Saturday, April 25, 2009

Why Bush & Cheney Needed Torture

Bush's Torture
Used to Try to
Link Saddam to 9/11

By Marjorie Cohn

April 24, 2009

When I testified last year before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties about Bush interrogation policies, Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz) stated that former CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed that the Bush administration only waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashirit for one minute each. I told Franks that I didn't believe that. Sure enough, one of the newly released torture memos reveals that Mohammed was waterboarded
183 times and Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. One of Stephen Bradbury's 2005 memos asserted that "enhanced techniques" on Zubaydah yielded the identification of Mohammed and an alleged radioactive bomb plot by Jose Padilla. But FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated Zubaydah from March to June 2002, wrote in the New York Times that Zubaydah produced that information under traditional interrogation methods, before the harsh techniques were ever used.

Why, then, the relentless waterboarding of these two men? It turns out that high Bush officials put heavy pressure on Pentagon interrogators to get Mohammed and Zubaydah to reveal a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 hijackers, in order to justify Bush's illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the newly released report of the Senate Armed Services Committee. That link was never established.

President Obama released the four memos in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU. They describe unimaginably brutal techniques and provide "legal" justification for clearly illegal acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the face of monumental pressure from the CIA to keep them secret, Obama demonstrated great courage in deciding to make the grotesque memos public. At the same time, however, in an attempt to pacify the intelligence establishment, Obama said, "it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."

In startlingly clinical and dispassionate terms, the authors of the newly-released torture memos describe and then rationalize why the devastating techniques the CIA sought to employ on human beings do not violate the Torture Statute (18 U.S.C. sec. 2340).

The memos justify 10 techniques, including banging heads into walls 30 times in a row, prolonged nudity, repeated slapping, dietary manipulation, and dousing with cold water as low as 41 degrees. They allow shackling in a standing position for 180 hours, sleep deprivation for 11 days, confinement of people in small dark boxes with insects for hours, and waterboarding to create the perception they are drowning. Moreover, the memos permit many of these techniques to be used in combination for a 30-day period. They find that none of these techniques constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Waterboarding, admittedly the most serious of the methods, is designed, according to Jay Bybee, to induce the perception of "suffocation and incipient panic, i.e. the perception of drowning." But although Bybee finds that "the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death," he accepts the CIA's claim that it does "not anticipate that any prolonged mental harm would result from the use of the waterboard." One of Bradbury's memos requires that a physician be on duty during waterboarding to perform a tracheotomy in case the victim doesn't recover after being returned to an upright position.

As psychologist Jeffrey Kaye points out, the CIA and the Justice Department "ignored a wealth of other published information" that indicates dissociative symptoms, changes greater than those in patients undergoing heart surgery, and drops in testosterone to castration levels after acute stress associated with techniques that the memos sanction.

The Torture Statute punishes conduct, or conspiracy to engage in conduct, specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. "Severe mental pain or suffering" means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from either the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering, or from the threat of imminent death.

Bybee asserts that "if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent." He makes the novel claim that the presence of personnel with medical training who can stop the interrogation if medically necessary "indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain."

Now a federal judge with lifetime appointment, Bybee concludes that waterboarding does not constitute torture under the Torture Statute. However, he writes, "we cannot predict with confidence whether a court would agree with this conclusion."

Bybee's memo explains why the 10 techniques could be used on Abu Zubaydah, who was considered to be a top Al Qaeda operative. "Zubaydah does not have any pre- existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from [the CIA's] proposed interrogation methods," the CIA told Bybee. But Zubaydah was a low-ranking Al Qaeda operative, according to leading FBI counter-terrorism expert Dan Coleman, who advised a top FBI official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."
This was reported by Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine.

The CIA's request to confine Zubaydah in a cramped box with an insect was granted by Bybee, who told the CIA it could place a harmless insect in the box and tell Zubaydah that it will sting him but it won't kill him.
Even though the CIA knew that Zubaydah had an irrational fear of insects, Bybee found there would be no threat of severe physical pain or suffering if it followed this procedure.

Obama's intent to immunize those who violated our laws banning torture and cruel treatment violates the President's constitutional duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

U.S. law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and requires that those who subject people to such treatment be prosecuted. The Convention against Torture compels us to refer all torture cases for prosecution or extradite the suspect to a country that will undertake a criminal investigation.

Obama has made a political calculation to seek amnesty for the CIA torturers. However, good faith reliance on superior orders was rejected as a defense at Nuremberg and in Lt. Calley's Vietnam-era trial for the My Lai Massacre. The Torture Convention provides unequivocally, "An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture."

There is evidence that the CIA was using the illegal techniques as early as April 2002, three to four months before the August memo was written. That would eliminate "good faith" reliance on Justice Department advice as a "defense" to prosecution.

The Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that Condoleezza Rice approved waterboarding on July 17,
2002 "subject to a determination of legality by the OLC." She got it two weeks later from Bybee and John Yoo. Rice, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and George Tenet reassured the CIA in spring 2003 that the abusive methods were legal.

Obama told AP's Jennifer Loven in the Oval Office:
"With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that." If Holder continues to carry out Obama's political agenda by resisting investigations and prosecution, Congress can, and should, authorize the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to do what the law requires.

The President must fulfill his constitutional duty to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Obama said that "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." He is wrong.
There is more to gain from upholding the rule of law.
It will make future leaders think twice before they authorize the cruel, illegal treatment of other human beings.

[Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of the new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her articles are archived at ]


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Obama: Just Say 'No' to 'Banksta' Jerks

Obama and

the Big Dogs

By William Greider
The Nation

April 22, 2009 - The big dogs of banking and finance are playing a rough game of bump-and-run with our president, trying to knock him off balance and demonstrate their dominance. The best names in Wall Street--Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase--pumped out happy talk about quarterly earnings, then announced that they intend to give back the government's money (more than $50 billion, if counted honestly). The crisis, they announce, is over for them. They want to be free of official meddling in their private affairs. The arrogance is breathtaking, even for Wall Street bankers.

Forget the financial numbers. What we are witnessing is a high-stakes melodrama of glandular politics. This rival power center, though gravely weakened, is contesting for control with the president. Think of dogs circling one another to establish who will be leader of the pack. For three decades, the Wall Street guys in good suits have ruled the economy, demanding deference from the political system and from corporate managements, too. Those who failed to follow them were punished, either through stock prices or election financing. Despite their catastrophic failure, the surviving bankers and financiers are trying to hold on to their thrones.

For the last couple of weeks, they have poked the kid in the chest and mocked his economic advisers with condescending gestures. Jamie Dimon of the Morgan bank handed Treasury Secretary Geithner a fake check for $25 billion. They threw complicating wrenches into the government's financial rescue plan. Their essential message, crudely colloquial, was intended for Barack Obama : "You don't have the balls to take charge of us."

The question is: Are they right? Obama seems cowed by their bluster. He certainly looks reluctant to take them on in a public way or refute their version of reality. This president wants to govern through public-spirited cooperation. The financial titans play hardball in return. I say "seems" because we do not yet know about Obama and how he will resolve this mess. The administration has been stalling action on the troubled banks, as if it believes in its own wishful forecasts about an early recovery for the economy. The bankers trumped him by announcing, hey, things are already better for us. So back off.

The bankers think they have the president cornered. His rescue plan cannot possibly succeed without much more money--hundreds of billions more--that Congress will be extremely reluctant to provide (Obama hasn't yet had the nerve to ask for it). The bankers' offer to return their welfare checks is a cute gesture, but a bluff. They know Obama's government is committed to save them, whatever it costs. As usual, the big dogs want to have it both ways--take the public's money but promise nothing in return.

Roughly speaking, that has been Obama's posture, too. He acts as though the old order must be restored with public money, but without forceful government direction. He can call their bluff if he has the courage--shut down a couple of big banks, take control of the system--and the public would cheer. During the campaign, Obama demonstrated he is a great teacher--his political vision changed the country. But we do not yet know if he is a confident political leader willing to use his power against formidable adversaries in order to get his way. Every potential rival is now taking his measure. Weakness would doom him.

The financial crisis poses the first great moral dilemma of the Obama presidency. Sometime in the next few months, he will be compelled to choose between his technocratic inclinations--rescuing certain financial institutions deemed "too big to fail"--and the obvious moral wrongness of his policy of rewarding the very players who caused our national disaster. The broad public does not doubt that this is morally wrong. I saw a Zogby opinion poll the other day that said only 6 percent of the public supports the financial bailouts. Obama is on the wrong side of that bipartisan consensus.

The moral dilemma in the financial crisis is oddly parallel to Obama's reluctant approach on the torture issue. The president bravely made public the sickening documents from the Bush administration that reveal how CIA and Justice Department officials rationalized their illegalities and authorized crimes against humanity. Yet the president said it would be wrong to prosecute (or even investigate) any of the CIA agents or military officers who committed these crimes. Likewise, we are told it would be wrong to punish the financial malefactors or look too closely into how they engineered the gross fraud and false valuations that destroyed trillions of dollars in American wealth. Let's not dwell on the past, the president says, let's look forward.

But everything Obama does now--or fails to do--becomes an inescapable precedent for the future, defining the true meaning of law and moral principle. The president's rationale on government-led torture sounds dangerously close to the line of defense invoked by Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. We were only following orders. CIA barbarians are invited to hide behind that excuse.

So in a sense are the bankers from Wall Street. They were merely doing what the financial markets wanted and what the government allowed. Rescuing these players now, while declining to force fundamental structural changes on the banking system, would essentially ratify the bankers' arrogant beliefs. They are too important to fail. The government will never let it happen. Despite their destructive behavior, they will be allowed to remain in power and free to do it all again.

I do not doubt the president's good intentions, but if he is not vigilant, the "Obama precedent" could prove to be an ugly legacy. His name might someday be linked to wilful evasion of misdeeds and the degradation of law and moral principle. When great crimes are committed in the future by government or by powerful private interests, people in authority might decide to let them go by, citing the national interest and recalling how Barack Obama dealt with similar events.

About William Greider

National affairs correspondent William Greider has been a political journalist for more than thirty-five years. A former Rolling Stone and Washington Post editor, he is the author of the national bestsellers One World, Ready or Not, Secrets of the Temple, Who Will Tell The People, The Soul of Capitalism (Simon & Schuster) and--due out in February from Rodale--Come Home, America.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Need to Push Obama? Use His Tools On Him

New Film Tells
Unreported Story
of the Tools
Obama Used to Win

By Danny Schechter

The election of Barack Obama may be long over but the campaign for change is still underway. For the first time in American history, a president is using the techniques he deployed in running for office in pushing for deeper change. Those who want him to go even further might want to master the approach he used.

It is no surprise that this significant political development is barely being covered in a media that loves to punditize, poll public opinion, and debate policy options in a top-down way. (Some like Fox are even trying to become community organizers) Yet by "covering" politics in this way, our mass media is missing the most innovative bottom-up grassrooots effort in recent memory.

I know about this because as a journalist and filmmaker, I set out to document just how Obama won the election. That story, told in the film Barack Obama, People's President (slated for DVD release this month by documents the online and on the ground techniques that were used to win the highest office in the land.

The President is now using those same techniques, built around an impressive thirteen million-name email list to keep his organizers and supporters involved in backing his legislative agenda. This is the biggest mass lobbying effort of all time.

While his principal campaign advisor David Axelrod joined the White House staff at a high level, his campaign manager David Plouffe set about converting a campaign apparatus into a legislative army. As MoveOn.Org advisor David Fenton explains in our film, "It's an institutionalized mass level automated technological community organizing that has never existed before and it is very, very powerful force."

They have transformed the campaign website, into Organizing for America. It encourages visitors to call Congress to support the President's budget. And like the campaign, it sends out emails, text messages and uses social networking technologies. It organizes volunteers to canvass door like they did in the campaign. The first time out, they garnered nearly a quarter million signatures.

Andrew Rasiej of the personal Democracy Forum elaborates:

"He knows who is giving him money, who's voted for him. He can now reach out to these people and ask them to help him to pass his legislative agenda. Those same people can call their congressmen and say we'll support you for reelection if you vote for Obama's legislation. We will give you money if you support Obama's legislation. It's a very powerful group that is actually the most powerful grassroots organization ever built in American history."

The film People's President shows how all of this-including the campaign's use of Meet-up technologies including how FaceBook. My Space and twittering were used as organizing tools by the campaign.

Rasiej cites the ongoing potential:

"It's a citizens lobby! And not only can Obama as president go over the heads of congress to speak to the American public, he can go now between their legs and go underneath Congress to the American public and the American public can do the same back and that's created a new power structure in the American politics, where the citizens can actually participate and not rely on the old (abstract) system of lobbyists, special interests and only those who have money."

There is also the possibility, as political theorist Benjamin Barber told us, the young people who backed Obama can use these same techniques and web platforms to challenge him to stay on track:

"There are websites of young people who are deeply involved in the campaign who talk to one another, and now it would be very interesting because now that Obama's President, they will find that websites and some horizontal campaigns of young people involved with him, now looking at him critically. And using the web to challenge him, to live up to what these young people believed he promised them and so on."

This is significant. The progressive critics of Obama, disappointed by his appointments and some of his cautious policies, have to go beyond railing in print or crying in their beer. They have to reach out to the grass roots army that assured his election. This means being willing to dialogue with liberals and younger people who don't label their politics. Reminding them of the role they played in a historic election may be one way to do that---to appeal to the instincts that led them to engage in the campaign for "change." There's no need to deify Obama---but there is an imperative to reenergize his base,

It is hard to remember that two years earlier, Obama was barely known, registering on the radar screen for just 10% of voters. He was also hardly a brand name as a first term Senator who spent more time in state politics in Illinois than on the national stage. Moreover he was young, and a man of color---not qualities that usually prevail in the presidential arena which tends to draw far older, far whiter, and far more centrist candidates. The thought that he would beat frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the primaries was, quite frankly, unthinkable to most of the elite.

And yet he prevailed. As he used a phrase appropriated from labor organizer and Latino legend Caesar Chavez. Obama turned the farm workers Spanish language slogan "Si Se Puede" into "Yes We Can." Rather than focus on specific political issues, he built a campaign on the promise of "Hope." Rather than just rely on traditional fundraising-although by the end, he was plush with it-he reached out over the Internet for smaller donations from millions of donors.

Few in the major media gave him a chance but he was not discouraged because he had created his own grass roots media operation using sophisticated organizing and social networking techniques to build a bottom up movement, not the usual top-down apparatus. While his campaign ran the show, he encouraged independent initiatives including citizen-generated media, music videos, personalized websites, twittering and texting etc.

This is the new direction our politics has taken. It is a story that may be somewhat threatening to old media -and older activists-who prefer a one to many approach to communication as opposed to forging a more interactive empowering platform. There is no question that young people---especially those mobilized by Obama prefer online media and that choice is making it harder and harder for traditional outlets to sustain their influence and, in some cases, even their organizations. Old media may be on the way out.

This is why our film is, my mind, important, not just as a record of how Obama won and what happened in 2008, but in what will happen, can happen---and is happening in the future. This is why I believe its critical for Americans to see it-as well as others in the world as well ---to recognize how Obama represents more than just another politician but a whole new approach to politics. That old adage is worth remembering: "Its not the ship that makes the wave, it's the motion on the ocean."

Obama, for all his shortcomings which are becoming more obvious by the day has pioneered the way change must be won ---not by people on the top, but by all of us. It remains for "us" to hold him accountable. We live in a culture of amnesia-it is important to learn the lessons of the recent past.

Emmy-Award Winning producer Danny Schechter blogs for He's made 30 documentaries mostly on issues of change. His film Barack Obama, People's President, produced by South Africa's Anant Singh, is available on DVD from Comments to Dissector


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grapes of Wrath, a Classic for Today?

The Joads from the 1940 film Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath, published exactly 70 years ago, can be seen as a prophetic novel - rooted in the tragedies of the Great Depression, but speaking directly to the harsh realities of 2009, writes Steinbeck scholar Robert DeMott.

Steinbeck's epic novel, which traces the harrowing exodus of Tom Joad and his family from blighted Oklahoma (where they are evicted from their farm), across the rugged American south-west via Highway 66, and on to what they mistakenly hope will be a more promising future in California, is considered by many readers to be the quintessential Depression-era story, and an ironic reversal of the rags-to-riches tale favoured by many optimistic Americans.

John Steinbeck
Seventy years ago, on April 14, 1939, The Viking Press in New York officially published John Steinbeck's searing novel The Grapes of Wrath. It was released on the fourth anniversary of Black Sunday, when the worst dust storm in recent American history had rolled across the Great Plains blotting out the sun and later depositing airborne topsoil 1,000 miles east in Washington DC.

Steinbeck thought his novel was too raw for wide general appeal: "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags," he told his editor in early 1939. But despite its unflinching detail, gritty language, and controversial reception (the American Library Association includes it among the 100 most frequently banned and/or challenged books), the Grapes of Wrath has attained classic status and appears on many best novels lists.

The Grapes of Wrath treats as a national epidemic the wave of widespread foreclosure, uprootedness, migration and homelessness caused by the double whammy of cataclysmic environmental and economic disasters.

The thirties was a decade of staggering unemployment in America - as high as 25% in 1933, and still hovering around 19% in 1938, the year in which Steinbeck set The Grapes of Wrath.

Steinbeck was not reticent about assigning part of the blame for the catastrophic conditions on the "Bank," the "Company," and the "State"; that is, to faceless, bloodless corporate, institutional, and bureaucratic organisations, so that his novel has an extremely hard, angry edge, though it offers no practical answers for a populace displaced by the shift from agricultural to industrial economies.

Steinbeck's partisanship was aided and abetted by his anger over the deplorable conditions under which migrant workers and their families (estimated to be as high as 300,000) lived and laboured once they reached the end of their diaspora in California, his home state.

What goes around comes around. For emotional urgency, evocative power, and sustained impact The Grapes of Wrath has few peers in American fiction. Seven decades later it has never been out of print and still sells by the carload.

To become a classic, it is often thought that a book needs to transcend its contemporary origins and remain untouched by subsequent history. But it is more accurate to think that a book becomes a classic precisely because it keeps being informed by the most recent historical developments. A literary classic speaks directly to readers' concerns in successive historical and cultural eras.

Dustbowl farm

In this sense then, The Grapes of Wrath is a prophetic novel, rooted in the economic and environmental tragedies of the Great Depression, but speaking just as directly to the harsh realities of our own time.

At this moment of global economic meltdown, when the whole world is gripped by severe financial recession (much of it caused by rapacious greed, fiscal malfeasance, and corporate arrogance), when groups around the globe are in migration from one kind of tyranny or another, when the gap between rich and poor seems insurmountable, and when homelessness and dispossession caused by widespread financial failure and mortgage foreclosure is rapidly rising in the US and elsewhere - symbolised by shantytowns and tent cities on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas - then it is fitting to think of The Grapes of Wrath as our contemporary narrative, our 21st Century jeremiad.

From the 1940 film Grapes of Wrath
The characters of Ma and Tom Joad have been etched into popular culture

But Steinbeck's impact does not end there. Throughout his career - well into the 1960s - Steinbeck was a writer with a remarkably acute conscience and a deep respect for common sense morality.

He carried on a kind of lover's quarrel with America, and warned against runaway materialism, institutional imperialism, intellectual hypocrisy, and rampant greed - all inevitable and regrettable by-products of an advanced industrialised capitalist society.

"If I wanted to destroy a nation," he wrote in 1966, "I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick."

It is impossible to know how Steinbeck would have reacted to our current malaise, fuelled in part by unbridled financial speculation and lax governmental oversight, but it is tempting to think, given the outcome, he might have said, "I told you so."

Robert DeMott is Professor of American Literature at Ohio University and a former director of the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State University in California.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Fox News and the anti-Obama 'Militia Media'

Photo: Beck on Fox with Daily Demagogy

Glenn Beck and
the rise of Fox News'
'Militia Media'

By Eric Boehlert
Media Matters

After a night of drinking, followed by an early-morning argument with his mother, with whom he shared a Pittsburgh apartment, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski put on a bulletproof vest, grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed. When two officers arrived at the front door, Poplawski shot them both in the head, and then killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues.

In the wake of the bloodbath, we learned that Poplawski was something of a conspiracy nut who embraced dark, radical rhetoric about America. He was convinced the government wanted to take away his guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Specifically, Poplawski, as one friend described it, feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon." (FYI, there is no Obama gun ban in the works.) The same friend said the shooter feared America was "going to see the end of our times."

We learned that Poplawski hosted his own (failed) Internet radio show and that he visited the website of 9-11 conspiracy backer Alex Jones, who has been hyping the threat of a totalitarian world government for years. More recently, Jones has been warning listeners like Poplawski about The Obama Deception (that's the name of Jones' new documentary DVD) and how President Obama is bound to destroy America.

Who's Alex Jones? Even according to some conservative bloggers, the anti-government, anti-Obama talker is a "freak" who's popular with "the tin foil hat crowd." Like with Poplawski, apparently.

Jones might be a "freak," but he has recently been embraced -- and mainstreamed -- by Fox News, as part of the news channel's unprecedented drive to push radical propaganda warning of America's democratic demise under the new president.

During a March 18 webcast of's proudly paranoid "Freedom Watch," Andrew Napolitano introduced a segment about "what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away." And with that, he welcomed onto the show "the one, the only, the great Alex Jones," who began ranting about "exposing" the New World Order and the threat posed by an emerging "global government."

"I appreciate what you're exposing," Napolitano assured his guest.

Waving around a copy of his Obama Deception, Jones warned Fox News webcast viewers about Obama's "agenda" for "gun confiscation" and the new president's plan to "bring in total police-state control" to America.

Jones also noted with excitement that Fox News' Glenn Beck had recently begun warning about the looming New World Order on his show, just like Jones had for years. "It is great!" cheered the conspiracist. (Like Jones, Beck recently warned viewers that "the Second Amendment is under fire.") Concluding the interview, Fox News' Napolitano announced "it's absolutely been a pleasure" listening to Jones' insights.

We don't know if Poplawski tuned in to watch Jones' star turn for Fox News last month. But is there any doubt that Fox News is playing an increasingly erratic and dangerous game by embracing the type of paranoid insurrection rhetoric that people like Poplawski are now acting on? By stoking dark fears about the ominous ruins that await an Obama America, by ratcheting up irresponsible back-to-the-wall scenarios, Fox News has waded into a territory that no other news organization has ever dared to exploit.

What Fox News is now programming on a daily (unhinged) basis is unprecedented in the history of American television, especially in the form of Beck's program. Night after night, week after week, Beck rails against the president while denouncing him or his actions, alternately, as Marxist, socialist, or fascist. He felt entirely comfortable pondering whether the federal government, under the auspices of FEMA, was building concentration camps to round up Americans in order to institute totalitarian rule. (It wasn't until this week that Beck was finally able to "debunk" the FEMA conspiracy theory.) And that's when Beck wasn't gaming out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against Obama-led tyranny. In just a few shorts months, Beck raced to the head of Fox News' militia media movement.

Just prior to the Pittsburgh massacre, Beck's often bizarre on-air performances, in which his rants against the Obama administration's dark forces were mixed in with his tearful proclamations of love of country, had turned him into a highly rated laughingstock. "That is a shaky cat," Dennis Miller recently giggled while describing Beck. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough broke into hysterics after a montage of Beck's most weepy moments. And TV satirists have had a field day at the Fox News host's expense. (Stephen Colbert: "Crank up the crazy and rip off the knob!")

But I'm not sure people should be laughing.

The consequences of Fox News' doomsday programming now seem entirely predictable. As Jeffrey Jones, a professor of media and politics at Old Dominion University, recently explained to The New York Times in regard to Beck's rhetoric, "People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something."

People like Richard Poplawski? FYI, weeks before his deadline shooting spree, Poplawski uploaded a video clip of Beck ominously referencing the FEMA camps on Fox News.

It's true that Beck, in response to mounting criticism, made this statement on his show:

BECK: Let me be clear on one thing. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the truth behind 9-11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those people we don't seem to recognize anymore -- you know, the ones who kill in the name of Allah.

But look at the very next two lines of his monologue: "There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth." That doesn't sound like Beck was backing away from his rhetorical call to arms to fend off the Marxist -- no, wait -- fascist Obama administration.

And let's drop the idea -- pushed hard by Beck himself -- that he's simply a modern-day Howard Beale, from the classic film Network, just an angry, I'm-mad-as-hell everyman lashing out at the hypocrisies of our time. Nonsense. Beale's unvarnished on-air rants from Network targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television. ("This tube," he called it.) Beale's attacks were not political or partisan. Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.

Here's a sampling of what Beck's been drumming into the heads of viewers, a portion of whom likely (and logically) hear his rhetoric as a call to action. That the government is a "heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state." That it's indoctrinating our children; that we have "come to a very dangerous point in our country's long, storied history." Beck's concerned that the "Big Brother" government will soon dictate what its citizens can eat, at what temperature their house can be set, and what kind of cars they're allowed to drive.

Beck's sure "[d]epression and revolution" are what await America under Obama, and fears moving "towards a totalitarian state." The country today sometimes reminds Beck of "the early days of Adolf Hitler." Beck thinks that Obama, who has "surrounded himself by Marxists his whole life," is now "addicting this country to heroin -- the heroin that is government slavery."

And it's not just Beck. Appearing on Fox News, Dick Morris recently made a wildly irresponsible comment that looks even worse in light of the Pittsburgh law-enforcement slayings: "Those crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the UN's going to take over' -- well, they're beginning to have a case."

And it's not just Fox News. Radio nut Michael Savage recently claimed that "we have a naked Marxist for president." And high-profile conservative blogger Erick Erickson contemplated the beating of politicians: "At what point do [people] get off the couch, march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?"

Of course, the right-wingers at Free Republic are way ahead of Erickson as they fantasize about Obama's assassination: "And let's face it: all the speculation about Obama being the actual Antichrist will either be confirmed or denied if someone gets off a lucky shot at the SOB."

"Go Kill Liberals!"

I wonder if Glenn Beck knows who Jim Adkisson is. Adkisson made headlines on July 28, 2008, when he brought his sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and, after whipping it out of a guitar case, opened fire on parishioners while a group of schoolchildren performed songs up by the altar. Adkisson killed two people and wounded several others.

Adkisson, a 58-year-old unemployed truck driver, brought 70 shotgun shells with him to the church and assumed he'd keep killing until the police arrived on the scene and shot him dead as well. Instead, some members of the congregation were able to wrestle him to the ground and hold him for police.

When investigators went to Adkisson's home in search of a motive, as well as evidence for the pending trial, they found copies of Savage's Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O'Reilly Factor, by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. They also came across what was supposed to have been Adkisson's suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his murderous actions. The one-word answer for his deed? Hate. The three-word answer? He hated liberals.

The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just Kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!

What Adkisson especially hated about liberals ("this cancer, this pestilence") and what he hated about candidate "Osama Hussein Obama" was that they were marching America toward ruin: "Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they're Marxist, socialist, communists." Adkisson seethed over the way liberals were "trying to turn this country into a communist state" and couldn't comprehend why they would "embrace Marxism."

Sound familiar, Glenn?

John Bohstedt was one of the Unitarian church members who tackled Adkisson after the first round of gunfire went off inside the sanctuary. Two months ago, Adkisson pleaded guilty to the murder charges and was sentenced to life in prison. At the hearing, Bohstedt told the Associated Press he didn't think the killer had been insane, but rather had been manipulated by anti-liberal rhetoric.

"There are a lot of people who hate liberals, and if we stir that around in the pot and on the airwaves, eventually there will be people (like Adkisson) ... who get infected by the violent rhetoric and put it into violent action," Bohstedt said.

He remained worried about future violence: "Do you think there are other Jim Adkissons out there listening to hate speech? I do."

Me too.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Make Green Economy A 'War' Mobilization

Photo: Reich with Obama

It's a Depression:
Focus on Workers,
Not on Wall Street

Robert Reich

April 3, 2009 - The March employment numbers, out this morning, are bleak: 8.5 percent of Americans officially unemployed, 663,000 more jobs lost. But if you include people who are out of work and have given up trying to find a job, the real unemployment rate is 9 percent. And if you include people working part time who'd rather be working full time, it's now up to 15.6 percent. One in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.

Every lost job has a multiplier effect throughout the economy. For every person who no longer has a job and can't find another, or is trying to enter the job market and can't find one, there are at least three job holders who become more anxious that they may lose their job. Almost every American right now is within two degrees of separation of someone who is out of work. This broader anxiety expresses itself as less willingness to spend money on anything other than necessities. And this reluctance to spend further contracts the economy, leading to more job losses.

Capital markets may or may not unfreeze under the combined heat of the Treasury and the Fed, but what happens to Wall Street is becoming less and less relevant to Main Street. Anxious Americans will not borrow even if credit is available to them. And ever fewer Americans are good credit risks anyway.

All this means that the real economy will need a larger stimulus than the $787 billion already enacted. To be sure, only a small fraction of the $787 billion has been turned into new jobs so far. The money is still moving out the door. But today's bleak jobs report shows that the economy is so far below its productive capacity that much more money will be needed.

This is still not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but it is a Depression. And the only way out is government spending on a very large scale. We should stop worrying about Wall Street. Worry about American workers. Use money to build up Main Street, and the future capacities of our workforce.

Energy independence and a non-carbon economy should be the equivalent of a war mobilization. Hire Americans to weatherize and insulate homes across the land. Don't encourage General Motors or any other auto company to shrink. Use the auto makers' spare capacity to make busses, new wind turbines, and electric cars (why let the Chinese best us on this?). Enlarge public transit systems.

Meanwhile, extend our educational infrastructure. So many young people are out of work that they should be using this time to improve their skills and capacities. Expand community colleges. Enlarge Pell Grants. Extend job-training opportunities to the unemployed, so they can learn new skills while they're collecting unemployment benefits.

Finally, accelerate universal health care.


My Zimbio Add to Technorati Favorites Locations of visitors to this page EatonWeb Blog Directory