Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Right Will Do Anything Except Face Reality And Care About Anyone Else.

The Right Will Do Anything Except Face Reality And Care About Anyone Else.

Crazy "Birther" Conspiracy Theories Get Boost in Mainstream Media

By Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America. Posted July 24, 2009.

The movement is a sinister attempt to paint Obama as illegitimate, foreign, and suspect. Why are pundits like Lou Dobbs taking it seriously?

If James von Brunn weren't in a locked security ward at Southeast General Hospital in Washington, D.C., and awaiting trial for the murder of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the 88-year-old racist and neo-Nazi might have taken comfort from listening to Lou Dobbs' syndicated radio show or watching Dobbs on CNN in recent days. Von Brunn would have likely felt some sense of affirmation from Dobbs, as the host began belatedly championing the cause of so-called "birthers," the angry band of right-wing conspiracy theorists who claim President Obama has not released a valid birth certificate and, in some cases, flat-out assert that he was not born in America and therefore is ineligible to be president of the United States. (Here's a good birther primer; here's the official right-wing defense of birthers.)

Had von Brunn been listening, Dobbs would likely have "spoken" to him. Just a few months before opening fire at the museum, von Brunn, apparently a proud birther himself, had done his best to spread the word online about Obama's illegitimate rule: "What is going on??? WHERE ARE THE GOOD PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY - ARE YOU OUT THERE???"

Ranting online, von Brunn also denounced the "dishonest & conspiratorial Media" for ignoring the blockbuster birther story.

Then suddenly up popped Dobbs, who, again and again in recent days, has propped up the birthers and taken on all comers who dared dismiss claims that Obama has failed to prove his U.S. citizenship. Suddenly, for dedicated birthers like von Brunn, the rudderless movement had a willing mainstream spokesman, somebody who reached beyond the paranoid confines of WorldNetDaily and Newsmax or the Michael Savage show and branched out into the masses.

Suddenly, the birthers had media big shot Lou Dobbs onboard as he, at times, turned his radio and television programs into a birther paradise, floating the same loaded, fact-free assertions that conspiracy theorists had been making for nearly a year:

  • "But we're going to keep talking about this until we get some straight answers."
  • "What is the deal here? I'm starting to think we have a -- we have a document issue."
  • "And all we need here is a doggone document, but for some reason the president doesn't want to release that."
  • "There are real questions here that need to be answered."

Dobbs has certainly taken some heat for his recent birther turn. (He's "effectively destroying his career with this stuff," birther expert David Weigel wrote at The Washington Independent.) But there's more to this story than Dobbs. And the phenomenon in play isn't just about a birth certificate. And it's also not isolated or accidental.

Because, yes, viewed in a vacuum, the movement seems like the nutty fringe. But viewed in a larger historical context, birthers share obvious ties to traditional right-wing assaults on previous Democrats, and birthers have all the marks of a GOP Noise Machine creation. The movement is about a larger, more sinister attempt to paint Obama as illegitimate, foreign, and suspect (i.e. not like you and me). To portray him as "a gratuitous interloper," as radio host G. Gordon Liddy put it. As someone who isn't who he says he is. As -- let's face it -- the Manchurian Candidate, with all the evil connotations that come with it. ("WHO SENT YOU???" von Brunn demanded to know of Obama.)

And it's about the disturbing role media figures like Dobbs play when they act as the bridge -- as the transmitter -- between the radical and the mainstream. When they legitimize the craziness, if only in the eyes of the crazies themselves. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted this week, "The home run for conspiracists of any stripe is when their ideas can leave the lunatic fringe and enter the mainstream."

Fox News has been doing that practically since Inauguration Day, as its hosts have mainstreamed a violent brand of militia rhetoric, beseeching viewers to take to the streets against the new president, who is committed to (purposefully!) destroying the country while robbing Americans of their cherished rights. Fox News has served as a clearinghouse and given radicals a way to interact with everyday viewers.

The birther attack is simply a parallel attempt to delegitimize Obama. Because once a public figure has been delegitimized, if only in the eyes of his critics, then all bets are off and the normal rules of conduct are discarded. We saw that play out during the Clinton years, with the immediate right-wing push to paint his presidency as being illegitimate (He won only 43 percent of the vote!), which then morphed into darker conspiracies (see: Vince Foster). And soon, it wasn't Clinton's politics or policies that attracted the venom, it was the man himself. He was untrustworthy. He wasn't morally grounded. He was a monster who had to be removed from office.

The same assault is being waged in the conservative media with deeply personal attacks against Obama. (He's a Marxist!) Fox News has been willingly dumping that toxic stew into the mainstream for months. And now on CNN, Dobbs is busy mainstreaming a distinct brand of hate and contempt by embracing the birther nonsense.

And make no mistake, Dobbs' performance in recent days has been nothing short of shocking. His birther cheerleading would be the equivalent of a CNN host, one year after the fact, going on the air and suggesting the Bush administration needed to prove, once and for all, that it was not behind the terrorist attacks of September 11 ("There are real questions here that need to be answered"). Of course, that kind of reckless rhetoric would be inconceivable on a mainstream television outlet. But Dobbs was not similarly constrained by reason, taking to the CNN airwaves in order to prop up one of the most thoroughly debunked campaign conspiracy theories in history. ("It's crazy," Janice Okubo, director of communications for the Hawaii Department of Health, recentlytold Weigel for a birther story. "I don't think anything is ever going to satisfy them.")

Indeed, here's how transparently loony the whole thing is. There's not only the Hawaii birth certificate that marks Obama's birth (although birthers claim it's a forgery). There are also the real-time, 1961 birth announcements printed up in The Honolulu Advertiserand the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. As Gawker's Cajun Boy recentlynoted:

I can sort of maybe understand the argument that official documents like birth certificates can be forged to cover something up, but what explanation do the "birthers" have for this piece of historical newsprint, something that's been preserved on microfiche for years now? I mean, in order to discount this you'd have to make the argument that Obama's family planted this item in the paper almost 50 years agojust in case he was to someday run for president. It's just all so ridiculously nonsensical.

Let's just agree that the word "debunked" was invented for situations just like this. Yet Dobbs has decided to hold out hope for the Obama crazies in their endless quest to delegitimize another Democratic president.

Limbaugh's Lies Sabotage the Health Reform Debate

By Sue Wilson, AlterNet. Posted July 25, 2009.

In conservative states, right-wing talk show hosts are spreading lies about reform. No wonder Blue Dog Dems are blocking health care overhaul.

There's a showdown at the House Energy and Commerce Committee corral. Seven Blue Dog Democrat members are banding together, and if they don't get their way, they can gun down the health care bill.

The Blue Dog Seven are spooked by pressure from their constituents and recent polls that show American's approval of Obama's health care initiative has dropped below 50 percent for the first time.

Drive across the seven states they represent: Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah, turn on your car radio, and you'll know why public opinion has changed. According to Pew research, 22 percent of Americans get their news from talk radio. And conservative talkers have been lying to their listeners about what's in the health care bill.

Lies from Sean Hannity like, "If you don't have private insurance the year that this bill is passed, you can't get that later on from your employer." Lies from Rush Limbaugh that the bill would "outlaw individual private coverage." Lies provided in talking points from the Republican National Committee like "Democrats are proposing a government controlled health insurance system, which will control care, treatments, medicines and even what doctors a patient may see."

Tell a lie often enough, and people will believe it.

And there is nobody there to call them on their lies. Nobody there to set the record straight. Nobody to push back against the propaganda that corporate radio promotes in its own political self interest. In the Blue Dog Seven states, just three stations broadcast any kind of progressive talk. Three progressive radio stations in seven entire states. But Sean Hannity "freely" prevaricates on dozens of radio stations; Rush Limbaugh deceives people on 98 in those seven states alone. 98 publicly owned frequencies where public debate comes second to selling ads for Snapple.

Special assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, Susan Crawford told Broadcasting and Cable magazine, "The administration understands the important role traditional terrestrial broadcasting continues to play."

Maybe they should be listening to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who says in Broadcast Blues, "If you're concerned about health care or you're concerned about the environment as your number one issue, fine, but a piece of advice from me, is you better make media reform your number two issue, because you won't get anywhere on number one without media reform."

Former Republican Senator Trent Lott had it right when he said Conservative Talk Radio is running the country. There needs to be a showdown, but it's the 1996 Telecommunications Act that should be gunned down.

Palin's Faith, Instant Forgiveness And God-Ordained Prosperity: Exploring Pentacostal Ideology

By Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches. Posted July 25, 2009.

When God is treated like "on-demand cable," the most fervent believers will have trouble adhering to basic rules of propriety, let alone values.

The last few weeks have been rather busy for Pentecostal/Charismatic types like Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Gov. Sarah Palin, and Bishop Thomas Weeks. Ensign alone has seen the headlines monopolized by his paid-off adulterous relationship, and the outing of his political and religious ties to The Family and his dabbling in the do-it-yourself exorcism movement. The senator’s political career, despite his vow to run for reelection, seems suspect.

Then, when you consider the excitement sparked both by Sarah Palin’s exit from the governorship of Alaska (to pursue a higher calling) and the news that Bishop Thomas Weeks has found a new wife after beating and divorcing Juanita Bynum, one might surmise that Pentecostals and Charismatics are primed to take over Howard Sterns’ title as “King(s) of All Media.”

Given the avalanche of media attention on these Pentecostal and Charismatic “newsmakers,” one might expect to find more helpful information on the movement(s) to which all three belong. After all, understanding their affiliations and beliefs can help to make sense of the motivations of such disparate figures; to say nothing of the prosperity purveyors like Creflo Dollar, Paula White, and Joel Osteen who share their tradition to some extent. When God is like “on-demand cable”—standing by to provide instant forgiveness and prosperity—it is very hard to convince the most fervent believers to adhere to basic rules of propriety, let alone values.

From a Senate investigation of prosperity ministers to Sarah Palin’s New Apostolic Reformation movement connections, Pentecostalism and its progeny (Charismatic, Third Wave, Full Gospel and non-denominational churches) have multiplied rapidly, making it is difficult to discern what the original movement is and where the offshoots are. Consider, for example, the fact that most people are unaware that Joel Osteen’s Father, John Osteen, was originally a Southern Baptist who turned Charismatic then Word of Faith (the old name for prosperity gospel). There is a reason why Joel Osteen can teach “Your best Life now”—he’s a word of Faith/prosperity guy who’s toned down the rhetoric for broader consumption.

Health and Wealth

Genealogy is important. So, in order to help you distinguish one movement from another, let me give you a brief primer on Pentecostalism and its two mutations: Prosperity Gospel and the New Apostolic movement.

The Pentecostal movement has been defined by historical, theological, and sociological means, but to understand its “mutations,” focusing on the movement’s practices is key. The Pentecostal emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which can also function as a religious practice, are outlined in various New Testament texts (including I Corinthians 12-8-10, I Corinthians 12:28, and Romans 12:3-8). These gifts, or practices, include healings, exorcism, speaking and interpretation of tongues, words of wisdom, and prophetic utterances. Speaking in tongues or glossolialia, once touted as the primary practice of Pentecostals is now, despite the occasional outburst of televangelists, something very few Pentecostals engage in according to a 2006 Pewsurvey. Instead, practices of healing, faith, and exorcism have gained primacy among the “spiritual gifts.” As a result, the long-term health and strength of Prosperity Gospel and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) rests on the elevation and promotion of these practices above all others. The deviations, then, are just as important in understanding how Pentecostalism is being reshaped and redefined.

The Prosperity Gospel has had several names throughout its history, including the “Health and Wealth Gospel” and, as noted above, “Word of Faith,” whose antecedents arise out of the healing movements of the 19th century. Early Pentecostals laid hands on and prayed fervently for healing “in the name of Jesus”; teachings that were appropriated by many churches and evangelists. For some, however, the teachings of E. W. Kenyon on the Word of Faith (with an emphasis on “faith”) became more primary in ministries and churches. Emphasis on the power of faith asserted that Christ’s atonement for sins on the cross included healing, and that if faith were applied appropriately, whatever a believer prayed for that was in God’s will would occur.

In the late 1940s, Kenneth Hagin (sometimes known as the father of the Word of Faith Movement or just ”Daddy Hagin”) focused on principles of ”faith” and the right of believers to be healed. Using his own story of healing, Hagin, alongside evangelists like Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, and others, began to promote healing teachings, adding financial blessings and a how-to on the proper application of “The Word of Faith.” [See Jonathan Walton’s Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism and RD’s “Selling the Good News.”]

For these Word of Faith proponents, the emphasis was placed on an almost fanatical belief in speaking and living the Word of Faith in line with scripture. These teachings in turn became foundational for many in the movement, including Hagin protégées Kenneth Copeland, Frederick K. C. Price, and John Osteen. Many mainline Pentecostals embraced these teachings at Copeland and Hagin meetings, which also attracted Charismatics from mainline denominations. Now known as the Prosperity Gospel, these movements garnered more participants and visibility in the 1990s; not only due to the advent of larger non-denominational churches linked to the various ministries, but also to the explosion of full gospel churches led by leaders like Paul Morton (who linked to other leaders with Pentecostal backgrounds like T. D. Jakes).

Toned Bodies and Spiritual Warfare

The new generation of prosperity preachers—Creflo Dollar, Paula White, Joel Osteen, and a host of other ‘luminaries’—took the humble Health and Wealth Gospel to another level. Rather than focus on audience healings and testimonies, the leaders themselves became advertisements for the movement: highlighting their expensive cars, airplanes, homes, and perfectly-toned bodiesas a way to show their parishioners and followers across the world that prosperity was the way. Any association with established denominational oversight or organizational affiliation was severed in order to keep accountability out of the hands of outsiders, and within the ministry only. Even with the scrutiny of Senator Grassley (targeting the Grassley six for their financial records), these leaders have still managed—in the depths of a worldwide recession—to hold on to followers in their home and satellite churches around the country and across the world.

The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), on the other hand, has been able to operate largely out of the general public’s purview, save for the work of writers at Talk to Action chronicling the changes and escalations in this movement, whose roots are firmly within the boundaries of the historic Pentecostal movement. Two foundational NAR beliefs (spiritual warfare and dominion over social ills) were influenced in part by a pair of English authors, Smith Wigglesworth and Jessie Penn Lewis, who were read avidly by some early Pentecostals and continue to be popular today. Their books focused on demonic possession, deliverance, and powerful spiritual encounters.

In the 1940s these very beliefs would be given further impetus by the “Latter Rain Movement” which arose out of revivals in Canada. Focusing on extraordinary outpourings of the Holy Spirit, including spectacular spiritual manifestations, believers and leaders in the movement like William Branham believed these manifestations would usher in the second coming of Christ. The movement caused splits within several Pentecostal denominations, most notably the Assemblies of God. Unlike the Word of Faith movement, the Latter Rain movement and its subsequent iterations relied on “extra” revelation outside of the Bible, given to a special group of leaders whom God had appointed.

The focus on “apostolic” leadership would reappear in the Shepherding movement of the 1970s, which quickly died after several scandals in leadership. Not long after, in the early 1980s, the star of C. Peter Wagner began to ascend. Wagner honed his ideas about spiritual mapping, spiritual warfare, and “power encounter” while teaching alongside other “power encounter” teachers at Fuller Seminary like John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard denomination, and Charles Kraft, missiologist. He was good friends with the now-deceased Wimber.

Wagner’s empire began to grow after he left the seminary in the early ’90s to establish a ministry in Colorado Springs. The NAR, according to Wagner, began in 2001, prompting him to call the 21st century the beginning of the “Second Apostolic Age.” Those in the NAR believe that in order to bring about the coming of Christ, Apostles must be recognized, and the church is a government that should be run by Christians in order to cleanse the world for Christ’s coming. Power encounters such as exorcisms must be done to cleanse not only people, but cities and communities; and those who participate in this will also lead in the new Reformation. Sarah Palin’s video of hands being laid upon her looks like a like a normal Pentecostal practice at a church service, but the minister/apostle, Bishop Muthee, was part of the New Apostolic Movement.

It is clear that both the basic theological tenets of what Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement denominations promote and what scholars research are not the beliefs of many of its prominent leaders and adherents. True, many denominations and faith traditions change over time, but what’s striking about Pentecostalism is the movement’s ability to morph from its antecedents into a plethora of new movements, all with basic Pentecostal teachings at their core. The sheer present-day diversity of the movement begs the question, what really is “Pentecostal” and what is not?

Are these manifestations of prosperity gospel and New Apostolic Reformation heresy, bad taste, or simply capitalist adventures for those in leadership? For a movement that started out with a millenarian orientation, it has certainly become enamored with the world, and with retaining earthly power in every way. Whatever these new mutations of Prosperity Gospel and Apostolic leadership are, it is time to pay even closer attention to them, and to their relationships to the realms of social and political power they currently possess.

If Only Walter Cronkite Had Left His Integrity Behind

By Marie Cocco, Washington Post Writers Group. Posted July 21, 2009.

The greatest sorrow in marking Cronkite's death is recognizing that the media has replaced his wisdom with pontification.

That's not the way it is -- not now, and not for a long time.

Remembering Walter Cronkite means recalling when there really was a media figure who was "the most trusted man in America." In moments of profound national tragedy and unparalleled triumph, the country turned its eyes toward Cronkite, who unfailingly delivered professionalism and integrity.

The greatest sorrow in marking Cronkite's death is the necessity of acknowledging that we have replaced his work ethic and wisdom with puffery and ideological pontification.

To watch the tapes of Cronkite's extraordinary coverage of John F. Kennedy's assassination -- not that final, teary moment when he removes his thick-rimmed glasses to announce that the young president is dead, but the bulletins leading inexorably up to it -- is to understand what broadcast news once was, and is no more.

Though it is apparent that the president likely had been killed, Cronkite never goes beyond the sparse facts as they were streaming into CBS News from wire services and then from reporters at the local affiliate in Dallas. Cronkite tells us that "first reports" are that the president has been "seriously wounded by this shooting." He says Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital where his condition is "yet unknown."

We learn that two priests were called to the president's room and that "blood transfusions are being given to President Kennedy." After Eddie Barker of KRLD in Dallas reports that rumors are emanating from the hospital that Kennedy already had died, Cronkite notes that the account is "totally unconfirmed, apparently, as yet." And so it went, up until that moment when Cronkite soberly announced receipt of "the flash, apparently official," that Kennedy had died at 1 p.m., Central Standard Time.

The sequence is devoid of speculation, let alone the self-importance so central to cable television -- the contemporary equivalent of the news bulletin of 1963. Applying the standards of today, what, precisely, would an army of experts, academics, political "analysts," supposedly longtime family friends or others have speculated about on Nov. 22, 1963?

They could not have foretold that within a few years of JFK's assassination, the very boulevards of downtown Washington that provided the solemn backdrop for his funeral cortege would be ablaze with urban riots. No one could guess that Lyndon Johnson's assumption of the presidency would eventually lead to the tragic escalation of the Vietnam War and the rending of the nation into ideological camps -- divisions that foreshadowed the red state/blue state shouting match that dominates political discussion and too much media coverage today.

"When you talked to Walter, he would always want to accentuate the serious side, that news should not be personified. It's serious grist that makes democracy possible," says Craig Allen, an associate professor of journalism and author of books on broadcast news history, who worked alongside the retired anchor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Though Cronkite in retirement repeatedly warned of the perils of a fragmented, ideological approach to news, his advice has been ignored by media figures -- and media consumers -- alike. During last year's presidential campaign, those who said they got most of their election news from television relied heavily on channels offering a partisan or ideological cast. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than a third of those who got election reports mainly from television watched the conservative-leaning Fox News (25 percent) or MSNBC (10 percent), which developed a clear left-leaning tilt.

When potential voters turn directly to the Internet for information, there is an even more intense search for self-satisfying bias. Fully 33 percent of those who went online to get political news last year sought information from sites that "share my point of view," the Pew study shows. That's up from 26 percent in 2004. The biggest change came among the young, with the share of those 18 to 24 saying they got political news from online sites that reflected their viewpoint jumping to 43 percent in 2008, up from 22 percent in 2004.

This generation was not yet born when Cronkite signed off from "The CBS Evening News" in 1981. It has never known an era in which news coverage could unify and not divide.

Yet it isn't enough to celebrate Cronkite's career and mourn the decline of professionalism in journalism. For all those who complain of "media bias," his death provides an opportunity for introspection among the very viewers who drive it to new heights.

UPDATED: Right-Wing Pundits Lying Their Asses Off About Health Reform

Posted by Joshua Holland, AlterNet at 10:38 AM on July 24, 2009.

Actually Pretty Shocking.

Bottom of Form

Interestingly, after all these years I'm still capable of being shocked by truly willful, egregious lies in our public discourse. Spin -- even really bad, dishonest spin -- is one thing, but what you'll see in the video to your right is something else altogether (video courtesy of Media Matters).

For the record, the House health bill would create publicly-run insurance exchanges through which private insurers could sell their policies. But eligibility in those exchanges -- or "gateways" -- would be limited. The CBO projects that by 2019, 30 million Americans -- about one in ten -- would participate in the exchanges.

Within those gateways, people would have theoption of buying into a publicly-administered insurance plan. About 10 million would be enrolled by 2019, according to the CBO.

Private insurance would remain unchanged for the overwhelming majority of Americans. You may agree or disagree with the merits of the proposal, but that's what it contains.

Adding: Obviously, this is also a pretty blatant example of so-called news outlets parroting GOP talking points dished out by Frank Luntz.

Recalling the Downing Street Minutes | By Ray McGovern

Seven years ago this week, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair gathered his top national security advisers at 10 Downing St. to hear a report from U.K. intelligence chief Richard Dearlove, just back in London from face-to-face talks with then-CIA Director George Tenet in Washington.

Blair and President George W. Bush had been talking regularly by telephone for several months. But, as is well known, even the most secure phones can be tapped, and there are some things — like preparing criminal wars of aggression, I suppose — that are so outrageous one doesn’t dare take any chances.

Besides, Blair apparently had some misgivings about taking at face value the Texas-size braggadocio he was hearing at the other end of the phone about what was going to happen to Saddam Hussein and why. It is understandable that he would seek independent, authoritative confirmation that this was also what Bush was sharing with his top accomplices.

Who better to confirm or deny than Bush-vassal Tenet, who met six mornings a week with the American president to discuss the President’s Daily Brief?

Blair prevailed on a reluctant Tenet to host a visit from Dearlove on Saturday, July 20, 2002. Blair had seen enough of the garrulous Tenet in action to be able to calculate — correctly — that once you got him talking about secrets he was privileged to know about, kernels of truth could be gleaned from beneath all the usual bull. Documentary evidence now shows that the Dearlove dug out some remarkable kernels.

Matthew Rycroft, aide to Blair foreign policy guru David Manning, was taking minutes at the Downing Street meeting on July 23, 2002, minutes he immediately circulated to Blair and other participants. The minutes observed quite bluntly that “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Enter an unknown patriotic truth-teller who eventually gave a copy of those minutes to London’s Sunday Times which, after performing due diligence regarding their provenance, published them on May 1, 2005. Blair himself has been careful not to dispute the authenticity of what then became known as the “Downing Street Minutes.

We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity also performed due diligence and were first off the mark with “Proof Bush Fixed the Facts,” May 4, 2005.

Too Late the Leak

The Downing Street Minutes represent the kind of documentary evidence after which trial lawyers, intelligence analysts – and serious investigative journalists – lust.

Though the unauthorized disclosure did not come early enough to head off the war, which had started more than two years before the document surfaced, the unique disclosure could have thrown some harsh light on the war’s origins — IF the Fawning Corporate Media in the United States did its job.

However, having been acrobatic cheerleaders for war on Iraq, the FCM did its level best to suppress this documentary evidence of the war’s fraudulent character.

Enter John Conyers, bless his heart, who was House Judiciary Committee ranking member at the time. Sadly, it is necessary to reach back four years to find the last thing Conyers did that took any courage, but one must give the timid please-don’t-say-impeach-in-my-presence Conyers his due with regard to the Downing Street Minutes.

(Full disclosure: Conyers had me arrested on July 23, 2007 — the five-year anniversary of the plotting at 10 Downing St. — when I would not leave his office until he agreed to do his duty under the Constitution to launch hearings on impeachment.

I stressed that, like him, I had sworn an oath – in my case as an Army officer – to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; that my oath carried no expiration date; and that it was the Constitution that I was trying to protect and defend.

Unimpressed, Conyers called the Capitol police. I was quickly marched out of the Rayburn building off to jail, and later convicted of unlawful assembly. I would add only that, while we Irish are notorious for bearing grudges, I continue to believe — strongly — that Conyers’ inaction did grave damage to our Constitution by shirking his duty to start the orderly process called impeachment that the Founders intended for use in removing a president who thought he could act like a king.)

With respect to the Downing Street Minutes, though, Conyers did manage a temporary fit of courage. Readers may recall that he scheduled a “hearing” for June 16, 2005, in the only space the Republican majority would make available — a basement room under the Capitol.

On the morning before the hearing, Amy Goodman invited Conyers and me to be interviewed on Democracy Now. Just before the interview, I had a chance to look at the editorial page of Pravda, er, I mean the Washington Post, for that morning, and guess what? The Post saw fit to mention the Downing Street Minutes, though dismissively so as not to tarnish the newspaper’s glorious cheerleading for war.

“The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration’s prewar deliberations,” the Post’s editors wrote, explaining why the leading newspaper of Washington had largely ignored the contents of the British documents. “Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002.”

I just now downloaded the Democracy Now transcript of my comments that morning, and was happy to see that I managed to suppress — sort of — the anger seething inside me (although my wife tells me some of it broke through). I beg readers’ indulgence:

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, as we talk about the Downing Street Memo, a hearing being held on this issue by Congress Member John Conyers in Congress tomorrow. Congress Member Conyers joins us in Washington, along with former C.I.A. analyst, Ray McGovern. Ray McGovern, can you talk about what is most explosive about both, what is being called the Downing Street Memo, that talks about fixing the facts and intelligence around the policy, and this latest exposé of the Sunday Times of London, showing British cabinet members were warned that Britain was committed to taking part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and they had no choice but to find a way to make it legal?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, Amy, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity had been saying for three years that the intelligence and the facts were being fixed to support an unnecessary war. We never in our wildest dreams expected to have documentary proof of that under a SECRET label: “SECRET: U.K. EYES ONLY” in a most sensitive document reserved just for cabinet officials in the Blair government. And so, what we have now is documentary proof that, as that sentence reads, the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

The Washington Post this morning is still at it. They quote that sentence, and they say, “Well, this is vague, but intriguing.” Well, there’s nothing vague about that at all, and it’s not at all intriguing. It’s highly depressing. Now, we veteran professionals, we professionals that toil long and hard in the intelligence arena are outraged at the corruption of our profession, but we are even more outraged by the constitutional implications here because as Congressman Conyers has just pointed out, we have here a very clear case that the Executive usurped the prerogatives of Congress of the American people and deceived it into permitting, authorizing an unauthorizeable war.

And, you know, when you get back to how our Constitution was framed by those English folks that were used to kings marching them off to the war blithely, for their own good, of course, those framers of our Constitution were hell-bent and determined, and wrote into the very first Article of our Constitution, that the power to make or authorize war would be reserved to the representatives of people in the Congress, not in the Executive. And so, for that usurpation to happen, that is a constitutional issue, and we’re even more outraged by that. …

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Michigan Congress Member John Conyers who is holding a hearing on the Downing Street Memo tomorrow, and has won a small victory. It will actually be able to be held in Congress. Ray McGovern also with us, a long-time C.I.A. analyst for more than a quarter century, a top briefer for former Vice President George H.W. Bush. I wanted to ask you about Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, who had said that there were no weapons of mass destruction, cited by western officials, U.S. officials, for many other reasons, but they never brought up that issue. Can you talk about the significance of this?

RAY McGOVERN: Yes. This gentleman’s name was Hussein Kamel. He was one of Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law. And he defected in 1995 and was thoroughly debriefed by U.N. and U.S. and U.K. debriefers. He had quite a story to tell, because he was head of the missile, chemical, biological and nuclear programs in Iraq. And he was able to finger some of the things that the U.N. inspectors did not know, and what he told them turned out to be quite right. He also told them that the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and weapons were destroyed at his order in July of 1991, right after the Gulf War. That’s in black and white. It’s in the debriefing report. An enterprising British researcher went to Vienna. I don’t know how he got access to the debriefing report, but he did, and he found out that Kamel also said, as I said, that all those weapons were destroyed at his order. Of course, he was in charge.

Now, curiously enough, that seemed to escape our leaders. It was never cited, although Hussein Kamel himself was held up as the paragon of a reliable source. Dick Cheney, himself, in his major speech of 26 August 2002, held Hussein’s son-in-law as one of our most lucrative, reliable sources, but he never told us that this source, this wonderful source, also told us that all those weapons had been destroyed in July of 1991 at his order. Now, there’s no excuse for them not knowing that. It may have slipped in a crack between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., I suppose, but it also appeared in Newsweek four weeks before the war. Four weeks before the war, the report that Hussein Kamel, their paragon source, had said all those weapons had been destroyed. Now, the C.I.A and the spokesmen there and all of the other spokesmen in government said this was ludicrous, this was false; besides, it’s untrue and everything else. And they came down real hard on it.

Guess what our domesticated press did with that. No more story on that, because they were all cheerleading for the war. And I’ll just make one more point about our domesticated press. The Washington Post today in this lead editorial says that these memos were not given much play in the press because, (quote), “They do not add a single fact to what was previously known about the administration’s pre-war deliberations.” Now, if The Washington Post knew that as of 23 July 2002, the president had, in the British words, inevitably decided on war, if they knew that the president intended to use as justification the conjunction between terrorism and so-called weapons of mass destruction, and if they knew that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy, you know, they really ought to — they surely should have told us that, The Washington Post should have.

It’s really ludicrous. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious a situation. Because what needs to happen here is you have a start-up newspaper in Washington called The Washington Spark, okay? Now, on the 11th of May, they carried the whole story, including the memo itself. Right here. Now, that hasn’t appeared in The Washington Times or The Washington Post, but here in The Washington Spark, new start-up paper, just days after the memo, it’s there. So it’s possible there’s some kind of a rule against publishing things that are so critically damaging of our president, and the editorial in the Post today is Exhibit A.

When the Conyers hearing was held on June 16, 2005, the witnesses included Gold Star mother and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, constitutional lawyer John Bonifaz, and me together as panelists. (My prepared remarks can be seen at “June 16 Testimony of Ray McGovern.”)

The room was more than somewhat cramped, but half the space was allotted for the TV cameras — including C-SPAN, which carried the proceedings live.

Fitting with its dismissive attitude toward the Downing Street disclosures, the Post sent satirical columnist Dana Milbank to cover the hearing and his article the next day dripped with sarcasm.

“In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe,” Milbank wrote. “They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.”

Milbank also took some cheap shots at Conyers, who – Milbank wrote – “banged a large wooden gavel and got the other lawmakers to call him ‘Mr. Chairman.’” [For the article’s full flavor, see the Washington Post’s “Democrats Play House To Rally Against the War,” June 17, 2005]

Now seven years after the Downing Street Minutes were written – and more than four years after their disclosure – they remain one of the most damning pieces of evidence against both the Bush administration for its criminal deceptions in leading the nation to war and the FCM for its complicity in hiding the truth from the American people.

As philosopher George Santayana wisely observed a century ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He spent almost 30 years in Army intelligence and as a CIA analyst, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Christ's Teachings v. US Health Care By The Rev. Howard Bess

Editor’s Note: One of the ironies of modern American politics is that many people who profess to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ are among the most vociferous advocates of war, the most disdainful of the poor and the staunchest defenders of personal wealth.

In this guest essay, Baptist minister Howard Bess also notes the disparity between Christ’s interest in healing the sick and the corporate/political resistance to plans for providing universal health care to the American people:

In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, the writer tells the story of a man that had been crippled for 38 years. Jesus asked him a simple question: “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus told him to stand up and walk, and so he did.

This story is one of many healing stories that were chronicled and that made it into the printed pages of our Bibles. People, who were the contemporaries of Jesus, are no different from the masses of people in our modern world. They want to live in healthy bodies.

Apparently, Jesus never avoided sick people. Rather, he called upon whatever powers were available to him and brought healing to people.

One of the games played by Bible scholars is to debate what we really know about Jesus from Nazareth. Elaborate rules are set to determine the authenticity of the material found in the four gospels.

Applying those rules, lists of “what we know about Jesus” are developed. The usual list contains eight to 15 items. I have never seen such a list that did not include Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.

We do not know a lot of details about the healing ministry of Jesus. When we read the healing stories of Jesus, we recognize immediately that we are dealing with a 2,000 year old culture.

People, who were called physicians, had little resemblance to the people we call physicians today. They had no concept of bacteria or a virus and had no understanding of the impact of a “balanced” diet.

All that we can honestly assert about Jesus is that he was concerned about people’s bodies and their physical well-being. About 20 percent of all the Bible stories that we have about Jesus have some sort of reference to his healing powers.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus have a hard time denying the interest Jesus had in the physical health of people. …

Just now the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are debating universal health care for all Americans.

The uneven distribution of health care in the United States is scandalous. Of the 39 industrialized countries of the world, the United States of America is the only one of the 39 that does not provide universal health care for its citizens.

There is good reason for the U.S. House and Senate to address the need for universal health care for our citizenry. Many of us believe health care for all is a demand of the “general welfare” provision of the U.S. Constitution.

As a Christian, I see the “general welfare” provision and the healing Jesus as working partners.

On July 12, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” commented that “the United States has the finest health care in the world.” He told a half-truth. The statement would have been true only if he had added “for those who can afford it.”

A close friend commented recently “In the United States we do not have a health care system. We have a health care industry.” It is the American health care industry that stands between health care and millions of Americans.

The American health care industry is dominated by insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. These are American institutions that have neither soul nor conscience. They have only a bottom line.

My wife and I receive excellent health care. We are retired and so have the benefit of Medicare coverage. In addition because of my past employment, we have access to affordable supplementary health care insurance. We choose our physicians.

The overhead for the U.S. government to run Medicare is 3 percent. Major insurance companies that provide health care insurance average 30 percent overhead.

American pharmaceutical companies regularly sell medicines outside of the United States for lower prices than they charge inside the United States.

Yet both industries are spending billions of dollars warning Americans about government involvement in medical care.

As a follower of Jesus from Nazareth, I ask all who have taken the name Christian to remember that 1) Jesus was committed to giving people healthy bodies, 2) that Jesus had a priority commitment to the poorest of the poor, and 3) that his warnings to the wealthy and the selfish were relentless.

This is called Bible 101.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is

Bush Administration Debated Using Military On U.S. Soil In Terror Sweeps

Yoo document: Neither Posse Comitatus Act nor Fourth Amendment 'tied a president's hands' 25 Jul 2009 Top Bush regime officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials. Some of the advisers to President [sic] George W. Bush, including Vice President [sic] Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects [the Lackawanna Six], and declare them enemy combatants. The lawyers [John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty], in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote that the Constitution, the courts and Congress had recognized a president’s authority "to take military actions, domestic as well as foreign, if he determines such actions to be necessary to respond to the terrorist attacks upon the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and before." The document added that the neither the Posse Comitatus Act nor the Fourth Amendment tied a president’s hands.

Bush Weighed Using Military in U.S. Arrests


Published: July 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials.

Some of the advisers to PresidentGeorge W. Bush, including Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects, who came to be known as the Lackawanna Six, and declare them enemy combatants.

Mr. Bush ultimately decided against the proposal to use military force.

A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.

The Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.

In the discussions, Mr. Cheney and others cited an Oct. 23, 2001, memorandum from the Justice Department that, using a broad interpretation of presidential authority, argued that the domestic use of the military against Al Qaeda would be legal because it served a national security, rather than a law enforcement, purpose.

“The president has ample constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against international or foreign terrorists operating within the United States,” the memorandum said.

The memorandum — written by the lawyers John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty — was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked the department about a president’s authority to use the military to combat terrorist activities in the United States.

The memorandum was declassified in March. But the White House debate about the Lackawanna group is the first evidence that top American officials, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, actually considered using the document to justify deploying the military into an American town to make arrests.

Most former officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations about the case involved classified information. They agreed to talk about the internal discussions only after the memorandum was released earlier this year.

New information has recently emerged about the deliberations and divisions in the administration over some of the most controversial policies after the Sept. 11 attacks, like the decision to use brutal interrogation methods on Qaeda detainees.

Former officials in the administration said this debate was not as bitter as others during Mr. Bush’s first term. The discussions did not proceed far enough to put military units on alert.

Still, at least one high-level meeting was convened to debate the issue, at which several top Bush aides argued firmly against the proposal to use the military, advanced by Mr. Cheney, his legal adviser David S. Addington and some senior Defense Department officials.

Among those in opposition were Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser; John B. Bellinger III, the top lawyer at the National Security Council; Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.

“Frankly, it was a bit of a turf war,” said one former senior administration official. “For a number of people, crossing the line of having intelligence or military activities inside the United States was not worth the risk.”

Mr. Bush ended up ordering the F.B.I. to make the arrests in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, where the agency had been monitoring a group of Yemeni Americans with suspected Qaeda ties. The five men arrested there in September 2002, and a sixth arrested nearly simultaneously in Bahrain, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.

Scott L. Silliman, a Duke University law professor specializing in national security law, said an American president had not deployed the active-duty military on domestic soil in a law enforcement capacity, without specific statutory authority, since the Civil War.

Senior military officials were never consulted, former officials said. Richard B. Myers, a retired general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a recent interview that he was unaware of the discussion.

Former officials said the 2002 debate arose partly from Justice Department concerns that there might not be enough evidence to arrest and successfully prosecute the suspects in Lackawanna. Mr. Cheney, the officials said, had argued that the administration would need a lower threshold of evidence to declare them enemy combatants and keep them in military custody.

Earlier that summer, the administration designated Jose Padilla an enemy combatant and sent him to a military brig in South Carolina. Mr. Padilla was arrested by civilian agencies on suspicion of plotting an attack using a radioactive bomb.

Those who advocated using the military to arrest the Lackawanna group had legal ammunition: the memorandum by Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty.

The lawyers, in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote that the Constitution, the courts and Congress had recognized a president’s authority “to take military actions, domestic as well as foreign, if he determines such actions to be necessary to respond to the terrorist attacks upon the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and before.”

The document added that the neither the Posse Comitatus Act nor the Fourth Amendment tied a president’s hands.

Despite this guidance, some Bush aides bristled at the prospect of troops descending on an American suburb to arrest terrorism suspects.

“What would it look like to have the American military go into an American town and knock on people’s door?” said a second former official in the debate.

Chief James L. Michel of the Lackawanna police agreed. “If we had tanks rolling down the streets of our city,” Chief Michel said, “we would have had pandemonium down here.”

The Lackawanna case was the first after the Sept. 11 attacks in which American intelligence and law enforcement operatives believed they had dismantled a Qaeda cell in the United States.

In the months before the arrests, Mr. Bush was regularly briefed on the case by Mr. Mueller of the F.B.I. and George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. The C.I.A.had been tracking the overseas contacts of the Lackawanna group.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed article in March, Mr. Yoo defended his 2001 memorandum and its reasoning, saying that after Sept. 11 the Bush administration faced the real prospect of Qaeda cells undertaking attacks on American soil. “The possibility of such attacks raised difficult, fundamental questions of constitutional law,” he wrote, “because they might require domestic military operations against an enemy for the first time since the Civil War.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

Tomgram: An American Hell |Don't Turn the Page on History |Facing the American World We Created
By Tom Engelhardt

We've just passed through the CIA assassination flap, already fading from the news after less than two weeks of media attention. Broken in several major newspapers, here's how the story goes: the Agency, evidently under Vice President Dick Cheney's orders, didn't inform Congress that, to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders, it was trying to develop and deploy global death squads. (Of course, just about no one is going to call them that, but the description fits.) Congress is now in high dudgeon. The CIA didn't keep that body's "Gang of Eight" informed. A House investigation is now underway.

We're told that the CIA -- being the president's private army and part of the executive branch of our government -- has committed a heinous dereliction of duty. In fact, not keeping key congressional figures up to date on the developing program could even "be illegal," according to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin. (Not that Congress, when informed of Bush administration extreme acts, ever did much of anything anyway.)

This story, however, has a largely unexplored strangeness to it that has only been discussed on the fringes of the mainstream media (or in the press of other countries). After all, during the eight years this CIA assassination program was supposedly in formation, U.S. military special ops death squads were, as far as we can tell, freely roaming the planet conducting (or botching) assassination missions, and the CIA's own robot assassins, airborne death squads, were also launching operations -- sometimes wiping out innocent civilians -- from Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan. They continue to run such operations in the skies over the Pakistani tribal borderlands near Afghanistan. So we still await an explanation of just why the CIA spent close to eight years, under Vice Presidential oversight, getting its death squads almost operational, but never -- we're told -- off the ground.

If there seems to be something odd about this latest flap, if there's much that we don't know yet, we do, at least, know one thing: This particular small splash from the previous administration's deep dive into crime and folly will have its brief time in the media sun and then be swallowed up by oblivion, just as each of the previous flaps has been.

After all, can you honestly tell me that you think often about the CIA torture flap, the CIA-destruction-of-interrogation-video-tapes flap, the what-did-Congress/Nancy Pelosi-really-know-about-torture-methods flap, the Bush-administration-officials-(like-Condi-Rice)-signed-off-on-torture-methods-in-2002-even-before-the-Justice-Department-justified-them flap, the National-Security-Agency-(it-was-far-more-widespread-than-anyone-imagined)-electronic-surveillance flap, the should-the-NSA's-telecom-spies-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-engaging-in-illegal-warrantless-wiretapping flap, the should-CIA-torturers-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-using-enhanced-interrogation-techniques flap, the Abu-Ghraib-photos-(round-two)-suppression flap, or various versions of the can-they-close-Guantanamo, will-they-keep-detainees-in-prison-forever flaps, among others that have already disappeared into my own personal oblivion file? Every flap its day, evidently. Each flap another problem (again we're told) for a president with an ambitious program who is eager to "look forward, not backward."

Of course, he's not alone. Given the last eight years of disaster piled on catastrophe, who in our American world would want to look backward? The urge to turn the page in this country is palpable, but -- just for a moment -- let's not.

Admittedly, we're a people who don't really believe in history -- so messy, so discomforting, so old. Even the recent past is regularly wiped away as the media plunge us repeatedly into various overblown crises of the moment, a 24/7 cornucopia of news, non-news, rumor, punditry, gossip, and plain old blabbing, of which each of these flaps has been but a tiny example. In turn, any sense of the larger picture surrounding each one of them is, soon enough, lessened by a media focus on a fairly limited set of questions: Was Congress adequately informed? Should the president have suppressed those photos?

The flaps, in other words, never add up to a single Imax Flap-o-rama of a spectacle. We seldom see the full scope of the legacy that we -- not just the Obama administration -- have inherited. Though we all know that terrible things happened in recent years, the fact is that, these days, they are seldom to be found in a single place, no less the same paragraph. Connecting the dots, or even simply putting everything in the same vicinity, just hasn't been part of the definitional role of the media in our era. So let me give it a little shot.

As a start, remind me: What didn't we do? Let's review for a moment.

In the name of everything reasonable, and in the face of acts of evil by terrible people, we tortured wantonly and profligately, and some of these torture techniques -- known to the previous administration and most of the media as "enhanced interrogation techniques" – were actually demonstrated to an array of top officials, including the national security adviser, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, within the White House. We imprisoned secretly at "black sites" offshore and beyond the reach of the American legal system, holding prisoners without hope of trial or, often, release; we disappeared people; wemurdered prisoners; we committed strange acts of extreme abuse and humiliation; we kidnapped terror suspects off the global streets and turned some of them over to some of the worst people who ran the worst dungeons and torture chambers on the planet. Unknown, but not insignificant numbers of those kidnapped, abused, tortured, imprisoned, and/or murdered were actually innocent of any crimes against us.

We invaded without pretext, based on a series of lies and the manipulation of Congress and the public. We occupied two countries with no clear intent to depart and built major networks of military bases in both. Our soldiers gunned down unknown numbers of civilians at checkpoints and, in each country, arrested thousands of people, some again innocent of any acts against us, imprisoning them often without trial or sometimes hope of release. Our Air Force repeatedlywiped out wedding parties and funerals in its global war on terror. It killed civilians in significant numbers. In the process of prosecuting two major invasions, wars, and occupations, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have died. In Iraq, we touched off a sectarian struggle of epic proportions that involved the "cleansing" of whole communities and major parts of cities, while unleashing a humanitarian crisis of remarkable size, involving the uprooting of more than four million people who fled into exile or became internal refugees. In these same years, our Special Forces operatives and our drone aircraft carried out -- and still carry out -- assassinations globally, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, sometimes of innocent civilians. We spied on, and electronically eavesdropped on, our own citizenry and much of the rest of the world, on a massive scale whose dimensions we may not yet faintly know. We pretzled the English language, creating an Orwellian terminology that, among other things, essentially defined "torture" out of existence (or, at the very least, left its definitional status to the torturer).

And don't think that that's anything like a full list. Not by a long shot. It's only what comes to my mind on a first pass through the subject. In addition, even if I could remember everything done in these years, it would represent only what has been made public. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was regularly mocked for saying: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

Actually, he had a point seldom thought about these days. By definition, we know a good deal about the known knowns, and we have a sense of an even darker world of known unknowns. We have no idea, however, what's missing from a list like the one above, because so much may indeed remain in the unknown-unknowns category or, as with the latest CIA assassination story, a known curiosity whose full shape and depths remain to be grasped. If, however, you think that everything done by Washington or the U.S. military or the CIA in these last years has already been leaked, think again. It's a reasonable bet that the unknown unknowns the Obama administration inherited would curl your toes.

Nonetheless, what is already known, when thought about in one place, rather than divided up into separate flaps and argued about separately, is horrific enough. War may be hell, as people often say when trying to excuse what we did in these years, but it should be remembered that, in response to the attacks of 9/11, we, as a nation, were the ones who declared "war," made it a near eternal struggle (the Global War on Terror), and did so much to turn parts of the world into our own private hell. Geopolitics, energy politics, vanity, greed, fear, a misreading of the nature of power in the world, delusions of military and technological omnipotence and omniscience, and so much more drove us along the way.

Perhaps the greatest fantasy of the present moment is that there is a choice here. We can look forward or backward, turn the page on history or not. Don't believe it. History matters.

Whatever the Obama administration may want to do, or think should be done, if we don't face the record we created, if we only look forward, if we only round up the usual suspects, if we try to turn that page in history and put a paperweight atop it, we will be haunted by the Bush years until hell freezes over. This was, of course, the lesson -- the only one no one ever bothers to call a lesson -- of the Vietnam years. Because we were so unwilling to confront what we actually did in Vietnam -- and Laos and Cambodia -- because we turned the page on it so quickly and never dared take a real look back, we never, in the phrase of George H.W. Bush, "kicked the Vietnam syndrome." It still haunts us.

However busy we may be, whatever tasks await us here in this country -- and they remain monstrously large -- we do need to make an honest, clear-headed assessment of what we did (and, in some cases, continue to do), of the horrors we committed in the name of... well, of us and our "safety." We need to face who we've been and just how badly we've acted, if we care to become something better.

Now, read that list again, my list of just the known knowns, and ask yourself: Aren't we the people your mother warned you about?

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

[TomDispatch thanks go to... Joe Duax of the Nation Institute, who does an exceptional job of keeping this website humming along; Nick Turse, who assists in so many ways, while winning awards in his other life; Tam Turse, site photographer and keen-eyed copyeditor; and Christopher Holmes, who holds down the Tokyo "office" of TomDispatch and keeps these pieces shipshape. A small bow to Andy Kroll for fill-in duties and to Bill Kline, TomDispatch intern, for making the TD Facebook website a livelier place. And a final small bow to Paul Woodward of the always fascinating War in Context website. He was the first person I noticed to use the term "death squads" for the prospective CIA assassination teams.]

Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt

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