Saturday, March 14, 2015

Editorial: Treacherous Opposition

The letter written by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which seeks to undermine President Obama during sensitive negotiations with Iranian officials over their nuclear program, is only the latest in a series of attempts to sabotage the Obama administration, even if it leads to war with Iran.

Lately, Republicans, without consulting the White House, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress March 3 in what amounted to a faux State of the World address to undermine the sitting president.

Republicans followed up with the letter, which warned Iranian leaders that once Obama is out of office in 2017, “the next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Obama noted it was “somewhat ironic” to see Republicans “wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the letter, declaring that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.” Zarif, who was educated in the US, received a Ph.D. in International Law and Policy from the University of Denver in 1988 and was Iran’s ambassador to the UN from 2002 to 2007, pointed out technical errors in the Republicans’ description of how the US Constitution works.

The Republican letter raises questions as to whether the current Senate Majority is ready for prime time. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was among those who signed on.

One of the seven Republicans who sensibly declined to sign was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Foreign Relations chairman, who needs 13 Democrats to build a veto-proof supermajority of 67 for his bill restricting the President’s negotiating options with Iran and ensuring congressional approval before any deal is struck. The letter hasn’t earned him any favors, Sahil Kapur noted at Senate Democrats are rallying to Obama’s side and attacking the Republicans for what they describe as an extraordinary act of openly undercutting a president during sensitive foreign policy negotiations.

The action of Cotton and the 46 other Republican senators who signed his letter does not rise to the level of treason, nor does it call for prosecution under the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized US citizens from interfering in relations between the US and foreign governments. (Senators can plausibly argue that their role as legislators qualify them to communicate with foreign leaders.) The Cotton letter merely reflects the treacherous game plan of the Republican leadership since Jan. 20, 2009, when its leaders conspired at a dinner meeting at the Caucus Room Restaurant in Washington, D.C., and agreed to undermine the newly inaugurated President Barack Obama at every turn, regardless of the consequences for the American people or the rest of the world.

Republican senators should not be prosecuted for sending a “cheeky” letter to Iran, but the White House might need to think about what secrets it can share with signers of the letter, as well as with Netanyahu, who have shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

Many commenters said the Cotton letter was unprecedented, but at least it was publicized. There are at least two cases in the last 50 years where Republicans have illegally and covertly interfered in relations between Democratic administrations and foreign governments in order to gain a political advantage.

During the 1968 presidential campaign, surveillance of the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington and right-wing activist Anna Chennault provided evidence that Richard Nixon’s campaign conspired to scuttle the peace talks on the eve of the election. President Lyndon Johnson was trying to achieve a breakthrough to end the war before the election but he discovered that Nixon’s campaign colluded with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to derail the talks and thus deny a possible last-minute boost to the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Nixon narrowly prevailed over Humphrey on Nov. 5, 1968, by about 500,000 votes, less than 1% of the ballots cast. From the start of Nixon’s presidency in January 1969 until 1973, when the war was brought to a close, 20,763 US soldiers died and 111,230 were wounded during Nixon’s war. One million more Vietnamese were estimated to have died in that period.

On May 14, 1973, as the Watergate scandal was unfolding after Nixon’s re-election, Walt Rostow, Johnson’s national security adviser, typed a three-page memo in 1973, summarizing the secret file that Johnson had amassed on Nixon’s sabotaging of the Vietnam peace talks. Rostow expressed regret that he and other top Johnson aides had chosen — for what they had deemed to be “the good of the country,” to keep quiet about Nixon’s sabotage, which Johnson had privately labeled “treason.”

The lack of interest in calling Nixon to account for sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks may have encouraged Republicans to try another “October Surprise” again in 1980. Some of Nixon’s old allies, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, were key figures in Reagan’s campaign, Robert Parry noted at (March 3, 2012).

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr claims that after 52 hostages had been taken from the US Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, Reagan campaign representatives met with representatives of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomenei, who agreed to hold the hostages until after the 1980 election. Bani-Sadr wanted to release the hostages, but was overruled by the Supreme Leader. Khomeini kept his side of the bargain, holding onto the hostages until after Reagan was sworn in, and the Reagan administration later covertly rewarded Iran with weapons.

After he was deposed in a June 1981 coup, Bani-Sadr fled to France “to expose the symbiotic relationship between Khomeinism and Reaganism,” he wrote.

Republicans have adamantly denied that Reagan or his campaign struck a deal with Iranian radicals to extend the hostage crisis through the 1980 election, Parry wrote at (March 7, 2013). But evidence has built up supporting Bani-Sadr’s account.

In December 1992, when a House Task Force was examining the October Surprise controversy – and encountering fierce Republican resistance – Bani-Sadr submitted a letter detailing his struggle with Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign. But the House Task Force leadership decided to simply declare the Reagan campaign innocent. Lawrence Barcella, the Task Force’s chief counsel, told Parry that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked the chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., to extend the inquiry for three months but Hamilton said no.

Parry in 1992 interviewed R. Spencer Oliver, a longtime Democratic figure whose phone was bugged at Watergate. When asked why the Democrats so often retreated in the face of fierce Republican resistance, he explained that the Watergate scandal – though it led to the ruin of one Republican president – had taught the Republicans how to thwart serious inquiries: “What [the Republicans] learned from Watergate was not ‘don’t do it,’ but ‘cover it up more effectively.’ They have learned that they have to frustrate congressional oversight and press scrutiny in a way that will avoid another major scandal.”

Don’t forget that Dick Cheney got his start in the Nixon White House. Now he’s the elder statesman of the GOP.

For the past half-century, Democrats have been unwilling to hold Republican miscreants to account for their high crimes and misdemeanors. The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower has degenerated into the party of Nixon, Reagan and Bush/Cheney. Now Tom Cotton is rising from the muck.

Regarding the letter to Iran, voters must make it clear to the 47 signers that when the disloyal opposition stops short of treason, they still haven’t done an honest day’s work. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2015

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Selections from the April 1, 2015 issue

COVER/Robert Scheer
Outsourcing intelligence to Silicon Valley

Treacherous opposition


Juvenile justice: Poverty looks like delinquency

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Mo. asks who are farmers and ranchers?

Hillary’s ‘Emailgate’ becomes another far-right buzzword;
Republican president could still gut ACA subsidies;
Nearly 8M could lose health insurance aid;
FCC also allows muni broadband;
Senate opening in Md.;
Bipartisan bill would end marijuana prohibition;
What 'doing something about ISIS' looks like;
Farmily farmers crash agribiz party;
Pope attacks corrupting influence of money in politics ...

The re-colonization of Africa

‘Right to work’: Keeping workers down since ’30s

Two stories on fracking you probably missed

The insanity of the death penalty

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Testing in a post-Lake Wobegon world

Unions’ time is coming back

Canada lawsuit challenges banker rule

Obamacare’s saving grace (maybe)

Climate science and neoliberal agenda

War without end

To defeat ISIS, win the peace

Good Obama, bad Obama

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Adolescence and civil disobedience

‘Mr. Dynamite’; ‘Tin Man’; ‘Going Back Home’

and more ...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Basic premise of rightwing economics makes American society unfit, according to latest evolutionary theories

By Marc Jampole

In Does Altruism Exist, David Sloan Wilson lays down the most advanced theory of how natural selection works. He reduces libraries worth of research and studies to a single statement: Within groups, selfish behavior by individuals succeeds, but between groups, groups with more altruistic behavior succeed.

Wilson defines altruism purely in terms of action, not distinguishing whether the motive is selfish or not. If the action benefits others and not the individual, it is altruistic. If the action benefits the self (or the self more than it helps others), it is selfish. Wilson further distinguishes between low-cost altruism like sharing your popcorn and high-cost altruism like dying in war.

Science finds that within a group, the more selfish individuals thrive, making selfishness within a group or a species the best way to survive, which in the case of evolutionary theory, means transmitting your genes to the next generation. But time after time, groups with higher percentages of altruistic acts beat those with more selfish acts and actors, which means the group with more altruism reproduces more members.

In fact, some scientists now theorize that altruism drove some very fundamental advances in evolution. One cell creatures became multi-cell creatures because so many of the one-cellers started to work together with other one-cellers and then specialized in a function while working together. Instead of acting in their own best interest, they did what was best for the group until they became attached to one another as a brand new type of organism. According to this theory, the same type of cooperation may have caused the transition from bacteria to single-cell creatures with nuclei. No one is saying that bacteria or single-cell animals thought about the group, only that they acted in the group’s best interest. The ultimate in this kind of inter-group cooperation are the superorganisms formed by bees or ants, entire colonies in which certain individuals play lesser roles that advance the whole.

Those who buy this version of evolution—and I count myself among them—will quickly see that the economic theories that currently guide our politics doom us to failure. Since the ascent of Ronald Reagan, we have enthroned the selfish pursuit of material gain as the greatest good for all, and for society. Our basic economic theory—taken out of context from an 18th century economic philosopher—is that if everyone pursues their own selfish interests, unconstrained, all of society will thrive. As Sloan points out, this benevolent “invisible hand” does not really exist.

Sloan, does not, however, put America’s reliance on selfishness into a real-world context. Our infrastructure of roads, bridges and mass transit are in disrepair. Public schools and universities suffer from a lack of public support. We lag behind other nations in terms of basic research into alterative energy technologies. This deterioration in the fitness of the United States results from the selfish acts of wealthy individuals and their factotums in elected offices, all dedicated to the politics and the economics of selfishness. The selfish acts entailed cutting taxes on the wealthy and spending by the government.

But does the decline make us weaker relative to other human groups, most of which face similar social dislocations?

It doesn’t matter, because it certainly weakens the larger group called the human race, makes us less fit as a species to survive. The mindlessly consumer society and the politics of selfishness seem to reign in most parts of the world, although often to a lesser extent than in the United States. Our actions are rapidly heating the world, and at a certain point it will get so hot that it will become inhospitable to humans—too many crop failures, too many epidemics, too many wars over fresh water, oil and other scarce resources, too many massive deaths from super hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes.

We are close to reaching a tipping point, and the only way to avoid it is for all of us in industrialized nations to sacrifice, to act altruistically. Curtailing driving and perhaps ending private ownership of automobiles, using mass transit, composting, keeping the temperature cooler in winter and warmer in the summer, recycling, taking fewer vacations, paying more for energy and products, living with fewer possessions in smaller spaces—this list does not exhaust the major and minor changes that we all have to make. Perhaps most critically, we have to limit our births—one child per person—to reduce our population without war, famine or epidemic. We have to structure our economy to deliver goods and services to a declining population. All these actions will involve restraining the individual for the good of the whole. Whether mandated or voluntary, the actions we need to take to make our species fitter are all altruistic.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Another journalist revels in self-proclaimed stupidity by averring he’s afraid of math

By Marc Jampole

There must be some unwritten law that journalists for the mainstream media are not allowed to write about a topic that involves numbers unless they first establish that they dislike, fear or are unable to understand math. Setting aside the issue of whether their narcissistic belief that their own math problem really warrants discussion, these math dummy confessions disqualify the writers from covering the very subject they are supposed to be exploring.

We see the latest example of a math dummy confessional in “Retirement Reality Is Catching Up With Me,” the lead story in the New York Times’ latest “Retirement” section. The article is supposed to be about how the writer, John Schwartz, began his own retirement planning at the age of 58, so we can forgive the narcissism (that is, once we accept the premise that we should care about this one writer’s retirement planning travails).

Schwartz is a long-time Times journalist who has written on such math-heavy subjects as climate change and space travel. And yet he claims to be scared of numbers. Here’s his extended quote on the topic, which we might consider a masterpiece of quibbling, except that it’s exactly the train of thought that Charles Blow used a month ago to attempt to qualify himself as disqualified to write about math education:
“Why has it taken until I’m nearly 58 to open my eyes? My excuse is simple: Numbers scare me. I am not alone in this. Scientists who study math anxiety say that the anticipation of crunching numbers can lead to the kind of agitation that, on a brain scan, looks a lot like the perception of physical pain. As a reporter, I can be stirred to learn what I need to know to cover numbers in science and business and other topics; if I don’t, somebody will fire me. (Incentive!) But I’ve largely kept out of my own business.”
We’re supposed to believe that of all the talented journalists at the disposal of New York Times editors to cover climate change and space travel that they selected someone who is afraid of the language of science? That someone who infers he is “agitated…a lot like the perception of pain” by the very thought of crunching numbers wouldn’t quickly get himself reassigned to cover stories that didn’t involve something that scared him?

I think it’s more likely that Schwartz is taking a little poetic license: trying to turn himself into an average person, to empathize with his audience, which in this case seems to be people in their 50s and older who haven’t started serious retirement planning. To make himself this average guy, however, he turns to that old canard that math is hard.

As the article progresses and he and his wife confront retirement issues, Schwartz never circles back to the math challenge, never lets us know that most of the math involved in retirement planning is arithmetic or simple algebra, or that the financial planning industry has hundreds of calculators and formulas that do the work for you. He does mention completing a long survey and plugging numbers into a model, yet he never admits that the math was easy or nonexistent. We never see the resolution of his math anxiety. He has no need to, I guess, since his math anxiety was just a scene-setting detail, only important in so far that it carries the hidden message that math is hard to learn.

As I have discussed numerous times in OpEdge, asserting that math is hard is part of anti-intellectualism, which is one of the great ideological principles underlying virtually everything seen and heard in the mass media since the end of the Second World War. Day by day we’re bombarded with anti-intellectual statements and ideological subtext such as “math is hard,” “math causes anxiety,” “math isn’t fun,” “smart people are bad athletes and socially inept,” “college is only about getting a job,” “science isn’t fun,” “geniuses are usually mentally ill or extremely eccentric,” “the cool kids like to party” and “intelligent design is a valid theory,” just to name some of the more frequent variants of the anti-intellectual ideology. The cumulative effect is to create a culture that does not strive for or respect intellectual achievement.

Schwartz begins his article with the sentence, “I am an idiot.” He’s not, but he must think his readers are.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

GOP letter to Iran is not about treaty but about undermining the legitimacy of President Obama

By Marc Jampole

Republicans, and Democrats for that matter, have every right to make public their opposition to negotiating an agreement that will slow down or stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in return for lifting severe economic sanctions on Iran.

But I don’t believe foreign policy has anything to do with why 47 Republican Senators signed a public letter warning the Iranians that after Barack Obama leaves office, the next President could rescind any treaty.

No, what we’re talking about here is the latest in a six-year concerted campaign to undermine the legitimacy of our president. The letter belongs under the same rubric as the birther controversy, the frequent accusations that Obama doesn’t understand or love his country, and the snubbing of the president by inviting a foreign leader—Benjamin Netanyahu—to speak before Congress without first clearing it with the Oval Office.   

Since Republicans have failed to convince most Americans that Obama is some disruptive stranger void of American values, they act to demean his person by trying to conduct their own foreign policy. BTW, the last time a party out of power ignored a President’s role in foreign policy, it also had to do with Iran—it was the secret and illegal negotiations that Ronald Reagan’s advisors held with Iranians in 1980 to delay return of the hostages until after the presidential election in return for secret weapon deliveries to Iran once Reagan assumed the presidency.

For proof that the letter is merely meant to demean Barack Obama, check out this key sentence: “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.” First of all, while the president could bypass the Senate by signing an executive agreement with Iran concerning development of nuclear weaponry, only Congress can permanently end the economic sanctions against Iran, giving Congress de facto veto power over a deal. But the really wild part of the sentence is the reference to Ayatollah Khamenei, which turns an agreement between two governments into a personal matter between Obama and the personification of the Iranian Islamic right wing. The phrasing of the letter detaches Obama from a standard government process and attached him to one of the leading symbols of “terrifying otherness” bandied about by rightwing fear-mongers in the United States and elsewhere.

What the Republican Senators are really saying with the letter is that Obama is not a real representative of the United States and its government. In the context of the almost continuous attempts to question the legitimacy not of Obama’s policies but of the man himself, the inherent racism behind the letter should shine through to all. Overt racism stands behind the birther and “hates America” comments. The letter and previous Netanyahu speech act more subtly, undermining Obama’s legitimacy, but leaving it to their rightwing audience to supply the reason why Obama is illegitimate in their silent thoughts—“because he’s black.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

Here’s a poem I wrote 6 years ago about the second Selma march

By Marc Jampole

It’s easy to forget that there were three Selma marches. March 7 commemorates the bloody first march in which state troopers and a county posse attacked 600 unarmed marchers when they reached the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The marchers had wanted to walk 50 odd miles to Montgomery, the Alabama state capitol, to raise awareness of the fight for voting rights.

The images on television were unforgettably horrifying, and America rose, almost as one, to support the marchers.  People from all walks of life using every means of transportation descended on Selma for a second march.  Now there were 2,500 marchers, led by Martin Luther King, who had sat out the first march. I haven’t seen the movie “Selma,” but as Taylor Branch tells it in Pillars of Fire, King debated whether to risk injury or assassination by leading the second march. I have always wondered what goes into the decision to put your life at risk for an idea. It must be frightening to contemplate your own death, and yet to still walk into the lions’ den.

Although the second march on March 9 was merely symbolic, it held the potential for more violence. The Southern Christian Leadership Council tried to get a court order that would prohibit the police from interfering with the next attempt to walk from Selma to Montgomery. The judge decided to issue a restraining order prohibiting another march until he could hold hearings on the court order. So America watched as King led the marchers to the bridge, where he declared victory and said they would wait for the court order.

Much happened before the triumphant third march: The KKK beat to death a white minister and he died after the Selma Hospital refused to treat him. President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act before both houses of Congress. There were several protests for voting rights elsewhere in the south. Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers. And of course, the judge granted the court order saying that the marchers could march because they were exercising their constitutional rights.

The third march that started on March 21 was almost anti-climactic, a five-day marathon of media coverage that started with 8,000 in Selma and ended with 30,000 witnessing another timeless speech by King on the steps of the Alabama Capitol Building. It was very much a victory party, since the marchers were well-protected by the troops and it was apparent that Congress was going to pass the Voting Rights Act. Thus, when I wrote a poem about Selma six years ago, I decided to focus on the second march.

Here is my poem, “The Second Selma March.” The poem, by the way, is a serious travesty of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” about five nuns fleeing Prussian anti-Catholic laws who drowned when their steam ship, The Deutschland, sank in the North Sea in 1875. The arrangement of lines, stanza length, tumbling accretion of verbs, nouns and adjectives, hyphenated words, musicality and other aspects of my poem all come from Hopkins’ poem.


“I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm…”
            - Gerard Manley Hopkins

                        It was on TV
            for all the world to touch:
the bloodied men and women
            reeling on the bridge,
the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama,
feel with them the billy clubs,
            horn-bean branches, rifle butts
on black-brown arms and legs, black-brown noses, chins,

                        and lash of bull whips
            swinging hard by hate-sieged men
in uniforms and gas masks,
            tear gas melting lungs and eyes,
on TV for all to see, the bleeding broken
borne on arms and stretchers into church.
            As one the viewers rise
from beer or dinner, stand and cry,

                         Is this my land, is this
            the soil of equal hopes, of equal dreams?
and in a common rapture east to west,
            people stop their meetings, drop their jobs,
board buses, railcars, airplanes, autos
bound for bloody Selma for another march,
            another chance to show the world,
to show themselves they live in freedom’s land.

                        Dead, dead, dead
            if I should march to Edmund Pettus Bridge,
closed-door Martin’s dread of next day’s plan
            before a watching world, confronts
protected points, every ledge and rock along the way,
every liquored angry cracker white with smarts:
            lay of the land, way to escape
after drawing, pulling, piercing him with searing shot.
                        My greater fear:
            to die or disappoint?               
to cease to be or cease to matter?
            March he does
leading new recruits from every state
before the pens and cameras, before the snakelike
            seething men, march he does,
a new rhythm haunting him, a fearless rhythm,

                        relentless echo rhythm,
            sun blister cloud water wind shatter rhythm,
rhythm ready to pay the price,
            peaceful ordnance steady step and turn.
And thousands march along, and multi-millions
watch as at the bridge the troopers wave
            their clubs and court orders
and stop them, but only from crossing:

                        Martin prays,
            declares freedom victorious,
turns home to wait
            for briefs in court, the slower march,
inevitable camp and walk, sing and praise,
five days fifty miles to Alabama’s capitol steps,
            thirty thousand strong to witness Martin ask
How long, not long, not long at all.