Parliament or Pulpit?


America has ground to a halt because of the sacred fetus and the sanctity of the sperm.  Church and State are no longer separated as our government is held hostage by ranting Red State Ayatollah’s on a jihad against Planned Parenthood in their war against women.

Nevertheless the Press and politicians continue to refer to the looming government shutdown as the Tea Party’s steadfast stand against taxes, when it is clearly the same old rearguard action in the perennial culture war waged by the right wing of the Republican Party.

How can anyone pretend that this is a movement of economic populists galvanized by outrage over Wall Street’s plunder?  It should now be abundantly clear that this is what many suspected the movement was from the outset, an Astroturf insurgency managed and guided by seasoned Republican operative like Dick Armey and Karl Rove and financed by jaundiced oligarchs like the Koch brothers.

The Tea Party is nothing more than the far right repackaged and rebranded to look less like the wingnut fringe that it is, and more like the mom-and-apple pie center it is not.  In making their stand, and going to the mat to bring the house down, they surely have exposed their true agenda.

The Tea Party caucus scuttled the budget bill over their riders on restricting abortion and eliminating enforcement of clean air standards.  Those apparently are their priorities and they happen coincide exactly with the main obsessions of the religious right and the cherished goals the Koch brothers are paying their lobbyists to achieve.

A small group of anti-abortion zealots staged a sit-in in the corridor outside Senator Reid’s office yesterday spewing out righteous anger against the “socialist baby killer Harry Reid”.  How they managed to turn a mild-mannered Mormon into a monster reveals some of their psychological state, but a deeper diagnosis would suggest these pudgy middle-aged men are on a moral free ride on their road to Damascus.  They can enjoy the rapture of the righteous as they worship someone else’s fetus, without enduring the pain of choice facing the woman who must bear the child and support it alone, whether it has two heads or not.

Since the whole issue of Planned Parenthood is a phony because the Hyde Amendment is the law of the land and no Federal money can be used for abortions, we must assume this is either moral posturing or a reflection of a deeper hostility to women’s health and a woman’s right to plan their own parenthood.  

Venturing into more amateur psychiatry, these martyrs for the unborn might also be acting out of patriarchal desperation, rooted in a fear of women.  The same righteous indignation that led to hundreds of thousands of uppity women being burned at the stake in the good old days of theocracy when we practiced that old time religion that America’s mullahs want us to go back to.

The other diagnosis is more cynical and it has to do with the politics of distraction where Americans are encouraged to take their eye off the ball and not vote in their own interest to see that their taxes are properly spent, but to vote against their own interests on spurious moral grounds for religious hucksters who steal from the poor to give to the rich.

When you consider that the debt and deficits that the Republicans now warn us about in apocalyptic visions of crushing sovereign debt and international penury was run up by them, you have to give them kudos for brazen hypocrisy.  Fully one third of the nation’s debt from day one of the Republic up to the present was run up by their hero George W Bush, and one half was run up the combined misrule of junior and senior Bush and Reagan combined.

Conversely the only president in recent memory who balanced the budget, paid down the debt, got rid of the deficit and left the country in surplus was the Republican’s nemesis who they tried to shame and shun as a sinner because of his unbiblical activities in allowing his seed to fall on fallow ground, that immoral libertine Bill Clinton.

Yes God is great and man is weak.  But where does that leave women?  Are they to be loved or feared?  Go figure.

Failing The Teachable Moment

As the White House blames Congress for the resurrection of Guantanamo Bay back into the headlines, the Muslim world is reminded of the worst of America.  Ironically this is happening just as the Arab spring is identifying with the best of America, as young revolutionaries face their tyrant’s guns, fighting for the rights we claim to stand for.

Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Mohammed will be tried by military tribunal and not in a civilian court, coincided with the president’s unsurprising message that he is running for reelection in 2012.  The Attorney General’s lame excuse for Obama’s capitulation could not have struck a more dismal note at a time meant to inspire the millions who voted for Obama in 2008 but sat out the 2010 election.

Obama was swept into office with a surge of hope for change in an election in which 140 million voted.  Just two years later the Republicans “swept” back into power in the House with almost half the voters (75 million) participating, thus winning by default.

That in a nutshell describes the fundamentals of American politics; one party makes sure all of its people show up and wins a majority by peeling off enough disillusioned Democrats with unlimited funds and aggressive advertizing.  The other party with a natural majority often fails to inspire its voters to the polls because apparently they are better at running against the disastrous results of Republican misrule than they are at defending their own achievements.

So faced with a choice to revive the worst of America, or make a stand for the best of America, what did the president do?  He folded, and instead of the teachable moment, we got a tawdry capitulation to bigotry, ignorance and defeat. 

Nobody hates defeat more than the military and it took former CENTCOM Commander General Hoar to point out the shame of putting KSM on trial at Gitmo because the murderous little creep is not a warrior, he doesn’t belong to an Army. He’s a common criminal!

The president and the Democrats have missed an opportunity to reverse decades of doubt about them as stewards of our national security.  Democrats have always been on the defensive about whether they stand tall in the saddle and whether or not they are soft on the Communist or now soft on the terrorists. 

Again they missed the teachable moment despite the fact that the recent evidence is clear that Bush and Cheney and the right wing have been disastrous for America’s security.  Rather than fight them on their catastrophic record of the reckless endangerment of America and the precipitous decline in our power, Obama has caved into their bombastic idiocy, thus taking a further step with the serial missteps in the calamitous war on terror.  

From 9/11 on, thanks to Bush/Cheney, we have been wrong-footed and have played into Bin Laden’s playbook.  First by going it alone, Bush elevated this criminal as an equal player on the world stage, smoking him out like a Western gunfighter to face off against the Lone Ranger. 

Goaded into an endless war by a hopeless cave-dwelling fanatic, the Bush Administration promoted Bin Laden as the next Hitler.  From day one we dignified these criminals by calling them jihadis, which is a noble concept in Islam, meaning a person of faith on a spiritual quest. 

But the initial follies were compounded by the catastrophic misapplication of our military power in unnecessary wars.  And the dissolution of our treasury in futile pursuits has resulted in Bush/Cheney running up half of our national debt in a mere eight years out of the entire life of the Republic.

Unless the America people are told the truth about who are the more suitable steward’s of our national security and why, they will continued to go along with the jingoistic John Wayne nonsense that has served the Republicans so well. 

It is past time for the real narrative of who weakened America and what continues to bleed us.  But our chicken-shit gutless leaders continue to capitulate to the loudest most bigoted ignoramuses and thus dignify and perpetuate their disastrous record.

Given that a majority in the Muslim world blame the Israelis for 9/11 and a tortured minority in America think it was an inside job pulled off by those geniuses Bush and Cheney, it would have been very instructive to put the 9/11 mastermind on trial for all to see in a setting that is open, transparent and credible.  That way we might learn something about what happened before and during that terrible day and not allow the black holes of open source information to be filled by despicable denial or delusional conspiracy mongers.

If you are not brave enough to lead, and instead you cower before the fatuous attacks of your foolish opponents, in doing so you make their mistakes your own.  In doing so you not just betray your constituents, you betray America and it’s tattered and torn values that surely need reviving not reversing.

Thou Shalt Kill

In trying to find answers to some of the questions surrounding the over-reaction to the burning of a Koran by a Muslim-bashing and gay-hating Florida pastor with a handful of followers, I came up short.  Not because of yesterday’s guest who spent time in Afghanistan as a U.N. political officer and knew the foreign workers who were butchered by the mob, but because such zeal and fury associated with the desecration of religious text is so alien and incomprehensible to me. How could pages in a holy book be worth more than human life?  How could a political cartoon be worthy of a death sentence?

Last night I had dinner with a friend who has spent decades in Afghanistan and Pakistan going back to the war against the Soviets.  He is close to many Pakistani generals and former Taliban officials and has a genuine affection for the people in these countries at war since the 1980’s.  I mentioned my dismay at the disproportion between the actions of an attention-seeking nobody in Florida and the reactions of murderous mobs in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He had his usual reaction to questions about Af/Pak; what a dumb-ass question stupid!

Then he told me how he once met an old friend in New York for dinner, a senior Pakistani general who was visiting the U.N. to discuss measures to avoid a nuclear confrontation with India. The point being this was a very educated member of the governing elite in a place often described as not a country with an army but an army with a country. 

While enjoying the meal at an upscale restaurant, my friend brought up the sticky subject of Salman Rushdie who was under various death threats from Mullah’s and happened to be teaching across town at Columbia University.  “What if Salman Rushdie walked into this restaurant?” my friend asked the general.  The man turned red and picked up the butter knife with a trembling hand, and seething with genuine rage blurted out, “I would cut his throat”.

Years later my friend ran into the general in Islamabad who by now had an even more senior position, and as they were catching up about friends and family, the general remarked, as if finishing a conversation they’d had yesterday, “by the way when I said I would slit Salman Rushdie’s throat in the restaurant, I should have said I would have taken him outside first before slitting his throat”.

The point of the story was not lost; if this is the sincere belief and determined action of a highly placed educated official, imagine how the uneducated member of the mob feels about some foreign infidel burning the Koran? 

But of course I am still at a loss to understand the emotional intensity from a stupid but symbolic act that would countenance the slaughter of a fellow human being.  Not to mention the theological justification or the cultural acceptance of such barbarity in response to such inanity.  Recently a Pakistani Governor was murdered because of his support for overturning a Draconian blasphemy law that targets the Christian minority.  His murderer was treated as a national hero and mobbed by fans as he proudly strutted past the cameras on his perp walk.

Just yesterday in Pakistan a Sufi ceremony was blown up by fundamentalist Wahabbi terrorists financed by our friends the Saudis, who have done more than anyone else on the planet to fuel religious extremism and intolerance.  These al Qaeda affiliated bombers previously struck the most sacred Sufi shrine, and it is routine in Pakistan for Sunni mobs to burn Shia Mosques and burn countless Korans.  

In contrast there is no constituency in the United States that supports the redneck pastor in Florida, and rather than expose him to punishment, our laws protect him. As incomprehensible as it may be to some Muslims, this is why we allow symbolic speech such as flag-burning.  But of course our right wing religious conservatives would outlaw that too if they had a majority, but still there is still no comparison.

We can point the finger however at far more influential anti-Muslim demagogues who have prominent positions in Washington and powerful soap boxes in the mainstream media. Unlike the pistol-packing pastor in Florida, Glenn Beck does not have to pull a shabby stunt to get on TV, Rupert Murdoch gives him hours of primetime to fulminate and prognosticate.  Arguably everything this self-described “rodeo clown” does is a stunt, but watching him and Daniel Pipes postulate that Sharia law is about to take over the United States, is far more dangerous and divisive than anything the Koran-burning media whore could conjure up.

The deranged Beck and demonic Pipes give not just a wider voice to racist nonsense; they dignify the very intolerance they purport to decry. And they are joined in inflaming religious bigotry and xenophobia by our friend Karzai, our man in Kabul, the embezzling buffoon and Bhutto’s widower in Pakistan, the bagman of a kleptocratic state, otherwise known as Mr. Ten Percent. Both the Afghan and Pakistan heads of state have stirred up the Koran-burning controversy that was hardly noticed here, into hysterical headlines over there, leading to death and destruction.

I thought religious conviction was supposed to imbue the faithful with strength and purpose so that the downtrodden could endure the hardships of secular injustice and life’s often unfair outcomes.  But so much of the world’s religious expression seems trapped in sectarian paranoia and righteous indignation that it is difficult not to dismiss the devoted as deluded and the clergy as hypocrites.  

But along with the dark side of faith there is the side that sees the light and was responsible for mobilizing the critical mass that ended slavery and brought about civil rights and helped end the nuclear arms race. So while we must expose these deadly heretics backed up by billions of Saudi petro-dollars, oh ye of little faith, despair not…

Sudan: The Next Killing Field?

Perhaps I have a death wish in terms of entertaining an audience, but tonight at the UCLA/Hammer Forum I moderate, we will be discussing the future of a country that is not in the headlines, the largest country on a continent that does not often get our attention. 

Indeed our first president of African descent now finds himself justifying U.S. intervention in Libya in part based on the lingering guilt of our failure to act in Rwanda.  A preventable genocide that still haunts President Clinton’s NSC advisor on Africa, now the U.S. representative to the U.N. Susan Rice, and the former first lady now Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, both of whom played a key role in advocating our intervention in Libya. 

But as many critics on the left and right have pointed out, our outrage over humanitarian atrocities requiring U.S. intervention is selective.  We come to the aid of oil-rich Libya, but not war-ravaged Congo, where hundreds of women are raped every day and thousands of civilians are murdered every week.  And all the while we wring our hands over Darfur, but the killing continues unabated.   

Tonight we will hear about the pending split of Africa’s largest country into two after years if war that has cost one and half million lives.  And with fighting already breaking out in the disputed oil-rich border area of Abyei, war could resume again, amid accusation that the south is training rebels from Darfur to destabilize the north and counteraccusations that the north is backing rebel groups in the south ahead of southern independence in July. 

If you look at a satellite picture of Sudan it is stark.  The north is a parched brown desert, except for the Nile valley, and in contrast, from the dividing line south, a green swath of grasslands gives way to a darker green jungle.

But the south’s verdant land itself is in contention between nomadic herders and settlers, not unlike the range wars in the American west between ranchers and cattle grazers. 

And beneath the land there is oil, that could end up being a resource curse or a blessing, depending on whether it can be shared by both  countries, since the south has the oil and the north the pipelines.

So there is much to dicuss and we have a scholar from the north who has just returned from Sudan, an expert on oil from the South and an anthropolgist from UCLA who has studied Sudan for 50 years joining us tonight.

So I hope you all come the the Hammer Museum in Westwood at 7 PM for this free public forum "Sudan: The Next Killing Field?"

The New Sheriff

When it comes to addressing the American people about on-going U.S. military action abroad, President Obama’s body language could not be more different than his predecessor. 

Obama appears very sober, if not a little pained, even delivering the ritual praise for our fighting men and women.  There is none of the swagger and bluster of the previous Oval Office cowboy, who was like the pearled-handled punk in old B-Movies.

When W “Dublya” announced his wars of choice, he was the loud-mouthed gunslinger in the Western bar, the one who calls out our reluctant hero, forcing him into a gunfight that stuns the taunting tough-guy before he crashes through the saloon window into the dusty street.

Obama tried to explain to a war-weary nation why the Libyan intervention matters and with about 30% of the nation on the Right implacably opposed to the black Anti-Christ, maybe 40% in the middle unsure and unconvinced, and 30% on the Left divided between defensive liberal interventionists and disillusioned anti-imperialists, there is not much to cheers about.

Whereas the failing Bush/Cheney presidency was rescued by 9/11 and the subsequent wars were a boost to the “mission accomplished” Commander-in-Chief in the bomber jacket, Obama’s warrior moment was muted and almost funereal.

I don’t think that much of what he said makes much sense since there is no consistency to the notion that anyone out there in our tortured world fighting for freedom has a friend in the United States.  If you have oil the Europeans need because it is the right mix for the diesel the continent runs on, then NATO might rise to the occasion and rescue you from your despot who was our friendly dictator the day before he crossed the line.

If you are in the Congo’s killing fields then you are on your own because it is an old story that has slipped under the radar and Brian, Katie and Diane are not about to traipse down to the jungle with a camera crew while there is breaking news in the Middle East.

What does make sense, Obama contradiction that he is against regime change but wants Qaddafi out of power notwithstanding, is that Qaddafi will soon oblige the coalition of the not-so-willing by either dying or dashing off to Chad.  He will most likely choose the former, not that it’ll necessarily be his choice, because exile in the African boondocks without the $35 billion the U.S. Treasury froze, will not suit him and especially his spoiled sons.

Now you might ask who has $35 billion in their personal checking account (i.e. the Libyan treasury) when a third of your population is unemployed and living in poverty.  But that is a question for Qaddafi’s apologists the anti-imperialists to answer. 

I recall there was similar support from the knee-jerk Left for Milosevic, even though he stole the entire Yugoslav treasury and parked it in personal accounts in Cyprus, before emptying the jails of psychopaths and setting them upon his neighbors in a repeat of genocidal mayhem not seen since the Nazis.

It is not wise to predict, but with the Libyan rebels poised 20 miles outside of Qaddafi hometown of Sirte, I’d say it is time to start packing the robes for a long vacation in Club Sub- Sahara. 

It is worth noting for those who see Uncle Sam trampling on the “oppressed” again, that the Libyan rebels look more like a people’s army than the Sandinistas did.  They are bravely facing the tyrant’s tanks and artillery dressed in street clothes as though they just left home for the front.

Qaddafi’s Waterloo might well be in the city of Sirte which is overseen by members of his Gadhadhfa tribe. But there is a bigger bunch of tribesmen in Sirte, from another tribe the Firjan, who resent the dictator and his family’s rule. 

After forty years of terror and theft, who is left in terms of loyalty to the tyrant?  The Colonel and his clan have perfected the carrot and stick approach, repression and reward.  They torture, jail and kill their enemies and bribe their friends. 

But this system of purges and patronage has its limits and the rebels are trying to encourage the Firjan tribe and other tribes to join in the jihad.  My guess is this will be over very quickly because enough is enough, and when ordinary people stand up to face a modern military killing machine wearing jeans and t-shirts with a rusty rifle in hand, a critical mass has been reached. It looks like their eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the dawn.