Guest Commentary (5117)
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF FOR BUZZFLASH/TRUTHOUT
As more and more Wikileaks documents become available, the public has been given a revealing window into the inner machinations of U.S. foreign policy in South America. It's no secret that both the Bush and Obama administrations have sought to halt the leftist advance throughout the wider region, but new evidence fills in crucial gaps in our Machiavellian understanding of American goals. Crucial to Washington's geopolitical effort in the hemisphere is Brazil, a nation which forms part of the so-called leftist "Pink Tide" but which nonetheless has stable relations with the United States. In recent years, the U.S. has sought to drive a wedge between leftist Venezuela and Bolivia on the one hand and so-called more "responsible" progressive governments like Brazil.
Recent Wikileaks disclosures illuminate how the U.S. does business in Brazil: by cultivating high level contacts in the Brazilian defense establishment in an effort to counterbalance more hostile anti-U.S. diplomats at Itamaraty, the nation's Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The most recent document trail begins in early 2008, in the twilight of the Bush presidency. In a cable, U.S. ambassador in Brasilia Clifford Sobel took a clear interest in furthering contact with Brazilian Minister of Defense Nelson Jobim. Sobel, a businessman with longstanding ties to corporate America, took advantage of a breakfast meeting with Jobim to broach serious military related matters. The ambassador noted that since he had assumed his post, Jobim had "challenged the historic supremacy of Itamaraty in all areas of foreign policy."
According to the U.S. ambassador, the power struggle between Jobim and Itamaraty had complicated U.S. efforts to construct a common defense strategy with Brazil. "Although the U.S. and Brazil share the basic goals of fostering hemispheric stability, preventing terrorist activity and strengthening international non-proliferation regimes," Sobel noted, "U.S.-Brazil cooperation is hindered by difficulties in completing a bilateral defense cooperation agreement, providing protections for U.S. personnel involved in training and joint exercises and taking proactive steps to address countries of proliferation concern such as Iran."
Jobim: Part of Rising Defense Establishment
Brazilians don't have fond memories of the 1964-85 military dictatorship which was supported by the U.S. Indeed, Sobel writes in his report that Brazil's defense industrial base has "atrophied" since the end of the Cold War. In recent years, however, the military has undergone a vast renovation and this has given Washington a fresh avenue to exploit. Despite its recent pacifist history, Brazil now sees rebuilding its military as key in its bid to become a global superpower. In 1999, Brazil established a Ministry of Defense, uniting all three services including the Army, Navy and Air Force.
President Lula himself has undertaken a new strategic vision for the armed forces, predicated on increasing investment in technology, including satellites, and even building up a fleet of submarines which could be utilized to protect territorial waters as well as Brazil's valuable deepwater oil platforms. In tandem with modernization, the armed forces are to be expanded and retrained so that they may be rapidly deployed to the Amazon for guerrilla-style warfare.
If the U.S. can become a vital military partner to Brazil, then perhaps Washington can gain important leverage over the South American juggernaut. In accordance with its new military policy, Brazil is actively seeking out partners which may further the nation's technological prowess and defense industry. Clearly aware of the rising profile of the military in Brazil, Sobel remarked that Jobim was "the first strong Minister of Defense in Brazil. He is working to centralize civilian oversight of the Brazilian military and hopes to learn from the U.S. military in this regard."
Hoping to solidify high level contacts with pro-U.S. Jobim, Sobel advised his colleagues about an upcoming meeting between the Brazilian Minister of Defense and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Jobim, Sobel noted, would be seeking "to enhance prospects for bilateral cooperation and explore possibilities for access to U.S. defense technology." The U.S. ambassador also relayed to his colleagues that Jobim was interested in U.S. submarine technology.
Despite the imminent summit, scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, Virginia, Sobel fretted about the current state of U.S.-Brazilian relations. Under one subheading reading "Friendly Cooperation, But Not Strong Friendship," the ambassador noted that while Brazil cooperated with the U.S. on counter-terrorism, the South American nation resisted collaborating "on issues of significant interest to the United States."
Washington Summit with Gates
"The difficulty," Sobel complained, "is most apparent in the Ministry for External Affairs (MRE) which maintains an anti-American slant and has tried to block improved DoD-MOD relations." The U.S. ambassador then pointed to fissures within the Brazilian political elite, pointing out that Itamaraty had actually sought to limit Jobim's time in Washington "to one largely ceremonial day with little substance." Sobel's comments about Itamaraty have the ring of truth: according to the Economist, Lula has promoted "ultranationalists" to the Ministry of Foreign Relations, handing over responsibility to Marco Aurélio Garcia, "the foreign-relations guru of Lula's Workers' Party."
Specifically, Sobel lamented, "The current left-of-center administration has studiously avoided close cooperation on pol-mil issues important to us and has kept us at arms length on most security-related issues." If that was not bad enough, the ambassador noted that Itamaraty had "dragged its feet" on completing a Defense Cooperation Agreement [DCA] with the United States. In an effort to cultivate Jobim's support and presumably sideline Itamaraty, Sobel recommended that Gates reinforce the importance of a Brazilian-U.S. military agreement which would reequip and modernize the Brazilian military through vital technology transfer. The agreement, Sobel declared, should "also help to define how we, the anchor of the North America, and Brazil the anchor of South America, may be able to work more closely in the future to enhance hemispheric defense cooperation."
Sobel goes on to discuss rivalry between Itamaraty and the Ministry of Defense, two branches of government which held contradictory views about Brazil's proper relationship with the U.S. Jobim complained particularly about Itamaraty's Secretary General Samuel Guimaraes, remarking that the Brazilian diplomat "posed a serious problem," not only on the DCA but on a variety of other unspecified issues. In a rather surprising confidential aside, Jobim told the U.S. ambassador that Guimaraes "hates the United States" and was "actively looking to create problems in the relationship."
What is more, Jobim was obliged to personally "beat back more than one outlandish proposal by Guimaraes calculated to upset relations with the U.S. and other industrialized countries." Guimaraes had in turn struck back at Jobim, telling the Minister of Defense that he was not empowered to sign a military agreement in Washington. Jobim, who seems to have held the U.S. ambassador in remarkable personal confidence, told Sobel that he did not want to "'win the battle and lose the war' and expend too much political capital on DCA so will have to proceed carefully." In particular, Jobim feared that Foreign Minister Celso Amorim might join forces with Guimaraes to thwart his plans.
Driving a Wedge between Brazil and Venezuela
Perhaps, the U.S. Embassy reasoned that if Brazil wound up signing the DCA that it would be that much easier for Washington to acquire diplomatic support in isolating Chávez in neighboring Venezuela. Confiding yet further in Sobel, Brazil's Minister of Defense confessed that his government shared U.S. concerns about Venezuela "exporting instability" [the Wikileaks documents don't say which other sectors of the Brazilian government specifically shared Jobim's views, and it's possible the Minister was over generalizing. If true, however, then Jobim's admission flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Lula and Chávez's fellow camaraderie and left wing solidarity].
Though concerned about Chávez's rising influence, Jobim didn't offer any easy solutions. Indeed, the Minister of Defense "believed that isolating Venezuela would lead to further posturing from Chávez and a greater risk of spreading instability among neighboring countries." Instead of confrontation, Jobim favored the idea of bringing Chávez into the fold through the creation of a South American Defense Council. Such a force would take its cue from Brazil, and not Venezuela as envisaged by Chávez. Though the Council would not include the U.S., the Americans apparently viewed Jobim's plan as a good one. Undoubtedly, Washington preferred to see Brazil as the main cop on the block since Venezuela would be safely contained.
In the event, Jobim did not sign the DCA while meeting with Gates in Washington, and the agreement wound up getting tabled for future discussion. Instead, the Brazilian Minister of Defense held discussions about the F 35 fighter aircraft. Though Jobim would have preferred to go much farther in his discussions with the Americans, the Minister was constrained as he was constantly shadowed by a "handler" from Itamaraty. In addition, the Brazilian Embassy in Washington sought to curtail Jobim's freedom of movement by changing the Minister's schedule in favor of a shorter visit.
The recent batch of Wikileaks documents taper off at the end of the Bush presidency, so we don't learn too much about Obama's approach to Brazil and how it might have differed from his Oval Office predecessor. However, the U.S. certainly continued its high level diplomacy with Minister Jobim. In late 2009, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Lisa Kubiske met with Jobim once more to discuss progress on the DCA talks. By securing purchase of vital U.S. fighter aircraft, Kubiske argued, Brazil would only deepen its military and commercial relationship with Washington. Though Chávez and Morales surely hoped that Brazil would oppose Obama's construction of military bases in Colombia, Jobim at least declared that he understood and had no disagreement with the wider U.S. agenda in the Andes.
Though certainly scant up to this point, the Wikileaks documents suggest that the U.S. has read Brazil well and is constantly looking for political advantage and ways to exploit internal rivalries. Under Lula, Brazil has vaulted to South American juggernaut status yet the country's foreign policy remains muddled and perverse, as I have discussed elsewhere. Without a clear vision for the future, the U.S. has leapt into the breach by cultivating the retrograde Brazilian military.
It's an unfortunate development. For far too long the U.S. held the Brazilian military in high esteem, much to the detriment of progressive political and social change. While the Brazilian military fell into justifiable disrepute after the end of the dictatorship, it is now staging a comeback. Yet, the military is just one political actor in the Brazilian drama and in recent years social movements and labor have played a prominent role in the nation's affairs. The Wikileaks documents do not give a complete accounting of which parties the U.S. diplomatic corps has favored over time, though it's probably a safe bet that Washington has invested more effort cultivating the likes of Jobim than the Landless Peasant Movement.
Judging from the documents, Itamaraty and the more leftist elements within Lula's coalition are aware of Jobim's designs. How long can such fissures go on within the governing coalition? Brazil would like to pursue friendly relations with everyone --- the notion forms part of the country's mystique. It will now fall to Brazil's next president, Dilma Rousseff, to reconcile these diverse interests which have come under strain. Will Brazil tilt left toward its leftist allies in South America or drift into the U.S. orbit? It's certainly a vexing question which further Wikileaks documents will hopefully illuminate.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008). Visit his website at http://www.nikolaskozloff.com/
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH
While he may not be the most dangerous, influential or important leader in the Tea Party movement, the controversial and outspoken Judson Phillips is becoming a force to be reckoned with. And he has no problems with fiddling with the Constitution.
In recent weeks, Judson Phillips, the already controversial president of Tea Party Nation, has rendered himself even more controversial. On a recent edition of his Tea Party Nation Internet radio program, Phillips, the president of Tea Party Nation, and the man who has tried to make a bundle of cash off of the Tea Party movement, "sounded more like an economic and political royalist" than the leader of a "'populist' movement, in which the voice of 'the people,' however distorted, can be heard," Devin Brughart and Leonard Zeskind recently reported. And, during an interview with Fox News, Phillips expressed a desire that tea partiers start to get more deeply involved in social issues, particularly immigration and abortion.
"Just after the elections, Phillips launched a high-profile effort (including the Fox News appearance, a series of emails to Tea Party Nation supporters, and a piece on the World Net Daily website) to continue the push for so-called "social issues" inside the Tea Party movement," Devin Burghart, the vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR), told me in an e-mail exchange. "For Phillips, those 'social issues' include nativism, homophobia, and opposition to reproductive rights."
In an article titled "Tea Party Leaders Attack Constitution," and posted at the Tea Party Nationalism website, Burghart and Zeskind pointed out that on the November 17 edition of his program, Phillips said: "The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."
Burghart and Zeskind explained that "According to this Tea Party leader, if you rent your house or apartment, then you should not have the right to vote. In his worldview, you simply do not count as much as the homeowners next door. Presumably, if you once owned your house, but lost it in bankruptcy or foreclosure, well then you will probably lose the right to vote as well."
Burghart and Zeskind, who is the president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR). According to its website, IREHR is a "national organization with an international outlook examining racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist, and far-right social movements, analyzing their intersection with civil society and social policy, educating the public, and assisting in the protection and extension of human rights through organization and informed mobilization."
Prior to the midterm elections, IREHR issued a groundbreaking report on the Tea Party movement titled "Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Size, Scope, and Focus of the Tea Party Movement," which examined "the six national organizational networks at the core of the Tea Party movement: FreedomWorks Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet, and Tea Party Express."
The Introduction to the report states that it "documents the corporate structures and leaderships, their finances, and membership concentrations of each faction. It looks at the actual relationships of these factions to each other, including some of the very explicit differences they have with each other." In addition, the report analyzes "the larger politics that motivate each faction and the Tea Party movement generally."
Tea Party Nation
The Franklin, Tennessee-based Tea Party Nation -- the third largest national Tea Party network with 31,402 online members as of August 1, 2010 -- was organized by Judson Phillips, and his wife Sherry. Judson Phillips is a Nashville attorney whose "private practice, in 2010, specialized in drunk driving and personal-injury cases," according to the "Tea Party Nationalism" report. Judson Phillips is also a local Republican Party activist and former assistant district attorney.
"Phillips is an extremely important figure inside the Tea Party movement," Burghart pointed out in our email exchange. "He is the head of the third-largest Tea Party faction in the movement, and it is fair to say that he's the most visible voice of the non-establishment side of the Tea Party movement. He is particularly notable for opening up the Tea Parties to the 'birthers,' and as we wrote about a few weeks ago, just recently pronounced his own theories about President Obama's birth. Most importantly, he's been successfully leading the charge to get Tea Partiers into the trenches of the culture war."
According to the IREHR report, "The birth of Tea Party Nation mirrors that of several of the other factions. Phillips helped organize a Tea Party rally in Nashville on February 27, 2009.... [which] attracted several hundred people. Several became volunteers in the operation." In April, "he registered the TeaPartyNation.com domain name." Phillips' group "organized April 15 Tax Day Tea Party protests in Nashville, where about 10,000 attended, and in nearby Franklin, Tennessee, with an additional 4,000. The success provided the impetus to officially go national."
At a July 31, 2009 "Altar Call" at the Cornerstone Church in Nashville, Tennessee, "six hundred Christian conservatives gathered for a 'call to arms.'" Phillips told the crowd that they "must get involved. The time for sitting on the sidelines is over." He urged fighting against the "Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis of evil": "Tonight we are doing a different kind of altar call. Tonight's altar call is not for God. It's for country."
After a series of events in the summer of 2009, Tea Party Nation prepared to go big time. In February of this year, it organized the controversial Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville. It was controversial because several participants dropped out because of the entrepreneurial thrust of Phillips' project.
The appearance of Sarah Palin -- for a fee reported to be around $100,000 --automatically had the mainstream media sitting up and taking notice. Long-time Religious Right and conservative leaders caught onto Palin's drift.
Dr. Rick Scarborough, a former Southern Baptist pastor from Pearland, Texas, who heads up a constellation of corporations that includes Vision America, Vision America Action and the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration, conducted a well-attended workshop.
Judge Roy Moore -- the Alabama Supreme Court justice who was impeached from office after he refused to enforce a court order mandating the removal of a statue of the Ten Commandments from within his courthouse -- gave a lunchtime keynote speech. In his remarks, Bishop E.W. Jackson, a noted African American conservative declared the convention free of racists and Nazis. Joseph Farah, of the website WorldNetDaily, gave the convention's Friday evening keynote speech.
And if anyone remembers anything about the Nashville Convention, it is likely to be the remarks that were made by former Republican Congressmen -- and now failed gubernatorial candidate -- from Colorado, Tom Tancredo, who opened the convention with a fiery speech attacking President Obama and "the cult of multiculturalism." Talking about the 2008 election, Tancredo declared, "People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House." Tancredo also said Obama won because "we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote."
In a recent interview with Fox News, Judson Phillips suggested that the tea party movement needed to expand its agenda to include the issue of immigration: "The Republicans have been pretty much totally AWOL on illegal immigration over the last few years. Who have been the biggest champions of illegal immigration? George W. Bush. John McCain. Republicans! And this is absolutely infuriating to the base." Phillips also complained about Planned Parenthood receiving federal funds.
Burghart told me that while there are some that "argue that Tea Party Nation is somehow outside the center of the Tea Party movement, it's important to remember that Tea Party Nation was there from the beginning, and they have working relationships with the majority of other factions. TPN joined Tea Party Express (Our Country Deserves Better PAC), ResistNet, and Tea Party Patriots as sponsors of the big [Washington, D.C.] 9-12-2009 rally organized by FreedomWorks."
Burghart pointed out that "the relationships between Tea Party factions is complex. (That's why we created the Tea Party Matrix - to help people understand the connections). This is particularly true for Tea Party Nation. They continue to work with the majority of the other factions."
Is Judson Phillips' ideas about assigning voting rights to only those who own property, fiddling with the Constitution, and getting more deeply involved in social issues -- as he has recently stated -- representative of the Tea Party movement as a whole?
"I think it would be particularly important to get the other factions on record regarding these recent statements by Phillips. I'm sure people would want to know if FreedomWorks or Tea Party Patriots or any of the other factions agree with Phillips on his view of which parts of the Constitution need to be cut out, and if they will continue to work with TPN after these comments and the birther stuff."
However, Burghart and Zeskind's article was careful to conclude that currently "It is not known how many of Tea Party Nation's 35,137 members agree with Phillips contentions that voting rights should be restricted, the Seventeenth Amendment repealed and the Fourteenth Amendment gutted. Nor is it known what percentage of enrolled Tea Partiers and their sympathizers hold such views. We do know, however, that 39 of the 51 members of the Tea Party Caucus in the last Congress wanted to end birthright citizenship as it is found in the Fourteenth Amendment. And with the election of two dozen or more Tea Party-allied congressional representatives," Phillips' "views ... cannot be safely ignored."
PAUL LOEB FOR BUZZFLASH/TRUTHOUT
Does Olympia Snowe really want to be the target of waves of anonymous attack ads in support of some conservative primary challenger? Wouldn't a retiring George Voinovich prefer to leave some shards of our democracy off-limits to being sold to the highest bidder? Could John McCain remember why McCain-Feingold was once of his proudest legacies and acknowledge how profoundly the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision damaged everything he was trying to do to safeguard American democracy?
To prevent the deluge of anonymous political ads we've just witnessed, the Democrats crafted the DISCLOSE Act, which required that organizations involved in electoral campaigning (including both corporations and unions) at least reveal the identities of prime major donors, while barring foreign corporations, major government contractors and financial bailout recipients from making electoral expenditures. Although 92 percent of the public supports disclosure of campaign contribution sources, Republicans unanimously filibustered the bill and it fell one vote short of passage. But if the Democrats make it a priority in the remaining Senate term, they have a chance of achieving its goals. To do so will require reaching out with every conceivable political and moral argument to potential Republican supporters, while mobilizing public sentiment to demand the common sense requirement that if you try to buy an election, you have to at least put your name on your ads.
Before November, Republicans opposed checking the deluge of anonymous campaign contributions due to narrow self-interest. They may continue to do so, even though for years they thundered in favor of transparency as an alternative to campaign finance reform or public financing. "We ought to have full disclosure," said John Boehner in 2007, "full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant." Since Citizens United opened the floodgates for organized money to pour into elections without the slightest check, Republican leaders and their key allies have done everything possible to foster anonymous and untraceable attacks from the shadows.
Yet I suspect that more than a few Republican Senators have their doubts about this process. Do Senators like Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk really want to open themselves up to unlimited anonymous attack ads, where they can't even turn the mud potential primary opponents will be slinging into a potential electoral liability? Embracing these anonymous interests should contradict the basic conservative value of taking responsibility for one's actions, replacing it with an ethic that values only the consolidation of power. Given that these Senators will face significantly Democratic electorates in the future, do they really want to cast their lot with the most predatory financial interests in America? If they do stand up to make these attacks more difficult, this not only protects themselves against being targets, but stakes out ground that can win support from moderate Republicans, independents, and Democrats. Reining in anonymous attack ads from institutions like the bailed-out banks or foreign corporations should also resonate with those elements of the Tea Party and the conservative religious community who even as they mistrust Obama, equally mistrust the financial interests that have left America's economy in its current troubled plight.
It would have been nice had some of these Senators had tackled the problem before the election, instead of just supporting their team. Now, with a bit more space to reflect, they may well wonder whether handing over our elections to competing teams of billionaires is really the best idea. And if they do choose to align themselves with these interests, it's a prime stand for which voters can hold them accountable.
It's also possible that some retiring Republican Senators will have qualms about turning over our electoral future to the likes of BP, Koch Industries, Goldman Sachs, United Health Care and Exxon (not to mention foreign governments, corporations, and sovereign wealth funds). For the first time in years, they won't have to always listen to their contributors, just their own convictions. I'm thinking of people like George Voinovich, George LeMieux, or Bob Bennett. Since it only takes two Republican votes, including the newly seated Mark Kirk, perhaps one of the other saner Republican Senators might respond, like Lindsay Graham, Dick Lugar, Lisa Murkowski, or even John McCain.
But to get two of these votes, the Democrats are going to have to push, with every political and personal appeal that they can think of. Obama will have to push as well, and grassroots groups both nationally and in the states represented by potentially receptive Senators. It's going to be far easier to do this before the new Senate gets in, because the newly elected Republicans are so vastly beholden to the interests who helped buy their seats. So no matter how demoralized we may be, and too many of us are despairing, we need to spell out the stakes as clearly as possible and make clear that we can either keep working for Lincoln's dream of a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." We can't afford to allow that dream to perish by handing over our common future over to those whose dollars can elect whichever politicians they think will most likely do their bidding, or defeat those of either party who oppose them. If we believe the core of our democracy is worth preserving, we have to give this issue our best shot.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF FOR BUZZFLASH/TRUTHOUT
As more and more documents become available from Wikileaks, the public has gotten a novel and close up view of U.S. diplomats and their operations abroad. I was particularly interested to review heretofore secret documents dealing with Latin America, a region which has absorbed the attention of Washington officials in recent years. While it's certainly no secret that the Bush administration, not to mention the later Obama White House, have both sought to isolate the so-called "Pink Tide" of leftist regimes in South America, the Wikileaks documents give us some interesting insight into the mindset of U.S. diplomats as they carry out their day to day work.
Needless to say, the picture that emerges isn't too flattering.
Take, for example, a 2005 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia which details a high level conversation which took place between the American ambassador, John Danilovich, and Brazilian General Jorge Armando Felix. A longtime businessman, Danilovich spent 20 years in the shipping industry in London and it was there that the American organized voters for George Bush and his father. A big time GOP donor, Danilovich proved a loyal lieutenant at his post in Brasilia, specifically by opposing the left turn in South America.
In 2005, Hugo Chávez was at the height of his political powers, challenging the unpopular Bush regime throughout the region. Over in Bolivia meanwhile, Washington fretted that an erstwhile coca farmer, Evo Morales, might win his country's presidential election. For Washington, Brazil had become a country of vital geopolitical importance: if President Lula could be persuaded to drop his support of neighboring Venezuela, then the U.S. would certainly be more successful at halting the region's leftist advance. In the effort to turn back the Pink Tide, Danilovich was a key figure.
Speaking with the Brazilian daily O Estado de São Paulo, the diplomat accused Chávez of actually funding political forces within Bolivia. Seeking to foster a common U.S.-Brazilian front, Danilovich said the funding was a concern for Washington and ought to preoccupy officials in Brasilia as well. When reporters asked Danilovich whether he was accusing Chávez of directly funding Morales' campaign, the diplomat would not specify [Morales himself denied the U.S. allegations].
Behind closed doors, Danilovich continued his diplomatic offensive. After lunching with General Felix, the ambassador broached the subject of Venezuela, noting that Chávez was "disrupting Brazil's efforts to play a leading role politically and economically in South America." It's unclear from the cable what Felix might have thought about the ambassador's comments, though reading between the lines it seems the military man may have been sympathetic toward the U.S. and disagreed with his own government's official policy toward Venezuela.
Since we don't have the full text of Danilovich's cable, it's unclear whether the diplomat approached other figures in the Lula government about Venezuela, let alone military officials. To be sure, at the time of this meeting Felix was working as Lula's own Minister of Internal Security and as such no longer occupied an official post within the ranks. Yet, there are some disturbing parallels to the historic past here. Consider that it was not too long ago that Washington collaborated with the anti-Communist Brazilian military which overthrew democracy in a coup. Later, the armed forces hunted down leftists both within the country and abroad through so-called "Operation Condor."
From Brazil to Argentina
Elsewhere in South America, the U.S. has faced political opposition from some unlikely quarters. Take for example Argentina, up until recently a fairly reliable U.S. ally which followed the Washington economic consensus. With the coming to power of Néstor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner however, U.S.-Argentine relations have taken a nosedive. A fierce critic of the International Monetary Fund, Néstor also pursued an unprecedented diplomatic alliance with leftist Venezuela.
Wikileaks cables document the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires and show U.S. diplomats as imperious and scheming. Take for example a diplomatic spat between Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Argentine officials, an incident that I wrote about at the time. An American of Chilean descent and a Chavez critic, Valenzuela made his way to Buenos Aires late last year. Causing a diplomatic firestorm, Valenzuela declared before the local media that Argentina lacked adequate legal protections. When the government protested that such was not the case, Valenzuela clarified that he had personally spoken with representatives of American companies through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who were upset about management of the economy. They were reluctant to invest due to lack of legal protections, Valenzuela added.
As if he had not annoyed the government enough already, Valenzuela then declared that he personally had detected a change in the investment climate between 1996 [the height of Argentina's flirtation with neo-liberal economics] when "there was a lot of enthusiasm to invest," and the present day. In a communiqué, the Argentine foreign ministry angrily retorted that the government "had not received complaints from U.S. companies which had interests and investments" in the country.
The irate chorus continued with Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo regretting that some U.S. officials had gone back to "the old practices" even though "there was an expectation in Argentina of the inauguration of a new U.S. foreign policy" during the Obama era. The Minister of Justice added that Valenzuela's remarks were "very unusual and unjustified." By far however the most incendiary remarks came from former president Néstor Kirchner who accused Valenzuela of behaving like a "viceroy."
Far from feeling contrite toward Argentina, U.S. diplomats treated the Valenzuela episode rather flippantly and superciliously. In a cable sent to Washington, recently released through Wikileaks, American officials in Buenos Aires wrote that the local press had "sensationalized" and over dramatized the incident. "Once again," diplomats remarked, "the Kirchner government has shown itself to be extremely thin-skinned and intolerant of perceived criticism." Downplaying the tenor of Valenzuela's remarks, the authors added that many Argentines routinely complain about the weakness of governing institutions and the rule of law.
It's difficult to parse what Washington's policy might be toward Argentina in the Obama era. Judging from another cable released byWikileaks, U.S. officials are still trying to sort it all out and seek to acquire as much information about the Kirchners as possible. Prior to Néstor's recent death, Secretary of State Clinton personally wrote to the American Embassy in Buenos Aires, remarking that the U.S. was drawing up "a written product examining the interpersonal dynamics between the governing tandem."
Clinton added that State had a pretty "solid understanding" of Néstor's style and personality, but Cristina remained a mystery. Specifically, Clinton wanted to know how Cristina managed "her nerves and anxiety." Somewhat bizarrely, Clinton then asked her subordinates whether Cristina was taking any medications. Again and again, the Secretary of State pressed for details about Cristina's psychological and emotional profile.
Though certainly intriguing, the Wikileaks cable fails to answer a vital question: why would Clinton seek a psychological evaluation of Cristina in the first place? Perhaps, the United States government simply lacked information about the Argentine president and wanted to know who it was dealing with in South America. Another darker reading however is that the U.S. does not trust Argentina and is seeking to manipulate Cristina or uncover some dirt. A Machiavellian if there ever was one, Clinton is surely capable of playing political hardball and engaging in diplomatic intrigue.
For far too long, the U.S. public has remained ignorant of its government's overseas efforts to turn back Latin America's leftist Pink Tide. Though scant thus far, Wikileaks' release of documents pertaining to Latin America is telling. From Brazil to Argentina, American officials have emerged as an imperious and cynical lot. Hopefully in the days ahead we may learn more about the Bush and Obama administration's handling not only of Brazil and Argentina but also Venezuela, Bolivia, and Honduras.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008). Visit his website, www.nikolaskozloff.com
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH
On Election Day in California, the Republican Party and their Tea Party allies went down in flames. Democrats were elected to every significant statewide office, including governor, despite the Republican candidate, Meg Whitman, having spent more than $140 million of her own money on the campaign. The Democratic congressional delegation held serve, and Senator Barbara Boxer handily defeated GOP challenger Carly Fiorina. Republicans lost the minority vote -- including Latinos -- by large margins.
So what might you expect from a Party and a movement that is in need of some serious navel gazing? The answer: Come out of the gate with an Arizona-style anti-immigrant initiative.
Just before Thanksgiving Day, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen authorized a signature drive that would, if successful, place an Arizona-style immigration law before California voters in 2012.
The proposal, called the "Support Federal Immigration Law Act," was submitted to state authorities in September by Michael Erickson, a Tea Party activist in the Bay Area city of Belmont. Erickson is the former chair of the Sonoma County Republican Party, a Priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, and is currently the chairman of Republicans for the National Interest, and the Support Federal Immigration Law Committee. According to The San Mateo Daily Journal, Erickson is also "writing a book about the tea party."
The Sacramento Bee recently reported that "Erickson, speaking at a videotaped rally on his initiative's website, said he worked with a legal team to draft a version of Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, which requires that police investigate a person's legal status if an office has reasonable suspicion of that status. 'Since we're never going to get something like this passed through the Democrat-controlled Legislature, it's going to be we the people who are going to make it happen,' Erickson said."
Erickson "told the Bee that he's tried to draft his proposal -- which also makes it a state crime to hire illegal immigrants -- to avoid constitutional pitfalls. The Arizona law now faces challenges that it is unconstitutional and an overreaching of state law into federal responsibility for immigration enforcement," the newspaper pointed out.
Kimberly Dvorak of Examiner.com (San Diego) reported that "Erickson explained he decided to introduce the immigration initiative in California before a decision is made by the 9th Circuit Court on Arizona's SB1070 law because his supporters are worried about the possible spillover effects. 'Our concern is with the possibility, if not probability, of an increase in not only illegal immigration in California but with a drug infestation, in part because Arizona is cracking down in their state,'" Erickson said.
By April of next year, organizers must gather at least 433,971 signatures of registered voters to qualify for a spot on the ballot. Although he expects to raise one-million dollars for the drive, the actual gathering of the signatures will, according to Erickson, depend on volunteers from various California Tea Party groups.
The Sacramento Bee reported that the "California proposal would make it a state crime for undocumented persons to seek work while hiding their immigration status, and a state crime for employers to 'intentionally or negligently' hire an illegal immigrant. The measure would also require all highway patrol, police, sheriff's deputies and other officers to investigate a person's immigration status if they are 'reasonably suspicious' that a person who they stopped is in the country illegally."
Erickson, who pointed out that he was trying to avoid some of the pitfalls that has befallen Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 (known as The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act), noted that his initiative "absolutely, unequivocally" prohibits racial profiling. "People hurt most by illegal immigration are the Hispanic community. They take the brunt of drug- and gang-related violence in their communities," Erickson said. The Arizona law was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April but blocked by a federal judge before it took effect.
"Throughout the year, five of the six different Tea Party national factions campaigned heavily in support of Arizona's draconian SB 1070, so it's not surprising to see those efforts bearing bitter fruit like this initiative," Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (http://www.irehr.org), told me in an e-mail.
"California is also not a surprising location to see an effort like this take root, given that California has one of the highest state totals for Tea Party membership, that there are over two hundred local Tea Party chapters across the state and that one of the national Tea Party factions is headquartered in Sacramento," Burghart, the co-author of the new report Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Size, Scope, and Focus of the Tea Party Movement and Its National Factions, pointed out. "Seeing Tea Party groups take the lead on such a harsh anti-immigrant ballot measure further reinforces the main thesis of Tea Party Nationalism, that fiscal topics have quickly been displaced by culture war issues, like nativism, as the driving force behind the Tea Party activism."
According to Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan Arizona-style laws are likely to be on the 2012 ballot in six or more states including California.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat noted that "in 1994, California voters by a 59 to 41 percent margin approved Proposition 187, a measure aimed at blocking state services for illegal immigrants, but it was later rejected by a federal court."
I asked Burghart whether he thought that national anti-immigrant organizations would be backing the signature-gathering drive either financially or with volunteers. "With more than half the states expected to at least debate bills similar to SB 1070, national nativist groups may already moved on to other issues," Burghart noted.
"The national nativist groups are exceptionally opportunistic and marshal their resources on fights they think they have a realistic chance of winning and that can change the national conversation on immigration. If they hold true to their past efforts, look for groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA to enter later, rather than earlier, in the campaign.
"At the same time, expect state and local anti-immigrant organizations, like the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), to quickly get into the act. Headed by white nationalist Barbara Coe, CCIR was one of the co-sponsors of California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187, and still maintains a statewide network of nativists. CCIR has also been close to the Tea Parties in the state. For a time, CCIR was even listed as a chapter of the national Tea Party Patriots," Burghart added.
Burghart explained that currently "At the top of the national anti-immigrant agenda for the new Congress is the proposal to gut the birthright citizenship provisions of the 14th Amendment. The bill is being introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the new chair of the House subcommittee on Immigration, who believes he has the votes to pass such legislation."
As La Prensa San Diego noted, Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Democratic Party candidates in November: In the race for the Senate, Barbara Boxer received 65% of the Latino vote while Fiorina, her opponent, received 28%. In California's gubernatorial race, Democrat Jerry Brown won 64% of California's Latino vote while Whitman won 30%.
Whatever else may be accomplished by the proposed initiative, it has already accomplished at least one thing: Michael Erickson has been handed a much bigger platform then he's ever had. Erickson, who has been very critical of President Obama's opposition to the Arizona law wrote in a recent commentary, published at the Republicans for the National Interest website and titled "American Family for SB 1070," that Obama "abdicated his role as the 'good father' of the 'American family'" by "siding with a foreign President against one of the States of the Union":
"When I consider the many atrocities of the Obama Administration, there is one memory that stands apart in its capacity to inspire a visceral rage in the breast of a patriot. It is the image of our own President, the man who should be our father when interacting with the other families in our neighborhood, sheepishly standing beside the hypocritical, Mexican President Calderon, as the foreign leader denounces Arizona's SB 1070 and demands its revocation."
So what are the prospects of an Arizona-style anti-immigrant initiative passing in California? Although Burghart was not predicting a victory for such an initiative should it qualify for the ballot, he pointed out that since "divisive and wrong-headed initiatives like this have the potential to tear asunder the social fabric of communities, Californians should take this effort seriously, and speak out. It's time to stop letting the shouts of the Tea Parties dominate the political debates in this country."
DAVID SWANSON FOR BUZZFLASH
Here's an easy question: would you rather go to jail for a few hours with a bunch of friends or die?
Here's a poorly kept secret: the wars that a majority of Americans want ended are not ending, and the war machine that a majority of Americans want cut back is growing.
Here's a situation that is not secret at all but too horrifying for us to acknowledge: if the war machine continues on its current course, we will not survive it economically, environmentally, or with any civil liberties or representative government intact. If we do not reach those catastrophes it will be because blowback or nuclear proliferation takes us out first.
You may not die for the Pentagon, but if you do not it will be your children or grandchildren. Would you rather go to jail for a few hours with a bunch of friends or see your grandchildren killed? Is the question getting easier?
Here's a well kept secret: many Americans are doing something about it, and Veterans for Peace is taking the lead. We're going to the White House on Thursday, December 16th: http://stopthesewars.org
You may have other obligations, but do they outweigh what's at stake here? How about this question: If you cannot risk arrest at the White House with us on December 16th to stop these wars, can you be there in support? Can you help with transportation or take photos and shoot videos and write reports? If you cannot be there in support, can you phone Congress and the media and demand the defunding of the war machine and an end to wars opposed by majorities of Americans in every poll?
The last time I was arrested at the White House we were "processed" at a table outside a jail and never entered any jail at all. Yes, it takes hours to do what could take minutes. Yes, the handcuffs pinch. But doesn't the knowledge that we are bombing families in other countries pinch a little too?
Don't take it from me. Take it from these people who will also be there:
"I am shamed by the actions of my government and I will do everything in my power to make it stop killing innocent people in my name." -- Leah Bolger
"'....to protect and defend the Constitution...' I took that oath as a sailor, and later as a police officer. I don't consider that oath to have an expiration date because I believe in accountability, justice and peace. Where I come from, we say: 'You don't have to stand tall, but you've GOT to stand up.' Stand up December 16, 2010, at the White House." -- Erik Lobo
"Besides causing untold suffering and destruction, our futile and unending wars distract us from addressing unprecedented humanitarian and planetary crises. To allow war to even exist dishonors the teachers of peace who came before us. To fail to oppose war is to submit to those who make war. I choose to honor the peace teachers; I choose to oppose and resist the war makers." -- Kim Carlyle
"As Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner of a year ago, embraces war on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, he's joined by most all the Democratic Party, and pushed on by the cabal of Republican war-mongers newly dominant in Congress. Obama was the right man for the job of expanding US domination internationally, and domestic surveillance and police-state measures. He's not solely responsible for the system.; neither is he a socialist, or illegitimate based on his birth. But we are right to be protesting at the White House now, as we were right when the Bush regime lived there. People who want to stop these wars being carried out in our name have to be visible and vocal about it, now!" -- Debra Sweet
"I strongly and enthusiastically support these actions! May we move forward peacefully, nonviolently, and with great courage." -- Ron Kovic
"I speak and write a lot about these things; but there comes a time when if you don't put your body on the line, then the speaking and writing becomes posturing. That time is now. December 16 at the White House. " -- Joel Kovel
"Those who know the full extent of America's imperial reach have a unique obligation to let their fellow citizens know what is being done in all of our names. But it is more than an obligation for veterans, since many of us have served in America's invasions and occupations abroad. Perhaps it is also a privilege, another chance to express our love for this country, this time putting their bodies on the line to demand that America once again join the peace loving nations of this world." -- Fred Nagel
"I listened today to Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech given at New York's Riverside Church in 1967, 'Why I Oppose the Vietnam War.' If any of us don't know it, make it a point to hear it. His truth is timeless. When I hear it, I feel as deeply as possible, the necessity and the responsibility to be a Veteran For Peace. My conscience, my refusal to let the world change me are in the forefront of my existence. I will be with my brothers and sisters on Dec. 16." -- Jay Wenk
"When Barack Obama claimed that by not prosecuting the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the previous administration we would be able to go into the future with our core values intact, he was condemning this country to have no moral future. He was, in effect, saying that our core values worth defending are imperialism and capitalism and hypocrisy. All three can only flourish in a climate of no accountability and a belief in the necessary ethic of collateral damage. It is our responsibility to change that." -- Robert Shetterly
"War for empire, endless and cruel war, resulting in untold suffering, destruction and death for millions, a war economy here at home that steals from ordinary citizens and makes the few enormously wealthy, these are powerful reasons for us to put our bodies on the wheels, the levers, the apparatus of this vile war-making machine and demand that it stop. Enough is enough. There is no glory, no heroism, no good wars, no justification whatsoever, it is all, all of it, based on lies. I'll be in Washington on December 16 with other veterans, resisting this war mentality, demanding its end. -- Tarak Kauff
"For what do I stand? First, I will not stand for: a Democrat, a Republican, a flag, a border, a government, or a war of any kind. I will stand for the People, to protect and defend the Constitution, for peace and justice. See you in Washington, D.C., December 16, Twenty-Ten." -- Will Covert, Veterans For Peace
"I could not miss this manifestation of veterans' strong condemnation of the wars, and of Obama for continuing them. In this season of supposed peace on earth, we who previously carried out U.S. foreign policy with our bodies must speak out to say, 'NO MORE! Bring the troops home NOW!'" -- Ellen Barfield
"We are at a critical time in world history. Will the Western democracies continue to develop along the lines of Rousseau, Voltaire, Jefferson, King, Chavez and company? Or does the future hold a feudal world committed to slavery and fascism? The extent to which we resist is the extent to which there is reason to hope. Our witness, even if ignored in our times, will be on record and will inspire democratic revolutionaries far into the future. -- Doug Zachary
"The Empire has met the Resistance and it is us! 12.16.10. Washington. Be there!" -- Mike Ferner
"I have three granddaughters whose futures will be bleak unless we can reverse the American slide into endless war. It's time to move the resistance up a notch. That's why I'll be joining the veteran-led civil resistance on December 16 at the White House." -- Ken Mayers
"I'm joining my fellow veterans on December 16 because, plain and simple, it is the right thing to do. I am against war, murder, and torture. Enough! I have a beautiful daughter and a very cute goddaughter. I owe them my best effort towards achieving a more just world. When we all stand up for peace war will end." -- Mike Tork
"The trip to Washington will be an opportunity to stand in solidarity with fellow engaged citizens who are paying attention. As much as it will be a privilege, it is an obligation to add another voice to the growing chorus objecting to obscene wars that serve none other than the rich and powerful. The majorities in the lands subject to our occupations and wars object to our presence, and we the people share more in common with the victims in those countries than we do with the war profiteers here at home. Though we can expect the mainstream media to give little notice to our presence in D.C., that failure will only serve to make these truths more evident." -- Dud Hendrick
"I will not be silent. I'm going to the White House to demand an end to these wars!" -- Mike Hearington
"All who resist keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become enemies of hope. They become, in their passivity, agents of injustice. If the enemies of hope are finally victorious, the poison of violence will become not only the language of power but the language of opposition. And those who resist with nonviolence are in times like these the thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration." -- Chris Hedges
David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie" http://warisalie.org
HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH
The war in Afghanistan is about perpetual war, not Afghanistan.
It's about preventing democracy in the United States, not bringing it to Southwest Asia.
And it is the tombstone of the Obama Presidency.
To justify the fight, they've rounded up the usual suspects: Terror. Oil. Minerals. Poppies. Democracy.
But George Orwell's 1984---now updated with important new books--- illuminates the bigger picture: "continuous warfare" is the key to social control.
It keeps the public frightened and dependent.
And it keeps "the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed."
Better to destroy them in a ritual slaughter like Afghanistan, and wherever is next.
For a truly prosperous society, educated and secure, cannot be ruled by the few. Poverty, ignorance and fear are the three pillars of authoritarian control. Without war, they all disappear.
Thus Afghanistan. Before it: the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, central America. After: whoever else is handy.
Recent books by Howard Zinn and David Swanson have updated Orwell's analysis.
Zinn's THE BOMB, testifies to the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the utter senselessness of these "announced nuclear tests." Once an Allied bombardier, Zinn revisited a French town he helped destroy. He found the act, of which he was once proud, had no military meaning whatsoever.
Though he passed away earlier this year, Howard's People's History of the United Statescontinues to shape our understanding of this nation's true core. In narrating the hidden, bloody past of our compromised democracy, he warns at end that even for the US, "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."
David Swanson's new War is a Lie adds to the litany. A tireless campaigner for peace and justice, Swanson was instrumental in tearing away the ridiculous Bush lie that the war in Iraq was about Weapons of Mass Destruction. War is a Lie adds carefully documented, passionately argued reasons why the era of endless slaughter in Southwest Asia is a tool of social control for the military-industrial elite.
Over the years, Norman Solomon's superb books and film War Made Easy have also provided a firm, steady opposition to this fatal addiction.
Nowhere has our military madness become more transparent than in the Obama Administration. The "shellacking" the Democrats took this fall stems directly from Obama's painfully visible failure to bring hope or change to a nation at war since 1941.
For a few infuriating weeks, Obama danced around the decision to escalate in Afghanistan. Rarely has a single human being had a greater chance to change history.
Obama could have stood up to the generals. He could have de-escalated. He could have begun the process of drawing down the military budget, the only way to save our economy.
More than 50% of taxpayer money goes to weaponry. We have troops in more than 100 countries. We spend more on our military than all the rest of the world combined. Throughout history---Athens, Rome, Persia---empires have spent themselves to military oblivion. We have now been in Afghanistan longer than the USSR.
With a simple speech, Obama could have begun the Great Reversal. It was a crystal clear moment. The public support was there. It was what he was elected to do.
But like Lyndon Johnson's catastrophic March 1965 decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, Obama went exactly the wrong way. He became the first man in history to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with a pro-war speech. With Bush's Secretary of War by his side, he ceded to the military our nation's most critical decision. He doomed our domestic economy and global ecology by burying us still deeper in the lethal quagmire of perpetual war.
All else is sad detail. When Obama caved on Afghanistan, so did his presidency.
As Orwell, Zinn, Swanson and Solomon make clear, perpetual war is the carefully engineered route to poverty, ignorance and dictatorship. Afghanistan is merely the latest installment in this seamless, unseemly tragedy. Its ever-changing justifications are meaningless smokescreens, forever poised to cloud the inevitable transition to the next conflict. The names, places and rhetoric may change, but the impact will not.
Until we find a way to break through to a genuine state of peace---and we must, and soon---we have no future.
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH
One thing you can say about this whole TSA enhanced pat down mess: nobody will ever board Virgin Airlines again without ruefully grimacing. Folks are flipping out like wolverines bouncing off of submarine trampolines over new regulations requiring a prospective flier to submit to having his or her naughty bits exposed for all the world to see, or else agree to a groinal groping that would have our ancestors' fathers brandishing shotguns outside of rural chapels or contemporary school children showing Federal Marshalls on the doll where the nasty agent put his hands. "Bad touch. Bad Touch!"
Most troublesome is not the compelling of passengers to slide into second base with complete strangers but rather the suspicion these decisions are being made on the fly with little forethought. Flight crews are subjected to the same sub rosa muggings. Face it, you and I, we don't know nothing, but even we can figure out pilots don't need explosives up their butt to bring down an aircraft when a second double bourbon at the airport bar will suffice.
Equal representation under the glove would also be nice. VIPs are exempt from screening, but nobody will divulge who qualifies as a VIP. That's classified. Isn't everything? We're in the thick of classified creep. How long before it's illegal for civilians to videotape pat downs due to "national security;" the federal equivalent of "Because I said so, that's why." Not to mention arresting so- called comedians for talking trash. "Don't taze my junk, bro."
The recent bleating from the front lines of the security wars is an indication the natives are restless. Business travelers have tired of securing our safety through their captive inconvenience. Then again, 50% of the people experiencing the procedure are in favor of it. Must be part of that large segment of society that enjoys having their inner thighs pawed and genitals, butts and breasts felt up. Me, not so much. I've had less intimate fifth dates.
The flying experience is in the throes of a death spiral, from the evaporation of our nuts and pillows and checked baggage to shedding shoes and surrendering fluids and providing peeks under our underwear to being frisked like common criminals. Where does it stop? What happens when some flippo- unit tries to blow something up with zipper shaped plastique? Will only the Amish fly? A single button bomb could result in us all wearing robes and then the terrorists do win.
How soon before we add body cavity searches to the casual molestations in our pre flight check- lists? Precipitating few outcries even when the airlines try to make some extra coin by piggy backing prostate exams. In the meantime, we fly the overly friendly skies and do whatever they want of us cattle and sheep: bend and cough and walk a little funny and act like nothing happened. More static and drool.
In the meantime, just direct me to whichever TSA screener didn't volunteer for the job. And no ex- priests if you please. I might even wriggle and giggle and blush and bloom and slip the man attached to the blue rubber glove a card. Hey, they're intent on creeping us out, why not return the favor? One last question: are we supposed to tip, or only if there's a happy ending? Least they could do is provide a well- ventilated room for a post encounter cigarette.
BILL QUIGLEY AND NICOLE PHILLIPS FOR BUZZFLASH
Haiti needs legitimate leaders right now. Unfortunately, the elections set for November 28, 2010 are a sham. Here are five reasons why the world community should care.
First, Haitian elections are supposed to choose their new President, the entire House of Deputies and one-third of the country's Senate. But election authorities have illegally excluded all the candidates from the country's most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas - and other progressive candidates. Lavalas, the party of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has won many elections in Haiti - probably the reason it was excluded. If this were the US, this would be like holding elections just between the Tea Party and the GOP - and excluding all others. Few Haitians will respect the outcome of these elections.
Second, over 1.3 million Haitian survivors are struggling to raise their families in 1,300 tent refugee camps scattered around Port au Prince. The broken Haitian political system and the broken international NGO system have failed to provide Haitians with clean water, education, jobs, housing, and access to healthcare almost a year after the earthquake. Now cholera, a preventable and treatable disease, has taken the lives of over 1,600 people. Some are predicting that the infection could infect as many as 200,000 Haitians and claim 10,000 lives. Without legitimate leaders Haiti cannot hope to build a society which will address these tragedies.
Third, because the elections are not expected to produce real leaders, Haiti is experiencing serious protests on a daily basis. Protests have occurred in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien, where two people died in clashes with the authorities. In other protests, like a recent one in Port au Prince, demonstrators representing 14 Haitian grassroots groups try to stage peaceful protests. But when UN peace keeping forces arrived they drew their weapons on demonstrators. As the crowd fled for safety, the UN and Haitian police threw teargas canisters into the crowd and the nearby displacement camp, Champ de Mars. Residents were taken to the hospital with injuries from the teargas canisters. The media has wrongfully typecast the political demonstrations as "civil unrest" filled with angry, drunk rioters. No one mentions that much of the violence has been instigated by the law enforcement, not the demonstrators. Faux elections are not going to help deliver stability.
Fourth, political accountability has never been more important in Haiti than right now. The Haitian government must guide Haiti's reconstruction and make important decisions that will shape Haitian society for decades. Yet, many of the three million Haitians affected by the earthquake are ambivalent about the elections or do not want them to take place at all.
Fifth, the United States has pushed and paid for these swift elections hoping to secure a stable government to preserve its investment in earthquake reconstruction. But, as Dan Beeton wrote in the LA Times, "If the Obama administration wants to stand on the side of democracy and human rights in Haiti, as it did in Burma, it should support the call to postpone the elections until all parties are allowed to run and all eligible voters are guaranteed a vote." By supporting elections that exclude legitimate political parties that are critical of the current government the international community is only assuring the very social and political unrest it hopes to avoid.
Haitians are saying that no matter which candidates win on November 28, the political system that has failed them will not change unless there is an election that is fair and inclusive. They are also asking that the country undergo a reconciliation process that includes the voices of more than just the Haitian elite and international community.
Haiti desperately needs legitimate leaders. The November 28 sham election will not provide them.
By Bill Quigley and Nicole Phillips. Bill is Legal Director of the Center for
Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.
Nicole is staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
BUZZFLASH EDITOR'S BLOG FOR TRUTHOUT BY MARK KARLIN
Justice may often be delayed, but it finally caught up with Tom DeLay.
Convicted on counts of conspiracy and money laundering, a Texas jury decided that DeLay - the former GOP House Majority leader nicknamed "The Hammer" - was guilty of having violated a state law prohibiting corporate contributions made directly to political candidates.
DeLay "washed" corporate money in 2002 through the Republican National Committee to achieve a goal that would result in more Republican congressional districts in Texas. He was successful, but it took eight years and a tenacious district attorney, Ronnie Earle (now retired), to pursue the complicated indictment.
Having narrowly escaped a federal investigation of his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, DeLay felt secure enough in recent years to appear on "Dancing With the Stars" and talk freely with Director Alex Gibney in a 2010 documentary on Abramoff, "Casino Jack and the United States of Money".
DeLay could face life in prison, or he could be let off with probation. That is up to the judge who presided at the trial, which ended with the guilty verdict on November 24.
But the one-time bug exterminator reportedly walked out of the courtroom with tears in his eyes.
It's a reminder that even in very dark days for our democracy, a jury of our peers can weigh in on the scales of justice.
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BARBARA'S BUZZ FROM ATLANTA
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF AND GUY EDWARDS FOR BUZZFLASH
As the world awaits the upcoming climate change summit in Mexico, developing countries are wondering who will speak up for them. With only a token agreement in Copenhagen, the stakes are high for Cancun as nations attempt to make progress on climate finance, deforestation, adaptation, technology transfer and emission reduction targets.
Relatively defenseless in the face of global warming and extreme weather events, developing countries are looking for a champion but have unfortunately come up short. While left-leaning nations belonging to the ALBA group (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) including Bolivia, and Venezuela, which have been pushing a more radical climate critique, the bloc does not possess sufficient geopolitical clout at the top table.
Elsewhere in Latin America, Brazil has emerged as a political and economic juggernaut which could wield significant influence upon the global warming debate. In the 1990s, Brazil added a strong voice at climate negotiations which led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as the Kyoto Protocol. Brazil was key in helping to establish the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities;" that is to say, binding targets for industrialized countries and the Clean Development Mechanism designed to develop projects to reduce carbon emissions in poorer countries. In the first round of this year's presidential elections, Green Party candidate Marina Silva garnered an astonishing 19% of the vote, clearly showing that environmental consciousness is alive and well in Brazil.
Frustrating the hopes of many in civil society however, Brazil has not sought to become a key environmental leader on climate change. This is perhaps not surprising when one considers the government's high level ties to agribusiness which is closely linked to Amazonian deforestation. Although touting a whopping $1.5 trillion GDP, Brazil's economic surge has come at considerable environmental cost as demonstrated by its position as the third largest global greenhouse gas emitter. The anticipated global warming nightmare of the future will come largely from developing countries such as Brazil, India and China, which are voraciously consuming fossil fuels and cutting down forests.
Despite this, Brazilian officials downplay their country's own role in the mess. Brazil's new President Dilma Rousseff, declared in 2009, rather breathtakingly, that "Brazil is no longer part of the [climate change] problem and has assumed a respected position as the galvanizer of negotiated solutions." In advance of Copenhagen, Rousseff slammed the industrialized nations while declaring that her own country had done its share. "Stopping global warming is a common responsibility, but each group of countries plays a different role. We cannot demand equal sacrifices from those who have participated unevenly in the process of industrial development throughout the centuries," she wrote.
To be sure, Brazil has carried out some positive environmental initiatives. In an effort to appease critics, the country provided satellite imagery to its Latin American neighbors as well as some African nations to help assess deforestation. In addition, Brazil passed on its knowhow to poor countries on utilizing ethanol as a substitute for fossil fuels. Most importantly perhaps, Brazil made big promises in advance of Copenhagen: the government announced it would reduce emissions by almost 40% by 2020, mainly through reducing deforestation. The reductions, Rousseff remarked, were a "political gesture" designed to press rich countries into making deep carbon cuts.
In the wake of Brazil's innovative pledge, some observers surmised that Brazil might be interested in forming new geopolitical alliances. By promising to ambitiously cut its greenhouse gases, Brazil seemed to be aligning itself more closely with the European Union and other nations such as Japan, South Korea and Australia, all of which had adopted specific emissions targets. It appeared as if Brazil was moving away from the Group of 77, a coalition of more than 130 developing nations, as well as China and India, two countries which had resisted setting any binding limits on carbon emissions. Perhaps too, Brazil's decision to announce national emissions targets was related to internal politics. Indeed, the government's announcement coincided with Green Party candidate Marina Silva's rise on the national stage. Public opinion as well as a large percentage of businessmen also favored the adoption of a low-carbon economy.
Unfortunately, however, Brazil's proposed cuts are voluntary and do not constitute binding targets. Brazil argues that developed countries should be the only ones obliged to observe mandatory targets. While environmentalists praised Brazil's offer, they also declared that the country should assume "concrete targets" by formally enacting a law or decree. Overall, environmentalists say, the Lula government has adopted an ambiguous posture: on the one hand it has made progress on climate change but on the other has caved in to landowners bent on deforestation.
If the world hoped that Brazil would continue its green giant posturing at the Copenhagen summit, such expectations were dashed at the last minute as Brazil joined forces with China, India and South Africa to form the BASIC group to limit greenhouse gas reductions. Brasilia argued that it could not be held to the same environmental standards of the Global North and duly prepared an alternate draft agreement with different targets for developed and developing countries. Scuttling any hopes for a progressive deal which would halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and set a 2020 deadline for a peak in world emissions, BASIC proclaimed that rich nations needed to do much more.
Hoping perhaps to mollify critics, Lula announced during Copenhagen that BASIC would set up climate funds to help developed countries. However, in a move which stirred suspicion amongst countries vulnerable to climate change, BASIC lobbied successfully against binding emissions caps. Indeed, it was Brazil which helped draft an accord along with 29 other countries but principally the U.S. and BASIC. Produced at the eleventh hour, the agreement was slammed by the ALBA nations for leaving the majority of countries out of the negotiating process. Bolivia was particularly opposed to the Copenhagen deal. Since the summit, the Andean nation has gone on to lead the charge for a much stronger climate initiative. "Our objective is to reduce climate change to [under] 1C," says President Evo Morales. "[Above this] many islands will disappear and Africa will suffer a holocaust ... the real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model." It's difficult to imagine Lula da Silva or Dilma Rousseff for that matter making any such statement and indeed behind South America's "Pink Tide" to the left climate change could become a key political fissure in the future.
ALBA, however, was not the only bloc to express displeasure with Brazil and BASIC. As the Copenhagen summit got underway two separate blocs, the Least Developed Countries or LDC's as well as the Alliance of Small Island States or AOSIS expressed reservations about the draft proposal presented by BASIC. In the event, AOSIS states particularly exposed to rising sea levels drafted their own proposal separate from BASIC. In a shot across Brazil's bow, the small island nation of Tuvalu proposed opening discussions on a legally binding agreement to the Kyoto Protocol which would set greenhouse gas emissions targets for emerging economies starting in 2013. Tuvalu proposed amending the UN climate treaty so as to oblige nations to keep the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Tuvalu's move, which constituted the first serious breach within the G-77 united front, was backed by dozens of the poorest countries exposed to climate change including the Cook Islands, Barbados, Fiji and some African nations such as Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Cape Verde. "Our future rests on the outcome of this meeting," Tuvalu delegate Ian Fry declared. Needless to say, Tuvalu's proposal was shot down by Brazil, China and India. "Tuvalu has a very legitimate preoccupation for a most ambitious possible agreement," declared Sergio Serra, Brazil's climate ambassador. "But we would not agree on a mandatory reduction target. This is not something Brazil is ready to discuss."
What was the end result of Brazilian intrigue, which so upset smaller island nations? The Copenhagen Accord itself has been criticized by many as inadequate: though most nations agreed to limit global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the agreement was non-binding and did not spell out how reductions in greenhouse gases should be achieved. The UNFCCC has warned that if global temperatures rise two degrees Celsius more that the world could witness catastrophic rise in sea levels, thus inundating island nations and coastal cities. Incredibly, however, even after pushing for a lackluster agreement at Copenhagen, Brazil and BASIC dragged their feet when it came time to meeting climate goals. Reportedly, the group grew concerned that a ringing endorsement of the Copenhagen Accord could undermine the 1992 U.N. Climate Convention stating that prosperous nations must lead the charge on global warming. Perhaps fearing that island nations and others would not welcome such a position, and that a negative PR blitz might ensue, BASIC members reasoned that political differences might be bridged by creating a fund to help vulnerable countries deal with climate change. By pushing for technical and administrative assistance, they argued, BASIC could improve its negotiating strength and bring along most members of the G-77 to boot. Brazil had long argued for the creation of a climate change fund for poor nations, but at the end of the day BASIC failed to agree to the South American nation's proposal.
All of these logjams do not bode well for the upcoming Cancun summit. By their own admission, BASIC negotiators declare that reaching a binding climate deal will be difficult. Meeting in Rio de Janeiro, they grumbled once more about developed nations not doing enough to curb emissions. Needless to say, BASIC nations could not come up with their own specific proposals on emissions reductions to be presented at Cancun, and even went so far as to argue that no legally binding deal could be struck until a further climate meeting in 2011 in South Africa. "Cancun will be another step towards a final result," says Brazilian climate ambassador Sergio Serra. "The final things will come in South Africa." Such statements, however, do not go over well in other parts of Latin America. Luis Gonzáles de Alba, Mexico's climate change negotiator, says that the region wants to forge a common bloc. Brazil, however, is "playing in other networks" such as BASIC and does not seem interested in developing a unified position.
Does Brazil want to go down in history as one of the chief obstacles to climate change progress at Cancun, or alternatively as a great savior? AOSIS has made it clear that it seeks a legally binding agreement at Cancun. "This [the upcoming negotiation] is about our survival," remarks Collin Beck, a native of the Solomon Islands who serves as vice-chair of AOSIS. If Brazil is uncooperative, the South American nation could suffer in the eyes of small island states and even jeopardize its wider political cooperation with the Global South. At issue is wider unity within G-77, which seems to be fraying. "If we can't deliver in Cancun and we are shown the road to Cape Town or any other cities, it will be unfortunate, it will be tragic, it will be a Holocaust," says Quamrul Islam Chowdhury of Bangladesh, the main negotiator for the G-77. Perhaps sensitive to criticism, Brazil has invited some G-77 representatives to attend BASIC meetings as observers in an effort to foster a so-called "BASIC plus" bloc which would allow for consultations with other countries and groups "in order to facilitate the resolution of contentious issues in the negotiations."
Ostensibly, BASIC plus is designed to foster transparency though it's unclear whether such a PR strategy can work for Brazil in the long-term. At Cancun, Brazil could come under pressure from its Latin American allies not to mention climate change activists who want it to take a bolder stance on the climate negotiations. Will Brazil's new president Rousseff continue Lula's middling agenda or chart a more ambitious course? Rousseff was molded by the ideas of developmentalism and industrialization and did not prominently feature environmentalism in her campaign. Yet, in light of Marina Silva's impressive showing in the first round, Rousseff may live to regret ignoring Brazil's rising environmental constituency.
When asked what kind of role Brazil would like to assume on climate change in the future, Environment Minister Isabella Teixeira responded, "We don't stress the idea of environmental leadership." Playing down its environmental role on the world stage may appear logical given Brazil's strong and independent stance on its right to develop, yet such a position may not win it many friends in the long term. Its assertive foreign policy illustrated by its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, strong bid for a seat at the United Nations Security Council and diplomatic ties to Iran demonstrate Brazil's goal of achieving an independent and strong foreign policy.
However, a more constructive stance on climate change may prove more beneficial to Brazilian foreign policy goals than the South American nation's current strategy.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America's Climate Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave-Macmillan). Visit his blog, http://www.nikolaskozloff.com/
Guy Edwards is a research fellow at Brown University's Center for Environmental Studies and the creator of Latino Cambio, a website dealing with climate change in Latin America.
TONY PEYSER FOR BUZZFLASH
The harsh illumination of a prison cell
Is the light at the end of this tunnel
The result of all that corporate money
That he illegally decided to funnel.
Is Sugar Land, Texas is Tom's consulting firm
Many powerful folks he'd meet there
But these days --- one has to assume --- things
Don't seem to be quite so sweet there.
DEE EVANS FOR BUZZFLASH
"Ultra-conservative website WorldNetDaily claims that it has succeeded in receiving confirmation from legislators in at least four states that bills concerning Obama's birthplace and birth certificate will be considered in the upcoming legislative session, a development that pleases so-called 'Birther queen' Orly Taitz." -- Huffington Post
This is the kind of trash that we will have to remain vigilant about through the 2012 Presidential election. These right wingers are systematically trying to destroy President Obama and we all need to do our part to make sure that this doesn't happen. I have no problem whatsoever with people who challenge President Obama on his policies, governing ability, or job approval basis but we all know that this "birther movement" is code for "he's not like us" -- and we all know what that means.
Everyone wants to pussy-foot around the issue but if we are all honest with ourselves, we will admit that the main reason (not only reason, but main reason) behind this sudden explosion of the tea-party/birther movement in the last 2 years is that President Obama is black. Period! If that wasn't the main reason then the tea party movement (which says that their main concerns are government overreach and deficit spending) would have been champing at the bit to take a piece out of George W. Bush's hide since he was the president who expanded government more than any president in recent history (remember illegal wiretapping?) along with ballooning the national deficit by trillions of dollars. So then what does it say that the vast majority of tea-partiers who are supposedly vehemently against all of these things still overwhelmingly "supported" George W. Bush and his presidency? I rest my case!
It drives me absolutely crazy when I hear political pundits say that the reason that President Obama is not popular in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina is because of his policies. Give me a break! Obama could capture Osama bin Laden single-handedly, bring peace to the Middle East and cure cancer on the plane ride back home and he still would not be popular in some of those states...because they just don't like him...Period!
While we must admit that not everything is about race and that the vast majority of people in this country are fair and decent individuals whether they like President Obama or not, we must also admit that every now and then it is about race and there are some people in this country who truly are personally offended that Barack Obama is President of the United States and closing our eyes and pretending that this is not the case helps no one!
Those in our community who have a larger microphone than most really need to stand up to make sure that this problem is fully understood by unprejudiced Americans -- and that we all need to help to combat it! These heirs to the Confederacy are not playing for second place, they are serious and we should be too!