Thursday, September 30, 2010

White America Has Lost Its Mind

The white brain, beset with worries, finally goes haywire in spectacular fashion.


About 12:01 on the afternoon of January 20, 2009, the white American mind began to unravel.

It had been a pretty good run up to that point. The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing. White people, after all, had managed to invent a spiffy new form of self-government so that all white men (and, eventually, women) could have a say in how white people were taxed and governed. White minds had also nearly universally occupied just about every branch of that government and, for more than two centuries, had kept sole possession of the leadership of its executive branch (whose parsonage, after all, is called the White House).

But when that streak was broken—and, for the first time, a non-white president accepted the oath of office—white America rapidly began to lose its grip.

As with other forms of dementia, the signs weren't obvious at first. After the 2008 election, when former House majority leader Tom DeLay suggested that instead of a formal inauguration, Barack Obama should "have a nice little chicken dinner, and we'll save the $125 million," black folks didn't miss the implication. References to chicken, particularly of the fried variety, have long served as a kind of code when white folks referred to black people and their gustatory preferences—and weren't many of us already accustomed to older white politicians making such gaffes? But who among us sensed that it was a harbinger that an entire nation was plunging into madness?

Who didn't chuckle, after all, the first time they heard that white people had doubts that Barack Obama had even been born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to be president? It sounded like one of those Internet stories in which some (usually white) writer does his best to prove something everyone knows to be true is actually the exact opposite. And you go along with it for a few paragraphs to see how long the writer can convince you that what you know is right is actually wrong.

Seemed like that, didn't it? After all, what was the beef? Obama's father was Kenyan, and the kid was born in Hawaii—which is barely a part of the United States to begin with (only a state in 1959!). His mother was white, and after the Kenyan guy left, she married an Indonesian guy, so little Barack lived in Jakarta for a while before coming back to Hawaii to be brought up largely by his white grandparents. . . . And that's it? Come on, this was after-school-special material, the kind of thing that brings a tear to your eye because little half-Kenyan/half-white Barry made good, not the stuff of conspiracy novels.

But the more you shook your head at it, the more it seemed to have taken root deep in the lizard part of the white nervous system. Obama is not an American. He says he's Christian, but he has a Muslim-sounding name. He's not black, he's not white. . . . Is . . . is he even human?


Today, Newsweek has found, nearly a quarter of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim, with barely 42 percent of the nation accepting his claim that he's a Christian. CNN finds that a quarter of Americans also believe that Obama was "probably or definitely" born in another country.

Harris found in an online poll that 14 percent of Americans believe in their hearts that President Barack Obama is the antichrist, with nearly a quarter of Republicans saying so.

At least in this form, however, Satan (sometimes) wears a flag pin.

What was going on? Had decades of sucking down so much high-fructose corn syrup not only made Americans incredibly obese, but also messed with white brain chemistry to the point that some sort of tipping point had occurred?

Not a bad theory, but no, there's a simpler explanation, with two parts: For the first time in their lives, baby boomers are hard up against it economically, and white boy is becoming outnumbered and it's got his bowels chilled with fear.

"In an age of diminished resources, the United States may be heading for an intensifying confrontation between the gray and the brown," writes Ronald Brownstein in his July National Journal article, "The Gray and the Brown: The Generational Mismatch." That's a polite and understated way of saying that older white folks are losing their shit as they're being replaced by young brown and black kids while the economy is in the crapper.

Brownstein notes that 40 percent of the nation's population under 18 is already non-white, with that number significantly higher in the Southwest (read: Mexicans!). By 2023, that number of young non-whites will be an outright national majority.

At the same time, the baby boomers are getting older. At 80 percent white, boomers have gotten pretty used to dominating nearly every field of endeavor in this country since they came of age—politics, business, education, the arts—just about everything but MTV programming. Boomers set the national agenda in so many ways that we can forget how much the national economy and national media cater to them. Bewildered by the number of Cialis ads you see on television showing those flabby couples sitting in bathtubs? Or the way that older women are suddenly "cougars" and "MILFs" and . . . oh, yeah, you remember, boomers are getting old, but still want to think they can get the sheets sweaty. See? Boomers and their fixations and fears explain nearly everything. . . .

Anyway, as boomers age, they get more politically active. That's just human nature, and their 40-million-strong AARP is the nation's biggest lobbyist. But as they try to wield that power, they're running into the growing, and less white, younger generations.

"Like tectonic plates, these slow-moving but irreversible forces may generate enormous turbulence as they grind against each other in the years ahead," writes Brownstein.

At some point, when tectonic plates build up enough tension, that destructive energy gets unleashed in a major earthquake, which is a pretty good metaphor for what happened on November 4, 2008. A black man got elected president, and suddenly every aging white boomer in this country turned into Carole King—they sure as hell felt the earth moving under their feet.

Meanwhile, the brother moving into the White House inherited the kind of mortgage that even Wall Street executives might hesitate to call "subprime."

A devastated economy. Two wars, neither being fought with clear goals. Housing markets that resembled war zones. A health system crippled with costs. An auto industry cratering.

But surely, in a time of crisis, the country could pull together to fix this mess, right?

Can you help a brother on health care? No.

The economy? No.

Financial regulatory reform? No.

National security? No.

Now, some black folks can be forgiven for thinking, as they watched the political drama in Washington unfold over the past two years, that this was just another form of the same old thing they'd put up with in one way or another in this conflicted multiracial country.

But there is another explanation.

White people have simply gone sheer fucking insane.

Let's look at some examples to nail down that theory.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was a nonprofit that organized voter drives and worked for improved wages and housing for poor, mostly non-white Americans. And because of who they organized, they became public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of certain people not so thrilled with black folks registering to vote in large numbers.

Obama had once defended ACORN in a voting-rights case (as co-counsel alongside the Justice Department and the League of Women Voters). An ACORN offshoot was one of many Get-Out-the-Vote enterprises employed by his primary (but not general) campaign. The group's members did the same kind of community organizing that Obama had done as a young man. But throughout the 2008 election season, there was a concerted campaign to whip up hysteria about ACORN, and by November 2009, Public Policy Polling found that more than a quarter of Americans (and an outright majority of Republican voters) believed that ACORN had stolen the election for Obama.

This was, of course, after the classic bit of Nixonian "rat-fucking" pulled off by a prankster named James O'Keefe.

O'Keefe, a veteran at creating videos to make blacks look greedy and stupid (look for "Taxpayers Clearing House" on YouTube), spent the summer driving around the country with his accomplice, Hannah Giles, making videos in ACORN offices asking for advice about avoiding tax troubles with prostitution money.

You've no doubt seen the images of O'Keefe dressed as a '70s pimp. But O'Keefe had carefully edited his tapes and left out, for example, that he was decked out in college preppie clothes, not pimp-wear. At least one ACORN office threw him out, and at least two knowingly played along with his ruse. (The San Diego office called the cops after he left, and the Philadelphia office filed a police report.) The upshot was that after his edited tapes became public, Congress quickly voted to strip ACORN of all federal funds.

The organization effectively went out of business before the bill could take effect or be thrown out in court.
O'Keefe has maintained he was "absolutely independent" in his project. But in September 2009, the Voice reported that he'd been funded by billionaire conservative Peter Thiel and the Leadership Institute, the same outfit that funded young Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. That revelation fell on deaf ears, however, and to this day, media outlets perpetuate O'Keefe's claim that he was operating without backing.

O'Keefe got further help when his tapes were pushed by BigGovernment.com, which is run by an underhanded blowhard named Andrew Breitbart.

Months later, O'Keefe was arrested by the FBI in a bizarre prank at Senator Mary Landrieu's office, in which he was either attempting to plant a wiretap or, in his explanation on Breitbart's website, just trying to find out whether her phone system worked to help her constituents reach her. (Yeah, that was a good one.)
This summer, Breitbart picked out another black target with another selectively edited video, this one of a USDA employee named Shirley Sherrod. His editing so mischaracterized Sherrod's words and intent that the fallout, in the words of Frank Rich, "could not only smear an innocent woman but make every national institution that touched the story look bad. . . . The White House, the NAACP and the news media were all soiled by this episode."

But, hey, politics is hardball, right? We've had rat-fuckers like Breitbart and O'Keefe around forever (the founding fathers were certainly not immune to dirty tricks in their day). What's different this time, however, is just how easily the lies and distortions of the rat-fuckers are being soaked up by the damaged crania of this country's drooling white masses. What sort of senility is softening up the frontal lobes of America's palefaces that they can't see through the black-hatred of a wanker like Breitbart?

Out West, meanwhile, as home prices dropped faster than a burst piñata, an easy scapegoat was found: Mexicans. Long the scourge of aging white folks, who don't seem to understand the economics behind their cheap groceries, immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and other sweltering southern destinations became enemies of the American Dream.

Suddenly, it was open season on brown-skinned fruit pickers and seamstresses. Arizona passed S.B.1070—a law that would force its residents to carry identity papers with them at all times. Jurisdictions around the nation are salivating to copy suit.

Back East, meanwhile, we have our own brown-skinned devil: the Muslim. When an imam who had done diplomatic work for the Bush administration put together plans to build the Muslim version of a Jewish Community Center a few blocks from Ground Zero (but farther away than an off-track betting joint, a strip club, and the very financial institutions that had detonated the economy), white people freaked out.

At Landmarks Preservation Commission meetings, white housewives from Staten Island suddenly took a great interest in preserving mid-19th-century cast-iron façades and the architecture of Daniel Badger—all to try to keep New Yorkers from taking swimming lessons in the same building where Muslims would have a place to pray. They argued that Muslims could never understand the impact of 9/11 (even though more than 20 Muslims were killed that day) and could never understand the concept of Ground Zero being holy ground (as if a building that would contain prayer services was somehow less holy than an outlet for betting on horses or stuffing dollar bills into G-strings).

But by now, those sorts of distinctions are nearly impossible to make for a white mind so cluttered by decay. Race was always a tough one for white people to deal with, but now the backflips some people are doing over it requires a scorecard.

There may be no better example than Laura Schlessinger and the great white outpouring of support following the bizarre flameout of her radio show.

It all started with the most incomprehensible of happenings: that a black woman would, out of all reason, call the Dr. Laura show seeking advice.

The sister called Schlessinger to ask how to handle her white husband's white friends, who sometimes say racist things that she's uncomfortable with, including using "the N-word."

Schlessinger almost immediately went to, "A lot of blacks voted for Obama simply 'cause he was half-black."
She told the caller not to "NAACP" her by taking her out of context.

She said "nigger" is fine to say because "black guys use it all the time."

She then wrote the caller off as having a "chip on [her] shoulder" and declared, "We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever."

She told the caller that if "you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor" (i.e., you even question that your husband's white friends say "nigger" to you in your house), "don't marry out of your race."

The caller, Schlessinger thought, was suffering from "hypersensitivity—which is being bred by black activists." Her discomfort with the word "nigger," Schlessinger said, was just another "attempt to demonize whites hating blacks."

The reaction from white America, who clearly had not remembered to take their thorazine that morning, was overwhelming: Who, if not Laura Schlessinger, should say "nigger" with impunity?

Schlessinger announced on Larry King Live, however, that in order to "regain" her First Amendment rights of free speech, she would be canceling her show.

Constitutional experts are still trying to parse that one.

Sarah Palin then rushed to Schlessinger's, side, Tweeting in her inimitable style, "Don't retreat . . . reload!" Palin, we can only assume, wanted Schlessinger to utter "nigger" as often as she wanted.

Perhaps the two of them, having both quit their jobs, can get together and put on a road show, opening with "Zip Coon" and finishing with a rousing rendition of "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny"?

Will someone please throw a butterfly net over Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, DeLay, and Schlessinger?

On February 19, 2009, not a month into Obama's presidency, Rick Santelli—a former hedge-fund manager—had a meltdown on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange while broadcasting for CNBC. Santelli was incensed not that the government was bailing out the multimillionaires who had run giant financial institutions, but that assistance would also be going to help out ordinary people who found themselves defaulting on their home mortgages. Calling such folks "losers," he said, "How many of you want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?"

He then added that he was not only mad as hell, but wanted to do something about it: "We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm gonna start organizing."

Suddenly, other angry (and obviously very confused) white people began organizing their own "tea parties" and, from the start, had to defend themselves from charges that there was more than a little racial component to their movement.

Few were really surprised, for example, when Tea Party Express President Mark Williams turned out to have penned a letter that could have been written in the worst decades of Jim Crow: "We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!"

And it turns out that the "grassroots" modern tea party effort has been largely funded by the Koch brothers, reactionaries whose combined oil wealth places them just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as America's wealthiest men. The brothers have given some $100 million toward the Tea Party's astroturf call to arms.

"This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them," a former Koch associate told The New Yorker. "They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves." And in primaries across America this year, the Kochs have gotten one hell of a return on their investment. After decades of pouring money into think-tanks, the billionaire brothers now have an ally no institute fellow could ever match: a scared, angry white mob that votes.

And what a mob. White folks used to shy away from candidates who e-mailed pictures of a woman being fucked by a horse, didn't they? Can you just see the scene down at the Republican Party headquarters: "Well, except for sending out those e-mails of horse-fucking, other e-mails of nigger jokes, and also fathering a love child, this guy Carl Paladino is just our kind of guy!"

Finding Rick Lazio not crazy enough, white New Yorkers nominated Paladino for governor by a margin of almost two to one.

Sure, Lazio had made an effort. He'd gone after the "Ground Zero Mosque" like a good race-baiter, but he just isn't in Paladino's mouth-frothing league. "Crazy Carl" is threatening to take a baseball bat to Albany (and our Tom Robbins explained last week how Carl's looney ravings are an empty act).

Now, try, if your cortex is not too far gone, to reel things back a couple of years. Imagine, if you can, Barack Obama surging in polls in 2008 if it were known he'd sent out e-mails of a white woman getting it from a horse, revealed that he had a 10-year-old love child, and was threatening to take a baseball bat to federal employees. It's really impossible to conjure up, isn't it?

That—right there, more than anything—demonstrates just how much the white brain has become Swiss cheese in the last couple of trips around the sun.

A close second place: the really crazy white shit happening down in Delaware, a state that never really caused much trouble (except for unleashing Joe Biden on us) until it nominated one-time witch Christine O'Donnell, who is so batshit crazy she makes Sarah Palin sound perfectly reasonable.

By now, just about everyone has seen the precious moment in MTV's 1996 Sex in the '90s when O'Donnell made this monumental discovery about masturbation: "If he already knows what pleases him and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?" Fourteen years later, it doesn't really seem to be dawning on the still-unmarried O'Donnell that she's not "in the picture" and might never be. But that, apparently, isn't going to stop her waging war against the sex lives of everyone else.

Again, only white lunacy explains it: Neither O'Donnell nor Paladino is a fringe candidate. O'Donnell has a difficult, but not impossible, chance to become a U.S. Senator. Paladino may yet become New York's next governor. (He's already polling ahead of Andrew Cuomo among likely male voters, who are generally white and clearly stark raving mad.)

Is there any hope? Can the white mind be cured? And what—other than a massive lobotomy—can salvage it? It's hard to imagine a cure when, at this point, the patient doesn't seem to realize that he's sick. Rush Limbaugh, for example, has declared that it's black Americans who have a problem. The "black frame of mind is terrible" because of unemployment, and, equally important, because of "Tiger Woods's choice of females," he has said. What was that about a pot and a kettle?

If there is a cure, it likely won't come from Barack Obama. There are those who say that this president invited our current derangement by not being commanding enough. They say he should have inveighed Franklin D. Roosevelt, who famously said before ever being re-elected, "I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said . . . of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master." But if Obama ever referred to being the "master" of anything, he'd scare white people more than he already does.

Glenn Beck is one of the downright terrified, and has said that Obama has "a deep-seated hatred of white people or the white culture." Which makes you wonder, has Beck really not seen Obama in his golf attire?
In the end, it goes beyond Obama, and the current economy, and is really about the inevitable demographic future of America, those coming browns and the grays. They will—one way or another—have to learn to get along.

It is true, as Brownstein says, that the graying boomers will hate to pay for the education, health, and welfare of the coming browns. They'll be stingy about it. They'll scream about it. But they'll have no choice but to do it.

After all, who but the hordes of young browns will be around to work when the grays retire? To pay taxes? To fund their Medicare and Social Security? And how will they earn enough money to finance boomers in their retirement if they're not well educated and healthy?

To do this dance effectively, the white American mind is going to have to focus and prioritize. Maybe, just maybe, it might be required to act with a little ever-loving sanity every now and again.

sthrasher@villagevoice.com

Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Terrible Things Republicans Will Try to Do If They Take Over in November

Democrats are in trouble come November. If current polling is any indication, Republicans have a good chance of reclaiming a majority in the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate (though the Senate is a less likely prospect). That's not because people are wildly excited about Republicans. In fact, a recent poll shows that registered voters rate the GOP's performance as worse than the Democrats'. But the enthusiasm gap between the parties gives the GOP an advantage; a nine-point advantage among likely voters, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. 

Perhaps Americans should know what's really at stake if this batch of Republicans takes over Congress in November. Here are 10 terrible things the GOP might do:

1) Shut down government to stop health care bill.

"All the Republican Congress needs to say in January is, 'We won't fund it," said former Speaker of the House and likely 2012 presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, speaking about the GOP leadership’s intent to shut down the government to stop health care reform from being enacted. He should know. He did it before, back in 1995 when the Republicans reclaimed Congress during the Clinton administration. The GOP's government shutdown was disastrous for millions of Americans.

Since Republicans can't directly repeal the bill -- President Obama would veto such an action -- they may cut funding in order to hold up its implementation, forcing a stand-off with Democrats that could lead to government shutdown. Gingrich isn't the only one sounding this threat. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said, "The endgame is a fight over funding." Rep. Mike Pence called rolling back health reform a "mainstream GOP position."

Meanwhile, in an interview with TPM, Donna Shalala, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, discussed the consequences of government shutdown. Services would be stopped: "Social Security checks, Medicare reimbursements...welfare checks to the state, Medicaid checks to the state." Federal employees would be furloughed. It would "stop all new enrollees into the [Social Security] system," Shalala said. She continued, "It bounces through: it's grocery stores, it's farms [...] It bounces through when people don't have money at that scale." Shalala also pointed out that the economy is in far worse shape today than it was during the Clinton years, so the impact of government shutdown would likely be worse than in the 1990s.

2) Attempt to privatize Social Security. 

Back in 2005, former President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security by creating independent spending accounts, similar to 401Ks. He failed. But unlike Republicans today, Bush did not have the advantage of Tea-Party backed ultraconservative Republicans, some of whom honestly believe the only role of the federal government is to fight wars and protect our borders. Among the GOP’s up and comers is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee. He wants to create personal spending retirement accounts invested in the stock market, which sounds a lot like the current 401K system: You know, the one that lost nearly 40 percent of its value during the financial crisis.

Social Security privatization, once considered politically untenable even by many ultraconservative think-tanks, has resurfaced just in time for the 2010 primary. It’s being debated in Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Rand Paul, the Republican nominee in Kentucky, and Dan Coates, the Republican nominee in Indiana, all support “private retirement accounts” -- code for privatizing Social Security.

3) Spend every waking hour investigating the Obama administration.

You thought Ken Starr was awful? Meet Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She thinks that if Republicans retake Congress, they should issue subpoena after subpoena and launch investigation after investigation of the Obama administration.

"Oh, I think that's all we should do," she told CBS News. "I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another.”

"All of our chips are on November," she added.


And it’s not just Bachmann. GOP House members have already pushed Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to say he will investigate the wholly made-up New Black Panther Party scandal. Politico reports that conversations with top GOP aides reveal, "Republicans are planning a wave of committee investigations targeting the White House and Democratic allies if they win back the majority. Everything from the microscopic — the New Black Panther party — to the massive –- think bailouts — is on the GOP to-do list."

4) Repeal the 14th amendment -- divest immigrants' children of citizenship.

In the growing nativist fervor within the Republican party, there's been a push to repeal the 14th amendment, which provides citizenship to all people born in the U.S.  Republicans, trying desperately to woo the anti-immigrant crowd, are promoting this incredibly xenophobic idea. Here’s what minority leader John Boehner said about repealing birthright citizenship: "Listen, I think it's worth considering. But it's a serious problem that affects our country. And in certain parts of our country, clearly, our schools, our hospitals, are being overrun by illegal immigrants, a lot of whom came here just so their children could become U.S. citizens."

Of all the ridiculous and dangerous policy initiatives, this is the most heartless. It's driven by racist ideologies and was essentially penned by a hate group, Federation for American Immigration Reform. Boehner is not the only one pandering to the “No more anchor baby” nativist contingent. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX, actually claimed that immigrant infants would one day form terrorist cells. "It appeared that [the terrorists] would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby," Gohmert said during a speech on the House floor. "And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists."

There are two ways they may try revoking birthright citizenship to immigrants born in this country. Some Republicans propose creating a constitutional amendment asserting that one or both parents must be U.S. citizens, and the other is to pass federal or state legislation that could provoke a court battle over the amendment's citizenship clause. Republicans Russell Pearce, of Arizona, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. are all pushing for hearings to explore the citizenship clause, which was enacted originally to provide an objective criteria for citizenship. Republicans want to remove that objective measurement and make citizenship subject to their own ideas about who deserves to be an American citizen.

5) Cap and trade? Forget about it.

Not only are conservative activists aggressively campaigning against Democrats who support cap and trade -- legislation that mandates emissions reductions -- but they are also trying to unseat moderate Republicans who support cap and trade and replace them with ultraconservative, often Tea Party-backed politicians. Rep. John Boehner has already promised as part of his pitch to be Speaker of the House that he would oppose the measure. Conservative Republican Senate and House candidates across the country are campaigning against cap and trade, using it to hammer moderate Republicans and Democrats.

"It's a very big deal," said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky are among the states where opposing cap and trade, he believes, is helping Republicans win tight races.

In California, Charles and David Koch, the two billionaires responsible for financing the Tea Party movement, have already donated $1 million to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act. And they say they are prepared to invest more. In California alone, the war chest to repeal the Act already has $8.2 million with roughly $7.9 million coming directly from state energy firms. Likewise, the Koch brothers and business groups have financially backed dozens of Republican candidates running against pro-cap and trade Democrats and even a few moderate Republicans who support the legislation.

6) More disastrous economic policies like the practices that caused our financial crisis.

Financial regulatory reform was not perfect. But even the little Obama managed to do will be in danger if Republicans regain control of the Congress.

"If Republicans who oppose Wall Street reform are so offended by holding big banks accountable, then they should have to share with voters whether or not they would support repeal of the bill if elected," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. "Any Republican who wants to return to the no-holds-barred, letting the big banks run rampant... jeopardizing Americans' savings and investments will absolutely be held accountable for that position during the campaign."

Well, according to Fox Business, Rep. Darrell Issa wants finance reform repealed altogether. On Wednesday, Issa fired his first salvo at the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, introducing a measure that would repeal parts of it. And once again, Issa is not the only one. When it comes to protecting the interests of the extremely wealthy, the Republican leadership continues to be in lockstep. Let’s remember the bill only passed 60-39 with nearly the entire Republican party opposing it. Shortly after it was passed, those same Republicans started calling for repeal. House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters on the day of the vote, “I think it ought to be repealed.”

“If we were in a position to do something, maybe [Boehner] is right,” said GOP Policy Chairman Sen. John Thune of North Dakota. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-AL, said he’d “love for it to be repealed.” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, told "Good Morning America" that he and other Republicans would “like to repeal it.”

The only thing stopping them -- and the only reason we were able to manage any type of reform at all -- is that Republicans are in the minority. With a majority in Congress, they will come back emboldened, on a mission.

7) Kill or drastically slash Food Stamp program.

During times of financial crisis, the Republicans will always cut safety net programs before raising taxes on the rich. We already know this. Back when Congress approved the 2009 Recovery Act, it included a 13.6 percent increase in food stamp benefits to aid workers hit by the recession. The entire Republican right opposed this $787 billion stimulus package, and they are simply waiting for an opportunity -- as with health care and financial regulatory reform -- to undo its provisions. At present, they eked out concessions from Democrats that will gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) of $14.1 billion.

Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor in New York, even suggested putting welfare recipients in prison dorms where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in "personal hygiene." The Tea Party-backed Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo real estate developer,  won Tuesday night. He ran his campaign against social service programs in New York.

Food Stamps are a lifeline for the low-income and the unemployed. At a time when at least 10 percent of the country is unemployed, food stamps could mean the difference between barely surviving and dying from hunger. Nationwide, a record 40.8 million people — one in every eight — currently receive SNAP benefits. In poorer states the number is one in five or six.

8) Roll back and repeal equal rights for gays.

The Republican party is quieter these days on social issues like gay rights, but the party platform has not changed from six years ago when it railed against gay marriage, pressed for the Defense of Marriage Act, and stated that homosexuality and military service were incompatible.

"Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country, and anything less than a Constitutional amendment, passed by the Congress and ratified by the states, is vulnerable to being overturned by activist judges," the Republican party platform stated back in 2004.

In recent days, the Montana GOP has actually taken that anti-gay message a step further. The Montana GOP platform now calls for making homosexuality illegal.

Meanwhile, at the Value Voters summit last Friday, Republican elected members of Congress sought to reassure their cultural conservative base that opposing gay marriage continues to be important to the Republican party. Politicians like Delaware Republican nominee Christine O'Donnell, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney were there to reassure the anti-gay religious right.

"Ours is not so much a fiscal crisis, it's a family crisis," Huckabee told the group. "There is a direct correlation between the stability of the family and stability of our country."

"Those of us who have toiled for years in the values movement found ourselves surrounded by Americans who had rediscovered the most fundamental value of all, liberty," O'Donnell told the audience, bridging the gap between cultural conservatives and the Tea Party movement.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said he was working closely with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R- Ohio, to ensure their anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda would continue to be a part of the GOP platform.

9) Abandon the unemployed.

In March, Senate Republicans filibustered an extension of unemployment benefits. At the time Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl called the entire unemployment insurance system a necessary evil.

Back then, several Republicans made the claim that unemployment benefits keep people from looking for work. Among them was Georgia Republican Rep. John Linder. Another conservative claimed that stripping the unemployed of benefits would force them to “sober up.”

This claim was backed up by the conservative Heritage Foundation and Fox News, until it actually transformed the national debate into the question, “Do extending benefits to the unemployed create a disincentive to find work?"

During that one-week Senate impasse, while the Republican majority filibustered extending unemployment benefits, more than 2 million Americans lost their benefits.

10) Paralyze one branch of our government.

You may disagree with President Obama, but immobilizing one branch of our three-branch system is no way to run a government. If the Republican party regains the majority in Congress it will continue to maneuver from the mid-'90s congressional playbook. The key to regaining power in Congress has been obstruction, and it will continue to be the key to regaining control of the White House.

In February, there were nearly 200 executive appointees still waiting confirmation. Many of these vacancies are critical to running the government. (During the same period of the Bush administration there were only 77 vacancies.) In March, President Obama was forced to start making recess appointments trying to circumvent unwarranted opposition in Congress. Just last week, Obama was forced to make Elizabeth Warren a special adviser to the White House in an effort to get around the Republican minority in Congress.

Republicans have held up appointments for the sake of union-busting. They have used "secret holds" and refused to offer justification. But more importantly, they have held up appointments simply because they can.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., described the unprecedented secret holds as institutionalizing dysfunction. “This seems to be an attack on this administration to do its constitutional duty." 
In the end, this may prove sufficiently bad for the president; but the implications for the citizens of this country are far more dangerous.
___________________________
Devona Walker has worked for the Associated Press and the New York Times company. Currently she is the senior political and finance reporter for theloop21.com.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Desperate brides of the apocalypse


By Mark Morford

Way over here on the distant end of the human continuum, where the devil and the apocalypse copulate in a bed of blood, pathos and perky TV ratings, where everyone needs a hug and a shot of whisky to numb the savage karmic pain of merely being alive, we have a new reality show called, apparently, "Bridalplasty."

Can you guess? It's where brides-to-be compete in "wedding-themed" challenges, and the winner gets -- you guessed it -- extensive plastic surgery to, presumably, make her look tolerable on her Very Special Day™ and less like a walking slab of abject sadness willing to humiliate herself, her family and her fiancé on national television at the expense of her lost and bewildered soul. Coming soon to E! And no, I am not making this up.

I rarely turn on my TV anymore, and when I do I'm always equally stunned and impressed by the new and flagrantly repellant slew of reality shows on the air. They seem to emerge like bipolar trolls, like bewildered phantasms, little whack-a-mole cancers that pop up only to be beaten down again by their own insidious self-flagellating idiocy. Delightful!

But if there's one overarching theme, one denominator common to all shows across the slushpile of televised reality, from "Real Housewives" to "Jersey Shore," "Hell's Kitchen" to, uh, "Teen Mom," it's this: Extremism rules. The further out an idea goes, the weirder and more disturbing, death-defying, humiliating, repulsive, angry, trashy, loud, confrontational, shameful, shrill or depressing, the better the odds you'll see a show about it. "Bridalplasty" is par for a very, very bizarre cultural course that started somewhere back on MTV's first drunken "Real World" and will end somewhere humid and pustulous, where no light escapes.

But this is the fascinating thing: It ain't just TV. It ain't just pop culture. It never really is.

Have you noticed? The amazing parallels? The sameness of extremism and pain across the national sweep? The need to push the very edges of life and experience, belief and idiocy, just to make an impact, to be heard, just to feel that you're still alive? Verily, it's everywhere.

Look here. The GOP, once a relatively sane and stable political platform, with solid -- if wildly uptight -- principles, now wallowing in the shallow end of the moral and intellectual pool for its basic survival.

The Republican Party is now, by its own design, wholly dependent upon extremist nutcases like Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, et al, for meaning and purpose. The Democrats may be many things -- mushy, whiny, infuriatingly unable to articulate a cohesive message -- but at least they aren't beholden to the mental detritus of the culture, people with more barely hidden psychoemotional disorders than shoes.

People like, well, cutesy little Republican Christine O'Donnell, who just won an election in Delaware. The amazing thing about O'Donnell? She's markedly more ridiculous than Sarah "Queen of Duh" Palin, by at least a factor of three, a nutball wrapped in an anti-masturbation kookpocket with the brainpower of a rusty pink electric razor.

O'Donnell lives at the extreme end of silly cultural belief set populated by giggles, quick blinking and oddly shaped monsters -- right along with fellow wackos like Rand Paul, Sharon Angle and Michelle Bachmann -- lots of incoherent blather about orgy rooms, dirty dancing and God as a scary little doll standing in the corner, barking evil judgments as you stroke your naughty bits in the night.

But O'Donnell herself is just a symbol, just another hood ornament on the goofy monster truck known as the Tea Party, easily the silliest gaggle of white, undereducated, terrified middle-aged males to call themselves a political movement. Even moderate Republicans are taken aback by how low their own party has stooped, how much the Tea Party is molesting their once-moderate core. It's the new political imperative: Go radical, or go home.

Enough about politics. What are you eating? What's in your body? Recall, won't you, the KFC Double Down sandwich, perhaps the most repellant hunk of inedible chyme ever invented by a major food corporation. It's extreme garbage, an astonishing example of a major corporation shamelessly tapping into the zeitgeist and making millions off of the thisiswhyyourefat.com obsession with gross-out food porn. What a thing.

Don't be snickering, vegans. Flipside is the nonsensical raw food movement, where hyperskinny obsessives spend all day furiously disproving the evolution of the human stomach by chopping nuts and making paste out of beets and claiming their extreme diet gives them tons of energy, all of which goes toward making their 24th giant dinner salad of the day so they don't shrivel and die in the next five minutes for lack of protein. Fun!

What else you got? Religion? Facial tattoos? Facebook oversharing? Extreme sports? Extreme weather? Extreme body modification? Porn? Oh, woe is porn. To my highly trained, porn-adoring eye, this fine, lowbrow art form has devolved badly, from once genuinely sexy raunch into all-out extreme, gross-out torment, spitting and gaping and brutally gynecological horror shows. So very sad. Well, most of it.

From the sacred to the profane, the sublime to the ridiculous, it's the same pattern. I just saw an ad for Pringles Extreme, featuring a slouchy little Generation Tweet denizen holding a nuclear orange food-like item as fire and smoke swirled all around him, as if by taking a bite he ignited a holocaust. Wow. Extreme molded potato-like crisps. Dear Pringles: Shut up.

Shall we blame the Internet? Shall we talk about the modern requirement for more wild melodrama and screaming headlines to stay awake, our ADHD culture, iPhones and hyperlinks and the death of anything that requires more than four minutes of sustained attention? Sure, we can blame all that. But it almost doesn't matter.

What matters is how you parse it all. How do you want to measure? William Blake said, "You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough," implying that all our extreme, ridiculous behavior might be a good thing, so long as we know how to pull back when we find those hurtful, inane, Tea Party- and "Bridalplasty"-esque outer limits -- which of course, we almost never do.

The ancient Tantric masters, however, tell a different kind of story. They say it's all a bit of a sham, this extremism, a grand and ongoing tragedy, that such behavior is what happens when you get so far away from Self, from calm and self-reflective center, to the extent that only the most extreme experience and loudest screaming will keep you awake and interested in going on living.

That is to say, it's a sign of severe spiritual lack, of the most tormented, enraged and furiously demanding ego that only the most painful, excessive human experience -- bizarre sex, excessive drugs, physical brutality, body torment, violent religious belief, rage, gross-out food, you name it -- will make you feel, well, anything at all. The relationship is inverse, downward spiraling: The further away you are from true Self, the more extreme experience is required just to feel a pulse.

Of course, after awhile, nothing works at all, because nothing actually reaches the center, nothing serves the core. Everything is external, nothing internal. No matter how far out you try to go, you never actually get anywhere. Sound familiar? Someone had better tell those brides.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Angry Rich

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they’re out for revenge.

No, I’m not talking about the Tea Partiers. I’m talking about the rich.

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.

Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts — will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? — the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.

For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.

At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.

Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.

These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don’t really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.

And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.

And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 20, 2010, on page A31 of the New York edition.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blackwater's Black Ops for Corporations

By Jeremy Scahill

Over the past several years, entities closely linked to the private security firm Blackwater have provided intelligence, training and security services to US and foreign governments as well as several multinational corporations, including Monsanto, Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and banking giants Deutsche Bank and Barclays, according to documents obtained by The Nation. Blackwater's work for corporations and government agencies was contracted using two companies owned by Blackwater's owner and founder, Erik Prince: Total Intelligence Solutions and the Terrorism Research Center (TRC). Prince is listed as the chairman of both companies in internal company documents, which show how the web of companies functions as a highly coordinated operation. Officials from Total Intelligence, TRC and Blackwater (which now calls itself Xe Services) did not respond to numerous requests for comment for this article.

One of the most incendiary details in the documents is that Blackwater, through Total Intelligence, sought to become the "intel arm" of Monsanto, offering to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.

Governmental recipients of intelligence services and counterterrorism training from Prince's companies include the Kingdom of Jordan, the Canadian military and the Netherlands police, as well as several US military bases, including Fort Bragg, home of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and Fort Huachuca, where military interrogators are trained, according to the documents. In addition, Blackwater worked through the companies for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the US European Command.

On September 3 the New York Times reported that Blackwater had "created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts after the security company came under intense criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq." The documents obtained by The Nation reveal previously unreported details of several such companies and open a rare window into the sensitive intelligence and security operations Blackwater performs for a range of powerful corporations and government agencies. The new evidence also sheds light on the key roles of several former top CIA officials who went on to work for Blackwater.

The coordinator of Blackwater's covert CIA business, former CIA paramilitary officer Enrique "Ric" Prado, set up a global network of foreign operatives, offering their "deniability" as a "big plus" for potential Blackwater customers, according to company documents. The CIA has long used proxy forces to carry out extralegal actions or to shield US government involvement in unsavory operations from scrutiny. In some cases, these "deniable" foreign forces don't even know who they are working for. Prado and Prince built up a network of such foreigners while Blackwater was at the center of the CIA's assassination program, beginning in 2004. They trained special missions units at one of Prince's properties in Virginia with the intent of hunting terrorism suspects globally, often working with foreign operatives. A former senior CIA official said the benefit of using Blackwater's foreign operatives in CIA operations was that "you wouldn't want to have American fingerprints on it."

While the network was originally established for use in CIA operations, documents show that Prado viewed it as potentially valuable to other government agencies. In an e-mail in October 2007 with the subject line "Possible Opportunity in DEA—Read and Delete," Prado wrote to a Total Intelligence executive with a pitch for the Drug Enforcement Administration. That executive was an eighteen-year DEA veteran with extensive government connections who had recently joined the firm. Prado explained that Blackwater had developed "a rapidly growing, worldwide network of folks that can do everything from surveillance to ground truth to disruption operations." He added, "These are all foreign nationals (except for a few cases where US persons are the conduit but no longer 'play' on the street), so deniability is built in and should be a big plus."

The executive wrote back and suggested there "may be an interest" in those services. The executive suggested that "one of the best places to start may be the Special Operations Division, (SOD) which is located in Chantilly, VA," telling Prado the name of the special agent in charge. The SOD is a secretive joint command within the Justice Department, run by the DEA. It serves as the command-and-control center for some of the most sensitive counternarcotics and law enforcement operations conducted by federal forces. The executive also told Prado that US attachés in Mexico; Bogotá, Colombia; and Bangkok, Thailand, would potentially be interested in Prado's network. Whether this network was activated, and for what customers, cannot be confirmed. A former Blackwater employee who worked on the company's CIA program declined to comment on Prado's work for the company, citing its classified status.

In November 2007 officials from Prince's companies developed a pricing structure for security and intelligence services for private companies and wealthy individuals. One official wrote that Prado had the capacity to "develop infrastructures" and "conduct ground-truth and security activities." According to the pricing chart, potential customers could hire Prado and other Blackwater officials to operate in the United States and globally: in Latin America, North Africa, francophone countries, the Middle East, Europe, China, Russia, Japan, and Central and Southeast Asia. A four-man team headed by Prado for countersurveillance in the United States cost $33,600 weekly, while "safehouses" could be established for $250,000, plus operational costs. Identical services were offered globally. For $5,000 a day, clients could hire Prado or former senior CIA officials Cofer Black and Robert Richer for "representation" to national "decision-makers." Before joining Blackwater, Black, a twenty-eight-year CIA veteran, ran the agency's counterterrorism center, while Richer was the agency's deputy director of operations. (Neither Black nor Richer currently works for the company.)

As Blackwater became embroiled in controversy following the Nisour Square massacre, Prado set up his own company, Constellation Consulting Group (CCG), apparently taking some of Blackwater's covert CIA work with him, though he maintained close ties to his former employer. In an e-mail to a Total Intelligence executive in February 2008, Prado wrote that he "recently had major success in developing capabilities in Mali [Africa] that are of extreme interest to our major sponsor and which will soon launch a substantial effort via my small shop." He requested Total Intelligence's help in analyzing the "North Mali/Niger terrorist problem."

In October 2009 Blackwater executives faced a crisis when they could not account for their government-issued Secure Telephone Unit, which is used by the CIA, the National Security Agency and other military and intelligence services for secure communications. A flurry of e-mails were sent around as personnel from various Blackwater entities tried to locate the device. One former Blackwater official wrote that because he had left the company it was "not really my problem," while another declared, "I have no 'dog in this fight.'" Eventually, Prado stepped in, e-mailing the Blackwater officials to "pass my number" to the "OGA POC," meaning the Other Government Agency (parlance for CIA) Point of Contact.

What relationship Prado's CCG has with the CIA is not known. An early version of his company's website boasted that "CCG professionals have already conducted operations on five continents, and have proven their ability to meet the most demanding client needs" and that the company has the "ability to manage highly-classified contracts." CCG, the site said, "is uniquely positioned to deliver services that no other company can, and can deliver results in the most remote areas with little or no outside support." Among the services advertised were "Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (human and electronic), Unconventional Military Operations, Counterdrug Operations, Aviation Services, Competitive Intelligence, Denied Area Access...and Paramilitary Training."

The Nation has previously reported on Blackwater's work for the CIA and JSOC in Pakistan. New documents reveal a history of activity relating to Pakistan by Blackwater. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto worked with the company when she returned to Pakistan to campaign for the 2008 elections, according to the documents. In October 2007, when media reports emerged that Bhutto had hired "American security," senior Blackwater official Robert Richer wrote to company executives, "We need to watch this carefully from a number of angles. If our name surfaces, the Pakistani press reaction will be very important. How that plays through the Muslim world will also need tracking." Richer wrote that "we should be prepared to [sic] a communique from an affiliate of Al-Qaida if our name surfaces (BW). That will impact the security profile." Clearly a word is missing in the e-mail or there is a typo that leaves unclear what Richer meant when he mentioned the Al Qaeda communiqué. Bhutto was assassinated two months later. Blackwater officials subsequently scheduled a meeting with her family representatives in Washington, in January 2008.

Through Total Intelligence and the Terrorism Research Center, Blackwater also did business with a range of multinational corporations. According to internal Total Intelligence communications, biotech giant Monsanto—the world's largest supplier of genetically modified seeds—hired the firm in 2008–09. The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto's security manager for global issues.

After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives, including to Prince and Prado at their Blackwater e-mail addresses. Black wrote that Wilson "understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] name.... Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for." Black added that Total Intelligence "would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto." Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater "could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally." Black wrote that initial payments to Total Intelligence would be paid out of Monsanto's "generous protection budget" but would eventually become a line item in the company's annual budget. He estimated the potential payments to Total Intelligence at between $100,000 and $500,000. According to documents, Monsanto paid Total Intelligence $127,000 in 2008 and $105,000 in 2009.

Reached by telephone and asked about the meeting with Black in Zurich, Monsanto's Wilson initially said, "I'm not going to discuss it with you." In a subsequent e-mail to The Nation, Wilson confirmed he met Black in Zurich and that Monsanto hired Total Intelligence in 2008 and worked with the company until early 2010. He denied that he and Black discussed infiltrating animal rights groups, stating "there was no such discussion." He claimed that Total Intelligence only provided Monsanto "with reports about the activities of groups or individuals that could pose a risk to company personnel or operations around the world which were developed by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information. The subject matter ranged from information regarding terrorist incidents in Asia or kidnappings in Central America to scanning the content of activist blogs and websites." Wilson asserted that Black told him Total Intelligence was "a completely separate entity from Blackwater."

Monsanto was hardly the only powerful corporation to enlist the services of Blackwater's constellation of companies. The Walt Disney Company hired Total Intelligence and TRC to do a "threat assessment" for potential film shoot locations in Morocco, with former CIA officials Black and Richer reaching out to their former Moroccan intel counterparts for information. The job provided a "good chance to impress Disney," one company executive wrote. How impressed Disney was is not clear; in 2009 the company paid Total Intelligence just $24,000.

Total Intelligence and TRC also provided intelligence assessments on China to Deutsche Bank. "The Chinese technical counterintelligence threat is one of the highest in the world," a TRC analyst wrote, adding, "Many four and five star hotel rooms and restaurants are live-monitored with both audio and video" by Chinese intelligence. He also said that computers, PDAs and other electronic devices left unattended in hotel rooms could be cloned. Cellphones using the Chinese networks, the analyst wrote, could have their microphones remotely activated, meaning they could operate as permanent listening devices. He concluded that Deutsche Bank reps should "bring no electronic equipment into China." Warning of the use of female Chinese agents, the analyst wrote, "If you don't have women coming onto you all the time at home, then you should be suspicious if they start coming onto you when you arrive in China." For these and other services, the bank paid Total Intelligence $70,000 in 2009.

TRC also did background checks on Libyan and Saudi businessmen for British banking giant Barclays. In February 2008 a TRC executive e-mailed Prado and Richer revealing that Barclays asked TRC and Total Intelligence for background research on the top executives from the Saudi Binladin Group (SBG) and their potential "associations/connections with the Royal family and connections with Osama bin Ladin." In his report, Richer wrote that SBG's chair, Bakr Mohammed bin Laden, "is well and favorably known to both arab and western intelligence service[s]" for cooperating in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Another SBG executive, Sheikh Saleh bin Laden, is described by Richer as "a very savvy businessman" who is "committed to operating with full transparency to Saudi's security services" and is considered "the most vehement within the extended BL family in terms of criticizing UBL's actions and beliefs."

In August Blackwater and the State Department reached a $42 million settlement for hundreds of violations of US export control regulations. Among the violations cited was the unauthorized export of technical data to the Canadian military. Meanwhile, Blackwater's dealings with Jordanian officials are the subject of a federal criminal prosecution of five former top Blackwater executives. The Jordanian government paid Total Intelligence more than $1.6 million in 2009.

Some of the training Blackwater provided to Canadian military forces was in Blackwater/TRC's "Mirror Image" course, where trainees live as a mock Al Qaeda cell in an effort to understand the mindset and culture of insurgents. Company literature describes it as "a classroom and field training program designed to simulate terrorist recruitment, training, techniques and operational tactics." Documents show that in March 2009 Blackwater/TRC spent $6,500 purchasing local tribal clothing in Afghanistan as well as assorted "propaganda materials—posters, Pakistan Urdu maps, etc." for Mirror Image, and another $9,500 on similar materials this past January in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to internal documents, in 2009 alone the Canadian military paid Blackwater more than $1.6 million through TRC. A Canadian military official praised the program in a letter to the center, saying it provided "unique and valid cultural awareness and mission specific deployment training for our soldiers in Afghanistan," adding that it was "a very effective and operationally current training program that is beneficial to our mission."

This past summer Erik Prince put Blackwater up for sale and moved to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. But he doesn't seem to be leaving the shadowy world of security and intelligence. He says he moved to Abu Dhabi because of its "great proximity to potential opportunities across the entire Middle East, and great logistics," adding that it has "a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labor unions. It's pro-business and opportunity." It also has no extradition treaty with the United States.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Important article: America's Decoupling from Reality

By Robert Parry

As Election Day 2010 approaches – as the United States wallows in the swamps of war, recession and environmental degradation – the consequences of the nation’s three-decade-old decoupling from reality are becoming painfully obvious.

Yet, despite the danger, the nation can’t seem to move in a positive direction, as if the suctioning effect of endless spin, half-truths and lies holds the populace in place, a force that grows ever more powerful like quicksand sucking the country deeper into the muck – to waist deep, then neck deep.

Trapped in the mud, millions of Americans are complaining about their loss of economic status, their sense of powerlessness, their nation’s decline. But instead of examining how the country stumbled into this morass, many still choose not to face reality.

Instead of seeking paths to the firmer ground of a reality-based world, people from different parts of the political spectrum have decided to embrace unreality even more, either cynically as a way to delegitimize a political opponent or because they’ve simply become addicted to the crazy.

The latest manifestation of the wackiness can be found in the rise of the Tea Party, a movement of supposedly grassroots, mad-as-hell regular Americans that is subsidized by wealthy corporate donors (such as the billionaire Koch brothers) seeking to ensure deregulation of their industries and to consolidate their elite control over the political process.

The Tea Party madness is aided and abetted by a now fully formed right-wing media apparatus that can popularize any false narrative (like Islam planning to conquer Christian America as represented by the building of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero).

The Right sees an advantage in spreading even the nuttiest of smears against President Barack Obama. So you have right-wing author Dinesh D’Souza and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich concocting a toxic brew of racist nonsense about Obama somehow channeling the anti-colonialism of his late Kenyan father.
“Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s,” D’Souza wrote in Forbes. “This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

Incredibly, indeed.

The “factual” basis of this “analysis” apparently is that Obama entitled his touching story about his youth, Dreams of My Father, which was a book that focused on the absence of his father from his life.

In a less crazy time, one might have expected D’Souza’s claptrap to be denounced by politicians across the political spectrum, but that is not the time we live in.

Instead, Gingrich, a leading figure in the Republican Party and a potential candidate for president in 2012, praised D’Souza’s racist psycho-babble as the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama,” adding that D’Souza unlocked the mystery of who Obama is by addressing his “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

Gingrich also pretended that he and D’Souza were the truth-tellers here, not just propagandists spreading a smear. Gingrich said they simply were unmasking Obama who has “played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”

How It Happened

But how did the United States of America get here? How could the most powerful nation on earth with a sophisticated media that is constitutionally protected from government censorship have stumbled into today’s dreary place filled with such up-is-down commentary?

As a journalist in Washington since 1977, I have had a front-row seat to this sad devolution of American reason. As the process advanced, I have at times felt like a Cassandra trying to warn others about the risks of abandoning fact and rationality in favor of propaganda of whatever stripe.

I also have watched Newt Gingrich since he was a freshman congressman in 1979, when I was a congressional correspondent for the Associated Press. Though I have met many politicians in my career and know they can be an egotistical bunch, Gingrich’s burning ambition – his readiness to do whatever was necessary – stood out even then.

Unlike many other congressional Republicans of the time, Gingrich cared little for constructive governance but a great deal for political gamesmanship. He was already plotting his route to national power and was ready to use whatever tactics would advance his personal and ideological cause.

However, America’s decoupling from reality – and its disappearance into the swamp of unreality – began in earnest with the rise of actor and ad pitchman Ronald Reagan, who crafted a host of get-something-for-nothing policies that appealed to a nation that was struggling to adjust to a more complex world.

Reagan promised that tax cuts tilted to the rich would generate more revenue and eliminate the federal debt; that this money also could finance a massive military buildup which would frighten America’s enemies and restore national prestige; that freeing corporations from government regulations and from powerful unions would herald a new day of prosperity; that the country could turn its back on alternative energy and simply drill for more oil; that whites no longer had to feel guilty about the plight of blacks; that traditional “values” – i.e. rejection of the “counter-culture” – would bring back the good old days when men were men and women were women.

Despite the appeal of Reagan’s message to many Americans, it was essentially an invitation to repudiate reality. Before joining Reagan’s ticket as his vice presidential nominee, George H.W. Bush had famously denounced the tax-cut plan as “voodoo economics.” Early in Reagan’s presidency, his budget director David Stockman acknowledged that the tax cuts would flood the government in red ink.

But tax policy wasn’t Reagan’s only ignore-the-future policy. While rejecting President Jimmy Carter’s warnings about the need for renewable energy sources, Reagan removed Carter’s solar panels from the White House roof and left the nation dependent on oil. Reagan also led campaigns to break unions and to free corporations from many government regulations.

Scaring the Public

In foreign policy – although the Soviet Union was in rapid decline – Reagan put ideological blinders on the CIA’s analysts to make sure they exaggerated the Soviet menace and justified his military buildup.

Reagan achieved this “politicization” of the CIA by placing in charge his campaign chief William Casey, who, in turn, picked a young CIA careerist named Robert Gates to purge the analytical division of its long tradition of objectivity. Gates arranged the scariest intelligence estimates possible.

Reagan also credentialed a group of young intellectuals who became known as the neoconservatives – the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle and Robert Kagan – who emerged from an elitist tradition (advocated by philosopher Leo Strauss) that it was their proper role to manipulate the less-educated masses and guide them in certain directions.

After Reagan gave the neocons oversight of his Central American policies, the neocons worked with seasoned CIA propagandists, like Walter Raymond Jr. who was moved over to the National Security Council, to develop what they called “perception management” strategies for controlling how the American people would see and understand things.

The neocons used fear, exaggeration and outright lying to get the American people behind Reagan’s support for brutal military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala and the contra rebels seeking to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. Truth was subordinated to policy.

Perception management operatives targeted honest journalists, human rights activists and congressional investigators who dug up unwanted facts that challenged Reagan’s propaganda. To discredit truthful messages, the neocons “controversialized” the messengers.

These techniques proved very successful, in large part, because many senior executives at leading news outlets – from the AP where general manager Keith Fuller was a Reagan enthusiast to the New York Times where executive editor Abe Rosenthal was himself a neocon – sided with the propagandists against their own journalists. [For details on “perception management,” see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Meanwhile, the American Right began building its own media infrastructure with wealthy foundations footing the bills for a host of political magazines. Far-right religious cult leader Sun Myung Moon poured billions of mysterious dollars into the Washington Times and other media operations. [See Secrecy & Privilege.]

By contrast, the American Left mostly under-funded or even de-funded its scattered media outlets. Some, like Ramparts, were shuttered, while other formerly left-of-center publications, such as The New Republic and The Atlantic, changed hands to neocon and conservative owners. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]

Whatever the long-term costs, Reagan made many Americans feel good in the short run. They liked the idea of not having to pay for government services (by simply putting the bill on the government’s credit card) and many bought into Reagan’s notion that “government is the problem.”

So, in 1984, Reagan’s gauzy “Morning in America” vision won big over Walter Mondale’s appeal for fiscal responsibility.

The Iran-Contra Window

Perhaps the last best hope to reassert reality came with the Iran-Contra scandal, which played out from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Reagan’s secret arms-for-hostages deals with Iran had the potential to unravel an interconnected series of national security cover-ups and scandals, including cocaine smuggling by Reagan’s contras and creation of the “perception management” operation itself.

However, again, truth about these complex scandals was not considered that important, either in Congress or within the Washington news media. The governing Democrats, the likes of Rep. Lee Hamilton and later President Bill Clinton, chose to sweep the scandals under the rug in the hope that the Republicans would reciprocate through a renewed bipartisanship. [See Secrecy & Privilege.]

Not only were those hopes unrequited, the Republicans actually grew more emboldened and more partisan. The GOP and its allies ramped up personal attacks on Clinton by turning loose its powerful new media infrastructure, which by the 1990s featured the Right’s domination of AM talk radio.

A typical example of the Right’s propaganda was to distribute lists of “mysterious deaths” of people somehow connected to President Clinton. Though there was no evidence that Clinton was implicated in any of the deaths, the sophistry of the argument rested simply on the number of cases.

When I checked out some of the cases and relayed my findings of Clinton’s innocence to one right-wing source, he told me that maybe I could show that Clinton wasn’t responsible for some of the deaths but I couldn’t account for all and that it would be “a big story” if the President was responsible for even a few deaths.

I responded that it would be a “big story” if the President were responsible for even one, but the problem was that there was no evidence of that, just the insidious impression created by a long list of vague suspicions.

What the Right learned was that it could achieve political gain by circulating an endless supply of baseless or wildly exaggerated allegations. Many Americans would believe them just because of the repetition over right-wing talk radio, especially by the most prominent talker Rush Limbaugh.

On Election Night 1994, Democrats were stunned by how effective the tactic of using bogus and hyped anti-Clinton charges proved to be. Between the smearing of Bill and Hillary Clinton and the voters desire to punish Democrats for raising taxes to close the Reagan-Bush-41-era deficits, the Republicans swept to control of the House and Senate.

Newt Gingrich achieved his long-held goal of becoming House Speaker, and Rush Limbaugh was made an honorary member of the Republican congressional caucus.

In the years that have followed – especially with the emergence of Fox News in the mid-to-late 1990s – the dominance of right-wing propaganda over non-ideological reality moved to the center of the American political process.

As in the 1980s, much of the blame should fall on the mainstream news media. Rather than push for difficult truths, many journalists in the corporate media protected their careers by going with the flow or turned their attention to trivial and tabloid stories.

The Bush-43 Era

During Campaign 2000, journalists from publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post ganged up on Al Gore. They even made up quotations to put in his mouth so they could haze him as if they were the cool kids on campus and he was the goofy nerd.

By contrast, journalists knew to fawn all over the ultimate big man on campus, George W. Bush, as he made them feel important by giving them nicknames. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

When Gore still narrowly defeated Bush in Election 2000, the major news media stood aside as Bush and the Republicans stole the White House.

After Bush’s allies on the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the counting of votes in Florida to give him the “victory,” some executives at major publications felt that pointing out the fact that Gore actually won – if all votes legal under Florida law had been counted – would undermine Bush’s “legitimacy” and thus it was better not to let the public know. In other words, ignorance had become bliss.

Some columnists, like the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, went so far as to hail the overturning of the popular will under the theory that Bush would be a uniter, while Gore would be a divisive figure.

The see-no-evil attitude hardened after the 9/11 attacks when mainstream outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, consciously misreported their own findings of a Gore victory in Florida, based on an unofficial media recount. Instead of leading with that remarkable fact, they buried the lede and highlighted that Bush would still have won some partial, hypothetical recounts. [See Neck Deep.]
The media mood after 9/11 – a combination of misguided patriotism and fear of right-wing retaliation – caused the mainstream press to retreat further into self-censorship and even collaboration. Key journalists, such as the Times’ reporter Judy Miller and the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, became handmaidens to Bush’s propaganda about Iraq.

With only a few exceptions, the U.S. news media let itself become silly putty in the hands of the neocons, who had returned to power under Bush-43 with a much broader foreign policy portfolio than Reagan had ever given them. Whereas Reagan confined them mostly to Central America, Bush-43 gave them the strategically vital Middle East.

Not surprisingly, the neocons reprised their old strategy of perception management, stoking excessive fears of Iraq’s mythical WMD programs and stomping out any counter embers of doubt. For millions of Americans, the WMD lies became truth as they were repeated everywhere, from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Aping the Right

After watching the success of the Bush administration’s propaganda, some on the Left decided that their only hope was to give the neocons a taste of their own disinformation medicine.

Though the 9/11 evidence pointed to Bush’s incompetence in ignoring warnings and failing to stop al-Qaeda’s terrorist operation, some American leftists felt that it wasn’t enough to convince the people that Bush was simply a bonehead. The feeling was that Bush had so bamboozled the people that they needed to be shocked out of their trances by something bigger.

So, this small group brushed aside the evidence-backed narrative of Bush’s incompetence and even a competing interpretation of that factual framework, claiming that Bush had “let 9/11 happen.” Instead, this group insisted that the only way to wake up America was to make a case that Bush “made it happen,” that he was behind the 9/11 attacks.

To accomplish this feat, these activists, who became known as “9/11 truthers,” threw out all the evidence of al-Qaeda’s involvement, from contemporaneous calls from hijack victims on the planes to confessions from al-Qaeda leaders both in and out of captivity that they indeed had done it. The "truthers" then cherry-picked a few supposed “anomalies” to build an “inside-job” story line.

The “truthers” even recycled many of the Right’s sophistry techniques, such as using long lists of supposed evidence to overcome the lack of any real evidence. These sleight-of-hand techniques obscured the glaring fact that not a single witness has emerged to describe the alleged “inside job,” either the supposed “controlled demolition” of the Twin Towers or the alleged “missile” attack on the Pentagon.

Some supporters of the “inside-job” theory may have simply been destabilized by all the years of right-wing disinformation. Reality and real evidence may have lost all currency, replaced by a deep and understandable distrust of the nation's leaders and the news media.

Other "truthers" whom I’ve talked with view their anti-Bush propaganda campaign as a success because it injected some doubts among the American people about Bush. One told me that this was the only attack line against Bush that had gained any “traction.”

However, after President Obama’s election in 2008, the Right again demonstrated its mastery of the disinformation techniques. Unlike the Left, the Right could roll out the heavy artillery of a multi-layered media apparatus that pounded the public with barrage after barrage of conspiracy theories.

Falsehoods took on the color of truth simply by their endless retelling. For instance, the canard that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii as his birth certificate shows, has gained credibility with large numbers of Americans including about half of Republicans, some polls show. Similarly, the Right has convinced tens of millions that Obama is a Muslim, though he is Christian.

The Right’s media power has enabled the Republicans to portray Obama as some un-American “other,” while the GOP has little fear that its spreading of racist-tinged conspiracy theories will hurt the party’s election chances.

The latest example is Dinesh D’Souza’s bizarre theorizing about Obama’s channeling his late father’s opposition to British colonialism in Kenya, a reincarnated dream which somehow has morphed into Obama's "socialist" agenda which is "alien" to American values.

Instead of roundly condemning D’Souza for this strange and racist article, Gingrich – one of the supposed intellectuals of the Republican Party – went out of his way to praise the nonsense as “profound.”
As former Bush-43 speechwriter David Frum noted in a blog post, “With the Forbes story and now the Gingrich endorsement, the argument that Obama is an infiltrating alien, a deceiving foreigner – and not just any kind of alien, but specifically a Third World alien – has been absorbed almost to the very core of the Republican platform for November 2010.”

Despite some internal GOP critics like Frum, the Republican Party clearly feels that it has a winning formula, using such psychological warfare to exploit a confused and embittered electorate. That confidence will be tested on Nov. 2, although if most prognosticators are correct, the Republicans have good reason to feel confident.

Whatever happens on Election Day, the longer-term challenge will be to rebuild an old-fashioned commitment to fact and reason within both American journalism and the broader political system.
Though lying is not foreign to U.S. politics and media, telling the truth has always been a fundamental American value, one that is vital to democracy.

The great task of restoring the Republic must include honest efforts to dig out recent history's ground truth, which can then be used to build a path out of the disinformation swamp and onto the dry land of rational political discourse.
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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
Robert Parry's web site is Consortium News.