Saturday, February 23, 2008

Are WE Proud To Be Americans (Slaughterhouse Blues)?

The rabid right-wing media lambasted Michelle Obama for saying these words at a rally for her husband: "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country." Despite all the political hysterics about her alleged treasonous comment, Mrs. Obama's statement raises an important question: Do Americans have reason to be proud of our country? Actually, our historic record over the last 30 years paints a very sad portrait. As the sportscaster, Chris Berman, would say: "Let's go to the videotape."

Ronald Reagan ordered PATCO air traffic controllers back to work, invoking the Taft-Hartley Act, which banned unfair labor practices. They were striking for better working conditions, newer equipment and a shorter work week. In spite of these reasonable demands, Reagan fired the workers on August 5, 1981. He quietly conspired with his Transportation secretary, Drew Lewis, to train replacement workers in order to crush the PATCO labor union. This was a classic case of bargaining in bad faith.

On October 23, 1983, a truck bomb blew up the Marine barracks of our Beirut peace keeping force, killing 241 soldiers. Reagan promptly withdrew the remaining forces. Two days later, in order to avoid being labeled a cut-and-runner, he invaded Grenada, the smallest nation in the Americas, on trumped up charges. In fact, the island was going through significant political instability at the time. The US cited the building of a long airstrip and the alleged danger to the lives of about a thousand American medical students as reasons to invade. Subsequently, Reagan got his war win, while fomenting the righteous indignation of the entire global community. During the 1980s, Reagan armed and funded rebel groups in several Central American nations. This was a morbid attempt to rid the area of communist governments and their socialist sympathizers. Massive numbers of innocent and unarmed civilians were murdered for little practical political advantage.

George "Poppy" Bush launched his "Operation Just Cause" invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989. Bush took a hard line against Manual Noriega after the media labeled him a "wimp" in foreign policy matters. Using allegations of drug trafficking and money laundering, Bush sought to bolster his presidential bona fides by waging war against Panama. More than 3,000 innocent Panamanians were killed during the bombing. You could say he invaded Panama "Just Cause" he could get away with it.

After the cold war ended, the defense budget was facing a deep cut in funding. Bush fought hard to pre-empt the proposed peace dividend by prodding Saddam Hussein into invading Kuwait. When the Iran-Iraq conflict ceased, Hussein was left with a million-man army, no jobs and a $75 billion external debt to Kuwait. Saddam discovered Kuwait was using slant drilling to steal oil from Iraq's Rumaila oilfield. So, Hussein decided to kill two birds with one stone by invading Kuwait under the ruse of restoring Iraq's sovereign historic right to the emirate's land. But, he needed US consent before he did so. Bush supplied that approval through US Envoy April Glaspie at a meeting with Hussein on July 25, 1991. She assured him we wouldn't interfere. He took the bait, giving Poppy Bush his reason to invade the Middle East. The rest, they say, is history. Thousands of innocent Iraqis were senselessly killed during the assault. Over a million more died from the lack of food, medicine and clean water due to the ensuing savage embargo. Needless to say, "defense" appropriations continued to skyrocket.

Bill Clinton was a reluctant warrior. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, he focused his attention on reviving the US economy. Yugoslavia was an ailing nation following the death of Marshal Tito, who used an iron fist to keep the varied tribal peoples in line. The US, the EC and NATO had the opportunity to thwart a precipitous disintegration of Yugoslavia, but they waited until the factional fighting began. Where an ounce of prevention could've been used in the form of economic assistance, a pound of cure was needed. In the name of stopping human rights abuses, Clinton provoked NATO to create a few atrocities of its own by carpet-bombing Kosovo. This was simply a matter of justifying the continued existence of NATO, a cold war relic. Over 3,000 civilians were killed during this unnecessary war.

George W. Bush will go down as the most hated man in history (there were fewer humans on Earth during Hitler's time). He started two illegal and immoral wars which he refuses to end. He used the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, although both nations had nothing to do with 9/11. Millions of Muslims have been murdered and driven from their homes as a result of these senseless wars of aggression and crimes against humanity. When you combine these heinous acts with Abu Ghraib, torture and kangaroo courts, we must ask: Why are these evil deeds being done in our name? A growing ocean of blood is on our hands.

Michelle Obama was viciously ridiculed for her remarks at a political rally. Later, it was discovered the videotape of the event, used by right-wing media, was doctored. The word, "really," was edited out of the audio feed. Since it was poorly altered, this ugly dirty trick was soon exposed. An unedited version revealed she said: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." Her intent was never to slander America in any way. But, when you review our woeful war and human rights records over the last 30 years, our nation leaves a lot to be desired. As we traverse this election season, are there genuine reasons for us to be proud of our country? Come November, we will soon be able to decide.

Franklin L. Johnson

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Barack Or Hillary?
Which One To Choose And Why

A little investigative reporting revealed the following personal profiles:

Barack ("blessed" in Swahili) Hussein Obama, Jr., was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Shirley Ann Dunham, a Kansan of English ancestry, and Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Luo Kenyan. Dunham was part Cherokee Indian and a distant descendant of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Obama's parents met and married in 1960 when they were students at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii. They separated when he was two and later divorced. Barack's father moved to Connecticut to pursue his Ph.D. studies in economics at Harvard. His mother, an anthropologist, married another East-West Center student, Lolo Soetoro. In 1967, the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Barack (known as Barry in his childhood) lived in Jakarta with his mother and stepfather for four years (1967-1971). Obama first attended Catholic School Fransiskus Assisis, then transferred to State Elementary School (SDN) Besuki, now known as SDN Menteng 01, where classes were taught in Indonesian. In the third grade, he wrote an essay saying he wanted to become president. At the time, his teacher was unsure which country he wanted to be president of. Recently, controversy was stirred up about the Besuki school. Red-meat right-wingers at Insight magazine claimed the school was a madrassa. They tried to spread an ugly rumor Obama received a radical Islamic education in Indonesia which is a Muslim nation. Actually, Besuki is an elite secular public school. Founded in 1934, it was reserved for Dutch and Indonesian nobility, such as the grandchildren of former president Soeharto and veeps Hamzah Haz and Tri Soetrisno. Only the very best students are permitted to attend this school.

Barack's mother sent him back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents when he was ten. He went to Punahou school from the fifth grade until he graduated in 1979. While growing up in Hawaii, Barack briefly met his father in 1971. For the first time, he realized his multi-ethnic heritage. Questions about who he was drove him to drink and drugs in his teenage years. He recalled he used these substances to "push questions of who I was out of my mind."

After high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles and attended Occidental College for two years, then transferred to Columbia University. There he majored in political science and received a B.A. in International Relations. He worked for B.I.C. and NYPIRG in New York before taking a job in Chicago as a community organizer. Later, he entered Harvard Law School and received a J.D. degree magna cum laude in 1991. Barack worked his way up the political chain in Chicago to become the junior senator from Illinois and a candidate for the US presidency.

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton was born in Chicago of English, Welsh and, perhaps, some Native American ancestry. As a child, she participated in many church, school and athletic activities. She was a member of the student council, debating team and the National Honor Society. She was also a National Merit Finalist. Instilled with conservative political values from her father and concern for social justice from her mother, Hillary became a Goldwater Girl in 1964 and a staunch admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King.

At Wellesley College, she joined the Young Republicans in her freshman year. She left that organization as her positions on civil rights and the Viet Nam war changed. She said she was "a mind conservative and a heart liberal." Hillary preferred to work for change from within the system rather than foment radical actions from without. In 1968, she was elected president of Wellesley's student body. Even then, her classmates believed she had executive potential. After attending the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami, she decided to leave the Republican party for good, citing Nixon's negative campaign strategies and "veiled" racist messages.

Hillary wrote her senior thesis about the tactics of radical community organizer, Saul Alinsky, which was later suppressed by the Clinton White House. In 1969, she graduated with honors in political science. She was the first student in Wellesley history to deliver the commencement address, receiving a long standing ovation.

At Yale Law School, she served on the Board of Editors of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action. During her Yale years, she mixed the writing of scholarly papers, summer law research, occasional campaign work and pro bono legal services with her undergraduate and post-graduate studies.

She served as a staff attorney for the Children's Defense Fund and the 1974 impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon. After passing the Arkansas bar exam and failing the District of Columbia test, she decided to marry Bill Clinton and follow him to Arkansas. With this commitment, her fate was sealed. Later, she wrote, "I chose to follow my heart instead of my head." As we all know now, this explanation is only an excuse.

Hillary hit her stride as First Lady of Arkansas during the dozen years Bill was governor. She did important work improving child care, health care and poverty programs. As a partner at the prestigious Rose Law firm, Clinton had a higher income than her husband. After Bill won the 1992 presidential election, she became America's First Lady and the most influential woman on Earth. Despite several significant scandals, she employed her position and power to help others, especially children.

When judging the qualifications to be president of these two extraordinary people, it's nearly impossible to score an advantage for either lengthy resume. But, a striking difference does emerge when comparing their elected service records.

Hillary Clinton served one full term as the junior senator from New York. Most of the early months of her second term were spent campaigning for president. As senator, she authored and passed into law only 20 pieces of legislation (SEE: Amadeo Sogni's article A Light In The Darkness). None of these enactments is important or consequential.

Barack Obama, during his first eight years in elected office, sponsored over 820 bills. He introduced: 233 health care reform measures; 125 poverty and public assistance bills; 112 crime fighting bills; 97 economic bills; 60 human rights bills; 21 ethics reform bills; 15 gun control bills and many others. During his first year in the senate, he authored 152 bills and co-sponsored another 427. In all, during his years in elected office, including the US senate, Barack Obama has written 890 bills and co-sponsored another 1,096. When voters review each candidate's record from this perspective, it's very clear who's been doing the people's business. After personal sources of their ambition are compared, the voters will discover another distinct difference.

Obama's ambition is driven by his particular experience of injustice and his desire to right the wrongs in the world. He never knew his Kenyan father. He met him only briefly in Hawaii when he was ten years old. He lived with his stepfather only four years. Although he had many stepbrothers and stepsisters, they grew up in Indonesia and Africa while he grew up in Hawaii. For the most part, he lived the lonely life of an only child. He suffered crude, racist insults from his high school classmates. He felt shame and self-hatred due to his multi-ethnic parentage and broken home. (NOTE: The media compound the confusion by catagorizing multi-ethnic marriages as bi-racial. Since there is only one race, the human race, all marriages and relationships are naturally intra-racial or multi-ethnic. They can't be inter-racial or bi-racial because these words presuppose there is more than one race. Of course, there are many ethnic, cultural and tribal groups. But, there is only one human race).

Barack's intense ambition is driven by his need to become a shining example of what an ideal man, husband and father should be. Despite the absence of family role models in his youth, Obama found his way through the maturation process. Today, he fights hard to help others because he knows the pain of growing up lonely and loveless in a broken home.

Hillary's ambition is driven by a genuine desire to help others, sparked by her mother's influence. Unlike Barack, she had strong support from her family. The major mistake she made was following Bill Clinton to Arkansas. If she'd stayed in Washington, she may've forged a career which could've led to a presidential bid on her own terms. Instead, she spent 20 years as a surrogate parent to Bill's petty peccadilloes and gross infidelities. While Hillary gets high marks for boundless patience, she doesn't come to the presidential campaign battle-hardened by self-defining struggles in the public arena. Since marrying Bill, every official position Hillary's had she's received by appointment. Clinton won her senate seat largely as a result of her strong name recognition as former First Lady. At this point in time, her senate record indicates she's no emerging Eleanor Roosevelt.

It's Barack, not Hillary, who is the battle-hardened warrior in the effort to secure the Democratic nomination. Obama's soaring confidence is as evident as Clinton's faltering caution. This has little to do with misogyny, but has everything to do with personal history. It's not enough for Hillary to believe she should be president because it's her turn or to set a precedent. Oddly, Bill may be pushing her presidential bid to discharge his guilt for all the bad things he did to her over 30 years in a marriage of convenience. When you compare the Clinton and Obama marriages, there's simply no comparison. The Obamas represent a potential First Family most Americans can truly admire. The same can't be said of the Clinton Clan. It's a family of Harvard lawyers versus a family of Yale lawyers. This is a rare observation which is never noted.

Barack or Hillary? The choice seems to be very clear. Obama is moved by personal experience, not political expediency. He would make the tough choices to move our nation forward as he perfects his reasons for doing so. He wants to fill the holes in his heart with memories of a life well lived and studded with exceptional achievement. That which does not destroy you will make you strong. The same could be said of Hillary. The difference is Barack discarded his sad past and replaced it with a transcendent present. Hillary is still bound by a sad past -- at present. Nothing illustrated her predicament more than when she was caught on camera with an exasperated look on her face. During a campaign stop at a department store, Bill wandered off with the crowd, leaving Hillary alone and bewildered. This scene graphically captured Hillary's life. And it wasn't a pretty picture.

Hillary is held back by the heavy weight of Bill's baggage. She is polarizing because her recent past is polarizing. It hangs around her neck like a lead anchor. As president, no matter how earnest her decisions might be, she'll always be second-guessed because Bill will be lurking in the background. So, the choice is between a self-made man and a lead-weighted woman. The election of either candidate will set an historic precedent. Everyone's vote should be guided by a hunger to build a more perfect future, not to protect a very dubious past. Ultimately, it's a choice between Barack's confident carriage and Bill's heavy-duty baggage. A consistent message of hope and compassion is simply more appealing than a dark message of constant division and despair. With America's survival precariously dangling in the balance, it's never been more important to choose wisely.

Franklin L. Johnson