Photo credit: Reuters

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Smearing Snowden: The Problem With Government

Dear Mr. President,
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press”, Representative Mike Rogers and Senator Dianne Feinstein, both arch-defenders of the NSA and doing their best to destroy democracy, accused Edward Snowden of being a spy for Russia. Not a shred of evidence to back up their claim but treated as newsworthy nevertheless. Of course, they in turn provide a platform for the likes of Gen. “Star Wars” Alexander and self-confessed perjurer, James Clapper, to lie, distort and obfuscate what they’re doing to undermine the Constitution and the rule of law. But they all take their cues from the Liar-in-Chief who sits in the Oval Office, flies around in Air Force One from one fund-raiser to another, protected by an entourage of heavily armed guards in heavily armored limos and SUVs, local police barricading off his route so he won’t have to see or hear angry protesters and the hopeless and desperate faces of Americans who want him to listen to their pleas to save the environment or their jobs or their social safety net. Moving from one multimillion dollar event to another, politicians no longer are in touch with We the People, if they ever were. The transition is complete: government by the 1%, of the 1% and for the 1%. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that last year more than half of our senators and representatives are millionaires, as are you, with an average net worth for all lawmakers now more than $7 million. And when you’ve got a net worth of $7 million, it’s hard to feel the pain of the average Joe and Jane who’s lost their job and run out of unemployment benefits, had their food stamps cut along with their child’s healthcare program. It’s easy then, to take away benefits from the poor and increase subsidies for your rich patrons and friends. Paul Krugman had an interesting column in Monday’s NYT called “The Undeserving Rich.” How the myth of “rags-to-riches” is no longer valid and how the rich really aren’t deserving at all, but the myth persists, fueled by plutocrats who buy the media and the politicians who do their bidding and keep the myth alive that if anyone fails to find a good-paying job, then it must be their own damn fault. We have class warfare going on in the U.S. of A. all right and it’s the plutocrats who are waging it and winning it and it’s clear whose side you’re on. I want to see a plumber representing me in the House, a carpenter in the Senate and a taxi driver in the Oval Office. That’s when we’ll have representative government again.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Truth of War

Dear Mr. President,
“I ended the war in Iraq.” You’ve made that claim many times but what’s missing from that boast are two key words at the end: “for us,” for the war we started continues to rage for Iraqis. Now, with the fall of Fallujah, Iraq is back on the front page of the NYT (“Fallujah’s Fall Stuns Marines Who Fought There” Jan. 10). Vets who fought there are divided into those who blame you for not keeping troops there and those who blame Bush for getting us into a dubious war in the first place. But no matter which side you’re on, the truth of that war—and all wars—is made manifest in the statement of James Cathcart, an ex-Marine who fought there in 2004: “Lives were wasted and now everyone back home sees that.” You called Iraq a dumb war and opposed it as a presidential candidate, but Robert Gates’ new book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” reveals that your opposition was political, not moral, that you and Hilary both opposed Bush’s surge in Iraq only for political gain during the 2008 presidential primary campaign. The book also reveals that, as president, you opened a March 2011 meeting at the White House by “expressing doubts about Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander he had chosen, and questioning whether he could do business with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his…” And yet three years later the only thing changed is the military commander in Afghanistan. The war grinds on, lives are destroyed, hatreds grow, billions are wasted and only the merchants of death profit. What becomes clear is the immorality of politicians like you, those who send others into combat, who use war as a political tool to gain and maintain power. The cynicism and hypocrisy of you and Hilary sharing admissions that your opposition to war was purely political is so evil and so disgusting, that people everywhere should rise up and put an end to war. All wars are political, based on delusion, lies, and greed. The problem is that politicians have no skin in the game. In the words of Herbert Gold in his review of “The Deserters” by Charles Glass, they send young boys with “unripe hearts” to fight and die in wars promoted by false myths that glorify the sacrifice and courage of the young warrior, then ignore them when they return broken and shattered. No one wins in war and that is the real truth of war.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

I want my America back!

Dear Mr. President,
An article in today’s NYT (“Court Grants Secrecy for Memo on Phone Data” p. A10) set me to thinking that there’s two kinds of laws and two kinds of government: the laws we think we have and the laws we really have; and the government we think we have and government we really have. Yesterday a federal appeals court ruled that the Justice Department can withhold the secret memo that allows the government to collect, without a warrant or court order, the metadata of every phone call made in the U.S. That means it’s not We the People who have a right to privacy but the government. A lawyer for the organization which filed for access to the memo describes the secret memos from the Office of Legal Counsel—the same folks who justified torture and warrantless wiretapping for Bush—as a body of ‘secret law’…” The court rejected their argument that the secret memos amount to “the government’s official ‘working law’ and should not fall into the category of deliberative materials that are exempt from disclosure.” So now in addition to the government’s right to privacy and no right of privacy for the public, there’s a body of laws we think we’re being governed by and another body of laws that allow you and the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and all the other intelligence agencies to do whatever they damn well please and we have no right to see the laws because of legal mumbo-jumbo and national security. Well, I say fuck that! I want my democracy back, I want justice back and I want to know the laws and justifications under which my government operates. I want to know what law gives you the right to assassinate anyone anywhere, why we’re droning wedding parties in Yemen and funerals in Afghanistan and grandmothers and children in the mountains of Waziristan. What secret law justifies spending tens of billions to collect phone call information that has not detected or averted a single plot or attack? And what secret law justifies cutting child health care, food stamps and unemployment benefits while giving billions to totalitarian dictatorships? I want to see the justification for inequality and maldistribution of wealth and the one that justifies letting Detroit and Stockton and Harrison County go bankrupt and cutting pensions to pay off the Wall Street banksters. This is not the America I grew up in. This is what I was taught was totalitarianism where individuals have no rights and the government operates in secrecy with arbitrary laws. I want my America back!

Friday, January 3, 2014

January 3, 2014, Time to Start Cleaning House in America.

Dear Mr. President,
The New York Times, defender of the status quo and the Obama Administration, signaled a major shift in attitude in an editorial yesterday saying Edward Snowden has done the country (and the world) a great service by exposing the criminal activity of the NSA—violating privacy laws, lying to Congress, the FISA court and We the People—and calling on you to instruct your aides to stop vilifying him and either grant clemency or reduce charges. (In my opinion, there should be no charges and/or a pardon, although you have shown little compassion for others or for correcting injustice.) The disparity of justice in America could not be clearer than the government’s treatment of Snowden—ludicrously charged with espionage and theft—compared to Clapper, guilty of lying to Congress, a felony, but no charges and still in a position of power. The editorial quotes you at an August press conference: “If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time,…So there were other avenues available…” But, the editors point out, the law you signed did not apply to contractors like Snowden. How typical of you to tell half-truths. You also said he should have reported his concerns to his supervisors. He did, but they ignored him, for they saw no violation of law. Come home and face justice, you and other Snowden critics say, but even the Times knows better: “When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.” It took the Times seven months to finally get it right. Rather, part of it right. The rest of it? That government officials like Clapper who break laws with no regard for truth or justice are the ones who should be tried as criminals. That those congressional representatives who protect the criminal class of government officials, like Boehner, Feinstein and Rogers, should be recalled and removed from office for failure to uphold their oath of office. And finally, that the President himself should be impeached for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, for war crimes, for crimes against humanity and for failure to uphold the Constitution and guard the rights and protections it provides. January 3, 2014, time to start cleaning house in America.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Guantanamo Blackout

Dear Mr. President,
On December 3, General John Kelley, head of U.S. Southern Command, ordered Guantanamo prison staff to stop providing the number of prisoners on hunger strike and the number being force-fed. According to the Miami Herald which tracked these numbers each day, “‘JTF-Guantánamo allows detainees to peacefully protest but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,’ the spokesman said. ‘The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.’ He refused to elaborate on how the daily report interfered with troop security and detainee welfare...” ( So much for Guantanamo’s motto: “safe, humane, legal, transparent detention.” The only valid part now is “detention.” After the mass hunger strike earlier this year, the number of hunger strikers being force-fed dropped to 11 but it’s starting to rise again—15 as of Nov. 15—and the military (and your Administration) doesn’t want more bad publicity and the way to accomplish that is to shut down that one sliver of transparency into Guantanamo. But the article also reveals that there are 2,100 troops and contractors assigned to Guantanamo and among these 2,100 people is a public-relations team of 20, led by a Navy Commander. These are astonishing numbers: a ratio of 13 to 1 prison personnel to inmates and a 20 man PR team assigned to a prison with zero transparency. What’s even more astonishing is that we’re spending $2.7 million per prisoner per year to keep them incarcerated, most of them never charged with a crime and more than half of them cleared for release more than 3 years ago. Somehow we found $454 million this year to lock up 164 people in Guantanamo but we’re cutting pensions in Detroit and Stockton and Harrison County, Georgia and a dozen other communities because we’re broke. We can spend $68,000 on a Hellfire missile to kill an unarmed 67-year-old grandmother and village midwife picking okra in her garden in the mountains of Waziristan (actually, 2 missiles were fired at her, so it was $136,000) but we can’t find a dime for the long-term unemployed and we had to cut $9 a month from Leon Simmons’ food stamps. What does this say about our priorities, Mr. President? What does it say about our leaders and our representatives? What does it say about you?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Buy America!

Dear Mr. President,
Today’s NYT (“For Toledo, Cash To Grow; For Chinese, Closer Ties” p. A12) tells how this rust belt town of 280,000, once the glass capital of the world, had to buy glass panels for the new wing of their museum from the Chinese because the glass industry has been off-shored and what’s left of it no longer had the capacity to fill the order. A pretty sad commentary on the state of America, what’s happened to our industrial capacity and why we’ve got so many people unemployed. We can’t even make the glass for own windows! But here’s the grabber: because of that glass order, the Chinese discovered Toledo, its key location—a major port on the Great Lakes, a regional rail and highway hub—and its depressed real estate market, and decided to invest in the city, bought hotels, restaurants, riverfront property and abandoned factories that could be refurbished and made functional again. Things are looking up for Toledo, thanks to the Chinese. The article also talks about other Chinese investments in the U.S.—$12.2 billion in the first 9 months of 2013: “Chinese investors have been buying commercial and residential real estate in Detroit, inexpensively because of the city’s financial troubles, and have agreed to finance a $1.5 billion waterfront development in Oakland, Calif. This year, on a trade trip to China, Gov. Jerry Brown of California discussed Chinese investment in the state’s troubled $91 billion bullet train project. Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee have also increased their push for Chinese investment.” What’s absent is any mention of U.S. investment, underwriting or loans to resuscitate our ailing cities. When you think about it, it’s pretty clear why. Unlike the Chinese, we spend our money on war, not infrastructure, not loans to develop waterfront property or refurbish hotels, factories and restaurants, or bail out pensioners or bankrupt cities. That’s the price of war, selling America to foreigners—in this case the Chinese, who know a good deal when they see it. Meanwhile, we give billions in military aid to dictators and military regimes, spend tens of billions on useless spying and give subsidies to corporate farmers while ending unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed—like the folks who used to work in the glass factories of Toledo—and cutting food stamps and child health programs…a litany of outrage. What’s wrong with this picture, Mr. President? To those of us out here on the hustings, the answer’s pretty obvious.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Dear Mr. President,
Counterterrorism, Qaeda-affiliate, militants, insurgents, National Security. Like the Abracadabra of magicians, these phrases seem possessed of magical power when used by the magicians and tricksters of Washington to justify any atrocity, any war, any act of aggression, any crime against humanity and any violation of the Constitution or international law. Last week we sent an emergency shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles to a non-existent Iraqi Air Force which had exhausted their supply, justifying it as necessary to help Iraq fight a growing Qaeda-affiliate insurgency in Iraq (today’s NYT, “U.S. Sends Arms To Aid Iraq Fight With Extremists” p. A1). While the Iraqis don’t have Predator or Reaper drones or any combat aircraft—yet—they strap the Hellfires beneath the wings of small Cessna turboprops and fire them “at militant camps with the CIA secretly providing targeting assistance.” (Shades of the CIA secretly providing targeting information for Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks against the Iranians back in the 1970s!) The Iraqis paid for the Hellfire missiles (a little over $5 million, nice pocket change for Lockheed Martin) but we gave them 3 sensor-laden Aerostat balloons and 3 surveillance helicopters to help fight the Qaeda-affiliate insurgency which is gaining more and more territory in western Iraq and across the border in Syria. (So much for your pledge to bring the Iraq war to a “responsible end.”) But this is only the beginning. Next year we deliver 10 ScanEagle drones, 48 Raven drones, the first of the F-16s they bought and, if Congress approves it, lease at least 6 Apache helicopter gunships to them. Meanwhile, our counterterrorism folks say they’ve “effectively mapped the locations and origins of the Qaeda network in Iraq and are sharing the information with the Iraqis.” Hold on here, a minute, Mr. President, I thought Iraq was lined up with Iran and Iran was our mortal enemy, one of the Axis of Evil countries. Or maybe that was last month and the map’s changed once again. It’s hard to keep up with all the to-ing and fro-ing going on behind closed doors, all the Abracadabras and secret agreements and handshake deals. The only thing that never changes is that We the People always lose and the merchants of death always win no matter which side we’re on because war is good for business and the business of America is war. Peace on earth, good will to men, Mr. President. And a belated Mele Kalikimaka.