Sunday, December 23, 2007

The “Unholy” Alliance



When First Lady Hillary Clinton referred to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in 1998, she wasn’t kidding. The public, guided by the mainstream media, pooh-poohed her statement as defensive paranoia but it turns out she was referring to a tightly-networked group of foreign policy wonks called the Neoconservatives.

Fortunately, Craig Unger in his book, The Fall of the House of Bush, has provided both the cast and playbook of this Right Wing power elite as he tells the story about how an “unholy” alliance between George W. Bush, the Neoconservatives and the Christian Fundamentalists came together to formulate the most cockamamie Middle East foreign policy our country has ever seen.

While some of the book is old news, it bears repeating again and again until the American public understands who these people are and what they have wrought. Unger’s twist to the story, however, is in the behind-the-scenes machinations of their power-making.

NEOCONSERVATIVES

Today’s Neoconservatives were originally New Left intellectuals who came out of the antiwar movement and sixties counterculture as angry individuals who either felt rebuffed socially or professionally and/or were attracted to the hawkish anti-communist dogma of Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

They imitated the Left’s Brookings Institution by creating their own think tanks and lobbying groups, developing a fundraising apparatus and recruiting “scholars” and “experts” all for the purpose of promoting a new Neoconservative ideology that would “overturn the present power structure of the country,” as Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, asserted.

The list of Neocons reads like a Post Office bulletin board for all the damage they have done. Most have even become household names including: William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Bork, Francis Fukuyama, Norman Podhoretz, Ben Wattenberg, Mayrav Wurmser, James Woolsey, Kenneth Adelman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, David Frum, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Newt Gingrich, Frederick Kagan, Irving Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchick, Charles Murray, Michael Novak, Norman Ornstein, Danielle Pletka, Gary Schmitt, Fred Thompson, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, John Yoo.

Besides the Heritage Foundation, the Neocons also work for other groups like the American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Freedom House, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute, Hoover Institution, Accuracy in Media, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Project for the New American Century.

These organizations are financed with the help of right-wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Sun Myung Moon and Richard Mellon Scaife (who funded a series of investigations attacking President Clinton’s presidency).

In order to shape public opinion, the Neocons have relied on a barrage of media inputs through right-wing news outlets like the New York Post, Fox News, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, and the Weekly Standard.

However, they have also achieved a legitimate platform for their views by writing op-ed pieces and serving as opposing viewpoints in media interviews in the “liberal press” (i.e., network news, New York Times and Washington Post).

In 2000 the Neocons finally hit the jackpot. They found a presidential candidate who would adopt their platform of creating a new American empire that would assert U.S. domination in the Middle East in order to control energy resources (like oil and gas), open up corporate-friendly markets, set up strategic military bases and protect Israel.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Before George W. Bush entered the national stage, he gave up drinking, found the Lord and became more serious about politics. He greatly contributed to his father’s presidential campaigns by appealing to the same Fundamentalist Christians who would later help him in his own presidential bid. However, he first had to prove that he deserved to be the favored son. He did that in 1994 by winning the governorship of Texas by a wide margin while his brother, Jeb, won the Florida governorship by a slim margin.

According to Unger, the tense father-son relationship all came down to Bush’s inability to live up the reputation and accomplishments of his father, as illustrated in the opening chapter titled “Oedipus Tex.” Such family dramas are common, however, this one is being played out on the world stage.

No surprise to his critics, Bush deliberately does the opposite of what his political realist father would do. He also consistently refused the guidance of his father’s advisers, like the foreign policy-wise and ultra-trustworthy Brent Scowcroft or family friend, James Baker, who helped Bush in the 2000 Florida re-count and tried to bail him out the disastrous Iraq War in 2006.

Bush did, however, accept Colin Powell, as Secretary of State but that was only to trot out his good name for the 2000 and 2004 elections. He rarely consulted Powell and then dumped him in 2005 even after Powell sold his soul for his president in his February 2003 United Nations speech that helped sell a war against Iraq. Unger devotes a whole, heart-wrenching chapter to this tragedy that undid one of the most credible, admired men in the USA.

The Bush administration has its own system of checks and balances where its Neocon members oversee the work of the realists of the first Bush administration. The ranks of the administration are also filled with Neocon mentors and mentees. For example, White House interns don’t come from the Ivy League colleges anymore but rather from evangelical colleges that are full of homeschooled fundamentalists. Lawyers for the Justice Department hail from Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School. And then there’s Tim LaHaye, author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” series of novels. He and his Council for National Policy have regular access to the Oval Office.

FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS

The sixties also deeply affected the Fundamentalist Christians, who saw modern humanist culture as the scourge on the nation. The Supreme Court’s ruling on school prayer and desegregation especially provoked them, however, it was the legalization of abortion in 1973 that finally galvanized them to action.

Although the public perceived the Fundamentalists as clueless rubes and fools, Jerry Falwell saw them as an opportunity for power and influence. Only half of the Fundamentalists voted but one third of Americans considered themselves “born again.” Fifty percent believed in biblical inerrancy and 80 percent saw Jesus as divine. Meanwhile, radio and TV evangelists had garnered a built-in audience of 130 million.

Disappointed with “born again” President Jimmy Carter, Falwell in 1978 began talking about “unborn babies” who were murdered through abortion. He also gathered 20-25 top political operatives at his church in Lynchburg, Va., and rallied them to become involved in the political process as a way of bringing back traditional moral values. They helped with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Conservative activist Morton Blackwell, executive director of the College Republican National Committee, also joined with Falwell. He brought with him some talented and aggressive young men including Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff.

The Fundamentalist Christians talk about the Founding Fathers and their ideals but it is important to realize that they are referring to religious Puritans like Cotton Mather who encouraged the Salem witch trials and not the deistic modernist men of the Enlightenment like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Paine.

Unger contends that from the beginning, America been caught in the dilemma between fundamentalism and modernism. Today, as a result, America is in deep trouble both domestically and internationally because of this “unholy” alliance, which will undoubtedly outlast Bush, at least for a little while.

Americans who detest what this alliance is doing must recognize the characters, their institutions and their tactics and challenge them. They must also support those who are fighting for our Constitution like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Freedom Campaign, which is urging the restoration of the checks and balances system of government and reversing the executive branch’s abuses of power.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

WMD of USA


As he watched the first successful demonstration of the Bomb explode, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” said that a line from the Bhagavad Gita immediately came to mind: “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Ever since the 1950s the United States always seems to be on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Back then the threat was the Soviet Union. As the Cold War continued, more nations felt a need to protect themselves so they, too, acquired “the Bomb” including Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964). Today these three countries own 750, 350 and 130 weapons, respectively, while Russia (1949) maintains 16,000, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

In 1974 India began developing “the Bomb” but it wasn’t until 1998 that it successfully tested one. Six months later its archrival, Pakistan, tested its own Bomb in order to counteract India’s Bomb. Each country now has about 50 weapons. In 2006, North Korea let the world know it, too, had the Bomb, although negotiations are underway to dismantle it. Many people suspect that Israel has a stash of 75-200 warheads, however, leaders remain tight-lipped about reporting these weapons.

Americans’ experience with the Bomb immediately stirred up concern last fall when President Bush said that Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear power could lead to the development of nuclear weapons, which could then lead to World War III. Even recent revelations that the Iranians ended their weapons program in 2003 haven’t quelled the administration’s “fears” over Iran. What is particularly peculiar in this conversation is that the United States itself has nearly 10,000 nuclear missiles, with 5,173 of them considered “active,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Most Americans are largely unaware of the vastness and lethality of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles, say Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, who did time in federal prison for protesting nuclear weapons by breaking into a Colorado Minuteman III missile site in October 2002. In a recent interview, they said that the end of the Cold War somehow led people to believe the weapons had somehow disappeared.

In fact, Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimates that another 20 to 30 countries are now capable and interested in building their own Bombs! Consequently, there is a growing worldwide movement to eliminate nuclear weapons arsenals because of the danger they pose to all life on earth and because of their accessibility to would-be terrorists (The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists).

While the members of the Nuclear Club have been dismantling many of their weapons, the world currently has a total of about 31,000 nuclear warheads, according to Nuclear Files. The combined explosive yield of these weapons is approximately 5,000 megatons or 200,000 times the explosive yield of the 15-kiloton bomb used on Hiroshima where over 100,000 people were killed.

In using those Hiroshima numbers as a point of comparison for today’s weapons, it is clear that the U.S. has an extremely dangerous and costly WMD stockpile (at least $5 trillion, according to Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of the 1998 book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940).

Below is a summary of the U.S. arsenal of land, sea and air nuclear weapons and the strength of their firepower gathered from several nonprofit sources including the Center for Defense Information (CDI); the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Nuke Watch; and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists .

Please note that the numbers provided are only estimates because it is very difficult to obtain solid data due to sketchy governmental reporting systems, weapons’ status and the ever-evolving reduction programs that shift both the number and power of the weapons.

LAND-BASED WEAPONS

Four hundred and fifty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) stand in silos on “high alert” in Minot, North Dakota (150), Great Falls, Montana (150) and in the lonely grasslands of Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado (150).

Each of these missiles has the power of 170-300 kilotons or 11-20 Hiroshima bombs. The combined firepower of all 450 missiles amounts to 76,500 to 135,000 kilotons. The combined force of these Minuteman missiles would be capable of killing 510 to 900 million people.

SEA-BASED WEAPONS

The United States now has 14 Trident submarines, which deploy 2,346 warheads, according to the NRDC. Eight Tridents are based at Kings Bay, Georgia, and six in Bangor, Washington.

Each submarine can carry eight 475-kiloton warheads on each (D-5) missile. So one submarine can carry up to 3,800 kilotons of firepower, which is equivalent to 253 Hiroshima bombs. This means that the power of one Trident II submarine could potentially kill 25.3 million people. All 14 of our Trident submarines combined could kill 354.2 million people.

AIR-BASED WEAPONS

The B-52 long-range bomber is equipped with 20 air-launched cruise missiles with 200 kilotons of firepower for each missile. One bomber, therefore, can carry equivalent to 4,000 kilotons of power or the equivalent of 267 Hiroshima bombs. The United States has 76 bombers, which amounts to 304,000 kilotons of combined power and a potential kill capacity of 20,266,000 people.

The United States has 21 B-2 “stealth bombers” that can each carry 16 gravity bombs. There are 3 kinds of gravity bombs: the B-53 bomb has 9 megatons (or 9 million kilotons) of firepower; the B-61 ranges between 100 and 500 kilotons; and the B-83 has the firepower of 1-2 megatons (1-2 million kilotons). So one stealth bomber with 16 gravity bombs, well, the calculations are now getting astronomical and by now you get the idea of how lethal these weapons are.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

In 1997 the U.S. military stepped up its strategic weapons capacity with Vision 2020. This plan aims to exploit and dominate outer space by linking all land, sea and air-based weapons systems. Unfortunately, Vision 2020 would violate the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space.

“The Clinton administration opened the door to developing space weapons but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further,” said Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre to The Washington Post. In 2004 the Air Force developed a weapons in space plan. In 2006 the Pentagon requested millions of dollars for testing and developing a space program.

Before we worry about Iran developing nuclear weapons, it seems an opportune time for the American people to face seriously the question of whether or not we want to continue this insane preparation for nuclear holocaust as a legacy to our progeny and our gift to the world.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seven Palestinian Women


Seven Palestinian women traveled to five cities across the United States this fall on a three-week cultural exchange trip sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Among the women’s greatest surprises was their ease of movement.

This movement wasn’t about cars and planes or freeways and roads. It was about their not having to go through checkpoints.

Living in a place where people are deemed dangerous brings with it few rewards. As Palestinians the women must endure life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which now has an imposing 25-foot high concrete “separation wall.”

Construction of the wall began in 2002. Its 700 kilometers (1,126.5 miles) snake through the Israeli and the Palestinian territories and come complete with razor-wire fences, trenches and watchtowers. In some places the wall literally surrounds a village, like a prison, or cuts the village in two, thus making access a hardship and a burden.

Palestinians must go through countless checkpoints to get from place to place. They must carry identification and endure unfriendly Israeli soldiers who manage the checkpoints, said Reem Saleh, project coordinator for the Ministry of Culture and one of the seven visitors.

“Children can’t get to school without delays at the checkpoints and that makes getting an education stressful and confusing,” said Abeer Shihabi, division head in the Ministry of Education. “It takes some children 50 minutes to get to school when it used to take only eight minutes. Others begin a two-hour journey starting at 5 a.m. Each trip is dangerous and uncertain. Of course, they are searched at the checkpoints and the gates are not open at predictable or regular hours.”

People fear the soldiers at the checkpoints, said Shihabi. Searches are often humiliating. In one instance, some women were strip-searched at a checkpoint. As they disrobed in a tent, soldiers opened the flaps and stared at them. Some women have waited so long at the checkpoints that they’ve delivered their babies.

Access to machinery, water and markets is also a problem, especially for those who live in rural villages and farms, she said. Families can’t see each other as often. For those who lose their jobs, they must rely on their relatives to give them a home or resources that they can’t get themselves.

According to the United Nations, over 680,000 people, one third of the West Bank population, are affected by the wall. The World Court has called the wall a gross violation of international law and basic human rights.

“The wall’s purpose is to annex lands of the Palestinians,” said Nisreen Al-taher, a computer programmer and administrator for the Ministry of National Economy. And the Israeli occupation has also severely limited Palestinians’ ability to participate in the global marketplace.

The Palestinian economy is deeply in debt and it shows no signs of a turn around, said Rola Abweh, division head of the Ministry of Finance. Unemployment is at 63 percent and there are no business or development opportunities because the business climate is too risky to attract those willing to invest.

The New York Times reported recently that 85 percent of factories in the Palestinian territories are shut or operating at less than 20 percent capacity.

Only 13 percent of Palestinian women are employed and nine percent are the sole breadwinners of their families, said Fatimah Botmeh, director of training and technical assistance for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The stress of the economic situation impacts Palestinian women considerably, she said. When they are widowed or their husbands are imprisoned, they are pressed to make a living for their families in addition to continuing their household responsibilities. The uncertainty of their situation leads to emotional and health problems. Then there is no government (rather it is called the Palestinian Authority) and no police, army or social services organization to assist them.

The World Bank estimates that 75 percent of the Palestinians live on less than $2 a day and so the people rely on outside sources to live.

People from all over the world sympathetic to the Palestinians are donating computers, sewing machines and other equipment. Because girls have the most difficulty in obtaining an education due to safety concerns, some charity groups take Palestinian girls from their villages and bring them to schools elsewhere so that can be educated and then return home to establish businesses in their community, said Botmeh.

The European Union maintains several towns with monetary and material aid and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) help out as well. U.S. government aid to the Palestinians is minimal.

Hiba Abu Zayyad, a researcher in the Central Public Health Laboratory, said that the Japanese, Norwegians, Italians have especially pitched in to supply equipment and pharmaceuticals as well as food and water. However, the hospital buildings themselves are falling apart and access to advanced equipment remains elusive.

People in rural areas suffer the most, she said. Delays in mail delivery affect the reliability of their pathology tests. Sample kits often arrive just before the expiration date and are useless.

Gaza is isolated from the rest of the Palestinian territories and people live there without water, electricity or proper sanitation. It is a place ripe for disease and no one can do anything about it said Zayyad.

About 4.6 million Palestinian refugees live in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Only 3.7 million of them receive assistance from the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). However, this funding has been cut and may be stopped because it is believed that the money is funding terrorists groups.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy and an expert on international terrorism, reported in September 2003 that the (UNRWA) distributed $521.7 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2002. However, the PA was staffed by Hamas who she said undoubtedly used the money for terrorist activities. Ehrenfeld also claimed that while Palestinian Arab refugees constitute only 17 percent of world’s refugees, they receive more than one third of the annual refugee funds allocated by the UNRWA.

The Palestinian refugee problem was created during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence where between 520,000 and 800,000 refugees lost their homes and lands to Israel, according to the MidEast Web Gateway. There are even conflicting stories about what happened. The Israelis say the Palestinians attacked them and then fled voluntarily. The Palestinians believe that the Zionists suddenly attacked them, grabbed their lands and evicted them by force.

After the 1967 Six Day War several hundred thousand more refugees fled and were not allowed to return to their homes. Israel has consistently viewed the refugees as hostile, belligerent aggressors. The Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat, denied Israel’s right to exist (until 1988 when he accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242).

“It is the Arab-Israeli conflict that is the issue causing the problems on the West Bank,” said Nabila Rizk, director of Evaluation at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. “If we solved that problem, the whole issue of the Middle East would be solved.”

“It’s not easy being Palestinian,” said Rizk. “The United States, the leader of the free world, is usually biased toward the Israelis even though Palestinians are suffering the most from being killed and arrested by the occupying Israel army. Our homes are destroyed and our olive trees (a source of income as well as a symbol of life in that region) are cut down. Then the media criminalizes the Palestinians.”

“Americans are used to seeing Jews as a civilized and good people rather than the Arabs and Muslims,” said Rizk. “The Israelis come from all over the world [because of the Jewish diaspora] and they are used to dealing with everybody. They also make use of the Holocaust to gather sympathy for their cause [to establish and maintain an Israel state].”

As difficult as the situation is for the Palestinians, the seven Palestinian women expressed their great hope that all will things will turn out well—and they refuse to feel like victims.

Palestinians are “hanging on” said Botmeh, “because we believe that someday we will live in peace as a free and independent state.”

“We need to work more to give absolute justice to our case,” said Zayyad. “If we did not have this horrible situation to deal with, we would not be as strong as we are.” She cites a Palestinian proverb that translates to: A hit that doesn’t kill me just makes me stronger.

“It’s in our blood to survive,” said Zayyad.

The women agreed that just being in the United States to tell about their predicament is a good sign. After all, the U.S. State Department supported their trip.

“We are going to live. We are not giving up on life,” said Botmeh. “As long as we are living, we will do our best to advance our cause. We do all of this for our children. We have hope for them and their future.”

“We are born free,” she said. “When you believe in a cause, you always feel strong and have to defend it. That is automatic.”

As professional women, Botmeh believes that she and her colleagues are in positions where they can affect change.

(During their three-week tour of the United States, the seven Palestinian women visited Tampa, FL; Washington, D.C.; New York City, Reno, NV; and Kalamazoo, MI. The women were guests of Colleagues International in Kalamazoo, where this report originated.)

This article appeared in CommonDreams.org on Thursday, December 6, 2007