Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Republican Health Care Plan

Grand Old Parachutes

by William Rivers Pitt

photo����George W. Bush crawled out of the puckerbrush last week to deliver a speech in Erie, Pennsylvania, in which he took a poke at President Obama. "I told you I'm not going to criticize my successor," he said, before doing exactly that. "I'll just tell you that there are people at Gitmo that will kill American people at a drop of a hat and I don't believe that persuasion isn't going to work. Therapy isn't going to cause terrorists to change their mind."

����Ah, yes, the eloquence we've all missed so much since January. "I don't believe that persuasion isn't going to work" has to be tall in the running for first-ballot induction into the Gibberish Hall of Fame, and that quip about terrorists in therapy absolutely pegged the needle on the Irony Meter, as ABC News pointed out. "Interestingly," reported the network, "it was the Bush administration that sent some Gitmo detainees to a Saudi jihadi rehabilitation camp - called the "Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling. To decidedly mixed success."

����Well, go figure. It wouldn't be vintage Bush without a few hearty dollops of mangled verbiage combined with maddening factual inconsistency, now, would it? It almost makes one nostalgic for the daily brain cramps our former president used to deliver with such gruesome consistency. Well, no, actually, not really.

Neda's death was shared by all

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Maybe you were there when Neda died.

If you were, you saw a tragedy, of course � a 26-year-old Iranian protester gunned down in the streets. But I am convinced you also saw the future � a profound change in the way you and I will henceforth comprehend the world.

Many of us � your humble correspondent prominent among them � have been less than impressed with the ubiquity of social-networking websites. Spurred by reports of congresspersons who tweet banalities during a presidential speech, of cyber-bullying and flash mobs, we have regarded them as an engine of vanity and inanity, a mirror reflecting the utter vapidity of much of American life and culture.

In this judgment, we have been exactly right. And also exactly wrong.

This is not to say that social-networking media have not been guilty of dumbing down the discourse. But it is to admit the obvious lesson of recent days: They can facilitate higher purposes as well. For this reality, the cause of human freedom can be grateful.

After all, when angry Iranian voters took to the streets to protest a stolen presidential election last week and were clubbed and shot in retaliation, the events could easily have been a non-story in the rest of the world, given that Iran had placed heavy restrictions on foreign reporters. But what the theocratic regime had not counted on was that ordinary Iranians armed with camcorders, laptops and cellphones would document the unrest or that it would make its way to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other web places where people connect.

If the world could not come to the outrage, they would bring the outrage to the world. The result has been an international furor that has caught Iran's government in an awkward dance of backpedaling (it now admits to election irregularities but claims they did not impact the outcome) and bluster (warnings that protesters face a harsh crackdown). The world did not force the regime to that point. Its people did. Neda did.

There is something . . . electrifying in watching Neda Agha-Soltan, blood-streaked and prostrate on the sidewalk, dying on camera and knowing this moment has not been framed and contextualized for you by a blow-dried network news reporter but is, rather, the grief cry of some unknown person with a cellphone camera who is desperate for you to see what is happening, desperate for you to know. It is a raw, person-to-person connection, and one is hard-pressed to imagine its equal in any other medium.

Ron Paul: Obama's goal is economic collapse

By David Edwards and Stephen Webster

Ron Paul, the popular Republican Congressman from Texas, is ripping into the president and Congress for what he sees as their "goal" with round after round of stimulus: complete economic collapse.

"From their spending habits, an economic collapse seems to be the goal of Congress and this administration," he said in his June 22, 2009, weekly address.

He added that Democrats who voted for the president's war funding request, which gave an additional $106 billion to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq � among other, unrelated items � were actually voting in favor of the wars, not just authorization of the president's agenda.

He called it an affront to everyone who believed a vote for Obama was a vote for a peace candidate.

The president's insistence on including an additional $108 billion in asset exchange with the International Monetary Fund is merely "buying global oppression," he said.

Paul added that, "this [bill sent] $660 million to Gaza, $555 million to Israel, $310 million to Egypt, $300 million to Jordan and $420 million to Mexico; and some $889 million will be sent to the United Nations for so-called peace keeping missions."

In other words, the latest U.S. war funding was an "International bailout," he said.

Saudi Royal Family Extensively Involved in Financing Al-Qaeda, Newly Revealed Government Documents Apparently Confirm

BY Mark Karlin
Since shortly after 9/11, and other progressive sites -- as well as many a book -- offered extensive information that appeared to closely link some members of the Saudi Royal family to financing and supporting Al-Qaeda. This was something that the Bush Administration went to great lengths to deny, but their deference to the Saudis (including George W. walking pinky-entwined-with-pinky with Saudi princes, for real) was really all as usual about�oil.

Dick Cheney�and Rumsfeld -- in particular -- saw 9/11 as an enormous "gift" to�rally the public behind first securing�American and British access to the Iraqi oil fields and then to the�Iranian ones.��In the infamous PNAC document written by the Neo-Cons at the end of the Clinton Administration, they predicted that it would take a cataclysmic event to rally the American public behind the overthrow of Saddam (and rights to Iraqi oil) -- and they got what they wished for in 9/11.

Those who read BuzzFlash in our early years know that we repeatedly harped upon this issue and identified the connection between Cheney's vision of controlling natural resources in the Middle East�to feed the beast of American empire and our Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran policies of belligerence and war.

Now the Obama administration has, sadly, taken the place of the Bush Administration in keeping 9/11 family members from revealing the role of the Saudi elite in financially and strategically facilitating Al-Qaeda.� This is taking place in courtroom battles involving a 9/11 family lawsuit against the Saudis that is still going on.

A June 24th New York Times article spills the beans, yet again, but via official government documents leaked to the attorneys for the 9/11 families:

Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.

The case has put the Obama administration in the middle of a political and legal dispute, with the Justice Department siding with the Saudis in court last month in seeking to kill further legal action. Adding to the intrigue, classified American intelligence documents related to Saudi finances were leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. The Justice Department had the lawyers' copies destroyed and now wants to prevent a judge from even looking at the material.

It was always one of the great betrayals of the American public, dead Iraqi civilians, and our killed and wounded service men and women that the Bush Administration -- and particularly Cheney -- used anti-terrorism as a guise to secure control over oil fields.

Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie

By Charlie Jane Anders

Critical consensus on Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is overwhelmingly negative. But the critics are wrong. Michael Bay used a squillion dollars and a hundred supercomputers' worth of CG for a brilliant art movie about the illusory nature of plot.

Oh, and I would warn you that there'll be spoilers in this review � except that, really, since I still have no idea what actually happened in this movie, I'm not sure how much I can spoil it.

Since the days of Un Chien Andalou and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, filmmakers have reached beyond meaning. But with this summer's biggest, loudest movie, Michael Bay takes us all the way inside Caligari's cabinet. And once you enter, you can never emerge again. I saw this movie two days ago, and I'm still living inside it. Things are exploding wherever I look, household appliances are trying to kill me, and bizarre racial stereotypes are shouting at me.

Transformers: ROTF has mostly gotten pretty hideous reviews, but that's because people don't understand that this isn't a movie, in the conventional sense. It's an assault on the senses, a barrage of crazy imagery. Imagine that you went back in time to the late 1960s and found Terry Gilliam, fresh from doing his weird low-fi collage/animations for Monty Python. You proceeded to inject Gilliam with so many steroids his penis shrank to the size of a hair follicle, and you smushed a dozen tabs of LSD under his tongue. And then you gave him the GDP of a few sub-Saharan countries. Gilliam might have made a movie not unlike this one.

And the true genius of Transformers: ROTF is that Bay has put all of this excess of imagery and random ideas at the service of the most pandering movie genre there is: the summer movie. ROTF is like twenty summer movies, with unrelated storylines, smushed together into one crazy whole. You try in vain to understand how the pieces fit, you stare into the cracks between the narrative strands, until the cracks become chasms and the chasms become an abyss into which you stare until it looks deep into your own soul, and then you go insane. You. Do. Not. Leave. The Cabinet.

This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America��

Just Say Know

A review by Gerry Donaghy

Back in March of this year, President Barack Obama's team hit on a novel way to interact with the vox populi by holding a virtual town hall meeting over the Internet. Most of the questions dealt with issues he had addressed while on the campaign trail: health care, the mortgage crisis, education, and chronic unemployment. One question that made it past the vetting process asked if marijuana legalization couldn't be a tool for creating both jobs and tax revenue for the government. The President quickly laughed the issue off, saying that he "didn't think the strategy was good." It was a frustrating response for legalization advocates, and perfectly illustrated the disconnect between their ideals and political reality. If Obama had given even a hint of entertaining the idea, the outcry from Republicans would have been deafening and distracting. In Obama's political calculus, it's easier to deal with a bunch of disgruntled potheads then it is to deal with the minority party.

Huffington Post correspondent Ryan Grim's book, This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, explores the myriad of disconnects that inhabit our conventional wisdom when it comes to drug use and drug policy. Why is it, for example that in order to receive the mandatory minimum jail sentence for powder cocaine you must possess 500 grams, whereas for crack cocaine the amount is only 5 grams? How can a plan for addict treatment, which was effective in reducing use at the expense of only $34 million, be thrown out in favor of a plan featuring military tactics (raids and interdictions) and mandatory minimum jail sentences, with less demonstrated efficacy and a price tag of $783 million? Why is it that Drug Abuse Resistance through Education (aka D.A.R.E., founded by notorious L.A. police chief Daryl Gates) seems to elevate kids' interest in drugs instead of discouraging it?

Grim, who has waded through a staggering amount of research, ranging from government statistics on drug use in America to the impact of the North America Free Trade Act on the drug trade between the U.S. and Mexico, presents his results in a way that is informative, yet neither strident nor didactic. He is equally quick to point out that in California, while some medical marijuana dispensaries can be overly generous with whom they distribute to, one shop alone contributed approximately $875,000 to the state's tax coffers. His reporter's instinct keeps the book from becoming mired in either partisan or policy arguments. Instead, he sticks to facts that show how our country's relationship with drugs is frequently adversarial, and frequently motivated by passion rather than evidence, and that it is always, in his words, a "never ending game of Whac-A-Mole."

There are two aspects of Grim's research that I wish would receive more attention in the mainstream media. One is the role that large pharmaceutical companies play in shaping our drug policy. It is considerably hypocritical of government and Big Pharma to tell us that, on one hand, methamphetamine should be illegal, while another stimulant, Ritalin, should not only be legal but in fact the drug of choice for issues such as ADD. One troubling facet of this relationship is how the manufacturers and distributors of legal drugs (such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Anheuser-Busch, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer) help fund The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which endlessly reminds us what our brains look like on drugs � at least the illegal ones, anyway. While the Partnership has distanced itself from its alcohol and tobacco sponsors, Grim makes it clear that we won't be seeing any "This is your brain on Prozac" ads anytime soon.

Yippie founder Paul Krassner still testing limits

by John Rogers
In this image released by city lights books, paul krassner's DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. � He was once a child music prodigy and in the decades since, Paul Krassner has been everything from political satirist to author, editor, anarchist and an advocate for both peace and pornography.

But the title he may favor is one he found buried in his FBI file.

"To classify Krassner as a social rebel is far too cute," a letter in the file said in response to a favorable magazine interview with the co-founder of the Yippie Party, the group that notoriously disrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. "He's a nut, a raving, unconfined nut."

So Krassner titled his autobiography "Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut."

"I figured I might as well make use of it," says the author, smiling broadly as he sits in the living room of his modest tract home in this sandy, sagebrush-dotted corner of the Mojave Desert on a scorchingly hot morning. On a nearby table is a copy of "A People's History of the United States of America" by historian and social activist Howard Zinn.

For someone who has lived figuratively on the edge of society for most of his life, Krassner appears to have made the move literally as well, having left Los Angeles' epicenter of counterculture, Venice Beach, several years ago to take up residence in a place where the temperature sometimes hits 120 degrees, accompanied by blast-furnace winds of 70 mph or more.

But the co-founder of the group that once ran a pig for president and tried to disrupt the seat of capitalism by throwing dollar bills onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, says he has come to love his quiet little piece of Americana with its backyard views of the snowcapped mountains towering over Palm Springs in the distance.

Krassner, who made his debut at Carnegie Hall as a violinist at age 7 (and then almost immediately gave up music because he couldn't get along with his teacher) is 77 now. That's a number he confirms with both a sheepish grin and a faux apology: "I'm sorry, I don't know how that happened."

But if the years are gaining on him, the exuberant, still-youthful-looking rebel never lets on.

Still an unabashed political radical, as well as a prolific writer, Krassner is the author of more than a dozen books. The most recent, "Who's to Say What's Obscene: Politics, Culture and Comedy in America Today," comes out in July.

It takes a skewering look at American politics and morals, speaking generally in favor of such subjects as pornography and recreational drug use and dismissing the torture of prisoners of war as something that is truly obscene. But it goes about it in such a lighthearted fashion as to rarely seem preachy.

"The word that comes to mind when I think of him is integrity," says Robert Scheer, former syndicated columnist and founding editor of the online magazine "The guy anguishes over what is right and wrong more than the editors of the most respectable publications. ... He doesn't get it right all the time, but he always thinks it out."

It was Krassner, Scheer says, who gave him his big break as an investigative reporter, providing the money to travel to Vietnam in 1963 to report on covert U.S. involvement in that country's civil war before the United States had become inextricably involved in it. Scheer's story, first published in Krassner's small, groundbreaking satirical magazine, The Realist, was picked up by the mainstream media and gained national attention.

The publisher had raised the money for Scheer's Vietnam trip by selling red, white and blue posters with the word Communism, preceded by another, much more impolite word. The posters quickly became a hit on college dorm room walls.

"It really confused all these conservative types," Scheer recalled with a laugh. "They hated communism" but they also hated seeing it described with a barnyard epithet for sexual intercourse.

That is just one of a seemingly endless chain of stories of practical jokes and other stunts attached to Krassner's name, some of them true, others apocryphal.

One of the latter, says Krassner, is that he came up with the acronym for the Youth International Party by throwing his head back in a moment of psychedelic-inspired bliss and shouting "Yippie!"

"As a journalist, I knew that we had to have a who for the who, what, where, when and why that would symbolize the radicalization of hippies for the media," he says with a mischievous smirk. "So I started going through the alphabet: Bippie, Dippie, Ippie, Sippie. I was about to give up when I came to Yippie."

Wanted: Freedom from religion

The theocratic repression in Iran is a reminder that there can be no freedom without secular government

By Michael Lind

NewsIn the summer of 1968, as Soviet tanks rolled into communist Czechoslovakia to end the brief period of liberalization known as the "Prague Spring," W.H. Auden composed a poem titled "August 1968":

The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach,
The Ogre cannot master Speech:
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
While drivel gushes from his lips.

Watching the scenes of bravery and brutality that are being played out in Iran brings Auden's poem to mind. Another line comes to mind as well: the observation by W.E.B. DuBois in 1903 that "the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line." Racism has not been extinguished, but it has been corralled, by the now-universal principle of the separation of race and state. The demise of political racism leaves political religion standing as the most widespread form of tyranny in the world. The problem of the 21st century is the problem of the creedal line. If the problem is solved, it will be solved by universalizing the principle of the separation of religion and state.

Secular government is the basis of both liberty and democracy. It is important to emphasize this, because of the tendency to portray the struggle in Iran in terms of a global conflict between democracy and dictatorship. Set aside, for a moment, the fact that former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was one of four candidates, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who were approved to run as presidential candidates last May by the clerics of Iran's Guardian Council. It does not take away from the heroism of Mousavi or his followers to point out that if Ahmadinejad stole the election he stole an election that was already rigged.

The larger issue is the question of what comes first: separation of church and state, or democracy. America's Founders had no doubts on that score. Democracy requires citizens who are free from "superstition" and "priestcraft," to use 18th-century language. Americans have usually believed that religion can play a constructive role in a democratic republic by encouraging moral behavior. But in the traditional American view, theocratic democracy is nothing more than majoritarian tyranny, whether the clerics have a formal role in the state or merely tell the voters how to vote. And even secular democracy is not a goal in itself. It is merely a means to an end: the protection of natural rights.

The idea of universal, basic natural human rights is incompatible with theocracy in any form. While Christians and adherents of other religions can believe in natural rights, the theory of natural rights itself, influenced by ancient Greek sophists and Epicureans, is inherently secular. Natural rights by definition are those that ordinary people, using only their reason, can agree upon -- things like life and liberty and property or happiness, meaning access to subsistence. The list of natural rights varies from thinker to thinker, but they all have one thing in common -- they are not revealed by a divine intelligence to a prophet or priests.

Mousavi, Celebrated in Iranian Protests, Was the Butcher of Beirut

He may yet turn out to be the avatar of Iranian democracy, but three decades ago Mir-Hossein Mousavi was waging a terrorist war on the United States that included bloody attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

Mousavi, prime minister for most of the 1980s, personally selected his point man for the Beirut terror campaign, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-pur, and dispatched him to Damascus as Iran's ambassador, according to former CIA and military officials.

The ambassador in turn hosted several meetings of the cell that would carry out the Beirut attacks, which were overheard by the National Security Agency.

"We had a tap on the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon," retired Navy Admiral James "Ace" Lyons related by telephone Monday. In 1983 Lyons was deputy chief of Naval Operations, and deeply involved in the events in Lebanon.

"The Iranian ambassador received instructions from the foreign minister to have various groups target U.S. personnel in Lebanon, but in particular to carry out a 'spectacular action' against the Marines," said Lyons.

"He was prime minister," Lyons said of Mousavi, "so he didn't get down to the details at the lowest levels. "But he was in a principal position and had to be aware of what was going on."

Lyons, sometimes called "the father" of the Navy SEALs' Red Cell counter-terror unit, also fingered Mousavi for the 1988 truck bombing of the U.S. Navy's Fleet Center in Naples, Italy, that killed five persons, including the first Navy woman to die in a terrorist attack.���

Bob Baer agrees that Mousawi, who has been celebrated in the West for sparking street demonstrations against the Teheran regime since he lost the elections, was directing the overall 1980s terror campaign.

Some competition

US judge orders Gitmo prisoner released

A US federal judge has ordered a Guantanamo detainee who was reportedly tortured, imprisoned and abandoned by al Qaeda and the Taliban released.

The US government had argued that even though Abd Al Rahim Abdul Rassak was tortured by al Qaeda as a suspected Western spy, held by the Taliban for a year and a half and then abandoned, he was still allied with his tormentors.

US District Court Judge Richard Leon, however, rejected the prosecutor's claims in his ruling, which even included punctuation marks as an extra guarantee.

"I disagree� [US officials are] taking a position that defies common sense," wrote the judge in a 13-page written decision.

The judge said the government initially appeared to mistake Rassak as a suicide bomber based on videos captured at an al Qaeda safe house.

Later on, however, it was clear that the suspect had been tortured by al Qaeda.

In his verdict, the judge harshly attacked the notion that Rassak could be part of the same organization that had abused him.

"There is no evidence -- from either side -- as to why he suddenly was suspected by al Qaeda leaders of spying and was tortured for months into giving a false confession," Judge Leon wrote.

"It is highly unlikely that by that point in time al-Qaida (or the Taliban) had any trust or confidence in him. Surely extreme treatment of that nature evinces a total evisceration of whatever relationship might have existed!"

The Syrian detainee told US interrogators that he had stayed at a guesthouse used by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters for several days in 2000, where he had helped clean weapons. He also said that he had briefly attended a terror training camp.

"[Rassak] was conscripted by the Taliban who then turned on him after three weeks and subjected him to barbaric torture. He was imprisoned by the United States when he tried to provide information to us about his torturers," one of his lawyers, Steven Wax said.

"[The ruling] is yet another reminder that there are innocent men in Guantanamo," he added.

Obama gives backing to Kansas Republican's ridiculed plan

WASHINGTON � He probably won't show it, but Sen. Pat Roberts might be feeling a bit smug lately. He's resisted the urge to weigh in with his trademark, dry-as-a-prairie-in-a-drought sense of humor, though the situation is certainly ripe for it. Even something as simple as, "So there!"

Because it wasn't too long ago that the Kansas Republican took a pretty sharp elbow from a nonprofit government-watchdog group over a scholarship program he set up to train future intelligence officers. It turns out, though, that he might have been something of a visionary.

Here's what happened:

Citizens Against Government Waste gave Roberts the Narcissist Award in its latest edition of the "Pig Book," a compendium of allegedly wasteful government spending. The $2 million earmark that he'd requested for the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program was included.

Roberts set up the pilot program four years ago when he was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Its purpose was to train workers in the intelligence community in specialized areas where it was deficient, such as language skills, regional studies and new technology.

"When we created the program, intelligence agencies were losing highly qualified recruits to the private sector," Roberts said. "We needed a tool to attract some of the best and brightest to government service."

The Pig Book authors labeled his earmark one of the "oinkers" and recognized his "dogged perseverance in the mad pursuit of pork."

The intelligence community, meanwhile, loved the program.

"It was a tremendous idea," said Ron Sanders, an associate director of national intelligence for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Further, the Obama administration � whose intelligence policies Roberts often finds troubling, including plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center � likes his scholarship so much that it wants to expand it, make the program permanent and provide regular funding. No more earmarks.

A representative of Citizens Against Government Waste couldn't be reached for comment.

Onward Christian Soldiers!


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