Sunday, January 27, 2008

935 Lies and Still Counting

Where was the outrage
For absorbing the lies
From the top of the page
On American lives
And where was the press
In this time of distress?
Nine-thirty five
Is more than just jive.

It is difficult to decide the greater crime between the 935 documented major lies of the Bush Administration and the absolute failure of the press to challenge or counter them with research and clear expression of outrage. Without defending the Bushies, did not every newspaper and every major media outlet have the opportunity and responsibility to speak out?
Recall that we are not merely discussing weak intelligence, but documented information that the administration had full knowledge of what was correct and deliberately chose to promulgate lies…and then repeat the lies. The recent study published by the Center for Public Integrity listed the contributions of major administration players and, not surprisingly, GW Bush was the Liar in Chief with 232 documented whoppers. “Documented” is an important distinction. For example, the false charge that the Iraqis had trucks designed and built for biological operations and proven to be false was used by the Bushies for a full six months after the truth was known. Thanks to Colin Powell and the AWOL press.
Perhaps there is a conflict of interest that we must finally recognize and deal with. A war may be far more interesting than peace. A war may sell more newspapers than peace. Newspapers and other media seemed to relish sending dramatic images across the globe. Some media such as FOX News chose to be cheerleaders for war and no major media representative energized examination of the facts or became spokesperson for caution or truth. Back on 28 September 1913, the New York Times reported on a speech “Art and Conscience in Newspaper Making” by Samuel Bowles of the Springfield Republican He spoke of the evil that would fall on society if the newspaper distorted or misrepresented the news. Unfortunately, even the formerly venerable NY Times was overcome by the clear conflict of interest. War sells papers. Papers sell advertising. Headlines and bylines provide great compensation for unscrupulous reporters or writers. Judith Miller of the NY Times actually went to jail after distributing false information and refusing to name her sources. This is just how misguided we have become, that the truth or falsity of a story has become less important than protection of a criminal source.
The scope of the lies and the huge apparatus used to maintain the mythology of supporting the troops while exploiting the hell out of them is mind numbing. Even if these reporters and media outlets wanted war for selfish interests, did they have no conscience to help our brave men and women sent to fight the war? Add to that the rewriting of history and we have not only lost our way and our collective conscience, but we are losing the ability to sort this out for our children and grandchildren. Incidentally, of all the Presidential candidates, including Democrats, only Ron Paul has had the courage to call the war a “horrible mistake.” Others have succumbed to the revision of history and “the best intelligence at the time.” Neither Ignorance nor Stupidity is absolution nor is blaming the Bushies. If the Bushies led the parade, then why did politicians and media march behind them? What did we do as individuals to point out the lies and join with our neighbors to challenge them and have a counter march?
I do not subscribe to the moral certainty that, for our omissions, we are all damned to hell and, more important; there is still work to be done. There is a real enemy, Osama bin Ladin, to bring to justice. There are lives to be saved. There is truth to be told. There is our progeny’s treasure to be protected. (We spend $720 million per day of their money for the war in Iraq.) There is a new generation to be led into honesty. And yes, there are impeachments to be held for future as well as current accountability. This may not be absolution, but it is recognition of the sins by politicians, our media and us. When we are done, there is a real history waiting to be written. Guilt is an ineffective motivator. Hope is a far better motivator. We need to change our future rather than our history.
George Giacoppe
27 January 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gaza, the Clintons and Bush Lies

So many outrageous events, so little time to comment on them all.
            Begin with the most outrageous, the move by Israel to cut off power supplies to the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, virtually all of them refugees living in squalid camps in the most densely populated piece of real estate in the world. This has meant suffering on an almost unimaginable scale, suffering of a kind that prompted the United Nations Security Council to attempt to pass a resolution condemning Israel for its “collective punishment.” And once again, predictably, the United States has blocked this condemnation in order to protect its client state, Israel, from universal condemnation. This has in turn led the Gaza government, Hamas, or some of its more militant factions, to blow up the wall erected to keep the people of Gaza in a virtual prison, allowing thousands to rush into Egypt to buy desperately needed supplies.
            No doubt the prison will soon be closed again, however. And the people of Gaza will be caged like dogs once again, dependent on their Israelis occupiers for scraps of food and fuel which can be squeezed or opened at will, just to see if the torture can get them to finally, and forever repudiate the duly-elected Hamas leaders who have had the temerity to stand up against their oppressors.
            And when the imprisonment is complete once again, who among the candidates vying to be the next President will protest this slow strangulation of an entire people? One thing we can be sure of: it won’t be Hillary Clinton. And it is not only that the Senator from New York is so beholden to the powerful pro-Israel forces in her “home” state. No, there is a disquieting pattern beginning to emerge in the Clintonesque behavior of this election season. And that pattern is this: the Clintons—both of them it seems are cut from the same cloth—are willing to do or say just about anything to get elected. If it means sacrificing the Gazans to the local political winds, so be it. If it means playing up the attacks on Barack Obama to force him to “act black”, so be it. What this brings to mind is not just the sense of a Macbethian pair determined to seek and hold power, but the feeling that this couple shares one other trait: both are tone-deaf when it comes to limits, to noblesse, to a sense of rightness or proportion. It is as if despite the Yale Law School polish, both still act as if they are wearing manure-covered shoes. Or perhaps that is being unfair to farmers. It’s more as if neither has ever learned how to hold a fork, or smile naturally, or make a graceful exit. Indeed, the entire notion of grace seems absent from their repertoire. In the arena in which they choose to fight, anything goes: from taking advantage of insider financial knowledge to shtupping the White House intern in the coat room to playing the race card with a fellow Democratic aspirant to the presidency.
            I have begun to think this is at the root of the “high negatives” that Hillary has always garnered. People do not like her, we are told, always with the notion that somehow she’s too “mannish,” i.e. aggressive. But it’s not only that. It’s that we sense something both callow and callous about her. One gets the sense that she would stoop to any depth to get the nomination—vote for the Iraq war, kiss the next baby, weep in public, stifle her natural laughter, minimize the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr—all without any sense of having misstepped.
            This is not simply a question of breeding, either. George W. Bush has the same aura. Despite the distinguished dynasty from which he derives, the President is a farting, lying, bullying, Uriah Heep of a man, brooking no apparent restraint on his vengeful instincts and lust for power. This was brought out more forcefully than ever with a recent report, “Key False Statements,” from the Center for Public Integrity.  That report noted in chapter and verse the astonishing number of outright lies and distortions the Bush Administration advanced in preparing the American public for war with Iraq. No less than 935 false statements about Iraq’s WMDs and its ties to Al Quaeda were listed in the report, starting as early as August 26, 2002 when Vice President Cheney asserted “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” And George W. Bush led the pack as the Liar-in-Chief with no less than 232 false public statements between 2001 and 2003, and an additional 28 false statements about Iraq’s supposed links to Al-Quaeda. And yet, all along there have been pundits like David Brooks of the NY Times extolling our 43rd President for his candor, his straight talk. He might not be a great intellect, these pooh-bahs of public opinion maintained, but he talks from his gut; he tells it to you straight. Straight indeed. The most accomplished liar ever to sit in the White House, a draft-dodger, torturer, election thief, compiler of the greatest deficits in the nation’s history, enabler of genocide, destroyer of republics, our own King George.
            What can one conclude? I don’t know. Perhaps only this: Don’t follow leaders. And watch those parking meters.
Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Necessity of Obama

            The squabble that broke out between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton last week over Obama’s appeal to the memory of Martin Luther King, and Hillary’s veiled belittling of King by invoking the greater importance of President Lyndon Johnson, reminded me of the key fact of American life: racism and the many disguises it takes, its long and agonizing history, its continuing ability to corrupt our lives. Though the Clintons have twisted and contorted themselves in defending their camp’s attacks, the basic truth remains: Obama needed to be attacked because of his Iowa victory, and the simplest and most effective way to attack someone in America is to bring up the specter of racial difference.
            What this means is that, for all the gains recorded by the civil rights movement and the legal and social constraints imposed on racial discrimination in the United States, racism is alive and well and still capable of sinking anyone or any initiative that threatens the safe distance from “other races” maintained by the majority of Americans. I am not talking only about the South here. Even in a city as diligently integrated as Berkeley California, every resident knows exactly where the racial line stands. East Berkeley, in the hills, is the domain of wealthy whites. West Berkeley, in the flatlands, is the domain of blacks. Everyone knows what the “good” neighborhoods are, where they end, where the “questionable” areas begin. And though whites may live in such questionable areas for reasons of economics or philosophy, most automatically steer clear. It is thus in every city in the United States. Being an American means, literally, knowing where the “good” sections of any city or suburb lie. Though the lines may shift, every American always knows precisely where the current ones are drawn. And if one is not sure, one can always find out from friends, relatives, or real estate agents.
            This is what is meant by “white privilege.” White people in America take it for granted that they have the right to live in a “good” neighborhood; indeed, have the obligation not to live in a “bad” neighborhood.
            Politics in the last forty or so years has been predicated on this knowledge, on the underlying fears that the system of separation might be breached, and on the appeals to those fears. The entire Republican Party strategy—especially its “southern strategy” whereby it took from the Democratic Party its traditional dominance in the South—has been predicated on coded appeals to racial prejudice and fear. States’ rights, school voucher programs, diatribes against “welfare queens,” jeremiads about urban crime, implementation of “three-strike laws,” all are symbolic appeals to the racist roots of this nation which hold that blackness signals genetic defect, that urban blackness equals crime, that the mixing of races leads to moral decay. All the talk about “strict construction” of the Constitution notwithstanding, the real bedrock behind the conservative movement is its conviction and sly innuendo that “liberal” equals miscegenation.
            It is for this reason that Barack Obama, even with his flaws, is necessary as the Democratic nominee for President. It is time for this nation, and particularly its Republican establishment, to be called on its coded racism. It is time for the nation to see just how and why racism persists, and whether the United States of America now has the moral courage to stand up for the equality it proclaims as its central creed. The candidacy of Barack Obama—regardless of his attempt to avoid any appeals to racial argument or sympathy—can and will bring these conflicts and contradictions into the open. It will soon—as soon as the Republicans have a nominee, that is—become apparent how deep and abiding is the fear of a black man in the White house. How deep and abiding is the racial sentiment underlying even “liberal” thought. Indeed, we have already seen this in the Clinton campaign. Imagine what “swift-boating” lies ahead when Republicans get their war machine untracked.
            But far from being discouraged by this, by the potential of losing the White House because of its nomination of a black candidate, the Democratic Party should exult in it. If the Democratic Party means anything at all, if America means anything at all, it should, it must take this rare opportunity to directly challenge its own reigning orthodoxy. For at this moment in our history, when the moral face of America has been so bloodied by the Bush Administration’s depradations in the Middle East, by its destruction of constitutional guarantees at home, nothing else will do. Absent some sign of moral courage, America will become what it already has for much of the world: just another empire driven to extremes of cruelty and plunder, corruption and hypocrisy in its waning days. 
Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How Can We Win the Iraqi Civil War?

How do you win as a referee
In a game among three
Rabid teams amid screams of “foul”
And combat of tooth and jowl
With Shiia, Sunni and Kurd
Without becoming absurd?

As I look at the war in Iraq and listen to the spin that we are winning, I am stunned by the absurdity of speaking of a fourth party “winning” a civil war, but maybe it is our addiction to sports analogies. Sports analogies make war friendlier and they enable the average white male to grasp the basics of Waging War 101.
Football is the current AOC (Analogy of Choice) as we build up to the Super Bowl and recover from the BCS Bowl. It conjures up the image of two gallant teams, well coached and identified by crisp uniforms, rules and cheering sections encouraged by cheerleaders. Unfortunately, the civil war in Iraq is among three major factions divided on religious and ethnic lines as well as myriad splinter groups with long held tribal and economic or other grudges. More interesting, we have assigned ourselves the role of referee sometimes granting decisions one way and then another depending on how we see the play. It is inconceivable to explain to the average white male that we have a contest where it is likely that nobody wins and especially, that the referee cannot win.
As I write this, I am fully aware that our losses in Iraq have taken a sharp downturn in the last year. That is a good thing. But to invert the words of General Douglas MacArthur, are we “sowing the seeds of defeat that we will reap on other fields on other days?” What have we done to assist or encourage reconciliation in land renown for revenge?
During the reign of the venerable lord and plenipotentiary Paul Bremer, the United States disbanded the entire Iraqi Army to enforce restriction of Baathists in the government. Recall that the Baathists were the ruling class that had virtually all the Iraqi administrative experience as well as the clout of Sadam Hussein behind them. In their place we put…nothing, initially. Later when we realized that the Sunni Baathists did not like our referee’s call on de-Baathification and they recruited and fielded a large team of insurgents, we looked to the many Shiia militias to counter that move.
What is happening now to reduce the bloodletting in Iraq? Surely, you acknowledge the use of “special teams” as the way to stem the violence. We need to force some turnovers! One special team is the “surge” of an additional 30,000 troops. Let’s hear it for the surge! Another special team is the Sunni night watchmen that we have stood up as the Sunni insurgency stood down. Incidentally, that pre-dates the surge by a few months. We pay these Sunnis $10 per day to watch out for their own villages and right now that is working. We are also arming these Sunnis so that they can defend their villages from Shiia militia. Let me pose a question or two. What if another referee, say Saudi Arabia or Syria, etc. found a way to finance these same Sunni groups at $12.50 per day. Would they stay “loyal” to us or would they jump for a 25% raise. Recall that Saudis financed the attacks on 9/11/2001 and that Saudi Arabia adjoins Iraq. Are we arming Sunnis to reduce long term casualties or Saudi investment?
Don’t let the spin make you dizzy. This land has a history of betrayal and we have done nothing to change that. Let us enjoy the respite in casualties, but be wary of the analogy that we are ”winning.” The only way to win this civil war is to be on one of the three major sides, but recall again that we are only the referee. And, maybe we should dump this sports analogy entirely because it simply makes no sense. In fact the only analogy that makes sense is probably that of General W.T. Sherman as he burned his way through Georgia. “War is Hell.”
George Giacoppe
8 January 2008