Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our pathetic press corps

With wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, what questions did our esteemed White House press corps choose to ask at today's briefing with Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs? Hint: it had something to do with a guy named "Gates", and not the one who heads up the Defense Department. Though in my great mercy I have deleted the answers -- as well as a few questions about something called "health care" (don't worry, I have no idea what that's referring to either) -- here's a list of the hard-hitting questions the profoundly silly, self-styled "journalists" who attend these sorts of briefings asked about the most pressing news item of the day:
Q Polls, two of them. One on health care showing 46 percent disapproving of the president's handling of health care. And then on the Gates issue, with 41 percent disapproving. Different poll, but 41 percent disapproving of how the president is handling -- handled that incident.
Is this something that --

Q Forty one disapproving of how the president handled the Gates --

Q Is this something that you all are worried about? They're coming at the same time. The Gates incident is pulling away from attention on health care. Even the president said that.

Q Actually he said it, I believe it was, yesterday, didn't he, that people aren't talking about health care as much?
Maybe I'm wrong.

Q Well, it's pulling down his approval ratings, particularly among working class --

Q Among working class, right, his --

Q I'm just telling you what the polls said. So I'm wondering if you're worried about it and what you guys can do about it.

Q Two questions, Robert, first one having to do with the Gates-Crowley meeting today. If we're not going to be able to listen to the conversation and the three men are not going to talk to the press afterwards --

Q Well, but you're not going to orchestrate it here at the White House is all I meant. But --

Q Okay. But the -- I guess the question is, the president said he wanted --

Q -- the president said he wants this to be a teachable moment.

Q How do you envision this being a teachable moment?

Q I guess I could just request, I'm sure on everybody's behalf, that we find out and have as thorough a debrief from you as possible, so that we can make it as much of a teachable moment as possible.

Q And back to the Gates event today at the White House, why not allow the press to get closer to the table, to be able to at least, you know, have some sort of conversation or something with the parties involved?

Q Right, but that's if they want to. But typically when you have events --

Q You know, I do want to follow up on that.
I mean, typically there are events that happen here at the White House. We're invited in. We get a chance to either ask questions of the parties there. And if they choose to come out, we can get additional information from them.
In this case, we won't have anything there and most likely won't get anything when they come out.

Q But what about on the earlier part?
What about the president? I mean, why is the president in a cone of silence on this? You're saying, those two can come out and talk, but he can't? (Off mike) -- teachable moment. Why -- what's the lesson that he wants to teach?

Q But why doesn't he see this as an opportunity, if he wants to make it a teachable moment, to come out and talk and teach what he learned, what he wants the nation to learn?

Q Well, just to stay on it for one second, I mean, not that I'm arguing against any coverage, but you are availing yourself of the picture. So presumably you want a photo but not any further content from the president.

Q If you could, provide us some more logistics of the event this evening. Apparently you've decided you don't want to splash beer on Malia and Sasha's picnic table, which is probably a good thing.
Can you talk about --

Q The picture we're going to get appears to be the three principals. But there are a number of people coming here, by my understanding. Are they all going to get together? What are you doing with the other guys?

Q You've got police-union officials coming as well.

Q Robert, going back to Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates, what do you hope -- tomorrow morning when you wake up, what do you hope you will have accomplished?

Q Well, besides -- what do you hope you will look back --

Q -- what do you hope to -- what's your best-case scenario for looking back and saying, "We accomplished this last night. We were able to" --

Q Can it be a teachable moment if the American people do not hear something that several of them -- several sides have asked for, including Professor Gates, at least? And that's the word "apology" during the conversation today.

Q I had a question on the health care thing yesterday, but on the Gates thing, the president has said that he wants this to be a teachable moment, regardless of who --

Q So he said he wants this to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who first proposed it, he's, through his surrogates, called these guys from the White House. But is he the teacher in this teachable moment?

Q Dialogue about what?

Q But how is that teachable for everybody? How is that teachable for the nation, if it's just about an incident between two men?

Q Well, some people think it's an incident about racial profiling. Some people think it's an incident about disrespect for police. Some people think it's -- I mean, there are a million different things that it could be a teachable lesson about. And we're not getting --

Q You say it's a teachable moment. About what? Communication? I mean --

Q We wouldn't have imagined they'd be here and we wouldn't hear anything that was going to happen from the president. (Laughter.)

Q No I really -- he's not using this as an opportunity.

Q The only thing we're hearing -- is a teachable moment example is that we're going to get a photograph out of it, or some film. I don't understand. I mean --

Q Do you think the coverage has been good, that people have been covering this issue? You said there's been a lot of coverage. Is that a good thing?

Q (Off mike) -- how much more you could get if he came out and talked to us.
It's days like these that I'm not so much saddened by the fact that much of the establishment media appears to be dying off as I am by the fact that it hasn't already died.

Grand Old Hypocrisy

Sentient beings may find the claim that conservatives have no interest in using the force of government to shape people's behavior a bit amusing in light of their positions on the war on drugs, reproductive rights and a million other social issues. But just as Glenn Beck suddenly discovered the evils of centralized power when a black man became president, Republicans on the House Science & Technology Committee are claim to have rediscovered their long-dormant opposition to the government telling people what to do now that it's the Democrats doing the telling.

As a GOP press release informs us, a bill being considered by the science committee this week would establish a “social and behavioral sciences research program” aimed at coming up with ways to encourage Americans to use less energy. While a seemingly benign if perhaps questionable use of taxpayer money, “Many Republicans at the markup fundamentally disagreed with the notion that changing Americans' behavior is a role that the federal government should play.” Hold your laughter.

According to the press release, Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart engaged in a little philosophical musing at the hearing on “the nature of the relationship between Government and the people".

“Do we need the Federal Government to start dictating every aspect of our lives? Is there no limit to what the role of the Federal Government should be; even going to the extreme of trying to change our behavior, because the American people are not capable of turning on a light and turning it off?”

While I for one appreciate his sticking up for my god-given right to keep my incandescent bulbs on 24/7 and heat my house with open-air kitten fires, I find it odd Diaz-Balart's fear of the federal government was nowhere to be found when he voted to pass the Military Commissions Act -- granting the president the unilateral authority to strip those accused of terrorism of any right to protest their imprisonment -- to ban flag burning, to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act and to prohibit online gambling. Diaz-Balart has also vigorously opposed any effort to allow Americans to trade with the residents of Cuba or to travel to that country. And last I checked, he does not believe consenting adults should be allowed to imbibe in substances he disapproves of.

In other words, while he opposes the oppressive hand of big government encouraging Americans to reduce their energy use, Diaz-Balart has no problem with said government spying on its citizens without a warrant, instructing them on the morally correct ways to spend their money and free time, and dictating to them where they can and cannot travel (almost like a communist government).

Further, the idea that Republicans don't believe in using the force of government to change Americans' behavior is hilariously unfounded -- witness the GOP's (and the Democrats') penchant for using the tax code as a vehicle for bribing people into choosing one particular, socially acceptable form of relationship -- heterosexual marriage -- and for economically discriminating against those who choose one of the scores of possible alternatives.

Hypocrisy may know no bounds in politics, but politicians could stand to be a little less brazen about it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Clinton breaks with Kerry on Iran

Earlier this summer Senator John Kerry (D-MA) hinted at a possible change in U.S. policy when the Massachusetts Democrat -- chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a lawmaker more likely to echo administration talking points than openly challenge them -- told the Financial Times that Iran has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes, calling the Bush administration’s stance against such enrichment “ridiculous”.

While many reasonably believed Kerry’s position signaled a new stance from the Obama administration, with the FT having earlier reported that such a change in policy was indeed under consideration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put the notion to rest in an interview over the weekend on Meet The Press.

“My view is you hope for the best, you plan for the worst,” Clinton told host David Gregory, continuing:
“Our hope is -- that's why we're engaged in the president's policy of engagement toward Iran -- is that Iran will understand why it is in their interest to go along with the consensus of the international community, which very clearly says you have rights and responsibilities. You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil nuclear power. You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control.
David Gregory might have noted that international inspectors and the U.S. intelligence community do not believe Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, but he didn’t.

The sanctimony about the “international consensus” from an administration that continues to assert the right to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, meanwhile, is a bit rich, if to be expected. Perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of the interview, however, was Clinton’s declaration that Iran has no right to have the “full enrichment” of uranium under its control -- a position Kerry vehemently denounced in the interview with the FT as just more “bombastic diplomacy” and “wasted energy,” adding that Iran has “a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.” Though Kerry was referring to the Bush administration at the time, his remarks drive home the fact that the Obama administration is electing to continue some of the most-criticized policies of his predecessor, with Clinton outdoing even Condoleeza Rice in terms of her "altogether steelier and more terrifyingly hawkish persona."

Worth noting is that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the U.S. government is actively undermining by providing nuclear fuel to non-signatory and known proliferator India, states that parties to the agreement (like Iran) have an “inalienable right . . . to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination”. With that in mind, Clinton's statement that Iran has no right to enrich uranium indicates the Obama administration believes it can reinterpret an international treaty to its liking, the actual text of the agreement be damned.

David Gregory might have noted that rather salient fact, but he didn't.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hey buddy, need a car?

"Go out and buy a car!! We're -- it's on! Let's do it."
-- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking at a July 27th event to kick off the government's so-called "cash-for-clunkers" rebate program aimed at encouraging debt-ridden Americans to purchase new automobiles.

"You can drive off the lot in a new car today, no money down," LaHood said. "We'd be crazy to offer these amazing deals for long."

He declined to characterize the new government incentives as a going-out-of-business sale, telling reporters he preferred to see them as a great opportunity for consumers who don't need "costly add-ons" like extended warranties.

A Department of Transportation spokesman told reporters later that the public should take advantage of "this fantastic limited-time offer," adding he was "pretty sure" he could get you a free undercoating for "little to no charge."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New administration, same disinformation

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking at the Economic Club of Chicago on July 16th, declared that Iran's "determination, apparently, to seek nuclear weapons" is the most worrisome situation in the world, becoming the latest Obama administration official to fearmonger about a nuke program the U.S. government's own intelligence agencies say doesn't exist:
I would say that the one [situation] that I think is the most difficult -- and it was difficult in the Bush administration, and it's difficult in this administration -- is the problem of Iran. And it is Iran's determination, apparently, to seek nuclear weapons, the inability of the international community to affect their determination to do that, and how you deal with that -- and where all of the outcomes are negative. If they achieve one, the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is very, very real. And if some action is taken to prevent them from getting one, the consequences of that are completely unpredictable, and likely very bad.

So if we -- we, the international community -- it's not just the United States that faces this problem. After all, Iran is going to have missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons to people in their region a lot sooner than they're going to have the capability to deliver one to us. And this is one of the messages that I've delivered to the Russians over the last two or three years, is that -- is that they're a lot closer than we are.
While Gates' suggestion that the fallout of military action to stop Iran's nuclear program would be "likely very bad" is welcome, he should feel reassured by the fact that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says he has not seen "any evidence" Iran is developing nukes.

And though Gates implicitly connects Iran's missile development program with a presumed nuclear weapons program, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair struck down such a suggestion in congressional testimony earlier this year when asked by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) whether "Iran will be developing a nuclear weapon to go along with these . . . delivery vehicles".

"I don't think those missile developments, Senator McCain, prejudice the nuclear weapons decision one way or another," Blair said, continuing:
"I believe those are separate decisions. The same missiles can launch vehicles into space, they can launch warheads, either conventional or nuclear, onto land targets. And Iran is pursuing those for those multiple purposes. Whether they develop a nuclear weapon, which could then be put in that warhead, I believe, is a separate decision which Iran has not made yet."

Bail out . . . cancer?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the message they're trying to get across in this ad in the DC metro, but if you actually think about it -- do you really want to bail out lung cancer? I know I'd sure be happy to see it go the way of Lehman Brothers.

Now, if only the government would stop bailing out economic cancers . . .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chuck Todd: Proud Stenographer

When it comes to cable news reporters, MSNBC's Chuck Todd is no better or worse than any of his colleagues, by which I mean he is perfectly adequate at his job -- which is to regurgitate whatever establishment Washington tells him. Still, I'll give him some credit for agreeing to allow Glenn Greenwald of the opportunity to make him look like a complete and utter fool in an interview in which his defense for dismissing calls for an investigation into Bush-era torture practices as divisive and "very dangerous" amounted to this: don't blame me, I just repeat what I'm told (and pass it off as my own "objective analysis)!

My favorite part of the interview -- and there were several to choose from -- may have been this exchange, where Todd contradicts himself in the span of a minute in seeking to defend the unitary executive:
Todd: Look at the US attorney thing. What did we find out during this whole US attorney scandal? There was no doubt the White House, the previous White House was trying to play politics with US attorney selections. That has been proven. Except what did we also find out - it was perfectly legal. . . .
Greenwald: Chuck. First of all, the question of whether or not crimes were committed in the US attorneys case is still a pending matter before several federal courts.

Todd: And I believe it should be investigated--
Hi-larious stuff. Do listen to the whole thing (or read the transcript) for perhaps the clearest example yet of everything that is wrong with the establishment stenographers who pass themselves off as "journalists" here in the imperial capital.

Somebody doesn't like me

Readers of this blog may not be aware that I am an agent of the Iranian regime. But Rabbi Daniel Zucker, an adjunct professor at Long Island University and long-time apologist for the anti-Iran terrorist organization known as the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), has a lenghty and hilarious denunciation of me as such because I had the temerity -- and naivete, apparently -- to point out in a recent piece for that his beloved MEK is widely considered a terrorist cult.

The back story: late last month two American congressmen, Reps. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), held a press conference in Washington, DC to call on the U.S. government to offer support to the MEK in an effort to overthrow the Iranian regime. As I wrote in my piece, the lawmakers’ call was rather astonishing given the fact that the U.S. State Department notes the MEK “was responsible for the assassination of several U.S. military personnel and civilians in the 1970’s. Further, as the Council on Foreign Relations observes, “Until 2003 the MEK received funds, arms, and state sponsorship from Saddam Hussein.” Indeed, during the eight year Iran-Iraq war, the MEK even allied itself with the Iraqi dictator’s regime to kill its fellow countrymen, a fact that I noted in the article likely did not endear them to the Iranian public.

And while the MEK's defenders have claimed the group's designation as a terrorist organization was a political gesture meant to appease the Iranian government, the Council on Foreign Relations suggests a less conspiratorial reason: "its attacks have often killed civilians." In fact, the more one reads about the MEK the clearer it becomes the group's exclusion prior to 1997 from the list of groups considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. government was the actual politically motivated decision.

But according to Zucker, had I done my homework and not relied on “an old State Department report” -- dated April 2007 -- I’d have known that the MEK has “renounce[d] violence” since 2001 and is in fact innocent of all terrorism charges. To bolster his case, he cites the benign-sounding “Iran Policy Committee,” which the website Sourcewatch helpfully points out “is a pressure group meant to influence US government policy towards Iran . . . made up of former White House, State Department, Pentagon and CIA officials.” Many of its principals are also “affiliated to AIPAC and its related think tanks," which should give you a good idea of where Zucker is coming from.

Still, Zucker claims that while the MEK did “indeed receive Hussein’s support”, it came “in the form of asylum from the mullah regime in Tehran”, because Saddam was of course well known for protecting political dissidents (he was just that kind of guy). That the MEK was willing to murder their fellow Iranians -- and helped suppress uprisings among Iraq's Shia and Kurdish populations -- I’m sure was just an afterthought.

“It would behoove Davis to study a little bit of Iranian history, at least of the last 30 years, before venturing to write about Iranians”, Zucker continues, taking me to task for following “the regime line that the [MEK] undermined its credibility with the Iranian masses by fighting against the regime in the Iran-Iraq War. However, he fails to explain how the [MEK] has so many supporters inside Iran that it can continually supply the West with revelations about Iran's secret nuclear and missile programs, as well as extensive lists of Iranian agents in Iraq.”

That fighting against one’s own countrymen in a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people might undermine the MEK’s credibility within Iran is not something I feel needs citation, but what the hell. As the Jamestown Foundation notes -- observing the obvious -- “The [MEK’s] alliance with Iraq's former Baathist regime during the Iran-Iraq war was a huge strategic blunder from which they could never hope to recover. The sight of [MEK] forces aiding the Iraqi war effort turned them into perennial traitors in the eyes of most Iranians. This perception of the [MEK] still persists, more than 15 year after the ending of the war.” Put another way, "the MEK is universally hated in Iran," as Mideast professor Juan Cole succinctly puts it.

As for the MEK’s ability to provide the West with “revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear and missile programs,” I'd just point out that the U.S. intelligence community doesn’t actually believe Iran has a secret nuclear program, as Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified to Congress in March and which I’ve pointed out ad nauseam ever since.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the MEK has thanked Zucker for his slavish devotion to the group by inviting him "to Paris to address the 2005 and 2006 President Maryam Rajavi Freedom Convocations," as he notes in his bio. Rajavi is the leader of the MEK and declares herself "Iran's future president for the transitional period following the mullahs' overthrow."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Judge Sotomayor: no threat to the establishment

In his opening statement at Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered a surprising -- and scathing -- indictment of the future Supreme Court justice's record:
She's agreed with Republican colleagues 95 percent of the time. She has ruled for the government in 83 percent of immigration cases, against the immigration plaintiff. She has ruled for the government in 92 percent of criminal cases. She has denied race claims in 83 percent of cases, and has split evenly on employment cases between employer and employee.
Oh wait, that's supposed to be a good thing.

As the inimitable IOZ writes, "the truthteller of the whole circus has been Chuckles Schumer, who reassured us all when he guaranteed that our new justice will reliably side with power, kill orphans, skin puppies, worship at the altar of Molech, etc., etc., gracias, amen."

That a nominee for the state's high court will invariably side with the powerful over the powerless is to be expected -- that's why they've been nominated. It's just refreshing to hear as much so readily admitted by Sotomayor's congressional supporters.

Related: "Judge Sonia Sotomayor Denied My Appeal and I Spent 16 Years in Prison For a Crime I Didn't Commit" (Alternet)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More stimulus? No thanks

I'll leave the debate over whether the U.S. needs a second federal "stimulus" bill to others, but let me just say this: if another massive spending bill means the DC government will be digging up and repaving the road outside my apartment again at three in the morning, then I don't care if we all have to eat cardboard and drink potato juice for the next decade -- no more stimuli!

It should also be noted that several of the roads the DC government is repaving were already in fine shape, having been repaved rather recently, but are being redone because the stimulus money needs to be spent within a matter of months. The government is essentially paying people to dig holes and then refill them, in other words, which doesn't strike me as an all that prudent recipe for economic revitalization.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The casual corruption of the corporate media

Earlier this month Politico's Mike Allen broke the stunning-in-its-brazenness story of The Washington Post promising access to top Obama administration officials and its own journalists to corporate lobbyists in exchange for "sponsorships", to the tune of up to $250,000, of off-the-record "salons" hosted at the home of publisher Katharine Weymouth. This revelation provoked a justifiable outrage even in establishment journalism circles, as news organizations are typically expected to at least maintain the pretenses of editorial independence. But as highlighted by MediaBistro, no such outrage has been forthcoming from Cathy Merrill Williams, publisher of The Washingtonian, a pretentious DC rag that purports to be "the region’s top source of information for dining, shopping, entertainment, and personalities."

Rather, Williams defends the Post's Weymouth for trying "something new" -- "All businesses make mistakes especially when searching for a new business model" -- and takes to task those "sanctimonious", "naval gazing" journalists who "want immunity from thinking about business" and dared criticize the innovative Weymouth for seeking to save the institution of journalism. In the process, however, Williams reveals just how sickeningly incestuous establishment Washington can be; indeed, the entire defense of Weymouth reads as little more than an attempt to get invited to the Post publisher's next cocktail party. Consider the following lines (complete with bullshit non-sequitur) defending the Post's efforts to sell access to "those powerful few", which Williams dismisses as but a harmless attempt to "reinvent an institution in an industry that is crumbling":
The fact is there is a great demand among advertisers to meet in small group settings of all kinds - not just to try to affect legislation, but to sample a new vodka or hear about a resort. Rather than dissect who sent what email when at the Post, perhaps the reports should spend some of their time, energy and talent figuring how to responsibly tap into new revenue streams including live events.
I suppose Williams believes this defense of the coziness between the major news media and their corporate backers exonerates the publishers of elite -- and failing -- publications like her own (she, like Weymouth, is also a legacy hire), but to people outside the DC bubble the idea of journalists and advertisers meeting after hours to sample fancy new liquors and to talk about their recent trips to the French Riviera probably does little to reassure them that the media has their interests at heart, or is even aware of what those interests may be. Also, as a reporter myself, I'm more interested in all that truth-to-power stuff that is noticeably absent from Williams' dissertation on the future of journalism. But I take it that makes me part of the problem.

Still, I guess I should defer to the publisher of The Washingtonian given her publication's storied commitment to journalism, as evidenced by one of its most recent hard-hitting cover stories:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hollywood for ugly people

Can someone explain to me why DC-based publication The Hill persists in the uber-shallow exercise of publishing an annual list of the "50 Most Beautiful People" in Washington?

Not only does it make the paper's publishers look like a bunch of cliquey high school girls -- no offense, high school girls -- but it just drives home the fact that, well, congressional staffers aren't all that attractive. And as hard as DC may try, it not only isn't Hollywood, it ain't even Fresno.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Only the good die young

Reason magazine's Jesse Walker has a great piece on war criminal Robert McNamara, a former Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and a key architect of the Vietnam war who died this week at the age of 93, more or less proving the adage popularized by Billy Joel that only the good die young. An excerpt:
At the Pentagon, McNamara oversaw the escalation of the Vietnam War as though the conflict were an industrial assembly line; he sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers into combat, and he killed countless civilians by bombing Vietnamese villages. In 1968, with growing doubts about the efficacy of those approaches, he jumped to the World Bank. He brought the same technocratic mentality to his duties there, with similarly destructive results: He sponsored vast white-elephant "development projects" whose most notable effect was to evict peasants from their land, and he doled out dollars to dictators from the right-wing regime in Argentina to the Stalinist state in Romania.

By this time you might expect McNamara to have been exiled from polite society. Instead, the worst sanction he suffered came one summer in the '60s when antiwar vacationers on Martha's Vinyard refused to play tennis with him, leaving his household with no partners but McGeorge Bundy's family. With time those old animosities faded, and through it all McNamara stayed atop the World Bank, a job he didn't leave until 1981. It's easy to fall out of favor in the circles of American power, much harder to be expelled from the establishment entirely.
And as Walker concludes, if you think "the old McNamara mentality has died, think again. Obama's best and brightest seem intent on retracing the dead man's footsteps, sending one passel of planners to run the auto industry and another to escalate a war in southern Asia. The Organization Man may belong to an earlier era, but hubris is alive and well." Read the rest.

Hell freezes over: I'm on Twitter

A little part of me died in the process, but I have joined Twitter, despite my earlier snarky misgivings. Go ahead, follow me! And to answer your question: yes, I do kind of hate myself.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The madness continues

After voting for the Iraq war to only claim later she was misled by the Bush administration's allegations Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), one would think former California congresswoman and current Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher would be a bit more careful throwing around inflammatory charges about other countries developing WMDs. At the very least, one would think the State Department's top official dedicated to nonproliferation matters would go to great lengths to ensure that said inflammatory statements comport with the most up-to-date assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, no? Please.

Quite the contrary, at a July 8th hearing of the House Foreign Relations Committee on a proposed deal to share nuclear technology with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Tauscher -- taking her cue from President Obama -- assured lawmakers that the "UAE's expressed commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing capabilities represents a marked contrast to Iran, which has failed to comply with its international obligations and seeks indigenous nuclear capabilities unnecessary for civil nuclear power, but critical for the development of nuclear weapons."

Further, Tauscher noted the supposed concern of some countries in the region "about transfers from or through the UAE of items to Iran that could support its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, the means of their delivery or terrorism-related activity."

Again, for those paying attention at home: the highest ranking intelligence official in the U.S. government, Admiral Dennis Blair, testified under oath to the Senate Armed Services Committee just a few months ago that the U.S. intelligence community does not believe Iran has made the decision to pursue nuclear weapons. The new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) likewise says he has not seen "any evidence" Iran is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by pursuing nukes. Yet not a day seems to go by that the Obama administration ignores this information in favor of inaccurate claims Iran is developing such weapons. And to this day, not one major media organization -- nor one major liberal group, for that matter -- have raised concerns about this administration's blatant and deliberate distortions of intelligence. Who says elections don't change anything?

Meanwhile, on a more positive note, Eni Faleomaveaga, the (non-voting) representative for American Samoa, at the hearing had the temerity to point out the hypocritical spectacle of the five nuclear powers on the UN Security Council -- who he noted regularly flout the requirements of the NPT and other related treaties, citing France's breaking of a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1995 -- in lecturing other countries on the evils of nuclear weapons that they themselves show no signs of giving up.

"How serious are we really in saying that nuclear weapons altogether is something that we ought to get rid of, and yet the five permanent members of the Security Council continue to have these weapons?" Faleomaveaga asked. "Is it any reason why India said, 'Hey, if China has it, why can't I? It's on my borders.' And if India has it, Pakistan raises the issue, 'Why can't I have nuclear weapons?' So this madness continues."

Monday, July 06, 2009

New IAEA chief: no evidence Iran developing nukes

While most Americans were preoccupied lighting sparklers and inhaling hot dogs with more carcinogens than a pack of unfiltered cigarettes, Yukiya Amano, the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was busy throwing cold water on the oft-repeated claim that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, an assertion made so often by the Obama and Bush administrations that it has been accepted as something of an undisputed fact by much of the media, despite the lack of actual evidence (so much for journalists learning from the Iraq debacle).

Asked in an interview with Reuters whether he believes Tehran is "seeking nuclear weapons capability", Amano, whose election was favored by Western governments including the U.S., replied, "I don't see any evidence in IAEA official documents" suggesting that's the case. Likewise, the most recent IAEA report filed in June states that "the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran"; that is, there is no evidence Iran is developing anything other than a civilian nuclear energy program, in accordance with its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

President Barack Obama, however, at a July 6th press conference in Moscow, indicated that he rejects the view of the IAEA -- and his own Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair -- that Iran's nuclear program is civilian in nature, telling reporters:
In the Middle East, there is deep concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear-weapons capability -- not simply because of one country wanting nuclear weapons, but the fact that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, it is an almost -- it is almost certain that other countries in the region would then decide to pursue their own programs.
Strangely, Obama made no mention of Israel's covert nuclear weapons program and its possession of several hundred nukes and how that may fuel a nuclear arms race in the region, choosing instead to single out a country which is a signatory to the NPT and is entitled to enrich uranium for a civilian nuclear energy program. Israel is one of a handful of countries -- India and Pakistan among them; all U.S. allies -- that has not signed on to the NPT.

Obama also didn't mention that, in order to develop nukes, as Reuters notes, "Iran would have to adjust its enrichment plant to yield bomb-ready nuclear fuel and miniaturize the material to fit into a warhead -- steps that could take from six months to a year or more, analysts say. It would also have to kick out IAEA inspectors and leave the NPT."

But facts long ago ceased to be relevant in any discussions about Iran's nuclear program, taking a backseat to gut feelings and fear-inducing speculation. In an admiral display of honesty, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, for instance, recently admitted to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that while, yes, the U.S. intelligence community has no evidence Iran is developing nukes and actually believes any such program to do so ended years ago, such intelligence estimates "focus on what we know, [and] I’m concerned about what Iran might be doing that we don’t know."

It wasn't so long ago that Obama was singing a different tune about Iran, though. As a presidential candidate, he campaigned on engaging Iran diplomatically, even citing the view of the U.S. intelligence community that Iran isn't developing nukes back when it served a useful purpose: bashing President Bush. Indeed, after the release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, Obama argued that the estimate's finding that "Iran halted its nuclear weapon development program four years ago" completely undercut Bush's doomsday talk of a third world war and "makes a compelling case for less saber-rattling and more direct diplomacy."

Obama added that the juxtaposition of the National Intelligence Estimate with the Bush administration's talk of an imminent Persian nuclear threat "serves as an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force."

Since he made the statement as a candidate and took office this past January, nothing has changed with respect to the U.S. intelligence community's view that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, as Obama's top intelligence official made clear at a congressional hearing in March. The IAEA also continues to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities and verify the non-diversion of nuclear material. What has changed is power and who holds it.

As a president, Obama has every reason to play up the threat posed by external enemies; it not only allows him to deflect claims from the domestic jingo set that he is "weak" on defense, but it's also incredibly useful for an administration that shows every sign of seeking to centralize and expand its own power -- warning of the specter of swarthy foreigners hell-bent on nuking freedom being a rather effective means of convincing most people that they Need To Be Protected. That's all the more reason for members of Congress and the media to heed the advice of Obama the candidate and view the president's claims of Iranian development of weapons of mass destruction with at least a modicum of skepticism, especially given the way breathless allegations concerning a certain neighboring country's development of WMDs panned out.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Congressmen call for supporting terrorism in Iran

Late last month two U.S. congressmen -- Democrat Bob Filner and Republican Dana Rohrabacher -- declared the American government should be doing more to back the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) in an effort to affect regime change in Iran, despite the fact that the MEK is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.

Here's an excerpt from my latest piece for on the lawmakers' call:
[C]iting the internal unrest in Iran over last month’s disputed presidential election and the fact that an invasion "is not an option today," Filner said the U.S. government should be doing much more to support "one of the biggest resistance groups in Iraq, the so-called MEK.
"They say, ‘Let us do the job; get out of our — just get out of our way,’ because we have not helped the internal resistance movements," Filner said. "We can help internal resistance movements in Iran, and we should not stand in their way of trying to get rid of the present regime."
Joining Filner in the call for greater U.S. support for the MEK was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who briefly fought alongside the Afghan mujahideen in their war against the Soviet Union. Though declared "freedom fighters" by the Reagan administration, the mujahideen proved to be fertile recruiting grounds for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Conceding that, like the Afghan mujahideen, the MEK is not "perfect," Rohrabacher said that "during the American revolution there were a lot of imperfect organizations around too. But the fact is, the mullahs are what now — they are the ones who are murdering their people. They are the ones who are threatening world peace."
Rohrabacher also rejected the premise of a question about whether overt U.S. support for terrorist groups opposed to the Iranian government might undermine future U.S.-Iran negotiations.
"Who wants to cooperate with Hitler or the mullahs who are murdering their own people? We don’t want to cooperate with those bums," Rohrabacher responded. "They’re murdering their people. They’re threatening to blow people up with nuclear weapons. We don’t want any — to establish a relationship with the mullahs that’s going to make it more cooperative with them."
Read the rest.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Washington Post: neither serious nor credible

Earlier this week the Israeli military seized a boat containing humanitarian supplies for the people of Gaza. Here's Reuters noting the seizure likely constitutes a violation of international law, according to the United Nations:
GENEVA, July 2 (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights investigator on Thursday called Israel's seizure of a ship carrying relief aid for the Gaza Strip "unlawful" and said its blockade of the territory constituted a "continuing crime against humanity".

Israeli authorities on Tuesday intercepted the vessel, which was also carrying 21 pro-Palestinian activists, and said it would not be permitted to enter Gaza coastal waters because of security risks in the area and its existing naval blockade.

Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the move was part of Israel's "cruel blockade of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza" in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting any form of collective punishment against "an occupied people".
In contrast, here's the pay-to-play Washington Post's intrepid reporting on the seizure:
Somehow we didn't think we had seen the last of Cynthia McKinney.

The former controversial congresswoman from Georgia has resurfaced - on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea trying to deliver supplies to Gaza.
Israeli forces arrested McKinney and other passengers on board the ship, according to a group called Free Gaza, which said on its Web site that McKinney and the others "have been illegally incarcerated for their solidarity work with Palestine."

The Israeli Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta, however, accused McKinney and her fellow travelers of waging a "reckless political stunt."

McKinney ran for president in 2008 as a Green Party candidate. She was defeated for reelection to the House in 2006, not long after she was accused of punching a Capitol Police officer who mistook her for a tourist. She had made a brief comeback after being defeated in 2002, at which time her father said he blamed the "J-E-W-S" for his daughter's defeat.
One news outlet treats the story with the appropriate seriousness an alleged crime against humanity deserves. The preferred news outlet of the Washington establishment, on the other hand, treats it as nothing more than an amusing what-is-that-crazy-Cynthia-McKinney-up-to-now story. Naturally, the Post is the same paper that believes disgraced -- but never confirmed -- former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and angry walrus lookalike John Bolton should be allowed to spew on their Op-Ed page debunked talking points about an Iranian nuclear weapons program to justify a preemptive military strike without ever once mentioning that, you know, the U.S. intelligence community and the International Atomic Energy Agency say such a program doesn't actually exist.

Similarly, I noted in 2007 how the Post completely ignored credible allegations the Bush administration was backing terrorist groups in Iran in an effort to destabilize the regime. Though then-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller in an interview with me at the time said he did not dispute that the administration was capable of funding terrorists -- and doing so in a way so as to avoid the oversight of his committee -- the Post chose not to publish a single word about the allegation. Yet the Post did allow Dana Milbank to spend 800-plus words mocking Dennis Kucinich for caring about things and being short, though. Priorities.