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A national treasure

Posted by Charles II on November 24, 2014

Andrew Bacevich:

Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.

Bacevich is a national treasure. An Army colonel who lost a son, he has spoken out against our dangerous and ineffective policy with great courage.

Posted in history, Homeland Security, international, Iraq war, military | Comments Off on A national treasure

Kissinger says US dealings in Ukraine were inept

Posted by Charles II on November 13, 2014

Crossposted from DK.

Der Spiegel:

SPIEGEL: So let’s talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?

Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time.

SPIEGEL: What you’re saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?

Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev.

Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.

…the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That’s a fact of life.

We have to remember that Russia is an important part of the international system, and therefore useful in solving all sorts of other crises, for example in the agreement on nuclear proliferation with Iran or over Syria. This has to have preference over a tactical escalation in a specific case…. I don’t think it’s a law of nature that every state must have the right to be an ally in the frame work of NATO.

SPIEGEL: America is very polarized. The level of aggression in the political debate is extremely high. Is the superpower still even able to act at all?

Kissinger: I am worried about this domestic split. When I worked in Washington, political combat was tough. But there was much more cooperation and contact between opponents of the two big parties.

Posted in history, international, Russia | Comments Off on Kissinger says US dealings in Ukraine were inept


Posted by Charles II on August 6, 2014

Gareth Porter:

For most of the last five decades, it has been assumed that the Tonkin Gulf incident was a deception by Lyndon Johnson to justify war in Vietnam. But the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam on Aug. 4, 1964, in retaliation for an alleged naval attack that never happened — and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that followed was not a move by LBJ to get the American people to support a U.S. war in Vietnam.

The real deception on that day was that Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s misled LBJ by withholding from him the information that the U.S. commander in the Gulf — who had initially reported an attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats on U.S. warships — had later expressed serious doubts about the initial report and was calling for a full investigation by daylight. That withholding of information from LBJ represented a brazen move to usurp the President’s constitutional power of decision on the use of military force.

Posted in history | Comments Off on History

Remembering Liberty

Posted by Charles II on June 9, 2014

All states do cynical things. One can’t condemn any government for a single bad deed. But the US response to the sinking of the USS Liberty is one of those things that has to be acknowledged before the American people can have any confidence in their own government, much less that of Israel. The basic story is this:

On the 47th anniversary of that unprovoked attack let’s be clear about what happened: Israeli messages intercepted on June 8, 1967, leave no doubt that sinking the USS Liberty was the mission assigned to the attacking Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats as the Six-Day War raged in the Middle East. Let me repeat: there is no doubt – none – that the mission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was to destroy the USS Liberty and kill its entire crew.

There were notably heartless actions by the pilots who engaged in the attacks–and notable bravery by American sailors–that makes this an emotional issue. Critics of Israel point to it as the moment in which that state learned that it could act with impunity, poisoning subsequent relations between the countries. That’s probably not true, since the US can always re-assert itself. And, of course, this plays into the Israel-Palestine conflict and the broader Israel-Arab conflict. Those deserve to be judged on their own merits/demerits.

And then there’s the fact that the president who directed the American response to the attack on USS Liberty was perhaps simultaneously both the best and the worst of post-WW II presidents. For those who hate him, it is easy to turn his indifference toward American servicemen into a bloody rag. The stories of both the dead and the survivors would break your heart. But lots of presidents have been indifferent to servicemen. That is, after all, why there have been so many wars and so little response to problems like PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, and Gulf War Syndrome. Just because those men suffer and die out of the public spotlight doesn’t mean that presidents are ignorant of the human consequences of their inaction.

The main issue, as far as I am concerned is the US response:

When President Johnson learned that the USS America and USS Saratoga had launched warplanes to do battle with the forces attacking the Liberty, he told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to call Sixth Fleet commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geiss and tell him to order the warplanes to return immediately to their carriers.

According to J.Q. “Tony” Hart, a chief petty officer who monitored these conversations from a U.S. Navy communications relay station in Morocco, Geiss shot back that one of his ships was under attack.

And then, to add insult to grave injurywas this element of the US response:

[According to a commission led by] former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and before that Chief of Naval Operations) [Admiral] Thomas Moorer…

… surviving crew members were later threatened with “court-martial, imprisonment, or worse” if they talked to anyone about what had happened to them; and were “abandoned by their own government.”

How come Admiral Moorer, along with Marine General Ray Davis and Rear Admiral Merlin Staring were the only senior members of the military to demand that the human beings aboard the Liberty be acknowledged?

Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of the sinking of USS Liberty. Refusing to politicize it in any way, let’s make sure that it is never forgotten. Let’s make sure that the memory of what our government did never be forgotten. And let’s try to make sure that the survivors of that and all acts of war receive humane treatment for all wounds, visible or not.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, history, military, veterans | Comments Off on Remembering Liberty

Ah, nostalgia

Posted by Charles II on October 20, 2013

Andrés Cala, Consortium News:

In Galicia, an area in Spain’s northwest, the mayor of another town under Popular Party rule proudly showcases in his office a picture of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. The mayor also plays the fascist anthem to anyone who will listen. Yet, he has faced no official reprimand.

And earlier this month, a small town near Madrid, also governed by the Popular Party (or PP), allowed a fascist group to put up a stand in a public school exhibiting Franco-era and Nazi memorabilia. Officials later apologized and said that they weren’t aware of the stand.

Though anecdotal, these incidents fit with a rising public nostalgia for the Franco era in Spain and are symptomatic of a broader resurgence of extreme right-wing ideology in Europe and globally.

Another point of concern is that nationalist, populist and fascist movements have historically found fertile ground during times of economic pain… mainstream democratic parties have seen their legitimacy questioned and their political support drained.

In Spain – and to a lesser extent in some other European countries – the immediate danger is not so much from a handful of incipient reactionary movements, but rather from the underlying official permissiveness from more mainstream conservative parties, like the Popular Party, bordering on patronage.

Some elected Popular Party officials and party militants are openly making the Nazi salute, proudly displaying fascist flags and other memorabilia, and posting pro-Franco messages on social media sites.

Amid the Popular Party’s recent political success, with its latest high-water mark the gaining of an absolute majority in parliament, many of the party’s stalwarts have reminisced about the Franco era as a prosperous time, though it wasn’t.

Secessionist plans from Catalonia, Spain’s economic motor, have served to unite nationalist forces and radical fascist groups, but the most forceful opposition to Catalonian separation is coming from the right wing of the Popular Party, led by former Prime Minister Jose María Aznar. (emphasis added)

Cala goes on to add that this is a Europe-wide, if not a worldwide phenomenon, with France’s Marine Le Pen’s French National Front, Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, and Progress Party leading the way into the abyss. Spain isn’t quite that far down the road… but the tolerance of the Popular Party for fascist expressions could end up mainstreaming it.

When will people learn that reaction doesn’t–almost by definition, can’t– solve problems?

Posted, with an addition about how the proper response to the rise of ultranationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and outright fascism is an extension and affirmation of human rights, at Daily Kos

Posted in Europe, fascism, history, Tea Party | 1 Comment »

If you really want to know what the Founders said…

Posted by Charles II on September 19, 2013

The National Archives has made it possible: see here.

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Phyladelphia Octr. 9. 1774

My Dear

I am wearied to Death with the Life I lead. The Business of the Congress is tedious, beyond Expression. This Assembly is like no other that ever existed. Every Man in it is a great Man—an orator, a Critick, a statesman, and therefore every Man upon every Question must shew his oratory, his Criticism and his Political Abilities.

The Consequence of this is, that Business is drawn and spun out to an immeasurable Length. I believe if it was moved and seconded that We should come to a Resolution that Three and two make five We should be entertained with Logick and Rhetorick, Law, History, Politicks and Mathematicks, concerning the Subject for two whole Days, and then We should pass the Resolution unanimously in the Affirmative.

Posted in Congress, history | 2 Comments »

Remembering Paul Weyrich

Posted by Charles II on May 23, 2013

My post on how the right is seeking to attack the IRS for its questioning of anti-abortion groups which may have broken the law unearthed a Max Blumenthal article on Paul Weyrich:

In 2001, Weyrich circulated a commentary accusing Jews of murdering Jesus. When a conservative writer named Evan Gahr attacked Weyrich as a “demented anti-Semite,” he learned how powerful the conservative founding father truly was. In short order, neoconservative activist David Horowitz barred Gahr from writing for his FrontPageMag and forced him to apologize to Weyrich.

Obsessed with ideological purity, Weyrich homed his most vitriolic attacks on the Republican congressional leadership. David Grann’s classic profile of Weyrich as a “Robespierre of the Right,” published in 1997 in the New Republic, is probably the best window into Weyrich’s often destructive efforts to force the GOP to the hard right. “The problem with Gingrich,” Weyrich said of the House majority leader at the time, “is that he does not have any immutable principles that he would die for.” (Weyrich sued The New Republic for libel after it published Grann’s article, a suit that was dismissed.)

In 1996, Weyrich was diagnosed with a debilitating spinal injury. Five years later, the injury consigned him to a wheelchair. He spent the last years of his life in constant pain, and took heavy doses of painkillers. In 2004, after a bad fall, Weyrich’s legs were amputated. But he soldiered on, addressing conservative conferences and pumping out a steady flow of commentaries urging the Republicans to stay tethered to their right-wing base.

In September 2006, foreshadowing Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s notorious remarks about her congressional colleagues two years later, Weyrich called for an FBI investigation of reporters who harbor subversive attitudes and urged the resurrection of the House Un-American Affairs Committee.

Paul Weyrich was truly one of God’s weirder pieces of work.

Posted in history, Republicans as cancer | 3 Comments »

Even Meryl Streep can’t whitewash this

Posted by Charles II on April 9, 2013

Seumas Milne, The Guardian, in January (via Greenwald):

Not only in former mining communities and industrial areas laid waste by her government, but across Britain [the late Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown. Now protests are taking the form of satirical e-petitions for the funeral to be privatised: if it goes ahead, there are likely to be protests and demonstrations.

This is a politician, after all, who never won the votes of more than a third of the electorate; destroyed communities; created mass unemployment; deindustrialised Britain; redistributed from poor to rich; and, by her deregulation of the City, laid the basis for the crisis that has engulfed us 25 years later.

Thatcher was a prime minister who denounced Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, defended the Chilean fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet, ratcheted up the cold war, and unleashed militarised police on trade unionists and black communities alike. She was Britain’s first woman prime minister, but her policies hit women hardest, like Cameron’s today.

A common British establishment view – and the implicit position of The Iron Lady – is that while Thatcher took harsh measures and “went too far”, it was necessary medicine to restore the sick economy of the 1970s to healthy growth.

It did nothing of the sort. Average growth in the Thatcherite 80s, at 2.4%, was exactly the same as in the sick 70s – and considerably lower than during the corporatist 60s. Her government’s savage deflation destroyed a fifth of Britain’s industrial base in two years, hollowed out manufacturing, and delivered a “productivity miracle” that never was, and we’re living with the consequences today.

What she did succeed in doing was to restore class privilege…

Predictably, even The Guardian is now full of amnesiac hagiography. I was unable to watch any of the US electronic media, knowing it would be even worse.

Posted in history | 1 Comment »

The wheels of justice

Posted by Charles II on December 29, 2012

Some of you may know Victor Jara, a Chilean musician who was swept up in the Pinochet mass arrests and executed. The legend is that, while interned at the Chile sports stadium (now Victor Jara Stadium), he encouraged resistance by playing his guitar. When his captors smashed his fingers and told him to play, he continued his defiance by singing until at last they silenced him with machine gun bullets. It probably happened a little differently, but there’s no doubt that he faced death bravely.

Aside from politics, he was just a great guitarist and vocalist.

Via Bohica at DK, his killers have been indicted: Lieutenant Pedro Barrientos, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Sánchez, and six more.

I hope God adds a little to their sentence for their crimes against acoustic guitar.

Hear Arlo sing his story.
Update: Litho has more.

Posted in abuse of power, history, Latin America | 1 Comment »

Remembering Robert Bork/updated and corrected

Posted by Charles II on December 19, 2012

This was crossposted at DK.

Robert Bork died today at the age of 85. We wish him the best in the afterlife. In this life, I regret to say, he was consistently on the side of doing wrong when it came into contention with doing what was right.

Bork first came to prominence for his participation in the coverup of Watergate. When Nixon ordered the Justice Department, then under Elliott Richardson, to fire the special prosecutor who was investigating Nixon’s misdeeds, Richardson refused, as did his deputy William Ruckelshaus. Both resigned rather than be part of Nixon’s attempt to save himself. Bork had no such scruples (he claims he did so in consultation with Richardson and Ruckelshaus and for the good of the nation, but this is doubtful [Correction: Eliot Richardson confirmed that he approved what Bork did.).

To conservatives, Bork is a hero. After Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan was defeated, Ted Kennedy in a moment of hubris, boasted that he had “Borked” the nominee. So conservatives, choosing to avoid the totality of the record, have seen Bork as a martyr to liberalism. What conservatives forget is that Bork was rejected 58-42, a bipartisan majority, and the largest majority recorded against any nominee to the Court.

Bork seems primarily to have been an opportunist. In an interview with the DC Bar, he says that as a young man, when socialism was ascendent, he was a socialist. During World War II, he was a college student. He partied until the last days of the war, when he enlisted. He was going to be a labor lawyer until the political climate changed, and then he joined Kirkland & Ellis, a macher corporate law firm.

He got on the faculty of Yale law, where he says he was treated well by the liberal faculty (not that Yale Law has ever been particularly liberal). And then, he says, the “uprising” (the protests of the 1960s) brought an end to all that good feeling. Bork, of course, went with the side that supported repression, and so ended up as Solicitor General for the Nixon Administration. After all, what are the ideals of conservatism if not massive concentration of power under the Executive, illegally making war, spying on the citizens, and criminal acts up to and including murder? Bork left that Administration fundamentally unrepentant:

BR: When you look back on the Nixon presidency, what do you feel?

RHB: I feel sad. Nixon had the intellectual equipment to be a great president. But he destroyed himself. And for what? I never would have believed that the president had something like the “Plumber’s Unit” in the White House, breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and all of that nonsense. It was not only wrong, it was so foolish. So unnecessary.

Unnecessary? How about alarming? or dangerous? or criminal? There is no hint of indignation in Bork’s comments on Nixon.

But beyond the opportunism, there was something darker, and this was what was behind his rejection by a bipartisan majority of the Senate. The Washington Post:

At Yale, Judge Bork quickly became the conservative movement’s Ivy League voice. He wrote a critique of the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for Sen. Barry Goldwater, and he became a member of Scholars for Goldwater when the Arizona Republican became his party’s presidential nominee in 1964.

Judge Bork wrote an influential law journal article in 1971 outlining a school of legal thought later known as “intentionalism.” He argued that judges should confine themselves to the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution in determining what kinds of actions should be protected by the law. He also maintained that only “political speech” could be protected by the First Amendment.

Throughout his career as a legal scholar, Judge Bork repeatedly criticized a 1965 Supreme Court decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, in which a state law prohibiting married couples from using contraceptives was struck down. The court ruled that the state law was unconstitutional because it violated a constitutional right to privacy.

Judge Bork maintained that the constitution held no such provision.

The idea of “intentionalism” is a bit scary. It holds that what the Founders thought overrules any subsequent developments. Under what theory could one oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act

To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.

…if not the belief that the Founders’ endorsement of slavery trumped the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the bitter struggle of the 1950s and 1960s to end Jim Crow? According to Nancy MacLean, this is what he wrote:

Robert Bork argued that it was sophistry to distinguish property rights and
human rights; property rights were human rights of the highest order and “individual liberty”
depended on their sanctity. The issue, he said, “is not whether racial prejudice is a good thing but
whether individual men ought to be free to deal and associate with whom they please for whatever
reasons appeal to them.” For anyone to tell these white citizens “that even as individuals they may
not act on their racial preferences” was “unsurpassed ugliness.”

Similarly, opposition to Griswold was, even by the time of Bork’s nomination, bizarre. Contraception had been legally available for twenty years, having been declared constitutional by the very Court Bork was nominated to be on! Bork’s defenders have excused his writings as academic legerdemain, unrepresentative of what he would actually have done. But the reason the Senate rejected him was because they could not get him to state honestly what he believed. He sounded as if he was concealing a belief that his own views, masked as “intentionalism” could surmount every boundary imposed by the law. Robert Bork was not voted onto the Court because he sounded like a madman.

If one followed his subsequent career, that conclusion is confirmed. His book, Slouching Toward Gomorrah (a title of the greatest irony) is not a deeply intellectual work, but a bizarre pastiche of ignorance and demonization. Example:

On science: Bork claims that “the fossil record is proving a major embarrassment to evolution”,

My favorite passage is his claim that there was no real domestic opposition to Vietnam, that it was all the result of a communist conspiracy. Quoting an unnamed visiting professor, he says:

“the first eruptions could be traced to a radical ‘who had come down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Berkeley.'”

It is no surprise to read later in the book that the killings of students at Kent State by Guardsmen who, facing no imminent danger, fired on unarmed protestors was “an inevitable tragedy.”

After all, if opposition to the Vietman War was simply a communist conspiracy, the deaths of protestors are simply enemy casualties. And Slouching Toward Gomorrah was not written in the heat of the Vietnam War, but decades after it had been recognized as a terrible mistake.

It should also be noted that he accepted the idea of criminalizing homosexuality:

In a letter to the faculty, he wrote that “homosexuality is obviously not an unchangeable condition like race or gender” and that such “behavior, it is relevant to observe, is criminal in many states.” Judge Bork’s arguments did not persuade the majority of the faculty.

At the time (1977), that was not a remarkable position in much of the country, but it does mark him as a man whose idea of liberty extended only to straight white males– like the Founders.

In many ways, the life of Robert Bork illustrates what is wrong with modern conservatism. Driven by opportunism and inflated with ignorance and hubris, it has ceased to represent a reasoned defense of traditional values and, like the Confederacy, has come to represent a desperate attempt to prevent necessary reform even at the cost of destroying the nation.

Thank God Robert Bork never made it onto the Court. The “intentionalists” there now, men like Scalia, are frightening enough.
Added: A line from his Washington Post obituary struck me:

Late in life, after he had married his second wife, a former Catholic nun, Judge Bork converted to Catholicism.

“There is an advantage in waiting until you’re 76 to be baptized, because you’re forgiven all of your prior sins,” he said in a 2003 interview with the National Catholic Register. “Plus, at that age you’re not likely to commit any really interesting or serious sins.”

It sounds to me as if he had no intention to repent of the angry divisions which he sowed in life. In his mind, I suppose, he had done the minimum of what Christian “law” requires with the expectation of getting the full reward. I suppose this makes him an opportunist even in death. That is truly, truly tragic.
Additional links.

Jeffrey Toobin

David Weigel

Rachel Maddow, in her show of 12/19, pointed out that Judge Robert Bork ruled that it was legal for an employer to order a woman to be sterilized and that if she did not do so, she could be fired.

Posted in civil rights, history, Republicans as cancer | 4 Comments »

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