September 27, 2009 Issue #151
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
The Activist Newsletter, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by the Activist Calendar of progressive events, which is sent to Hudson Valley readers only. Editor: Jack A. Smith (who writes the articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). He is the former editor of the (U.S.) Guardian Newsweekly. Copy Editor: Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor: Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at email@example.com. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com.
1. LET’S MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION — President Obama is rethinking strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Let’s help him out at our Kingston peace rally Oct. 17 by telling him the only winning strategy is to End the War Now!
2. THE U.S. AND IRAN: A MANUFACTURED CRISIS — Part 1: The facts of the matter.
3. THE U.S. AND IRAN: A MANUFACTURED CRISIS — Part 2: Behind the Allegations.
4. THE U.S. AND IRAN: A MANUFACTURED CRISIS — Part 3: The case for Iran.
5. RIGHTS GROUPS CHALLENGE GOVERNMENT — Several organizations that protect U.S. civil liberties and human rights have issued separate statements critical of the White House and the CIA.
6. AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ AND U.S. STRATEGY — As Gen. McChrystal and the Pentagon scramble to avoid the appearance of defeat, Brian Becker writes that Afghanistan and Iraq will never accept colonialism of any kind.
7. WASHINGTON MARCH OCT. 11 FOR GAY/LESBIAN RIGHTS — Information about the march and rally and local transportation options.
8. IN DEFENSE OF ACORN — ACORN is being dragged through the mud recently because of a few very foolish employees, but it is a worthwhile progressive enterprise.
This is Part 2 of our October newsletter that was emailed Sept. 18 and is on our website. We had planned to write articles about Afghanistan, healthcare and poverty for this issue but along came Washington’s extraordinary allegations about Iran, suggesting that the Tehran government was preparing to secretly produce nuclear weapons. We had no choice but to concentrate on writing what turned out to be a 3-part series headlined “The U.S. and Iran: A Manufactured Crisis.” We decided to put all three parts in this issue. It’s an eye-opener and we hope you read it carefully and, if you wish, let us know what you think.
We’re not without coverage of Afghanistan, however. Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, has written an article titled “Afghanistan, Iraq and U.S. Strategy.”
We’re just 20 days away from the Oct. 17 nationwide protests protesting the beginning of the 9th year of George W. Bush’s Afghan war. An article about our Kingston demonstration is directly below. We hope to see you there.
And now for something entirely different, as the Monty Python announcer used to say, as “we” switch to the first person singular for approximately the third time in a decade:
Over the last year I’ve have received a great many invitations to become what is called a Facebook friend, mainly from readers, but friends and family, too. Thanks to all of you, including those of my daughters who sought my electronic “friendship,” but I’m just not ready to get on to Facebook, largely for reasons of time, and let it go at that.
I’m mentioning this only because it’s the best way of explaining to a lot of readers who have graciously extended me an invitation that it’s not a decision to say yes to one and no to another but an across-the-board disinclination to participate. I’m told it’s a great organizing tool, but I’ll stick with the newsletter for that.
I’m always many years behind trends involving new technologies and the latest this and that, except, of course, for Google. For instance, I still enjoy my martinis with gin, a hint of vermouth and three olives, and am close to being scandalized when asked whether it will be vodka and onion or similar concoctions.
In another 10 years I’ll probably obtain my own Facebook page and tell everybody how great it is, only to be informed that it’s so, well, 2009 of me to suggest something so quaint. By that time, “martinis” will probably consist of two parts Jack Daniel’s, three parts cherry soda, a hint of asphalt and a substantial twist of whale blubber.
1. LET’S MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION
So far things are going quite well in preparing for the antiwar rally in Kingston Saturday, Oct. 17, organized by Peace & Social Progress Now! to mark the 8th anniversary of the U.S. invasion/occupation of Afghanistan. This is more than we can say about the war itself.
The Obama Administration is in the midst of rethinking its strategy in Afghanistan as the fighting intensifies, the war is going nowhere fast and the costs are breaking the bank. A majority of American public opinion, including nearly 80% of Democratic voters, has turned against this unnecessary, unwinnable and now unpopular remnant of the Bush Administration’s malicious imprint upon our society. The only majority behind this war are the Republicans.
Let’s help President Obama make the right decision at this critical juncture by reviving our Hudson Valley peace movement and telling him the winning strategy is to End the War Now! This is an important juncture when our voices must be heard. Join us Saturday, Oct. 17, at Academy Green Park from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., rain or shine.
At this point we’re collecting endorsements from various groups, picking speakers and entertainers, making signs and encouraging people to write letters to the editor of their local papers announcing the event. We’re not only asking our readers to attend the rally but to bring people with them if possible. Local groups are invited to set up lit tables and to bring their signs and organizational banners, if desired.
Here are directions to Academy Green Park from Kingston Thruway exit 19: Leaving the toll booths you will enter a traffic circle. Go most of the way around and emerge at Chandler Drive. Drive for about a mile to the first traffic light at Albany Ave. Turn right a short distance and you’re there. Park in the small shopping center lot right there or on local streets.
For rally information, leaflets to distribute, or to volunteer, contact Jack or Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (845) 255-5779.
2. THE U.S. AND IRAN: A MANUFACTURED CRISIS — Part 1: The facts of the matter.
No one knows what will emerge ultimately from the talks beginning in Geneva Oct. 1 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on the matter of the Tehran government’s nuclear program.
Iran says it looks forward to the talks and promises to be forthcoming. But judging by the stance of the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany last week at the UN conferences in New York and the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, draconian sanctions may be enacted against Iran in a few months. This would result in yet another crisis that the world doesn’t need just now.
Russia and China — which hold veto power in the Security Council that can weaken or prevent additional sanctions — have up to now resisted the Obama Administration’s drive for tough new UN punishments. President Barack Obama met separately during the week with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao in an effort to obtain their agreement to threaten more stringent sanctions should Iran procrastinate during the talks.
The White House later suggested to the press that Medvedev may be coming around to Obama’s point of view, but this seems to be based on very skimpy evidence — a remark that "in some cases sanctions are inevitable." Hu evidently didn’t even go that far. China opposes sanctions in principle as a means of resolving international disputes.
Moscow and Beijing do not subscribe to the negative depiction of Iran promoted by Washington, Tel Aviv, London, Paris and Berlin. They understand the situation to be far more complex than the U.S. and its allies publicly acknowledge.
The Iran question suddenly took center stage Sept. 25 during a week of hectic political activity. The White house set up a hastily arranged and theatrically produced press conference at the start of the G20 meeting in order to detonate a political bombshell intended to destroy Tehran’s contention that it is only interested in nuclear power, not nuclear weapons.
The conference opened with Obama standing at the microphone with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown standing solemnly to his left and right. It was explained that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would have joined the trio but was delayed.
Obama then declared that Iran had for several years been secretly building an underground plant in mountainous terrain to manufacture nuclear fuel near the city of Qom about 100 miles from Tehran, in addition to the plant and facilities in Natanz already known to the world. He suggested the new plant was intended to produce weapons without the world’s knowledge.
Obama then charged that “Iran's decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime .... Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow .... and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.” Refusal to “come clean,” he said, “is going to lead to confrontation.”
Sarkozy and Brown followed Obama and seemed to go even further than the American leader in denouncing Iran, explicitly demanding harder sanctions. Said Brown: “The level of deception by the Iranian government, and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the entire international community.”
The New York Times reported that “after months of talking about the need for engagement, Mr. Obama appears to have made a leap toward viewing tough new sanctions against Iran as an inevitability .... American officials said that they expected the announcement to make it easier to build a case for international sanctions.”
The majority of House and Senate members have long been critical of Iran’s government and the new allegations have only substantiated their suspicions. Right wing Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, declared: "The U.S. and other countries must immediately impose crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime, including cutting off Iran’s imports of gasoline. The world cannot stand by and watch the nightmare of a nuclear-armed Iran become reality." Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated "now is the time to supplement engagement with more robust international sanctions."
As intended, the hyped disclosure created headlines around the world. It probably convinced many Americans, already primed to detest Iran, that Tehran is building nuclear bombs to obliterate the U.S. and Israel. This is not an unlikely conclusion for many people to accept after 30 years of Washington’s incessant campaign to demonize the government that overthrew and replaced America’s puppet, the dreaded Shah of Iran. The U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Iran after this act of lèse majesté and the subsequent “hostage crisis,” and has nourished a grudge to this day.
If push does come to shove with Iran it is important to remember how effortless it was to hoodwink the majority of American politicians and the masses of people into backing a completely unnecessary war against Iraq. As in the buildup to the unjust invasion of Iraq, today’s U.S. corporate mass media is playing its principal part to perfection — uncritically echoing government distortions about the danger of Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons. The Iran situation is different, but yet similar in terms of mass public manipulation and the possibility of a future confrontation getting out of hand.
Can this be, once again, a situation of high-stakes geopolitics where things are not as they seem? We think so. Let’s look at the immediate charge against Iran, based on the “revelations” of the last week, then take on the bigger picture in Part 2.
The “shocking” news may have been delivered with a sense of surprise and high urgency, but U.S. intelligence agencies, joined by their counterparts in some allied countries, were aware since 2006 that Iran was constructing a second uranium processing plant that still remains under construction and is not operational. According to a Sept. 26 article circulated by the McClatchy newspaper group quoting a U.S. intelligence official, "There was dialogue with allies from a very early point.”
Bush Administration Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnel first informed Obama about the facility soon after he won election. He has been kept up to date since then. Before going public with the information last week, the president saw to it that several other governments were told in advance, as was the IAEA and others.
Washington officials claimed Iran became aware “in late spring” that the U.S. was spying on the “secret” facility. They said Iran then informed the International Atomic Energy Agency Sept. 21 about the existence of its project, implying Tehran did so because its cover was blown. In a statement Sept. 24 the IAEA acknowledged that Tehran had informed them that a “pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country,” and that it “also understands from Iran that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility.”
Iran insisted to the Vienna-based IAEA and the world that the enrichment plant under construction is designed only for fueling nuclear power installations. Soon after Obama’s G20 speech, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization declared the new “semi-industrial enrichment fuel facility” was “within the framework of International Atomic Energy Agency’s regulations.” Press reports said “The head of Iran's nuclear program suggested UN inspectors would be allowed to visit the site.” The invitation was extended before Washington’s demand that it do so.
A quite unruffled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared at a press conference in New York after Obama’s disclosures. He seemed to regard the American president’s allegations, and the staged manner in which they were delivered, not only the making of a mountain out of a molehill but an act of bad faith just before the talks are to begin, suggesting non-threateningly that Obama will come to regret his confrontational demeanor.
Ahmadinejad told the press that the plant in question wouldn't be operational for 18 more months and that it did not violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). He went further and said nuclear weapons "are against humanity [and] they are inhumane," comments in keeping with his recent calls for eliminating all nuclear weapons. The Iranian leader also said that Iran informed the IAEA about the plant only a few days ago instead of when ground was broken because construction had reached the stage where it should be reported, not because it found out that a U.S. spy agency was watching.
What are we to make of this? First it must be understood there is a complex dispute over the IAEA’s safeguard provisions governing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iran considers itself to be in total compliance with the NPT, and this appears to be true. Inter-Press Service reporter Jim Lobe wrote Sept. 25 that “Under the basic Safeguards Agreement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of which Iran is a signatory, member states are required to declare their nuclear facilities and designs at least 180 days before introducing nuclear materials there.”
According to an article in the Sept. 26 New York Times by Neil MacFarquhar, “Tehran’s stance hinges on different interpretations of the agency’s regulations, said Graham Allison, the director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center and an Iran nuclear expert.
“For two decades, the agency required Iran to report only when nuclear material [for uranium enrichment] was introduced to a facility. By 2003 it rescinded that, in line with the guidelines for most [but not all] countries, demanding reporting when construction began, Mr. Allison said. But the agency never declared Iran out of compliance when Tehran claimed the old agreement was still in place.”
In talking to the press after Obama’s speech, Ahmadinejad said that the new facility would be completed in 18 months, so under Iran’s understanding of its responsibilities, its notification was a year in advance. The U.S. maintains that Iran informed the IAEA when it learned U.S. spy agencies had become aware of the plant, but if that were so, why did Teheran wait three months before contacting the nuclear agency?
"What we did was completely legal, according to the law,” the Iranian president said. “We have informed the agency, the agency will come and take a look and produce a report and it's nothing new." According to the Associated Press Teheran’s notice to the IAEA specified that the enrichment level would be up to 5%, suitable only for peaceful purposes. Weapons-grade material is more than 90% enriched.”
The AP also noted that the IAEA now “says Iran is obliged to make such a notification when it begins design of such facilities” and that “a government cannot unilaterally abandon such an agreement.” This is confusing, of course. But since Iran was never designated as noncompliant and was allowed to proceed under the previous rules after it registered its rejection, the thunderous criticism emanating from the U.S., Britain and France appears to have no merit.
3. THE U.S. AND IRAN: A MANUFACTURED CRISIS — Part 2: Behind the Allegations
There’s obviously more than meets the eye to unproven allegations of late September from the U.S. and its allies that Iran’s nuclear program is really intended to result in the clandestine production of nuclear weapons, presumably to attack other countries.
As we proceed with our analysis, here are a few things that should be kept in mind.
• So far there is absolutely no evidence Iran is going to “weaponize” its nuclear power program and build atomic bombs. So far it has been abiding by the NPT, has pledged not to produce nuclear weapons, is under very close scrutiny by the IAEA, and obviously its program is the target of intensive surveillance by the United States. There is no secret way in which it can construct nuclear weapons under such circumstances.
• Israel possesses an arsenal of up to 200 nuclear weapons and thumbs its nose at the IAEA and the NPT, with which it is notoriously noncompliant. If President Obama must sternly castigate Iran, which does not have nuclear weapons, for “breaking rules that all nations must follow .... and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world,” why does he protect Israel from international sanction and subsidize its military machine? Pakistan and India are also noncompliant, but they too are allies of Washington and thus have been granted immunity.
• In this connection it must be noted that the far right wing Tel Aviv government appears to be on the verge of launching an attack on Iran and has made this well known to the world. But it receives no censure for such threats from the U.S. and its European allies, or for the horror it inflicted on Gaza a few months ago. Imagine the outcry if Iran threatened to attack Israel, or its army entered the territory of a neighboring society and inflicted terrible cruelties largely upon its civilian population for not submitting to national oppression. And yet Tel Aviv calls Iran an "existential" threat despite Israel’s nuclear weapons, it’s superior military force and its support from the entire American military apparatus, including 2,600 strategic nuclear warheads on hair-trigger readiness. But as we've noted before, the only concrete threat to Israel’s existence would be if the U.S. government withdrew its political, military and financial support.
• Washington's geopolitical interests are key to America’s relationship to Iran and the Middle East in general. The U.S. desires to control — or at minimum to keep out of "unfriendly" hands — the immense oil reserves possessed by Iran and neighboring Iraq. It fears a future alliance between these resource rich developing countries, who also happen to be the only two nations in the world governed by Shi’ite Muslims. The U.S. invaded to overthrow the "unfriendly," Sunni-backed Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. But it can neither rely totally on its selected successor regime in Baghdad, nor has it yet been able to remove the theocratic government in Tehran, which is conservative domestically but puts forward an anti-imperialist foreign policy that drives the world’s remaining superpower to distraction.
Washington’s objective at the talks beginning Oct. 1 is to coerce Iran to accept extremely intrusive controls on its nuclear development, combining dire threats for refusal with small rewards for agreement. The Tehran government said it will reject demands that it halt uranium enrichment, a main concern of the five members of the Security Council plus Germany, but indicated without elaboration that "Iran is ready to ... help ease joint international concerns over the nuclear issue." (Enriched uranium is required to power nuclear plants for civilian uses. Much greatly enriched uranium is required for weapons.)
Washington wants to confine the seven-party discussions to Tehran’s nuclear project, but the Iranian government put forward it own proposal in early September for “comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations.” The U.S. rejected the proposal, but accepted it with seeming reluctance the next day. (We don’t know what happened to change things.) The Iranian suggestions include hastening global nuclear disarmament, ending nuclear proliferation and working toward world peace. Theoretically, Washington agrees with these goals, but doesn’t really want to discuss them with Iran.
The White House knows that in a broader discussion of nonproliferation issues Iran would draw attention to the three U.S. allies presently defying the NPT and getting away with it, and also show that the U.S. itself is noncompliant because it was supposed to have made more progress by now in reducing the Pentagon's nuclear arsenal. Further, the U.S. will hardly discuss an Iranian proposal for a comprehensive agreement to achieve “global peace and security based on justice” that includes an inquiry into America’s aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel’s astonishingly disproportionate violence against Gaza and Lebanon.
The Obama Administration wants at minimum to impose stringent sanctions on Iran if no progress is made to its satisfaction in the next few months as demanded by U.S. neoconservatives, the right wing in general and those influenced by AIPAC, which describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.”
One reason for harsh sanctions would be to hasten the downfall of the Ahmadinejad government, if possible, by creating a serious economic crisis, unemployment, and suffering to exacerbate existing social tensions within the Islamic Republic. The last time Washington engaged in deep sanctions was from 1991-2003 when it has been verified that over a million Iraqis, including a huge number of children, died from various deprivations from hunger to unclean drinking water.
If sanctions are the minimum, the maximum response would be unleashing Israel to attack Iran — an action that would backfire as surely as there is water in the Hudson River.
After his Pittsburgh speech Obama told the press he wasn't “taking any options off the table,” a phrase he has used a number of times in relation to Iran. It means war remains an option for the U.S., even over the relatively petty issue of an empty building still under construction that’s probably intended to produce energy, not violence. This same statement was a favorite of Bush II as well, and he used it repeatedly in relation to Iran. In April 2006, at a time when Dick Cheney, the neoconservatives and their supporters were pushing hard for war against Iran, the BBC reported that “Bush says all options, including the use of force, are on the table." As they say, the more things change....
Although some in Washington are hopeful that Ahmadinejad will be weakened in the nuclear talks because of opposition claims that he "stole" the June 12 election in Iran, we don’t believe this is a factor. So far, more than three and a half months later, there has not been any concrete evidence to support the opposition allegations of electoral fraud.
While the U.S. mass media depicts Ahmadinejad as being under virtual siege from a majority of Iranians, other information shows this is exaggerated. Inter-Press Service reported the following Sept. 19 in an article by Jim Lobe headlined, "New Poll Finds Strong Domestic Support for Iran Regime.":
"A new survey of Iranian public opinion released here [today] suggests majority domestic support for both him [Ahmadinejad] and the country’s basic governing institutions. Four out of five of the 1,003 Iranian respondents interviewed in the survey released by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project of the highly respected Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) of the University of Maryland, said they considered Ahmadinejad to be the legitimate president of Iran.
"Sixty-two percent of respondents said they had 'a lot of confidence' in the declared election results, which gave Ahmadinejad 62.6% of the vote within hours of the polls’ closing Jun. 12 and which were swiftly endorsed by the Islamic Republic’s Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Three of four respondents said Khamenei had reacted correctly in his endorsement."
No mass demonstrations have taken place from early August until Sept. 18, when thousands of protestors marched in Tehran in an attempt to rival much larger government-sponsored annual rallies in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle on what is called "Jerusalem Day" in Iran. Coming just two weeks before the opening of the nuclear talks, it was obviously intended to convey the impression internationally that Ahmadinejad did not really represent the will of the Iranian people. Police handled the dissenters with kid gloves.
A number of the demonstrators and signs seemed to oppose the Tehran government's support for the Palestinians as well as Ahmadinejad's re-election. The Economist reported chants of "Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I'll only give my life for Iran," although Jerusalem Day observances never suggested Iranians should give their lives for either Gaza or Lebanon, both of which have been targets of Israeli military aggression. There were also chants of "Death to Russia" and "Death to China," evidently a reference to their refusal to join the U.S. and Israel in denunciations of the Tehran government.
In a speech that day, Ahmadinejad in effect pulled the rug from under his own feet in terms of international opinion by once again charging that the Holocaust was a "lie." Wisely, the Iranian leader did not repeat the preposterous allegation during his 35 minute speech to the UN General Assembly in New York Sept. 23. He mainly discussed building durable world peace and “elimination of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to pave the way for all nations to have access to advanced and peaceful technology.”
He criticized the U.S. and Israel, but seemed somewhat subdued. According to Sarah Wheaton in the New York Times blog that evening, he “said the United States was aiding Israel in ‘racist ambitions,’ called Israel’s attack on Gaza in December ‘barbaric’ and said the economic blockade of Palestinians amounts to ‘genocide’” — comments that provoked the U.S. and 10 other delegations to walk out. Israel didn’t attend in the first place.
Soon after Ahmadinejad’s speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the General Assembly that “The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” and urged the delegates to oppose Iranian “barbarism.”
Back in Israel Sept. 26, according to an AP dispatch from Jerusalem, “Netanyahu spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a number of unidentified U.S. senators and told them that now is the time to act on Iran. Israel maintains the Islamic republic is seeking nuclear weapons. ‘If not now then when?’ the official quoted Netanyahu as saying. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak with the media. He did not disclose what kind of action Netanyahu recommended be taken.
“Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said earlier in the day that the Iranian nuclear facility proves ‘without a doubt’ the Islamic republic is pursuing nuclear weapons. ‘This removes the dispute whether Iran is developing military nuclear power or not and therefore the world powers need to draw conclusions,’ Lieberman told Israel Radio. ‘Without a doubt it is a reactor for military purposes not peaceful purposes.’”
(End of Part 2. Part 3 follows below)
4. THE U.S. AND IRAN: A MANUFACTURED CRISIS — Part 3: The case for Iran
There have been a number of reports this year that Iran is not constructing weapons. For example, “Intelligence Agencies Say No New Nukes in Iran” was the headline on a Newsweek article Sept. 16 that read in part:
“The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program, two counter-proliferation officials tell Newsweek. U.S. agencies had previously said that Tehran halted the program in 2003.
“The officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that U.S. intelligence agencies have informed policymakers at the White House and other agencies that the status of Iranian work on development and production of a nuclear bomb has not changed since the formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's ‘Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities’ in November 2007. Public portions of that report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had ‘high confidence" that, as of early 2003, Iranian military units were pursuing development of a nuclear bomb, but that in the fall of that year Iran ‘halted its nuclear weapons program.’ The document said that while U.S. agencies believed the Iranian government ‘at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,’ U.S. intelligence as of mid-2007 still had ‘moderate confidence’ that it had not restarted weapons-development efforts.
“One of the two officials said that the Obama administration has now worked out a system in which intelligence agencies provide top policymakers, including the president, with regular updates on intelligence judgments like the conclusions in the 2007 Iran NIE. According to the two officials, the latest update to policymakers has been that as of now — two years after the period covered by the 2007 NIE — U.S. intelligence agencies still believe Iran has not resumed nuclear-weapons development work. ‘That's the conclusion, but it's one that—like every other—is constantly checked and reassessed, both to take account of new information and to test old assumptions,’ one of the officials told Newsweek.”
In this connection, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair — the insider’s insider — testified before Congress in February that there was no evidence Iran is producing the highly enriched uranium required for nuclear weapons.
The September-October issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists contained an interview with Mohamed El Baradei, the retiring long time director of the IAEA, in which he declared: "We have not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program .... But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran's nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world....
“In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there's concern about Iran's future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and the international community .... But the idea that we'll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn't supported by the facts as we have seen them so far."
The Sept. 21 issue of Newsweek reported that “quarrels concerning the ultimate aim of Iran's secretive nuke program have become so heated that some UN officials are making comparisons to the proliferation of misinformation in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.” The article continued:
“In a private email sent last week to nuclear experts and obtained by Newsweek, Tariq Rauf, a senior official with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, wrote that the mainstream media are repeating mistakes from 2003, when they ‘carried unsubstantiated stories on Iraq and WMD — the same mistakes are being repeated re IAEA and Iran.’ Rauf added that ‘the hype is likely originating from certain (known) sources.’ The message does not specify the sources, but U.S. and European officials have previously accused Israel of exaggerating Iran's nuclear progress.”
On Feb. 22, India’s mass circulation daily The Hindu reported: “Iran has not converted the low-grade uranium that it has produced into weapon-grade uranium, inspectors belonging to the International Atomic Energy Agency have said. The Austrian Press Agency quoted an IAEA expert as saying that the uranium substances that Iran has produced at its Natanz enrichment facility have been carefully recorded and remote cameras have been installed to supervise part of the stockpile. ‘If the Iranians intend to transport these uranium substances to a secret location for further processing, the agency’s inspectors will find out,‘ he said. The expert added that ‘so far, Iran has carried out good cooperation with us in relevant verifications.’”
The French news agency AFP reported Sept. 20 that “Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today denied the West's charge that Tehran aims to develop nuclear weapons under a covert program, insisting the Islamic Republic bans such activity. ‘They falsely accuse [Iran] of producing nuclear weapons. We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons and prohibit the production and the use of nuclear weapons,’ Khamenei said in a speech broadcast by state television. ‘They know themselves that it's not true ... but it is part of Iran-phobia policy that controls the behavior of these arrogant governments today.’”
In our view, Iran is no danger to Israel, the United States, or the Sunni Arab world. It wants to protect its revolution, independence and what it considers its precious Islamic Republic. The Ahmadinejad government and Ayatollah Khamenei fully understand that heavy U.S. sanctions are capable of causing extreme agony for the masses of its people and would lead to a weakening of the state. Tehran is also aware that if it produces one nuclear weapon it may be mercilessly attacked.
Iran’s leadership is not suicidal, and is well aware that if Tehran not only produced a weapon but actually launched a nuclear missile toward Israel, the massive retaliation from the U.S. and Israel would obliterate most of Iranian society, whether or not its weapon was deflected by the U.S. anti-missile system that the Obama Administration is now going to place aboard Navy ships in the Mediterranean. (President Bush wanted to deploy the system to Poland and the Czech Republic to threaten Russia, not to defend Europe against an Iranian attack. By moving the ABMs south, Obama achieved two objectives: He got Russia off his back, while assuring Israel of yet another layer of U.S. protection.)
For all its fiery international rhetoric, Iran’s leadership is essentially cautious, and its military intentions are defensive. The country hasn’t started a war in almost 200 years, and the Iranian people have no desire to replicate the horror of the defensive war they waged against the Iraqi aggressor for most of the 1980s.
Developing nuclear weapons in today’s world makes a country a recognized power, and is a great defense against imperial aggression, particularly for a country that has long been on Washington’s hit list and narrowly avoided an invasion during the Bush years.
But we believe that Iran — even if it knows how to produce a nuclear bomb — will not weaponize because it wishes to demonstrate its adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and because it desires to survive the hostility of America and Israel. At the same time, Iran does not intend to be humiliated and hampered by hugely excessive restrictions and intrusive surveillance that is not applied to other countries in compliance with the NPT. Nor does it intend to turn tail because of threats from those who object to its support of the Palestinian people and its opposition to imperialism.
If the United States genuinely wishes to resolve its dispute with Iran, it is possible to do so rationally and without violence. But this means President Obama must treat Iran as an equal, accept the reality that Tehran and Washington see the world differently, and negotiate in good faith.
Most Americans and virtually the rest of the world have high hopes about Obama, especially after the dreadful Bush Administration. We certainly recognize the improvement, but have doubts, not high hopes, when it comes to the direction of American foreign policy. We see little difference, other than the cosmetic, between the Obama Administration’s international strategy and the strategy of American global domination and hegemony based on military power that has prevailed in Washington in its present incarnation since the end of World War II.
We’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong. But that would take the development of a massive progressive movement in this country, focused in this instance on world peace, the equality of peoples, and justice for all, a not unreasonable goal worth struggling for, in our view. And as far as nuclear proliferation is concerned, the only true solution is total nuclear disarmament, a position, by the way, that Iran appears to be putting forth these days.
— Our analysis of the Iranian election and the meaning of the opposition movement was published July 12, 2009, in the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter (#148), titled "What Really Just Happened in Iran?" It is available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/
5. RIGHTS GROUPS CHALLENGE GOVERNMENT
Several guardians of U.S. civil liberties and human rights were critical of the White House and the CIA in separate statements Sept. 22 and 23.
The American Civil Liberties Union testified before a key House subcommittee Sept. 22 on the need for comprehensive reform of the USA Patriot Act. The ACLU has challenged the Act both in the courts and in the halls of Congress in the nearly eight years since its passage.
Three surveillance provisions — the John Doe roving wiretap provision, Section 215 or the "library records" provision and the "lone wolf" provision — are up for renewal this year and will expire on Dec. 31 if Congress does not take action. The New York Times reported Sept. 16 that the Justice Department told Congress the White House "supports extending the three provisions" and seeks their renewal.
The next day, in response to the CIA's refusal to confirm or deny the existence of key torture documents, three human rights groups called on President Obama to hold true to his promise of a transparent era.
The groups — Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Amnesty International USA (AI), and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law — made their statement following the CIA's refusal to acknowledge documents detailing detainee abuse and 'black site' detention in the groups' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.
The ACLU is seeking comprehensive reform of the Patriot Act and is urging Congress to revisit other surveillance laws expanded in recent years to bring them back in line with the Constitution. The ACLU also urges Congress to pass the JUSTICE Act, a bill introduced in the Senate in mid-September to narrow several provisions of the Patriot Act and other surveillance laws, including the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, by inserting privacy and civil liberties safeguards into each law. The bill was introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and committee member Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).
"The Patriot Act has not only been a minefield for Americans’ rights, it also started a steady expansion of many of America’s surveillance laws," said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI agent. "In the wake of 9/11, Congress hastily amended and expanded the government’s authority to conduct domestic surveillance without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Congress must now seize the opportunity to bring these laws in line with the Constitution by passing the JUSTICE Act."
Since it was rushed through Congress just 45 days after Sept. 11, the Patriot Act has paved the way for the expansion of government-sponsored surveillance including the gutting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to allow dragnet collection of Americans’ communications. Over the last eight years, numerous expansions of executive authority have worked in tandem to infringe upon Americans’ rights. The ACLU says only by understanding the larger picture of the combined effects of Patriot Act, the amendments to FISA and other changes to surveillance law can Congress make an informed, consistent and principled decision about whether and how to amend all of these very powerful surveillance tools.
"The Patriot Act fundamentally altered the relationship Americans share with their government," said German. "By expanding the government’s authority to secretly search our private records and monitor our communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing, the Patriot Act eroded our most basic right — the freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into our private lives. Put very simply, under the Patriot Act the government now has the right to know what you’re doing, but you have no right to know what it’s doing. The time for Patriot Act reform is long overdue."
The statement from CCR, AI, and CHRGJ followed the CIA's suggestion that Congress may have an interest in withholding 10 documents related to the torture program. "Now that the CIA has released so much, there is no good justification for continuing to withhold this information carte blanche on 'national security' grounds," said AI's Tom Parker. "Today's move is an abuse of these allowances. By hiding behind this weak justification, the government is violating the very spirit of FOIA just to hide its own embarrassing and illegal behavior."
Commented CCR attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez: "For our democratic system to work, we must be able to ensure that all members of government follow our laws and adhere to the limits of their power. The only way to do this is through real transparency and responsibility, not further evasion and cover-ups created by secrecy or a play on words."
Added Jayne Huckerby of CHRGJ: "As the public record on the U.S. secret detention program continues to grow, the government's persistent secrecy becomes more inexcusable by the day. The Obama Administration should provide the countless individuals who were disappeared ... with the basic dignity they have long been denied, starting with an acknowledgment that the U.S. abducted and secretly imprisoned them, without explanation, and without any recourse to justice."
In another case, the Obama Administration is doing everything possible to withhold new photographs of U.S. torture and gross humiliation of detainees held abroad and additional documents relating to America's torture program. President Barack Obama reversed himself in May and agreed to block publication of these pictures and related documents. Publication, he said, could harm the safety of U.S. troops and "inflame anti-American opinion."
The ACLU won a lawsuit stipulating that the torture trove was to be made public Aug. 31 unless the CIA provided a justification for keeping them classified. The day the CIA was supposed to release the material, the spy agency — backed by the Justice Department — filed a legal justification for hiding the torture information, arguing release would endanger national security.
Commenting on the CIA/Justice Department rationale, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, declared:
"The CIA's justification for withholding the documents is entirely incompatible with the Obama administration's stated commitment to ending torture and restoring governmental transparency. On the one hand, President Obama has publicly recognized that torture undermines the rule of law and America's standing in the world, but on the other, the CIA continues to argue in court that it cannot disclose information about its torture techniques because it would jeopardize the CIA's interrogation program. The CIA's arguments are utterly disconnected from the Obama administration's stated positions. The agency seems to be disregarding altogether the important policy changes that President Obama announced immediately after he took office."
— Most of the information in this article was made available to us by the ACLU and CCR.
6. AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ AND U.S. STRATEGY
[Editor's Note: The following analysis has been written by Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition*. As Gen. McChrystal and the Pentagon scramble to avoid the appearance of defeat, he writes that Afghanistan and Iraq will never accept colonialism.]
By Brian Becker
The U.S. public largely opposed the invasion of Iraq while being generally supportive of the invasion of Afghanistan. That is now changing. Majority sentiment has moved, and will continue to move, in opposition to the plans for a protracted war and occupation in Afghanistan.
There is both uncertainty and debate within the Obama administration and among the Pentagon brass about what to do in Afghanistan: continue to send ever more troops; seek a truce with the Taliban and create a government of "national unity" that includes the Taliban and either Hamid Karzai or another U.S. political puppet; or both.
Because of the division within the ruling class on its Afghanistan policy, it is possible that the intervention of a mass grassroots movement opposing the war can become a factor in domestic political calculations. This is precisely what happened during the Vietnam War.
The primary strategic objectives and goals that originally motivated the U.S. invasion have been significantly modified as a consequence of the unanticipated armed resistance, also known as the insurgency, in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The political alignments in Iraq bear little or no resemblance to the constellation of political forces in Afghanistan and yet there is an overarching similarity, at least in terms of the evolved objectives of the U.S. invasion and occupation.
Both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, a principal goal of the Pentagon morphed into a much lower baseline objective: to avoid defeat or the appearance of defeat at the hands of an armed insurgency.
Avoiding defeat in Vietnam was the goal Nixon and Kissinger set for themselves when they took office in 1969. They, however, quickly modified the objective: They quickly discovered that defeat was inevitable, so they settled on an even lesser objective: to avoid the appearance of being defeated. Thus was born the fraudulent slogan "Peace with Honor." For this noble cause, another 30,000 young GIs perished before the inevitable troop pullout from Vietnam in 1973. The number of Vietnamese killed between 1969 and 1973 was greater by many hundreds of thousands.
The initial goal of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was far greater. "Avoiding defeat" did not enter into the calculations of Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld. No, they were sure that they could create in both countries a colonial-type state.
A colonial-type state is distinguished from a classic colonial entity. Classic colonialism features the acquisition by the colonial entity of the formal state power and with it the formal and legal administrative and military obligations that belong to government. The indigenous population provides personnel, administrators, bureaucrats and soldiers under the command of the hierarchal authority of the colonizers.
Classic colonialism also features the complete control and direction of the indigenous economy by the colonizing entity for the purpose of acquiring natural resources, cheap labor and access to markets for the industrial and commercial capitalist interests of the colonizer. This characteristic is equally present in both classic colonialism and in the modern colonial-type arrangement sought by the United States. In the case of Iraq, its vast nationalized oil fields were to be privatized and controlled by U.S. and British oil interests. Its nationalized banking sector was to be gobbled up by Wall Street.
Kwame Nkrumah, the former president of Ghana and a leader of the Pan-African movement, described the features of what he called neo-colonialism: "The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside."
Nkrumah prophetically described the many variants of the new colonialism, but placed the primacy of economic penetration as the "normal" and central method whereby the old colonial powers retain control over the former colonies.
"The methods and form of this direction can take various shapes. For example, in an extreme case the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neo-colonial State and control the government of it. More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means."
In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of a colonial-type or neo-colonial state requires the garrisoning of large numbers of U.S. troops on U.S. military bases to dominate the political landscape and protect large numbers of U.S. administrators. Nkrumah called this "an extreme case," but it is indispensable in both Iraq and Afghanistan, although for widely different reasons. Without vast numbers of foreign forces on its soil, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan can function as colonial-type states. Iraq for instance—with its oil, significant water resources, large and educated population, potential military capability, and political legacy since the triumph of the 1958 anti-colonial revolution—would resume its place as a regional power in the Arab world.
The destruction of the Ba’athist state by foreign military invasion was supposed to blast open the possibility of large, multiple U.S. military bases that would remain forever in Iraq. U.S. rulers understood that, without foreign troops and permanent military bases on its soil providing protection for legions of U.S. administrators and technocrats, Iraq would resume its position of independence, notwithstanding its economic decline from years of war and sanctions.
The Bush administration and the Pentagon initially envisioned laying the foundation for a new strategic axis for the Middle East. It would be the Washington-Baghdad-Tel Aviv partnership that would police the oil-rich Middle East on behalf of U.S. interests. That would require turning Iraq into a colonial-type state.
It was a policy that had some historical resonance. It was a throwback to the golden days of a Washington-Tel Aviv-Tehran axis policing the oil-rich Gulf. The Shah of Iran was a loyal puppet, and the Israelis functioned as a dependent garrison state striking out at any expression of Arab nationalism that threatened U.S. domination strategies.
But the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy was a fantasy that has been shattered by subsequent events. Starting in 2007, the Pentagon adjusted its approach. The 2007 so-called surge of troops in Iraq was basically propaganda masking the actual new strategy, which was to pay the insurgents to stop shooting at U.S. troops and blowing them up with IEDs. This would allow the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces in an orderly way, thus avoiding the appearance that the empire had been defeated or had been unable to succeed in Iraq.
The humongous U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was conceived as the directing body of the new colonial-type state in Iraq. It is the largest in the world. Conceived for more than 1,000 U.S. personnel to function as behind-the-scenes administrators, the embassy would serve as the management arm of the new colonial-type state.
This, too, will turn out to be unviable. Iraq has been economically devastated, but the aspirations for a colonial-type state administered by the U.S. Embassy in downtown Baghdad are incompatible with the reality of Iraq. The Iraqi people are imbued with anti-colonial consciousness directly resulting from 90 years of struggle—dating back to at least the 1920 national rebellion that defeated British colonial forces.
Iraqi reporter Muntadhar al-Zaidi became a national hero when he risked death and endured terrible torture for hurling his shoes at Bush. His words on Sept. 15 upon his release and the depth of the support he continues to receive from throughout Iraq speak volumes about the political intensity of Iraqi anti-colonial sentiment:
"They [U.S. officials] will boast about the deceit and the means they used in order to gain their objective. It is not strange, not much different from what happened to the Native Americans at the hands of colonialists. Here I say to them (the occupiers) and to all who follow their steps, and all those who support them and spoke up for their cause: Never. Because we are a people who would rather die than face humiliation."
In the United States, a large sector of the population recognized that the Iraq invasion was a war of aggression, pure and simple.
It was different with Afghanistan. Public opinion was largely supportive of the invasion, because the Bush administration and all Democratic Party leaders promoted the idea that Afghanistan was the source of the Sept. 11 attacks. After all, Osama Bin Laden was a "guest" of the Taliban government in Kabul at the time of the attack.
The cold fact is that there were no Iraqis or Afghans on the planes that were hijacked on Sept. 11, yet hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans are dead because of the U.S. invasion. Millions more live as refugees.
Afghanistan, according to the Bush administration and the Pentagon, was to serve as the military pivot for policing U.S. interests. Huge forward bases for the Pentagon throughout the country would change the relationship of forces in Central Asia.
Afghanistan shares extensive borders with Iran to the west and a long border with Pakistan to the south and east. It borders China to the northeast and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the north.
As with Iraq, the Bush and Pentagon military strategy in Afghanistan—now officially the policy of the Obama administration—has morphed, as the goals of the occupation have had to be scaled back. When asked to explain what a victory in Afghanistan would mean, U.S. government and Pentagon officials can only dish out vagaries. They cannot actually tell the truth because then more soldiers and marines and their families would hesitate to continue to act as bait and cannon fodder.
The real and rarely mentioned goal is now to avoid defeat. Or, and this is important, to avoid the perception of defeat. Thus, tens of thousands more troops are being rushed into the country because the Pentagon cannot figure out what else to do.
General David Petraeus became a hero in the imperialist establishment because he was the architect of the so-called surge followed by the announced intention to withdraw from Iraq. In short, glory and reverential honor befalls the great general, not because he put U.S. forces on track to victory but because his policy may permit the withdrawal of military forces on conditions far less humiliating than the Pentagon’s rushed exit from Vietnam in the 1970s.
The people of the United States need to rise up and go into the streets demanding the immediate and full withdrawal from Afghanistan. The vast majority of the people of Afghanistan, including large numbers of those who despise the odious policies of the Taliban, revile the colonial character of the occupation. As the bodies of civilians pile up in an escalating conflict, the hatred for the U.S./NATO occupiers will only grow. The mission is doomed.
* The ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) Coalition has organized the biggest and most numerous national antiwar demonstrations since 9/11 — the first taking place in Washington just two weeks after the terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, demanding that President Bush not launch an attack on Afghanistan. ANSWER brought a half-million demonstrators to the nation's capital in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, in one of a dozen national protests in Washington as well as innumerable regional protests throughout the country.
7. WASHINGTON MARCH OCT. 11 FOR GAY/LESBIAN RIGHTS
By Sam Sussman
Forty-six years ago this August, a quarter of a million men, women, and children descended upon Washington to demand Jobs and Freedom. Their voices, epitomized by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, shook America. Eleven months later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Today, millions of Americans still endure the inequity of second-class citizenship. Across America, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are denied rights ranging from marriage to military service, hospital visits to health care benefits. They suffer this inequity not because of any choice of their own, but because of the claim of straight Americans that there are “more important” issues that preclude closing the rights gap between heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Critics of gay rights have long described homosexuality as a choice, and called gay rights “special rights.” Yet it is not gay America that has a choice in this matter; it is straight America. We have a choice to hate or to love, to familiarize or to fear, to build walls or build bridges.
On October 11, 2009, tens of thousands of Americans will gather on the National Mall in our nation’s capitol. We will stand between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and together — young and old, gay and straight — we will jointly demand equal rights for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
If you believe in equal rights; if you know that discrimination of any kind, at any time is wrong; if you consider the causeless deprivation of essential liberty unjust, then add your voice to the collective outcry on the National Mall on October 11. Together, we can end state-sanctioned discrimination and secure equal rights for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
— The writer, a Hudson Valley resident, is the founder of the Alliance for the Realization of Legal Equality. ARLE is partnering with other organizations to coordinate transportation to Washington from New Paltz, Binghamton, Poughkeepsie, and Monroe. Contact him at Sussman.email@example.com for more information.
8. IN DEFENSE OF ACORN
[Editor's Note: We consider the nationwide community service organization ACORN, which has been dragged through the mud recently because of the deplorable behavior of a few employees, to be a worthwhile progressive enterprise. This article by political journalist Joe Conason, which appeared in Salon Sept. 18, is a useful antidote to the one-sided or superficial reports in the mass media and to the knee-jerk defunding of ACORN by the Senate and House. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, its full name, has received a total of $53 million from the government over the last 15 years. We have inserted a paragraph below explaining how the New York politicians voted.]
By Joe Conason
For many years the combined forces of the far right and the Republican Party have sought to ruin ACORN, the largest organization of poor and working families in America. Owing to the idiocy of a few ACORN employees, notoriously caught in a videotape "sting" sponsored by a conservative Web site and publicized by Fox News, that campaign has scored significant victories on Capitol Hill and in the media.
Both the Senate and the House have voted over the past few days to curtail any federal funding of ACORN's activities. While that congressional action probably won't destroy the group, whose funding does not mainly depend on government largesse, the ban inflicts severe damage on its reputation.
[Activist Newsletter: The Senate vote Sept. 14 was 85-7 in favor of cutting off funds. New York's Sen. Gillibrand, unexpectedly and to her credit, voted against the measure; Sen. Schumer was with the majority. The House vote Sept. 17 was 345-75 against ACORN. All those opposed to defunding were Democrats, including New York Reps. Hinchey, Crowley, Engel, Meeks, Nadler, Rangel, Serrano, Slaughter, Towns, and Velazquez. The remaining New York Democrats were among the 172 Democrats voting in favor.]
In the atmosphere of frenzy created by the Big Government videos — which feature a young man and an even younger woman who pretend to be a prostitute and a pimp seeking "advice" from ACORN about starting a teenage brothel — it is hardly shocking that both Democrats and Republicans would put as much distance as possible between themselves and the sleazy outfit depicted on-screen.
Like so many conservative attacks, the crusade against ACORN has been highly exaggerated and even falsified to create a demonic image that bears little resemblance to the real organization. Working in the nation's poorest places, and hiring the people who live there, ACORN is not immune to the pathologies that can afflict institutions in those communities. As a large nonprofit handling many millions of dollars, it has suffered from mismanagement at the top as well — although there is nothing unique in that, either.
Yet ACORN's troubles should be considered in the context of a history of honorable service to the dispossessed and impoverished. No doubt it was fun to dupe a few morons into providing tax advice to a "pimp and ho," but what ACORN actually does, every day, is help struggling families with the Earned Income Tax Credit (whose benefits were expanded by both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton). And while the idea of getting housing assistance for a brothel was clever, what ACORN really does, every day, is help those same working families avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.
Perhaps the congressional investigation now demanded by some Republican politicians would be a useful exercise, if conducted impartially. A fair investigation might begin to dispel some of the wild mythology promoted by right-wing media outlets. Among the most popular canards on the right, repeated constantly by conservative pundits and politicians, is that ACORN has been found guilty of engaging in deliberate voter fraud, using federal funds. In reality, ACORN has registered close to 2 million low-income citizens across the country over the past five years — a laudable record with a very low incidence of fraud of any kind.
Over the past several years, a handful of ACORN employees have admitted falsifying names and signatures on registration cards, in order to boost the pay they received. When ACORN officials discovered those cases, they informed the state authorities and turned in the miscreants. (That was why the Bush Justice Department's blatant attempt to smear ACORN with rushed, election-timed indictments became a national scandal for Republicans rather than Democrats.) The proportion of fraud is infinitesimal. For example, a half-dozen ACORN workers were charged with registration fraud or other election-related crimes in the 2004 election. They had completed fewer than two dozen false registrations — out of more than a million new voters registered by ACORN during that cycle. The mythology that suggests that thousands or even millions of illegal registrants voted is itself a fraud.
If only the Republicans who have worked up a frenzy over ACORN's alleged crimes were so indignant about real and damaging voter fraud — such as the amazing case of Young Political Majors, the firm that ran GOP registration efforts in California, Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere before the authorities in Orange County, Calif., busted its president, Mark Anthony Jacoby, and sent him to jail last year. He had built a lucrative partisan career by teaching his minions to deceive thousands of voters into registering as Republicans rather than Democrats, among other scams. Of course, the only on-air mention of the Young Political Majors scandal on Fox News was made by blogger Brad Friedman — and the national media, mainstream and conservative, generally ignored it. They were too busy generating "controversy" over ACORN.
So now the overhyped voting registration tales are metastasizing into wild accusations about ACORN's finances and programs, including claims that the group will receive billions in federal bailout funding and that it is a hotbed of corruption, perhaps even murder. In fact, ACORN affiliates — those not involved with voter registration — have received a few million dollars annually in federal funding. The group is not scheduled to receive any bailout money (although working people would probably benefit more from subsidizing ACORN than greasing AIG and Goldman Sachs).
The fans of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck regard ACORN as a criminal enterprise that fosters tax fraud, prostitution, child prostitution and even murder (thanks to a satirical "confession" by an employee filmed surreptitiously in the San Bernardino ACORN office). But ACORN chief organizer and CEO Bertha Lewis swiftly dismissed the employees caught on those videotapes and set about reforming the flawed processes that enabled those individuals to speak for the organization. No overt acts were committed by any of the people caught on those tapes — and so far nobody has found that any of those theoretical "crimes" ever took place.
To claim that the stupid behavior of a half-dozen employees should discredit a national group with offices in more than 75 cities staffed by many thousands of employees and volunteers is like saying that Mark Sanford or John Ensign have discredited every Republican governor or senator. Indeed, the indignation of the congressional Republicans screaming about ACORN and the phony streetwalker is diluted by the presence of at least two confirmed prostitution clients — Rep. Ken Calvert and Sen. David Vitter — in their midst. Neither of those right-wing johns has been even mildly chastised by their moralistic peers. Nobody is cutting off their federal funding.
ACORN has pledged to institute reforms, with the appointment of a distinguished outside panel to oversee that process. Let us hope they succeed. Even now they seem far more likely to improve their performance — and to be more sincere in their intentions — than the Washington hypocrites who are trying to destroy them.