Spy Wars in Crackistan

A show trial is underway in Pakistan following the arrest of an American CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who is apparently a pawn caught between warring intelligence services, our CIA and Pakistan’s I.S.I.  And aside from the spy versus spy intrigue associated with this shadow play, it reflects the broader dysfunction of the tortured relationship the U.S. and Pakistan are trapped in.

Yesterday I spoke with Chris Fair who spends a lot of time there, speaks the local languages and knows the country well, including members of the I.S.I. (Inter-Services Intelligence).  And Pakistan’s intelligence service is considered the power behind the throne in a country often described as not a country with an army, but an army with a country. 

As depressing as it is to keep up with the Israeli and Palestinian agony, the India and Pakistan confrontation is even more bitter and intractable.  I am reminded of an academic seminar with Indian and Pakistani academics and outside experts at the UCLA Faculty Club a few years ago that was supposed to be an examination of the enduring Kashmir problem and other bilateral issues.

Instead the LAPD were called after it descended into recrimination and insults and almost turned into a brawl.  For all of the endless bickering between Israelis and Palestinians over a struggle characterized by too much history and too little geography, similar conferences that I’ve attended involving them are love fests by comparison.

The late Richard Holbrooke did try to include the Kashmir conflict in his portfolio when he became president Obama’s special envoy to the region.  But that possibility of removing the Kashmir flashpoint from the equation was scuttled by the India lobby, a new force in Washington that has modeled itself on the Israel lobby.

If these nuclear armed countries, who have fought three wars, all of which Pakistan lost, could get over it and start trade and cooperation instead of perpetuating a military stalemate, maybe they would stop wasting billions that should be spent on their impoverished peoples.

That was what the Prime Ministers of both countries had in mind when they were about to meet a few years ago before a terrorist attack in Mumbai blew that opportunity.  And it is no accident that it was the I.S.I. who unleashed their attack dogs Lashkar-e-Taiba on Mumbai.

It was also what our strategists had in mind, thinking that a peace settlement would take the subcontinent’s nukes off hair trigger and then free up Pakistan’s army facing India so it could be redeployed to the western border with Afghanistan and help the U.S. out of the quagmire there.

That was the hope, however unrealistic, but the Pakistani army had long ago recruited terrorist groups to conduct guerrilla war on the cheap in Kashmir as a way to even the odds with India by tying down their enemy’s numerically superior army.  But the I.S.I. is not about to give up its asset, Lashkar-e-Taiba.  The same group Raymond Davis was apparently spying on.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan every day our boys and girls are killed by the Taliban; armed, directed and sheltered by Pakistan’s military.  Yet we keep funding Pakistan’s military with billions they waste on building more nukes to the point that now they could have a bigger arsenal than England and France.

And all the while the I.S.I. shelters the Haqqani network who are our most formidable adversaries in Afghanistan, and they are also rumored to be sheltering al Qaeda and Bin laden.  Is the specter of Pakistani nukes falling into the wrong hands worth the cost of maintaining the delusion that Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror?

Meanwhile Pakistanis believe it is America’s fault for stirring up the unrest that is tearing their country apart, and every day they grow more and more anti-American, in spite of the billions we are giving them from the Kerry/Lugar/Berman fund.  Denial is easier than fixing a broken country but unless the Pakistanis want to help themselves, how can we help them? 

Perhaps left alone this feudal kleptocracy will, like the similar regimes in the Middle East, be toppled by its young people yearning for justice and opportunity.  But we should get the hell out of Muslim lands.  That’s the lesson here, reinforced by the recent parting words of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who quoted General MacArthur, that anyone who sends a land army into Asia needs his head examined. 

So we should not waste another minute or another life on this lost cause.  Whatever instability might follow our exit from Af/Pak, even if jihadis take over, it could not be worse than Iran.  And Iran has to contend with Israel’s nukes aimed at it, just as India’s are aimed at Pakistan.  In any case theocracies eventually implode from within.  Just like Vietnam, the best way to end a war is to end a war.

Women and Children First...into poverty


Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration that was started in Germany by European socialists in 1911, before the Soviets tried to co-opt it.  And today Germany has the world's healthiest economy with Union representatives sitting on corporate boards as a matter of law (imagine that in Wisconsin).  Also German women get free healthcare, pregnancy leave, childcare and six weeks paid vacations, along with everyone else in most of the other advanced democracies, except the United States.

As our money-driven Game Show democracy rapidly become a corporate plutonomy, ruled by oligarchs, we could learn a lot from the social democracies.  But let’s take a timeout today and look at the state of our women and, by extension, our children in America today. 

Last Sunday “60 Minutes” ran a heartbreaking piece that showed families crammed into cheap motels, living hand to mouth trying to survive the recession.  The grim statistic that 25% of America’s children now live in poverty struck me hard to the point I could barely watch the report.

Since a lot of our children don’t have fathers, I suppose we should be grateful they have mothers. But who takes care of the mothers?  Perhaps we could learn from the Native American Cherokee tribe.  Before the white man conquered this continent, they practiced their own unique form of democracy.  While women were not able to vote, they were the ones who chose the candidates. 

As for the white tribe, it is often said that women were only able to run for political office when they got the vote in 1920.  But that misconception ignores the historical precedent of Victoria Woodhall.  She ran for president in the eighteen hundreds, and later Janet Rankin and other women in the western states ran for office.  They were politically active before being able to vote for women. 

Interestingly Rankin was a Republican and back then it would seem that the party had a conscience and a soul.  Today the grand old party is dominated by righteous white men from the Red States, and after extending the tax breaks for their wealthy patrons, their main legislative priority appears to be to ban abortion. 

Forget the separation of Church and State laid down by the founding fathers they purport to revere.  The parliament and the pulpit are one for these hirelings who appear to hide behind the sacred texts of social conservatism to obscure their real agenda that they faithfully execute as whores for the rich and powerful.

As much as they want to keep women in their place, their main victims are children.  One quarter of our children are now growing up in poverty and God knows how many more will do so in the future.  When John Boehner weeps about the crappy jobs he had to take as a young man, he omits the fact that he grew up with a roof over his head and food on the table. 

But let’s not let an uncomfortable statistic get in the way of a sentimental homage to the greatest country on earth.  A patriotic flourish feels so much better than the bleating of the bleeding hearts, spreading gloom over the shining city on the hill with their irritating facts.

To understand the Republican assault on women you just have to look at the fine print in the Wisconsin governors budget.  He has zeroed out funding for Planned Parenthood.  Apparently Union busting and women bashing go hand in hand. 

So on this International Women's Day, as the Republican House moves to eliminate funds for child nutrition and prenatal care for poor women, get ready for the new America.  An America where desperate young women in the Red States have to slip past a cordon of “Christian” vigilantes checking their papers at bus stations, to escape to Blue States to end pregnancies caused by the lack of contraception and the absence of sex education. 

But of course these pious white men want to force the young women to have the babies they are cutting the funds for.  Enraptured in insulated zeal, these right-to-life crusaders are enjoying a moral free ride.  They can be against killing babies before they are born.  But once they are, they’re someone else’s problem. 

The Contest of Calumny


Although it is close to two years away, the race for president is on, and while it will be the costliest in history, it is already shaping up to be the nastiest.

Although now unopposed, Obama might have a challenge from the Left, and there is something of a tradition of electoral suicide going back to 1968, when liberals abandoned Humphrey and helped elect Nixon, then shunned Carter in favor of Kennedy in the primary then Anderson in the general helping Reagan. Then in Florida 2000 Nader helped elect G. W Bush etc.  

But at this point it is clear that most of the competition will be among Republicans and their jostling for attention already looks like a race to the bottom.  From the founding fathers on there has been plenty of political mudslinging, including the more recent history of Father Coughlin and Colonel McCormack’s peddling reactionary poison.  But never before has hate been manufactured and marketed so shamelessly.

And it is the good “Christians” who are doing it!  We all know Sarah Palin speaks to God in tongues and to man in trash.  But good ol’ Mike Huckerbee seemed to have some intelligence and decency, until last week when he said of Obama…

”If you think about it, his perspective growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.”    

And it won’t be long before Mitt weighs in with more ridiculous racist lies dressed up as campaign rhetoric, not that his latest barefaced lies about national security issues aren’t whoppers.  But like a CEO reassuring the shareholders, Mitt does have that button-down corporate sincerity.  His lies flow off the tongue like commercials for oil companies claiming how much they care about the environment.

So with Gingrich already a serial liar, now dressed up in Catholic piety, the field of nightmares is just warming up.  I can see Murdoch shouting the order “start the presses” as Fox and the dominant illiberal Press start to pump it up and pile it on, all the way to November 2012. 

I remember PBS before the commercials when William F. Buckley debated George McGovern from Yale.  There used to be a political discourse that challenged ideology and tested ideas.  Now we are trapped in the electoral checkout line surrounded by tabloid headlines, each more outrageous than the last.  And Huckerbee’s recent example of “the headless girl in a topless bar” is mild compared to what’s coming, as the Republican candidates court the rabid Right.

But let’s take a timeout for a reality check.  Obama almost never saw his father, only very briefly.  He grew up with the only father figure who was a white Republican from Kansas while his Kenyan father drank himself to death living in fear of the post-colonial ruling party who hounded him until his death.  If anything Obama is likely to be influenced by an anti Mau Mau perspective, not to mention the white folks from the heartland who actually nurtured him.

But the truth obviously does not matter; as Frank Luntz recently learned when half of the prospective Republican voters he polled said Obama was a Muslim with a fake birth certificate.  Maybe Congressman Peter King will bring this up on Thursday when his Homeland Security Committee looks into Muslims lurking amongst us. 

Man up Congressman King and impeach the President!  Do something about that foreign-born terrorist in the White House.  If you believe what you say, then isn’t this much more serious than a stain on a dress?

Hypocrisy and Human Rights


Yesterday I spoke with the Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa who described growing up in a country led by what he describes as “a homicidal clown and his offspring – one ghastly daughter and several murderous-looking sons dressed in Italian suits or Army uniforms”.  As a teenager Khaled was forced to watch public hangings of professors, poets and human rights activists, endlessly repeated on State TV.  As recently as 1996 a massacre took place at the Abu Salem prison where 1,270 political prisoners were slaughtered, many of whom the courts has judged innocent.

In addition to an unaccounted and untold death toll, that recent mass murders of prisoners was faithfully carried out by Qaddafi’s brother in law, who along with the “ghastly daughter”, were recently feted at a private concert featuring Beyonnce as the well-compensated live entertainment.  Since the family has stolen an estimated 120 billion of the country’s oil wealth, whatever blood money she was paid is a pittance to Libya’s avaricious first family.

Yet Libya is a member of the U.N’s Human Rights Council and one might ask, what is the matter with the U.N.? True they recently passed a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning the Libyan regime for murdering their own people with heavy military weapons like tanks, AAA and fighter-bombers, unleashed on civilians on the streets.  But how did they get elected with 155 votes from other U.N. members, in a secret ballot, to the prestigious Human Rights Council?

Of course they ended up in good company with that champion of human rights Saudi Arabia sitting with them even though Saudi Arabia was one of only two countries (along with South Africa) who refused to sign the original U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  That has something to do with language condemning slavery, which still continues today in Saudi Arabia, where not only are servants property, wives are too.

The other member of the U.N. Human Rights Council with an appalling record of jailing and executing political prisoners is Cuba.  Although the Castros are often uncritically worshiped in the West, with celebrities beating a path to hang out at a barbeque with El Jefe, there are political prisoners there on hunger strikes today, and recently just being gay would get you jail time.

As much as no-nothing right wing isolationist in our country rail against the U.N. for encroaching on our “sovereignty”, and want the U.S. out of the U.N., surely we should demand a little more value for our money, since we are the largest donors. 

But we are guilty of serial hypocrisy, having supported dictators around the world for decades.  And now we’re sheepishly standing by while our old friends like Hosni are getting hosed by their own people inspired by the very democracy that we preach but do not practice. 

Surely it’s time to stand up for our principals so that we can demand that others do.  Only then can we get around to the long-overdue house cleaning at the world body. 

Teachers; The New Welfare Queens


I’m always grateful for John Stewart who compiles these montages of overpaid angry white men gnashing their teeth on Fox News over the phony liberal outrage of the day scripted by Roger Ailes.   Although the poison spewing from Fox’s echo chamber of junkyard dogs is sometimes overwhelming, Stewart makes you laugh.  Otherwise you’d cry.

Unfortunately I remember Reagan’s election promise that he would take the handcuffs off the millionaires and put them on the welfare queens working for him.  Even though there was no evidence that millionaires were shackled or that welfare queens were running wild.  That did not stop the Reagan Democrats from swallowing the bait and blaming their lot on a mythical freeloader sponging off their tax dollars instead of the greedy millionaire who doesn’t pay taxes.  And as soon as Reagan got elected, guess who got the tax break and who got stiffed?

Since Ailes, Rove and Atwood et al came of age under Reagan, you can’t blame them for dusting off the playbook.  Class warfare works.  Not the reflexive defense of the mega rich that the Fox hirelings faithfully echo when they decry “class warfare”.  But the real class warfare that the Republican successfully wage to get Democrats to vote against their own interests. 

The genius of the minority party is that it consistently gets members of the majority party to defect to them by stirring up class resentments and inflaming hatred towards imaginary “others” who are usually poor and black or brown.

Last time they found “Joe the plumber” to campaign for them against a community organizers who was black and was trying to help the poor.  The next time they will pit worker against worker as the revenue collapse from the Wall Street crash shakes down into a financial crunch when the States hit the wall.

Already unemployed workers from the private sector are being encouraged to scapegoat “overcompensated” public employees.  A preview of the Republican 2012 strategy that was recently launched in Wisconsin, which thanks to the garrulous governor, we all learned about from his frank discussion with the prankster posing as David Koch.

So why not demonize those jet-setting teachers driving their used Volvo’s and strutting about in their designer outfits from “Ross Dress For Less?”  It is a win-win for the Republicans.  After all the teachers are into public education.  And we can’t have that. 

If we have an educated public, they will vote for the Democrats.  So just as we downsized airline pilots and turned them into aerial bus drivers, we’ll demote teachers to vocational guidance instructors for the service industries.   How do you spell “Supersize me?”