Thursday, February 28, 2008

Barack & Blackwater

From an article by Jeremy Scahill in today's issue of The Nation:

"A senior foreign policy adviser to leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has told The Nation that if elected Obama will not “rule out” using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The adviser also said that Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009, when a new President will be sworn in. Obama’s campaign says that instead he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors. (Hillary Clinton’s staff did not respond to repeated requests for an interview or a statement on this issue.)"

Reprinted on the Common Dreams website.

The Torture Vote

Paul Haggis, who received an Oscar in 2006 for his film Crash, wore an orange ribbon Sunday night at the Oscars, and told the Washington Post:

"The orange ribbons were worn in protest against state sanctioned torture. I wish we had been wearing them to make a statement about torture in Tibet or Burma or in Chinese labor camps. But the ribbons are the color of the jumpsuits at Guantanamo Bay, and at our secret detention camps, where prisoners are kept indefinitely, in violation of our constitution, and tortured. This is something that our government has long condemned as the heinous behavior of dictators, but something that unbelievably we now condone. . Every American of any political party should be loudly condemning this grossly un-American activity, but is barely even mentioned anymore. The orange wrist bands some of us wore said simply "Torture + Silence = Complicity". I received mine from The World Can't Wait campaign."

Debra Sweet, Director of World Can't Wait, wrote yesterday:

"George Bush is threatening to veto a bill passed by the Senate which doesn’t allow the CIA to use waterboarding, limiting it to interrogations allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual. "

Sweet also notes that Senator McCain voted against the bill. "
I will not restrict the CIA to only the Army Field Manual," McCain explained. Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama voted.

You can read the entire article on the World Can't Wait website.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nations without Borders

“Where have all the Leaders Gone?”

I just received an email with excerpts from Lee Iaccoca’s new book that asks, “Where have all the leaders gone?” I’m sure the book will sell (though I won’t buy a copy). It hits just the right note about mediocre world leaders. Will Rogers sung to a tune by the Kingston Trio.

Good Lee writes,

"Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry."

Ah, Lee, your concern for the middle class is touching. Who will cut your lawn if the middle class goes dry? But the answer to your populist question is pretty simple really. There are lots of strong leaders out there--did you forget your support for George W in 2000? But for reasons you ought to know inside out, they don’t seem to get the corporate money they’d have to have to run a political campaign. The Iacocca-run corporations and their lobbyists know exactly where the leaders have gone because those corporations and lobbyists have made sure that the governments of the world don’t get in the way of corporate profits.

But you say, “I believe in America.” Jesus, Lee. Maybe you should get a church or a TV show. You believe in money, Lee, not some antique notion of America. No Chrysler has been built in the US since the one Abe Lincoln drove around the square in Jacksonville, Illinois. These days the brake pedal comes from Jalapa, the transmission from Podunk, Uruguay, the radio from a Japanese subsidiary in Bangkok, the new car smell from a perfume maquiladora in the west of France, the voice on the GPS from a bartender in Soho and the cheesy design from Mars or some other planet. Then you paint it red, white and blue (with paint imported from Seoul) and call it American, as you pretend that Japanese car companies are from Japan. My “Japanese” Izuzu Trooper has a chrome Chevrolet label that was made in China. Car companies don’t belong to nations any more. You know that. Nations are a story you tell the poor so they’ll feel pride or rage.

You know as well as any transnational CEO that nations no longer exist in any relevant way. In the year 2000, 51 of the the world’s 100 largest economies were corporations not countries. Nations are anachronisms, an idea sold to the naive so they’ll send their children to die defending corporate profit, so they’ll hang a flag on a house or stick a ribbon on a car that says “defend our troops” or “freedom isn’t free.” Have you checked out Halliburton’s new address? They quietly left Texas last year and have relocated in Dubai.

In the year 2000, Daimler Chrysler, with sales of $159 billion, ranked #28 in the world’s largest economies. Only Ford, Exxon, WalMart, General Motors and 22 nations had more income. The other 170 or so countries in the world had smaller GDPs than Chrysler and Exxon.

God bless you, Lee, but your question is populist bullshit. If my daughter wants to be CEO of one of the top 100 corporations, she needs to be smart, energetic, get a famous MBA from Harvard or Yale, get into Skull and Bones, and work very hard. The formula is pretty simple, Lee. You went to Princeton. You can read Forbes. Let’s consider the investment and the return. $200,000 ought to buy all that if she’s a smart young woman. And you know better than I what a CEO’s salary is.

But imagine if she wants to be a US Senator. She needs to do all the above, maybe swap the MBA for a law degree, and then if she’s really bright, she’ll still need to raise $10 million to launch her campaign. Ten million dollars, Lee. And you wonder what happened to democracy? If my daughter is not very bright, but still gets into Yale and Skull and Bones, say, on the legacy plan, she can’t be a CEO and probably not a US Senator. But, hell, Lee, if she can get a bit over a hundred million dollars together, she can be President of the United States. And, at least in the year 2000, she might have had your support. Now, we both know that it’s hard to put that sort of money together. But with your help, George W did it in 2000. Maybe you just made “some bad choices,” as the child-rearing knuckleheads say these days.

But let’s get back to my daughter. If she wants to be a US Senator, how can we help her? If the US housing market recovers and I get back the equity I lost in our house--my only real savings--I can pitch in $100,000. But she’ll still need $9,900,000. And some say the housing market won’t snap back. I guess she could ask a million of her friends for $10 each, but I’ve not seen that many friends around the house. So like all the other candidates, she’ll just have to look for corporate donations. And you CEO’s are really generous and democratic in a pure sense, contributing to both the Democrats and the Republicans. You claim that there are no leaders, yet your companies finance their campaigns. Maybe you’re not really looking for leadership exactly, eh? Remember when you got the Congress to guarantee bailout loans to Chrysler in 1979? That was pretty democratic. Do you think all those expensive campaign contributions helped pass that legislation? Where have all the leaders gone? Indeed. You got your salary that year, guaranteed by the United States Congress.

While the US economy has been taking the worst dive in our lifetimes--as you cleverly point out in the excerpts I’ve read--the economy of Exxon Mobil sets new profit records every quarter and is now the most profitable corporation in the history of the world. In the eight years of the Bush presidency, Exxon sales have increased from $163 to more than $404 billion dollars-- and Exxon is now the 18th largest economy in the world, better than the GDPs of nearly 170 of the world’s nations. Lee, do you think that Exxon’s CEO might be one of the leaders you find missing?

In the year 2000, Exxon was the only oil company on the list of the world’s 30 largest economies, but now there are many more. Did those mediocre government leaders help that happen? Is that why you help their campaigns? You studied politics, Lee. Do you remember how much PAC money Abe Lincoln raised?

There are clearly smart leaders in the world, Lee. But they are running oil companies and other multinationals. Let’s look at some annual sales numbers:

Exxon 404 billion
Royal Dutch/ Shell 376 billion
WalMart 375 billion
British Petroleum 281 billion
Chevron 204 billion
Toyota 204 billion
Conoco 172 billion

If these enormous corporate economies are thriving, breaking profit records every quarter, what happened to the nations headed up by the mediocre leaders you finance and then lament? the Bushes whose candidacies you have supported? Follow the money, as they used to say. The US goes broke while the companies that funded the political campaigns are awash in money. You graduated from Princeton. Can you see any cause/effect here? You want to know what happened in New Orleans? Follow the money. Check Halliburton’s profits. Buy a t-shirt that says, “Make levees not war.”

I think my daughter should apply to work at Exxon, don’t you? She could start an NGO, maybe Nations without Borders.

I like this quote of yours, though:

"I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some bonehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some spine for a change?"

Pretty cool words, Lee, chatty and tough at the same time. But the paragraph needs a little correction. Democracy was hijacked all right, and a long time ago. But if you can figure out how my daughter could run for political office without having to sell her integrity to make your companies even richer, maybe we could get it back. Till then, we’re stuck with the boneheads on the corporate payroll at Fox News, in the Congress and in the White House.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ecuador's Irrelevant New Constitution

One hundred and thirty Ecuadorians are gathered these days to write a new constitution. This will be number twenty they say and will be the second constitution written since I've lived here these 18 years.

The point as I understand it is that a new constitution will bring law and order to a land that is reckless and corrupt. ("Eight Presidents in ten years" is the phrase the US press uses in the first paragraph of every article about Ecuador.) Ecuadorians want order, they say, and they seem to believe that a new edition of the Ten Commandments might make the world more orderly.

The idea is absurd, of course. There's no obvious way to improve upon "Thou shalt not steal," and the Ecuadorian constitution like the Ten Commandments is not the problem. The country would save a great deal of money running a Google search for "constitution" and downloading the document with the most hits. Without further study, I would suggest photocopying the constitution of Norway. (Although one might argue that the Soviet Union had little success using its copy of the US constitution--a document that is also increasingly irrelevant in the United States of George Bush.)

Look at recent Ecuadorian history. When the Ecuadorian Congress decided to expel President Bucuram, they simply and unconstitutionally declared him insane. The Ecuadorian people, fed up with the flamboyantly corrupt Bucuram, issued no protest. Getting rid of the president mattered far more than the law. Only a few years later, when the ambitious and manipulated army colonel Lucio Gutierrez led an unconstitutional uprising to overthrew his commander-in-chief, President Jamil Mahuad, the people cheered his bravado. They were tired of Mahuad. And shortly after, the Ecuadorians chose Lucio Gutierrez as their heroic president. No one seemed to notice the irony when Gutierrez was sworn into office, vowing to uphold the law of the land. He didn't even smirk at the oath. The popular ends justified the unconstitutional means.

A constitution cannot make a people respect the law. And in this land where the injustice of poverty batters so many lives, where education fails so miserably, where children continue to die for lack of potable water, where the rich continue to grab more than they could ever morally deserve, the government could save a great deal of time, money and frustration by adopting the Sermon on the Mount or the Hippocratic Oath as its guiding light and spend the saved resources on educating children. We cannot legislate a new, better society. Legislation is a product of culture not its source. We need to create a more just world by teaching children to do no harm. If we start there, we can move toward the social justice that President Correa and his minions claim to desire.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Barbara Ehrenreich on Obama

Barbara Ehrenreich has just published a wonderful article in support of Obama:

"Obama is different, really different, and that in itself represents “change.” A Kenyan-Kansan with roots in Indonesia and multiracial Hawaii, he seems to be the perfect answer to the bumper sticker that says, “I love you America, but isn’t it time to start seeing other people?” As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama’s election could mean the re-branding of America. An antiwar black President with an Arab-sounding name: See, we’re not so bad after all, world!"

You can find the entire article in The Nation

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You want change?

Senators Clinton and Obama each argue that he or she will really effect change. But what sort of change are they proposing? Neither has demanded investigations of the crimes of our government. Each has spent tens of millions of dollars campaigning. Each has supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And each has the attention of the so-called liberal media--an oxymoron to be sure.

Try to find an article in the "liberal" NY Times about the Green Party in the United States.

If you wonder what change looks like, check these websites.

Ten Key Values of the Green Party

Green Party compared to the Demo/Republicans on key issues

If you can't afford to run for Congress without the help of corporate donations, you might want to think about change. And you might want to ask why corporations are donating to campaigns.

Monday, February 11, 2008

No More Oil, Mr Danger

From the BBC:

Hugo Chavez, 2 February 2008
Mr Chavez has threatened before to cut supplies
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has threatened to cut off oil supplies to the US unless it halts what he calls its "economic war" against his country.

His warning came days after US oil giant Exxon Mobil won orders in US, UK and Dutch courts to freeze billions of dollars of Venezuelan oil assets.

Exxon wants more compensation from the Chavez government after it took control of Exxon oil projects last year.

The US is the biggest market for Venezuela's heavy crude oil exports.

President Chavez has threatened several times before to stop sending Venezuelan oil to the US but so far not done so.


Read the rest at

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Waterboarding is Legal

On Wednesday, the White House said that waterboarding is legal.

Consider these lines from George Orwell's 1984 :

“And in the general hardening of outlook that set in … practices which had been long abandoned … — imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages and the deportation of whole populations — not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.”

Are we ready to impeach yet?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Though the presidential candidates say nothing about torture as they round up Super Tuesday (Mardi Gras) votes, the Director of the CIA has just confessed (my verb) before congress, according to the Guardian, that terrorist suspects were waterboarded after the 9/11 attacks.

Many refer to the ticking bomb scenario as justification for torture; ie, if many lives could be saved by information that might be gathered by torturing a suspect, the torture would be justified.

But as David Lubin has written, "the real debate is not between one guilty man's pain and hundreds of innocent lives. It is the certainty of anguish and the mere possibility of learning something vital and saving lives."

I recommend Lubin's article, published in the Virginia Law Review:

Then perhaps ask your candidate what he or she thinks. If the good guys condone torture, how will we tell them from the bad guys?

Monday, February 4, 2008

No Questions

After a recent debate I suggested some questions that wimpy-ass Wolf Blitzer (or anyone serious) might have asked the so-called democratic candidates.

Here's a link where Ralph Nader and others do a better job than I.

Is it too late for some serious journalist to moderate a debate? Or is the point, now that Kucinich has pulled out, to convince US voters that Blitzer's questions somehow matter?