Sunday, August 28, 2011

Egypt: NGOs Accuse Army of Smear Campaign

By William Fisher

Thirty-six of Egypt’s most respected civil society organizations are denouncing Egypt’s military rulers for “conducting organized smear campaigns designed to impugn these groups’ patriotism as well as ongoing attempts to intimidate” them, the organizations said in a statement.

The groups accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of ordering investigations conducted by the State Security Prosecution into “complaints accusing unnamed NGOs and political groups of receiving foreign funds and grants in violation of the law.”

The groups also condemned the authorities’ “manipulation of the media to publicize investigations into associations and political groups accused of receiving US funding without identifying the groups in question.” They added that “it is well known that the majority of US funds have been disbursed as grants to US institutions operating in Egypt in a public, official capacity.”

“These Egyptian organizations and groups, which remain unidentified, have even been accused of high treason—charges that the Mubarak regime did not dare to level at its political enemies or at those organizations that bravely confronted crimes and human rights abuses under his rule,” the statement said.

It declared that “those currently administering the country’s affairs after the January 25 revolution are using the same methods as the Mubarak regime to confront their critics.” It said this “reveals the irritation of the SCAF with the criticisms raised against it, whether directed at its management of the political course of the transitional period or at the grave human rights abuses for which it is responsible.”

The groups said, “These abuses include the widespread use of exceptional military trials—before which more people have been tried in the past six months than in the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule—and the use of the military judiciary to harass revolutionary youth who have criticized SCAF policies.”

In addition, the groups said, “torture continues to be carried out in detention facilities run by the military police and has even reached unprecedented levels, as female political activists face sexual assault by being subjected to forcible virginity tests. Excessive force has also been used on several occasions to disperse sit-ins by political groups and the families of martyrs of the January 25 Revolution.”

“The heart of the dispute between human rights organizations and both the Mubarak regime and the SCAF is not foreign funding,” the groups declared. It is “the critical stances taken by these groups when confronting human rights crimes, both before and after the January 25 Revolution.”

The statement said. “Foreign funding is not prohibited for the state and its institutions or for the official state councils on human rights, women, or children. Nor is foreign funding a sensitive issue for thousands of development associations and charitable groups who receive foreign grants, as the activities of these groups and institutions are not based on a critical evaluation of the performance of the state and its institutions in the sphere of human rights. As such, foreign funding has never been a cause for dispute between the state and these institutions, neither during Mubarak’s rule nor after him.”

The groups charged that the issue of foreign funding was being used “as a tool to isolate and stifle human rights groups in an attempt to undermine their moral position within society or to arbitrarily ban certain activities by drying up funds for them, including anti-torture activities and election monitoring, as occurred during Mubarak’s rule.”

This context, they said, “helps explain why the military police, accompanied by State Security Investigations and hired thugs, raided the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center on February 3, 2011, just one day after the so-called ‘Battle of the Camel’, arrested several lawyers, including the founder of the group well-known attorney Ahmed Seif al-Islam, and detained them in a military camp, along with researchers with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who were meeting at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.”

They added, “It is noteworthy that while the military police were arresting lawyers and researchers on the upper floor, thugs stood outside the door of the building, accusing them of being ‘traitors and agents’.” Although this occurred while Mubarak was still president, these same accusations are now being used in a government smear campaign six months after Mubarak was deposed.

The groups concluded, “Using the pretext of national security to restrict human rights groups and funding for their activities is not an invention of Mubarak or his successors; it is the standard operating procedure of all authoritarian regimes.”

The groups demanded the dismissal of the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Abu al-Naga, and the Minister of Social Solidarity, Gouda Abd al-Khaleq, in light of their “hostile stance to civil society associations, their active role in restricting the activities of these associations, and their yielding to the dictates of the security apparatus.”

They also called for the SCAF to “immediately end the referral of civilians to military courts or any other exceptional investigative bodies, conduct civilian retrials for all those imprisoned based on sentences issued by these courts, and immediately release all prisoners of conscience and drop all charges against them.”

The SCAF must “end the government smear campaign against civil society associations and rights organizations… despite the arsenal of repressive laws used under Mubarak to enforce all manner of supervision and dominance over civil society and political parties.

The organizations also sent their complaint to various United Nations offices responsible for human rights.

The 36 groups include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Association of Researchers in Egyptian Universities and Institutes, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination .

Heels Dug In, Cheney Rewrites History

By William Fisher

Human rights advocates and legal experts are hitting back at statements made by former vice president Dick Cheney in his new book, “In My Time,” that abusive interrogation methods – torture -- yielded information that saved lives and that he had “no regrets” about their use.

Cheney has been unshakable in defense of his decision to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read torture) including waterboarding. “I would strongly support using it again if we had a high value detainee and that was the only way we could get him to talk,’’ he said.

But Human Rights First (HRF), one of the advocacy groups weighing in against the book, said, “The former Vice President has long claimed that abusive interrogation methods yielded information that ultimately saved lives, but national security experts and retired military leaders – including Senator John McCain, CIA Director General David Patraeus and former Marine Corps Commandant General Charles Krulak (Ret.) – disagree.”

Numerous official and private investigations and congressional testimony by an FBI interrogator strongly suggest that conventional interrogation techniques yield far more reliable results.

In conjunction with the release of Cheney’s memoir, HRF is launching an online ad campaign featuring prominent voices denouncing torture and highlighting the detrimental effect it has had on the United States’ anti-terrorism efforts. The ad links to an original 30 second video and will be seen on Google and YouTube, as well as in messages sent by the New York Times’ “Today’s Headlines” and Politico’s “The Huddle.”

“Former Vice President Cheney can write and say whatever he wants, but torture is torture and there’s no disputing the harm its use brought the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino. “Torture eroded the nation’s standing as an international leader in human rights. It undermined our ability to gather reliable intelligence, and it has no place in U.S. national security policy. Two days after he took office, President Obama closed the book on torture and it needs to stay shut.”

Other like organizations expressed similar disapproval of the new memoir, which was released this week.

Amnesty USA said “The failure to hold the architects of policies of torture and disappearance during the ‘global war on terror’ to account remains an enduring stain on the global reputation of the United States. Those most responsible for the shameful abuses at Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and other black sites around the world continue to boast of their ‘accomplishments’ with complete impunity.”

Since leaving office, AI said, “Cheney has been without question the most prominent apologist for the regime of indefinite detention and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ instituted by the Bush administration.

AI has revisited some of the former Vice President’s previous statements to “demonstrate how they contrast not only with the reality of the situation, but also with the United States’ obligations.” For example:

Speaking on September 16, 2001, on NBC’s Meet the Press Cheney “set the tone for the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks. He said ‘We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world… it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective’.”

AI counters with: “As a party to of a wide range of international human rights and international humanitarian law instruments, including the U.N. Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, the United States is simply not free to use ‘any means’ at its disposal – it is constrained by the applicable international law to operate within lawful parameters.”

In an interview with CNN on June 24, 2005, AI says Cheney “spun a rosy picture of conditions in Guantanamo.” ‘We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well treated there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want’."

The reality, says AI, is that “since January 2002, eight inmates have died while in custody at the U.S.-controlled detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six of these deaths have been declared suicides. Hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are known to have engaged in hunger strikes at the prison in protest of conditions and their prolonged confinement without trial.”

AI reminds us that Cheney said in 2005 of the 520 detainees then held at Guantánamo: “Hard-core terrorists is the only way to describe them. They’re unlawful combatants. They’re out to kill Americans. And if you put them back on the streets, that’s exactly what they’ll do… [W]e absolutely need to have a facility like that to house some very violent and evil people.”

It also reminds us that, by the end of President Bush’s second term, his administration had released 525 former Guantanamo detainees without charge. A January 2011 study of some 600 former Guantanamo inmates conducted by the New America Foundation put the recidivism figure at six percent.

Former Vice President Cheney has consistently maintained that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” prevented terrorist attacks and claimed that the release of classified memos would support his claim. In a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in May 2009 Cheney stated: “I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed…The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.”

Amnesty contends that “there is no evidence that hundreds of thousands of lives were saved as a result of the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. In August 2009 a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by Amnesty International and coalition partners resulted in the release of the two CIA memos that the former Vice President had claimed would vindicate his public statements. In fact, the memos confirmed that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information obtained.”

The organization charges that “Information obtained through coercion led directly to one of the greatest intelligence failures of the past decade – the assessment that Iraq posed an imminent security threat to the United States. Suspected Al Qaeda trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where he was tortured. To make his interrogators stop, he told them that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. This intelligence was used in part to justify the Iraq War. No such link existed.”

In an October 2006 interview, former Vice President Cheney told radio host Scott Hennen that authorizing waterboarding was “a no-brainer” and denied that it amounted to torture. Similarly, in a February 2008 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference Cheney told his audience: “The United States is a country that takes human rights seriously. We do not torture – it’s against our laws and against our values.”

Amnesty responds: “Torture is indeed against the law, and water boarding – or simulated drowning – has consistently been considered to be torture under both international and U.S. jurisprudence. At the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, Japanese officials were convicted of torturing captured U.S. pilots by subjecting them to waterboarding. In 1983, Texas sheriff James Parker and his deputies water-boarded a number of prisoners in an effort to elicit confessions. Parker was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for his actions and the judge presiding over the case repeatedly described waterboarding unambiguously as torture in his judgment.”

Amnesty adds, “In April 2009, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee issued the conclusions of its ‘Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody’. Among its findings is that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

The organization makes similar claims regarding the issue of trials before military commissions v. trials in the civilian justice system. Cheney has repeatedly asserted that military commissions are the most appropriate venue for alleged terrorist trials. But Amnesty points out that Federal courts successfully prosecuted 523 terrorism-related defendants between September 11th, 2001, and December 31st, 2009. Approximately 235 defendants are still on trial. About 70 have been acquitted or had charges dismissed. The present conviction rate is 88 percent.

Military commissions have only convicted six people to date, which represents less than one percent of the inmates who have passed through GTMO.

Tom Parker, AI’s policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said in advance of the release of Cheney’s memoir: "One can only hope that former Vice President Cheney’s memoir will not serve as yet another vehicle through which to peddle the same discredited mix of half-baked assertions and dark threats that marked his time in office. These have been comprehensively debunked by every new piece of information that emerges about the Bush administration’s failed counterterrorism policies.

Amnesty is also reiterating its call to US citizens to urge US Attorney General Eric Holder to “immediately open a criminal investigation into the role former President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, and other officials played in the use of torture on detainees held in U.S. government custody.”

A large number of human rights and justice organizations have taken similar positions. These include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the public service law firm that has provided many of the pro bono lawyers who volunteered to defend GTMO inmates. Cheney’s daughter Liz, a former Assistant Secretary of State, has attacked the loyalty of the volunteer lawyers.

Chip Pitts, former president of Amnesty USA, perhaps summed up the deeply held feelings of Cheney's opponents. He told The Public Record, "By debasing the United States and its commitment to the rule of law, encouraging unjustified yet devastatingly expensive and corrupt foreign wars, and even attempting to re-legitimate torture in a way not seen since the Middle Ages, Dick Cheney has likely done more damage than any other Bush administration official – or indeed anyone else in US history -- to our nation’s authentic security and future prospects.

“His continued obliviousness to the catastrophic consequences and severe harm he has caused to so many people evinces, at a minimum, an obstinate and pathological inhumanity. This memoir will no doubt serve to further incriminate him rather than exonerate him."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

American Exceptionalism

By William Fisher

This is apparently the season when the American commentariat trots out its love of America. They express this deep emotion in many ways.

John Perry links the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s to the struggle of the Republic Party to absolve the wealthiest Americans from paying a fair share of their debt to their country. He also thinks it’s legitimate to secede from the USA. To the Perry version of American exceptionalism, add some others: Sarah Palen finds us exceptional because she can have her guns; Michelle Bachmann seems to define American exceptionalism as our ability to achieve just about anything we set our sights on, no matter how unlikely, as long as our oversized, over-regulating government only gets out of the way.

For Mr. Romney, American execptionalism seems to turn on the ability of entrepreneurs to innovate and make a ton of money, even if we’re selling
off bits and pieces of once-healthy companies. For TV Host Chris Matthews, (I’m paraphrasing) it’s exemplified by Obama being born of mixed race and yet making it to the presidency. Chris says this couldn’t happen in any other country in the world. “You can’t go to China or Japan and become Chinese or Japanese. Obama came to the US and became an American and is now in the White House (Chris leaves out the minor truth that Obama didn’t have to become American - he already was, having been born in Hawaii).

Virtually since the beginning of our Republic we have been spinning a variety of narratives to reassure ourselves that we are the greatest nation ever invented and that no other comes even close. That, presumably is one of the reasons we seem to have this irresistible urge to teach the rest of the world how to be exceptional too.

But one of the wisest men I know is injecting a dose of reality into the patriotic mishmash being cooked up by those seeking to get themselves elected to something.

That man is Doug Speth or more formally, James Gustave Speth. A Rhodes Scholar, he graduated from Yale Law School, after which he became a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Then in the White House, as a Member and subsequently for two years as Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, he served in the Executive Office of the President. Later, he was Professor of Law at Georgetown, teaching environmental and constitutional law.

In 1982, he founded the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank; served as its president until January 1993. He was a senior adviser to President-elect Bill Clinton's transition team, heading the group that examined the U.S.'s role in natural resources, energy and the environment.

Still later, he served as Administrator of the United Nations Development Program; dean of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He retired from Yale in 2009 to assume a professorship at Vermont Law School.

Now, why I am going to such lengths to introduce you to some of the details of this outstanding career? Because those folks who believe in American exceptionalism – or think they’re simply good for the political aspirations – are wont to blame the messenger who brings actual proof that Americans may once have been exceptional, but today that achievement is crumbling and our favorites narratives with it.

Prof. Speth has produced an index that should embarrass the exceptionalists by shining a bit of light on those areas where we’re not so exceptional.

For example, among the 20 major advanced countries America now has:

the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
the greatest inequality of incomes;
the lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged;
the lowest number of paid holiday, annual, and maternity leaves;
the lowest score on the United Nations’ index of “material well-being of
the worst score on the United Nations’ gender inequality index;
the lowest social mobility;
the highest public and private expenditure on health care as a portion
of GDP, the highest infant mortality rate; prevalence of mental health problems; obesity rate; portion of people going without health care due to cost; low-birth-weight children per capita (except for Japan); consumption of antidepressants per capita;
the shortest life expectancy at birth (except for Denmark and Portugal);
the highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita; the lowest score on the World Economic Forum’s environmental performance index (except for Belgium), and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Belgium and Denmark);
the highest rate of failing to ratify international agreements;
the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of GDP;
the highest military spending as a portion of GDP;
the largest international arms sales;
the most negative balance of payments (except New Zealand, Spain, and
the lowest scores for student performance in math (except for Portugal
and Italy) (and far from the top in both science and reading);
the highest high school dropout rate (except for Spain);
the highest homicide rate;
and the largest prison population per capita.

Now this is a pretty sorry scoresheet for our country – which used to excel in many of these categories.

The reasons for our fall from positive exceptionalism are far too lengthy to explore here, but some of the major factors, in no particular order, are inadequate education; globalization; the voracious greed and dishonesty of banks, mortgage brokers, government institutions and rating agencies, their
actions creating a bubble which they knew was as unsustainable as were the the insurance guarantees they issued bogus.

Then, there’s the US Tax Code, which encourages foreign investment and demands local, not American, labor; a health care system that provides first-rate health to the very wealthy or the very old – but not to the poor, who have no health insurance; unemployment and under-employment, partly because of the Great Recession, but starting long before that catastrophe as a result of the increase in worker productivity caused by substituting machines for humans in the workplace; and the consequent widening income disparity between the very rich and the very poor.

But the picture is not all hopeless. Gus Speth says, “It took a generation or more for most of these challenges to mature, and it will take a generation or more to climb out of the depths into which we have let things slide. More realistically, given that the U.S. government today is nowhere near ready to launch such efforts, it will take longer.”

He says, “If this analysis is correct, the devastating conclusion is that most of America’s problems will get worse or, at best, will continue to fester more or less as they currently are for the foreseeable future. That is a difficult
conclusion to have to face. But face it we must. Of course, we have to fight to correct these problems with all the strength progressive communities can muster, but we must also prepare and pursue another path forward.”

In short, he says, “America must complement ongoing efforts at reform and working within the system with at least equal efforts aimed at transformative change leading to a new political economy—a new operating system that routinely delivers good results for people and planet at home and around the world. The current system is simply not delivering economically, socially, environmentally, or politically. We need a new one. This type of systemic change will require a great struggle, and it will not come quickly. The truth is we are still in the design stage of building a new operating system.”

He adds: “That system won’t be socialism, by the way, and it won’t be today’s American capitalism either.”

“The possibility of system change suggests there can be a very bright light at
the end of this gloomy tunnel. America is in the midst of a period of decline,
and it hasn’t hit bottom yet. The imperatives its citizens face are therefore

(1) to slow and then halt the descent, minimizing human suffering and planetary damage along the way;

(2) to prevent a collapse, the emergence of a fortress world, or any of the dark scenarios that have been plotted for us in science fiction and increasingly in serious analysis;

(3) to minimize the time at the bottom and to start the climb upward, building a new operating system; and

(4) to complete, inhabit, and flourish in the diversity of alternative social arrangements, each far superior to what we will have left behind.

“There is hope especially in three things. The decline now occurring will
progressively delegitimize the current order. Who wants an operating system that is capable of generating and perpetuating such suffering and destruction? The one good thing about the decline of today’s political economy is that it opens the door to something much better. Second, people will eventually rise up, raise a loud shout, and demand major changes. That is already happening with some people in some places. Eventually, the chorus will grow to become a national and global movement for transformation. And third, Americans are already busy with numerous, mostly local initiatives that point the way to the future.”

“Amid ongoing decline, Americans must now summon the hope and courage to dream up something new and better and to fight for it. It has been said that the genius of America is to turn crisis into opportunity. Let us now dream a new America, the country we want for our grandchildren.”

That’s a Herculean order. And the question is: Will our political leaders find the smarts and the courage and the humility to become truly exceptional Americans?

Secret Somali Prison Exposed

By William Fisher

The CIA is involved in rendering suspected terrorists from Kenya to Somalia and interrogating them in a secret prison just outside Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, according to Jeremy Scahill of The Nation magazine.

The operation is part of a growing CIA campaign in Somalia, which includes a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives. Scahill says this program is aimed at “building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted ‘combat’ operations against members of Al Shabab, the Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda.” This is the group that forced international NGOs to leave Somalia and cease providing food and medical aid to thousands of Somalis suffering the worst drought in more than a half century.

In a lengthy article in the August 1-8 edition of the magazine, Scahill reports that” while the US does not control the prison, the CIA controls access to it, pays the monthly salaries of Somali intelligence agents, and questions prisoners directly.”

The prison, he writes, is “buried in the basement of Somalia’s National
Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu.

“While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners,” Scahill writes.

The walled, gated and heavily guarded compound is located near Mogadishu’s airport, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The compound includes eight large metal hangars; the CIA has its own aircraft at the airport.

Scahill says a US official confirmed the existence of both sites. The official is quoted as telling The Nation, “It makes complete sense to have a
strong counterterrorism partnership” with the Somali government.”

He writes, “The CIA presence in Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counterterrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations. The US agents “are here full time,” Scahill says he was told by a senior Somali intelligence official.

“At times, the official said, “there are as many as thirty of them in Mogadishu,” but he stressed that those working with the Somali NSA do not conduct operations; rather, they advise and train Somali agents.

Scahill quotes “Somali sources” as saying, “The CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans.”

“They support us in a big way financially,” the senior Somali intelligence official is quoted as telling Scahill. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

Scahill writes: “According to former detainees, the underground prison, which is staffed by Somali guards, consists of a long corridor lined with filthy small cells infested with bedbugs and mosquitoes…The former prisoners described the cells as windowless and the air thick, moist and disgusting. Prisoners, they said, are not allowed outside. Many have developed rashes and scratch themselves incessantly. Some have been detained for a year or more.”

Some of the prisoners, he reports, told him “they were picked up in Nairobi and rendered on small aircraft to Mogadishu, where they were handed over to Somali intelligence agents. Once in custody, according to the senior Somali intelligence official and former prisoners, some detainees are
freely interrogated by US and French agents.”

“Our goal is to please our partners, so we get more [out] of them, like any relationship,” said the Somali intelligence official in describing the policy of allowing foreign agents, including from the CIA, to interrogate prisoners.

The Americans, according to the Somali official, operate unilaterally in the country, while the French agents are embedded within the African Union force known as AMISOM, Scahill reports.

According to Scahill, Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have documented that “Kenyan security and intelligence forces have facilitated scores of renditions for the US and other governments, including eighty-five people rendered to Somalia in 2007 alone.

But according to the senior Somali intelligence official, who works directly
with the US agents, “the CIA-led program in Mogadishu has brought few tangible gains, Scahill writes.

“So far what we have not seen is the results in terms of the capacity of the [Somali] agency,” says the official. Scahill reports that the official conceded that “neither US nor Somali forces have been able to conduct a single successful targeted mission in the Shabab’s areas in the capital.

Now, if Scahill’s information is accurate, we should all be puzzled. Here’s why:

In his first week in office, President Barack Obama banned “coercive interrogations” and ordered the C.I.A. secret prisons closed. The existence of the secret prisons was never revealed by the government; it was exposed in an article in The Washington Post by Dana Priest in 2005.

And, at his confirmation hearing in 2009, then CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta said that the Obama administration would end the practice of “extraordinary rendition” -- sending prisoners to countries for torture or other treatment that violates U.S. values. He contended that such renditions had occurred during the Bush presidency.

More recently, Panetta (who is now Defense Secretary) said the CIA had not detained any terrorism suspects since he took office in February 2009 and added that any suspects captured in the future would be quickly turned over to the American military or to a suspect’s home country.

Well, the prison in Somalia is not run or staffed by the CIA. So, technically, it is in keeping with the letter, if not the spirit, of President Obama’s executive order. Nor is the interrogation of prisoners there by CIA agents, assuming they are not using the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of the George W. Bush administration.

And, as for rendition, the CIA – in the unlikely event it has anything at all to say -- would likely maintain that renditions to Somalia were conducted by Kenya.

What we are left with is the US financing a secret prison where prisoners are snatched from other countries, held incommunicado with no due process and no access to their own government, lawyers or family members.

We have to wonder whether this is what President Obama had in mind when he signed his executive orders. What ever happened to transparency?

Jordan and the Arab Spring

By William Fisher

Did the Arab Spring ever come to Jordan?

Yes, but it would be hard to know that from America’s mainstream media.
With just a few notable exceptions, Jordan has been sacrificed to coverage of much sexier stories in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, even tiny Bahrain.

Yet the Arab Spring, now morphed into summer, is alive and well in Jordan.
It’s just not as noisy.

To be sure, there have been demonstrations and people have been killed by the security forces. But Jordan’s demonstrations haven’t been nearly as widespread or vocal as those in, for example, Tahrir Square. The Tahrir-type demonstrations have been kept to a minimum, a situation facilitated by a combination of police action and the efforts of King Abdullah II to stay ahead of the curve.

The King’s efforts began with a dismissal of his government and its replacement with officials he hoped the demonstrators would find more acceptable.

Another of the loudest demands from the demonstrators was for an amended constitution. Now the committee appointed by the King to amend the Constitution has unveiled its work, and it is being greeted by some as a huge leap toward democracy and by others as a useless piece of cosmetics that will not facilitate any major changes in the country’s political life.

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, served as Jordan’s foreign minister (2002–2004), and deputy prime minister (2004–2005), and played a central role in developing the Arab Peace Initiative and the Middle East Road Map. He says about the new draft Constitutional amendments:

“To be sure, many of the amendments address demands long put forth by reform groups and the general public.”

He outlines a half dozen of the major amendments proposed:

· The establishment of a constitutional court to monitor the constitutionality of laws and regulations. The court replaces a high tribunal for the interpretation of such laws that was headed by the speaker of the Senate and widely considered less than totally independent.
· The establishment of an independent commission to oversee elections instead of the Ministry of Interior that has previously been in charge of the electoral process. All electoral contestations will be referred to the judiciary instead of parliament.
· The enhancement of civil liberties, including the criminalization of any infringement on rights and public freedoms or on the sanctity of Jordanians’ private life; prohibition of torture in any form; and a declaration that all forms of communication between citizens shall be treated as secret and not subject to censorship, suspension, or confiscation except by judicial order.
· The limitation of the government’s ability to issue temporary laws during the absence of parliament, a practice that governments exercised at will in the past.
· The limitation of the State Security Court’s jurisdiction to cases of high treason, espionage, and terrorism, with citizens being otherwise tried in civilian courts; this includes ministers, who were previously tried by a parliamentary high tribunal.
· The limitation of the government’s ability to dissolve parliament without having to resign itself.

Muasher writes, “The proper way to read the amendments and decipher their significance is to understand the wider context. Do they constitute a first step in a much larger roadmap toward total separation of the legislative, judicial, and executive powers? Will they redistribute these powers (strengthening the first two and diluting the third)? Or do they represent the end of the road for Jordan’s political reform process? A clear answer to the questions helps pass judgment on the measures in a more objective and less ideological manner.”

Muasher points out, however, that the amendments “stopped short of several other measures. Other than limiting the king’s ability to indefinitely postpone elections, his powers have been left intact.”

For example, he says, “even though it would be difficult to change the practice immediately without party-based parliaments, the king still appoints and dismisses the prime minister and the upper house of parliament.”

He adds: “The constitutional committee also debated adding gender to the list of categories of laws that are forbidden to discriminate against, but it opted to keep gender off of the list for religious and political reasons. Finally, the role of the security services in the political affairs of the country was limited through some amendments, but hardly curbed completely.”

He concludes that ”the amendments are an important first step and the fact that they will go through the constitutional process in only a few weeks is positive. This indicates that the constitution will witness its first major en masse overhaul since it was adopted in 1952.”

Another Middle East expert agrees that the amendments are an important first step. But Samer Shehata, professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University, points out that “there is no serious fundamental change to the electoral system. And the upper house is still thoroughly non-elected, appointed by the king. I don't know the specifics of the security sector reform (Muasher says it's minimal) but many will tell you the security forces are the ones really running the country.”

He concludes: “I'm still extremely skeptical. These reforms are not the major, structural, transformative reforms necessary to move Jordan from a authoritarian state (with a facade democratic process) to a constitutional monarchy.”

Whether the King intends to follow through to build on this encouraging first step is unclear. But he will have little choice if he seeks a Jordan that becomes a peaceful democracy-Middle-East-style, prepared to improve the lives of ordinary Jordanians and play a larger and more constructive role in the Israel-Palestine dispute.

Is Mubarak Really Gone? Slum-Dwellers Forcibly Evicted

By William Fisher

In post-Mubarak Egypt, an estimated 850,000 people are facing forced eviction from housing deemed “unsafe” by the transition military government, according to a new report from Amnesty International (AI).

The report condemns the treatment of the country's 12 million people who live in Egypt’s vast slums. It documents “how the Egyptian authorities have persistently failed to consult communities living in ‘unsafe areas’ on plans to address their inadequate housing conditions.”

The 123-page report -- ‘We are not dirt’: Forced evictions in Egypt’s informal settlements -- was prepared by Amnesty Egypt researcher Mohamed Lotfy and Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen.

The report describes cases of forced evictions affecting hundreds of families in the country’s so-called “unsafe areas” where residents' lives or health are said to be at risk.

Amnesty cites Abdel Nasser al-Sherif's story as an example of injustices currently being committed.

The lawyer and his extended family used to live in a four-storey building his father built in 1949 in Old Cairo's Establ Antar informal settlement. In 2009, the authorities announced that a cliff beside the settlement was “unsafe” and life-threatening.

Without issuing any warning or an eviction notice, the authorities decided to demolish al-Sherif's property. After he protested and refused to leave his house, riot police entered and dragged him away. Al-Sherif's possessions were dumped by a lorry in a resettlement area across the city. He has not been compensated for the destruction of his family's home of 60 years.

An acute shortage of affordable housing has driven Egypt's poor to live in slums and informal settlements. Around 40% of Egyptians live on or near the US$2 a day poverty line, while the vast majority of the victims killed or injured during the “25 January Revolution” were from underprivileged backgrounds. Some 18,300 housing units in Egypt are at risk of imminent collapse, Amnesty says..

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said, “People living in Egypt's slums must be given a say in finding solutions to their dire housing conditions, but the authorities are failing to respect their human rights. And when slum residents dare to object, they face unlawful forced eviction and arbitrary arrest under repressive laws.”

She added, “Government plans for 'unsafe areas' are essentially demolition plans that don't explore alternatives to evictions where possible. Not one person out of the hundreds we interviewed had ever been adequately notified before their eviction or consulted on alternative housing.”

“With elections approaching, Egyptian authorities have an opportunity to right that wrong,” she said.

Amnesty says it has found that many slum residents have been left homeless after the authorities demolished their homes against their wishes and failed to provide new housing. Research shows that authorities discriminate against women - especially if they are divorced, widowed or separated - in the allocation of alternative housing.

Amnesty also found evidence of communities that had apparently been abandoned under the threat of rock falls despite asking the authorities to resettle them, while other communities facing lesser risks have been demolished, such as the Al-Sahaby area in Aswan. This inconsistent approach has spread suspicion among slum-dwellers that some of them are being cleared out of their homes not to protect them, but so that the land can be developed for commercial gain.

Following a deadly rockslide in Cairo's Manshiyet Nasser slum in 2008, the Egyptian authorities identified 404 “unsafe areas” across the country. In Manshiyet Nasser, thousands of families living at risk of future rock falls were relocated into alternative housing, but most have been moved far from their sources of income and generally lack the necessary documentation for their new homes.

The authorities have routinely failed to give residents proper warning before security forces - including military police in recent months - arrive to force people out of their homes in breach of Egypt’s international obligations and its own laws, Amnesty charges.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Kids Count

By William Fisher

“If the top earners are OK, then the rest of us will be OK.”

That piece of economic sleight-of-hand has been a central tenet in the Republican catechism since even before Ronald Reagan and long before the Tea Party.

The Grand Old Party clings to this totally discredited and never-proven economic article-of-faith despite a mountain of evidence that grows higher with each passing week in recession.

The figures that tell most of this sorry story are these, reported in the Huffington Post:

The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its largest margin ever, a stark divide as Democrats and Republicans spar over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year –received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.

At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, the data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.

But there’s another part of the story that’s not usually told. It’s how American children are being affected by the Great Recession.

One of the few looks into this largely hidden part of the issue was taken by Sixty Minutes on CBS television a few weeks ago. The show revealed a large cohort of school kids who have been forced to live in motels because their parents lost their jobs and then their homes through foreclosure.

These kids run over to their school to brush their teeth and wash up in the morning. They run out to the nearest fast-food joints, with their parents, at mealtimes. In the mornings, a special school bus picks them up near their motels. The bus is dedicated to that task. And many families who aren’t living in motels, or camping out with friends or relatives, are living in municipal shelters. One father, out of work for more than a year, has taken to sitting on the curb of a busy thoroughfare with an upside-down cap and displaying a sign that reads,” Will Work for Food – Family of Three.”

Now the Annie E. Casey Foundation gives us a set of hard and very grim data to support Sixty Minutes’ anecdotal view. That data is very scary, very angry-making and very heart-breaking. The new numbers on 2009 poverty among U.S. children finds 31 million children living in families that are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Now, in 2010, they are higher still.

On the PBS Newshour, Judy Woodruff discussed the new statistics with Patrick McCarthy, CEO of the Casey Foundation, which has spent years compiling this kind of data about kids.

The Foundation’s new report – The Kids’ Count -- tells us that poverty rates among children rose substantially, not just during the recession, but throughout the last decade. The official child poverty rate rose by nearly 20 percent from 2000 to 2009. And, in 2010, 11 percent of children lived with at least one unemployed parent.

That means that 20 percent of all American children are living in poverty. Twenty percent is 31 million kids. Think about it!

The Foundation says that it’s even more troubling in some ways is that the children who are on the edge of living in poverty, those children who live with families that are at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, we now have 42 percent of all children, 31 million children in the U.S., living at that level.

Patrick McCarthy describes these 31 million children living below -- at or below $43,500 a year – as surviving “two or three paychecks away from economic catastrophe.”

McCarthy understates the figures as “stunning” -- “especially when you consider what the research tells us what happens when children grow up in poverty or when they slip into poverty as a result of recession.”

He says: “We know that kids who grow up poor are much more likely to end up being poor themselves. They're more likely to have children too early with teen pregnancy. They're more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system as they grow up. They're less likely to be employed. And they're less likely to fully use the talents that they're given.”

McCarthy’s foundation looked at all the past recent recessions. It compared children who slipped into poverty as a result of one of those recessions, with a child who was at the same level of income before the recession. Those kids who fell into poverty in fact were less likely to graduate from school, more likely to have school problems, more likely to have educational difficulty.

And even health was affected over the long term as those kids were followed into adulthood.

McCarthy called attention to the effects of the housing crisis, of so many foreclosures, on children. Well, this is also a story that is not often told.

Between 2007 and 2009, 5.3 million children were directly affected by the
foreclosure crisis, having to leave their homes. We're talking about four percent of the children in this country being affected by a foreclosure crisis.

McCarthy says “there's another hidden fact here, though, and that is that the children who live in a rental housing, when the owner of that property goes through foreclosure, too often, that rental -- that family renting in that property is forced to move.”

And we know a lot of about what happens to children when they have to move frequently. Again, their schoolwork suffers. They often have to change schools, which puts them behind. They're less likely to graduate from school. They're more likely to have behavioral problems. There's a whole list of problems that come about as a result of a foreclosure crisis.

McCarthy proposes a two-generation strategy for dealing with these monumental problems.

Short-term, unemployment insurance is a key protector of kids and families
when unemployment is as high as it is. The earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, these kinds of things help to supplement wages and keep kids out of poverty.

“The two-generation strategy means focusing on the parents, but also then
investing early in children. We know from research that high-quality prenatal care, high-quality child care and pre-K, and especially education in the early years is critical to put children on a path towards opportunity.”

“We believe that what you need to focus on is what's most important, so every dollar is used in the best way, what's most cost-effective, and what can you do now, in 2011, that's going to shape what this country looks like in 2031, in 2041, and in 2051,” he says.

Acknowledging that these strategies cost money to implement, Judy Woodruff asked McCarthy how he intends to overcome the current strictures on government spending.

McCarthy’s response: “You know, the answer to me is that this country is great in part because we have certain core shared values. And I think the most important shared value that we all have, regardless of our perspective on economics or politics, is that this is a country where we care about opportunity. We care that parents can tell their kids that, if they work hard and they use their talents, they're going to get ahead.

“And if we don't invest in ensuring that that opportunity is really available for all of our children, we start to come apart as a country, and we lose one of our greatest strengths. So, I think this is actually a shared value. I should also point out that investing in children is not what's driving the deficit or the
debt. In fact, children represent a small portion of our overall budget.

“So, we ought to be investing smart, as well as recognizing we ought to deal with the problem today, but not in a way that's going to harm us in the future.”

One has to admire his optimism in the face of the permanent tone-deafness of Tea Party Republicans; and, in fact, the Democrats aren’t doing much heavy lifting on this urgent issue either. Talking is not the same as Doing.

So, it saddens me to tell you I believe Mr. McCarthy is headed for a crash into the indestructible wall of reactionary public policy planning.

Maybe the solution is to turn children’s poverty disaster over to Rep. Paul Ryan, who will fix it by turning it into a voucher program!

It’s time we asked ourselves: What will our country look like a generation from now if we all bleep out the callousness, the cruelty, the uncaring, the herd instinct, the incomprehensible hubris exhibited by lawmakers who continue to disgrace themselves and their country by ignoring, not their own children, but everyone else’s.

Syria: Looking Into The Abyss

By William Fisher

Last week, as Syrian dissidents continued to turn out in their tens of thousands – facing death -- to oppose President Basher el-Assad’s Syrian regime, the country’s cabinet took two steps that its embattled leaders hoped would quell the growing demands for Basher’s ouster.

The Cabinet endorsed a draft election law that would “regulate parliamentary elections” held every five years and establish a commission to “manage polls,” the state-run SANA news agency said.

That action followed the Cabinet’s endorsement of a bill allowing new parties to be formed. Previous elections have been monopolized by President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath party, a situation enshrined in the constitution.

It’s difficult to understand how Mr. Assad could be that far out of touch with the demands of his own people and the condemnatory statements not just from the United Nations and “western governments,” but from such pillars of Arab power in the Middle East as The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the aging but still powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

And, on the day the Turkish Foreign Minister was in Damascus, failing in his efforts to mediate an end to the violence, 24 more Syrians died at the hands of Assad’s security forces on the first Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, Al Jazeera reported, citing activists. For the week, the toll of dead was 84. The death toll is now more 2,000 and counting. And thousands of demonstrators injured or arrested and jailed.

And yet, the protests appear to grow stronger. Those risking their necks in the streets would be the first to find Assad’s band-aid proposals “a day late and a dollar short.”

But that’s far too mild. The protesters rejected the Cabinet’s proposals out of hand. Not surprising. That Assad at this late date – the protests began in March -- should now be proposing rudimentary “reforms” that should have been introduced years ago, is arguably the most dependable indication that Assad has lost the legitimacy to govern. The government’s performance was nothing short of pathetic.

But it is equally pathetic that while people are being shot down in the streets or tortured in Syria’s prisons, the world’s most powerful nations and institutions can do little more than wring their hands and threaten unspecified “consequences” for Mr. Assad to ignore.

Even the UN Security Council was not able to mobilize its members to use one of the Council’s larger weapons – a formal Resolution. China and Russia both have veto power, and both countries felt the urgent need to protect their commercial relationships with Syria. The Security Council was able to agree only on a Presidential Letter – an instrument not nearly as strong as a formal Resolution – condemning Assad’s massacres. The Council issued a statement Aug. 3 expressing “grave concern” at the deaths and human rights abuses.

The syntax was strong but the substance was just words.

Then there are those courageous Arab organizations that have been, as it were, busy fiddling while Damascus burned. The apparent cure for the Arab constipation was a statement on Wednesday from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He said:

“Every sane Muslim and Arab or others are aware that [the crackdown] is not of religion, values, or ethics…What is happening in Syria is unacceptable to the Kingdom… Saudi Arabia…[demands] the stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed…[and the] introduction and activation of reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved so that our brothers…in Syria can feel them in their lives as dignity, glory and pride.”

But we should not kid ourselves about The Good King. His remarks have absolutely nothing to do with Syrians living under the boot of a vicious police state. They have everything to do with strengthening Sunni Muslim influence vis a vis Syria’s close ties to Shia Iran.

Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. While Alawites constitute only about 12 per cent of Syria’s population, they have effective control of all the major levers of power, including the army and the security forces. The majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims. Observers believe that Assad will cling to power by whatever means as long as there are more Alawite soldiers than anti-Assad protesters.

So King Abdullah has zero interest in the anti-Assad movement. His main motive, as The Guardian put it, “is the hope of driving a wedge between Iran and a post-Assad Syria.”

But Abdullah’s hypocrisy surpasses embarrassing, considering that Saudis arguably have fewer human rights than Syrians. Besides, Saudi troops are now stationed in Bahrain helping the Sunni King to quell the rising protests of that country’s Shia majority.

And perhaps the ultimate irony is that, a couple of months ago, the Assad regime might have agreed to most of the demands of the protesters and continued to retain power. But that was then and now is now. And, like the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, Assad was way behind the curve. Now, the movement for change has probably gone too far to be stopped.

Everyone seems to know that except Mr. Assad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


By William Fisher

Jaleela AlSalman, Vice President of the Bahrain Society for teachers, and Rula AlSafar, President of Bahrain Nursing Society, are into the 12th day of a hunger strike to protest what they claim is their “illegitimate detention” in a Bahraini prison along with hundreds of teachers, doctors, and nurses who insisted on doing their jobs in the face of attacks and abuse from the government’s security forces.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights charges that since the Sunni government’s crackdown on the Shia majority of Bahrain in mid- March 2011, many activists, professionals and unionists have been targeted by being subject to arbitrary arrest, physical and psychological abuse, torture, dismissal from their jobs, and prosecuted at military and later at civilian courts.

The Society says the two female unionists have reportedly been ill-treated in detention and are expected to be sentenced with false accusations. They were arrested on March 29 and their hunger strike started August 2. Their families reported that the two women plan to continue the strike until they are released.

Today, one of the hunger-strikers, Ms. Jaleela AlSalman, was taken to a hospital due to pains in the chest and deteriorating health, according to Maryam Al-Khawaja, head of the Foreign Relations Office of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Ms. AlSalman, the Vice President of the Bahrain Society for Teachers, is a 46 year-old mother of three. She was a deputy manager in Saba Secondary School. Her school, which has won significant awards a distinctive school with many projects and initiatives, independent from the Ministry of Education, to achieve excellence of the educational process where she was been either leading those projects or amongst the active members of the projects teams.

She has worked towards development and growth of education for both teachers and student through participation in nationwide projects, the training of teachers for ICDL certification program where she was a pioneer and was among the project team of Bahraini King Hamad Schools of the future, in e-learning.

Bahraini dissidents report that, because of her work in Bahrain Society for Teachers as a Vice President, she has been facing pressure and warnings to leave the society and stop her work as an activist for teachers and students rights, in addition she got bypassed for promotions opportunity, but she continued to work for what she believed in and advocate for the rights of her colleagues and students.

After the start of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on 16 March 2011, the leaders of the teachers society has become targeted by the regime for their calls to strike, first on 20th Feb as a protest against the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Pearl Roundabout and later on 14th March out of fear over the safety and security of the students and teachers after a series of incidents in schools that put the students at great risk.

Following the attack on the Pearl Roundabout – Bahrain’s Tahrir Square -- sit-in on 16 March 2011, and the start of mass arrest campaign, Jaleela was the first from the teachers society to be arrested on 29 March 2011. Her house in Northern Sehla was raided at 2.30am by around 40 officers from the security forces without any warning.

They broke in, went to her bedroom where she was sleeping without giving her a chance to wear her veil and arrested her at gunpoint in front of her kids whom are still suffering of nightmares at night recalling their mother’s arrest where “big weapons”, as one of them, stated was held to their heads. She was held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyer for weeks before her family heard of her. They were only allowed two visits, and even so were allowed to speak to her for a very short time.

Ms. AlSalman was reportedly ill-treated and tortured in her first weeks of detention, according to members of her family and fellow detainees. They say she was beaten and kicked, verbally abused and insulted, made to stand facing the wall for nights and forced to clean toilets.

Teachers are among the groups singled out for criminal misconduct by the government controlled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Thousands of teachers have been fired from the public education system for their a”failure” to toe the party line in their classrooms.

The second hunger-striker is Ms. Rula AlSaffar, President of Bahrain Nursing Society. The human rights group says she is “an example of a Bahraini unionist woman dedicated and devoted Bahraini to developing the medical sector.”

Like the teachers, doctors and nurses were a specific target of the government clamp-down. The principal reason was that they were “guilty” of providing medical care to Bahrainis injured by government forces in the anti-Hamad demonstrations.

The government raided the main hospital, kidnapped the injured, arrested doctors and nurses, and prevented them from treating the sick.

The hunger strike "is a desperate attempt to protest against their imprisonment and the way they have been treated," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

"Amnesty International is concerned that they are being held solely because they took part in protests, in which case they would both be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally," he added.

Amnesty said the two activists started their hunger strike to protest their continued detention, while others have been released on bail.

At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since month-long protests demanding democratic reforms broke out in the Gulf kingdom. Amnesty International said. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs, it added.

These include not only doctors, nurses and teachers, but university professors and many of their students.

A so-called “independent” Commission has been tasked by the King to investigate crimes against humanity in the tiny Gulf Kingdom. But Bahrain’s pro-democracy spokesmen are attacking the international commission for “whitewashing” transgressions by the government and its security apparatus. Many of Bahrain’s protesting groups have threatened to boycott the upcoming Parliamentary elections, scheduled for September.

Press reports that The Commission had finished its work and had found no evidence of crimes against humanity were greeted with a large crowd of protestors gathering outside the Commission’s headquarters.

The Commission closed its offices and insisted its work is not yet finished.. The Commission is headed by Egyptian-born Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who has led UN investigations into alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Libya.

Meanwhile, Mehdi Hasan writes in The Guardian that Prime Minister David Cameron has greeted the crown prince of Bahrain, and a bit earlier it was reported that this same crown prince conferred with US State and Defense Department officials, and all the way up to President Barack Obama. And a bit later, American’s two most senior military officials visited Bahrain, which is home to the US First Fleet,

The Crown Prince reportedly told Obama he was concerned about “Bahrain’s image.”

Bahrain’s image is about the last thing on the minds of the men, women and children who are being arrested, imprisoned and abused.

The Guardian’s Mehdi Hasan again: “Pity the poor people of Bahrain. They have been shot, beaten, tear-gassed – and patronized.”

He continued: “On 7 March, at the height of the pro-democracy protests in the tiny Gulf island kingdom, a crowd gathered outside the US embassy in Manama, the capital, carrying signs that read ‘Stop supporting dictators’ and ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’

“A US embassy official emerged from the building with a box of doughnuts for the protesters, prompting a cleric in the crowd to remark: "These sweets are a good gesture, but we hope it is translated into practical actions."

It hasn't been.

Instead, while an international fact-finding panel keeps digging, and the government prepares to hold Parliamentary elections, there has been no let-up in the arrests, jailing and abuse of political dissidents.

The Crown Prince has plenty of good reason to worry about his country’s “image.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Egypt: The Education of the Generals

By William Fisher

While the leaders of Egypt’s revolution argue with the ruling generals about when to hold elections and when to rewrite the Constitution, many Egypt experts are saying that the problem central to the success of the revolution is being cosmetisized or irnored altogether: Overhaul of the government security apparatus.

“Comprehensive reform of the security state -- and specifically, the Ministry of Interior and its sub-organizations, the ‘bowels’ of Mubarak’s repressive state apparatus -- is crucial if Egyptians are to establish a democratic society based on the rule of law,” says one such expert, Samer S. Shehata, professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University.

Shehata charges that during the Mubarak administration, “ensuring the regime’s survival, not protecting the citizenry or upholding the rule of law, was its primary function.”

Speaking at a conference organized by Jadaliyya magazine, Shehata said, “Absent was the understanding that the police and the security forces more generally, are not above the law or immune from accountability. In fact, Habib El-Adly, the despised former Minister of Interior, now on trial, changed the police’s motto several years ago. The motto had long been -- somewhat ironically -- “the police in the service of the people.” Adly replaced this with an Orwellian-sounding slogan, “the police and the people in the service of the nation” (the old motto has since been readopted).

He explained: “Abuse by security personnel took both small and large forms: in daily interactions with the police, on the street, at traffic stops, and police checkpoints, to more serious cases involving torture and human rights violations. The arbitrary exercise of authority was widespread. In the absence of any real accountability, security officials acted with near impunity. Suspected criminals were routinely mistreated, especially those accused of petty crimes. Heavy-handed techniques were the norm. Police stations were feared by many. Few rights or protections were afforded, especially to those without connections or money. And corruption was endemic.”

Bahey el-Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), recently declined the newly-created position of Deputy Interior Minister for Human Rights. He said he was not optimistic that the political context in which the post was created would allow it to have a real impact on the situation inside the Ministry of Interior. “On the contrary, it may only serve to cover up a still ugly reality that must be changed, a task which is beyond the capabilities of the deputy - and perhaps even of the Interior Mnister himself - to accomplish.”

He added, “The chronic human rights problem of the police and security establishment is too complex to be solved by the creation of a deputy human rights post in the Interior Ministry. Indeed, the problem is closely linked to the extent to which people realize the need for radical, far-reaching reform in the Interior Ministry and other state institutions and ministries. The experience of the last few months contains little to indicate this realization among the Interior Ministry, the Prime Minster, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”

If Egypt’s “January 25 revolution” is to succeed, comprehensive security reform is required, he said, adding that making minor changes around the margins is unlikely to produce any positive change.

Unfortunately, he said, “there is little indication that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) or the current Minister of Interior is interested in undertaking such reforms.”

So far, he concluded, “The SCAF has only changed the name of the SSIS and made promises of further reform. More recently, the government announced the dismissal of several hundred high ranking officers, and the commencement of trials against officers suspected of murdering protesters. None of these steps address the structural aspects of the problem at hand.”

He told The Public Record, “Renaming the agency and promising some reforms is not enough. It needs to be disbanded.”

His recommendations:

“The Ministry of Interior must be placed under civilian control, as has already been suggested by a number of activists and civil society organizations. This could entail replacing the current minister (a basic demand of many of the July 8 protesters) with a civilian, preferably someone with a legal and human rights background.”

“Reform must also entail drastically curtailing, if not eliminating, the role of the security services in many aspects of public, private, and political life. The Ministry of Interior’s (and particularly, the SSIS) surveillance and authority was pervasive and extended to universities (overseeing academic appointments, research, and student groups and activities), media whether private or state-owned, business, labor (through the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation), syndicates, and civil society groups, not to mention political parties, activists, Islamists, and elections.”

“In addition to the measures outlined above, clearly established and effective institutional channels for citizen complaint must be put in place, to ensure accountability. Achieving greater transparency and oversight, particularly when it comes to budgetary matters, must be the guiding principles of any security sector reform initiative in Egypt.”

Finally, Prof. Shehata observed: “The primary benefit of democratic governance is not the right to place a ballot in a ballot box every few years. It is to live in a society governed by the rule of law, and characterized by citizenship, accountability, and the protections of basic freedoms (both, of course, are related). The ballot box is one particularly important mechanism for establishing and preserving such a society. This reminder could not be more relevant to ongoing efforts to advance democratic change in Egypt.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, agrees. He said, “The government also needs to reform the interior ministry to make sure it does not repeat past abuses by security services under its jurisdiction, and to initiate investigations of torture and other abuses by leading security officers. The need to move forward with investigations into the actions of officers from the now-dissolved State Security Investigations (SSI) division of the ministry is especially urgent -- the division was notorious for using systematic torture and enforced disappearance to obtain information.”

To prevent torture, government officials should establish civilian oversight of the police force, permit independent monitoring by civil society groups of detention sites, and create an internal unit to investigate torture complaints transparently.

“The justice ministry also should reform the process used by the public prosecutor to investigate police abuse, Human Rights Watch said.The vast majority of torture complaints never reach court because of police intimidation of victims and witnesses who file complaints, an inadequate legal framework, and delays in referring victims for medical examination. The government also should end the practice of relying on police from the same unit as the alleged torturer to gather evidence and summon witnesses. Instead, the prosecutor's office should control all aspects of these investigations, and bar police involvement in gathering evidence and summoning witnesses.”

It has been seven months since strongman Hosni Mubarak resigned the presidency. While the interim military rulers have made some progress in some areas, it has to be said that their performance has been less than distinguished – a lot less. It appears that those invidials and groups responsible for Mubarak’s downfall have had to pull the military rulers by the hair, literally every step, to achieve even the most basic reforms.

Meanwhile, people are still being arrested and detained without charges, legal representatation or trial. Civilians are being tried in military courts. Prof. Shehata reminded The Public Record that in March hundreds of people entered State Security offices in Cairo and Alexandria and found thousand s of files about all of their activities ... spying, "intelligence," surveillance and other bad things. There were reports of finding torture rooms. Men who were arrested duiring that period were abused, not by civilian law enforcement but by military police, who also subjected wwomen detainees to “virginity tests.”

And the so-called Emergency Laws are still in effect after 30 years. These laws, passed just after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, give the government sweeping police powers to arrest, detain, prosecute and imprison with virtually no due process.

(It comes as good news that Ali El-Selmy, Deputy Prime Minister, has told Al Ahram newspaper that the cabinet is planning to repeal the emergency law soon; in a meeting held on July 25 the Cabinet allegedly discussed laws and mechanisms to replace the law. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has promised to eradicate the emergency law, but it may be worth noting that such undertakings have been proposed a number of times by the ruling regime.)

Now, all this should come as no surprise to those who follow revolutions and their aftermath. Most don’t work. The euphoria of victory is slowly and painfully transformed into frustration and anger with the glacial pace of change and then disputes among revolutionary factions that divide and weaken the opposition.

But think about it: The generals who rule Egypt now are all, for one reason or another, associates of the fallen dictator. In many cases, the older generation of ruling officers went to school and up through the ranks with Mubarak, looked up to him as the picture of the ideal leader, and accepted from him the doors he opened to become not only powerful, but wealthy. And while the younger officers may have shared less, they shared nevertheless, and learned lessons from their superiors.

But what they never learned was about governing. They learned about commanding. And If all you know is commanding, obviously you will get a command economy and a vision of government based, not on the chaos of democracy, but on the button-down, salute-and-accept traditions of military establishments everywhere -- and the disciplines that go with those traditions.

That makes the education of the generals the toughest short-term problem Egypt faces.

The Oslo Massacre

By William Fisher

If you’re one of those busy people who gets his/her news on the fly, as it were, in little dribs and drabs, you’d have been pretty certain that the guy who killed all those people in Oslo a couple of weeks ago was an Islamic Terrorist.

After all, aren’t they the ones who commit these unspeakable acts? And isn’t that what was being reported on TV and in the main newspapers?

Indeed it was. The first headline in New York Times, for example, said, “jihadis claim responsibility.” The BBC picked up The Times’ story line, as did the US cable networks and early wire service reports. These stories left the reader with the unmistakable impression that al Qaeda or one of its franchisees was responsible for the Oslo carnage.

One of the cooler heads in the media was Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who reported all of the above.

Greenwald also noted that Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Washington Post, said: “We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra. Prominent jihadists have already claimed online that the attack is payback for Norway’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Moreover, there is a specific jihadist connection here: ‘Just nine days ago, Norwegian authorities filed charges against Mullah Krekar, an infamous al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist who, with help from Osama bin Laden, founded Ansar al Islam – a branch of al Qaeda in northern Iraq – in late 2001’.”

What short memories we have! The tragedy of 9/11 has so consumed our consciousness that we have forgotten that Timothy McVeigh, that all-American malcontent, blew up the Alfred Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children 1995.

Also forgotten by most of us is the incontrovertible truth that most terrorist attacks in the US are committed, not by Islamists wearing suicide vests, but by clean-cut-looking Americans like Timothy McVeigh.

In fact, a 2010 study by The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) reported that:

· There were 80 total plots by U.S.-originated non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 45 total plots by U.S. and foreign-originated Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.

· There have been least five incidents of non-Muslim violent extremists possessing or attempting to possess Biological, Chemical or Radiological weapons. One of those incidents occurred since Obama’s election. No such cases involving Muslim violent extremists have been reported since 9/11.

· Since November 2008 there have been 45 plots by domestic non-Muslim violent extremists. By comparison, there have been 22 plots by Muslim, U.S. and foreign-originated extremists.

· Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent more than four out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009.

Likewise, in Europe, of 294 terrorist attacks attempted or executed on European soil in 2009, only one out of 294 was perpetrated by "Islamists."

So not only was the Oslo bomber not a Muslim, he was a virtual caricature of what a 100% native Nordic male is supposed to look like, right down to his blond hair and blue eyes.

Which may help explain why “the West” – The Americas and Europe –failed to show the usual signs of the furious activity -- beefing up airport and other security, stepping up the gathering and analysis of intelligence about Muslim hate groups and lone wolf jihadis, and imposing new regulations to further curtail privacy and other Constitutional rights.

Yet Anders Behring Breivik was as much linked to a network as any of the Islamist jihadis. He is a right-wing Christian nationalist, and he fed off the plethora of websites dedicated to promoting Islamophobia, the end of immigration, and the supremacy of Christians with white skins.

As Glenn Greenwald reported, his “mentors” included some of America’s best-known Islamophobes and self-styled terrorism “experts” – Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Pam Geller, are all mentioned by name in Breivik’s “manifesto.”

"It’s clear from his manifesto that he was slowly withdrawing from wider civil society," said Matthew Goodwin, an expert on right-wing extremism at Britain’s University of Nottingham. "Online, he was certainly active in terms of far-right blogs such as Brussels Journal and Gates of Vienna. He had an extensive Facebook network and had built up substantial online links."

There will be those who are genuinely disappointed that Breivik’s name is not Mohammed ben-Brievik because that would confirm the legitimacy of their twisted ideology. And it would also help increase their book sales, web site traffic and speaking fees. Islamophobia is, after all, a thriving cottage industry.

Norway, it seems to me, is taking a more rational approach. The government has formed a Commission to gather the grim facts of the July 22 massacre. There may be some criticism of the police response, which appeared to be slow. There may also be some reorganization of internal security procedures to help prevent another July 22.

But when Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was asked how Norway plans to counter extremists from any part of the political spectrum, he replied: “With more democracy.” He promised that Norway would remain “an open society.”

Is there something we can learn from Norway?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Book Review: Today's Most Un-Political, Un-Productive and Totally Hilarious Self-Help Book

Reviewed by William Fisher

If you happen to be one of those hopeful people who believe that the next
"how-to" book you buy will be your silver bullet, do not read this column.

You will not only be disappointed. It will cost you. And you could end up
broke and homeless.

I'm not clear on whether these were Brian Foley's goals when he wrote his
latest (actually his first) book, "A New Financial You in 28 Days – a 37-day
plan." I should have known that this was the most un-Kosher self-help book
ever conceived when I read its "Lifetime Guarantee," to wit:

If at the end of the life of the purchaser of A New Financial You in
28 Days! A 37-Day Plan! ("purchaser"), purchaser has not
achieved a "new financial you," purchaser is entitled to a full
refund. This guarantee does not apply to purchaser's successors,
heirs, or assigns. This guarantee may be void in the State of
Minnesota and in North Korea.

I should have known that author of Foley's Follies was a lawyer, in fact a
Law Professor. I should also have guessed he was a comedian, a stand-up
comic to be precise.

Only a lawyer would know how to write such a totally unenforceable
Lifetime Guarantee. And only a Stand-Up Comic would know how to con us
into buying this e-book by stringing together the world's funniest non-
sequiturs and laying them end to end around the globe.

It is only rumor, but I hear on pretty good authority that the last guy to
actually get through this modest volume threw himself off a bridge when he
failed to find logic in any single sentence of the book.

The note he left behind, written on a bunch of shriveled-up Confederate
banknotes, said he now knew how it felt to be James Joyce on steroids. He
noted that Finnegan's Wake was also considered a work of comic fiction
based on free association.

If you're determined to associate yourself with Brian Foley (and I strongly
recommend against it) here is a sampling of some of the comic fiction you
will find in "A New Financial You in 28 Days – a 37-day plan:"

Foley starts off Day One with a poem (a very versatile scribe, he):


The roaches aren't dead.
The violets are through.
From this dank one-bedroom
Sprouts A New Financial You.

"Look around! What you see is Your Financial You. If you want A New
Financial You, you have to do something different. But you can't do that
until you know what you are doing now. Are there roaches in your
apartment? Are they dead? Is your apartment a dank, one-bedroom
apartment? If so, then you are ... probably living in my apartment. Get out!
Now! This is MY apartment!

"Now you are homeless. I have allowed you to put some things in a trash
bag and leave. I have called the police, so you are racing against time. If you
are caught, you will have a home in a jail cell, because I will press charges. I
have let you into my life in this book, sure, but I did not let you into my
apartment. So please leave. The police are on their way. I don't like
uncomfortable scenes, and I don't like handcuffs and Tasers.

"You are homeless. You are starting off worse than I did. I hope I can help

"But for those of you who answered, "No," then, be happy. Although you
missed out on the "hitting rock bottom" experience that I just created for
some of your fellow Readers, you should be happy because either you don't
have roaches, or they're dead. Or you don't have dead violets (that is my
interpretation of "violets are through" -- your own interpretation of that line
might differ). Or you don't have a one-bedroom; or, if you do, it's not dank.
Maybe it's uncomfortably dry? If so, get a humidifier. Your nasal passages
are taking an unnecessary beating.

"I am using the Merriam-Webster definition of "dank" as "unpleasantly
moist or wet." But the Urban Dictionary
describes "dank"
as slang for "sticky, hairy, stinky, and highly potent marijuana."

"That raises an interesting point: Did I create A New Financial Me by selling
marijuana? The highly sticky and potent kind? Perhaps, too, the poet (let's
not assume anymore that the "I" of the poem is I) is reflecting this by using
"sprouts" as a verb, a word that is commonly associated with plants. Is Brian
J. Foley advocating that his Readers become pot dealers? No, I am not. But
given that marijuana possession of less than one ounce has been
decriminalized in Massachusetts, where I am writing this book, mostly in the
nude, that is a fair assumption. (I am done writing it now, of course, but I am
probably still nude.)

"If you have some dank, please send it my way (less than an ounce). It is not
a criminal act. You may incur civil liability (a mere fine, and the police
might take away your dank, worth the risk of getting stoned senseless), but
you are not a criminal if you smoke dank. You are a pothead.

I think it would be hard to be a pot dealer if you can only have less than an
ounce on hand. You would have to keep running back to other dealers who
have less than an ounce to get your less than an ounce to sell to people. That
starts sounding like a pain. So if you want to be efficient, don't do that.
Instead, just break the law, and don't get caught.

"Can you make lots of Money selling drugs? My best source on this is the
1983 movie, Scarface, starring Al Pacino as Tony Montana. That Cuban
refugee definitely created A New Financial [Him] when he came to the
United States and became a drug dealer.

"Remember, my journey is not your journey. Nor is Tony Montana's journey
your journey. So it is irrelevant what "dank" means in the poem. We are
talking about your journey here.

"I have kicked you out of my apartment, just for being there, and out of your
apartment, possibly for smoking pot. That is one way to interpret today's
first step."

Did you get all that?

If you've really applied yourself and followed all the detours and crooked
roads to princely wealth set forth in this tome, you're probably hungry and
homeless, and precisely in the right frame of mind to consider the plight of
the world's billionaires.

Guru Foley starts off Day 37 (A "Special Bonus" For The Children) with a
discussion of "a Forbes article about what sort of parents rear financially
successful children."

" ran a story that talked about what the world's billionaires have
in common. We already know one thing: they have a lot of Money.
"But this Special Bonus! is for the children who may be reading A New
Financial You in 28 Days! A 37-Day Plan. If you are a child and reading
this, you are precocious. You are impatient, too impatient to wait for my
forthcoming A New Financial You in 28 Days! -- For the Children.
"Well, the early bird gets the worm. But who wants a worm? You want

"The story, "A Recipe for Riches," by Duncan Greenberg
forriches.html?mod=career-leadership> talked about some common traits
among billionaires. One had to do with dropping out of college (good), and
another had to do with going to a top business school (Harvard, Penn,
Columbia) to receive an M.B.A. (good). That means, "Master of Business
Administration." I am not sure how you can get an M.B.A. without going to
college. Were the billionaires able to buy their degrees directly and avoid
college? Were the degrees honorary? These billionaires are, after all,

"But I decided to write this Special Report! (# 4, to be exact) "for the
children," because an important factor in whether a person becomes a
billionaire is that his parents have "math-related" careers. Here's what the
article says:

"First, a significant percentage of them [billionaires] had parents with
a high aptitude for math. The ability to crunch numbers is crucial to
becoming a billionaire, and mathematical prowess is hereditary. Some
of the most common professions among the parents of Forbes 400
members (for whom we could find the information) were engineer,
accountant and small-business owner.

"So, I have advice to you -- advice that seemed unwilling or too
ignorant to give you, the children: Make sure your parents have "math-
related" careers. If your parents are unemployed, encourage them to go back
to school to learn one of these math careers. If any parent refuses, or simply
lacks the aptitude, you know what you have to do: Put yourself into foster
care with parents who have math careers.

"The following Web site will show you some of the forms that you will
need, legally, to get yourself into foster care. These forms are for the state of
California, but they are a start. Odds are, you are in California, because it's a
pretty big state: Care/California/index.html>.

"If your parents become upset, just share with them the link from They will understand. If they do not, then they do not "share
your values," and there is no reason for you to be with them. We are living,
after all, in the twenty-first century. We can choose our own destinies. We
can choose our own parents. You should also tell your foster parents to-be
that you plan not to go to college. When they realize that adopting you will
be "cost-free," and that you will be a thankful billionaire, their math minds, I
am sure, will quickly calculate that this is a good bet. This is better than
"humanities" parents, who will sit and wring their hands over vague things
such as love, parental ties, their own "experience" in raising you, and the

"Let me know how it turns out. Of course, purchase a copy of A New
Financial You in 28 Days! -- For the Children when it is published. If you
contact me and let me know that you took my advice and moved into foster
care, I will give you a ten percent discount. Use code # 2498KJW."

Anybody rather have the worm?

A Kindle E-Book. 2011, Gegensatz Press, North Syracuse, New York.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Can We Please Call a Nut a Nut?

By William Fisher

I must be some kind of masochist because I spend a good deal of my non-writing time watching cable TV. And, with a few notable exceptions, I’m appalled by the relentlessly low journalistic standards I see there every day.

Let me give you an example. Earlier this week, three teens attending a summer camp at Virginia Tech told campus police they saw a man carrying what might be a rifle of some kind. As soon as this information reached CNN, it went on air as, you guessed it, “breaking news.” Breaking news, course, grabs viewers’ attention.

Since Virginia Tech was not long ago the scene of a horrible gun attack that left many dead, CNN was arguably justified in running its bulletin. But throughout the day, the “breaking news” bulletins continued – without so much as a sliver of new information to help viewers understand what had happened. CNN’s “breaking news” was over late in the day only when campus police cancelled the lockdown of the university and called off the search for the illusory gunman. Ditto, MSNBC and Fox News.

But my real beef with cable – and with much of print media and almost all of the blogosphere – concerns far more serious issues. When I was in journalism school, I was taught about “Objectivity.” And when I went to work for the AP, I was handed their little booklet on the same subject.

Objectivity in those days meant that if I was covering a speech by a notorious demagogue, I’d have to find a external source to quote so my readers would know that the speaker was a notorious demagogue. I couldn’t do it myself – even though I knew the truth -- because “that would make me part of the story.”

And if an external source wasn’t immediately available, the quote might go unanswered for at least the first edition. It was this very sacred tenet of journalism that produced story after story in which the lead told of charges by Senator Joe McCarthy and an alternative view – if there was one at all – was written way down into the text.

And so it is on TV as well. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said on TV and in print that the Bush tax cuts increased revenue. This is a claim often made by Republican politicians, but it is denied by every responsible Republican economist I know and is clearly out of line with all known facts on the subject. The empirical evidence shows the Bush tax cuts produced no new revenue. Yet McConnell not only stuck to his statement – unchallenged – but also asserted that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

Let’s hope that when Mitt Romney, seen today as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, endorses the McConnell view – and he will -- there’ll be someone in the studio to challenge his “facts.”

We saw the same kind of “objectivity” during the “bargaining” over increasing the debt limit. Over and over, Republican spokespersons would try to sell us the insane idea that if we just shrank everybody’s budget to the vanishing point, obliterating the jobs of police, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, et cetera, we could balance the budget and create jobs. Just what jobs would thus be created remains unclear.

And since the Republicans were the first to speak, their claims occupied the leads in most of the stories covering the debt ceiling circus. Democratic politicians hit back, to be sure, but the public tends to remember the first thing it hears.

And so it was with the “economic plan” put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, labeled by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as the “innovative thinker du jour.”

Krugman noted that Ryan “has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his ‘Roadmap for America’s Future’, a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes.” News media coverage, he said, “has been overwhelmingly favorable.”

He cited a glowing profile of Ryan that The Washington Post put on its front page, “portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience.”

Ryan, Krugman continued, is “often described with phrases like ‘intellectually audacious.’ But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.”

Krugman continued: “Mr. Ryan’s plan calls for steep cuts in both spending and taxes. He’d have you believe that the combined effect would be much lower budget deficits, and, according to that Washington Post report, he speaks about deficits ‘in apocalyptic terms’. And The Post also tells us that his plan would, indeed, sharply reduce the flow of red ink: ‘The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020.’ But the budget office has done no such thing. At Mr. Ryan’s request, it produced an estimate of the budget effects of his proposed spending cuts — period. It didn’t address the revenue losses from his tax cuts.”

But most Americans never heard Krugman or any other journalist whose ideas even got close to Krugmans. The TV “debates” over his plan were dumbed down to pre-K levels – if they could be reduced to a 10-second sound bite. Ryan was incessantly hailed as “courageous” – even by Democrats who grudgingly acknowledged that “it took guts” to propose such a radical plan. That’s the same radical plan, by the way, that would turn Medicare into a voucher program; every senior would get a voucher to go out and buy private insurance, and if the insurance premium was higher than the value of the voucher, well, tough.

Another of the media’s pratfalls came in its non-response to the Republicans’ reluctance to create any new revenue by slightly increasing the taxes of the country’s wealthiest. The GOP talking points included the falsehood that these taxpayers were the nation’s “job creators.” (in other iterations, the job-creators were America’s small businesses). The “small businesses” included among the GOP’s wealthiest 400, by the way, include some of the country’s largest privately owned farms, which not only create very few jobs but in fact receive massive subsidies from the Department of Agriculture.

How utterly absurd is the proposition that the wealthiest among us create jobs for the poorest among us! If this were demonstrably true, based on experiential data, the country would have created millions of jobs during the George W. Bush presidency. What we know is that not a single job – not one – was created during the eight years of George Bush, despite tax cuts for the rich.

The Republicans are quite correct in their conviction that the country needs to reduce its deficit. But to reduce the deficit at a time when the economy cries out for stimulus, to reduce the deficit by cutting programs – and the millions of jobs that do with them – is the height of both historical ignorance and a brand of hubris not seen since that guy said, “bring ‘em on.”

When politicos lie or bend the truth, we tend to forgive them – most voters think most politicians lie all the time. But where is the check and balance? It used to be our newspapers. But today we have a shrinking number of newspapers we can rely on to at least try to tell us the truth. We have a TV medium that is money-centered, uncreative, and dismissive of any scintilla of common sense among their viewers. And we have a blogosphere wildly out of control with partisanship.

At least with most of the blogosphere, the biases are obvious and the reader always knows where he/she stands. That’s the way it was in the early days of journalism in America. So maybe those of us who try to stay informed today should simply read “Firedog Lake” followed by “Red State.”

That would certainly simplify our lives.