All posts by William Boardman

War on Iran is US Policy Now According to US Secretary of State

Former CIA head offers policy of prevarication and tortured truth

On May 21, in his first formal public address, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (sworn in May 2) effectively declared war on the sovereign nation of Iran. Pompeo has no constitutional authority to declare war on anyone, as he well knows, so his declaration of war is just short of overt, though it included a not-so-veiled threat of a nuclear attack on Iran. Pompeo’s declaration of war is a reactionary move that revitalizes the malignant Iranaphobia of the Bush presidency, when predictions were rife that Iran would have nuclear weapons by next year, next month, next week, predictions that never came true over twenty years of fearmongering. In effect (as we’ll see), Pompeo wants us to believe that everything bad that happened in the Middle East after Saudi terrorists attacked us on 9/11 in 2001 has been Iran’s fault, starting with Afghanistan. Almost everything Pompeo had to say to the Heritage Foundation on May 21 was a lie or, more typically, an argument built on lies.

Heritage Foundation host Kay Coles James called Pompeo’s 3,700-word speech “Bold, concise, unambiguous” and “a bold vision – clear, concise, unambiguous.”  It was none of those, except perhaps bold in its willingness to go to war with an imaginary monster. Even without open warfare, warmongering has its uses both for intimidating other states and creating turmoil among the populace at home. Buckle your seat belts.

The 2012 Iran nuclear deal (officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) was, by all reliable accounts, working effectively in its own terms up until May 8: inspectors confirmed that Iran had eliminated the nuclear programs it had promised to eliminate, that its uranium enrichment program for nuclear power plants was nowhere close to making weapons grade material, and so on. Whatever perceived flaws the deal may have had, and whatever other problems it didn’t cover, the deal was working to the satisfaction of all its other signatories: Iran, France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and China. As a measure of international cooperation, the deal not only worked, it was an available precedent for further negotiations among equal parties acting in good faith. The US was not such a party. On May 8, the US President, unilaterally and over the clear objections of all the other parties to the agreement, pulled the US out of the deal for no more clearly articulated reason than that he didn’t like it.  Or as Pompeo tried to re-frame it in his May 21 declaration of war:

President Trump withdrew from the [Iran nuclear] deal for a simple reason: it failed to guarantee the safety of the American people from the risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This is a Big Lie worthy of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. What “risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” is there? Iran poses NO imminent threat to the US, and wouldn’t even if it had nuclear weapons (as North Korea and eight other countries have). Iran has no overseas bases, the US has more than 600, including a couple of dozen that surround Iran. A classified number of US bases and aircraft carriers around Iran are armed with nuclear weapons. Iran lives every day at risk from the US military while posing almost no counter-risk (and none that wouldn’t be suicidal). There is no credible threat to the American people other than fevered speculation about what might happen in a world that does not exist.

To clarify Pompeo’s lie, the President withdrew from the deal for a simple reason: to protect the American people from a non-existent threat. In reality, peremptorily dumping the deal without any effort to improve it first may well have made Americans less safe in the long term. There’s no way to know. And given the current US ability to manage complicated, multifaceted problems, there’s little reason for hope. Since no one else seems as reckless as the US, we may muddle through despite massive inept stupidity and deceit.

The frame for Pompeo’s deceitful arguments is the familiar one of American goodness, American exceptionalism, American purity of motive. He deploys it with the apparent self-assurance that enough of the American people still fall for it (or profit from it) that it gives the government near carte blanche to make the rest of the world suffer our willfulness. Pompeo complains about “wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats,” without a word about American kleptocrats, of whom his president is one and he is too presumably. And then there’s the unmentioned collusion with Russian kleptocrats. Better to divert attention and inflate the imaginary threat:

The deal did nothing to address Iran’s continuing development of ballistic and cruise missiles, which could deliver nuclear warheads.

Missiles were not part of the nuclear agreement, so, of course, it didn’t address missiles. And even if Iran, which has a space program, develops missiles under the agreement, it still wouldn’t have nuclear warheads to deliver. There is no threat, but the US could move the projected threat closer by scrapping the agreement rather than seeking to negotiate it into other areas. That move both inflames the fear and conceals the lie. In effect, Pompeo argues metaphorically that we had to cut down the cherry orchard because it failed to produce beef.

Pompeo goes on at length arguing that all the problems in the Middle East are Iran’s fault. He never mentions the US invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq, or US intervention in other countries creating fertile ground for ISIS in Libya and genocide in Yemen. Pompeo falsely claims that “Iran perpetuates a conflict” in Syria that has made “that country 71,000 square miles of kill zone.” Pompeo falsely claims that Iran alone jeopardizes Iraq’s sovereignty. Pompeo falsely blames Iran for the terror and starvation in Yemen caused by US-supported Saudi terror bombing. Pompeo falsely blames Iran for US failure in Afghanistan. Pompeo uses these and other lies to support the long-standing Big Lie that “Iran continues to be… the world’s largest sponsor of terror.”

This is another Bush administration lie that lived on under Obama and now gets fresh life from Pompeo, but without evidence or analysis. US sponsorship of Saudi bombing of defenseless civilians in Yemen probably accounts for more terrorist acts than Iran accomplishes worldwide. Israeli murder of unarmed protestors in Gaza has killed more people than Iran’s supposed terror. The demonization of Iran persists because of the perverse US public psychology that has neither gotten over the 1979 hostage-taking nor accepted any responsibility for destroying Iranian democracy and subjecting Iran to a brutal US-puppet police state for a quarter-century. The Big Lie about Iran is so ingrained in American self-delusion, Pompeo may not be fully aware of the extent to which he is lying to his core (he surely knows the particulars of specific smaller lies).

Only someone who is delusional or dishonest, or both, could claim with apparent sincerity that one goal of the US is “to deter Iranian aggression.” Pompeo offers no particulars of this Iranian “aggression.” So far as one can tell, in the real world, Iran has not invaded any other country in the region, or elsewhere. The US has invaded several countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and by proxy Yemen. American aggression has been real and deadly and constant for decades, but because the US is the one keeping score, the US doesn’t award itself the prize it so richly deserves year after year as the world’s number one state sponsor of terror. This is how it’s been since long before 1967 when Martin Luther King tried speaking “clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” That’s the way it was, that’s the way it still is, that’s the future Pompeo points us toward with a not so veiled threat of nuclear war:

And I’d remind the leadership in Iran what President Trump said: If they restart their nuclear program, it will mean bigger problems – bigger problems than they’d ever had before.

And then Pompeo launched on a lengthy description of Iran as he sees it, a self-serving interpretation of Iranian events that may or may not mean what Pompeo says they mean. What is most remarkable about the passage is that it could as well apply to the US today. Just change the Iran references to American references, as I have done in the text below, leaving everything else Pompeo said intact, and the likely unintentional effect is eerily like looking in a black mirror reality:

Look, these problems are compounded by enormous corruption inside of [the US], and the [American] people can smell it. The protests last winter showed that many are angry at the regime that keeps for itself what the regime steals from its people.

And [Americans] too are angry at a regime elite that commits hundreds of millions of dollars to military operations and terrorist groups abroad while the Iranian people cry out for a simple life with jobs and opportunity and with liberty.

The [American] regime’s response to the protests has only exposed the country’s leadership is running scared. Thousands have been jailed arbitrarily, and at least dozens have been killed.

As seen from the [#MeToo] protests, the brutal men of the regime seem to be particularly terrified by [American] women who are demanding their rights. As human beings with inherent dignity and inalienable rights, the women of [America] deserve the same freedoms that the men of [America] possess.

But this is all on top of a well-documented terror and torture that the regime has inflicted for decades on those who dissent from the regime’s ideology.

The [American] regime is going to ultimately have to look itself in the mirror. The [American] people, especially its youth, are increasingly eager for economic, political, and social change.

As an analysis of the US by a US official, that might suggest we were headed toward enlightened and progressive policy changes. Even for what it is, Pompeo’s self-deceiving pitch to “the Iranian people,” it could have led in a positive direction.  It didn’t. Pompeo followed this assessment with a dishonest offer for new talks. It was dishonest because it came with non-negotiable US preconditions, “only if Iran is willing to make major changes.” Then came a full page of preconditions, “what it is that we demand from Iran,” as Pompeo put it [emphasis added]. Meeting those US demands would be tantamount to a surrender of national sovereignty in exchange for nothing. Pompeo surely understood that he was making an offer Iran couldn’t do anything but refuse.

The Secretary of State’s bullying chest puffery continued for another two pages of falsehoods and repetitions. He called for a global alliance of democracies and dictatorships “to join this effort against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Linking Egypt and Australia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, Pompeo spun into a fully delusional statement about nations with little in common:

They understand the challenge the same way that America does. Indeed, we welcome any nation which is sick and tired of the nuclear threats, the terrorism, the missile proliferation, and the brutality of a regime which is at odds with world peace, a country that continues to inflict chaos on innocent people.

Wait a minute! Nuclear threats! Missile proliferation!  Brutality at odds with world peace! A country that continues to inflict chaos on innocent people! That’s us! That’s the US since 1945. And that’s absolutely not what Pompeo meant, insofar as anyone can be absolutely sure of anything. He made that clear with yet another lie: “we’re not asking anything other than that Iranian behavior be consistent with global norms.”

Pompeo came to the predictable conclusion familiar to other countries: Iran will “prosper and flourish… as never before,” if they just do what we tell them to do. And to illustrate US bona fides and good faith in all its dealings, Pompeo showed himself, however unintentionally, capable of true high hilarity:

If anyone, especially the leaders of Iran, doubts the President’s sincerity or his vision, let them look at our diplomacy with North Korea.

THAT is funny. It’s just not a joke.

Israeli Snipers Kill Unarmed, Defenseless People: Isn’t That Murder?

Israeli “Defense” Forces Kill Coldly, Calculatedly, Then Cheer

Israel’s deliberate, methodical, selective assassination of unarmed, peaceful Palestinians in Gaza has gone on for years, punctuated by periods of deliberate but random killing with air strikes and artillery. Gaza is a prison, Gaza is a concentration camp, Gaza has been blockaded for a decade, Gaza’s occupation is a perennial crime against humanity, but most of all Gaza is a target. Gaza is a target because it suits the Israelis to have two million captive Palestinian men, women, and children (half of them are children) to despise, starve, deny medical supplies, reduce to inescapable and unlivable conditions, kill, and then brand as “terrorists” for not surrendering and disappearing from the face of the earth 70 years ago. From an Israeli perspective, Palestinians committed original sin by merely existing.

From a Palestinian perspective, Israelis committed original sin by merely existing. They are both right, in a narrow sense that is useless for moving forward. Neither has any moral authority in a wider perspective. But where does one go to find any wider perspective?

After weeks of Israeli snipers killing unarmed, nonviolent civilians, the official view of the United States is as narrow, distorted, and misleading as it’s been for years. On May 14, the day that Israelis killed some 60 people and wounded thousands more, White House representative Raj Shah recited the US view with robotic repetition (with no supporting evidence) throughout his press briefing:

MR. SHAH: The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response…. we believe that Hamas is responsible for these tragic deaths; that their rather cynical exploitation of the situation is what’s leading to these deaths. And we want them to stop…. we think that we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Hamas is the one that, frankly, bear responsibility for the dire situation right now in Gaza…. We believe that Hamas is responsible for what’s going on.

Q: So there’s no responsibility beyond that on the Israeli authorities? Kill at will?

MR. SHAH: What I’m saying is that we believe that Hamas, as an organization, is engaged in cynical action that’s leading to these deaths…. as I said earlier, we believe Hamas bears the responsibility. Look, this is a propaganda attempt. I mean, this is a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt. I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence, and we find it very unfortunate.

Q: But people were throwing rocks 50 meters from the wall [perimeter fence] and were faced with sniper attack. I mean, is the White House in denial of the split-screen reality that’s occurring?

MR. SHAH: Again, we believe that Hamas is responsible for this.

Surely Raj Shah and most of the people in the Trump administration know that this is such a distortion of reality as to constitute a Big Lie in the traditional Nazi propaganda sense. Whatever argument might be made to the contrary, the Palestinians are perennially and incontrovertibly the victims here and have been for 70 years, since the Nakba of 1948. The White House blames the victim. Israel, the enduring monument to a successful terrorist campaign, wages terrorism to fight the terrorism used against it.

The White House also singles out Hamas for blame, which is a form of straw-man demonization of long standing. The White House offers no evidence that Hamas can be, much less is, an all-controlling manipulator of two million Palestinians. But blaming Hamas is a way to ignore the conditions Israel has imposed on these two million prisoners who have no choice but to slowly poison themselves with contaminated water in conditions that are literally “unlivable” (according to a 2017 UN report). Hamas is an easy scapegoat, but it is also the only Palestinian political party that actually won an election (2006) that the US, Israel, Fatah, and others prevented from taking effect. Hamas had effective control of Gaza, Fatah of the West Bank. In 2005, in an unusual form of ethnic cleansing, Israel had forcibly removed (with $200,000 individual compensation) all Jewish residents from Gaza creating a Palestinian ghetto: a fenced-in occupied territory controlled by Israel, choked by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, cut off from humanitarian intervention by the US veto at the UN Security Council. Even so, the US and Israel conspired with Fatah to undo Hamas’s election victory by force, setting the stage for Hamas to take control of Gaza by removing Fatah in a week of fighting (estimated 118 dead, 550 wounded) in June 2007. The White House chooses just to ignore the year-old proposal by Hamas to create a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Israel.

Singling out Hamas when a broad spectrum of Gazan civil society is turning out to demonstrate at more than a dozen locations along the roughly 15-mile perimeter fence helps US/Israeli officials (and media) depict a false reality. The unspoken subtext of Shah’s comments is that Palestinians have no right to engage in massive, nonviolent civil disobedience. This is so patently false that he really can’t say it out loud. And he’s helped by the undisciplined fringe of Palestinians who don’t seem to get that nonviolent civil disobedience really doesn’t include rock-throwing, fire-bomb kites, and the like, no matter how ineffectual those tactics are (causing no Israeli casualties or reported damage). More disciplined, sustained, nonviolent protest would frame Israeli conduct far more starkly, and cold-blooded murder would be seen for the terror tactic it truly is, especially now that snipers are targeting doctors and other medical personnel.

Gaza is a continuing crime against humanity in which the US is complicit with the perpetrators (as in Yemen and elsewhere). For decades the US has postured as a peace-maker, sometimes with actual good effect. Those days are long gone, as White House representative Shah made clear at his May 14 briefing:

Q: Raj, on the issue of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, when was the last time the White House reached out to Palestinian leadership? And will — given the high numbers of casualties, Palestinians calling what has happened today a “massacre,” will the White House be reaching out?

MR. SHAH: Well, I don’t honestly have an answer for you on that. I’ll get back to you.

What he means is that the White House has no peace plan, there is no coherent policy beyond supporting Israel no matter what, and as far as the US goes, peace is not an option. Senior Advisor to the president and son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, has reportedly developed a US peace plan that he’s reluctant to present publicly for fear the Palestinians might reject it (even though the president calls it “the deal of the century”). On May 14, when Israeli killing in Gaza peaked, Kushner spoke obliquely of his peace plan at the US embassy ceremony in Jerusalem, claiming that the president:

… was very clear that his decision and today’s celebration, do not reflect the departure from our strong commitment to lasting peace, a peace that overcomes the conflicts of the past in order to give our children a brighter and more boundless future. As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution. The United States is prepared to support a peace agreement in every way we can. We believe that it is possible for both sides to gain more than they give….

None of this corresponds well to the actual behavior of the Trump administration, which has consisted mostly of provocations and subsidies (that pay for maintaining the unlivable conditions of Gaza and the bullets that kill Palestinians, among other crimes of Israel’s illegal occupation). Who can Kushner possibly mean by “our children”? The real message from Kushner, highlighted above, comes down to “blame Hamas” – nonviolent civil disobedience provokes violence, doesn’t everyone know that, have we learned nothing from Alabama, South Africa, India? The White House scrubbed that highlighted passage from its official transcript of Kushner’s remarks.

But Ambassador Nikki Haley was even more absurd at the UN. While the US was blocking any Security Council action, such as an “independent and transparent investigation,” or even a resolution of “outrage and sorrow,” Haley characterized Israel’s one-sided killing as “restraint” and lied about Israel’s border:

I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council, who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.

The fence enclosing Gaza is not a border. Both sides of the fence are in Israel. The fence is a demarcation line, with a Palestinian concentration camp on the inside and murderers, maimers, and mutilators on the outside. Some Israelis are even proud of this, as an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) spokesman tweeted on March 31:

Yesterday we saw 30,000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.

When your bullets are landing on civilians, on men, women, and children, on doctors and medical personnel, that tweet is a confession. More recently a Knesset member promised that “the IDF has enough bullets for everyone.” What can possibly justify hunting unarmed Palestinians in the unspeakable conditions of Gaza, conditions created and enforced by Israel, conditions roughly equivalent to the Warsaw ghetto of 1943? Israel is perpetrating a continuing crime against humanity. Elsewhere in the world, there is an outcry against state-sanctioned shooting fish in a barrel. The US blames the fish. This is an obscene response to an endless atrocity in which the complicit United States is once again up to its eyeballs in innocent blood.

First Bomb the Wedding, Then Bomb the Rescue Workers

Textbook terrorist tactic and war crime – who cares?

On an impoverished, remote mountain village in northwest Yemen, the wedding celebration was still going strong when the first airstrike hit around 11 p.m. on April 22. The Saudi attacks killed the bride first, death toll to “at least 33 people.” The nearest hospital was miles away in Hajjah. The only two cars in the village were knocked out by the bombing. The first casualties reaching the hospital arrived by donkey after midnight. The hospital, one of 13 in Yemen run by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders), had two ambulances that drove back and forth well into daylight bringing in the wounded, sometimes six at a time. MSF reported receiving 63 casualties, none armed, none in uniform:

The injured had mainly lost limbs and suffered shrapnel wounds. At least three patients required amputation, including two brothers, who each lost a foot. By early morning, many residents of Hajjah had come to the hospital to donate blood. In two hours, 150 bags were collected to treat the wounded.

This was yet another American-sponsored war crime. The US has committed war crimes of this sort all on its own since 2009 in Pakistan (and subsequently in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere). The US president surely knew such attacks are war crimes under international law as well as US law, but who was going to hold him accountable (any more than anyone has held his predecessor or successor accountable)?

US complicity in committing war crimes almost daily in Yemen began in March 2015 when the president, without a murmur from a supine Congress, gave the green light to a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states to wage a genocidal bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels (predominantly Shi’ite Zaidis) who had ruled Yemen for 1,000 years until 1962. In 2014, the Houthis had overthrown the duly-appointed, internationally-imposed “legitimate” government. Americans’ hands have run red with innocent Yemeni blood ever since. (Not that US media often mention US involvement, as the CNN report on this deadly wedding illustrates: “A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been fighting Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than two years” — actually three. And the Houthis are Yemeni, not Iranian, as the official propaganda would love you to believe.)

As with the desecrated wedding described above, the Saudis, with US blessing and extensive tactical support, like to commit their war crimes especially against weddings and funerals (as the CIA was fond of doing in Pakistan). This is state-sponsored terrorism. The states sponsoring it include the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and their allies in Yemen. Weddings and funerals offer large gatherings of innocent people who are defenseless. It doesn’t take a smart bomb to see the value of a soft target like that. When the rescue workers and other first responders show up, a second strike kills more innocent, defenceless people. This is a standard terrorist tactic with fiendish efficiency. In terror jargon it’s called the double-tap.

That same weekend, US-Saudi strikes also killed a family of five and 20 civilians riding in a bus. The US-Saudi air war on the undefended country (Yemen has no air force and limited air defenses) has displaced millions of people in a country of 25 million that was already the poorest in the region when the Saudis attacked. The relentless bombing of civilians (including the use of cluster bombs) has led to severe hunger, approaching famine conditions; a severe shortage of medical supplies and a massive cholera outbreak; and destruction of infrastructure and the near-elimination of clean water. Describing conditions in Yemen, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said:

Every 10 minutes, a child under 5 dies of preventable causes. And nearly 3 million children under 5 and pregnant or lactating women are actually malnourished. Nearly half of all children aged between 6 months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and suffer from stunting, which causes development delays and reduced ability to learn throughout their entire lives.

This is what genocide looks like. But to blur that perception, the Saudis and the UAE have given the UN nearly $1 billion in humanitarian aid, to ameliorate the humanitarian disaster they created, even as they continue bombing without a pause. This picture has prompted Guterres to say that “peace is possible” in Yemen, but “there are still many obstacles to overcome.”

One such obstacle would be the Saudi claim on April 21 that the Yemeni rebels had seized 19 oil tankers off the coast and had held them hostage for more than 26 days. That was a lie. It was not a credible lie, coming after 25 days of silence during the alleged hostage crisis. It was a lie based on nonsense, since the Saudi naval blockade had allowed the oil tankers into the port of Hodeidah to deliver fuel to the rebel-held area. A commercial shipping traffic website soon located all the “hostage” ships and learned that they were anchored awaiting off-loading. On April 26, Public Radio International exposed the Saudi lie.

On November 13, 2017, the US House of Representatives passed a lengthy resolution (H.Res.599) “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to United States policy towards Yemen, and for other purposes” on a bipartisan vote of 366-30 (with 36 not voting). The resolution expresses basic clichés of US policy, with all their varied levels of inaccuracy, dishonesty, and wishful thinking. The general tone of the document is that it’s all Iran’s fault the US-Saudi offensive is killing Yemenis en masse (no evidence offered). Most to the point, the House acknowledges that the US has no legal authorization for the use of force in Yemen (while omitting specific reference to US participation in the bombing, naval blockade, drone strikes, or other military actions). Having identified the illegality of US involvement in a genocidal war, the House resolution does nothing about it other than to ask all the parties to play nice.

In March 2018, Senate Joint Resolution 54 raised some real issues without actually proposing any solution. The resolution defined itself as a choice: “To direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” As explained in a Bernie Sanders press release:

It is long past time for Congress to exercise its constitutional authority on matters of war, and if the United States is going to participate in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, there must be a debate and a vote. Otherwise, our involvement is unauthorized and unconstitutional, and it must end.

In a largely party-line vote on March 20, the Senate Republicans voted 55-44 to table the resolution without discussing it or changing the course of carnage and US arms sales.

The Yemen peace process is still a hope more than a reality. The US and the Saudi coalition have shown no willingness to negotiate in good faith, but it’s not clear that anyone else has either. The Houthis control most of western Yemen and roughly 80% of the population. Houthi senior leader Saleh al-Sammad, considered a moderate, was open to negotiation. On April 19, a US-Saudi airstrike assassinated him.

The Trump administration is equally useless in any search for peace in Yemen. The president is enthralled by the scale of arms purchases by the Saudis and their allies, with no apparent interest in how the Pentagon helps use those weapons mostly against civilians.

A US citizen named Nageeb al-Omari has attempted to bring his 11-year-old daughter Shaima to the US for medical care. She was born with cerebral palsy, but the US-Saudi bombing has made her care all but impossible there. There is no US embassy in Yemen. Shaima’s father took her to Djibouti, where she continued deteriorating rapidly. Despite the US anti-Muslim travel ban, the daughter qualifies for the exemptions that would allow her into the US. Even though her father is a US citizen, US State Department officials would not grant her a visa, a waiver, or, most likely, a chance to live. The family has returned to Idlib in Yemen to await the next random act of cruelty from a rogue state that is the world’s greatest purveyor of terrorism.

Why should they expect any better treatment than Iraqi Christians in Michigan who voted for the president and now face deportation?

Multi-Millionaire Mass Murderer for Senate

Donald Leon “Don” Blankenship isn’t just another typical rich, white, tall, 68-year-old Republican multi-millionaire ideologue serving out the last probationary year of his federal criminal sentence in Las Vegas while running for the US Senate in West Virginia.  He’s also an endlessly, self-righteously self-justifying mass murderer.

Don Blankenship isn’t your typical extermination-camp-type mass murderer. He’s a lifelong coal executive. Mostly his activities kill people slowly, in their natural habitat, or what used to be a natural habitat before coal mining started destroying mountains, rivers, aquifers, and other life-sustaining ecosystems.

None of this is much of an issue in the Republican primary race for the West Virginia Senate nomination. The primary is scheduled for May 8. As of April 5, Blankenship was rising in the polls, now standing second with 27% in a six-way race, nine points higher than a month ago. The leader has 29%, down four points over the past month (down 13 since February). In 2016 Donald Trump won 68% of the vote in West Virginia. In 2014 the Republican Senate candidate won 62%. Blankenship is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly already spent millions. Blankenship spokesman Greg Thomas framed the situation carefully:

While we don’t have much confidence in other people’s polls, it is not surprising that more and more West Virginians would be supporting Don Blankenship. Don’s message of being a proven job creator and a conservative leader in West Virginia who will fight against the D.C. establishment is being received well everywhere we go….

The more people know about Don, the more they like him. We are doing everything we can to make sure people hear our positive message.

Reality is a variable, especially in politics. Even in West Virginia, running as a former CEO convicted of conspiring to cut safety measures, directly leading to 29 dead miners, probably is not the best image to project, even though it’s precisely true. But that was back in 2010, back before the Trump era blossomed upon us, back when the US government actually tried to prosecute people who killed their employees, back when Rolling Stone described Blankenship with refreshing venom:

You might not know that he grew up in the coal fields of West Virginia, received an accounting degree from a local college, and, through a combination of luck, hard work and coldblooded ruthlessness, transformed himself into the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the business and politics of energy in America today — a man who pursues naked self-interest and calls it patriotism, who buys judges like cheap hookers, treats workers like dogs, blasts mountains to get at a few inches of coal and uses his money and influence to ensure that America remains enslaved to the 19th-century idea that burning coal equals progress. And for this, he earns $18 million a year — making him the highest-paid CEO in the coal industry — and flies off to vacations on the French Riviera.

In 2010, Blankenship was in his tenth year as CEO and chairman of the Massey Energy Company, the largest coal company in Central Appalachia and one of the largest in the US (sold in 2011 to Alpha Natural Resources). Under Blankenship’s leadership, Massey was notorious for valuing productivity over safety. In October 2000, a Massey subsidiary unleashed some 300 million gallons of slurry laced with mercury and arsenic, killing all aquatic life nearby and polluting hundreds of miles of downstream waterways; the Bush administration cut short the investigation and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (Mitch McConnell’s wife) assessed a $5,600 fine on Massey (which also spent about $50 million on cleanup and local fines).

In January 2006, safety violations led to a mine fire that killed two, and Massey’s culpability led to a settlement (over the objections of the widows) in which Massey paid $4.2 million in criminal and civil penalties, then the largest settlement in the coal industry’s history (but no one was prosecuted). In February 2006, a bulldozer fire killed the operator, leading Massey to plead guilty to 10 criminal charges in a plea deal that cost Massey $2.5 million, but again prosecuted no one. In 2008, Massey paid $20 million to settle thousands of clean water violations with potential total fines of $2.4 billion, which is a pretty good incentive for the company to go on polluting. In 2009, the US cited Massey for 495 violations at the company’s Upper Big Branch coal mine and proposed fines totaling $911,802.

On April 5, 2010, Massey safety failures led directly to an explosion that killed 29 miners (out of 31), the worst US mine catastrophe since 1970, which became known as the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. The US assessed $10.8 million in penalties for 369 citations issued to Massey (which was cited more than 1,100 times for the same mine over the previous three years). On December 3, 2010, Blankenship resigned from Massey, three days before the mine safety report was issued. A year after the explosion, a state investigation fixed the blame on Massey leadership, up to and including Blankenship. On November 13, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Blankenship on several felony charges of conspiring to violate federal safety standards, lying, and security fraud. In December 2015, a federal jury acquitted Blankenship of the felony charges, but convicted him of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate safety standards. A federal judge ordered the maximum sentence for the conviction, one year in prison and a $250,000 fine. Blankenship appealed and lost, entered prison, appealed again and lost. His final appeal to the US Supreme Court was still pending when he was released on May 10, 2017, after serving his year. On October 10, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear Blankenship’s appeal. Blankenship responded to the court’s decision with a prepared statement that blamed the court system with a classic Republican trope of irrelevance and arrogance:

Our court system is so tangled up trying to decide whether illegal is illegal and whether males can use female public restrooms that they have no time to concern themselves with whether American citizens have received a fair trial. The judicial system is broken top to bottom and it’s not fixable.

Currently, still playing the victim, Blankenship is claiming his trial was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and that “the actions of the prosecution are being reviewed by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility.” The Justice Department has neither confirmed nor denied Blankenship’s claim. Blankenship contends that the fatal mine explosion was the fault of federal prosecutors and that his prosecution was part of an Obama administration conspiracy to demonize the coal industry. Blankenship also denies climate change.

Mass murderers are not known for their repentance or humility or integrity or sense of accountability, but that won’t make him stand out in the Senate, if he gets there. He probably wouldn’t even be the first actual mass murderer in the Senate, but he might be the most blatant and successful, at least by the numbers.

When you stop, rational and detached, to think about the Senate, you realize that there’s not one senator who’s not complicit in mass murder more widespread than Blankenship perhaps even dreamed of. There is not a single US senator who’s not a war criminal, and there’s also probably not a single senator who will be charged for war crimes, much less tried for and convicted of war crimes. Punishing a US senator for culpability in any of the American war crimes of recent decades is all but unimaginable.

Of all the members of the House and Senate since 2001, only Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland has any right to a presumption of innocence. And she may even be actually innocent of even the most tangential participation in our government’s daily execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But that innocence, that pure innocence, is hard to imagine. Barbara Lee sits in Congress, and she votes for bills that may seem beneficial or benign. And how many are truly beneficial or benign? The war economy is woven into the national fabric so pervasively that almost every act directly or indirectly facilitates our killing and our preparations to kill. The fine print in a bill to feed children in America (unlikely as that has become of late) also makes it possible to kill other children in distant places where they die anonymously and alone for the sake of our national security. Somehow.

Blankenship’s rise is reportedly raising concern among Republican incumbents, who profess to be shocked – shocked – to find Republican values so vividly personified. If he gets the nomination, Blankenship will be running against Democrat Joe Manchin, who said after the mine killings that Blankenship had blood on his hands. That hardly makes him unqualified to sit in “the world’s greatest deliberative body” (self-styled) which remains all too content not to talk about its bloody hands all over Iraq and Yemen, while giving less than lip service to its hands-off approach to the deadly suffering of Americans in Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan.

Bigoted and Unprofessional Police Chief Backed by Michigan Governor

Dear NFL: We will not support millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our Armed Forces and Veterans. Who wins a football game has ZERO impact on our lives. Who fights for and defends our nation has every impact on our lives. We stand with the Heroes, not a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American, degenerates. Signed, We the people.

This is an unsurprisingly nasty internet meme that was publicly shared by the director of the Michigan State Police on her Facebook page on Sunday, September 24. Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue apparently gave no thought to her pre-packaged, knee-jerk reaction to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police treatment of African Americans in America. Col. Etue was apparently unprepared for the intense reaction to her casual castigation of fellow citizens, predominantly black athletes, acting on principle. A Michigan State Police spokesperson actually asserted that Col. Etue’s slanderous social media post was “not about race” — even though the issue wouldn’t exist without a racist justice system that allows cops (mostly white) to kill unarmed, innocent black people without suffering significant consequences.

Roughly two days after the posting, Col. Etue issued a brief, substance-free non-apology apology for it, posted on the Michigan State Police website (not on Facebook):

It was a mistake to share the message on Facebook and I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended. I will continue my focus on unity at the Michigan State Police and in communities across Michigan.

This is the nature of systemic racism. This example happens to be in Michigan, but its general pattern can be found almost anywhere in the US: some official makes a casually racist remark, perhaps even unaware of its racist import, and then when objections come, the official apologizes “to anyone who was offended” — which is a second offence compounding the first.

Col. Etue should not only be apologizing to everyone for embracing a dishonest, insupportable opinion, she should be apologizing for the opinion itself. And if she has the humanity for it, she should be ashamed. She should be ashamed both as an individual and as the head of the Michigan State Police.

As an individual, she is entitled to her opinion, even though this isn’t even her own opinion. She is also responsible for the falsehoods and provocation of her opinion: she has owned the false “disrespect” meme, she has ignored the real, racial roots of this protest, and she has adopted the divisive false dichotomy between “heroes” and “players” since there are players who are veterans. She has, in a word, publicly posted her own stupidity, and she could learn from that, but not until she recognizes and understands her actual offense.

As the leader of the Michigan State Police, she has additional responsibility beyond whatever personal bias she harbors. She is an appointed representative of the people charged with enforcing the law even-handedly. Her meme post is incredibly stupid from a professional perspective. A true professional learns to hide her bias, maybe even repair it, not broadcast it to the population that already distrusts her and police in general. In that sense, her mindless post was a form of incompetence and she should apologize for that, too.

It’s not as though racial insensitivity is a new issue in Michigan. As of March 2017, the Michigan State Police was essentially a white male institution (88% white, 90% male) that reflects no population anywhere. Of 1875 enlisted officers, there were 182 minority officers (121 African Americans, 47 Hispanics, and 14 Asians). 187 of the 1875 were women. Michigan’s state population of 9.5 million is 79.7% white and more than 50% female. Two troopers who won a racial discrimination suit against the Michigan State Police in 2013 (a $5.2 million jury verdict) later claimed they were targeted for retribution within the police force; Col. Etue said Michigan State Police would never discriminate or retaliate against one of its own (a second lawsuit based on retaliation is still pending).

Faced with charges of racial profiling, Michigan State Police have changed their record-keeping to be more accurate. A Detroit attorney who has won several lawsuits against the Michigan State Police said he wasn’t surprised by Col. Etue’s ugly post because, as he said, “I’ve become familiar with the display of coarse bigotry, narrow-mindedness and racism throughout the ranks of the Michigan State Police department.” In late August, a Michigan State Trooper fired a taser from his moving cruiser (a policy violation) causing the death of a 15-year-old black boy driving an ATV (currently under investigation by the Detroit police and subject of a $50 million lawsuit as “a drive-by shooting“ by the boy’s family).

Col. Etue’s post and apology do not pass any credibility test unless she’s so obtuse that she should be removed from office on that basis. Col. Etue has promised she won’t resign till 2018. She will continue to draw both her salary of $150,000 a year and a state pension of $80,000 a year until she retires. After her October 5 meeting with leaders of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, Col. Etue told reporters:

Obviously, my comments on a personal Facebook post was very offensive, and I’m truly sorry, that was never my intent. There’s a lot of issues in Michigan that I think we should be dealing with, and I’m going to stay focused on working throughout the state to make Michigan a safer place, and I will work with everyone in this legislature. Primarily we have some work to do with our minority populations. If I offended anyone I am truly sorry. I am not resigning. Thank you.

As soon as the story broke, before he had a chance to assess it meaningfully, Michigan governor Rick Snyder made clear he would not seek Col. Etue’s resignation. As of October 10, he had not met with the Legislative Black Caucus. Col. Etue is subject to internal discipline since her post apparently violated state police guidelines. For that, she might get a 5-day suspension or just a reprimand. That’s the way institutional racism works. Get caught at it, maybe you get a slap on the wrist. On October 5, Gov. Snyder illustrated the institutional racism playbook with his response about Col. Etue’s post:

I don’t agree with those statements…. Again, I said she made a mistake. She did something wrong, but part of being human is people do make mistakes, and the key thing is you apologize and you learn from those.

What you learn is to lay low. You don’t have to make a real apology to anyone specific. You don’t have to make an apology for your egregious and offensive remarks. You don’t have to retract any racist sentiments, you don’t have to acknowledge your racist bullying, you don’t have to make even false promises to fix actual problems.

A governor who wanted to fix a racist police force and establish something like even-handed justice in his state would have repudiated the race-baiting and offered some gesture toward equality and decency. Such a governor might have sought Col. Etue’s suspension until she made some credible effort to repair the damage she caused, until she actually made some act of atonement for reinforcing the racial divisiveness that keeps white people in power. But Gov. Snyder is in power in part thanks to his own racist dog whistles, the same racist dog whistles that have helped Republicans into high office at least since Nixon’s southern strategy and Reagan’s campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the dark heart of racist murder.

This is what the party of Lincoln has become, a vehicle for racism and white supremacy that doesn’t mind poisoning a whole city like Flint, Michigan, and then letting it stay poisoned — because how many white voters live there anyway?

NFL Plantation Owners Ban Uppity Quarterback

To watch America’s structural racism at work, one need look no further than the National Football League (NFL) and its treatment of nonviolent unorthodoxy as expressed by Colin Kaepernick going to one knee during the national anthem in support of the unacceptable thought that black lives should matter as much as anyone else’s. Of course, that’s still a relatively new idea in the United States, dating from 1863 in law and still not fully accepted in much of the country.

Colin Rand Kaepernick, who turns 30 in November, is a proven professional football quarterback who chose to become a free agent after the 2016 season. He led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2012. He is good enough to play for most any of the NFL’s 32 teams, but none have signed him. A year ago, when unarmed black men shot by cops were getting heavy news coverage and while presidential candidates Clinton and Trump disparaged Black Lives Matter, Kaepernick undertook a solo protest, sitting during the national anthem before the first NFL pre-season game. In subsequent games, Kaepernick went down on one knee in silent, respectful protest during the Star Spangled Banner. Asked by an NFL Network reporter why he was doing that, Kaepernick said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder….This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

At the time, official football – the league, his team, his coach – all spoke carefully about respecting Kaepernick’s “right as a citizen,” without engaging the issue he was raising. Kaepernick is bi-racial. He was adopted by white parents and raised in Wisconsin with white siblings.

Zeitgeist signals: Kaepernick blacklisted, Arpaio pardoned

In November 2016, a Miami Herald reporter asked Kaepernick about a shirt he had worn showing Fidel Castro and Malcolm X with the caption: “Like Minds Think Alike.” In discussing the shirt, Kaepernick reportedly said: “One thing that Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here, even though we’re fully capable of doing that.” That sort of truth, spoken out loud, does not endear one to the overlords of the NFL or other American authorities, especially the ones who created and profit from the unaddressed, unending scandal of prisons for profit.

A year after he first spoke out by kneeling in silence, Colin Kaepernick is unemployed. Unarmed black men are killed by cops at a faster rate now than in 2016, but it’s not news so much any more. Kaepernick had his free speech, now he’s paying the price. The country has moved on to a more ardent defense of free speech by Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK, anti-Semites, and other bigots.

The Trump administration is contributing to social calm and order by setting out to give local police more military weapons, from armored troop carriers to grenade launchers.

The ugliest sign of the country’s darkening racial zeitgeist is President Trump’s pre-emptive, unprincipled, unconditional pardon of one of America’s most notorious police bigots, former sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, a man who spoke proudly of his brutal and deadly prison system as a “concentration camp.” Arpaio was awaiting sentencing when the President interdicted the judicial process with a hasty pardon, granted without any of the usual review and consideration. The brief White House announcement concluded with these lies:

Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.

Arpaio’s record is reasonably clear that he did little protecting of the public or the Constitution. His office operated with racist standards that encouraged police brutality and led to prisoner deaths from violence and neglect. Arpaio’s service as sheriff was not admirable but self-serving, obsessed with targeting Latinos regardless of guilt, while ignoring real criminal offenses, including domestic abuse and child abuse.

Kaepernick and the Star Spangled Banner of American irony

Some say Kaepernick is the victim of a blacklist. Others deny what seems obviously true. One of the deniers makes much of a few other players making similar gestures without consequences. But he leaves out critical facts: that these are players currently under contract and that they have a union to defend them. He makes a point of saying that “NFL rosters are 70 per cent Black,” without wondering why NFL rosters are close to 100 per cent without any expressed social conscience. He does not mention that NFL owners would be 100 per cent white but for some limited partners like Reggie Fowler of the Minnesota Vikings.

American racism is structural, institutional, shameless, and intractable. Electing Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t make the country a post-racial society any more than electing Donald Trump in 2016 makes the country a post-sane society. The abiding ambiguity of American madness can be seen in our “national anthem,” which has been our national anthem less than 100 years (adopted 1931).

The Star Spangled Banner celebrates the defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor in 1814 in Maryland, a slave state. The attacking British force included numbers of escaped slaves fighting for the British on the promise of earning their freedom. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner, was a lifelong slave owner. A lawyer who served as US Attorney, Key used his office to prosecute abolitionists. In an 1837 prosecution of abolitionist Dr. Reuben Crandall for instigating a slave rebellion, Key said in his summation to the jury:

Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?

Rendered in modern language, these are the same sentiments the racists of Charlottesville expressed in their exercise of free speech. In 1837, the jury acquitted Dr. Crandall. On the Charlottesville hordes, the jury is still out.

Maybe, should our public consciousness come to grips with the reality that our national anthem is a slave owner’s paean to the defense of a slave state, we might think more seriously about kneeling ourselves. That might be a better way to express our hope to become, truly, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Biological Warfare: US & Saudis Use Cholera to Kill Yemenis

Chemical/biological warfare is the term used to describe the use of chemical or biological agents as weapons to injure or kill humans, livestock, or plants. Chemical weapons are devices that use chemicals to inflict death or injury; biological weapons use pathogens or organisms that cause disease. Pathogens include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins (poisons produced by animals or plants).
Library of Congress, Science Reference Services

Since March 2015, the US has supported Saudi Arabia and its allies in their criminal war of aggression against Yemen, committing daily war crimes, especially against civilians, who are now suffering a cholera epidemic with more than 400,000 victims.

Cholera is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholera and has been weaponized by the US, Japan (in World War II), South Africa (under apartheid), Iraq (under Saddam), and other states. To be most effective, cholera must be spread through water supplies. That’s what’s happening in Yemen now. More than two years of bombing has largely destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure, water and sewage systems are destroyed, hospitals and clinics are destroyed, and the population of about 25 million has almost no protection against the spread of cholera. The UN says Yemen’s cholera epidemic is “the largest ever recorded in any country in a single year since records began.”

This may not be literal biological warfare, but it is certainly biological warfare by other means. This is biological warfare in reality, if not in law. This is biological warfare in one of the world’s poorest countries, supported across two American administrations, with no sign of letting up. US slaughter of civilians has been ratcheting up in recent months, not only in Afghanistan but in places like Iraq (Mosul) and Syria (Raqqa). This is what empires do, especially as their authority begins to wane…

And in Yemen, the US continues to support and participate in this panoply of criminal acts with little objection from Congress, most news media, or the general public. Few seem to care about the deliberate spread of a toxin that affects mostly children and that “causes a person’s intestines to create massive amounts of fluid that then produces thin, grayish brown diarrhea.” Where treatment is unavailable or impossible, cholera can be lethal in a matter of days. As a NOVA program on bioterror put it, “because cholera is readily treated with proper medical attention, it is less likely to be used as an agent of terror in the United States.” And since rehydration is essential to recovery, cholera is most effectively deployed in a place like Yemen where the water and sewage systems have been bombed into a state of high lethality.

There are laws against all this, not that it matters much

At present, 124 nations are member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC), established by international treaty (the Rome Statute) to have jurisdiction over the international crimes of aggression, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The United States is not among the member states, having signed the original treaty and then withdrawn its signature. Sudan, Israel, and Russia also signed the original treaty, then withdrew. Yemen voted in 2007 to ratify the treaty, then re-voted to retract ratification. There are 41 other countries, including India, Pakistan, Turkey, and China, that have rejected the treaty.

The US did not sign the war crimes treaty until December 31, 2000, when President Clinton was a lame duck who had not asked the Senate to ratify the treaty. On May 6, 2002, John R. Bolton, the Bush administration’s Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, communicated the US position to the UN. Here is the full text of the letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan:

This is to inform you, in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted on July 17, 1998, that the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000. The United States requests that its intention not to become a party, as expressed in this letter, be reflected in the depositary’s status lists relating to this treaty..

There was a time when the US, lacking “legal obligations” not to commit war crimes, might still have felt some moral obligation not to do so (as well as the capacity to overcome it, for example, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Now our national interests, usually undefined, put us in the company of thuggish police states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait in their unprovoked, savagely genocidal assault on a defenseless Yemeni population whose Houthi minority had the effrontery to want to be left alone and was willing to fight for that right..

There was a time, before there was a United States, that this country fought for the same right. We’ve long since become a country that doesn’t want to leave anyone else alone. Now we have a president who demands complete personal loyalty, and who’s more than happy to molest anyone who even appears to fall short, which happens to include the majority of Americans. This can’t end well.

Vermont Governor Blows Smoke With Legal Marijuana Veto

Vermont, of all places, offers the latest example of how marijuana makes people crazy, the people in this case being the Republican governor and most of the Republican Party. For all the “Reefer Madness” propaganda from governments over the past century, the real madness comes from opponents of marijuana, not its users or proponents.

Vermont governor Phil Scott waited until the last possible moment on May 24 to issue his veto of the  24-page bill (Senate bill S.22) passed by both houses of the legislature (Senate 20-9, House 79-66): An Act Relating to Eliminating Penalties for Possession of Limited Amounts of Marijuana by Adults 21 Years of Age and Older. The bill stops way short of full legalization, treating marijuana like aspirin, but it represents a major shift toward sanity and scientific reality that American populations seem to be slowly insisting that their governments address.

Gov. Scott, albeit in a slippery, mealy-mouthed way, is firmly in the rearguard reactionary camp, saying “reasonable” things while still defending the “values” of J. Edgar Hoover and drug fascists everywhere. To be fair, Gov. Scott has not yet encouraged a police and vigilante murder spree against “drug dealers” such as we’re now seeing in the Philippines, but he’s on the same spectrum of state control and intolerance.

The essence of S.22 is clearly stated in the bill (as approved, page 10):

Sec. 1. LEGISLATIVE INTENT; CIVIL AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES It is the intent of the General Assembly to eliminate all penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants for a person who is 21 years of age or older while retaining criminal penalties for possession, dispensing and sale of larger amounts of marijuana. This act also retains civil penalties for possession of marijuana by a person under 21 years of age, which are the same as for possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age.

This is only a baby step toward marijuana sanity. It is a measure of our cultural myopia that even this minimal, largely symbolic measure still provokes a reefer madness response. Read the legislative intent carefully: all it really does is remove the criminal threat from limited activity a good many people already engage in covertly.

Gov. Scott tries to sound reasonable in his veto message:

With a libertarian streak in me, I believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children…. I have supported, and continue to support, medical marijuana laws and decriminalization.

Even his “reasonableness” has nasty hooks. Decriminalization isn’t limited to “behind closed doors and on private property,” that’s a dishonest, self-contradictory concept. To focus on “especially children” in a bill aimed at adults over 21 is an equally deceitful bit of demagoguery.

Gov. Scott’s performance with regard to S.22 is an exercise in blatant bad faith. He did not engage in the legislative process to attempt to shape a bill he would sign, he did not engage in the legislative process meaningfully at all. Everything he’s done is consistent with delaying tactics, with the possible goal of preventing any change while amiably seeming reasonable about his behavioral rigidity. Gov. Scott is saying we should go slow (the familiar mantra that usually means “never”) and he has made no good faith effort to go at all.

“We must get this right,” Scott writes, adding that that “means letting the science inform any policy….” Then he proceeds to stand with the anti-science tradition that classifies marijuana with heroin. He cites no science in support of his views, perhaps because there is none and has been none for a long, long time. Even though marijuana science is politicized and selectively under-funded, scientists keep finding less and less danger from marijuana. The governor doesn’t even try to engage in an honest risk/benefit analysis of marijuana safety. To be in favor of a ban on marijuana without trying to ban tobacco is as stupid as it is irrational.

Perhaps because he has no compelling, rational argument, Gov. Scott uses his three-page veto message to raise the specter of mostly unnamed and undefined public and safety issues (referred to at least sixteen times). The desperation of his demagoguery is his single, specific “scientific” example: “Secondhand marijuana smoke can negatively impact a child’s brain development. Therefore, if an adult is smoking marijuana in a car or a confined space with a child this should be severely penalized.” And other secondhand smoke is OK?

“We can all work together on this issue in a comprehensive and responsible way,” Gov. Scott writes near the end of his veto message. This is true. Gov. Scott could have done as much when the legislation was introduced. He did not. He shows no sign now of being comprehensive (whatever that might mean), much less responsible.

The governor’s official state page declares:

Governor Phil Scott became the 82nd Governor of Vermont on January 5, 2017. He previously served three terms as Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor, and as a Senator for Washington County. As Governor, he has committed to making a difference in the lives of Vermonters by growing the state’s economy, making Vermont more affordable, and restoring faith and trust in government.

This is a mountebank’s creed. Believe it at your peril. As Nixon’s campaign manager turned attorney general so long ago warned: pay no attention to what we say, watch what we do. For all his smarmy “recommendations,” Gov. Scott stands squarely in defense of an insane criminal system that fills prisons with nonviolent drug “offenders” for the sake of sanctimonious hypocrisy, racial discrimination, and private prison profits.

CIA Chief Declares War on Truth

“… the American people deserve a clear explanation of what their Central Intelligence Agency does on their behalf…. we are an organization committed to uncovering the truth and getting it right…. And sure—we also admit to making mistakes…. But it is always our intention—and duty—to get it right. And that is one of the many reasons why we at CIA find the celebration of entities like WikiLeaks to be both perplexing and deeply troubling.”

— CIA Director Mike Pompeo, April 13, 2017

While the snippets above provide a reasonable summary of the substance of Mike Pompeo’s first speech as head of the CIA, they don’t begin to capture the full demagoguery of the CIA head’s rambling 3700-word blather of ad hominem attacks, false claims, hyperbolic rhetoric, irrelevancies, straw man arguments, and political deflections. In other words, Pompeo made it clear that he has little regard for truth, for personal decency, or for the Constitutional protections for free speech or for the free exercise of religion. It was an altogether chilling debut for a spy agency head in a country that still imagines itself enjoying some basic freedoms.

Pompeo started with an anecdotal biography of former CIA agent Philip Agee, without mentioning that Agee resigned from the CIA in 1968 and died in 2008. Nor did Pompeo mention that Agee resigned, despite CIA entreaties to stay, because Agee could no longer countenance the Agency’s support for brutal dictatorships across Latin America. Instead of confronting the substance of Agee’s life and actions, Pompeo reiterated the official CIA demonization of the man who founded the anti-CIA magazine Counterspy and revealed many CIA secrets. As the CIA has done for decades, Pompeo blamed Agee for the assassination of CIA agent Richard Welch in Greece in 1975. Barbara Bush made this same claim in her 1994 memoir. After Agee sued her for libel, the claim was removed from the paperback edition.

As a lawyer who knows he can’t libel the dead, Pompeo is unmitigatedly dishonest in his portrait of Agee, concluding it with: “Meanwhile, Agee propped up his dwindling celebrity with an occasional stunt, including a Playboy interview. He eventually settled down as the privileged guest of an authoritarian regime.” That was a reference to Cuba, where Agee died, but until the very end of his life he also spent time in Germany, his wife’s home country. Pompeo utterly fails to meet his duty to get it right. He comes nowhere near the truth, that Agee’s life represents the struggle faced by a man of conscience when he realizes the agency he works for also commits horrendous crimes, not just mistakes. An honest historian would put this account of a man’s life within the context of the US Senate’s 1975 Church Committee, which documented a number of CIA crimes and led, for awhile at least, to significant CIA reform.

Having framed his talk with a false version of Philip Agee, Pompeo spent the rest of it mixing CIA boilerplate promotional material with his main purpose, attacking WikiLeaks on the basis of a big lie:

WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations. It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.

Pompeo offers no analysis or evidentiary support for these assertions. There is no public evidence that WikiLeaks is anything like an intelligence service in purpose, structure, or functioning. According to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks has the same mission as the Washington Post or New York Times: “to publish newsworthy content. Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media.” The Times famously did that very thing in 1971 when it released the Pentagon Papers, which affirmed the disastrous dishonesty that produced the Vietnam War.

The record of WikiLeaks is the opposite of most any intelligence service, certainly of the CIA. WikiLeaks is available as a resource for people to publish government secrets. WikiLeaks vets the material it is offered and, so far, has never had to make a retraction. Everything WikiLeaks has offered is true. The CIA lies all the time, although not everything it says is false. What Pompeo says about Chelsea Manning looks like a bald-faced lie. But he needs that lie to undercut the reality that Manning was a soldier with a conscience who objected to US random slaughters of Iraqi civilians, men, women, children, journalists.

Pompeo’s reference to “state actors like Russia” is shamelessly hilarious. The best known WikiLeaks project allegedly involving Russia is the massive release of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails during the 2016 campaign. These were significantly damaging to Hillary Clinton, and Mike Pompeo at the time was saying things like this:

Well, it’s classic Clinton, right? When you find out you got a problem, you deflect, you deny, you create a contretemps where there really is none. Frankly, it’s pretty clear who invited the Russians to do damage to America, and it was Hillary Clinton. She put classified information on a private server, inviting the Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians, all to have access to it. I hope they didn’t get it, but even the former director of the CIA said he thinks they probably did. So, the person who’s put American national security risk isn’t Donald Trump, it’s Hillary Clinton.

So in July 2016, WikiLeaks was innocent, and Russia was irrelevant? Can you say find the truth and get it right? Can you say serial hypocrite? Or can you say, along with candidate Trump last October, “This just came out. Wikileaks. I love WikiLeaks”?

At the time of Pompeo’s speech, mainstream media paid more attention to the so-called “mother of all bombs” dropped on Afghanistan than they did to this much more powerful political bombshell dropped on the US. Recently some mainstream media have been taking another look, as in this headline from Newsweek: “CIA CHIEF POMPEO TAKES AIM AT THE FREE PRESS.”

What can and should CIA, the United States, and our allies do about the unprecedented challenge posed by these hostile non-state intelligence agencies?… First, it is high time we called out those who grant a platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists…. We know the danger that Assange and his not-so-merry band of brothers pose to democracies around the world. Ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable excuse for lionizing these demons.

Once again the high hilarity of the deceitful surfaces in Pompeo’s calling Assange a threat to democracy. If that is in any sense true, then Mike Pompeo owes his CIA job to the success of Assange’s “threat.” The real threat is to those who “grant a platform” to WikiLeaks, and those would be all American media for starters. But the scarier part is that Pompeo is not only comfortable demonizing people like Agee or Assange, he literally calls them “demons,” and this is not standard political talk, this is fundamentalism Christian visualizing the devil’s work. When some of the highest officials in the US government are busy chasing “demons,” then US Constitutional government is at serious risk.

Mike Pompeo, 53, the present director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is a West Point trained military veteran, a Harvard trained lawyer, and a self-expressed, profound “Christian” bigot and hypocrite. He has no experience in intelligence. The radical former Tea Party congressman from Kansas was confirmed for his CIA role by a 66-32 Senate vote despite his lengthy, fact-free obsession with the Benghazi attack of 2012, or his avid denial of climate change, or his ardent support for keeping Guantanamo and other torture prisons open (he has called torturers “patriots”). He has advocated covert surveillance to collect “all metadata” on Americans, a program that is currently illegal. Pompeo not only magnifies the threat of terrorists like ISIS, he views that threat through a religious lens and apparently believes in the Manichaean formulation that there is currently “a conflict between the Christian west and the Islamic east.”

After his April 13 address, Pompeo took questions, one of which was about President Trump’s relationship with the CIA and the other 16 agencies in the intelligence community. The question apparently referred to such things as President Trump’s tweets earlier this year, blaming leaks on “the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia” and later saying “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” The supposedly “fake news” had exposed multiple Russian contacts with Trump campaign agents as early as 2015, revelations that led directly to the resignation of Trump’s national security advisor Gen. Michael Flynn. The question of Russian involvement in electing President Trump remains unresolved.

Despite this context, Pompeo answered the question about the president’s relations with the intelligence community simply: “It’s fantastic.”

The audience laughed. Pompeo added: “Don’t laugh, I mean that.”

Good to know that the head of Central Intelligence believes in fantasy. Reassuring to know that the CIA head wants to “make sure that we know that Jesus Christ our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

A nation formed by the ideas of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is now at least partly in the hands of a Christian Taliban.