Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nov. 22, 1963: A Turning Point for America

By Reginald Johnson

                For a long time, I  believed 9-11 was worst thing that ever happened to the United States.

    It was awful. Nearly 3,000 people killed in those terror attacks and so many families left grief-stricken.

    And 9-11 set the stage for the brutal (and in one case misguided) wars that followed, in Iraq and Afghanistan

          But in the last few weeks, I’ve changed my mind.  When I saw the 50th anniversary shows on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and saw the old footage, it all came back. As bad as Sept. 11 was, I don’t think anything shook this country as much as the death of President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t seem like this country has ever been the same since that day.

     I’ve heard phrases thrown around recently to describe the meaning of that day: “The day we lost our innocence,”  and another, (the title of a blog by Ira Chernus) “The day truth died.”  These are both right. It was such a shattering event.

    Maybe it’s because I was a naive 16-year-old private school student when this happened. Very idealistic, and, like a lot of  people my age at the time, a great fan of JFK. Here was this dashing young president who was both bright and witty and inspiring. He seemed to say and do all the right things: urging young people to get involved,  helping their country and the world with efforts like the Peace Corps; working to help the movement for integration; backing legislation that would eventually become Medicare; signing the nuclear test ban treaty; promoting the space program and sending men into space.

   In those days, we were in a Cold War with Russia, and we were proud when Kennedy stood up to the Soviets over the placement of missiles in Cuba and spoke out for freedom while visiting the Berlin Wall.

   And he came to be president  at a time when the country was booming economically and was the most admired country in the world. Our standard of living was tops and there were plenty of jobs --- particularly manufacturing jobs.

   It seemed like America and our young president could do no wrong.

   It was in that cocoon of innocence that I returned from lunch on Nov. 22, set to go to another class, when I overheard someone say, ‘Kennedy was shot.’   Feeling stunned, I rushed over to this small building where students could socialize and smoke cigarettes. Some of my friends were there listening to the radio. I lit up a cigarette as  the news came over. Minutes later, there was silence. Then a somber voice announced, ‘The president is dead.’ The Star Spangled Banner began playing. I couldn’t believe it.  Just total disbelief.  I was also pissed. I threw down my cigarette, stomped on it and left. I didn’t want to talk with anyone.

   The next several days, I was glum and kept to myself. I missed the 24-7 television coverage, missed Oswald getting shot, missed new President Lyndon Johnson’s announcements and much of Kennedy’s funeral. How could this happen here? The United States?  It took months for me to get over the shock.

 I was able to get over it in part because I was reassured by Johnson’s statements and actions. He pledged to follow the Kennedy program, particularly with civil rights. When the following fall came around, Johnson seemed downright saintly compared to the crackpot Republican candidate for president that year, Barry Goldwater, who had talked about dropping an atomic bomb on Vietnam!  Johnson, meanwhile, said he would not send U.S. troops to Vietnam. Seemed like a good guy.

  But within months, it was clear Johnson was lying. In early ’65,  the U.S. had started bombing North Vietnam. By the spring, the first troops were sent. Within a few years, we had hundreds of thousands of troops there, all in the name of “stopping communism.” Many of our soldiers died. But many, many more Vietnamese died. We pulverized that country with bombing and poisoned it with napalm and Agent Orange. When all was said and done, we had lost 55,000 people; the Vietnamese had lost 3 million.

   And during the Vietnam era, a lot of ugly divisions in our society began to surface, between hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives, hippies and hard hats, religious versus non-religious. A lot of that divisiveness is still out there today.

  After Johnson, we got the corruption of Richard Nixon and Watergate.  A few years later, the downward curve continued with the coming of Ronald Reagan, and his backwards notion that “government is the problem.”  Reagan began the process of chipping away at the safety net and the New Deal, and undermining unions --- more trends we’re still dealing with today.

  More recently we’ve had George W. Bush and his disastrous war on Iraq and two vacillating small ‘d’  democrat presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Their vision of government is almost as limited as the Republicans.

   Maybe I am idealizing the Kennedy years, but things were better then. Since that period there’s been progress only in few areas. Women’s rights are certainly better today than they were in the early ‘60s. Legal and political rights for blacks are better, though the economic struggle for most blacks still goes on.

  But what else? Our middle class has sunk, quality jobs have evaporated, and our nation is constantly at war.

  I think if Jack Kennedy lived, I think the late 1960s would have been better, and that would have provided a good foundation for the future. It is a fact that he signed a memorandum a month before he died that he intended to pull all U.S. advisors out of Vietnam by 1965. Supposing there had been no Vietnam War? And supposing Kennedy had followed up on feelers to bring a rapprochement with the Soviet Union, and end the insane arms race?

   It should be said Kennedy had his failings, and there are certainly a lot of skeptics out there who downplay what he would have done if he had lived. He was a philanderer and dishonest to his wife; though publicly pushing integration he was friendly with southern segregationists for political purposes; and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 was a boneheaded move.

   But I believe if Kennedy had lived, there would have been no Vietnam War, and he would have achieved lot at home, in the end compiling a domestic record that would have rivaled FDR’s.

   I think it’s definitely fair to say if JFK, his brother Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King had lived, America would be a much better place today.


I’ve always felt there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy.  Lee Harvey Oswald may well have been part of it, but he did not act alone. Too many people heard too many shots that day in Dallas, and eyewitnesses saw some shots come from the front of Kennedy’s motorcade, something the Warren Commission denied happening. (The Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination, concluded Oswald acted alone, and shot Kennedy from the rear, firing a rifle from a 6th-floor window).

 While Kennedy was quite popular in general,  he was hated by some, including right-wingers and anti-Castro Cubans. He also had a lot of detractors in the military and the intelligence agencies, who thought Kennedy was ‘too soft on communism.’  I believe people from the intelligence sector and the military, as well as some anti-communist Cubans, were part of the conspiracy. Oswald was on the fringes. Jack Ruby was sent to shut Oswald up. The fact that Ruby, a nobody, could waltz into the Dallas police station while the most important criminal suspect in American history was being transported, then walk up and shoot Oswald dead, tells you all you need to know about this case. It’s been a total cover-up.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Demanding Action on Fukushima

 By Reginald Johnson

    A determined group of anti-nuclear activists are working feverishly to spread the word about the grave dangers posed by the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, and demanding that other countries get involved in making sure that the plant doesn’t have a catastrophic nuclear accident.

  Recently the group delivered a petition to the United Nations with over 150,000 signatures which asks that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other world leaders take immediate steps to intervene in the Fukushima situation, by sending a team of elite scientists and engineers to Japan to oversee the safe dismantling of the plant.

  The company that owns the facility, Tokyo Electric Power Company, on Monday began the removal of 1300 highly radioactive fuel rods from an unstable storage building at Reactor 4.  The work is expected to last a year.

 But activists such as long-time nuclear power critic Harvey Wasserman maintain that TEPCO does not have the expertise to handle this operation properly, and there’s the possibility of a major accident.

  Wasserman and others say the fuel rods (now in a cooling pool) are in some cases bent or embrittled, and the removal will be extremely tricky. Should any of the rods break, hit each other, or get exposed to the air, there could be an explosion and serious radiation releases.

   The amount of radiation that could potentially be released if all the rods were caught up in an explosion is 14,000 times the amount contained in the fallout from the Hiroshima bomb, according to Hiroaki  Koide, assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.

   Charles Perrow, a professor at Yale University said the amount of radioactive caesium - 137 in the spent fuel pool is 10 times the amount that was present in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. Radiation from the Chernobyl meltdown spread around the world. At Fukushima, one slip-up in the removal process would trigger a chain reaction, Perrow told ABC News.

  “This has me very scared,” he said. “Tokyo would have to be evacuated because caesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly.”

   At a gathering Nov. 7 at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza outside the UN prior to the delivery of the petition and accompanying letter, Wasserman and other activists spoke about their work and the Fukushima crisis. A number of those present were members of  the group the “Green Shadow Cabinet,” an alternative presidential cabinet whose members often speak in opposition to government policies and offer progressive alternatives.

  “The letter we’re delivering promotes a plan developed by 16 top nuclear experts urging that the government of Japan transfer responsibility for the Fukushima reactor site to a worldwide engineering group….this plan stresses that the clean-up be overseen by a civil society panel and an international group of nuclear experts independent from TEPCO and the International Atomic Energy Admnistration (IAEA),” Wasserman said.

  Also speaking was Dr. Margaret Flowers,  a pediatrician and another member of the Green Shadow Cabinet.  “There is the potential for a massive release of radiation that would have significant health effects for people and other life across the world --- from Japan to the Pacific Islands to the continental United States, “ she said.

  Flowers added,  “The U.S. government and many regulatory bodies are dominated by the nuclear industry and have failed to take appropriate action to provide assistance to Japan. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that TEPCO pulls it off,”
  Also on hand was Dr. Jill Stein, the president of the Green Shadow Cabinet and Green Party presidential candidate in the 2012 national election.

 Stein spoke about the need for transparency in the information coming out about Fukushima and the clean-up operation --- also known as decommissioning.

  “The media must be provided with timely, accurate information and must report on Fukushima throughout this critical phase. The public needs to know what’s going on, step by step,” said Stein.

  The problem with the Reactor 4 spent fuel rods is by no means the only issue of concern at Fukushima Daiichi, which was struck by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The natural disaster caused over 18,000 deaths.

   Three entire reactor cores are missing since the earthquake; massive amounts of radiated water has leaked from the plant into the Pacific Ocean, contaminating sea life; thousands more radioactive spent fuel rods lie in storage buildings around the facility, creating additional health risks in the event of another earthquake.
    The activists will continue to agitate to get the word out about the dangers posed by Fukushima and the need for a proper clean-up. More petition drives and actions are planned.

    Wasserman said he and others also will engage in a fast on the 11th day of every month, “to honor the victims of this horrible disaster, and to focus our efforts on finding ways to survive it.”


Monday, November 4, 2013

Fukushima -- A Global Threat


 By Reginald Johnson

  This week, an event will take place at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that could have grave consequences for the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

  Engineers from the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation, which owns the plant, will attempt to remove more than 1500 highly-radioactive spent fuel rods from a damaged containment building at the plant’s reactor number 4. It is critical to remove the rods and put them in a safe building, given the possibility that another earthquake could strike the area of the plant and bring the existing building down, which could lead to a massive explosion and fire, setting off waves of lethal radiation.

  A powerful earthquake and tsunami already struck the plant in March 2011, creating widespread damage to the complex.

  The problem is that a number of nuclear experts and observers are skeptical of TEPCO’s technical capabilities to perform the removal operation safely. Many of the rods at the reactor 4 building are bent and in a brittle condition, and there is doubt that the company  on its own will be able to extract each one (they’ll be using a 273-foot crane for the operation) without one or several rods breaking. The rods could explode or catch on fire, setting off large doses of radiation, depending on how many rods are involved.

  The amount of radioactivity in the fuel rods at unit 4 is staggering. According to long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, the amount of cesium 137 in the fuel rods in reactor 4 is equal to 14,000 times the amount released by the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

  Making the situation even more worrisome is that another 6,000 spent fuel rods sit in a cooling pool only 50 meters away from reactor 4. Should those rods somehow get involved during an accident, the consequences are unthinkable, say Wasserman and others.
 “The potential radiation releases in this situation can only be described as apocalyptic,” Wasserman commented in an article in Common Dreams on October 24 (
 Despite the difficulty of the task and the dangers involved, TEPCO is planning on going ahead with the removal operation sometime later this week. The Japanese government has reportedly raised no objections to the plan

  But Wasserman and others, such as nuclear engineer and activist Arnie Gundersen, are trying desperately to get the UN and leading countries like the U.S. to intervene and not allow the operation to go ahead until a team of the world’s best nuclear engineers are assembled and sent to Japan to assist in this project.

  “The bring-down of the fuel rods from Fukushima Unit 4 may be the most dangerous engineering task ever undertaken. Every indication is that TEPCO is completely incapable of doing it safely, or of reliably informing the global community as to what’s actually happening,” said Wasserman. “This is a job that should only be undertaken by a dedicated team of the world’s very best scientists and engineers, with access to all the funding that could be needed.”

  On Thursday, activists will go to UN headquarters in New York City to present a petition with the names of more than 100,000 people asking UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to initiate a global takeover of the Fukushima operation. Prior to the presentation, people will gather at 1 p.m. at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza outside the UN.

  (Just as this blog was being written, TEPCO reportedly announced on its website that U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz had met with company officials about Fukushima and offered Washington’s assistance in the fuel rod removal operation and decommissioning of the plant. The nature of the assistance was not described.)

 It is urgently important that the UN get involved in the Fukushima crisis, as this clearly has world-wide implications. A massive release of radiation into the air, in the event of an accident, affects not only Japan, but everywhere --- just as radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986 spread around the world. By all estimates, there is real danger of a radiation accident far worse than Chernobyl taking place at Fukushima.

 The problems at Fukushima’s unit 4 are by no means the only serious issues at the plant. Some reactors at other units have apparently sunk into the earth, due to the earthquake, posing incalculable health and environmental dangers. Hundreds of tons of water contaminated with radioactive elements, are continuing to leak into the Pacific Ocean, affecting fish and seafood. Bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California have been found to contain radioactive elements, most likely picked up when the migratory fish were in waters close to Japan.

   To Wasserman, the situation at Fukushima is beyond dire.  “This is a question that transcends being anti-nuclear. The fate of the earth is at stake here and the whole world must be watching every move at that site from now on. With 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the place, as a ceaseless flow of contaminated water poisons our oceans, our very survival is at stake.”



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Impeach Obama

By Reginald Johnson


   As the United States edges closer to war with Syria, one thing is clear --- President Barack Obama should be impeached.

     Like his predecessor, George Bush, Obama has no regard for international law or the United Nations. He also puts very little value in the views of the American people or their elected representatives in Congress.

   The oath that every new president takes upon entering office states that he will “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    In planning an attack on Syria, carrying out the intervention in Libya two years ago and bombing Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with drone strikes, Obama has violated the norms of international law, which put strict limitations on when it is permissible to attack another nation. These rules are spelled out in treaties and convenants, all or which have been signed onto by the United States and incorporated into our law.

   At home, he pushed for the passage of a repressive law contained in Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military to arbitrarily arrest and indefinitely detain anyone in the United States they deem to be terrorists or their associates.

  The NDAA seriously undermines rights guaranteed in the First and Sixth Amendments and in the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution. Critics believe the wording of the statute may open the door to the disappearing of activists and dissidents.

  Obama’s administration has waged a relentless campaign to stifle the free flow of information about government activity by prosecuting whistleblowers and hounding reporters. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who released classified information to expose U.S. war crimes, was brought up on charges, tried and sent to jail for 35 years. Computer specialist Edward Snowden, who also released secret documents to reveal a massive and secret system of phone wiretapping and Internet monitoring on millions of Americans by the National Security Agency, is being sought for arrest and is now living in exile.

  Reporters from the Associated Press have had their phones tapped.  James Risen, a New York Times investigative reporter and author, has been ordered to testify in a case involving a CIA analyst who gave him classified information about the agency’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program.

   The government actions in these cases undermine the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

   Snowden’s revelations further show how the U.S. has become a surveillance state under the Obama administration, with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to privacy and protection against warrantless searches rendered almost a dead letter.

  In the case of Syria, the administration is planning to launch a military attack while disregarding the two requirements that must be met before a country can wage war.  The conditions are these: a nation must be acting in self-defense after it has been attacked, or that nation must get authorization for military action from the Security Council of the United Nations.

  If the attack on Syria takes place,  America will be totally flaunting international law as outlined in the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Principles, passed after World War II.

   The same kind of violations of law took place two years ago with Libya. The U.S. took part in an air invasion of that country, with a relentless bombing campaign that killed thousands of both military personnel and civilians. The Obama administration dubbed this campaign a “humanitarian intervention” aimed at removing the admittedly despotic Libyan leader, Mohamar Gaddafi. But Libya, a sovereign nation, had not attacked the United States. Further, the administration had no war authorization from Congress, as required by the Constitution, and no full approval from the UN to take part in this attack.

   With Syria, Obama is now seeking congressional approval for a bombing campaign aimed at punishing the Syrian government for the alleged use of chemical weapons. The administration claims that government forces killed over 1400 civilians in an August attack on rebels fighting in a civil war.

  But neither Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry, who is testifying at congressional hearings, have pledged the U.S. will drop plans for military action if Congress fails to pass a war resolution.

  And again, Obama is making no moves to get UN approval for an intervention.

Prof. Francis Boyle, who teaches law at the University of Illinois College of Law, believes the U.S. has broken the rules of international law on numerous occasions under Obama. He believes it is imperative that the president be impeached immediately.

  “We need to fight back,” he said during an interview with Scott Harris on the show “Counterpoint” on WPKN radio. “He’s made it clear he’ll attack, no matter what Congress does.”

  Boyle thinks the Syrian situation is fraught with danger given the alliances involved --- Russia, China and Iran with Syria, the U.S., Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia with the Syrian rebels.

  “We have very little time to head off a regional catastrophe,” he said.

 Boyle, the author of numerous books, said an impeachment drive is the one thing that will make Obama stop and hold off on military action.

  The law scholar also maintained, as do many, that the claims that the Syrian government engaged in a chemical weapons attack --- only days after a UN team arrived to investigate previous claims of poison gas use --- are phony.

  “This is nothing more than a pretext,” he said.

   Boyle didn’t get into the prospects for actually gaining a successful impeachment vote. So far, only Republicans, particularly tea party Republicans, have talked of impeachment, citing things of doubtful merit like the alleged mishandling of the Benghazi embassy attack or administration misuse of the IRS. But there’s also been talk of two areas that do have merit --- the illegality of drone strikes and the unconstitutional surveillance by the NSA.

  I don’t know of any liberal or progressive groups, except for Veterans for Peace, who have advocated impeachment.

  It’s time to start talking about this. This administration has done too much to undermine domestic and international law and our Constitution to not talk about it.

    There has to be a break on an executive branch which is constantly getting this nation involved in illegal and costly wars abroad and at the same time restricting constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties at home. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

America Attacks, Again

 By Reginald Johnson

    Some years ago, I attended a rally and one of the chants went like this:

   “America attacks, the people fight back!”  “America attacks, the people fight back!”

 I thought of this chant yesterday, as news poured in that the United States was planning to launch a bombing strike against Syria in response to that nation’s alleged use of chemical weapons against insurgents in a civil war.

 Here we are again, on the precipice of yet another invasion into, incursion of, missile strike against, bombing campaign of, bludgeoning of, another country. Some other country has gone too far, someone is threatening someone else, someone has done something wrong, and we, the land of the pure and the righteous, have to set things straight. Others can’t do it, we have to do it.

  As former President George W. Bush might say, we have to smite the evil doers.

 So it is with Syria. That nation has, in the words of our current President Barack Obama, “crossed a  red line.”   There’s been a chemical weapons attack in the country, and the administration is maintaining it was perpetrated by the Syrian government. Hundreds have been killed. Syria has committed, in the words of our Secretary of State and former war protester John Kerry, a “moral obscenity.” It is an act, Kerry said, that demands a response.

  It is an absolute certainty, furthermore, according to Kerry and others, that forces loyal to Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian leader, carried out this attack and not anyone else.  We know it for sure, because our “intelligence services” say so. Yes, we know the UN is investigating to get confirmation about the attack and who did it,  but we already know, they say.

  And just like with Iraq 10 years ago and the question of whether that nation had weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. is apparently not going to wait for the results of the UN investigation. No need to. We know. We’re going to send cruise missiles into Syria to hit “selected targets” and punish Syria.

 And hundreds, if not thousands, will die. Human beings, blown to bits in a massive carnage. Homes ruined, factories leveled, infrastructure destroyed. Of those who survive, many will be left with life-long, debilitating injuries.

   According to MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, the bombing could come as early as Thursday.

   Just like ten years ago, no one in the press or in Congress seems particularly upset. It’s just kind of assumed that Assad is this really bad guy, and of course he’s used chemical weapons on his people. Reports of previous poison gas attacks by rebel forces are brushed away. Not many people are asking probing questions about what’s going on, and what American objectives really are with the planned attack.

  A few people in Congress are standing up and demanding answers, and insisting that Congress must give approval for the bombing. But this principled group is far from a majority. That’s very sad.

The fact is that Obama does have to get congressional approval before launching this intervention. The Constitution is clear: Congress must approve any move by this nation to engage in war. Dropping bombs on another country is surely an act of war.

 If Obama goes ahead without approval from Congress, he’s breaking the law and violating his constitutional oath of office. This is an impeachable offense.

  He and this nation will also be violating international law. The law is clear. One nation cannot just willy nilly strike another nation militarily because it wants to. They have to be acting in self-defense or get Security Council authorization to launch an attack. The U.S. right now would not be meeting either of those requirements.

 A U.S. president can’t say, ‘well these requirements of both national law and international law are annoying, and we’re just not bothering to fulfill them.’  Can’t do that.

And what of the categorical claims by intelligence officials that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons?  Didn’t we go through this before? Remember CIA Director George Tenet’s remark, prior to the U.S. attack on Iraq, that it was a “slam dunk” about the certainty that Iraq had WMDs? Months after that statement, and after the war had begun, a UN team found no WMDs. Zero.

 Is there a possibility the story about chemical weapons use by Syria has been falsified, that someone else used the weapons and the act is being falsely linked to Assad, so as to provide a pretext for invasion? Yes. It’s happened before. They’re called “false flag” operations. See the bombing of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor prior to the Spanish-American War or the Gulf of Tonkin incident prior to the Vietnam War as examples.

  When the U.S. really wants to do something, like intervene in another country, sometimes these things happen. America has wanted to intervene on behalf of Assad’s opponents in Syria for a long time, badly. This despite the fact that some of the opposition forces are terrorists, including al-Qaeda.

  The real objective here is Iran, a country loaded with oil --- just like Iraq was. Knock over Assad’s regime, and knock out a friend of Iran’s. Then outflank Iran, and depose that regime as well. That’s the game plan. We will gain control of Iran’s oil, keep it away from the Russians and Chinese, and eliminate an arch enemy of Israel as well.

  This whole affair with Syria has nothing to do with human rights, or the suffering caused by chemical weapons. If the U.S. was concerned about mass suffering, it wouldn’t have aided an Egyptian regime which has just killed hundreds.

  Maybe my analysis of events in Syria is wrong. Maybe for once, U.S. reports on an awful act by another government are correct. I’m willing to look at the evidence. But let’s allow the UN team to do their job --- to do a full investigation. Then, if the chemical attack by Syria is confirmed,  go before the UN and decide on a course of action.

  Don’t act unilaterally, or act with one or two allies in a bombing campaign before the evidence is in. This is morally and legally wrong.

  A bombing campaign now also puts the world in danger. Given the alliances involved, Syria with Iran, Russia and China with Syria and Iran, an American intervention could spark a wider and deadly Middle East war.

  It is shameful and quite frankly mind-boggling that on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, President Obama will today give a speech honoring King, and then go back to his office and prepare for war with Syria. King was a man of peace, who stressed non-violence. In 1967, he spoke out against the Vietnam War.
  If President Obama really wanted to honor King, he would stop all plans for attacking Syria, and work for peace.

  Let’s hope he does.

 In the meantime, people have to raise their voices and say No to bombing Syria. Call your congressperson and senator, and demand they make sure Obama gets congressional approval for any intervention and that the U.S. works through the UN.

  As the chant I heard years go said, the people have to fight back.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Keeping WBAI Alive

 By Reginald Johnson



     For over 50 years, WBAI-FM in New York has been a mecca for people seeking real news and information about major social and governmental issues.

    While commercial stations up and down the radio dial bombard their listeners with news about fire, crime, sex and celebrities, or subject them to endless blather by right-wing commentators or hours of mindless “sports talk,”  listener-supported WBAI does something else --- it educates people.

   Whether it’s the acclaimed investigative news show, Democracy Now, or Law and Disorder, Economic Update, Guns and Butter, the Gary Null health show, Where We Live, or Building Bridges, WBAI does so much to help people better understand a range of vital issues.

   Now however, that beacon of light in a media wasteland is threatened with extinction. WBAI is in serious financial distress, and it’s an open question whether the station can survive.

   On August 10th, Summer Reese, the interim executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns the station, said in an emotional report to listeners that due to the station’s substantial debt, a majority of the paid staff at WBAI had to be laid off.  In the process, most of the existing day-time programming  would be dropped. Only a skeleton crew would be kept on to maintain operations, she said.

    “We didn’t have the ability to continue the payroll at this station without making these layoffs,” said Reese.

 In addition to the day-time cuts, WBAI’s award-winning nightly news cast was knocked out, with long time news staffers such as Jose Santiago and Andrea Sears laid off.

  The reductions will save WBAI about $900,000 a year. The operating budget for WBAI runs about $2 million a year, said Reese. The station accepts no advertising and survives largely on donations from listeners.

  Already-produced programs from other stations at Pacifica, as well as FSRN news, have been slotted in to fill the gaps created by the cuts.

  The Pacifica Network has five main stations in New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston and Washington, D.C. and 200 affiliates.

  Reese said WBAI has run a deficit of “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” for each of the last ten years. A number of factors have led to the shortfalls --- sky-high rental costs the station incurred while it was housed in offices on Wall Street; damage from Super Storm Sandy last fall; and in some cases, lackluster programs which failed to attract new listeners.

   To date, the Pacifica national office has subsidized WBAI to cover the station’s debt. But that’s no longer possible because Pacifica’s resources are now dried up.

  “There is no money,” Reese said.

To right the ship at WBAI, Reese has brought in Andrew Phillips to be interim program director. Phillips was recently the program director at KPFA in Berkeley, and 20 years ago, the program director at WBAI. Both Reese and Phillips said it is imperative to upgrade the programming in a number of time slots and expand the audience.

 Currently, that audience is not very big. WBAI has just 15,000 paid subscribers, despite being in a metropolitan area with 19 million people and a 50,000 watt antenna sitting on top of the Empire State Building.

  “This is a huge market. We have to adapt and change,” said Phillips in his remarks during the listener report.

  “We have to move forward. I don’t have to tell you why. NSA. Edward Snowden. Bradley Manning. Drones flying overhead, scaring the hell out of people in Pakistan and around the world….You all know what I am talking about. You all know other stations don’t carry these stories like Pacifica carries them,” said Phillips.
    Phillips called WBAI “the most important progressive radio station in the country.”

Reese expressed her determination to preserve WBAI with its current powerful signal --- coming from a transmitter which costs $50,000 a month to rent --- instead of selling the station’s lucrative licenses, and becoming a smaller operation.

  The next few months will be critical as changes take place at the station, and hopefully, there’s a positive response from listeners. Reese said there’s no margin for error.

  “The fate of this radio station, honestly, is in the balance as to whether it will continue to exist,” she said.

  She also noted that if that if the situation at WBAI is not stabilized, “it could pull down the whole network with it.”

  The threat to WBAI and Pacifica couldn’t come at a worse time for progressives and really anyone who values quality journalism.

  The vehicles for providing good, hard hitting journalism are disappearing. On the print side, well-regarded newspapers have either folded up or been sharply reduced in size. Others are being taken over by billionaire businessmen intent on using the publications to gain political advantage in Congress or with the White House. The objectivity of those papers and the credibility of their reporting could be undermined.

  As for commercial radio and television, with a few exceptions on cable TV, coverage of important news is a joke.

  At the same time, the need for strong reporting and for providing a forum for the discussion of key issues has never been greater. As Phillips noted, America is becoming a surveillance state, with privacy rights going out the window; the Obama administration is attacking people’s first amendment rights and the rights of journalists themselves to practice their craft; global warming grows worse by the day; the economy remains mired in a recession and an increasing number of Americans see their economic fortunes declining while a tiny minority live like kings; and racial injustice persists.

   It is critical to preserve WBAI, the Pacifica Network and all community radio stations, as they provide the space where vital news about their region, the nation and the world can be heard, and where issues can be analyzed and discussed in a free and open manner. 



Thursday, July 25, 2013

WBAI in Crisis

By Reginald Johnson

Progressive radio station WBAI in New York is in dire financial straits, and sweeping layoffs are planned.

A majority of the 28-member staff at the station have received layoff notices from the Pacifica Foundation, which owns WBAI and four other listener-supported, non-commercial outlets around the country. Layoffs were supposed to go through July 15, but were delayed until Wednesday, July 31.

Details on what program cutbacks would take place as a result of the layoffs and what the future holds for WBAI is unclear as neither Pacifica officials, station management, Local Station Board members or the union representing staff, could be reached for comment.

WBAI has been struggling in recent years with high rental costs and major damage to the station from Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, fundraising drives have fallen short of their goal.

At certain times this year staff has gone without pay and the station came close to losing its 50,000 watt antenna on the Empire State Building due to unpaid rent.

An article in, a website about public media news on July 1 quoted Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese as saying that the station’s difficulties in meeting payroll go back years. Pacifica’s national office has been subsidizing WBAI to cover its shortfalls.

“We have stripped every resource available (at the national office) rather than deal with the situation,” Reese was quoted as saying.

The cuts to WBAI’s staff would save $900,000, the article indicated.

Reese also said the station’s programming would have to be evaluated. “We wouldn’t be in this state if the programming were reaching a wider audience,” she said.

That comment is in line with many critics who claim that programming at WBAI is not diverse or dynamic enough to attract a larger audience. Presently WBAI has 15,000 paid subscribers, a number that many feel should be much higher given the power of the station’s signal and the population of the New York City area.

Berthold Reimers, general manager of WBAI indicated in a July newsletter to listeners that the station’s financial woes mean a downsizing of operations.

“WBAI as it exists right now will not be preserved because it cannot survive under the current financial model. However, WBAI will continue to exist as a local NY metropolitan area radio station,” he said.

WBAI - 99.5 FM has been one of the most important progressive media outlets in the country for over 50 years. The Pacifica Radio Network’s flagship show, “Democracy Now,” began at WBAI. Other shows on the station, many of which are picked up by other stations are “Law and Disorder,” “The Gary Null Show,” “Where We Live,” “Economic Update,” and the “Radio Unnameable,” with Bob Fass.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Restore the Fourth!

By Reginald Johnson            

     A grassroots movement has formed to fight back against the dragnet government surveillance exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

    “Restore the Fourth” recently organized protests against the spying, which involves government monitoring of both phone and Internet communications.

   On Independence Day, July 4th, the group held rallies around the country targeting the surveillance begun under former President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama.

   “Restore the Fourth” takes its name from the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which says  “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

   Members of “Restore the Fourth” maintain that the sweeping NSA surveillance of phone and Internet records of millions of Americans violates the Fourth Amendment and must be ended.

   President Obama has defended the spying, saying it’s been approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and is a vital tool in stopping terrorist acts.

   A majority of both Republicans and Democrats have also supported the need for spying on citizens, citing the war on terror.

   The administration has launched an intensive effort to capture Snowden, a former private contractor with the NSA, and bring him up on charges of having violated the Espionage Act due to his release of classified information. Snowden fled first to Hong Kong, and then to Russia. He is believed now to be in the Moscow Airport, where he is attempting to gain asylum to another country, possibly in Latin America.

   The “Restore the Fourth” campaign is supported by other privacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Stop Watching Us and the Internet Defense League.

  The rallies on the 4th brought out people from both the left and right.  A demonstration at the courthouse in Louisville, Ky. saw conservatives join with liberal Democrats carrying signs like “Privacy is our right” and “No Spying on Americans,”  according a story in the Courier-Journal.

  Fred Gittner of Southern Indiana, who was wearing a tea-party shirt, held a sign next to self-described liberal Democrat Patty Call, of Crestwood, Ky.

  “At least we can agree on this,” she said. “Basically, spying on everyone, without a warrant, is going too far.”


Friday, June 14, 2013

Making War on Syria

By Reginald Johnson

In a sickening reminder of what happened during the lead-up to the Iraq War, reporters and members of Congress are failing to ask the tough questions about why the U.S. is getting involved in the Syrian conflict.

The administration of President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the U.S. is planning on sending military weapons to the opposition forces fighting a bloody civil war against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

The administration claims that it has determined that Syria used chemical weapons against the “rebel” forces, and crossed a “red line” which the U.S. finds unacceptable.

“The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, as reported in The Washington Post. Rhodes said U.S. intelligence had determined with “high certainty” that Syrian government forces have “used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.”

Intelligence agencies estimate that 100 to 150 people have died as a result of chemical weapons use, he said.

Soon after the administration announcement, members of Congress from both political parties rushed to show support for the decision to send arms, and even push for bolder action.

”The U.S. should move swiftly to shift the balance on the ground in Syria by considering grounding the Syrian air force with stand-off weapons and protecting a safe zone in northern Syria with Patriot missiles in Turkey,” said Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa. as quoted in the Post.

Media coverage has been soft, with reporters steering away from asking uncomfortable questions of the administration about links between the rebels and al-Qaeda and the illegality of sending arms to opposition forces.

So the bandwagon has started rolling towards another war for the U.S.  First we’re sending military aid, then possibly impose a no-fly zone, and then who knows? Boots on the ground? The thought of another war in the Middle East involving American forces is mind numbing, after the utter disaster of Iraq. And a war in Syria could quickly get much larger, involving Iran and Russia on one side and America, Britain, France and Israel on the other side. Scary.

We better start asking questions and demand good answers, before this gets out of hand.

Question Number 1: Just who is the opposition in Syria and why should we side with them? Are they simply “freedom-loving rebels” (as Ronald Reagan once called the drug-running contra fighters in Nicaragua) who just want the Syrian people to be free of the dictator Assad? Or are they something else, not so glorious?

The truth is that the opposition forces today are dominated by two groups --- a faction called al-Nusra which is openly affiliated with al-Qaeda, and Islamic-Sunni extremists. In the beginning of the Syrian revolt, there were genuine independence fighters, trying to free the country of the despotic Assad. But those people are no longer in the forefront of the opposition. Al Nusra and the Sunni extremists are.

Al-Qaeda is supposedly our sworn enemy. They caused 911, according to the official account. Why would we send arms to a coalition that includes an al-Qaeda affiliated group, as well as other Islamic fundamentalists?

Moreover, UN investigators on a commission of inquiry have said that while it appears chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict, it’s not clear by whom. It may be that both sides have used sarin gas. In fact, one member of the UN commission of inquiry on Syria said in May, prior to the full commission report, she believed the rebels had used sarin gas.

I’d like to know why it is that American intelligence can be so categorical in saying that the government used poison gas, while a UN team has said it’s an open question? It brings to mind former CIA Director George Tenet’s famous line about whether there was enough evidence to prove there were WMDs in Iraq --- “it’s a slam dunk.” Of course WMDs were ultimately never found, but we had already gone to war anyway.

Speaking of the UN, this brings up Question Number 2. Doesn’t the UN Charter, a treaty which the U.S. signed and is bound by, prohibit one country from making war on another country, unless it is acting in self-defense or have Security Council authorization? The answer is, yes, it does. We will be breaking international law by sending military aid to a group trying to overthrow a foreign government. It won’t make it any more legal if the aid is filtered through allies like Turkey, or done in conjunction with NATO allies like Britain and France (former colonial powers in the Middle East). We will be war criminals.

If the U.S. is so concerned about the oppression of the Assad regime over the Syrian people, and the government’s use of chemical weapons, then America should take its case to the United Nations. The U.S. should lay out the crimes of the Assad regime, and argue for collective action to remove him. Even if one assumes Russia would veto any UN move, couldn’t we make a very powerful case? Wouldn’t we at least shame the Assad regime, and possibly trigger some changes?

But making that case would rest on proving Assad’s crimes, his use of chemical weapons and atrocities committed by his military. There’s a lot of evidence of all that, but there’s also evidence of war crimes by the opposition, so the picture gets complicated. It becomes a situation of ‘a plague on both houses.’

Finally, reporters need to ask, is the U.S. intervening because it is really worried about Iran? Are we trying to install a friendly regime in Damascus, to take away a key ally of Iran and ultimately topple the Iranian regime as well? And why are we so worried about Iran? Is it really because of their alleged nuclear bomb-making program (there’s no verification of such a program yet) or is it because, like Iraq, Iran holds such a large supply of oil?

I’m hoping that reporters and members of Congress will start asking some pointed questions about what’s going on with the Syria policy. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not holding my breath.

And that’s a shame, because after Iraq and Afghanistan, we don’t need more loss of blood and treasure.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Syria in the Gunsights

By Reginald Johnson

Despite revelations by a UN official that Syrian rebels, and not the Syrian government, used chemical weapons in a civil war, officials of the Obama administration and others are still determined to create regime change in Syria, if necessary by force.

Carla del Ponte, who sits on a UN commission of inquiry on Syria, told Italian-Swiss broadcaster RSI, “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas.”

Del Ponte, who previously served on Western-backed international courts on Yugoslavia and Rwanda, said, “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals, and according to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was on the part of the oppostition, the rebels, not the government authorities.”

The commission of inquiry later issued a statement saying it had not yet reached official conclusions about whether poison gas was used in the Syrian conflict, and by whom.

Nonetheless, Del Ponte’s statements would seem to undercut the case being made by the Obama administration, advocates for war in the Republican Party and their many allies in the press, that the U.S. must intervene in Syria, to stop an out-of-control government from using chemical weapons against its own people.

However, in an echo of the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Del Ponte’s comments are being brushed aside by administration officials and others as being irrelevant or not worthy of attention. Without any evidence, they insist that government forces are using chemical weapons.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed doubts that the Syrian opposition had used chemical weapons. “We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime.”

Members of Congress, including Democrats, also keep pounding the drums for war, despite Del Ponte’s comments. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, submitted legislation that would officially authorize the Obama administration to arm the opposition groups.

“The Assad regime has crossed a red line that forces us to consider all options,” Menendez said in a written statement.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. and Britain are in secret talks about coordinated air strikes against Syria.

The talk of intervention by the U.S. comes as a major ally, Israel, launched a unilateral and devastating missile attack against a military research center near Damascus last weekend. Dozens of Syrian military were killed. Israel said the attack was done to stop the flow of Syrian aid to the group Hezbollah, which Israel views as terrorist.

The quick downplaying of Del Ponte’s claims about rebel use of sarin gas is reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq War, when Bush administration officials insisted that they had information showing that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, thereby justifying an invasion and regime change. Counter claims by a few skeptics, such as former UN weapons inspectors, that there were no weapons, were given little credence and got almost no attention in the press.

The US invaded Iraq in March of 2003, with a UN weapons inspection team still doing its work and having reached no conclusion. Months later, the team finished its work, with no weapons found. An administration-sanctioned inspection group reached the same conclusion.

The Obama administration would be violating international law in either plotting an invasion of Syria or sending lethal aid to opposition forces. The United Nations Charter, which the U.S. is party to, prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

If the U.S. is so concerned about a “humanitarian disaster” at the hands of the Syrian government, through the possible use of chemical weapons, it is incumbent on this country to bring its case before the Security Council, and appeal for some kind of collective action against Syria. The excuse that is used for not doing this is that Russia, Syria’s ally, would veto any proposed UN action.

But that excuse doesn’t cut it, since the U.S. has never even tried to take its case to the UN. They’re not about to do that, since, as Del Ponte’s comments show, the case against the government may have little basis.

People might also point out that the U.S. is employing a moral double standard in condemning Syria for possible use of chemical weapons, since America used chemical weapons --- white phosphorous grenades --- in Fallujah during the Iraq War.

But let’s face it. The reason why the U.S. wants to topple the Syrian regime has nothing to do with human rights or an impending humanitarian disaster. That’s simply the cover story. The real reason is that Syria is in the way, bordering Iran, and being an ally of Iran. The ultimate target here is Iran, which, like Iraq, is loaded with oil. The U.S. wants to overthrow the government of Iran and gain geopolitical primacy over the entire Middle East region. Installing a pro-western government in Syria is vital to achieving this goal.

As this sorry saga unfolds, once again the mainstream media is failing the test. Failing to ask the tough questions and failing to do balanced reporting. Reports by the main TV networks on Syria have been one-sided with a blanket acceptance of administration claims on such matters as chemical weapons and alleged atrocities by the Syrian military.

There’s also been little concern expressed about the contradiction in the U.S. support for the “rebels” since one of the primary opposition factions is affiliated with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that is supposed to be our sworn enemy. Even some of the commentary from the left on Syria has been weak, until recently.

Over ten years ago, many in the media, both electronic and print, did a very poor job in failing to ask more pointed questions of the Bush administration about their sweeping claims of WMDs and failing to give enough attention to alternative voices who were raising questions about the need to go to war.

Now, it appears the mainstream media is making the same mistake again.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Curbing Gun Violence

By Reginald Johnson

The Connecticut legislature has made a well-reasoned response to the tragedy of Newtown and gun violence in general. It is by no means all that should be done, but it’s a very good start.

The new law substantially strengthens Connecticut’s assault weapons ban. This is absolutely correct. Assault weapons are nothing more than killing machines and have no place in our society.

The bill also prohibits the sale of magazine clips holding more than 10 rounds. Another good step, though I think the round limit should be reduced to 5.

I have several hunting guns, both rifles and shotguns. I don’t feel threatened that anyone in government is going to confiscate my guns, either now or in the future.

No right granted under our Constitution is an unlimited right. Just because we have freedom of expression emodied in the First Amendment, we cannot go out and advocate, in speech or in writing, that someone should be murdered. Nor yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre. Other provisions in the Bill of Rights have similar balancing aspects.

There are limits to the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. We cannot buy and sell howitzers, rocket launchers or machine guns.

And we should not be allowed to buy and sell assault weapons.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fighting the Pipeline

By Reginald Johnson

NEW HAVEN --- Chanting and banging on cans, about 25 protesters braved blustery March winds as they demonstrated in front of TD Bank on Chapel Street, trying to alert customers to the bank’s role in funding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.

The Keystone will ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of heavy tar sand from Alberta to refineries in Texas, if the pipeline gets built. Critics say the project will lead to massive new releases of carbon into the atmosphere and worsen climate change.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, the pipeline’s gotta go. Hey, hey, ho, ho, the pipeline’s gotta go,”  the group chanted.

Another ditty went “Hey TD! Leave tar sands alone! We don’t need the dirty oil. Leave the tar sands in the soil!”

Rebecca Burton, of Occupy Hartford, was one of those at the protest last Saturday, part of a number of actions around the country aimed at stopping the Keystone project. Burton said that all phases of the pipeline project, the extraction of the tar sands, the transport, the refinemnent , and the use of it, will trigger harmful emissions.

Some experts believe those releases in turn could lead to runaway climate change, with catastrophic consequences for the human race. Leading NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, for instance, said last year that if the Keystone project is approved it will be “game over for the climate.”

Appropriately, Burton carried a sign that read “Tar Sands = Game Over.”


Burton also maintained that contrary to the claims by backers of the project, the oil produced won’t significantly help U.S. energy supplies.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but most of the oil will be shipped overseas to China and India,” she said.

The Keystone XL project, now the subject of an environmental review by the State Department, will ultimately be approved or not approved by President Barack Obama. The decision is expected within the next few months.

Some of the protesters handed passersby leaflets that read “Ditch TD. Stand with Us.” The leaflet, produced by an environmental organization called “350 Connecticut,” said that TD bank holds over 23 million shares in TransCanada, the Canadian energy company behind Keystone XL. Between 2007 and 2010, the flyer said, TD invested $993 million in corporate loans to fund the project and the bank stands to make “huge profits.”


Ben Martin, an activist from Wallingford, said the group hopes to persuade people not to put their deposits in TD bank, because in the long run that investment harms them.

“With the money people put in their bank, they are basically investing that money into tar sands, which will kill the people that put money in the bank,” he said.

Martin has been involved in the battle against Keystone from the early stages in 2010, when protesters first did civil disobedience actions close to the White House. Since then the protests have grown, with tens of thousands of people taking part, both in Washington and around the country.

The protesters also had a message for President Obama, with this song: “Hey Obama, we don’t want no pipeline drama! Hey Obama we don’t want no pipeline drama!”


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Downgrading Ed Schultz

By Reginald Johnson

Ed Schultz is telling everyone that it was his idea to be reassigned from his prime-time 8 p.m. show during the week on MSNBC to a two-hour time slot late Saturday and Sunday. After telling listeners about the change on Wednesday, Schultz said he’s happy about it because now he’ll have the time to do more in-depth stories on issues, which he couldn’t do before.

Maybe he really means it. But I’m not sure.

I’m skeptical because of the timing of the change, which will see Chris Hayes take over the 8 p.m weeknight slot as of today and be pitted against Bill O’Reilly of FOX and Anderson Cooper of CNN. Schultz had been getting increasingly agitated over the possibility of President Obama and the Democrats caving in to the GOP to allow cuts in social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as part of a “grand bargain” for reducing the deficit.

One week before the change was announced, Schultz said he had always supported Obama, but now was wavering. One night before he announced his change, Schultz said "President Obama really could be the president to start the undooing of the New Deal."

Ouch. That line had to go over very badly with the White House and senior Democrats. It’s quite possible that the White House called to complain, and put pressure on the pro-Democratic network to push Schultz aside.

Such pressure, if it took place, together with likely dismay on the part of network management already over Schultz’ relentless and passionate defense of unions and “The Big Three” --- which so many in the business community want to cut back --- may have been the reason for removing Schultz in the middle of the week. No transition period, just boom, you’re now at a different time slot.

Obviously, this scenario is just speculation --- I have no proof to back it up. But it sure looks like a demotion of another outspoken liberal by MSNBC. Recall this is the same network that in the past found reasons for removing progressives Keith Olbermann and Cenk Uygur.

Some media analysts maintained the switch came about simply because MSNBC wanted to make a “tone change” at 8 p.m.  With his populist approach, Schultz may have been seen as out of step with other network commentators who are more wonkish and intellectual, such as Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. The suggestion is that the network thinks they can do better with this kind of style, particularly in terms of reaching a younger demographic.

I don’t want to indirectly bad mouth Chris Hayes. From what I’ve seen of him when he’s filled in at night or on his “Up with Chris Hayes” show early Saturday and Sunday, he’s not too bad. Bright, thoughtful, and seems to be progressive, (although one media analysis labeled him “right of center.”) Even if he turns out consistently progressive, however, I doubt he will show the kind of fire Schultz did in defending the safety net and the interests of labor.

 Remember Schultz' on-the-scene reporting in Wisconsin two years ago with union protesters fighting Gov. Scott Walker?  Those shows were memorable and unique in TV journalism.

The apparent sidelining of Ed Schultz couldn’t come at a worse time. Progressives are fighting a bitter struggle against Republicans, big business interests and now Obama, to hold the social compact together. To win the battle, they need as many strong voices in the media as they can get.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rand Paul: Making a Point

By Reginald Johnson

I don’t care what pundits like Larry O’Donnell and “mature” members of Congress may say, Rand Paul deserves a lot of credit for standing up for the Constitution the other day.

The libertarian senator from Kentucky may be way off base on a number of other issues, but performed a tremendous service by filibustering the John Brennan nomination as CIA director, and questioning the Obama drone program.

Brennan was eventually confirmed, hours after Paul’s marathon, in a vote largely along party lines.

But people were still buzzing later about Paul’s 13-hour traditional “talking filibuster,” which spotlighted the administration’s constitutional excesses with respect to the use of drones and the war on terrorism.

Paul rightly criticized the administration for giving signals that it might use killer drones to take out an American on U.S. soil, if suspected of terrorism. Such an act would be a blatant violation of the Constitution’s due process and habeas corpus guarantees.

In a letter sent to Paul recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the government did not rule out the use of lethal force against citizens in the U.S.

Holder declared that under undefined “extraordinary circumstances” the president could “authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

Paul said the vote on confirming Brennan --- who was the architect of the drone program which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths --- should be held up until the administration issued a clear statement, in writing, saying it would not kill Americans on U.S. soil.

Already, drones were used to kill three Americans abroad. One of them was suspected of terrorist activities against the U.S. None of them were involved in combat against the United States.

Paul discussed the fact that government agencies have drawn up lists of “terrorist suspects” --- which have included the names of people who have expressed radical views, unpopular views or are dissidents. Such lists have been passed on to local law enforcement agencies recommending surveillance of those individuals, he said.

The senator said it is one thing for the government to target individuals who are taking up arms against the government, and another thing to target people who are simply critics of the government or affiliated with an unpopular group.

Paul demanded to know what standards were being used to draw up the watch lists, and what standards were being used to draw up kill lists, something Obama has directly been involved in.

“This filibuster is not so much about Brennan as it is about constitutional principles,” said Paul.

The lawmaker offered the Democrats a proposal that he would drop his filibuster and allow a vote to go ahead if they agreed to a non-binding “Sense of the Senate Resolution” which said “Use of drones to execute or target an American citizen on American soil who poses no imminent threat clearly violates the constitutional due process rights of citizens.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaking for the Democrats, conceded that many of the issues Paul raised were legitimate. Nonetheless, he turned the offer down.

The filibuster ended after midnight Thursday morning when Paul took a bathroom break. Later, there was some debate on the floor, with Sen. John McCain defending the drone program and saying the filibuster was out of place. McCain, who is becoming increasingly annoying, admonished the younger Paul “to calm down.”

That’s right, let’s all “calm down” about illegal drone strikes and assaults on the Constitution.

When the vote took place, it fell rather disgustingly along party lines. Almost all Republicans voted against Brennan, in most cases simply to oppose Obama, though some may share Paul’s liberterian views. Only three people on the left side of the aisle voted to oppose. They were Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, both Democrats, and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders is one of the few real progressives on the Hill.

Then the wise, so-called liberal pundits like Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC weighed in with derision for Paul’s filibuster. O’Donnell called Paul “relentlessly ignorant” and deemed the filibuster a publicity stunt. The same network’s Ed Schultz said Paul was “grandstanding” and grabbing attention for a presidential run.

Though both commentators said the drone issue was an important one, Paul had somehow mishandled the matter. Neither one bothered to actually discuss the questions raised by Paul.

The Republican senator did score a victory Thursday morning, however, when Holder sent him a terse letter saying that the President does not have the authority to use a “weaponized drone” to kill an American on U.S. soil who is not engaged in combat.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK:Women for Peace and a strong critic both of the drone program and Brennan’s nomination, said Paul should have devoted time in his filibuster to talking about the terrible results of past drone strikes overseas, the massive loss of civilian life, and Brennan’s role in heading up the “nefarious program.”

Nonetheless, in a piece she authored for Common Dreams, she lauded Paul’s stand:

“While progressives have all sorts of reasons to dislike Rand Paul’s Tea Party, small government libertarian views, killer drones is one issue on which progressives should make common cause with Paul and his growing legions of supporters,” she wrote.

She continued, “After all, it’s not about the messenger but the message. And compared to the Democratic Senators who have, with few exceptions, remained either silent or support President Obama’s killer drones, Rand made a heroic stand. In gratitude, progressives should ‘Stand with Rand.’ “