Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Militarization Of Our Police


The Militarization of American Police

By Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut ( is senior editorial writer and a columnist for the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, California.

In the summer of 2006 a frail, troubled 18-year-old girl named Ashley MacDonald ran through a nearly empty Huntington Beach, California, city park in the early morning holding a small knife. An onlooker called the police and soon two large male officers showed up. They shot the girl to death with 18 bullets, claiming she had lunged toward them and put their lives in danger. It was just another day for law enforcement in suburban Orange County, where—despite low crime rates—police have become increasingly aggressive and militaristic.

The MacDonald killing sparked an unusual amount of public outrage. This shooting, in particular, was hard to grasp. An empty park and a tiny teenager hardly make for a life-threatening situation for the officers. Couldn’t they just have backed away and used nonlethal alternatives such as pepper spray? The police admitted that they were readying a beanbag gun in the parking lot when the officers claimed that “time ran out.”

Angry that anyone would question their “split-second decisions,” the law enforcement “community” said it was wrong to jump to conclusions before the details of the investigation were complete. The sheriff defended the police publicly before any investigation even started, so he apparently was jumping to conclusions, but never mind. The consensus: calm down and wait for the department to see what happened.

I called the Huntington Beach Police Department (HBPD) and asked for the completed reports for two other high-profile officer-involved deadly shootings from 2001 and 2004. In the one case a troubled man reportedly with a toy gun was shot 29 times and bullets riddled several houses behind him. In another case, officers followed a suspect, lost track of him, and then started following a different man, 18-year-old Antonio Saldivar. Police shot him to death after they claimed he pulled a toy gun on them. The officer who shot Saldivar, by the way, has a disturbing disciplinary history, including allegations of excessive force.

Plenty of time had passed, so the reports should have been completed in those two cases. Well, the HBPD said I could have neither report because both are exempt from the California Public Records Act. What a great Catch-22: the public has no right to comment on police shootings until the investigation is complete, but once it is complete the public has no right to see the report.

In the teenaged girl’s case district-attorney (DA) investigators ultimately prepared a report arguing that the officers had “no choice” but to shoot. The DA’s office did not conduct any of its own interviews with witnesses. Investigators simply took the reports produced by the sheriff’s department, which detailed a “perfect storm” scenario: the police were backed up against a fence with nowhere to go; the girl lunged toward them; officers gently implored her to back away but reluctantly shot her as she intruded on their 21-foot safety barrier.

Although a local newsweekly easily found witnesses who stridently disputed that account, the DA was content with what it found. No Orange County district attorney has ever filed charges against police officers for an on-duty shooting, which is typical of most DAs. And district attorneys, by the way, only look at whether officers committed a crime—whether they fired the shots with criminal intent. But no one thinks there was criminal intent. DAs do not look at police procedures, and the newspapers were quick to find police training officials who declared that the officers “did what they are trained to do.”

That’s what is so worrisome.

As the MacDonald case reveals, despite many official oversight channels and processes, there is no serious oversight of police behavior. Law enforcement writes the rules of engagement, investigates its own officers, and has a well-oiled public-relations machine that kicks in whenever something disturbing takes place. District attorneys and grand juries are part of the law-enforcement establishment, and politicians usually defend the “heroic” officers. No information gets out until the family files a civil lawsuit against the department. No one ever discusses police policy, which is an internal matter.

Typical Shooting

Yet the MacDonald shooting is sadly typical. Here’s an Orange County Register report about a 2004 incident: “Robert Velarde said his son Jason stood beside the bed and appeared to freeze out of fear when four police officers, their guns drawn, entered the room the night of May 10. ‘They told him to drop the scissors. I told him to drop the scissors. He didn’t look like he could let them go, so I wrestled to take them away,’ said Velarde, a quadriplegic with partial use of his arms. . . . ‘Then one officer yelled ‘knife’ and they all fired,’ Velarde, 62, said. His son, Jason Velarde, 22, was killed.”

In September 2007, a 15-year-old autistic teen went missing. The mother called the sheriff’s department, which, she said, did nothing to help find him. Ten hours later, someone reported that a man was wandering around a busy street. It was the missing teen. Deputies responded by tasering the teen and then handcuffing him. The teen’s father said his son was tasered when he already was on the ground and that the deputies treated him roughly as he tried to comply with their orders. The sheriff’s department alternately claimed that the deputies had no choice but to taser the boy because they feared he might have a weapon and that they tasered him to protect him from himself.

In one case I recall several years ago, Anaheim police went to arrest an elderly doctor for a nonviolent crime. They drove one of those mini-tanks into his wealthy suburban neighborhood, black-clad SWAT-team members hanging onto the sides clutching high-powered rifles. (SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics.)

Police often tell me, “Our only concern is getting home safely at the end of the day.” Such statements reveal two common traits in modern police forces. The first is an outsized sense of danger. In reality, police work isn’t in the top ten dangerous professions, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indeed, no government job is in the top ten. The second attitude is the self-centered nature of police work. Concern for the public takes a backseat to concern for “officer safety.”

Police officials always depict their officers as reluctant warriors who rarely, if ever, use or even brandish their weapons. But this is a fiction from the past. Officers tell me the old-school guys are mostly gone and that the new breed of cop has a military mentality and often a military background. The SWAT-team members are the ones who do the training and get promoted to top positions in the departments.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that police are far from reluctant to pull their weapons or feel much remorse when they do. After Riverside police gunned down a sleeping girl named Tyisha Miller in a car in 1998 (she had a gun in her lap, was unconscious, and after police smashed her window, she moved and they immediately opened fire), the officers involved in the shooting stood around, joked, and animatedly reenacted the shooting, according to Los Angeles Times reports. One of the officers commented, “This is going to ruin their Kwanzaa,” after upset family members showed up at the scene. One local man arrived at the scene of another officer-involved shooting and reported that the police were high-fiving each other.

In another recent local case, a Costa Mesa police officer admitted pulling a gun on a teenager after the officer noticed that the boy and his friends were riding their bikes without helmets. He chased the boy into the boy’s backyard and drew his gun. After the boy’s dog came to defend him, the officer shot the dog 15 times. The city paid the family a large sum of money, but the police department insists the officer’s behavior was correct police policy. That’s perhaps the scariest part of this whole disreputable incident.

Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, now a scholar at the Hoover Institution, captured the essence of the problem in a November 29, 2006, column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. McNamara focused on an incident a few days earlier in New York, when several plainclothes police officers fired 50 shots at a car, wounding two men and killing a third, Sean Bell, who was to be married later that day.

How did this and other cases like it happen?

“Simply put,” wrote McNamara, “the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on ‘officer safety’ and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.”

According to McNamara, “Reasonable people accept that a cop’s job is difficult and dangerous, and most people understand that sometimes an officer will have to shoot someone. But the police are not and should never be allowed to think of themselves as soldiers or to believe they face the same level of danger.”

That’s exactly right. Even worse, there is virtually no public oversight or accountability, not only for police who follow these new policies and kill or hurt citizens, but for police who act outside proper authority and abuse their power. In Orange County, deputies spend about seven years patrolling the jail before being sent out onto the streets of our cities. Some critics wonder whether the experience dealing with prisoners leads at least some officers to treat members of the public with a high level of disdain. While police militarization is a problem on city streets, it is even worse for anyone under police custody.

Beaten by Inmates

In March of 2006, John Derek Chamberlain, who was stopped by an officer for public urination then arrested after he was found to possess child pornography, was savagely beaten to death for 20 minutes by fellow inmates. The Register reported that “[w]hile inmates beat John Derek Chamberlain to death, the senior deputy at the minimum-security barracks sat in the guard station, watching television. . . . The deputies’ failure to prevent the torture and killing of a man thought by jail inmates to be a child molester is at the center of an ongoing criminal inquiry.”

An inmate claims the deputy, who was several feet from the beating, actually instigated it after falsely outing Chamberlain as a child molester. Before any investigation was done, the county sheriff declared that his deputies did nothing wrong. Although other agencies typically investigate these killings, the sheriff’s department took charge of the investigation itself and even “cleaned up” the scene before the county supervisors’ staff arrived. The department refused to give the inmate a lie-detector test to corroborate his accusations. According to many solid sources, a group of deputies that calls itself “The Psycho Crew” routinely inflicts rough justice on inmates, picking particularly on minorities and drunks. The department denies this, but county taxpayers end up paying civil settlements to abused victims.

The Chamberlain case led to enough of a public outcry that the county board of supervisors voted to take the first steps toward creating an independent oversight panel. The sheriff, DA, and deputies’ union have tried to derail the proposal. It has been approved but the current plan, although useful, would create only a few advisory responsibilities. And, under current state law, almost all information regarding the disciplinary records of deputies and police are off-limits to civilian oversight panels, the public, and the media. As the American Civil Liberties Union explained, “On August 29, 2006, the California Supreme Court in Copley Press v. Superior Court held that records of an administrative appeal of sustained misconduct charges are confidential and may not be disclosed to the public. The decision prevents the public from learning the extent to which police officers have been disciplined as a result of misconduct.”

Police supporters claim the public already has plenty of oversight. But observers always find the same pattern: The internal investigations are not public, and the deputies stay on the force with no obvious punishment. The DA exonerates the deputies. The grand jury only gets involved in the most highly publicized cases, and such juries are controlled by the DA and represent a narrow, conservative demographic. (Around here, it’s mostly retired government workers who can afford to spend half their day working at the court for virtually no pay.) When a member of the public files a complaint with a police or sheriff’s department, it typically takes months to hear anything back. Then the only legal requirement is for the agency to say whether the complaint was “sustained” or “not sustained.” Such complaints are rarely sustained.

Code of Silence

Even when police engage in obvious misbehavior, fellow officers stand by the miscreants. There’s a well-known “code of silence.” Many people have watched the videotape of the savage beating of a barmaid by an off-duty Chicago police officer. The department had to be shamed into filing serious charges, and fellow officers showed up in force in solidarity when their compatriot had his court date. Juries in suburban communities are notoriously conservative, so when a case gets to trial, it’s difficult to convict an ill-behaving cop. In February former Irvine Police Officer David Alex Park went to court for pulling over a woman motorist, threatening to arrest her, but letting her off after she performed a sex act. Park argued that he pulled the victim over for her own safety and that the sex was consensual—as if sex could ever be consensual when an armed police officer has pulled a woman over and threatens to take her to jail.

The jury, however, bought the argument, and Park went free. He did lose his job, however, and the woman received a civil settlement from the city. Indeed, the only real oversight and justice in police-abuse cases comes from trial attorneys who sue police departments. It’s better than nothing, and such actions often dislodge police documents, but it’s a sad day when the only serious oversight of the most powerful government agents most people will encounter comes in the tort system. In many cases when police are caught abusing their power, their union defends them and keeps them on the force.

No wonder police officers behave as if they can do as they please. The Los Angeles Times reported last October 4 that Los Angeles County deputies play a game on the job called “Operation Any Booking,” in which the winner is the deputy who makes the most arrests or most car seizures in a 24-hour period. “It’s just a friendly competition to have a little fun out here,” said the department spokesman. Never mind that such “games” encourage officers to make unnecessary arrests and seizures.

Officers at times behave like they are part of an occupying army, and there are many stories of excessive force that don’t rise to the level of investigations and lawsuits, but are indicative of what’s going on out there. One of the Register’s independent contractors who services newspaper racks in the wee hours of the morning tells about the time recently when he was emptying money from a rack while wearing his newspaper apron and he saw an officer looking at him. Rather than approach and ask him what he was doing, several police cars surrounded him and officers came at him with weapons drawn; he was shoved to the ground, his arms painfully wrenched behind his back, and he was even taunted by an officer. He was let go after a short time, but is this really the way we want our communities policed?

Police officers in California in particular are well paid, so this is not a case of insufficient funds to hire quality candidates, as some people argue. In Orange County the average deputy earns a total salary and benefit package of $111,000 a year. They are eligible to retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their final pay after 30 years of service, guaranteed forever, courtesy of taxpayers. Police agencies in California complain about a hiring shortage. The reason for the shortage is simple: a) rapid increases in retirement benefits have encouraged a large portion of local forces to retire; and b) unions are always lobbying cities to provide more police positions, and politicians often comply for political reasons. Who can say no? Police and deputies, after all, have been afforded near-hero status following the 9/11 attacks. And the media often provide photo ops for their anti-terrorism training exercises, so the public knows about the importance of their work. In a recent political battle police organizations made direct references to 9/11 as a reason to oppose any rollback of benefits. Politicians who go against the blue tide pay a heavy political price.

There’s no apparent limit to the political gains that can be made by pandering to the “law and order” crowd. Last June the Assembly Public Safety Committee considered a bill that would have overturned the Copley decision and restored some public oversight to police misbehavior. The room was filled with police officers speaking out against it. The cops told emotional stories about police officers being killed in the line of duty—even though news reports later revealed that none of the examples had anything to do with the release of public records. The committee could not muster a single Democratic or Republican vote for the bill. In the state legislature Democrats mostly oppose such reforms because of their ties to the unions, and Republicans mostly oppose such bills because of their commitment to “law and order.” It’s the perfect scenario for law enforcement, and a troubling one for the public.

Yet something needs to be done. While I was writing this article, the Santa Ana police gunned down an apparently unarmed man in a stolen car, and then shut down the freeway for five hours. The department would say nothing, according to the Los Angeles Times: the police spokesman “referred questions to the district attorney’s office, which investigates officer-related shootings. A spokeswoman declined to discuss the probe, citing district attorney policy.” And so it goes.

Police use deadly force at their discretion. Police agencies then investigate themselves. They release only the information they choose to release. Few politicians are willing to discuss police procedures, and the courts and legislatures uphold the “right” of police agencies to hide information about misbehaving officers. In California, police have a special officer’s “bill of rights.” America may not be a police state—that is, a political system characterized “by an arbitrary exercise of power by police”—but it’s getting too close for comfort.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Obama's Influence Already Being Felt....

Hurricane Barack's, like Katrina's, influence is being felt long before landfall. Wonder if the Rethugs are paying the same amount of attention .OK, already! Only kidding!

I must confess to my with my fellow's: There is a a part of me that likes Barack Obama, a lot. Then, there is another part of me that is scared-witless, eyes wide-open, but then that's me; the story of my life.....

My dualism-based toxic mind has, probably, not a damn thing to do with Barack Obama. It has to do with me and me alone. Barack, it seems is, other than a presidential candidate, a kind of bell weather for me.

Even though I plan to vote for him in November, how fast do my eyes pop open in great concern when I hear someone say he has heard that Barack is a Marxist. Yep, eyes pop open and then narrow. "Are you kidding, I ask, only because the guy saying this is not just anyone, but my much beloved older cousin? "No," says he, "heard it on the radio." (We both live in the Southland now, as we did as middle schoolers but now, a state apart. We are still, nonetheless, world travelers....that whole side of our family is like that. While 3% of Americans owned a valid passport in mid-2003, my cousins and I have a 100% rating and did so long before the latest financial burden on the middle class; now, one must have a passport to go to Canada or Mexico, the islands, central and South America.

Is Obama a Marxist? I don't think so, but as always, when I hear anything like that, I'm gonna check it out.

DNC: No More Contributions from Federal Lobbyists

June 05, 2008 7:44 AM

It's been less than two days since he crossed the delegate threshold to become the Democratic presidential nominee and Sen. Barack Obama's mark on the party is already being felt.

On Good Morning America Thursday, ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos reported "the Democratic National Committee will no longer accept contributions from federal lobbyists, will no longer take contributions from PACs" in keeping with Obama's well-publicized policy.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Are We Not All Responsible To See That Justice Is Done?


By Monica Benderman

02/06/08 "ICH" -- - Earlier this week I was put in contact with the mother of a young Iraq veteran. Michael is twenty years old, with experiences no young person should have to face.

Michael chose to serve in the National Guard. Michael returned from Iraq with more than one medal for his service. But after a year long tour at Abu Ghraib, Michael returned with more than just medals – he brought a storehouse of experiences no person of good conscience could ever erase and this young man was not equipped with the tools he needed to quiet his mind and forget the reality of those memories.

Michael was not lost in the system. He received, and continues to receive counseling from the VA for his combat stress. He has the support of his command who has acknowledged the intense conditions under which Michael served. His family has watched over him, supported him and many in his community have embraced him. In the end, war has taken its toll. Michael faces a trial this week and this decorated young veteran, after choosing to serve his country at war, now stands to add years in prison to the list of obstacles his choices have given him.

Michael could not erase the horrors of what he saw in Iraq. Michael is proud of his service – a soldier committed to supporting the soldiers he has served with because he knows firsthand just how much each has given. Even more, Michael knows just how much understanding they now need. The medications couldn’t hide the memories, and the intoxicating effects of the 70 proof contents of a simple glass bottle couldn’t hide them either, bringing instead even greater heartache and the endless nightmare of a lifetime of regrets.

Michael lost his childhood in Iraq and returned to lose one remaining connection to better times when his attempt at self-medicating failed and his best friend lost his life in an accident Michael’s intoxication caused.

Politicians stand at podiums and talk about the cost of war.

Anti-war advocates preach from microphones and bullhorns on the steps of our nation’s capitol, outside city halls across the country and in parades down main streets in every middle-American community that they can reach.

Ignorant commentators issue harsh criticism of those who have volunteered, lashing out at the naiveté of the men and women who stood for what they believed, who acted in good faith and with trust for the words of commanders who had sworn not to abuse the lives entrusted to their leadership, as if those commentating had some higher enlightenment of right and wrong when more often than not they have never stood for anything more than photo opportunities.

Documentaries have been made showing bullet holes piercing the bodies of children no more than one year old; lives lost before they even knew to be afraid.

Many veterans have returned to offer public witness to their horrors while others have simply walked away in painful silence.

Americans shake their heads at the terrible effects of a natural rage – tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires and floods destroying lives across the world – pity for the masses of people left homeless, sending care packages as a way to alleviate their guilt for not knowing the reality of what so many others have had to face. How many Americans turn a blind eye to the horrible effects of their own insatiable greed and ignorance for the truth of being human?

We blame our faults on the evil in the world – the evil side of a creator who gave us peace hoping we would know what to do with it; now standing watch as we pretend to have no control over the destruction we alone have caused.

Intellectuals congregate and discuss the psychological reasons for our lack of humanity.

Evangelicals shout from the mountaintops – “We MUST be afraid!”

A soldier stands alone as the chaos swirls around him – wondering “what have I done, where have I gone and how will I ever get back home?”

Wars come and go. Men and women die. Children are born. Economies falter, homes are lost, families are destroyed and futures questioned. The world circles and the cycles repeat themselves as a veteran generation remembers, issuing warnings of caution to a generation coming; a multitude believing themselves to be stronger against the tide than those who came before. As another generation grows old learning that life happens in spite of the effort to control it, the repeated cycles of chaos and division are nothing more than giant spinning wheels churning the mud in a mad attempt to veil the simplicity of the answers to questions most don’t even realize they are asking.

We know the prize; we talk about the dream, the vision, the goal. We paint it with psychedelic colors, glorify it in song, with poetic phrases; holding hands and lighting candles in the hope we can call it to the center of our circle, enjoined arms wrapping tightly to keep it from escaping our grasp. But it is not meant to be held, it is meant to be given with no obligation and no expectations. How long before we finally understand?

The war is coming home and still Americans don’t fully comprehend what we are about to receive.

We will reap what we have sown.

Michael gave what he believed was needed as he stood in response to what he felt called to do. Michael has paid a heavy price; more than any young man should have to pay. It is only the beginning, and a long jail sentence will not bring justice for an accident caused by something far more deadly than driving while intoxicated, with a responsibility shared by thousands who will never realize the cost of their complacency.

Michael, and thousands of others who will return from war to face their own storehouse of demons, deserve people to stand boldly in defense of what is right and just. They deserve people to work together to bring the changes we all need to help our world move a little closer to the goal of peace.

Michael stands to go to trial this week, but Michael should not be standing alone. Every citizen who has not yet stood to see that justice is served in the name of peace shall bear responsibility for what we all are about to receive.

Aren’t we all responsible when a veteran returns from a war we allowed to happen, with a storehouse of experiences whose demons he is powerless to silence?

Aren't we all responsible for ensuring that true justice is served?

Monica is a senior care advocate. Her husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war. She continues to work within their community to promote resources for veterans and the elderly.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

And The Winner Is...The Israel Lobby

And I, for one, am getting sick of it. This is what made so many Muslims and Arabs think that Israel had something to do with 9/11. Well, that and the dancing, celebrating Israelis on that roof top in New Jersey.

(As far as I know, they were released and as far as I know, from emails I get, Muslims and others, who merely look middle eastern, like Indians for example and Seiks were rounded up. How many are still in custody, I don't know, but some are still being held in American jails, sans habeas corpus or any other constitutional rights. Lawyers from CCR are fighting for them with some luck. I wish there was something I could do to help, but I'm broke most of the time, after bills, mortgage payments, car payment and grocery shopping, and I'm certainly not a lawyer.

They knew damn well who was going to benefit from the evil of that day. Egyptians I talked to said that what Osama did was wrong according to the Koran and the Sharia, hitting the towers and killing civilians; women and children. They watched T.V. in horror, silent, their minds flying. This means real trouble. Surely no Muslim did this thing. It was hard for them to believe.

Is there any wonder that many Muslims believe that Israel had something to do with 9/11 and the anthrax attacks?

By Pepe Escobar

02/06/08 "
Asia Times" -- - WASHINGTON - They're all here - and they're all ready to party. The three United States presidential candidates - John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Madam House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Most US senators and virtually half of the US Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And a host of Jewish and non-Jewish political and academic heavy-hitters among the 7,000 participants.

Such star power wattage, a Washington version of the Oscars, is the stock in trade of AIPAC - the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the crucial player in what is generally known as the Israel lobby and which holds its annual Policy Conference this week in Washington at which most of the heavyweights will deliver lectures.

Few books in recent years have been as explosive or controversial as The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, written by Stephen Walt from Harvard University and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago, published in 2007. In it, professors Walt and Mearsheimer argued the case of the Israeli lobby not as "a cabal or conspiracy that 'controls' US foreign policy", but as an extremely powerful interest group made up of Jews and non-Jews, a "loose coalition of individuals and organizations tirelessly working to move US foreign policy in Israel's direction".

Walt and Mearsheimer also made the key point that "anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-Semite". Anyone for that matter who "says that there is an Israeli lobby" also runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism.

I am beyond caring what they call me. Right now we need to be focused on the interest of the American people. If we are truly a Democracy, why in the hell are we supporting any religious state, period?

All the candidates in the House say yeah

Republican presidential candidate McCain is opening this year's AIPAC jamboree; Clinton and Obama are closing it on Wednesday. Walt and Mearsheimer's verdict on the dangerous liaisons between presidential candidates and AIPAC remains unimpeachable: "None of the candidates is likely to criticize Israel in any significant way or suggest that the US ought to pursue a more evenhanded policy in the region. And those who do will probably fall by the wayside."

Take what Clinton said in February at an AIPAC meeting in New York: "Israel is a beacon of what's right in a neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism, despotism and terrorism." A year before, Clinton was in favor of sitting and talking to Iran's leadership.

And take what Obama said in March at an AIPAC meeting in Chicago; no reference at all to Palestinian "suffering", as he had done on the campaign trail in March 2007. Obama also made it clear he would do nothing to alter the US-Israeli relationship.

No wonder AIPAC is considered by most members of the US Congress as more powerful than the National Rifle Association or the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

AIPAC has explicit Zionist roots. The founder, "Si" Kenen, was head of the American Zionist Council in 1951. The body was reorganized as a US lobby - the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs - in 1953-4, and then renamed AIPAC in 1959. Under Tom Dine, in the 1970s, it was turned into a mass organization with more than 150 employees and a budget of up to US$60 million today. Dine was later ousted because he was considered not hawkish enough.

The top leadership - mostly former AIPAC presidents - is always more hawkish on the Middle East than most Jewish Americans. AIPAC only dropped its opposition to a Palestinian state - without endorsing it - when Ehud Barak became Israeli prime minister in 1999.

AIPAC keeps a very close relationship with an array of influential think-tanks, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Hudson Institute, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Middle East Forum, the The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Sprinkled neo-cons in these think-tanks can be regarded as a microcosm of the larger Israel lobby - Jews and non-Jews (It's important to remember that Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and five other neo-cons drafted the infamous "A Clean Break" document to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 - the ultimate road map for hardcore regime change all over the Middle East.)

The house that AIPAC built

AIPAC in the US Congress is a rough beast indeed. Former president Bill Clinton defined it as "stunningly effective". Former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich called it "the most effective general-interest group across the entire planet". The New York Times as "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel". Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, before his involvement in a corruption scandal, said. "Thank God we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend we have in the whole world."

AIPAC maintains a virtual stranglehold over the US Congress. Critics of the Israel lobby other than Walt and Mearsheimer also contend that AIPAC essentially prevents any possibility of open debate on US policy towards Israel. Compare it with a 2004 report by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, according to which "Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies".

Well, that was before the debacle in Iraq. Many more Muslims hate us now than before.

AIPAC should not be crossed. It rewards those who support its agenda, and punishes those who don't. In the end, it's all about money - specifically campaign contributions. From 2000 to 2004, according to the Washington Post, AIPAC honchos contributed an average of $72,000 each to campaigns and political committees. For pro-AIPAC politicians, money simply pours from all over the US.

Every member of the US Congress receives AIPAC's bi-weekly newsletter, the Near East Report. Walt and Mearsheimer stress that Congressmen and their staff "usually turn to AIPAC when they need info; AIPAC is called upon to draft speeches, work on legislation, advise on tactics, research, collect co-sponsors and marshal votes".

Hillary Clinton has learned long ago she should not cross AIPAC. Clinton used to support a Palestinian state in 1998. She even embraced Suha Arafat, Yasser's wife, in 1999. After much scolding, she suddenly became a vigorous defender of Israel, and years later wholeheartedly supported the 2006 Israeli war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Clinton may have gotten the bulk of Jewish American donations for her 2008 presidential campaign.

Rice also learned about facts on the ground. She tried to restart the eternally moribund "peace process" when visiting the Middle East in March 2007. Before the trip, she got an AIPAC letter signed by no less than 79 US senators telling her not to talk to the new Palestinian unity government until it "recognized Israel, renounced terror and agreed to abide by Palestinian-Israeli agreements".

AIPAC and Iraq

It has become relatively fashionable for some members of the Israeli lobby to deny any involvement in the build-up towards the war on Iraq. But few remember what AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr told the New York Sun in January 2003: "Quietly lobbying Congress to approve the use of force in Iraq was one of AIPAC's successes over the past year."

And in a New Yorker profile of Steven Rosen, AIPAC's policy director during the run-up to the war on Iraqi, it was stated that "AIPAC lobbied Congress in favor of the Iraqi war".

Compare it with a 2007 Gallup study based on 13 different polls, according to which 77% of American Jews were opposed to the Iraq war, compared to 52% of Americans.

Walt and Mearsheimer contend "the war was due in large part to the lobby's influence, and especially its neo-con wing. The lobby is not always representative of the larger community for which it often claims to speak."

AIPAC and Iran

Now it is Iran time. Walt and Mearsheimer contend "the lobby is fighting to prevent the US from reversing course and seeking a rapprochement with Tehran. They continue to promote an increasingly confrontational and counterproductive policy instead". Not much different from the embattled Olmert, who told Germany's Focus magazine in April 2007 that "it would take 10 days ... and 1,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles" to set back Iran's nuclear program.

A measure of Walt and Mearsheimer's power to rattle reputations is that the Zionist establishment had to bring out all its big guns to refute their argument, again and again.

Walt and Mearsheimer are no ideologues. They are realpolitik practitioners - very much at ease in the top circles of US foreign policy establishment. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of their book is that they argued four points that the establishment never mentions in public. Essentially these are:

  • The US has already won its major wars in the Middle East, against Arab secular nationalism and against communism, and does not need Israel quite as much.

  • Israel is now so much more powerful than all Arab nations combined that it can take care of itself.

  • The unconditional support for Israel, regardless of its outrageous deeds, does harm US interests, destabilizes pro-US regimes like Hosi Mubarak's Egypt and King Abdullah's Jordan, and plays into the hands of Salafi-jihadi radicals.
  • Fighting Israel's wars on its behalf is the surefire way to lead to the collapse of US power in the Middle East.

    Walt and Mearsheimer also seem not to accept that oil, and rivalry with Russia and China, have also played a crucial part in why the US went to war in Iraq and may attack Iran in the near future. Anyway only insiders as themselves - with unassailable establishment credentials - could have started, at the highest levels of public debate, a serious discussion of extreme pro-Zionism in the public and political life of the US.

    Meanwhile, the power of the lobby seems unassailable. In March 2007, the US Congress was trying to attach a provision to a Pentagon spending bill that would have required President George W Bush to get congressional approval before attacking Iran. AIPAC was strongly against it - because it viewed the legislation as taking the military option "off the table". The provision was killed. Congressman Dennis Kucinich said this was due to AIPAC.

    AIPAC made a lot of waves in 2002, when the theme of the annual meeting was "America and Israel standing against terror". Everyone bashed Arafat, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria at the same time - just as in PNAC's letter to Bush in April 2002 claiming that Israel was also fighting an "axis of evil" alongside the US.

  • During AIPAC's jamboree in 2004, Bush received 23 standing ovations defending his Iraq policy. Last year, the star was Cheney, making the case for the troop "surge" in Iraq. Pelosi was dutifully present. But it was pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement McCain recently refused, who really made a killing - even though Hagee maintains that "anti-Semitism is the result of the Jews' rebellion against God".

    "I expect Rod Sterling to appear any minute and say, "This is the United States of America. A nation that has just slipped into the Twilight Zone."

    It's gonna be a rough ride, fellow Americans"

    (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

    The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

    Kill Them! We Are Going To Wipe Them Out!

    Presidential Bloodlust

    The Movie-Made War World of George W. Bush
    By Tom Engelhardt

    02/06/08 "Tomdispatch" -- - Here's a memory for you. I was probably five or six and sitting with my father in a movie house off New York's Times Square -- one of the slightly seedy theaters of that dawn of the 1950s moment that tended to show double or triple feature B-westerns or war movies. We were catching some old oater which, as I recall, began with a stagecoach careening dramatically down the main street of a cow town. A wounded man is slumped in the driver's seat, the horses running wild. Suddenly -- perhaps from the town's newspaper office -- a cowboy dressed in white and in a white Stetson rushes out, leaps on the team of horses, stops the stagecoach, and says to the driver: "Sam, Sam, who dun it to ya?" (or the equivalent). At just that moment, the camera catches a man, dressed all in black in a black hat -- and undoubtedly mustachioed -- skulking into the saloon.

    My dad promptly turns to me and whispers: "He's the one. He did it."

    Believe me, I'm awed. All I can say in wonder and protest is: "Dad, how can you know? How can you know?"

    But, of course, he did know and, within a year or two, I certainly had the same simple code of good and evil, hero and villain, under my belt. It wasn't a mistake I was likely to make twice.

    Above all, of course, you couldn't mistake the bad guys of those old films. They looked evil. If they were "natives," they also made no bones about what they were going to do to the white hats, or, in the case of Gunga Din (1939), the pith helmets. "Rise, our new-made brothers," the evil "guru" of that film tells his followers. "Rise and kill. Kill, lest you be killed yourselves. Kill for the love of killing. Kill for the love of Kali. Kill! Kill! Kill!"

    "Wipe Them Out!"

    Kill! Kill! Kill! That was just the sort of thing the native equivalent of the black hat was likely to say. Such villains -- for a modern reprise, see the latest cartoon superhero blockbuster, Iron Man -- were not only fanatical, but usually at the very edge of madness as well. And their language reflected that.

    I was brought back with a start to just such evil-doers of my American screen childhood last week by a memoir from a once-upon-a-time insider of the Bush presidency. No, not former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who swept into the headlines by accusing the President of using "propaganda" and the "complicit enablers" of the media to take the U.S. to war in 2002-2003. I'm thinking of another insider, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. He got next to no attention for a presidential outburst he recorded in his memoir, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, so bloodthirsty and cartoonish that it should have caught the attention of the nation -- and so eerily in character, given the last years of presidential behavior, that you know it has to be on the money.

    Let me briefly set the scene, as Sanchez tells it on pages 349-350 of Wiser in Battle. It's April 6, 2004. L. Paul Bremer III, head of the occupation's Coalition Provisional Authority, as well as the President's colonial viceroy in Baghdad, and Gen. Sanchez were in Iraq in video teleconference with the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Assumedly, the event was recorded and so revisitable by a note-taking Sanchez.) The first full-scale American offensive against the resistant Sunni city of Fallujah was just being launched, while, in Iraq's Shiite south, the U.S. military was preparing for a campaign against cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

    According to Sanchez, Powell was talking tough that day: "We've got to smash somebody's ass quickly," the general reports him saying. "There has to be a total victory somewhere. We must have a brute demonstration of power." (And indeed, by the end of April, parts of Fallujah would be in ruins, as, by August, would expanses of the oldest parts of the holy Shiite city of Najaf. Sadr himself would, however, escape to fight another day; and, in order to declare Powell's "total victory," the U.S. military would have to return to Fallujah that November, after the U.S. presidential election, and reduce three-quarters of it to virtual rubble.) Bush then turned to the subject of al-Sadr: "At the end of this campaign al-Sadr must be gone," he insisted to his top advisors. "At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out."

    Not long after that, the President "launched" what an evidently bewildered Sanchez politely describes as "a kind of confused pep talk regarding both Fallujah and our upcoming southern campaign [against the Mahdi Army]." Here then is that "pep talk." While you read it, try to imagine anything like it coming out of the mouth of any other American president, or anything not like it coming out of the mouth of any evil enemy leader in the films of the President's -- and my -- childhood:

    "'Kick ass!' [Bush] said, echoing Colin Powell's tough talk. 'If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.

    "There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!'"

    Keep in mind that the bloodlusty rhetoric of this "pep talk" wasn't meant to rev up Marines heading into battle. These were the President's well-embunkered top advisors in a strategy session on the eve of major military offensives in Iraq. Evidently, however, the President was intent on imitating George C. Scott playing General George Patton -- or perhaps even inadvertently channeling one of the evil villains of his onscreen childhood.

    American Mad Mullahs

    Let's recall a little history here: In the nineteenth century, Third World leaders who opposed Western imperial control were often not only demonized but imagined to be, in some sense, mad simply for taking on Western might. Throughout the latter part of that century, for instance, the British faced down various "mad mullahs" in North Africa.

    Later, such imagery migrated easily enough to imperial Hollywood and thence into American movie houses. But here was the strange thing: In the Vietnam years, that era of reversals, a president of the United States privately expressed, for the first time, a desire to take on the mantle of madness previously reserved for the enemy in American culture (and undoubtedly many other cultures as well). It was not just that President Richard Nixon's domestic critics were ready to label him a madman, but that, in his desire to end the Vietnam War in a satisfyingly victorious fashion, he was ready to label himself one.

    "I call it the madman theory, Bob," Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman reported the President saying. "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, 'for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry -- and he has his hand on the nuclear button' -- and [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."

    Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser, was equally fascinated with the possible bargaining advantage of having the enemy imagine the President as an evil, potentially world-obliterating madman. "Henry talked about it so much," according to Lawrence Lynn, a Kissinger aide, "… that the Russians and North Vietnamese wouldn't run risks because of Nixon's character." What made this fascination with the idea of a mad president more curious was that it fused with fears held by White House aides and advisers that Nixon, finger on the nuclear button, might indeed be impaired or nearing the edge of derangement. "My drunken friend," "that drunken lunatic," "the meatball mind," or "the basket case," was the way Kissinger referred to him after receiving his share of slurred late night phone calls.

    So, in a historic moment almost four decades ago, a desperate president suddenly found it strategically advisable to present himself to his enemies as a potential nation slaughterer, a world incinerator (and his aides were privately ready to think of him as such); the leader of what was then commonly termed "the Free World," that is, was considering revealing himself as a mad emperor, a veritable Ming the Merciless.

    Skip ahead these several decades and, presidentially, things have only gotten stranger. After all, we now have a president who has openly, even eagerly, faced the world as the Commander-in-Chief of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Extraordinary Rendition, and Offshore Imprisonment; a Vice President who appeared openly on Capitol Hill to lobby against a bill banning torture; and key cabinet members who, from a White House conference room, micromanaged torture, down to specific techniques in specific cases. Talk about Ming the Merciless.

    Back in the 1960s and 1970s, you had one president whose critics would call him a "baby killer" -- "that horrible song" was the way President Lyndon Baines Johnson referred to the antiwar chant, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" -- and another ready to take on the mantle of madness for purposes of private diplomacy; and each was reportedly brought to the edge of private madness while in office. But both were also uncomfortable with imagery of themselves and exceedingly awkward in the televisual world of politics that was already starting to surround them; neither imagined himself "in the movies."

    Last Screen Appearance?

    Usually Ronald Reagan, an actual actor, is seen as the president who spent his time in office playing the role of a lifetime, but, as it happens, he had nothing on George W. Bush. From the moment the attacks of September 11, 2001 gave him his "calling" as a "wartime" president, he has been deeply embroiled in acting out his cartoonish version of the role of the century. In fact, he has often seemed like little more than an overgrown boy plunged into his own war movie and war-play memories.

    Let's remember that, soon after 9/11, this President launched his "crusade, this war on terrorism" with an image of a poster from some generic Western of his childhood. ("Bush offered some of his most blunt language to date when he was asked if he wanted bin Laden dead. 'I want justice,' Bush said. 'And there's an old poster out West… I recall, that said, Wanted, Dead or Alive.'") For years, he visibly glowed when publicly dressing up in a way that was redolent of the boy version of war (that is, doll... er, action figure) play. While Abraham Lincoln never put on a uniform and an actual general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, put his in the closet in his years as president, Bush uniquely and repeatedly appeared in public togged out in military wear, looking for all the world like a life-sized version of the original 12-inch G.I. Joe action figure -- whether "landing" a jet on the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and stepping out in a nifty flight suit, or appearing before massed hooah-ing troops in specially tailored jackets with "George W. Bush, Commander In Chief" carefully stitched across the breast. (In fact, more than one toy company did indeed produce G.I. Joe-style Bush action figures.)

    Evident above all, from September 14, 2001 -- when he climbed that pile of rubble at "Ground Zero" in New York City and, bullhorn in hand, to "USA! USA!" cheers, wiped out the ignominy of his actions on the actual day of the attacks -- was just how much he enjoyed his role as resolute leader of a wartime America. While his Vice President and top advisors were grimly, if eagerly, preparing to whack Saddam Hussein and taking the opportunity to create a permanent commander-in-chief presidency, the President was visibly having the time of his life, perhaps for the first time since he gave up those "wild parties" of his youth.

    A rivulet of telling details about his behavior has flowed by us in these years. We know from Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, for instance, that, after 9/11, Bush kept "his own personal scorecard for the war" in a desk drawer in the Oval Office -- photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured. In July 2003, frustrated by signs that the Sunni insurgency in Iraq wasn't going away, he impulsively offered this bit of bluster to reporters (as if he were the one who would take the brunt of future attacks): "There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on."

    In those moments when he spoke or acted spontaneously, there are plentiful clues that Bush took deep pleasure in finding himself in the role of commander-in-chief, and that he has been genuinely thrilled to do commander-in-chief-like things, at least as once pictured in the on-screen fantasy world of his youth. He was thrilled, for example, to receive from some of the troops who captured Saddam Hussein the pistol that the dictator had with him in his "spiderhole." Back in 2004, TIME Magazine's Matthew Cooper reported: "'He really liked showing it off,' says a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. 'He was really proud of it.' The pistol's new place of residence is in the small study next to the Oval Office where Bush takes select visitors." Similarly, he returned from one of his brief trips to Iraq "inspired" by a meeting with the pilot who shot off the missile that incinerated Bin Laden wannabe Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    On and off throughout these years, you could glimpse just what a cartoon-like white-hat/black-hat persona he imagined himself to be playing. This was true whether he was in his blustery tough-guy mode, as when, in September 2007, he arrived in Australia publicly proclaiming that the U.S. was "kicking ass" in Iraq; or when, as commander-in-chief, he regularly teared up with genuine (movie) emotion as he handed out medals, some posthumous, for bravery; or even when he discussed his own wartime version of "sacrifice" -- he claimed to have given up golf for his war. As he told Mike Allen of "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

    The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin has pointed out that even Bush's callow sacrifice of golf wasn't real -- he kept on playing -- but that hardly matters. What's crucial is that all this real life play-acting still moves, even thrills, him. Recently, for instance, he gave a graduation speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he once again compared Iraq to World War II (and so, implicitly, himself to President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a bust of whom he has kept in the Oval Office all these years). As Associated Press reporter Ben Feller commented: "Bush noted it was his last military academy commencement speech, and he seemed to savor it. He personally congratulated each cadet as cheers bounded across the stadium." Note that word "savor," when linked to the military and his commander-in-chief role. It's been a quality evident in the President's ongoing performance these last seven years. The photos of him goofing around with Air Force Academy graduates after his speech tell the story well.

    In all this, you can sense a man in his own bubble world, engrossed in, and satisfied with, his own performance -- both as actor and, as in childhood, audience. What Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has added to this is the picture of a man who, even in 2004, was already dreaming Vietnam disaster ("This Vietnam stuff… We can't send that message."); who, perhaps sensing that his blockbuster was busting, like Richard Nixon before him, proved willing to mix the white-hat and black-hat codes of his movie childhood in remarkable ways. Under the strain of a failing war, in private and among his top officials, he didn't hesitate to take on that "guru" role and rally his closest followers with a call to kill, kill, kill!

    A confused pep talk indeed. Even if Bush is still exhorting his top officials not to "blink," Americans should. After all, there are almost eight months left to his presidency, and a man of such stunning immaturity, who confuses fantasy with real life, and is given to outbursts of challenge, bluster, and bloodlust should be taken seriously. Nixon's "mad mullah" stayed private until transcripts of the Watergate tapes and memoirs started coming out. For us, the question remains, will this President be able to take a final turn on-screen before his term ends, playing the "mad mullah" in relation to Iran?

    Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture, has recently been updated in a newly issued edition. He edited, and his work appears in, the first best of Tomdispatch book, The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso), which is being published this month.

    [Note for Readers: As far as I know, the key passage in Sanchez's memoirs quoted in this piece was first noticed and commented upon by that indefatigable Iraq reporter, Patrick Cockburn. Unlike the key passages in Scott McClellan's memoir, this one from Sanchez's book has been little attended to. However, Dan Froomkin (cited in this piece), who does the Washington Post's online column, White House Watch, also noted its existence. That's not surprising. He seems never to miss any important development when it comes to the Bush administration. I link to his invaluable column often. As far as I'm concerned, it may be the most striking example of the sort of service a sharp columnist for a major paper can offer in the online world. I find it a daily must-read and recommend it strongly. Finally, if you want to know more about Mad Mullahs, American war movies, and a host of other subjects from World War II through the Iraq War, check out my recently updated book, The End of Victory Culture.]

    Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt

    (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

    The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.