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The One Percent Supreme Court: A Conversation with the Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel

Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, tea-partier, liberal, conservative, or in-between, you’re experiencing an election season unlike any in U.S. history. That’s because the rules on political spending have changed in a billion dollar way.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the now-infamous Citizens United decision that corporations must be treated the same as people when it comes to political speech. The Court said the ban on using corporate cash to endorse or oppose political candidates (in place since 1947) was unconstitutional. The ruling freed them up to spend money both on “electioneering communications” and advocating for the election or defeat of candidates — so long as they don’t actually put the money in the candidate’s palm.

A few weeks after Citizens United, a lower court joined the festivities by ruling that certain political action committees could also accept unlimited contributions for so-called “independent” expenditures. So as not to leave anybody out, individual donors were included too. The Super PAC was born.

By mid September 2012 Super PACs aligned with Republicans had already spent $83 million on attack ads against President Obama, while pro-Obama Super PACs had spent $30 million. One well-heeled Republican donor, Sheldon Adelson, has vowed to personally spend $100 million to influence the 2012 elections.

Is all this good for democracy? What can we do about it? On September 20, The Nation attempts an answer in a special issue titled “The 1% Court,” with an introduction by Bill Moyers, who has spoken out repeatedly against Citizens United. I talked about those questions and others around corporate influence on the Court and the government itself with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, on my radio show Equal Time With Martha Burk.

MB: Let’s go back to when this got rolling — the mid-term elections in 2010. Only 15% of the money spent was a result of Citizens United because it was a brand-new ruling. You wrote in the Washington Post that 2010 was a test case. Conservatives and their corporate allies were “dipping their toes in the water, gauging the legal boundaries of the new landscape. They liked what they found.”

KvH: They certainly did. We’ve seen a 427% increase in spending since 2010. We’re looking at a presidential election with a price tag expected to reach over $2 billion. Overarching all of this is a dramatic assault on American democracy and the fundamental principle of one person, one vote.

MB: Some have tried to make the case that Citizens United isn’t that harmful, because most of the money coming into the Super PACs 2012-06-12-yourvoicesmallest2.JPGisn’t from corporations or unions, but from individuals like Adelson. Just ordinary people giving to causes and trying to elect candidates they like.

KvH: We are witnessing the derugulation of campaign finance – the scaffolding that was erected to protect people from the barrage of big corporate money. A moment where corporate power is virtually unchecked. It’s a fundamental concept of how you balance interests. The Koch brothers are the poster boys of this anti-people campaign finance structure.

MB: Has Citizen’s United sparked a counter movement.?

KvH: We had a week of people across this country — called Resolutions Week — where legislators in cities and counties have approved resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, to overturn Citizens United. A constitutional amendment is a heavy lift. But it’s a long-term goal around which to organize and agitate.

MB: Many people don’t realize is that you can’t find out who is paying for these ads [unless the donor discloses it voluntarily].

KvH: Anonymity is so destructive. And it may well be that Americans will get most of their information from attack ads because local news has been cut back, and it’s very dangerous.

MB: One reform that has been mentioned is that if a corporation runs these ads, the CEO has to come on and say “I’m [for example] Jamie Dimon and I approved this message.”

KvH: I love that because there’s all this talk about taking responsibility, so make that CEO whose corporation is pumping money in take that responsibility.

MB: Does the media have a role here?

KvH: We have not seen the corporate broadcast media play a constructive role. The money is so huge, the media is complicit in this financial-campaign-industry complex. It’s going to require agitation and exposure.

MB: All kinds of other races are being polluted by this money – down ticket races and ballot initiatives.

KvH: Yes. In the short term – as a minimum – we need disclosure, disclosure, disclosure.

MB: What is the most important thing voters ought to be paying attention to this year in regard to money in politics?

KvH: Voting is the first step. Accountability, engagement, movement pressure. The fight for an amendment, for a more democratic country is not an easy one. It demands engagement.

Liberal Hawk Poised to Swoop Down on Iran

On Wednesday (Sept. 19) I posted about how disappointing award-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s recent nuclear-modernization series (parts 1 and 2) was. I had thought she was poised to investigate the need for it, as well as for nuclear weapons themselves. After all, that’s what she had done in the past with the U.S. intelligence and classified activity system, as well as CIA detention sites overseas.

Turns out that, for whatever reason, Ms. Priest felt compelled to sound the alarm about what she calls “the decrepit, neglected state of the aging nuclear weapons complex,” apparently in order to drum up funds for it, like, yesterday! She writes that federal officials and many outside analysts maintain:

Failing to act before the end of next year … is likely to mean that there won’t be enough time to design and build the new systems that would be required if the old arsenal is no longer safe or reliable.

Tuesday, September 18, brought another, comparable disappointment. Historian Dan Plesch is the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at University of London’s School of Oriental and Africa Studies. You can tell where he’s stood on issues by the titles of some of the pieces, alone or with others, he’s written for publications like the Guardian and the New Statesman: What a mess our military has made, Making the Middle East nuclear-free, and Occupy London is reviving St Paul’s history of free speech. And, in May of this year: Disarmament is more practical than we are conditioned to think.

Tuesday’s piece, written with Martin Butcher and Ian Shields, is posted at esteemed British progressive site Open Democracy and is titled Reconsidering war with Iran. I only just realized that the title is a play on the title of a lengthy paper he wrote with Martin Butcher which was published exactly five years ago (September 2007): Considering a war with Iran (emphasis added).

One who had read neither piece and only knew Plesch’s reputation from his other work would naturally be puzzled. What’s being reconsidered? Previous counsel to attack? To refrain from attacking? Neither seems comprehensible in light of Plesch’s reputation as a nonproliferation and disarmament advocate. Hold that thought for the moment.

The authors concluded the earlier piece thusly:

If the attack is “successful” and the US reasserts its global military dominance and reduces Iran to the status of an oil-rich failed state, then the risks to humanity in general and to the states of the Middle East are grave indeed.

The two world wars of 1914-18 and 1939-1945, the creation of nuclear weapons, and the advent of global warming have created successive lessons that humanity and states cannot prosper or survive long unless they hold their security in common — sharing sovereignty and power to ensure both survival and prosperity.

A “successful” US attack, without UN authorisation, would return the world to the state that existed in the period before the war of 1914-18, but with nuclear weapons.

The self-styled realists argue that this is an inevitable and manageable world, the naivety of imagining a nuclear armed world without nuclear war is utopian in the extreme.

Obviously, in 2007 Plesch and Butcher were opposed to attacking Iran. Let’s now turn to the recent Open Democracy piece, which, at first, I thought was seemed simply to be presenting a scenario:

This article (drawing on open source material) will challenge the notion that America will not attack first, and demonstrate that the US has the wherewithal to destroy the Iranian military capability.

They write:

Conventional wisdom is that the US is unable to, or unwilling to risk, a pre-emptive attack and that Tehran is calling all the shots.


The US military, and likely political, readiness for a war using minimum ground forces indicates that the current seeming inaction surrounding Iran is misleading. The United States retains the ability – despite commitments to Afghanistan – to undertake no notice major military operations against Iran that could remove Iran’s ability to retaliate and remove the regime’s ability to function at all.

The enthusiasm with which Plesch and Butcher made their case was somewhat disconcerting. But, after all, this was Open Democracy. Certainly they weren’t suggesting an attack was advisable. Let’s jump ahead to the authors’ conclusion (emphasis added).

America certainly has the firepower to undertake such a mission, and could do so with little or no warning or additional build-up: this would be Shock and Awe on a new scale, while the advantages of a successful campaign – which we believe to be very highly likely – outweigh the potential disadvantages of either doing nothing or prevaricating.

… The US military machine, particularly for high-technology, full-spectrum conflict – as epitomised by air power – offers a President the option of an overwhelming advantage through the use of military force: this remains a viable option that should not be disregarded.

Where, you may be asking, is the disarmament and nonproliferation advocate Dan Plesch in this picture? In fact, his views may be a symptom of his commitment to nonproliferation, if not disarmament in this case. Just as liberal hawks supported invading Iraq both to divest it of supposed WMD and to free its people from a tyrant, Plesch is countenancing an attack on Iran to abort another — thus far imaginary, like Iraq’s –nuclear-weapons program.

But nonproliferation was never intended to be used as a pretext to attack another state. It only convinces the state that’s attacked, as well as its neighbors, that their security depends on acquiring arms commensurate with the attacking state. It’s disturbing to see someone whose previous work has been on behalf of peace sign on to such a project.


On September 26, Dan Plesch wrote us:

The authors oppose an attack on Iran, this piece is written to demonstrate that from within the US government the perception is that war is a far more viable option than is usually recognised and the article is written to explain that perspective”. Plesch commented that anyone familiar with his work would recognise this and that he has had several Iranians commend him for putting in the public domain an all too real scenario. Plesch added that people should note that the US and UK publics re-elected Bush and Blair despite the war in Iraq, so that the precedent is that even a disaster on the scale of Iraq need not have electoral consequences. Wiser counsel must prevail to stop war but wishful thinking over ill thought through disaster scenarios is worse than useless.

WaPo’s Dana Priest’s Alarmist Excursion Into the Nuclear Weapons-Industrial Complex

It was with some anticipation that I approached Dana Priest’s series in the Washington Post on nuclear-weapons modernization. After all, she’d won a Pulitzer prize and George Polk award for her reporting on CIA detention sites overseas and, along with William Arkin, she’d written Top Secret America, a three-part series on how immense the U.S. intelligence and classified activity system had become.

With the nuclear-weapons modernization articles, I was expecting an examination of the need for modernization and of nuclear weapons in general. Instead, Ms. Priest began the first article, Aging U.S. nuclear arsenal slated for costly and long-delayed modernization, by sounding an alarm about what she perceives as “the decrepit, neglected state of the aging nuclear weapons complex.” She writes that despite this ostensible state of affairs

… officials have repeatedly put off sinking huge sums into projects that receive little public recognition, driving up the costs even further.

Now, as the nation struggles to emerge from the worst recession of the postwar era and Congress faces an end-of-year deadline to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to the federal budget over 10 years, the Obama administration is overseeing the gargantuan task of modernizing the nuclear arsenal to keep it safe and reliable.

… Federal officials and many outside analysts are nonetheless convinced that, after years of delay, the government must invest huge sums if it is to maintain the air, sea and land nuclear triad on which the country has relied since the start of the Cold War. Failing to act before the end of next year, they say, is likely to mean that there won’t be enough time to design and build the new systems that would be required if the old arsenal is no longer safe or reliable.

In a lengthy press release, Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, not only pointed out inaccuracies in Ms. Priest’s work, but questioned its basic assumptions. He writes:

Contrary to the impression given by this article, there is nothing about the U.S. nuclear deterrent that is about to “wear out.” The warheads and bombs in particular – the focus of this article – do not “wear out” because they undergo periodic maintenance and upgrade programs of varying intrusiveness, roughly on an as-needed basis.

The one component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal that will “wear out,” and which will do so more or less on a succession of dates certain, are nuclear submarines.

The most intrusive warhead and bomb modifications are called “life extension programs” (LEPs), which are akin to a “complete factory overhaul.” After each LEP, the warhead or bomb in question is generally expected to last another 30 years before another LEP is needed, although there may be exceptions.

As for the “the decrepit, neglected state of the aging nuclear weapons complex”:

This is grossly inaccurate and misleading. Some buildings are new, replacing others that have been torn down. Most buildings have been properly maintained and are quite serviceable as they are. A few are being intentionally neglected (“run to failure”), sometimes because replacements are planned and sometimes because of bad decisions by senior management. Across the complex, hundreds of buildings are simply not needed, or are grossly oversized for their current missions, or have been adapted for new uses – which may or may not be important. Some buildings have been the subject of major upgrades already.

Then Mello quotes the Post:

An extended stoppage would disrupt the weapons safety work and could force the closing of domestic and foreign civilian reactors that rely on low-enriched uranium from the facility, according to the NNSA.

And responds (emphasis added):

No “weapons safety work” would be interrupted. The LEP program would be interrupted, but this should not be characterized as “weapons safety work.” Nuclear weapons almost always fail toward safety, not danger. There are no weapon safety problems which the LEP program is remedying.

Finally, he addresses a spurious charge by Ms. Priest, who wrote:

For their part, many anti-nuclear activists favor disarmament by atrophy, which would mean not repairing or extending the life span of the current arsenal.


This is absurd. We know of no anti-nuclear activists who favor disarmament by atrophy. In our own case (the Los Alamos Study Group), we believe we offer practical management alternatives which will maintain the arsenal better than NNSA’s program, which is failing, while at the same time our proposals position the country better for disarmament. We believe sound management and good government facilitate disarmament. Virtually all parties agree that NNSA is currently choosing and managing its projects poorly.

In other words, no urgent need to throw vast amounts of money at the U.S. nuclear-weapons industrial complex exists. One can only guess at Ms. Priest’s agenda for trying to scare up the funds. In the end, Mello’s critique obviates the need to even read Dana Priest’s series. With the Washington Post, it seldom pays to get one’s hopes up.

Netanyahu Squandering Israel’s “Rationality” Advantage Over Iran

Widespread in Washington is an assumption as implicit as it is unexamined that the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel, even though it hasn’t signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), is acceptable because:

1. It’s an ally.
2. It’s “rational.”

Bear in mind that Iran is a signatory to the NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors prowl Iran 24/7 365 days a year.*

But Israel, or to be more exact, Prime Minister Netanyahu, seems to be doing everything within his power to disabuse us of the notion that Israel is either an ally or rational. Netanyahu, constantly monitoring his personal tachometer of war, keeps watching for the needle to approach the red line. His latest impolitic outburst occurred on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sunday, July 16. Among other things he said:

Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East, stabilize the Middle East. I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity.

Of course, proliferation is never a good idea. But Netanyahu’s language became more and more un-prime-minister-like as the show proceeded. Speaking of Iran’s leadership, he said:

They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality, you know, you– since the advent of nuclear weapons, you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?

Netanyahu is propagating two myths:

1. Netanyahu is implying that any belief in the return of the Mahdi on the part of Iran’s leadership means that, like Christian millennialists, it courts the Apocalypse.
2. That those attacking American embassies — Sunni extremists at their worst, as in Benghazi — have much in common with Shiite Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington, too, seems incapable of putting itself in Tehran’s shoes. How, Tehran no doubt wonders, does a state like Israel get away with not only not refusing to sign the NPT, but enlisting the help of the entire West in upholding the pretense that it’s not in possession of a nuclear-weapons program?

The jury may still be out on whether disarmament initiatives by states with nuclear-weapons spurs states that aspire to a nuclear-weapons program to give up that dream. But, in a just world, Israel needs to give the world the opportunity to learn what the impact of signing the NPT and allowing IAEA inspectors into its own country would have on Iran before considering an attack. Of course, the evidence that Iran is developing nuclear-weapons or the capability to manufacture is little more — if that — than circumstantial thus far. But nuclear transparency on the part of Israel would likely induce concessions on enrichment from Iran. Of perforce, the temperature of Netanyahu’s war fever would be lowered and the dial on his war tachometer would recede safely into the black.

*Which, incidentally, place them in harm’s way in the event of an attack by Israel. Alternately, if pulled out, Iran knows an attack is forthcoming and Israel loses the element of surprise.

With Friends Like Morris Sadek, Copts Don’t Need Enemies

The dynamic duo: Morris Sadek and Pastor Terry Jones.

The dynamic duo: Morris Sadek and Pastor Terry Jones.

Pastor Terry Jones — the man who gained infamy for threatening to burn the Koran — promised to promote Innocence of Muslims, the film that’s setting off sparks and lighting brush fires across the Middle East. But Morris Sadek is the man who, Daniel Burke at Religion News Service reports, “translated it into Arabic, sent it to Egyptian journalists, promoted it on his website and posted it on social media.” Sadek is “an obscure Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives near Washington and proudly touts his ties to Jones.” In other words, Sadek was the catalyst to a conflagration, Jones the catalyst for the catalyst. Burke again (emphasid added):

Morris Sadek describes himself as a human rights attorney and president of a small group called the National American Coptic Assembly, based in Chantilly, Va. … But fellow Copts depict Sadek as a fringe figure and publicity hound whose Islamophobic invectives disrupt Copts’ quest for equal rights in Egypt.

… Sadek “has done a lot of harmful things for Copts in Egypt,” said Cynthia Farahat, Coptic Solidarity’s director of advocacy. “Every single thing he says is used by Islamists to justify terrorism against Copts.”

And that’s the last thing Copts need. At WND, Aaron Klein writes about the persecution to which they were subjected even before this latest episode.

While Copts were targeted by Islamists during Mubarak’s regime, such persecution has increased exponentially since Mubarak’s ouster.

Just weeks after Mubarak was booted, Muslim villagers in March 2011 reportedly set fire to a Coptic church while attacking Christians on the street.

Since last year, two other churches were set on fire in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo and in Edfu in the south of the country. Coptic Christian families were also reportedly evicted from their homes in Alexandria.

Some reports say more than 200,000 Copts already have fled their homes.

When Copts attempted to protest last October, security forces reportedly fired at the protesters, killing 24 and wounding more than 300 people.

Maggie Michael of the Associated Press reports on Copt persecution since the film.

“We are afraid the anger will engulf us,” said Monier Hanna, 58, a Coptic government employee who says he saw two unveiled Christian women being harassed over the movie by Muslim men in his middle-class district of Helwan on Thursday.

… Mira Girgis, a 23-year-old Copt and recent college graduate, said she feels insecure.

“I can’t go to church alone; my brother must be with me. I can’t go out at night. When I return from work, a male — either my father or brother — must be waiting for me at the subway station,” she said. “Being a Christian … is hard in Egypt in these conditions.”

A Christian journalist, Caroline Kamel, wrote in the Shorouk daily Friday that she and her family came under attack at a bus terminal in Cairo and another city over the film.

“Am I supposed to … apologize for stupidities of others just for the mere fact that we share the same religion?” she said.

By way of distancing themselves from the film, Copts

… gathered Friday in front of a Cairo cathedral holding signs denouncing a film that mocked the Prophet Muhammad amid fears that Muslims will take out their anger on Egypt’s minority community.

The Coptic Christian Church has issued a statement denouncing the film and rejecting “defamation” of the Muslim faith, and church officials have pledged that Christians will join their “brotherly Muslims” in sit-ins against the movie.

“This is part of a wicked campaign against religions, aimed at causing discord among people, especially Egyptians,” read the statement, issued Wednesday by the Sacred Congregation of the Coptic Church.

Morris Sadek is not only no friend to Middle-Eastern Christians, but, by providing them with a ready-made pretext to incite the public, he’s shown that he’s a friend to Islamic extremists.

This Week in OtherWords: September 17-23, 2012

This week, OtherWords is running Katie Halper’s second guest column. Her latest commentary unpacks Rep. Joe Walsh’s “greatest hits.” We’re also featuring an op-ed by Peter Hart about how the important issue of poverty just isn’t getting enough campaign coverage.

As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and visit our blog. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Baseball Escapism / Saul Landau
    It’s a big business, like all professional sports, that uses good old American values to lure customers.
  2. The Latest Battle in the War on Voting / Marge Baker
    The kind of big government the Right likes is the kind that keeps certain people from voting.
  3. Poor Visibility / Peter Hart
    The mainstream media needs to step up its reporting on poverty as a campaign issue.
  4. Disabled on the Job, Fired without Severance or Benefits / Jess Hunter-Bowman
    A GM subsidiary is providing an unlikely test for the U.S.-Colombia trade deal’s labor provisions.
  5. Chicago and the Psychology of Teacher Bashing / Sam Pizzigati
    In a deeply unequal society, the affluent will always sneer at public services and the men and women who provide them.
  6. Joe Walsh’s Greatest Hits / Katie Halper
    It’s not easy to disrespect the disabled and the military in the same breath.
  7. Ryan Runs Into the Truth / Jim Hightower
    Whether you run a marathon or run for office, facts and integrity matter.
  8. Cigarettes: The Killer that Won’t Die / William A. Collins
    Taxes trump cancer every time.
  9. Second-Hand Smoke / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Second-Hand Smoke, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Second-Hand Smoke, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Phyllis Bennis Appears on MSNBC’s ‘Up with Chris Hayes’

IPS New Internationalism Director Phyllis Bennis has been traveling South Africa for the last couple of weeks. She returns to the U.S. as chaos engulfs much of the Middle East.

Phyllis Bennis discusses the Middle East on 'Up with Chris'

Phyllis Bennis discusses the Middle East on ‘Up with Chris’

Phyllis Bennis joined the panel on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes” last Saturday morning. The all-foreign-policy show focused on the current crises in the Middle East, including the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, as well as the protests against the insulting Islamophobic film made in California that has sparked anger around the world. There was also discussion of the U.S. and Israeli (and Obama and Romney) “red lines” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. military aid to Israel and how the discourse on U.S. support for Israel is changing so dramatically.

The MSNBC link shows the various segments of the show listed on the left side of the page.


As new anti-U.S. protests take place in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia and beyond, the election cycle will be intertwined with foreign policy news, in what was supposed to be an election dominated by debates over how to bring the U.S. economy back from its current recession.

Bennis was on Chris Hayes’ show last New Years’ Eve morning, analyzing the consequences of the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq.

Dogwhistling Past Libya

Cross-posted from IPS Special Project Right Web‘s Militarist Monitor.

The deadly attack on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya raises a host of uncomfortable questions about the long-term ramifications of U.S. overseas interventions, the impact of Islamophobic media on U.S. international relations, and the ability of the United States to defend its diplomats in unstable or hostile environs.

It also calls into the question the efficacy of the NATO intervention in Libya, which left behind a weak central state and a fractious, violent political order susceptible to penetration by radical groups like the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades, the al-Qaeda-aligned Libyan organization suspected of using protests at the U.S. mission as a pretext for carrying out the attacks.

The Mitt Romney campaign, however, has raised none of these issues. Instead—in language reportedly approved by the candidate himself—Romney fumed that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Despite withering bipartisan criticism of both the timing and the substance of the statement, the Romney campaign has refused to disavow it.

The remark was an apparent reference to a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where boisterous crowds had gathered to protest a bizarre anti-Islamic U.S. film that had been leaked to the Egyptian media. In language not vetted by Washington, the embassy staff condemned efforts to “hurt the religious feelings” of Muslims, which the Romney campaign construed as “an apology for our values.” Not only was the statement made in Cairo—not Benghazi, where the actual violence occurred amid similar protests—but it was issued hours before the U.S. personnel in Libya had been attacked.

Although some Republicans condemned the Romney campaign’s response as “craven” and “irresponsible,” a number of campaign surrogates and supporters took to the airwaves to double down. After repeatedly dodging a reporter’s questions about the timeline of the events (how could the administration be faulted, after all, for a statement issued before the violence had occurred?), Romney adviser Richard Williamson mused inanely that the occasion called for the president to “stand up for our values and [be] willing to lead from the front.” On Twitter, Donald Rumsfeld attributed the attacks to “perceived American weakness,” although presumably Twitter’s 140-character format left him no space to address the 12 embassy attacks that occurred during the last Bush administration.

But beyond a sordid new occasion for old “no apology” talking points, some observers have read baser motives into the Republican response. Romney’s remarks, wrote Adam Serwer, “don’t merely assign responsibility for the incident to, say, poor leadership or a failed foreign policy. Instead, Romney’s remarks suggest that Obama has very specific personal motivations: When violent religious radicals slaughter Americans, Obama is on the side of the radicals.” Serwer lumped the implications in with “a very well-developed narrative, popular on the fever swamps of the right where questions about Obama’s citizenship or faith linger” and likened them to attacks leveled by the conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza.

But if Romney kept such implications to a dog whistle, other Republicans raised them to a fever pitch. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, for example, tweeted that it was “sad and pathetic” that “Obama sympathizes with [the] attackers in Egypt.” Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican notorious for his insistence that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” concluded simply that President Obama was “just apologizing because he doesn’t like America.” And after Obama called Libyan president Yusuf al-Magariaf to thank him for the Libyan government’s assistance in tracking down the perpetrators of the attack, FoxNews.com ran a story headlined “Obama Calls Libyan President to Thank Him after U.S. Ambassador Murdered.”

Amid the Beltway chatter, a new group of Libyans assembled outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi holding signs condemning extremism and expressing remorse for the previous day’s violence. In an episode fraught with missed opportunities and debased rhetoric, they may be the only ones actually apologizing.

U.S.-Israeli Differences Not Likely Lost on Iran

At the Daily Beast, Ali Gharib quotes from a letter that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.

As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time—Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Yet, writing about prospective Iranian retaliation by means of terrorism to an Israeli attack, should it occur, Daniel Byman at Foreign Policy suggests that Iran still sees little difference between the policies toward it of Israel and the United States.

Even if the most provocative measures against Iran’s nuclear program are taken by Israel alone, the United States should expect to find itself the target of attacks, particularly abroad. Although the two countries do not march in lockstep, the subtle distinctions in Iran policy that divide Washington and Jerusalem are often lost in Tehran. U.S. support for aggressive sanctions and Israel’s covert campaign are considered part of a shared effort to undermine the Islamic Republic, and reportedly joint operations like the computer virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear program further blur differences.

Though, as the Guardian reported, at the end of August about Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey:

Distancing himself from any Israeli plan to bomb Iran, Dempsey said such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programme”.

He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”

As if to highlight those distinctions, the Wilson Center just issued a report titled Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran signed and endorsed by many American national security figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sam Nunn, William Fallon, Chuck Hagel, and Anthony Zinni. The Associated Press summed it up:

U.S. military strikes on Iran would shake the regime’s political control and damage its ability to launch counterstrikes, but the Iranians probably would manage to retaliate, directly and through surrogates, in ways that risked igniting all-out war in the Middle East, according to an assessment of an attack’s costs and benefits. … It says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Suggesting that Tehran doesn’t draw much distinction between the policies towards it of the United States and Israel doesn’t give Tehran much credit. At Haaretz, Daniel Kurtzer (behind a pay wall) maintains that it’s time to, in essence, blur those distinctions again.

The United States and Israel do many things well together. … The one thing we are not doing well together these days is quiet diplomacy. … Put bluntly, there’s too much noise about critical security issues. … The language used by officials – again, primarily Israeli, but sometimes American – is highly charged and quite unusual in the discourse between allies.

In fact, writes Kurtzer:

It is actually a crisis of significant dimensions, for the hyperbolic accusations, chatter, leaks, and distortions that increasingly mark our public discourse toward each other actually undermine our mutual security and undercut the possibility of accomplishing important national security objectives.

You can be sure that Tehran not only gets it, but is no doubt watching the all-too-public diplomacy between the United States and Israel with some amusement.

USA and Mexico: Best Democracies Money Can Buy

This post originally appeared in Progreso Weekly.

Some friends look nostalgically at U.S. history, as if our current situation means that a once-great and deeply principled America has eroded and collapsed.

Is this the America founded on slavery? The Constitution, which tried to mute every aspect of direct democracy?

Rope breaksThe Tea Party rhetoric claims to represent the values of the Founding Fathers, who did not believe in democracy, religion, or free market nonsense. Democracy, to the wealthy elite then and now, meant that the property-less masses (the poor) would some day rule – if they learned to use the vote. To the oligarchs, the majority are inferior people unfit to make decisions for the educated and financially well endowed. For the 1%, billionaires, and their families, the idea of poorer people making decisions impacting on their wealth resonates sourly, or as they call it “class war.”

The oligarchs decided, long ago, that they were to permanently rule. The most recent development gained the Supreme Court’s help (Citizens United) so that the super-rich could “own” the 2012 election. The reactionary high court opened the door for super corporate donations to political campaigns. Compare gambling casino mogul Sheldon Adelson‘s pledge of $100 million to the modest amount a working person could afford to contribute.

Republicans have also tried to limit participation in voting by numerous means, including pushing so-called Voter ID laws that would demand photo identification of all voters. The less the masses vote, the better for the oligarchs. In Ohio, the GOP controls both houses of the Legislature, the governorship, the secretary of state’s office, and the state Supreme Court. Soon after the 2008 election, it imposed a draconian photo ID law designed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of suspected Democrats, as is being done in other states around the U.S. Since 2009, the Ohio GOP has purged roughly a million citizens from the state’s voter rolls. This accounts for some 15% of the roughly 5.2 million votes counted for president in the state in 2008. The purge focuses on counties that are predominantly urban and Democratic. In addition, electronic voting machines have been installed throughout the state, which are owned, operated, programmed and maintained – and will be tallied – by Republican-connected firms.

Ironically, Mexico’s wealthy elite may have begun to copy us. Or did our billionaires take lessons from their Mexican counterparts? A transnational army of election entrepreneurs has emerged that hires itself to the highest bidder on both sides of the border.

Before this year’s July election, the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) that governed Mexico for half a century until 2000 bought pre-paid gift cards and phone money cards for shoppers at a Mexican grocery store chain in return for their votes for PRI candidate Peña Nieto. A Congressional Research Service report issued on September 4, 2012, acknowledged that some independent domestic observation groups “found that vote-buying, intimidation, and other irregularities marred the electoral process.” (Clare Ribando Seelke, Mexico’s 2012 Elections, Congressional Research Service, September 4, 2012, p. 9)

Associated Press and British Guardian reporters interviewed shoppers who crowded one Soriana grocery store two days after the elections to redeem the cards. The shoppers told the journalists that PRI officials had given them the food or telephone money-cards, in return for their votes for PRI’s candidate.

On July 4th, the Guardian reported that at least 28% of the voters interviewed acknowledged that they encountered vote buying as well as coercive tactics on behalf of PRI candidates. President Obama nevertheless immediately called the PRI presidential candidate to congratulate him and praise the democratic process of the country and its institutions.

PRI, like the U.S. Republican Party, bought the cooperation of the TV giants, Televisa and Tv Azteca, and launched a massive propaganda campaign. On the print stage, PRI backers invested heavily in Excelsior, El Universal, and El Sol de Mexico newspapers and got favorable stories. In Laredo, for example, the program “Buen Dia Laredo” reported positively on PRI and/or PAN and always negatively on the PRD candidate, or simply did not mention him or his campaign.

This barrage included stories of bogus opinion polls declaring PRI the clear favorite by just making the numbers up. Several PRI governors even used the budget from their respective state governments to finance the PRI campaign, not exactly a legal procedure. That was the case of the state of Mexico whose governor was also the PRI presidential candidate.

Mexico’s so-called independent Instituto Federal Electoral and Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial set up to monitor elections and ensure fairness did nothing to stop the electoral fraud, or show that votes for PRD did not get counted, or that PAN and PRI votes got over counted. Instead of recognizing obvious illegalities, these institutions neither looked at the evidence nor sought it, and refused to even consider any of the charges. The Tribunal was even mandated to study, analyze and investigate the charges submitted, but the judges certified the election as legal and proper.

The Mexican Tribunal Electoral denied the petition filed by PRD candidate Manuel Lopez Obrador who demanded a reversal of the election results and called for a new election. But the presiding electoral judge announced that “there is no proof of vote-buying.” The judges did not interview any card recipients and ignored video evidence lending credibility to these claims.

The Mexican high court asserted there was no proof of electoral crime. Yet, the PRD and a citizens’ movement had delivered to the judges a 638-page document with thousands of examples of illegal activities affecting the election. The judges didn’t open the document but nevertheless declared: “It has not been demonstrated that they (the cards) were given to citizens, or if that occurred, that it was done on condition they vote for a given candidate.” The presiding judge later modified the remarks, saying that the people who received the free food cards were already committed PRI voters and workers anyway.

Eduardo Huchim of Alianza Civica, a UN funded organization, described the 2012 election as “neither clean nor fair.” This was not Mexico’s first election theft. The great Mexican revolution in 1910 began under the banner of “effective suffrage, no reelections.” Yet, electoral thefts continued in 1939, 1987 and 2006. Viva la democracia.

Mexico’s elite still attempts to hide its political hands because their Supreme Court has not yet informed their people that corporate wealth is a form of freedom of expression as Citizens United did for the American public.

So there is plenty of proof that U.S. and Mexican super elites have modernized election theft. The old days of stuffed ballot boxes and dead people voting now appear as primitive larceny techniques.

The piety of both elites about how they cherish democracy has become downright offensive.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP screens in Portland Oregon’s Clinton Theater, Sept. 13. Nelson Valdes is professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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