 deaths, about 25% have been civilians, including over 200 children. Because the CIA is responsible for most of these attacks, confirming these data through the government is impossible.

John Brennan has denied that there have been any civilian deaths. According to his reasoning, any male of combat age is a terrorist, yet drone attacks have killed those attending funerals and weddings, as well as 16-year-old Tariq Aziz and his 12-year-old cousin who had been learning how to take video of drones that constantly circled their village in Pakistan, and at least two American citizens in Yemen who were not in a war zone.

In 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki, described as an al Qaeda propagandist, was killed in a drone attack in Yemen. Two weeks later, his 16-year-old son was killed in a separate drone attack.

Esquire's Tom Junod described the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki this way:
He was a boy who hadn't seen his father in two years, since his father had gone into hiding. He was a boy who knew his father was on an American kill list and who snuck out of his family's home in the early morning hours of September 4, 2011, to try to find him.

He was a boy who was still searching for his father when his father was killed, and who, on the night he himself was killed, was saying goodbye to the second cousin with whom he'd lived while on his search, and the friends he'd made. He was a boy among boys, then; a boy among boys eating dinner by an open fire along the side of a road when an American drone came out of the sky and fired the missiles that killed them all.
Before the drone attacks began and before 9/11, during the Clinton administration, the U.S. government began the practice, in a limited way, of extraordinary rendition, which has been described as “the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one country to another.” After 9/11, the practice increased dramatically as a way to engage in torture away from the eyes of Americans and the media.

The CIA, along with other U.S. government agencies, has attempted to gather intelligence from foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism by taking them to countries where U.S. and international legal safeguards do not apply, at least so far as the CIA is concerned.

These suspects are detained and interrogated by U.S. personnel at U.S.-run detention facilities outside U.S. territory or are handed over to foreign agents for interrogation. Such people are subjected to torture as that is defined by U.S. and international law.

While President Obama promised to end such practices, what his administration has done is put lipstick on the proverbial pig. Obama now assures us that the U.S. will not render a person to another country for detention and interrogation unless that country promises not to torture the suspect. While his administration has ceased using the worst practitioners of torture used by Bush (Syria, Egypt, and Libya), it has instead engaged the services of other countries to directly take such suspects into custody so that the U.S. will not be tainted by how the suspects are treated.

In spite of the evidence we now have of the wrongness of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, those Americans who spoke out from the beginning, as well as those who quickly realized the sham of the Iraq war, continue to be ridiculed. The most recent public example of the latter group is former senator Chuck Hagel, who has been named to become Obama’s next Secretary of Defense.

The interventionism recognized and opposed by Hagel and others is not evidence of an exceptional nation, but of one that has long ago forgotten the vision of its founders that we would not have a standing army, nor would we intervene in the affairs of other nations.

Finally, the interventions we have engaged in since 9/11 have led to the creation of a special prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, at the southeastern end of Cuba, which has been widely condemned around the world, by both allies and enemies.

The deathly and desolate place known simply as Guantanamo should sicken every American of good will and normal sensibilities. Many of the people incarcerated and tortured there were turned over to the U.S. in return for the payment of bounties, and many were not involved with terrorism. Right now, the Obama administration has determined that 86 men incarcerated at Guantanamo are guilty of nothing and should be repatriated to their home countries. But actions of the administration and Congress have worked together to ensure that the 86 will remain incarcerated indefinitely.

Four years ago, President Obama pledged to close the prison. Yet, he recently signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, which will prevent any of the 166 men now incarcerated at Guantanamo from leaving for at least another year, including 56 men the government has listed as having been “cleared for transfer,” a process that requires the approval of many U.S. agencies and foreign governments. No one knows when these wrongfully incarcerated men will be allowed to return to their homes.

One of the most egregious human rights violations involving Guantanamo occurred to Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, who was taken into custody at the Pakistani border after unknown individuals were paid a bounty by the U.S. for anyone they claimed to be a terrorist, but he was guilty of nothing related to terrorism.

The credentials of Sami al-Hajj as a journalist could not have been clearer when he was taken into custody. Amy Goodman, the primary host of Democracy Now!, recently summarized what Sami al-Hajj, now the head of Al Jazeera’s human rights and public liberties desk, endured at Guantanamo for six years:
The Al Jazeera cameraman was arrested in Pakistan in December of 2001 while traveling to Afghanistan on a work assignment. Held for six years without charge, al-Hajj was repeatedly tortured, hooded, attacked by dogs and hung from a ceiling. Interrogators questioned him over 100 times about whether Al Jazeera was a front for al-Qaeda. In January 2007, he began a hunger strike that lasted 438 days until his release in May 2008.
Recently, one innocent prisoner from Yemen -- Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif -- died in Guantanamo after nearly 11 years in captivity, leaving a wife and 14-year old son to mourn. He should never have been sent to America’s special prison, but someone was paid a $5,000 bounty to turn him in. He, too, was guilty of nothing related to terrorism. Mystery surrounds the circumstances of his death. U.S. authorities have told different stories about how he died, which should remind us all of the absolute truth of journalist I. F. Stone’s admonition that “All governments lie!”

When it comes to foreign adventurism, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, the U.S. is well-positioned to take military action from its wide-spread collection of cruisers, submarines, dock landing ships, amphibious transport docks, amphibious assault ships, and aircraft carriers, which together number around 135, with others under construction.

In addition and of equal importance, the U.S. maintains over 1,000 overseas military bases according to David Vine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University, in Washington, DC, who has published one book on such facilities and nearly completed another on the subject.

While the Iraq war is over for the U.S. military, around 15,000 military contractors reportedly still operate there on behalf of U.S. interests, and perhaps as many as 300 troops train Iraqi security forces. Plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan include provisions to leave several thousand troops to continue training, provide support for the Afghan military, and perform counterinsurgency tasks.

Right now over 117,000 military contractors are in Afghanistan. No one outside of the government knows how many will be left in place once most U.S. troops have left, nor do we know how many CIA operatives will remain engaged there.

Mentioning the CIA inevitably brings up the question of torture. The evidence of torture by agents of the United States should be well-known by anyone who has read the newspapers since 9/11. That evidence spreads from Abu Ghraib, to extraordinary rendition sites, to Guantanamo, to our own military prisons in the U.S., where Bradley Manning was held for over a year in conditions and under treatments that violate the standards of decency which we claim to uphold.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Marjorie Cohn wrote recently:
Torture is illegal in all circumstances. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States ratified which makes it part of U.S. law, states unequivocally: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

The prohibition of torture is absolute and unequivocal. Torture is never lawful. ... Yet despite copious evidence of widespread torture and abuse during the Bush administration, and the Constitution’s mandate that the President enforce the laws, Obama refuses to hold the Bush officials and lawyers accountable for their law breaking.
For nearly 60 years, at least since President Eisenhower authorized a coup in 1953 that brought the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) into power in place of the democratically-elected Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, the role the United States has played in the Middle East has been a tragedy.

What Martin Luther King, Jr. said about another tragedy is equally appropriate about our role not only in the Middle East, but in most of the world, where we have tried to control events and people with the armaments of war: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period... was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Deadly drones, foreign interventionism, extraordinary rendition, torture, and the legacy of Guantanamo require that more Americans speak out against the policies and practices of our government, hold officials accountable for their misdeeds, and find new ways to live in the only world we know. To do otherwise would allow both the bad people and the silent good people together to squander the promise of our great nation.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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28 December 2011

Lamar W. Hankins : What Have We Learned From the Iraq War?

President Obama shown speaking to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. Photo by Gerry Broome / AP.

Lessons we should have learned from the Iraq War
After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neoconservative advisers resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / December 28, 2011

By one measure -- the announcement by President Obama that the War in Iraq is over -- that war has finally come to an end. But it remains to be seen how long that country will be destabilized, dysfunctional, and at war with itself, after the phony, deceptive, and precipitous actions the George W. Bush administration took nearly nine years ago when it introduced “shock and awe” as a simple war, a virtual cakewalk for the mighty U.S.

In light of what we know now (and should have known then), it is difficult to see that war as the “success” President Obama called it.

At least 2 million Iraqis have been displaced within their own country, and another 3 million elsewhere -- a total of 20% of the country. Some reputable demographers have estimated that over a million Iraqi civilians were killed during the war, along with over 4,400 U.S. servicemen and women.

Inexplicably, the U.S. will maintain an embassy in Iraq, the largest in the world, with 15,000 people in it; pay nearly 10,000 mercenaries to continue operating in Iraq; and maintain an unknown number of drones, which will fly out of Iraq to wherever they are deemed useful to U.S. control in the region.

And we have not yet fully accounted for the atrocities our military committed, nor have those Americans responsible for authorizing torture been brought to justice.

The lead-up to the war (which I opposed vigorously beginning in the late summer of 2002, as Bush and his neoconservative cronies started their fear-based propaganda offensive to soften up the American public) followed a familiar plan to sell the war. It was a plan explained in an interview over 60 years ago by Hermann Goering, Hitler’s understudy:
Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.

But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
If anything, Goering overestimated the difficulty of convincing the American people to go to war. On March 24, 2003, the entire San Marcos City Council, under the leadership of then Mayor Robert Habingreither, and including our now newly-minted Congressional candidate Susan Narvaiz, Bill Taylor, Jacob Montoya, Ed Mihalkanin, Paul Mayhew, and Martha Castex Tatum, adopted a resolution that was intended to show that war is patriotic.

So strong was the war-induced patriotism that only a few people opposed the resolution and the war. But not one of these pro-war people or any other San Marcos supporter of the War in Iraq has issued a public apology for their muddleheaded mistake in supporting this war, about which they had no doubts. Apparently none have crossed their minds since.

By way of disclosure, I had a personal reason, as well as political and humane reasons, for opposing the war. My son-in-law, who was then in Special Forces, was sent into Iraq with the first wave of U.S. fighters. To see his life risked for the phony, illegal, and unconstitutional excuses of the Bush administration was almost more than I could bear.

One of the problems with having a volunteer military is that many people see those servicemen and women as disposable, to be used for whatever purpose the President has in mind. After all, they volunteered for military service. Such a view is, of course, callous and indifferent to human life, and stands in stark contrast to the view of Karen U. Kwiatkowski, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, who said, “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America, you are helping certain policy-makers fulfill an imperialist agenda.”

To read a confirmation of this view by a U.S. Marine who fought in the second siege of Fallujah, go here.

Historian Andrew Bacevich provided recently a slightly different view: “...a Churchillian verdict on the war might read thusly: Seldom in the course of human history have so many sacrificed so dearly to achieve so little.”

The people of the United States have become, in large part, adherents of both imperialism and a view of exceptionalism which holds that the U.S. has the right to tell the world what to do in the name of furthering democracy and American interests. What this view actually furthers is economic dominance through military might.

Many in the U.S. give lip service to supporting the troops, but this sentiment is largely a cover to allow people to feel good about using our servicemen and women as pawns in a giant reality-based, death-inducing chess game. Few of these war supporters have been as passionate about fully funding veterans health care (including mental health care) and rehabilitation as they have been about sending our service members to war.

In a recent statement, the Iraq Veterans Against the War wrote,
Our fight in Iraq has cost the nation nearly 4,500 American lives and left about 32,000 physically wounded plus tens of thousands more suffering from psychological trauma. Every 36 hours, an American soldier commits suicide, and a staggering 18 veterans take their own lives every day. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are attempting to transition into civilian life during one of the worst economies in our nation's history... The challenges facing our veterans and service members are just beginning...
Military Families Speak Out, of which I am a member, recently wrote, “Over $800 billion was wasted on this war that never should have started while our legislators squabble over budget cuts to the Veterans Administration, Social Security, education, and other necessary social services.”

While a majority of the American public may have come to realize the futility, if not the madness, of the War in Iraq, along with its unspeakable violence, there is no evidence that most of our citizens have understood that we are just a few weeks or months away from another manipulation by our “leaders” to involve us in another war (in Iran), while we still have not extricated ourselves from Afghanistan, a war that is over 10 years old.

There is no evidence that we now understand -- better than we did nine years ago -- that our elected officials, both in Washington and at City Hall, do not possess any special wisdom, in spite of their intelligence, that should guide us in such endeavors.

After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neoconservative advisers and supporters resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis.

It is now obvious instead that it became a humanitarian nightmare, mainly because in the throes of American arrogance, our “leaders” never understood much about the culture of Iraq, the schism between the two main Islamic groups, the geopolitical relations between the Sunnis and the Saudis and between the Shiites and the Iranians, the desires of the Kurds for autonomy, the nationalism felt by most Iraqis, the hatred engendered toward the years of sanctions and killings in the north and south no-fly zones, and the complete folly of occupation of others by a foreign and hostile army.

From his perspective as an Army career officer and historian focused on international relations, Andrew Bacevich has concluded about the War in Iraq,
The disastrous legacy of the Iraq War extends beyond treasure squandered and lives lost or shattered. Central to that legacy has been Washington's decisive and seemingly irrevocable abandonment of any semblance of self-restraint regarding the use of violence as an instrument of statecraft.

With all remaining prudential, normative, and constitutional barriers to the use of force having now been set aside, war has become a normal condition, something that the great majority of Americans accept without complaint. War is US.
It is time for the American people to find and follow our own moral compasses and say that we will never again be led down the path of grotesque violence that creates its own kind of terror for both those we kill and those we pay to do the killing.

But I fear that most Americans will not find their moral compasses. It is too convenient to ignore morality and legality when what we want most is to win and show the world who is boss.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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05 September 2011

Lamar W. Hankins : Are Bush and Perry Birds of a Feather?

What did you learn in school today? Dubya and Perry read to school children. Image from Addicting Info.

If you liked George W.,
you’ll love Rick Perry

By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / September 5, 2011

For those who try to live fact-based lives, George W. Bush was a challenge to listen to without talking back to the television or radio. He always had difficulty with the English language. Some say he has some form of dyslexia, but it wasn’t his inability to find the right words that was the problem. It was his willingness to tell lies with abandon.

Even today, George W. is unapologetic for the whoppers he told about the fictitious Iraqi WMDs, the yellow-cake uranium from Niger, the portable chemical weapons labs, and the nonexistent connections of Saddam Hussein to 9/11.

Rick Perry engages in the same abandonment of truth -- on steroids. Among his campaign statements, we have his hint that the secession of Texas from the Union might be a workable idea, that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and a monstrous lie to young people, that the health reform of 2010 is socialism, and that those who believe in separation of the state from religion are trying to sanitize our civic speech.

As I address each of these Perry fallacies, I am aware of what scientists call confirmation bias. This is the tendency of all people -- including me -- to recognize and accept only information or facts that confirm our preconceived views. Nevertheless, I hope that my debunking of Perry’s falsehoods will be considered on their merits, not discarded without reason based on the reader’s confirmation bias.

Perry tried to connect with some Tea Partiers last year by seeming to agree that Texas’ secession from the Union was possible because we reserved that right when we joined the Union in 1845. The truth is that Texas has the right to become five states if it so chooses. According to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the original federal resolution admitting Texas as part of the United States “stated that Texas would retain its right to divide into four states in addition to the original Texas. ... [T]he legal right to do so still remains!"

This is a “one-time-option of dividing,” but it is not a reservation found in any Texas document, but in the federal resolution, and it does not involve secession. Perry may have his Texas history a bit confused for political effect, or he may just like to make up stories to give the impression that he might really shake things up if given the chance.

If Texas did divide into five states, we would have eight more senators in Washington and four more governors. But on the chance they would all be like the ones we have now, dividing doesn’t seem like such a swell idea.

The secession issue may excite Tea Partiers, but Perry’s Social Security statements seem intended to foment fear in young people and appeal to that ideological bugaboo socialism, the scourge right-wing politicians and talk-show hosts like to link to commie sympathizers.

Social Security wasn’t popular in the early years of my parents’ generation. My dad told me how mad it made him when payroll taxes were first deducted from his paycheck when he worked at the Texaco refinery in 1937. Back then he paid about $1.25 a month into the Social Security system. When he retired at age 62 in 1979, he received about $300 a month in Social Security benefits.

By the time he died earlier in 2011, his monthly Social Security payment was over $1300, but included just under $100 in deductions for Medicare payments. Based on this reality, Social Security should not be seen as a retirement program, but as a supplemental income program that helps support seniors in their retirement, and disabled workers.

Without Social Security, nearly half of the elderly would be living in poverty according to data compiled two years ago by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In 1983, Congress passed some Social Security reforms that have accumulated a current surplus of $2.6 trillion, all of which was used to purchase treasury notes so that Congress could spend the money on other things. The Social Security Trust Fund has become a repository for IOUs from the federal treasury.

Despite this Congressional sleight-of-hand with Social Security funds, the federal government is obligated to pay Social Security benefits and it will do so from the accumulated treasury notes, which are enough to pay all benefits through 2037. After that date, Social Security revenues are expected to be sufficient to pay about 80% of benefit entitlements.

A few adjustments to the system will assure its solvency at full benefit levels for at least the next 75 years. Projections beyond then are not actuarially sound.

Perry’s fear-mongering to young people that they are being defrauded by the federal government concerning Social Security is true only in the sense that Congress recklessly spent Social Security funds, giving the Social Security Trust Fund IOUs in exchange. But there should be no doubt that the government is obligated to continue to make good on all of these funds when they are needed.

The long-term solvency of the Social Security system should not be in question, but Perry wants all of us, especially young people, to believe otherwise.

To call Social Security a Ponzi scheme is untrue no matter how you view the above facts. It is no more a Ponzi scheme than is the gasoline tax that funds highway improvements and construction. Texas receives around $4 billion per year to build and maintain highways from the federal gasoline taxes Texans pay. That is about 16.5% less than the total gasoline taxes Texans pay each year, but it would be unfair and inaccurate to call it a Ponzi scheme. It is a program run on dedicated taxes.

The same is true of Social Security, which may need some improvements and reforms, and we can debate and discuss the best way to organize and manage a supplemental retirement program, but that is not what Perry is doing. He is falsely characterizing Social Security in an attempt to scare people into believing that they will not receive a fair amount of benefits when it is time for them to participate in the program. There are no reasons to believe such lies.

With respect to the 2010 health reform legislation -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) -- Perry rhetoric turns to calling it Obamacare and claiming that it is a socialist program. The Act was written by the private, profit-making health insurance companies for the financial benefit of those companies. This has been a complaint of many people about the Act, especially those who favor a taxpayer-funded health insurance program that provides universal access to the private health care system.

The PPACA is not based on a socialist idea, but an idea grounded in mutual need. It is little different from the federal or state highway programs. Those programs build and maintain roadways for all Americans to enjoy. Some people use those roadways more than others do, but most Americans and American businesses need them, just as most Americans need access to health care.

A socialist health care program would be one in which the government owns health service buildings and hires the health care providers, as it does for veterans and members of Congress who use government-owned hospitals and clinics. Once again, Perry chooses to mischaracterize the basic nature of the PPACA for his political benefit.

When it comes to Perry’s claim that there are groups and individuals who are trying to keep some people from uttering God’s name in public at civic affairs, he is once again trying to get us to miss seeing the forest by focusing on the trees. It is the same kind of deception used by magicians and illusionists to fool people.

I have written many times that under our system of government, public officials have no business under the Constitution using their offices or the power of government to promote or advance their religious views or religion in general.

Our founders and the Constitution they wrote created a secular government that not only prohibits that government from creating an establishment of religion, but also eschews any religious test for public office. The place for practicing religion is not at governmental meetings and events, but in other forums of a person’s choosing.

Perry -- who has always struck me as the cloned child of the televangelists James Robison and Pat Robertson -- wants to force his religious views on all of us through his elected position as a government official. If he becomes president, he will try to have us all genuflect to his God. And since his God does not answer his prayers for rain, why bother to promote such religious activity?

The answer, of course, is that Perry believes that public religious piety practiced by the head of Texas government and by a candidate for the presidency will curry favor with a segment of the electorate that forms his base. Nothing is more cynical or crass -- perhaps even un-Christian. But it worked for George W.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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05 October 2010

Ed Felien : Jon Stewart, Meet George W. Bush

In defense of the Left,
with love to Jon Stewart

In trying to appear a moderate, Stewart criticized the right for its attacks on Obama and the left for accusing Bush of being a war criminal and comparing him to Hitler.
By Ed Felien / The Rag Blog / October 5, 2010

In a stroke of comedic genius Jon Stewart has called for a "Rally for Sanity" to "Take it down a notch" at the Washington Monument on October 30.

It's part an answer to Glen Beck’s rally to Restore Honor and part Rock the Vote to motivate his younger demographic to get out and vote on November 2. Stewart is portraying the rally and himself as an island of sanity in an insane season when Obama is seen by the Right as a Kenyan Mau-Mau anti-colonialist, socialist, Muslim hell-bent on America’s destruction.

One of the suggested signs for demonstrators at Stewart’s rally would be, "I Disagree With You, But I'm Pretty Sure You're Not Hitler."

In trying to appear a moderate, Stewart criticized the right for its attacks on Obama and the left for accusing Bush of being a war criminal and comparing him to Hitler.

Are there parallels between Hitler and Bush? Is Bush a war criminal?

There are parallels in American history, but the scope and intensity of the repression that Bush initiated and justified by 9/11 went further than any previous President in wartime.

He did not just suspend the right of habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, and the right to confront your accusers, he kidnapped U. S. citizens and foreign nationals off the streets and locked them up in concentration camps and subjected them to torture. The difference between Bush and Hitler in this is quantitative not qualitative; that is, they both did it but Hitler did a lot more of it.

They both ruled by terror. Bush modeled his government on George Orwell's 1984: War is Peace; the war on terror was really a war OF terror; The Department of Homeland Security (with its permanent orange level of terror alert) created insecurity.

Bush spied on citizens and wiretapped their phones without any legal or ethical justification. He asserted a doctrine of preemptive war that meant he could attack anyone or any country that he felt might become a threat to U. S. vital interests. He declared that his administration was not bound by international law or treaties.

If someone in the government disagreed with him, their careers were destroyed; former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times that pointed out the lies in the State of the Union Address that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and Bush officials ended his wife's career as a CIA analyst. Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy and Bush crushed it.

The Nazi Party in Germany was a variant of the European fascist movement. Benito Mussolini was the first successful fascist leader. He led his Black Shirts in a march on Rome in 1922 that changed Italian politics. In an act of sincere flattery, Hitler imitated it by staging an unsuccessful beer hall putsch in Munich the following year.

Mussolini said, "Corporato il stati." The corporation is the state. Hitler believed capitalists should be "masters in their own house." Bush has taken fascism a step further. Mussolini and Hitler merely supported big business while they were pursuing other national objectives, but Bush allowed his family business to direct government policy. In his case, the corporation really did become the state.

The Bush family fortune for four generations has been tied to the business of war. Ever since Great Grandfather Sam Bush sat on Wilson's War Industries Board in World War I and made parts for Remington revolvers, the Bush family has benefited from war.

Sam's son Prescott wanted to make serious money when he graduated from Yale, so he and some of his buddies went to work for Brown Brothers Harriman. Peace had broken out in the 1920s, and the only hope for war profiteers was in the re-arming of Germany (in violation of the Versailles Treaty).

He became Manager of the Union Banking Corporation to trade with Nazi financier Fritz Thyssen. They sold bonds to help finance the re-arming of Germany. They bought a steamship line to ship Remington arms to Germany through a dummy corporation in Holland. He also managed a Silesian coal field that used slave labor from the neighboring Auschwitz Concentration Camp. According to Dutch intelligence sources he took direct management of some of the slave labor camps in Poland to aid Nazi armament industries.

Prescott Bush continued working for these interests for almost a year after the U. S. had declared war on Germany. It was not until October of 1942, when the U. S. seized the assets of Union Bank, the steamship line, the Seamless Steel Equipment (suppliers of steel, wire and explosives to the Nazis) and the Silesian-American Company (the coal mining company), that Prescott stopped supplying the Nazi war machine. Of course, at that point he switched sides and started supplying the Allies.

In 1929 Harriman & Company bought Dresser Industries (manufacturers of oil pipeline equipment) and Prescott Bush became a Director. He continued to run Dresser Industries from the board for the rest of his life. His son, George H. W. Bush, went to work there after graduating from Yale. Dresser was quite successful in selling oil pipeline and drilling equipment. It had a virtual worldwide monopoly. The oil drilling equipment in Iraq belonged to Dresser (through their French subsidiary) in violation of U. N. and U. S. sanctions.

Using lies and distortions, George W. Bush used the tragedy of 9/11 to justify invading Iraq. He wanted control of the oil for his family business. Dick Cheney has always been the chief thug and frontman for the Bush family. When H. W. George was President, Cheney was Secretary of Defense. When Bush lost, Cheney became CEO of Halliburton.

While CEO he bought Dresser Industries from the Bush family (the details were worked out on a hunting trip) for $8 billion. No cash changed hands and Halliburton was only worth $8 billion at the time, so the Bush family must own controlling interest in Halliburton.

When George W. Bush became President he made Cheney his vice president, and with old family friend Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, they were able to steer multi-billion-dollar no-bid contracts to Halliburton. With the U. S. and Bush in control of the Iraq government, they were able to steal 25 percent of the world's known oil resources for the family business.

When George W. Bush was President and head of the family business, we had the perfect merger of state and corporation, the final stage of fascism only dreamt of by Mussolini.

Was Bush a fascist? Was he a Nazi?

Certainly grandfather Prescott was an active and effective collaborator with the Nazis. But it wasn't just the money. Prescott and his father-in-law, George Walker (for whom George I and George II are middle-named), sponsored the Third International Congress of Eugenics on Long Island in the early 1930s, and many of the proposals about forced sterilization and elimination of the feebleminded that were discussed at the conference were later implemented by Nazi Germany.

But is it fair that the sins of the grandfather should be visited upon the children? No. Even if he carries the name(s), even if he inherits the family business and fortune, even if he inherits the political base of fascist elements that were driven from Europe at the end of World War II and became the virulent anti-Communist wing of the Republican Party, he still deserves to be judged on his own actions.

Did he repudiate his family's past connections to Nazi Germany? No.

Did he suppress civil liberties? Yes.

Did he rule by terror? Yes.

Did he embark on total war? Yes.

Did he allow his family business interests to direct government policy? Yes.

Finally, the shelling of Fallujah, the brutal murder of defenseless Iraqi civilians, has as its only parallel the Nazi atrocities at Guernica and Lidice.

Was Bush a Nazi?

We can be certain that history will judge Bush to have been corrupt, arrogant, dictatorial, and brutal. Whether the atrocities he committed place him in the same rank as Hitler is a judgment for later generations, but we would be blind not to see that he is in the same group.

He stands indicted as a petty tyrant, a small fascist who ran the biggest superpower the world had ever seen. The damage he did to the rule of law, to the public treasury, to the national character at home and the horror and suffering he inflicted on innocent people abroad are crimes against humanity. To remain silent is to be an accomplice.

Jon Stewart has a powerful and eloquent voice and a genius for a comedic irony. He could benefit from reading history a little more closely.

[Ed Felien is publisher and editor of Southside Pride, a South Minneapolis monthly.]

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21 May 2010

Dubya : The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Image from SodaHead.

Bush, Cheney and Halliburton:
The making of a disaster

By Ed Felien / The Rag Blog / May 21, 2010

He gave us the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, an economic collapse, tax cuts for the wealthy that bankrupted the treasury, and, now, we can credit him with giving us the greatest man-made ecological disaster in history.

But how can we lay the blame for the Gulf oil disaster at Bush's door? In 1998, when Clinton was President, Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton. He arranged a sale of stock whereby Dresser Industries, owned by the Bush family, bought controlling interest in Halliburton.

Bush didn't stop owning Halliburton when he became President in 2000 and Dick Cheney didn't really stop being CEO -- they just took advantage of greater opportunities to make lots more money.

They funneled multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts to Halliburton through Defense appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, and they let the oil industry write the regulations that covered drilling so that Halliburton and Dresser Industries (the only companies that manufacture and supply oil drilling equipment to the industry) would have an easy time getting the oil out of the ground without having to worry about a lot of
environmental safeguards.

When they were deciding on new regulations for drilling offshore, the Bush Administration rejected the idea of requiring an acoustic trigger that could by remote control turn off an oil well that is out of control. They thought it would be too great a burden on the oil industry, even though Norway and Brazil have required acoustic triggers for years, specifically to prevent the kind of disaster that happened in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2003 a report by the Minerals Management Services of the Bush Administration said, "acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly."

The cost of $500,000 for the acoustic trigger was considered too high a price to pay. As a result, 11 lives were lost, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that cost $560 million was lost, and British Petroleum is spending $6 million a day trying (unsuccessfully) to clean up the mess. Last week the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post reported:
Though the investigation into the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its early stages, drilling experts agree that blame probably lies with flaws in the "cementing" process -- that is, plugging holes in the pipeline seal by pumping cement into it from the rig. Halliburton was in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon.

The initial likely cause of gas coming to the surface had something to do with the cement," said Robert MacKenzie, managing director of energy and natural resources at FBR Capital Markets and a former cementing engineer in the oil industry.

The problem could have been a faulty cement plug at the bottom of the well, he said. Another possibility would be that cement between the pipe and well walls didn't harden properly and allowed gas to pass through it.
The possibility of Halliburton's culpability was first reported Monday by Marcus Baram of The Huffington Post.
According to a lawsuit filed in federal court by Natalie Roshto, whose husband, Shane, a deck floor hand, was thrown overboard by the force of the explosion and whose body has not yet been located, Halliburton is culpable for its actions prior to the incident.

The suit claims that the company "prior to the explosion, was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap and, upon information and belief, improperly and negligently performed these duties, which was a cause of the explosion."

And Congressman Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a tough letter on Friday to Halliburton, asking for an explanation of its work on the rig, according to a spokesperson for the committee.

Last year, Halliburton was also implicated for its cementing work prior to a massive blowout off the coast of Australia, where a rig caught on fire and spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons into the sea for ten weeks. In that incident, workers apparently failed to properly pump cement into the well, according to Elmer Danenberger, former head of regulatory affairs for the U.S. Minerals Management Service, who testified to an Australian commission probing that accident.

"The problem with the cementing job was one of the root causes in the Australian blowout," Danenberger told Huffington Post, adding that the rig crew didn't pick up on indications of an influx of fluids coming back in after they cemented the casing. "The crew didn't pick up on them and didn't take action."
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida warned that if the leak flows for three months while the relief well is being completed, then, "It's going to cover up the Gulf Coast and the wind is eventually going to keep it going south, and it's going to get into the Loop Current." The Loop Current could take the contamination around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf Stream.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said, in hearings before his committee: "If the largest oil and oil service companies in the world had been more careful, 11 lives might have been saved and our coastlines protected."

[Ed Felien is publisher and editor of Southside Pride, a South Minneapolis monthly.]

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