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Guest Commentary (4240)

by Michael Winship

Just when you've finally gotten your mind around the enormous $700 billion financial bailout -- even if none of us are really sure where all that money's going -- there comes an even greater, breathtaking price tag.

The amount is $904 billion -- that's how much we've spent on American military operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, since the 9/11 attacks; 50 percent more than what was spent in Vietnam, reports the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. Their study does not include the inestimable toll in human life.

Of that money, nearly $200 billion has gone to Afghanistan, where 31,000 American troops are nearly 60 percent of the NATO peacekeeping force. When he becomes President, as promised during his campaign, Barack Obama will oversee the deployment of at least another 20,000 troops there.

This has been the deadliest year for American forces in Afghanistan since the war began. Our military faces a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda, better trained, better armed, supported from sanctuaries in Pakistan. But in an op-ed piece in last Sunday's The Washington Post, Sarah Chayes -- the former National Public Radio reporter who has lived in Kandahar province since shortly after 9/11 -- argued that America's and Afghanistan's biggest problem comes from within -- our continuing support of a corrupt and abusive Afghan government that is driving its people back into the arms of the fundamentalists.

by Michael Winship

With all the interviews President Bush has been giving out lately, you'd think he has a new movie coming out for Christmas.

ABC, NBC, National Review, Middle East Broadcasting, the Real Clear Politics Web site - even a talk with The Washington Post's NASCAR expert. For a fellow who's sometimes gone for months without a press conference, suddenly, the President's a regular chatterbox, spreading the word in these final days that his eight years in office really, really weren't all that bad. Honest.

Regrets, he's had a few. But only a few. Or so he told ABC's Charlie Gibson: "I think I was unprepared for war... In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

But of course he anticipated the war. He and Cheney and the neo-con biker gang had been gunning for an invasion of Iraq long before 9/11. Not that Gibson followed up and asked about that.

by Bill Berkowitz

In his final days in office, President Bush is pallin' around with a former felon and a bomb plotter.

There is no way he could win a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize and he wasn't going to be honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, but in the final -- and often creepy -- days of the Bush Administration, President George W. Bush took time out from his schedule to present Charles Colson, Watergate felon and conservative evangelical Christian extraordinaire, with a Presidential Citizens Medal.

"For more than three decades, Chuck Colson has dedicated his life to sharing the message of God's boundless love and mercy with prisoners, former prisoners and their families," the White House said in the citation. "Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society."

According to the White House, "The Presidential Citizens Medal was established in November 13, 1969, to recognize U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation. It is one of the highest honors the President can confer upon a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom." Past recipients include boxer Muhammad Ali, baseball great Henry "Hank" Aaaron, civil rights icon Dorothy Height, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Think Progress reminded us that "Colson was President Nixon's counsel from 1969-1973 and pleaded guilty in 1974 to obstruction of justice. Colson received a one to three year sentence, but served just seven months."

by Jacqueline Marcus

I was having a pretty good workout today at the gym until I made the mistake of plugging my earphones into CNN. I nearly flew off the bike at the phony reporters on hearing their sales pitch for the oil and weapon industries disguised as news coverage.

First, there was CNN's "Pleasantville" interview with Laura Bush on how challenging it was for her husband after 9/11 and that she wants to continue bringing freedom and democracy to Afghanistan's women.

The film "Rendition" was merely a small picture of what Bush's war policies did to hundreds of thousands of families in both Iraq and Afghanistan: husbands were either killed or maimed or tortured, leaving wives and young daughters in unconscionable and vulnerable situations, including thousands of young Iraqi women who were forced into sex slave prisons. If Mrs. Bush would like to learn more about rectifying the hardships of women after Bush invaded both countries, she should begin with Dunya Mikhail's award-winning poem "The War Works Hard."

by Bill Berkowitz

Five longtime observers of the Religious Right comment on the movement's future.

As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the Religious Right is still heavily engaged in fighting the "culture wars," as witnessed by the current "War on Christmas," and, more importantly the apocalyptic battles over same-sex marriage that resulted in victories for the antis' in Florida, Arizona, and California this past November.  

In a pre-election piece about Bill Ayers -- a former member of the Weathermen, a group that planted bombs during the Vietnam era, and whose relationship with Obama became one of Team McCain's major talking points during the presidential campaign -- bestselling author Thomas Frank observed that "the culture wars are the familiar demagogic tactic of our own time, building monstrous offenses out of the tiniest slights. The fading rancor that each grievance is meant to revive, of course, dates to the 1960s and the antiwar protests, urban riots and annoying youth culture that originally triggered our great turn to the right."

Despite the victory of Barack Obama, the Religious Right will continue to play a significant -- albeit different -- role in America's politics.

by Stephen Crockett

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has a very negative record when it comes to protecting the economic health of the American nation. He has routinely endorsed every major, so-called "free trade" deal that has been proposed for decades. Shelby has routinely stood in the way of government provided, universal healthcare proposal for decades. Now, Shelby (like most other Republican Senators with similar voting records) is blocking the federal bridge loans to the American auto companies designed to save the American auto industry.

The stakes are huge. A million auto worker retirees have their healthcare and pensions put at risk by Shelby's unpatriotic and reckless actions. The ripple effect of not approving the loans could destroy one out of ten jobs in the American economy.

Political and economic pundits, along with most officeholders, have refused to link the economic crisis facing the auto industry to government policy. The situation facing the auto industry is more a result of bad government policy than bad management decisions. The attempt by politicians such as Shelby to blame labor unions is factually wrong and, in my opinion, intentionally dishonest. Shelby and his Senate allies created this auto industry crisis by adopting economic policies that have crippled the American economy.

All industrialized nations except the United States has government provided, universal healthcare. Only in America, do we place the costs of workers' healthcare and their families' healthcare on the backs of employers. This puts our employers at a huge competitive disadvantage with foreign corporations.

Friday, 05 December 2008 00:41

Michael Winship: Obama's Familiar Orbit

by Michael Winship

I keep thinking about that tool bag. You know -- the one that the astronaut accidentally let loose while she was repairing the International Space Station last month. Now it's in orbit, more than 200 miles above the Earth. There's even a Web site where you can track its exact location, if that's your idea of a good time. NASA figures the 30-pound bag of equipment will burn up harmlessly as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere sometime next June.

For now, it's up there, floating silently and uselessly, which, if you think of government as a sort of national toolkit for protecting and improving the lives of its citizens, could be seen as a pretty good metaphor for the last eight years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, nothing done -- except with the kind of blunt hammers that see everything as a nail and cause more harm than good.

It's probably not for nothing that both Newsweek and Time had the word "fix" on their covers this week. We're in need of major repairs in this country at every level. That celestial tool bag orbiting above our heads might have come in handy. Its contents include two grease guns, a scraper, and a trash bag -- all things that could be useful for an incoming president seeking big changes in Washington.

"Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination"

 By Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann 

Everybody has an opinion about the Kennedy Assassination, if they aren't among the brain dead.

"Legacy of Secrecy" is the sequel to the hotly debated, but many argue persuasive, Kennedy assassination conspiracy book of a couple years ago, carried in the BuzzFlash Progressive MarketPlace, "Ultimate Sacrifice."

Both books are about nine hundred pages each and documented with footnotes to the hilt. If evidence were weighed by the pound, they'd leave you without much doubt as to their findings.

Both books are authored by Lamar Waldon and our good friend and noted progressive talk show host and writer, Thom Hartmann.

"Legacy of Secrecy" has received a star review from Publisher's Weekly:

"In the three years since their acclaimed expose Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK, historian Waldron and author/radio host Hartmann have accumulated new evidence with the help of “more than two dozen associates of John and Robert Kennedy” and access to “thousands of recently released documents at the National Archives,” strengthening and extend their case that the Kennedy assassination was a contract killing organized by top mob leaders working with the CIA and Cuban exile groups in response to Kennedy's crackdown on the mob and his secret 1963 plan to support a military-led coup in Cuba that promised to assassinate Castro. Waldron and Hartmann offer convincing evidence to substantiate that the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy five years later were also mob organized; in each case, the mafia was protected by their knowledge of Kennedy’s Cuba plan and the subsequent cover up. A riveting take on the assassination itself and the devastating results of government secrets, this account proves the continuing relevancy and importance of seeking the truth behind one of the U.S.’s most personal tragedies."

by William John Cox

When the Big Three CEOs recently descended on Washington in their fancy corporate jets with inflated egos and high hopes for a juicy piece of the government's $8.6 trillion corporate welfare pie, they were sent home hungry to do their homework and to write an essay about how they plan to spend bailout funds.

Undoubtedly, the executives will travel business class when they come back this week; they will each have a business plan in hand, and Congress will give them $25 billion of taxpayer funds to gamble with. Equally without doubt, the money will be wasted, they will not learn from their mistakes, and they will be back again, and again, and again.

Monday, 01 December 2008 02:23

Michael Pollan's Food for Thought

by Michael Winship

The writer and activist Michael Pollan has no interest in becoming Barack Obama's Secretary of Agriculture, thank you very much, even though there are a lot of people who think he'd be perfect for the job.

Pollan disagrees. Laughing, he told my colleague Bill Moyers on the latest edition of public television's Bill Moyers Journal, "I have an understanding of my strengths and limitations... I don't want this job," then turned serious as he added, "What Obama needs to do, if he indeed wants to make change in this area -- and that isn't clear yet that he does, at least in his first term -- I think we need a food policy czar in the White House because the challenge is not just what we do with agriculture, it's connecting the dots between agriculture and public health, between agriculture and energy and climate change, agriculture and education."

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