Thursday, June 23, 2011

Keith Olbermann is back.

Welcome back Keith Olbermann.  You are a national treasure.  People, this is a what a REAL patriot looks like and sounds like. 

He doesn't wrap himself in the flag for the sake of self-aggrandisement.  He doesn't spout patriotic hooey to impress the ill-informed.  He doesn't tow the line or blindly mouth the talking points laid out by any political party or media conglomerate.  He speaks the truth, and backs it up with accurate information and where necessary, historical and/or scientific data.  That is, DATA.  Facts.  The indisputable, incorruptible, untarnished truth as revealed by objective research into the historical past or the accumulated depth of knowledge that is the result of scientific inquiry.

In an era when one party (Democrats) lacks the backbone necessary to do what is right for the welfare of the nation, and the other party (Republicans) is utterly dedicated to the glib misrepresentation of the truth for the sake of its own enrichment, having a commentator like Keith Olbermann makes him one of the nation's most important voices.

I, for one, really believe in American Exceptionalism; I hear so much criticism of the government and so much wailing over the deficit, and so much crying about how America can't do the great things that we have always done.  I am shocked by the outright cowardice and utterly craven hypocrisy. 

We can't afford to rebuild the nation's infrastructure because the Republicans insist on giving the uber-wealthy a pass on paying their fair share of the tax burden.  We can't afford to pay our public employees (teachers, fire-fighters, police officers, janitors, social workers, etc...) because to do so might involve taxing the rich.  We can't afford to provide basic health care for all Americans because we are deceived into thinking that somehow we are sinking into a "socialist" morass, when the truth is we just don't want to raise taxes on the rich to pay for it.

How is it that middle-class Americans, who have seen their incomes stagnate for thrity years, but who nonetheless pay a greater share of their hard earned paychecks in taxes than their corporate and financial overlords, are deceived by the hypocritical propaganda spewing from the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly and Dobbs.  The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I'm always surprised, and frankly dismayed, at the ease with which Republicans turn their backs on the Constitution when it doesn't suit their purposes, and how easily the deliberate half-truths and innuendos they spout deceives their followers, especially the suddenly emergent Tea Party.  Seems to me there's not a whole lot of critical thinking going on on the right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tempest in a Teapot

I see a tempest brewing over NBC inadvertently cutting the words "under God" from a broadcast of people reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance" at the US Open on Sunday. Since those two words weren't added until 1954 (back when we were fighting Godless communism) it really doesn't seem that important to me.  But I see there are people who are afraid that America is abandoning God and therefore going to Hell.

But we won't get God back into our world by yapping about it on TV, especially at a golf tournament.

We bring God into the world through our thoughts and actions. It is in us and through us that God is made manifest. Our compassion for the sick and the poor, the concern we show to our fellow humans and to the animals that live with us in the world, our desire for peace forgiveness, and righteousness, these are the conditions that bring Godliness into the world. Not the blind, obedient recitation of a pledge to a flag, not ours nor anyone's.

Many people believe that America was founded under religious principles. While there is a strong religious character to Americans as individuals, and it is a popular belief that this religious foundation for the country is historical, the documents simply don't support that view.

The Declaration of Independence does, in fact, contain three distinct references to the Divine, though none of them are couched in religious terminology. The first reference in the first sentence of the Declaration is to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God", the second reference in the second sentence is the most famous "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" and the third reference comes at the very end of the Declaration when the authors (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) call upon "a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence" in declaring the colonies' independence from Great Britain. Not a particularly strong religious context there.

The Constitution, on the other hand, makes absolutely no mention of God or religion, except in Article 6 where the Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

The only Oath specified in the Constitution is for the swearing in of the President which reads "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Again, the popular "so help me God." is not part of the official oath, regardless of how many Presidents have been heard to utter it.

In the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment to the Constitution, the government is prohibited in the most absolute of terms from making any laws "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". It does not specify one religion over another, it does not grant any particular religion official recognition and, in fact it guarantees every religion free and equal status throughout the land.

These men, these brilliant Founding Fathers, were mostly Christians, members (until the Revolution) of the Church of England, and yet, they saw the need to separate the role of religion from the affairs of the government. At one and the same time they protected our religious freedom of choice and worship, and mindful of the disastrous toll exacted by religious fanaticism in history (for example: the Inquisition or the Salem witch trials) they protected our government from the undue influence of religion.

Now, the official motto of the United States, "In God We Trust" while in use on coinage since the 1860's was, like "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance officially adopted in the 1950's, the heyday of anti-Communist fervor. Some critics contend that the motto's placement on money constitutes the establishment of a religion or a church by the government, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Separation of church and state.

The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." In fact, in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Supreme Court upheld the use of the motto because it has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content". So-called acts of "ceremonial deism" have supposedly lost their "history, character, and context".

Outside of constitutional objections, President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money. And I think this whole stink over the Pledge of Allegiance at the US Open is that same kind of affair. While not sacrilege it's seems a tempest in a teapot. Not worth spending a moment thinking about it.

In fact, I have more objection to the concept of the Pledge of Allegiance than I do to the phrase "under God" being a part of it. The whole idea of having to repeatedly swear your fealty to the flag smacks of Fascist indoctrination. You either love America or you don't. You either believe in the ideals enshrined in the founding documents or you don't. Swearing allegiance to a flag or even to the Republic is not called for in the Constitution not even in the Oath of Office for the President. The President is simply required to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" and faithfully execute his official duties. No more than that should ever be required of us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Tim Pawlenty Thinks He Knows

I wish I was drinking the Kool-aid Pawlenty and the rest of the Republicans imbibe. Then it would be easy to believe the utter nonsense that passes for the right's understanding of economic issues.

They started, under Reagan, more than thirty years ago by systematically reducing tax revenues with their "starve the beast" mentality. Working class incomes stagnated while the wealth of the upper class balloons under tax policy that favors the well-to-do. "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer"; but this isn't seen as "redistribution of wealth", a phrase the Republicans have latched on to and used as a cudgel against enlightened tax reform.

This is what they want: every worker should be a drone, beholden to his/her employer. Every government service should be focused on helping the rich, and the hell with everyone else. Old people? Sick people? Poor people? Too bad about them. They should have tried harder.

Regulation of business and finance? That just gets in the way.

Republican policies are motivated by selfishness and greed. They wrap themselves in the flag and in religion while trampling the very precepts of both. The Constitution and the Bible are useful only as weapons with which to demean and destroy those they perceive as their enemies.

They are plutocrats and oligarchs and they will not rest until they have dismantled the social consciousness embodied in the New Deal and the Great Society reforms of the Twentieth Century.  Tea Party activists think the 2nd Amendment is under fire now. Just wait til the Republicans get the control they want. You don't really think that Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers will allow America to be armed, do you?

Oh, and by the way, not one penny of taxpayer money goes to the U.S. Postal Service. Not one. Zero. Nada. Nothing.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Wrong Kind of Foreign Aid

A friend of mine has raised the point that our foreign aid program does nothing more than support regimes around the world that hate us, and that we shouldn't be sending them these funds, because all we are doing is buying their hatred of us.

Honestly, we don't buy their hate, we earn it:

In 1953, the CIA worked with the United Kingdom to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.  Mossadegh was replaced with the Shah Reza Pahlavi who held absolute power until his overthrow by the Iranian revolution led by Ayatollah Khoumeni.

The 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état was a covert operation organized by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, the democratically-elected President of Guatemala.  Following the coup, the Guatemalan Civil War began, a civil war involving some of the most brutal counterinsurgency of its time (including years of massacres of Maya Indians).

General Fulgencio Batista's second spell as President of Cuba was initiated by a military coup planned in Florida, and U.S. President Harry S. Truman quickly recognized Batista's return to rule providing military and economic aid. The Batista era witnessed the almost complete domination of Cuba's economy by the United States, as the number of American corporations continued to swell, though corruption was rife and Havana also became a popular sanctuary for American organized crime figures, notably hosting the infamous Havana Conference in 1946.  Ultimately, this brought about the revolution led by Fidel Castro, who U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially recognized in 1959.

In 1960, Belgium granted independence to its most prized territory, the Belgian Congo. A leader of the successful anti-colonial struggle, Patrice Émery Lumumba was elected to be the first prime minister of the country that following its independence from colonial rule had become known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Soon after the election, during the Congo Crisis, the CIA and the Belgian government orchestrated a military coup to remove the Lumumba government from power. Lumumba was subsequently murdered in prison.

In February 1963, the United States backed a coup against the government of Iraq headed by General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy.  Washington immediately befriended the successor regime. "Almost certainly a gain for our side," Robert Komer, a National Security Council aide, wrote to President John F. Kennedy on the day of the takeover.

In Brazil, a democratically-elected government headed by President João Goulart was successfully overthrown by a CIA-supported coup in March 1964.

On 24 February 1966, while Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana, was out of the country his government was overthrown in a military coup backed by the CIA.

In Iraq, in 1968, the CIA backed the coup by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr of the Baath Party, bringing Saddam Hussein to the threshold of power.  The CIA deputy for the Middle East Archibald Roosevelt (grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt) was quoted by former NSC official Roger Morris as saying, with regard to Iraqi Ba'ath Party officers on his payroll during the coups, "They're our boys, bought and paid for, but you always gotta remember that these people can't be trusted."

On Tuesday 11 September 1973, the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup d’état organised by the Chilean military and endorsed by the United States. A military junta took control of the government, composed of the heads of the Air Force, Navy, Carabineros (police force) and the Army led by General Augusto Pinochet who later assumed power and ended Allende's democratically elected Popular Unity government.

As early as 1973-74, the CIA began offering covert backing to radical Islamist rebels in Afghanistan on the premise that the authoritarian government headed by Mohammed Daoud Khan might prove a likely instrument of Soviet military aggression in South Asia.

The CIA colludes with the Shah of Iran to finance and arm Kurdish rebels in an attempt to overthrow al-Bakr in Iraq. When Iran and Iraq sign a peace treaty in 1975, the support ceases. The Shah denies the Kurds refuge in Iran, even as many are slaughtered. The U.S. decides not to press the issue with the Shah.  The American betrayal of the Kurds was investigated by the Pike Committee, which described it as cynical and self-serving, and it has been argued that it tarnished America's image with one of the most pro-Western groups in the Middle East.

The democratically elected government of Argentina headed by Isabel Martínez de Perón was successfully overthrown by a military putsch in March 1976.  Two days after the coup, Assistant Secretary for Latin America, William Rogers, advised Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that he expected significant repression to follow the coup.  But Kissinger made his preferences clear: "Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement… I do want to encourage them."

From 1981-90, the CIA planted mines in civilian harbors and sunk civilian ships in an attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The U.S. also armed and trained the Contra guerrilla insurgency to destabilize the Nicaraguan government.

One of the CIA's longest and most expensive covert operations was the supplying of billions of dollars in arms to the Afghan mujahideen militants against the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The early foundations of al-Qaida were built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahadin during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country.

And on and on.....