Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Say 'Hello' to the Next (Democratic) Senator from Nebraska!

Former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel: Republican Party Has ‘An Astounding Lack Of Responsible Leadership’


From Think Progress of 31-August 2011:
Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (NE) can’t muster any praise for his Republican colleagues’ behavior in Congress over the past few months. In an interview with the Financial Times, Hagel blasted GOP leadership for their “irresponsible actions” during the debt ceiling debacle, noting that “I think about some of the presidents we’ve had on my side of the aisle — Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., go right through them, Eisenhower — they would be stunned.”

“Disgusted” with the debt ceiling negotiations, Hagel called it “an astounding lack of responsible leadership by many in the Republican party, and I say that as a Republican.” “Does anyone not believe what’s happened here the last couple weeks in the market was not a complete, direct result of the lack of confidence that came out of that folly, that embarrassment?” he asked. Watch it:

Asked about Tea Party influence, Hagel said the Republican party is too captive to a movement that is “very ideological” and “very narrow.” “I’ve never seen so much intolerance as I’ve seen today,” he said. Later surveying the GOP 2012 field, Hagel said the party may need to rebuild, agreeing that Republicans are now “too far to the right.”
Come on, Progressive Democrats! Swallow your pride! Just ask this decorated Vietnam veteran and revered ex-Senator to come out of retirement and serve his country for six more years. He's not perfect. But everything that comes out of Nebraska is relative.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Don't "Hate" Republicans

I say that for the record.

But I love this music

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Standing Up for What Is Reich

Robert Reich has worked in a lot of big white buildings -- in the Senate, as an intern to Robert F. Kennedy; in the office of then-Solicitor General Robert Bork; in the Ford and Carter administrations; and as labor secretary to President Clinton. He is currently teaching at UC Berkeley. His course is entitled "Wealth and Poverty". Patt Morrison published an interview with professor Reich in todays' Los Angeles Times. His answers rang true to me. The Occupy Wall street has had a huge effect on the national conversation.
President Obama's speech [in Kansas] focused on precisely the themes the Occupiers have been emphasizing: the concentration of income, wealth and political power at the top, the failure of big corporations and Wall Street to keep the economy going for the rest of us. I don't think this sort of speech would have happened had it not been for the Occupy movement and the change in public debate it's created.
Class is becoming less and less a dirty word in our lexicon.
Polls show most Americans today don't believe their children are going to live as well as they do. A large percentage feel the game is rigged against them. Upward mobility is now far more difficult to achieve. So the issue of class has emerged as very real and very tangible. For most of us, the America we knew was one in which anyone could make it with enough gumption and guts and drive. We truly believed that America was a place where there were no class distinctions, although we saw the plight of the poor, particularly poor minorities. What's new is this sense that a relatively small number of people have rigged the game or loaded the dice in such a way that their positions of power and privilege are entrenched.
Many wealthy conservatives equate capitalism with democracy, but in fact they are not related.
We think of ourselves as a nation that practices democratic capitalism, but sometimes capitalism and democracy pull in opposite directions .... Essentially, every time the excesses of capitalism threaten to destroy it, we save capitalism from itself. We did it in the Progressive era, we did it in the New Deal, and hopefully we are at least beginning to do it now. Ironically, it's progressives and Democrats who take the lead in saving capitalism from itself. The question is how bad things have to get before average people begin mobilizing.
What happened to cross-party relationships like your good friendship with Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson?
Newt Gingrich. When Gingrich came to town as speaker, he brought in a group of people who were far more ideological and frankly unpleasant. The tone of Washington changed abruptly in January of 1995. I had never seen anything like it, and remember, I [came] to Washington in 1967. It was as if a dark cloud had descended over Washington and it's still there. I blame Gingrich -- not entirely, but he led the charge.
Will we ever recover economically?
We can't go backward, but the economy of the 1950s, '60s and early '70s was far more equal, and America grew faster in those years on average than it's grown since. If you look at Germany over the last 10 years, until the past year, you see rapid growth combined with a far more equal distribution of [the] gains and very high wages going to average working people. What's the secret? Two things: Germany has focused intensively on public education, particularly skills that are relevant for the new high-tech world economy; and secondly, Germany has a much stronger labor movement than the United States. There's huge skepticism, if not downright cynicism, about any large institution today. Yet the questions being asked are moral questions about what we Americans owe each other as members of the same society, what we should expect from the major institutions of our society, how to reverse trends that seem to reward the wrong people, often for malfeasance or nonfeasance. These are all moral judgments about how lopsided our economy and our society has become.
Are we entering a "Kumbaya" period like the 1960's?
The anti-Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement -- those were not "Kumbaya" moments. Those were hard challenges. A friend of mine was murdered in Mississippi for trying to register voters. This was the opposite of "Kumbaya." Mickey Schwerner. I was always very short for my age and older guys help[ed] protect me from the bullies, and Mickey was one of my protectors. When he was killed by the real bullies, it was a transformative experience for me. It opened my eyes to how important it is to give people the power to stop the bullies. I date my commitment to these issues to that summer of '64.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Notes on Newt

Hey, Vig: I need help. Perhaps you or your readers can show me the way to solve my longing.

I want to be able to talk straight with Republicans about the origins of today's nasty political climate. We are, as Chris Hayes recently pointed out, "living in the Age of Newt". I want to see and hear and participate in a dialogue that names without putting the other person on the defensive. I long for a way to truth-tell that might sting, but doesn't drive away the other person who sees our current situation differently.

The thing I'm struggling with is how can I, and we, talk to our fellow citizens about who is really doing what to whom and why?

The Republicans have absorbed Newt Gingrich's strategy for winning politically in America. In the 1980's, Newt used to send out "How to Run Successful Political Campaigns" to his fellow Republican politicians. Newt recommended using positive words to describe oneself: "entrepreneur"; "forward thinking"; "being creative".

When referring to Democratic opponents, Newt exhorted his fellow politicians to call their opponents "corrupt", to "create a scandal" - whether there was evidence of such behavior, or not. This strategy was supplemented by Newt's daily issuance of the "Daily Talking Points" that were to be repeated throughout the day, preferably into a microphone, eventually imprinting upon one's unconscious, even when it was recognizable as merely empty rhetoric.

This conscious demonization of members of the "Loyal Opposition", the Democrats in Congress, consists, too often, of scurrilous attributions of wrong-doing that have no factual basis in reality and which the MSM (main stream media) never bothers to fact-check, having long-ago abdicated their responsibility to hold the powerful accountable to the citizenry.

Because they are never questioned, nor the true facts publicly stated, the Republican Party's Spin Meisters and their constant litany of lies are unchallenged - eventually becoming accepted political history. Worst of all, the incessant repetition of the day's "Talking Points" further cement the new reality.

Today's pale remnants of the once honorable profession of journalism, instead, focus on the "Titillation Factor" that will sell papers. In this age of "fair and balanced" news, the innuendos and the lies are permitted to stand unchallenged - eventually becoming accepted political history. Worst of all, the incessant repetition of the day's "Talking Points" further cement the new reality.

The Republicans speak their distortions and lies with one clear, clever voice. Democrats quibble over minutia, cowering on the sidelines of power they refuse, with one or two notable exceptions, to speak of the "elephant in the room".and fearfully avoid calling out the Republicans. The Democrats, still seem shell-shocked at how the Republicans can so glibly spin their fabricated lies and demonization's of them...picture Lucy snatching away the football after Charlie Brown has committed to kicking it.

Too many Democrats still don't "get it" - the Republican strategists have decided they will send this country into bankruptcy before they will cooperate with Democrats and work together to solve America's pressing problems that are growing worse and more urgently in need of creative and constructive solutions achieved through negotiations and compromising with every passing day.

Newt, and his cohorts, are poised to steal our Democracy from under our noses. The Republican strategizers have scrupulously followed their plan to destroy our government, because to them, government is the problem, not the solution.

Elected to Governorships and state offices by promising to create jobs, what have these Republican governors done with their powers? They have systematically attempted to defund any regulatory body that remains at all viable, to deny a woman the right to control her own reproductive rights, to dismantle all unions, and are arduously scheming to deny the right to vote to as many young people, older people, and all others whom they fear might vote democratic, as possible - this after the debacle of the unregulated banks drove America in its knees, and after sending our sons and daughters into two unfunded and unwinnable wars.

Our beloved country is mired down in mistrust and fury at our elected congressional members who do nothing to acknowledge that our country's government is terribly broken. Nothing is getting done - the tea party circuses blame the growing economic gulf on "lazy people who just want us to pay their way through life"; Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell tell the 99% of us to just "eat cake"and get a job because their fat cat contributors need to have ever more tax breaks to salt away in mattresses so the 99% had better pay their taxes; and the Democrats quibble over which song to play as they stand, fiddle in hand but silent, watching our beloved country go down in flames.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Enough, Soon Enough

News Item from the Chicago Sun-Times:

40,000 troops to leave Afghanistan by end of 2012

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Communism Is More Popular than Congress!

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, splashes coffee in our face this morning!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Af-Pak: What Is It We Are Fighting for (Again)?

News Item: Karzai: Afghanistan to back Pakistan If Wars with U.S.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview to a private Pakistani TV channel (Geo Television) broadcast on Saturday:

God forbid, If ever there is a war between Pakistan and America, Afghanistan will side with Pakistan....If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan needs Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 Didn't Change America

It was 20-March 2003 that changed the USA.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Skirmish in the Class War Breaks out in Tottenham and Greater London

Lost is why Mark Duggan was shot. He was, according to some residents, a crack cocaine dealer who routinely carried a gun. So what?

Everyone is taken by surprise. Everyone is blaming the police, short-handed on account of austerity cutbacks. And the United Kingdom's elite were caught on their summer vacations:

David Cameron fiddled with the foil on a bottle of pinot grigio in Tuscany; deputy prime minister Nick Clegg quietly recovered at home from his getaway in sunny France; and chancellor of the exchequer George Osbourne remained ensconced at a hotel somewhere in Beverly Hills.
Not Tottenham's youth who had no place to go on their summer holidays but out on the street, primed for the Metropolitan Police's reviled stop-and-search policy.
A wider context for the riots ... must include the impact of David Cameron's controversial austerity measures. Tottenham is among the communities worst affected by Cameron's budget, which drastically cuts programs for the young, poor and voteless. Funding has been cut from more than 380 youth charities across Britain, and Harringey Council, which covers four of the five riot areas so far, recently closed eight out of its 13 youth centres. The Harringey youth services budget was slashed by 75 per cent.
Don't get me wrong. I don't like class war when it's open and declared. It's ugly and costly. The collateral damage is cruel and extensive among the innocents and bystanders. But the head of the ostrich of the Western world's wealthy classes is deep in the sands of their beach resorts. What happens in Tottenham and other areas in London, are not likely to stay there.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

News Item: Worst US loss of life in Afghan War

Helicopter crash kills 38: Seven Afghan soldiers and 31 US special forces die after insurgents reportedly shoot down Chinook with rocket:
The US suffered its worst single loss of life in the nearly 10-year Afghan war when a helicopter carrying 31 special forces soldiers crashed on Friday night in the east of the country.

Both the Taliban, via a spokesman reached by telephone, and Afghan officials in Wardak province, to the west of Kabul, said insurgents had shot down the Chinook helicoter with a rocket.

Nato would only confirm that "there was enemy activity in the area" and that the US-led alliance was still trying to work out what had happened. US air force captain Justin Brockhoff, a Nato spokesman, said: "We are in the process of accessing the facts."

A western official said 37 people were on board, all of whom were killed. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said the helicopter was carrying 31 US special forces and seven members of the Afghan national army.

It is very unusual for Nato deaths from a single incident to reach double figures. The previous most deadly day for foreign troops was in June 2005 when 16 US soldiers were killed when a Taliban rocket hit a Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar.

The crash happened at 3am when the helicopter was hovering over the town of Tangi Joi Zareen, in the district of Saidabad, according to a spokesman for the provincial governor.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said Nato attacked a house in the district where insurgent fighters were gathering. He said eight insurgents died in the fighting.....
What are we fighting for.....?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stop Hoping & Draft a Progressive Candidate for the 2012 Democratic Primary!

Go to StopHoping.Org and vote for a candidate to oppose Barack Obama in the 2012 Primary.( That's next year, Folks!)

StopHoping.Org is searching for a plausible candidate to run in next year's primary and they say:

The majority of U.S. citizens favor protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; taxing the rich; cutting military spending; and protecting the environment. We don't have a candidate . . . yet. Potential candidates supported on this site will be notified and encouraged to run.
I'm plugging for Russ Feingold, who's the most credible candidate on their ballot. Bernie Sanders is currently in first place and Dennis Kucinich is a 2nd. Russ is in third. Personally, as much as I like them, I don't feel that Bernie and Dennis make as marketable candidates as Feingold would.

The perfect candidate, in my way of thinking, would be Howard Dean. So I added him in as a write-in candidate. Of course Governor Dean, along with many of the others, figure to be reluctant candidates: they would have to be drafted by a groundswell of popular support, as yet un-materialized.

I also voted for the option of not running a Progressive candidate in the general election. I Feel if Progressives can't show up enough to capture the Democratic Convention, then they ought at least vote against the Weimar Republicans. And the only way to vote against these proto-fascists is to vote Democratic! 


Yes! There is a difference between the parties, even if the degrees of separation are down to the single digits.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Truth About Jane Fonda's Trip to Hanoi

I've been invited to publish Jane Fonda's most recent epistle in total. I am not going hesitate to accept an invitation like that. Her article from her own blog appears below. Below that, I will attach a few comments of my own.
I grew up during World War II. My childhood was influenced by the roles my father played in his movies. Whether Abraham Lincoln or Tom Joad in the Grapes of Wrath, his characters communicated certain values which I try to carry with me to this day. I remember saying goodbye to my father the night he left to join the Navy. He didn’t have to. He was older than other servicemen and had a family to support but he wanted to be a part of the fight against fascism, not just make movies about it. I admired this about him. I grew up with a deep belief that wherever our troops fought, they were on the side of the angels.

For the first 8 years of the Vietnam War I lived in France. I was married to the French film director, Roger Vadim and had my first child. The French had been defeated in their own war against Vietnam a decade before our country went to war there, so when I heard, over and over, French people criticizing our country for our Vietnam War I hated it. I viewed it as sour grapes. I refused to believe we could be doing anything wrong there.

It wasn’t until I began to meet American servicemen who had been in Vietnam and had come to Paris as resisters that I realized I needed to learn more. I took every chance I could to meet with U.S. soldiers. I talked with them and read the books they gave me about the war. I decided I needed to return to my country and join with them—active duty soldiers and Vietnam Veterans in particular—to try and end the war. I drove around the country visiting military bases, spending time in the G.I. Coffee houses that had sprung up outside many bases –places where G.I.s could gather. I met with Army psychiatrists who were concerned about the type of training our men were receiving…quite different, they said, from the trainings during WWII and Korea. The doctors felt this training was having a damaging effect on the psyches of the young men, effects they might not recover from. I raised money and hired a former Green Beret, Donald Duncan, to open and run the G.I. Office in Washington D.C. to try and get legal and congressional help for soldiers who were being denied their rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I talked for hours with U.S. pilots about their training, and what they were told about Vietnam. I met with the wives of servicemen. I visited V.A. hospitals. Later in 1978, wanting to share with other Americans some of what I had learned about the experiences of returning soldiers and their families, I made the movie Coming Home. I was the one who would be asked to speak at large anti-war rallies to tell people that the men in uniform were not the enemy, that they did not start the war, that they were, in growing numbers our allies. I knew as much about military law as any layperson. I knew more than most civilians about the realities on the ground for men in combat. I lived and breathed this stuff for two years before I went to North Vietnam. I cared deeply for the men and boys who had been put in harms way. I wanted to stop the killing and bring our servicemen home. I was infuriated as I learned just how much our soldiers were being lied to about why we were fighting in Vietnam and I was anguished each time I would be with a young man who was traumatized by his experiences. Some boys shook constantly and were unable to speak above a whisper.

It is unconscionable that extremist groups circulate letters which accuse me of horrific things, saying that I am a traitor, that POWs in Hanoi were tied up and in chains and marched passed me while I spat at them and called them ‘baby killers. These letters also say that when the POWs were brought into the room for a meeting I had with them, we shook hands and they passed me tiny slips of paper on which they had written their social security numbers. Supposedly, this was so that I could bring back proof to the U.S. military that they were alive. The story goes on to say that I handed these slips of paper over to the North Vietnamese guards and, as a result, at least one of the men was tortured to death. That these stories could be given credence shows how little people know of the realities in North Vietnam prisons at the time. The U.S. government and the POW families didn’t need me to tell them who the prisoners were. They had all their names. Moreover, according to even the most hardcore senior officers, torture stopped late in 1969, two and a half years before I got there. And, most importantly, I would never say such things to our servicemen, whom I respect, whether or not I agree with the mission they have been sent to perform, which is not of their choosing.

But these lies have circulated for almost forty years, continually reopening the wound of the Vietnam War and causing pain to families of American servicemen. The lies distort the truth of why I went to North Vietnam and they perpetuate the myth that being anti-war means being anti-soldier.

Little known is the fact that almost 300 Americans—journalists, diplomats, peace activists, professors, religious leaders and Vietnam Veterans themselves—had been traveling to North Vietnam over a number of years in an effort to try and find ways to end the war (By the way, those trips generated little if any media attention.) I brought with me to Hanoi a thick package of letters from families of POWs. Since 1969, mail for the POWs had been brought in and out of North Vietnam every month by American visitors. The Committee of Liaison With Families coordinated this effort. I took the letters to the POWs and brought a packet of letters from them back to their families.

The Photo of Me on the Gun Site.

There is one thing that happened while in North Vietnam that I will regret to my dying day— I allowed myself to be photographed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. I want to, once again, explain how that came about. I have talked about this numerous times on national television and in my memoirs, My Life So Far, but clearly, it needs to be repeated.

It happened on my last day in Hanoi. I was exhausted and an emotional wreck after the 2-week visit. It was not unusual for Americans who visited North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations and when they did, they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I was told to wear during the numerous air raids I had experienced. When we arrived at the site of the anti-aircraft installation (somewhere on the outskirts of Hanoi), there was a group of about a dozen young soldiers in uniform who greeted me. There were also many photographers (and perhaps journalists) gathered about, many more than I had seen all in one place in Hanoi. This should have been a red flag.

The translator told me that the soldiers wanted to sing me a song. He translated as they sung. It was a song about the day ‘Uncle Ho’ declared their country’s independence in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. I heard these words: “All men are created equal; they are given certain rights; among these are life, Liberty and Happiness.” These are the words Ho pronounced at the historic ceremony. I began to cry and clap. These young men should not be our enemy. They celebrate the same words Americans do.

The soldiers asked me to sing for them in return. As it turned out I was prepared for just such a moment: before leaving the United States, I memorized a song called Day Ma Di, written by anti-war South Vietnamese students. I knew I was slaughtering it, but everyone seemed delighted that I was making the attempt. I finished. Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me, overcome on this, my last day, with all that I had experienced during my 2 week visit. What happened next was something I have turned over and over in my mind countless times. Here is my best, honest recollection of what happened: someone (I don’t remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed. I got up, and as I started to walk back to the car with the translator, the implication of what had just happened hit me. “Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes.” I pleaded with him, “You have to be sure those photographs are not published. Please, you can’t let them be published.” I was assured it would be taken care of. I didn’t know what else to do. (I didn’t know yet that among the photographers there were some Japanese.)

It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. But if they did I can’t blame them. The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake and I have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for it. Had I brought a politically more experienced traveling companion with me they would have kept me from taking that terrible seat. I would have known two minutes before sitting down what I didn’t realize until two minutes afterwards; a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever. The gun was inactive, there were no planes overhead, I simply wasn’t thinking about what I was doing, only about what I was feeling, innocent of what the photo implies. But the photo exists, delivering its message regardless of what I was doing or feeling. I carry this heavy in my heart. I have apologized numerous times for any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph. It was never my intention to cause harm. It is certainly painful for me that I, who had spent so much time talking to soldiers, trying to help soldiers and veterans, helping the anti-war movement to not blame the soldiers, now would be seen as being against our soldiers!

So Why I Did I Go?

On May 8th, 1972, President Nixon had ordered underwater, explosive mines to be placed in Haiphong Harbor, something that had been rejected by previous administrations. Later that same month, reports began to come in from European scientists and diplomats that the dikes of the Red River Delta in North Vietnam were being targeted by U.S. planes. The Swedish ambassador to Vietnam reported to an American delegation in Hanoi that he had at first believed the bombing was accidental, but now, having seen the dikes with his own eyes, he was convinced it was deliberate.

I might have missed the significance of these reports had Tom Hayden, whom I was dating, not shown me what the recently released Pentagon Papers had to say on the subject: in 1966, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, searching for some new means to bring Hanoi to its knees, had proposed destroying North Vietnam’s system of dams and dikes, which, he said, “If handled right- might…offer promise…such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after a time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided—which we could offer to do at the conference table.”[1] President Johnson, to his credit, had not acted upon this option.

Now, six years later, Richard Nixon appeared to have given orders to target the dikes—whether to actually destroy them[2] or to demonstrate the threat of destruction, no one knew.

It is important to understand that the Red River is the largest river in North Vietnam. Like Holland, its delta is below sea level. Over centuries, the Vietnamese people have constructed –by hand!– an intricate network of earthen dikes and dams to hold back the sea, a network two thousand five hundred miles long! The stability of these dikes becomes especially critical as monsoon season approaches, and requires an all-out effort on the part of citizens to repair any damage from burrowing animals or from normal wear and tear. Now it was June, but this was no ‘normal wear and tear’ they were facing. The Red River would begin to rise in July and August. Should there be flooding, the mining of Haiphong Harbor would prevent any food from being imported; the bombing showed no signs of letting up; and there was little press coverage of the impending disaster should the dikes be weakened by the bombing and give way. Something drastic had to be done.

The Nixon Administration and its US Ambassador to the United Nations, George Bush (the father), would vehemently deny what was happening, but the following are excerpts from the April-May 1972 transcripts of conversations between President Nixon and top administration officials.

April 25th 1972

Nixon: “We’ve got to be thinking in terms of an all-out bombing attack [of North Vietnam}…Now, by all-out bombing attack, I am thinking about things that go far beyond…I'm thinking of the dikes, I'm thinking of the railroad, I'm thinking, of course, of the docks."

Kissinger: "I agree with you."

President Nixon: "And I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?"

Kissinger: "About two hundred thousand people."

President Nixon: "No, no, no…I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: "That, I think, would just be too much."

President Nixon: "The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want to think big, Henry, for Christsakes."

May 4, 1972.[3]

John B. Connally (Secretary of the Treasury):…”bomb for seriousness, not just as a signal. Railroads, ports, power stations, communication lines…and don’t worry about killing civilians. Go ahead and kill ‘em….People think you are [killing civilians] now. So go ahead and give ‘em some.”

Richard Nixon: “That’s right.”

[Later in same conversation]

Richard Nixon: “We need to win the goddamned war…and…what that fella [?] said about taking out the goddamned dikes, all right, we’ll take out the goddamned dikes….If Henry’s for that, I’m for it all the way.”

The administration wanted the American public to believe Nixon was winding down the war because he was bringing our ground troops home. (At the time I went to Hanoi, there were only approximately 25,000 troops left in South Vietnam from a high of 540,000 in early 1969) In fact, the war was escalating…from the air. And, as I said, monsoon season was approaching. Something drastic had to be done.

That May, I received an invitation from the North Vietnamese in Paris to make the trip to Hanoi. Many had gone before me but perhaps it would take a different sort of celebrity to get people’s attention. Heightened public attention was what was needed to confront the impending crisis with the dikes. I would take a camera and bring back photographic evidence (if such was to be found) of the bomb damage of the dikes we’d been hearing about.

I arranged the trip’s logistics through the Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace talks, bought myself a round trip ticket and stopped in New York to pick up letters for the POWs.

Frankly, the trip felt like a call to service. It was a humanitarian mission, not a political trip. My goal was to expose and try to halt the bombing of the dikes. (The bombing of the dikes ended a month after my return from Hanoi)

The only problem was that I went alone. Had I been with a more experienced, clear-headed, traveling companion, I would not have allowed myself to get into a situation where I was photographed on an anti-aircraft gun.

The Spin

My trip to North Vietnam never became a big story in the Summer/Fall of 1972–nothing on television, one small article in the New York Times. The majority of the American public, Congress, and the media were opposed to the war by then and they didn’t seem to take much notice of my trip. After all, as I said, almost three hundred Americans had gone to Hanoi before me. There had been more than eighty broadcasts by Americans over Radio Hanoi before I made mine. I had decided to do the broadcasts because I was so horrified by the bombing of civilian targets and I wanted to speak to U.S. pilots as I had done on so many occasions during my visits to U.S. military bases and at G.I. Coffee houses. I never asked pilots to desert. I wanted to tell them what I was seeing as an American on the ground there. The Nixon Justice Department poured over the transcripts of my broadcasts trying to find a way to put me on trial for treason but they could find none. A. William Olson, a representative of the Justice Department, [4] said after studying the transcripts, that I had asked the military “to do nothing other than to think.”

But from the Nixon Administration’s point of view, something had to be done. If the government couldn’t prosecute me in court because, in reality, I had broken no laws, then the pro-war advocates would make sure I was prosecuted in the court of public opinion.

The myth making about my being responsible for POW torture began seven months after I returned from North Vietnam, and several months after the war had ended, and the U.S. POWs had returned home. “Operation Homecoming,” in February 1973, was planned by the Pentagon and orchestrated by the White House. It was unprecedented in its lavishness. I was outraged that there had been no homecoming celebrations for the 10s of 1000s of men who had done combat. But from 1969 until their release in 1973, Nixon had made sure that the central issue of the war for many Americans was about the torture of American POWs (the very same years when the torture had stopped!). He had to seize the opportunity to create something that resembled victory. It was as close as he would come, and the POWs were the perfect vehicles to deflect the nation’s attention away from what our government had done in Vietnam, how they had broken faith with our servicemen.

I became a target the government could use, to suggest that some POWs who had met with me while I was in Hanoi had been tortured into pretending they were anti-war. The same thing was done to try and frame former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whose trip to North Vietnam followed mine.

According to Seymour Hersh, author and journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre and, later, the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal, when American families of POWs became alarmed at the news that there was torture in North Vietnam prisons, they received letters from the Pentagon saying: “We are certain that you will not become unduly concerned over the [torture] briefing if you keep in mind the purpose for which it was tailored.”[5]

But, according to what the POWs wrote in their books, conditions in the POW camps improved in the four years preceding their release—that is, from 1969 until 1973. Upon their release, Newsweek magazine wrote, “the [torture] stories seemed incongruent with the men telling them – a trim, trig [note: this is actually the word used in the article] lot who, given a few pounds more flesh, might have stepped right out of a recruiting poster.”[6]

Once the POWs were home, the Pentagon and White House handpicked a group of the highest ranking POWs–senior officers, to travel the national media circuit, some of them telling of torture. A handwritten note from President Nixon to H.R. Haldeman says that “the POW’s need to have the worst quotes of R. Clark and Fonda” to use in their TV appearances, but this information shouldn’t come from the White House.[7] These media stories were allowed to become the official narrative, the universal “POW Story,” giving the impression that all the men had been subjected to systematic torture—right up to the end–and that torture was the policy of the North Vietnamese government. The POWs who said there was no torture in their camps were never allowed access to the media.

Not that any torture is justified or that anyone who had been tortured should have been prevented from telling about it. But the Nixon White House orchestrated a distorted picture of what actually occurred.

In my anger at the torture story that was being allowed to spread, at how the entire situation was being manipulated, I made a mistake I deeply regret. I said that the POWs claiming torture were liars, hypocrites, and pawns.

I said, “I’m quite sure that there were incidents of torture…but the pilots who are saying it was the policy of the Vietnamese and that it was systematic, I believe that’s a lie.”[8]

What I didn’t know at the time was that although there had been no torture after 1969, before then there had been systematic torture of some POWS. One of the more hawkish of them, James Stockdale, wrote in his book, In Love and War, that no more than ten percent of the pilots received at least ninety percent of the punishment.[9] John Hubbell, in P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, agreed, and affirmed the fact that torture stopped in 1969.[10]

When the POWs came home, some who had been there longest told the press how they clogged up prison toilets and sewers, refused to come when ordered, or follow prison rules. One of the most famous, Jeremiah Denton, said, “We forced them [the guards] to be brutal to us.”[11] I relay this not to minimize the hardships that the POWs endured, nor to excuse it– but to attempt belatedly to restore a greater depth of insight into the entire POW experience with their captors.

Still, whether any torture was administered to certain, more recalcitrant POWs and not to others is unacceptable. Even though only a small percent of prisoners were tortured by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, it wasn’t right. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s standards, torturing prisoners to get information is justified. It isn’t. Not ever. All nations must adhere to the Geneva Convention’s rules of warfare.

As anyone who knew or worked with me in those years knows that my heart has always been with the soldiers. I should have been clearer that my anger back then was at the Nixon Administration. It was the administration, in its cynical determination to keep hostilities between the U.S. and Vietnam alive and to distract people from the administration’s mistakes, who tried to use the POWs as pawns.

Addressing The Internet lies

By the end of the Nineties, even more grotesque torture lies began to be circulated about me over the Internet—the ones that continue to this day.

Let me quote a former POW, Captain Mike McGrath (USN Retired), president of the POW-NAM Organization. In a letter to Roger Friedman, at the time a columnist for Fox411, on Friday, January 12, 2001 (he gave Friedman permission to make the letter public) McGrath wrote:

Yes, the Carrigan/Driscoll/strips of paper story is an Internet hoax. It has been around since Nov 1999 or so. To the best of my knowledge none of this ever happened. This is a hoax story placed on the Internet by unknown Fonda haters. No one knows who initiated the story. I have spoken with all the parties named: Carrigan, Driscoll, et al. They all state that this particular story is a hoax and wish to disassociate their names from the false story. They never made the statements attributed to them.

In his letter, McGrath also said to Friedman that by the time I went to Hanoi in 1972, treatment of the POWs was starting to improve and that I “did not bring torture or abuse to the POWs,” but that one man [Hoffman], the “senior ranking man in a room full of new guys,” was tortured (“hung by his broken arm”) to make him come to the meeting with me. McGrath wrote:

Why one man (name withheld by request) was picked out for torture of his broken arm is unknown…

The answer is, it never happened!

Will what I have written here stop the myths from continuing to be spread on the Internet and in mass mailings to conservative Republicans? I don’t know. Some people seem to need to hate and I make a convenient lightning rod. I think the lies and distortions serve some right-wing purpose—fundraising? Demonizing me so as to scare others from becoming out-spoken anti-war activists? Who knows? But at least here, on my blog (and in my memoirs), there is a place where people who are genuinely interested in the truth can find it.

[1] PP Vol. 1V, p. 43 (Italics in the original)

[2] As Hitler had done to the Netherlands during World War II. German High Commissioner Seyss-Inquart was condemned to death at Nuremberg for opening the dikes in Holland.

[3] Oval Office Conversation No. 719-22, May 4, 1972; Nixon White House Tapes; National Archives at College Park, College Park MD

[4] Hearings before the Committee on Internal Security, House of Representatives, 92 Congress, Second Session, Sept. 10 & 25th, 1972 (Washington: Government Printing Office): 7552

[5] Hersh, The P.O.W. Issue: A National Issue is Born, Dayton (Ohio) Journal-Herald, 13-18 Feb 1971

[6] Newsweek, 4/16/73

[7] Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, White House Special Files: Staff Mamber & Office Files: H.R. Haldeman: Box 47: Folder: H. Notes Jan-Feb-Mar 1973 National Archives

[8] NYT, 7 April 1973,11

[9] In Love and War, p.447

[10] P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prisoner-of-War Experience in Vietnam, John G. Hubbell, 91,430

[11] New York Times, 30 April 1973.
Who can be more American than Jane Fonda? Not me. After the Disasterous 1968 Democratic Convention, I folded my Progressive tent and went AWOL as far as the peace movement was concerned. For all its ineptitude in protecting the lives of great Progressive leaders such as JFK, MLK, I felt that the American Democracy had not evolved much beyond the culture of the O.K Corral. It was not worth my time to save it, I said at the time. I took up tennis - I did - for a couple of decades; the My Lai disclosure, Pentagon Papers and Kent State massacre notwithstanding.

Not Jane Fonda. She went to Hanoi.

I find her testimony correct, honest, truthful, and compassionate.

Truly in the American character, she has stuck to her guns. LBJ's and Nixon's war in Vietnam was our intrusion into someone else's civil war, unwelcomed by all Vietnamese, southern as well as northern. As such, it violated U.S. national interests, recklessly squandering American blood and treasure in the process.

Bad enough that the whole Vietnam mistake has been repeated and doubled-downed in Iraq and Afghanistan by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. That the MIC currently harbors an illusion that it can now 'do Vietnam right' for this generation proves Ms Fonda's memoirs are relevant and timely.

No, I have never thought Ms Fonda had anything to apologize for. However her illustrious cinematic career featured a few early miscues like everything she did before Klute!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Right Way to Leave Afghanistan

By Theodore L. Gatchel, The Providence Journal:
.....
Withdrawals are widely recognized as being difficult operations. During a withdrawal, your forces are getting smaller while those of the enemy are remaining constant or growing. At some point, the ratio becomes such that it is very tempting for the enemy to attack in order to claim credit for having driven you out. Exceptional discipline is required to prevent a withdrawal from turning into a rout.

Withdrawals also pose psychological challenges. Individual soldiers may become more risk averse than usual. Who wants to be the last soldier to die in a war, the outcome of which has already been determined?

As is always the case in war, predicting how the withdrawal from Afghanistan will play out is fraught with uncertainty. Although there are an unlimited number of possibilities, three are particularly worth considering.

The best possible outcome, for example, might be similar to that of the British-French evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula in World War I. Following an abortive campaign there in 1915, designed to break the stalemate that had developed in France and Belgium and to open a supply line to Russia through the Turkish Straits, the Allies decided to withdraw.

By the end of 1915, the Allies had more than 100,000 troops at Gallipoli spread between two widely separated beachheads. The problems associated with evacuating such a large number of troops who were in close contact with the enemy were so overwhelming that some experts predicted the operation would end in disaster. Nevertheless, during December 1915 and early January 1916, the entire force was withdrawn with the loss of only one man.

Historians still debate the reasons for this success. The Allies, on one hand, took exceptional care in preparing for the evacuation, slowly reducing the size of the force at night while using a variety of deceptions to hide their moves.

Because available Turkish records are limited, determining why they did not actively oppose the evacuation is more difficult. Although they conducted some limited attacks, the most logical explanation is that, given the need for troops in other theaters, they were unwilling to take more casualties in the process of forcing the Allies to do something they were already doing.

In contrast to the evacuation from Gallipoli, the worst-case situation is illustrated by a British withdrawal in Afghanistan during the first of three wars the British fought in that country during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Having installed and supported an unpopular Afghan leader on the country's throne, the British faced a deteriorating military situation during the winter of 1841. As a result, they decided in 1842 to withdraw their force of 4,500 troops and 12,000 family members and camp followers from Kabul to the relative safety of British-held Jalalabad, a distance of approximately 100 miles through difficult terrain.

Afghan irregulars harassed the force for the entire journey, capturing a number of British officers and their families. With the exception of some deserters, the remainder of the force was almost entirely killed by either the cold weather or enemy action. Only one man, Dr. William Brydon, survived to reach Jalalabad.

As the date for withdrawing significant numbers of U.S. forces from Afghanistan approaches, Americans can hope that the process mirrors that of the Allies at Gallipoli. At the same time, we should also hope that the administration is prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to prevent the type of catastrophe the British endured in Afghanistan in 1842.
Col. Theodore L. Gatchel (USMC, ret.), is a military historian and a professor emeritus of operations at the Naval War College. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Naval War College, the U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Obama: I Am Opposed to a Dumb War

Barack Obama made to an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 2, 2002. Here are the parts of the speech which were reverberating in my head as I poured my first cup of coffee this morning:
Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.

.....

My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor [He enlisted 1/18/1942; Pearl Harbor was 12/7/41] was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.

I don’t oppose all wars.

After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

.....

I know that even a successful war against Iraq the Taliban will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

..... The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.
Okay, okay. Some of the words were changed, all right. It was before coffee....

Friday, June 3, 2011

Norm Dicks Wants Out of Af-Pak

With surprising bluntness, the top House Democrat on defense and appropriations is warning that President Barack Obama can’t ignore the growing “war fatigue” in Congress and must consider steps to accelerate a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama’s policy, says staying in Afghanistan into 2014, as first outlined by the president, will be difficult now given the budget pressures at home and the erratic performance of the chief U.S. partners in the region: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan.
Between Karzai and Pakistan, I’m looking for a friend in the neighborhood, and I’m having a hard time finding one,I think the military operation has been more successful recently, but all of a sudden — when you are faced with these incredible cuts we’re making in the domestic programs and the social safety net of this country — you know, to do nation building in Afghanistan? I’m having a hard time.

I think it’s like $113 billion on Afghanistan, and there’s Pakistan’s situation, where we know on the border, people are coming across into Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s a serious problem. I just think that there’s a war fatigue setting in up here, and I think the president is going to have to take that into account.”

We need to start seeing if we can do this a little faster,” Dicks said. “I think the American people would overwhelmingly like to see this brought to a conclusion sooner than 2014.
Earth to Obama!

Monday, May 30, 2011

On This Memorial Day, Let's Spend Some Thoughts on the Wounded


Borrowed from David Wood in the Huffington Post:


American soldiers and Marines walking combat patrols in Afghanistan have suffered a surge of gruesome injuries, losing one or both legs and often their genitals to crude homemade bombs Taliban insurgents bury in dirt roads and pathways.

In some cases, American military surgeons tell The Huffington Post, these traumatic amputations occur so close to soldiers’ hips that it is difficult to fit prosthetic legs, severely limiting the patients’ future mobility and rehabilitation. In addition, the loss of sexual function for formerly healthy young men in their early 20s causes severe anxiety and depression and can wreck new marriages.

The latest wave of severe injuries comes after Gen. David Petraeus ordered U.S. troops in Afghanistan last year to get out of their protective armored vehicles and start walking. "Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population," he directed in guidance to his troops last August.

The order was hailed as an essential counterinsurgency tactic used to get closer to the people, pick up intelligence more effectively and demonstrate American resolve to protect local villagers from Taliban insurgents.

But the enemy -- as Petraeus himself is fond of saying -- gets a vote, and the insurgents have attacked the dismounted patrols with a vengeance, planting lethal bombs inches beneath the dusty soil where a footstep can detonate them in blinding flashes.

Insurgents often make the bombs using a plastic bucket packed with explosive ammonium nitrite fertilizer and a simple "trigger" made with two sticks of wood or a discarded plastic bottle that completes a circuit and detonates when crushed. The crude components make the bombs more difficult to detect than those once made with metal parts.

Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against dismounted troops have skyrocketed, from five in April 2009 to 210 in April 2010 to 376 this past April, according to data gathered and analyzed by the Pentagon’s counter-IED agency, the Joint IED Defeat Organization.

Because dismounted troops walk with their weapons held out in front of them, an IED detonation often blows off the extended arm as well as both legs, according to Army medical staff.

..... the sheer number of IED attacks means that even as troops find more of the bombs, casualties still skyrocket because of all of the devices left undiscovered. IED attacks have caused casualties to dismounted U.S. and allied troops to rise....

Dr. Paul Pasquina, chief of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told The Huffington Post:
We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of service members who have not only amputations above the knee but what we call hip disarticulation, meaning they have no femur at all.

So not only are they losing their legs, but half of their pelvis. And we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of casualties returning with testicular injuries or genital loss, and that has severe life-long implications.....

Soldiers and Marines arriving at Walter Reed with both legs blown off usually suffer other extensive injuries. Shrapnel perforates the abdomen, dirt and filth are driven deep into wounds and soft tissue; in some cases, the explosion tears away large patches of skin in an injury called "de-gloving." Heterotopic ossification, or bone growth in fleshy areas, can severely hamper the use of artificial limbs. Infections set in; blood clots can form. And in most cases, the patient arrives with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, which can hamper rehabilitation.

Pasquina again:
There’s just challenge after challenge, sad story after sad story But at the same time we have had remarkable success, and pretty much 90 percent of it is attributed to the courage our service members have, their determination to recover and reintegrate back into society.
But the loss of sexual function can be "devastating," said Bo Bergeron, chief of physical therapy at Walter Reed. "It’s a pretty big issue when a guy finds out he can’t have any more kids -- and the spouse is sitting there," she told The Huffington Post. In common cases where a young wife has quit her job and flown with the kids a thousand miles to sit at the bedside of her now-disabled husband, "the family situation already is pretty tenuous. It’s just very very difficult," she said. The divorce rate among married patients is above 50 percent.

There's a lot more in David Wood's article. On this Memorial Day, I challenge readers to read the whole thing.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cost of Wars

Courtesy of Juan Cole's Informed Comment, this is a comparison of the total costs of America's wars in Iraq & Afghanistan to those of the UN /NATO intervention in Libya (which is not illegal in international law).

Guess which one Republicans are angry about.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Afghanistan: Lessons Forgotten Are Lessons Unlearned

The Unpleasant, Uncomfortable, Inconvenient Truth.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We Have Come to This.

At Long Last, We have Retrogressed a Century Back in Time....

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19th is Branch Davidian Day (Republished)

What Happened 15 18 Years Ago in Waco, Texas?

Today is the 15th 18th anniversary of the U.S. government's storming of the Branch Davidians Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas. Federal agents released CS tear gas into the building, and several fires broke out, spreading quickly through the structure. Approximately 76 Branch Davidians, 21 of whom were children, were killed in the ensuing blaze. Autopsies confirmed that many of the victims, including David Koresh, had died of single gunshot wounds to their heads. As I recall, no government agent fired a gun during this assault.

This raid culminated from a costly 51-day stand off which stemmedfrom the murder of four ATF agents while they were serving a lawful warrant on Davidian cult leader David Koresh.

This all-time great Michael Ramirez cartoon adequately expresses my own view at the time as to where the true responsibility for this tragedy lies.

David Koresh, a false prophet, broke the peace. Davidians had attacked my government, back in the days when it actually governed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Petition!

I thought you might be interested in this petition. I've signed it.

I am heartsick at Obama's spinelessness and failure to use the Bully Pulpit to change the political discourse in our country. Think of all that he could have done these past two+ years had he had the courage to use these Republian't over-reaches as the "teaching moments" that they are.

I thought Obama was a man of integrity, vision, and courage, but it seems that his courage existed only in my hopeful heart - it seems to have evaporated with his inauguration as our President.

I'm not asking him to blame the Republican'ts. I am asking him to speak the truth to Americans about the lies, distortions, fear-mongering, and the utter contempt for our democracy that permeates today's Republican't party.

I voted for Obama because I believed him when he said he was "all fired up and ready to go".

Sadly for me and ruinously for our country, Obama has turned out to be am empty suit - he gives beautifully crafted inspiring speeches, but when confronted with the Republican't party's obstructionist, revisionist manipulations intended to turn our beloved country into an oligarchy comprised of the Rulers, and the Ruled , he is silent, capitulating to the demands of the Repubs BEFORE negotiations have even begun.

Has Obama pointed out that our country is in danger of becoming a third-world bankrupt nation as a result of Bush's two unfunded wars, and Bush's choice to shower un-necessary tax cuts upon our richest Americans, thereby ensuring that the United States would soon face such a severe and crippling loss of income that the government would be penniless? No, Obama has not.

Instead, he is colluding with the Republican'ts to eliminate/privatize our country's safety nets for seniors and the needy by extending the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest one per-cent (let's call it what it is: "CEO-corporate-welfare") and approving the largest budget cuts EVER foisted upon the American people in the history of our nation.

Just as the Republican'ts continually attacked Clinton in an attempt to marginalize him and render him ineffective (which Bill actively aided and abetted through his juvenile behaviors), so Obama has apparently been rendered mute and irrelevant by the continuing barrage of lies that attempt to paint him as alien and illegitimate.

The Republican'ts are well aware that the cuts for which they so loudly advocate are cuts that will completely derail, if not end, our embryonic economic "recovery" from the "Big Recession-Almost-Another-Depression". That is their hidden goal": deprive the government of funding, then declare an economic "crisis"/"disaster" (ignoring the fact that it has been largely created by the Republican'ts) and push through the punitive and destructive social agenda that would undo the social safety net, and establish the United Corporation of America.

The strategies employed by the Republican'ts over the last several decades are the legacies of Reagan's poisonous sound bite that defined government as "The Problem", rather than "The Solution" - a complete rejection of our Founders who envisioned an informed citizenry electing members of Congress who would work TOGETHER for the good of the country - not just for the greedy Corporations and their CEO's. .

Today, Reagan's words are enshrined as the mantra of the Republican't party. More significantly and regrettably, they are hostile and hopeless words which, to this very day, remain completely UNCHALLENGED.

In an "Alice-in-Wonderland" moment, which has been inflicted upon us by the greed and speculation of Wall Street CEO's and their corporate boards, those scoundrels have received huge governmental bail-outs and "bonuses", while non-corporate America is mired in a wasteland of growing income disparity. The increasingly widening income gap between the top one-per cent and the rest of our citizens is slowly but surely turning America into a divided nation of those who have money and power and those who have neither.

The terrible economic disparity which has led to an increasing number of Americans who are jobless and without any economic "bailout", many of whom are losing their homes, while simultaneously being confronted with rising prices for health insurance, food, and gas - to name but three necessities of daily living now moving beyond reach for too many of our fellow citizens.

I thought Obama had the courage of his convictions - sadly, I was wrong - VERY wrong. I am grieving for Obama the Candidate - where is he? What happened to him that he refuses to lead, refuses to inform and educate our citizens?

I did not vote for Obama the Cowardly Appeaser. I want Obama the Candidate to come out of hiding and fulfill his campaign promises to stand up and lead our divided and increasingly despairing nation.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Bullies & Bullying

Robert Reich is always right. "Right" meaning "correct". That's the way I see it these days. I know of no one getting the correct view on public events better than he nails down.

His last post addresses the problem of Right Wing Bullies sucking the life out of American democracy.


When I was a small boy I was bullied more than most, mainly because I was a foot shorter than than everyone else. They demanded the cupcake my mother had packed in my lunchbox, or, they said, they’d beat me up. After a close call in the boy’s room, I paid up. Weeks later, they demanded half my sandwich as well. I gave in to that one, too. But I could see what was coming next. They’d demand everything else. Somewhere along the line I decided I’d have a take a stand. The fight wasn’t pleasant. But the bullies stopped their bullying.

I hope the President decides he has to take a stand, and the sooner the better. Last December he caved in to Republican demands that the Bush tax cut be extended to wealthier Americans for two more years, at a cost of more than $60 billion. That was only the beginning — the equivalent of my cupcake.

Last night he gave away more than half the sandwich — $39 billion less than was budgeted for 2010, $79 billion less than he originally requested. Non-defense discretionary spending — basically, everything from roads and bridges to schools and innumerable programs for the poor — has been slashed.

The right-wing bullies are emboldened. They will hold the nation hostage again and again.

In a few weeks the debt ceiling has to be raised. After that, next year’s budget has to be decided on. House Budget Chair Paul Ryan has already put forward proposals to turn Medicare into vouchers that funnel money to private insurance companies, turn Medicaid and Food Stamps into block grants that give states discretion to shift them to the non-poor, and give even more big tax cuts to the rich.

There will also be Republican votes to de-fund the new health care law.

Americans of different beliefs came together,” the President announced after agreement was reached. It was the “largest spending cut in our history.” He sounded triumphant. In fact, he’s encouraging the bullies onward.

All the while, he and the Democratic leadership in Congress refuse to refute the Republicans’ big lie — that spending cuts will lead to more jobs. In fact, spending cuts now will lead to fewer jobs. They’ll slow down an already-anemic recovery. That will cause immense and unnecessary suffering for millions of Americans.

The President continues to legitimize the Republican claim that too much government spending caused the economy to tank, and that by cutting back spending we’ll get the economy going again.

Even before the bullies began hammering him his deficit commission already recommended $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Then the President froze non-defense domestic spending and froze federal pay. And he continues to draw the false analogy between a family’s budget and the national budget.

He is losing the war of ideas because he won’t tell the American public the truth: That we need more government spending now — not less — in order to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.

That we got into the Great Recession because Wall Street went bonkers and government failed to do its job at regulating financial markets. And that much of the current deficit comes from the necessary response to that financial crisis.

That the only ways to deal with the long-term budget problem is to demand that the rich pay their fair share of taxes, and to slow down soaring health-care costs.

And that, at a deeper level, the increasingly lopsided distribution of income and wealth has robbed the vast working middle class of the purchasing power they need to keep the economy going at full capacity.

We preserved the investments we need to win the future,” he said last night. That’s not true. The budget he just approved will cut Pell grants to poor kids, while states continue massive cutbacks in school spending — firing tens of thousands of teachers and raising fees at public universities. The budget he approved is cruel to the nation’s working class and poor.

It is impossible to fight bullies merely by saying they’re going too far.

Because I am so frickin' pissed off that I don't have sufficient patience, energy, or voice to compose my own outrage, I will allow Secretary Reich to speak for me. Anytime.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Progressive Agenda Is Progressive Taxation

Joseph E. Stiglitz rightly calls our United Corporations of America as government Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.

Today, 1% of the people take nearly a 25% of the nation’s income. In terms of wealth as opposed to income, the top 1% control 40% of America's wealth. 25 Years ago the top 1% took in 12% of the income and controlled 33% of our wealth.

The author continues,

One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats.

That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top.

In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran.

While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today.

The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich.

Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance).

Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie.

That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible.

Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on.

But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent.

When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real.

Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that.

Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain.

The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them.

It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.
It's so clear to me that where the money must go is on to main street. That's where demand must be created. Investors don't invest in inventory or employees if their bank accounts are swollen with riches saved from taxes. They expand their investments. What crap. They only invest in inventory and jobs if there are people out there with money in their pockets to buy needed products and services. Cutting public employees back is self-destructive.

The crux of the Progressive agenda in this day and age is progressive taxation. What say you, Readers? It's not on the table? Why not? What for did we elect that leader-turned-charlatan president? I don't know about my readers, but I voted for him to set the friggin' table.

The Corporatists call Progressivism, "Socialism". I want to vote for a 21st Century Patrick Henry who will say,

If this be socialism, make the most of it.