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Friday, 17 January 2014 06:40

Eugene Robinson | The Real Benghazi Scandal


BenghaziMontageThe bipartisan report on Benghazi released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee should finally convince conspiracy theorists of the obvious: There is no there there.

Administration officials did not orchestrate any kind of attempt, politically motivated or otherwise, to deceive the American people. In their public statements, including the infamous talking points, they relied on what intelligence analysts told them.

In other words, if Susan Rice was wrong when she went on the Sunday talk shows and said the attacks were the violent outgrowth of a spontaneous anti-American demonstration rather than a long-planned terrorist assault, it was only because the intelligence community was wrong.

That said, the initial assessment given by Rice -- then serving as ambassador to the United Nations, now as President Obama's national security adviser -- may turn out to have been correct. We don't yet know. Says the report: "The IC [Intelligence Community] continues to review the amount and nature of any preplanning that went into the attacks."

Other preposterous claims about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, are also debunked in the Senate report. Most spurious is the claim that the administration failed to launch a rescue attempt that might have saved lives.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 16 January 2014 07:21

America Bereft of Democracy


AmFlags"(Chris) Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot," writes Chris Hedges of the reeling New Jersey governor. "He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth."

And he still might wind up becoming our next president.

This is our kind of guy — media spectacle, bully, errand boy for the moneyed interests. His presidential aspirations may not survive "bridge-gate," but in his national prominence he sure defines the abject state of American democracy. We give power to would-be despots, "caricatures" only in the sense that they lack life-and-death control over their subjects and are forced to express their wrath through lane closures and the infliction of mere inconvenience on their political foes.

How come our system rewards rather than weeds out ruthless jerks with huge egos and superficial values? Indeed, how come politics and "values" seem to be as self-repellant as oil and water? How come linking them in a sentence is mainly a good way to make cynics snort?

"It's because these days Americans have as much familiarity with democracy as they do with homesteading on the frontier," Arun Gupta wrote last week at Alternet. I think he's on to something.

Published in Guest Commentary


GW BridgeThe seemingly never-ending battle for the soul of the Republican Party took another interesting turn in the past few days. And that turn revolves around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's involvement in, and/or his handling of, the George Washington Bridge Lane-Closure Scandal. GOP lifers – some call them moderate right-wingers -- hope that Christie can save the Party from the clutches of the Tea Party and head-up the GOP's presidential ticket in 2012, while the Tea Party and the Religious Right do not whole-heartedly embrace the governor.

Did Christie's two-hour performance at last week's press conference, help or hurt his chances of securing the nomination?

From Stage Far Right, enter Karl Rove and Dick Morris.

Rove, the man who, among other things, embarrassed himself during Fox News' election night coverage in 2012 by insisting that Ohio was still up for grabs long after it had been determined to be trending toward President Barack Obama, is praising Christie for his handling of the scandal.

Morris, the man who, among other things, embarrassed himself during the 2012 presidential race by insisting up to the very last minute that Mitt Romney was going to handily defeat Obama, thinks Christie has left a whole bunch of unanswered questions on the table.

Published in Guest Commentary


AbramsTankFallujah"In Iraq, al-Qaeda launched an offensive to take control of two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, that U.S. troops sacrificed heavily to clear of terrorists between 2004 and 2008."

And so the new year begins, with a heavy dose of same old, same old. This is the Washington Post editorial page, which Robert Parry dubbed the neocon bullhorn, blaming the al-Qaeda uprising in western Iraq on President Obama's withdrawal of troops from that country, along with his failure to invade Syria last fall, all of which, the editorial charges, adds up to complacency in the face of growing danger and a lack of protection for "vital U.S. interests."

And for good measure, the Post lets loose a cry for the troops and their sacrifice on behalf of those vital interests. It's obviously not too early to start performing cosmetic surgery on Bush-era history (boy, we had those terrorists on the run), even as its consequences continue to hemorrhage.

The Washington Post knows as well as you or I that American "vital interests," as defined in the Bush (and more queasily in the Obama) era, float in a context of lies, stupidity, waste and war crimes. Yet its editorial page so reflects the Beltway addiction to war that it pushes for more of it no matter how counterproductive the last one turned out for any rational assessment of U.S. vital interests.

For instance, former CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar, in an essay that ran at Consortium News, notes with irony that "the Bush policies could be said to have stimulated democratization in the Middle East in large part through Middle Easterners reacting negatively to the policies themselves." That is to say, democratic movements sprang up in the region as self-defense, in opposition to the U.S. pursuit of its alleged vital interests: Being pro-democracy meant being anti-American.

Published in Guest Commentary


BrooksProhibitionRemember Prohibition? I mean the Prohibition of "Boardwalk Empire." Well, there are not too many people alive now who do remember it, although I was born just three years after it came to the end of its very short life (1920-1933). But it had come to pass, through a Constitutional Amendment no less, due to the diligent work of the Temperance Wing of the Republican Party. (Indeed although the center of the original Republican Party was that of the anti-slavery Whigs, both the nativist "No-Nothings" and the Temperance Movement also were there at its beginnings. That accounts at least in part for the long association of the Republican Party with both recreational mood-altering drug (RMAD) illegalization and anti-immigrant legislation of various types at various times.)

That Prohibition was aimed at alcohol, of course. But before it, around the turn of the 20th century, 15 states had prohibition of one kind or another for tobacco use. The major difference with those Prohibitions and the modern so-called "War on Drugs" --- really a war on certain users of certain drugs --- was that the former criminalized importation and sale of the target drugs, while the latter also criminalizes possession and use.

And so here comes David Brooks of The New York Times who makes an excellent argument for the original Prohibition. He happens to have been writing about marijuana and its legalization (small amounts, for personal use) in certain parts of Colorado. But it is fascinating to note that the arguments he uses against marijuana legalization are just like those that have been used for alcohol and tobacco prohibition going back to the 19th Temperance movement.

Published in Guest Commentary


HomelessFoodJanuary 8 marked the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. What usually happens with anniversaries of this magnitude -- i.e. this past summer's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington -- is that it is recognized and discussed for just about a media minute before other issues reclaim the nation's attention.

Susan Greenbaum, a professor emerita of anthropology at the University of South Florida, pointed out that "Congress is marking the anniversary by ending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people who have been out of work for more than a year and cutting food stamps for 47 million people who rely on them to eat," In a piece posted at the website of Al Jazeera America, Greenbaum's article, titled "What war on poverty?" noted that "At 15 percent, the poverty rate is the same today as it was in 1965, a year after the so-called war began."

Greenbaum recognized that from the outset the War on Poverty had many obstacles thrown in its way, not the least of which was Johnson's wrongheaded pursuit of the Vietnam War, and his successor President Richard Nixon's launch of a War on Drugs. Both stripped funding and urgency away from a War on Poverty.

However, as The New Republic's Alec Macgillis recently pointed out, poverty "is apparently having its moment, right up there with egg creams and stroller derbies."

Published in Guest Commentary


DustBowlI’ve been writing about the threat of global warming for the last eight years, and although the scientific evidence is well established and alarming—that we are warming the earth more than a full degree Fahrenheit by releasing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, it wasn’t until this winter that the threat of global warming became frighteningly real from a personal standpoint.  Here, on the central coast of California, we have had no rain to speak of for over a year, followed by record low amounts of rain in the last few years.  Not only is it the driest year on record—meteorologists are shocked to see that it’s the warmest and driest year in the history of the state.

But that won’t mean much unless you know what it’s like to live in a state threatened by severe droughts. True, the Northeastern regions are experiencing below freezing, Arctic snowstorms that have left residents without electricity, which also threatens life from the other extreme; however, as miserably dangerous as those icy conditions are—the sun will come out, the snow will eventually melt, and spring will flourish from the water.  Droughts, on the other hand, are far more pervasive and threatening in the long run because water is life, without it, life perishes

It’s physically and emotionally painful to see the fields and fresh water lakes reduced to scorched land.  The hillsides are usually a lush jade-green by this time of year, and early wildflowers brighten the pastures with daisies, poppies and violets.  Now they’re dark, parched and dusty like something out of the Dustbowl days. 

Published in Guest Commentary


FrancisPopeIf anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.

According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor." He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan — a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today's self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.

While his ultimatum seems senseless — would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? — it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.

Published in Guest Commentary


DucksFrom the I-can-see-it-coming-down-the-pike department: Remember Obama's "Beer Date" with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Police Sergeant James Crowley? Well ... Wait for it ... don't be shocked if sometime in 2014, we see a made for TV "Duck Date."

There's been some quacking these days on the Internets that Phil Robertson, the recently suspended and subsequently unsuspended patriarch and star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" is going to get together for some old-fashioned duck hunting, duck eating, or a duck and cover drill with the likes of Jesse Jackson and/or Al Sharpton.

Is someone blowing smoke, or one of the Robertson family's duck whistles?

By now, unless you've been hiding out in some duck blind in the swamps of the Lower East Side in New York City, you've heard of Phil RobertsonGate. In an interview with GQ magazine Robertson made anti-gay comments and painted a thoroughly unrealistic and un-conscious portrait of life for African Americans in the south during his youth.

Lloyd Marcus is taking the possibility of a "Duck Date" seriously. Marcus is a black conservative musician whose claim to fame is having written a Tea Party Anthem. Marcus took the anthem on the road in 2010, headlining the "Tea Party Express III: Just Vote Them Out" bus tour. Marcus must have enjoyed the bus-riding experiences, as he became a regular rider on other bus blasts including the Stop Obama Tour, a batch of Tea Party Express Tours and the Defeat Obama Renew America Tour.

Published in Guest Commentary


ChristmasTreeAnother winter solstice has come and gone, and yes, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus has once again survived the alleged "War on Christmas." In fact, as of this year, this pretend war may finally be ending — and not because those "defending" Christmas won some big battle, but because more and more Americans are realizing there is no such war at all.

This is one of the key findings of a new poll about Christmas from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In that survey, only 28 percent of respondents said they believe liberals are waging a war on Christmas. That's a steep decline from last year, when a Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Americans believing there is a war against the holiday.

All of this is good news — especially because these welcome public opinion trends are coinciding with a renewed effort by the divide-and-conquer crowd to continue manufacturing division. Indeed, as just one example, Fox News' Megyn Kelly tried to make the "War on Christmas" meme into a full-on race war by insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus must be depicted as white. Apparently, Rupert Murdoch's cable television empire is still trying to turn the holiday into another excuse to promote conflict. Thankfully, polls show that the ruse isn't working.

Of course, using the word "holiday" in reference to anything around Jesus's birthday is apparently still seen as controversial in many quarters. Yes, in the same Fairleigh Dickinson poll, two thirds of respondents want "Merry Christmas" rather than the more universal "Happy Holidays" used as the season's greetings. Similarly, only about a quarter of Americans believe public schools should host non-religious events instead of explicitly religious Christmas festivities.

This, alas, is the residual bad news in the aftermath of the "War on Christmas," for it embodies a my-way-or-the-highway narcissism that runs counter to the nation's founding principles.

Published in Guest Commentary
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