Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yugoslavia: How Holbrooke Lied His Way into a War: December 9, 2008

By Sam Husseini
Global Research

This article was originally published while Richard Holbrooke was being considered for the position he held in the Obama administration.

Shortly before the bombing of Yugoslavia began in late March 1999, Richard Holbrooke met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. By his own account, Holbrooke delivered the final ultimatum to Milosevic — that if Yugoslavia didn't agree to the Rambouillet text, NATO would begin bombing.

The Rambouillet text called for a de facto occupation of Yugoslavia. On major U.S. media, after the bombing of Yugoslavia began, Holbrooke claimed that what was called for in the Rambouillet text, despite Serbian protests, "isn't an occupation". Several weeks later, when confronted by a journalist familiar with the Rambouillet text, Holbrooke claimed: "I never said that". This was a lie, it was also a tacit admission that the Rambouillet text did call for an occupation (why else would Holbrooke deny saying it when he had?) So the U.S. demanded that Yugoslavia submit to occupation or be bombed — and Holbrooke lied about this crucial fact when questioned about the cause of the war.

Here are the specifics:The Rambouillet text of Feb. 23, 1999, a month before NATO began bombing, contained provisions that provided for NATO to basically occupy the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), not just Kosovo. Excerpts from Appendix (B) (I attempted to draw attention to this at the time when I became aware of it.):

7. NATO personnel shall be immune from any form of arrest, investigation, or detention by the authorities in the FRY.

8. NATO personnel shall enjoy… free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters.

11. NATO is granted the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without payment…

15. [NATO shall have] the right to use all of the electromagnetic spectrum…

On April 6, 1999, about two weeks after the bombing began, Holbrooke appeared on the Charlie Rose show and was asked about what started the war. (Video is here, approximate times in the interview are provided):

[3:45] "The 81 pages of the Rambouillet agreement, which the Serbs rejected, contain all the elements of a really solid interim solution. … Although Rambouillet itself was rejected, the principles embodied in the Rambouillet agreement make a hell of a lot of sense. …"

[13:00] "The [Yugoslavian government] decision was to trigger the bombing of their own country instead of accepting this very reasonable political offer." …

[14:00] Asked how to explain the actions of the Serbs, Holbrooke claims the Serbs said: "The choice you've given us is to have our sacred soil violated by an invading force. I said this isn't an invasion, it isn't an occupation, it's an international peacekeeping force that will save the Serb minority in Kosovo. …"

[15:00] "We walked the last mile for peace."

[17:00] "The bombing must continue and must intensify until the Yugoslav leadership realizes they have to change their positions."
On April 23, 1999, journalist Jeremy Scahill of Democracy Now questioned Richard Holbrooke as he was leaving the Overseas Press Club's 60th anniversary dinner:

Holbrooke: "One question."

Jeremy Scahill: "You've said, since you gave the ultimatum to President Milosevic, that the Rambouillet accords do not call for the occupation of Yugoslavia. In –"

Holbrooke: "I never said that. That's the end of that. You got the wrong person and the wrong quote. That's your question."

Scahill: "Do the Rambouillet accords … Are the the Rambouillet accords a call for the occupation of Yugoslavia — how do you reconcile that with Appendix B?"

Holbrooke: "I was not at Rambouillet. You'll have to address it to the people –"

Scahill: "You delivered the ultimatum, you're familiar with with the text –"

Holbrooke: "I did not discuss that detail with him. That's your question."

Scahill: "You haven't answered the question though."

Holbrooke: "I have answered the question. Good night." (See the April 23, 1999 Democracy Now, especially beginning at 29:00.)

It's tempting for many to think that the Bush administration and the 2003 invasion of Iraq are totally unique. They're not, the methods of the U.S. government lying its way into a war are long standing and many of the culprits are still very much part of the political structure.


Inside the moral corruption of Israeli society

Inside the moral corruption of Israeli society

by Joseph Dana
December 16, 2010

After being arrested in a Palestinian demonstration near Hebron some time ago, I was handcuffed and blindfolded then sat in the direct sun along with another Israeli activist. After some time, an
IDF commander arrived on the scene and asked one of his soldiers, "why are those two in the sun?" The soldier reported that he just put us next to some Palestinians that were arrested in the same demonstration. The commander, clearly upset with his young soldier, ordered that we be moved to the shade because `they are Jews." Then he personally inspected the zip-tie handcuffs of the Palestinians, making sure that they were as excruciatingly tight as possible.
Hand-cuffed behind your back is a very uncomfortable experience.

This was one of my first concrete experiences in the West Bank in which I was able to see just how soldiers viewed Palestinians. It was as if they were not fully human or at least, not as human as Jews.
Not fully human. Perfect description.

Purposeless is a word that is used often in the new Breaking the Silence collection of IDF soldiers' testimonies from the past ten years of occupation in the West Bank. Testimony after testimony tells a story of some experience where soldiers harassed, terrorized and `controlled' Palestinians for seemingly no purpose at all.

It is what they are trained to do. They do it well.
Soldiers would raid a house, arrest an unwanted man, or shoot unarmed civilians while forcing families to stand in the cold wearing only night cloths for no reason whatsoever. After telling their stories of abuse, many soldiers say they saw no purpose in conducting these actions.
When soldiers begin to question the mission, that is the end of the beginning, and not far from the beginning of the end.
From an operational standpoint, there is no purpose in arresting an unwanted man or harassing a village with sound bombs at four in the morning. However, there is a greater purpose for the constant harassment of Palestinians. It is done to reinforce the notion that they are an occupied and controlled people as well as to indoctrinate young soldiers in the ways that the army understands the Palestinian population; as not completely human. Viewing Palestinians as less than human is a profound example of the moral corruption of Israeli society.
Would not want to let them forget these things.
In order to occupy, with all the violations of the humanity of the occupied, the occupier must internalize a moral high ground.
Must internalize the high moral ground.  Well, the internal organs will take a beating.
The `purposeless' arrests, night raids, and other violations of human rights are a necessary component for soldiers to understand their high ground. The fact that most of the horrific crimes discussed in the testimonies were conducted by commanders and others in supervisor positions further reinforces this idea that `purposeless' operations are done for a clear purpose. Breaking the Silence has given us a window into the method of indoctrination in Israel at its most sacred level, that of the army.
But the commanders and others in supervisor positions will never be charged.  Only in the trials at Nuremburg were the commanders charged.  And all of them were let out early.
One of the most recent testimonies from the book, reports of `purposeless' activities in Ramallah and Hebron in 2008-2009:

We also had arrests that we were tired of. There was a feeling that they were purposeless, for example looking for people who cut the fence or people who threw stones or were identified at demonstrations against the fence or inciters.

It was a feeling of purposelessness. If in Hebron there was a feeling that you were arresting an unfortunate person, the feeling here was that we were doing nothing. There was one arrest, I don't remember in which village it started heating up, and there was chaos and I remember the company commander cocked his weapon and said they need to calm down, and the Shin Bet came in the middle of the village among a few houses of a large family.

Testimony 22 evokes another picture of terror. Titled, "The battalion commander marched him barefoot", a soldier recalls having his commander order a house raid in Gaza in 2002-3:

We are taking everyone out of the house at four in the morning in the freezing cold and leaving them outside in the cold, in robes, without a minute of warning to put on some clothes, and leaving them for a half hour outside until you do the search. Up to cases where they come with a Givati force in Gaza, they go in with the battalion commander; they find someone there who isn't connected to anything, a house that's not at the location they received, a different house.

And of course in every home in Bet Lahia, outside of the house, there are pictures of Shahids so he says to him: "What's this?" And then he decides to take him with us and he's barefoot. They walk three kilometers from his house to the border and he's barefoot. He asked the battalion commander if he could put shoes on, sandals, he asked him in Hebrew and he goes to him: "No"! He started bleeding on the way.

As I was reading this document in disbelief and sadness, I mentioned a couple of testimonies to my flat mate who was an IDF commander three years ago. I told him about one testimony which described how soldiers in Hebron would train for house arrests by selecting, at random, a Palestinian home. In the middle of the night, they would raid the house and arrest whom they pleased. After the terrorizing was over, the soldiers would release the innocent man (or men) that they captured and have an operational debriefing to inspect performance.

My flat mate, rather dismissively, asked if I was surprised by this. "I used to do the same thing", he exclaimed and continued, "They are doing the same right now somewhere out there in the West Bank."
Which makes it policy.
The majority of soldiers have committed similar actions or watched them happen. When soldiers, our national pride, bravely come forward and speak of what happens behind our walls and checkpoints, we have a privileged position to better analyze the national psyche. What is found is that the occupation has led to a moral corrosion of Israeli society which has almost reached a point of no return.
If your national pride is based on your soldiers, you have no nation; you have no pride; you are a corrupt and bereft society; and you shall vanish from the face of the map because of your own internal contradictions.  As has been foretold by the Ayatollah Rhomeni, and President Ahmajinadad.


Deficit Divisions Likely to Grow After Election

NYT   October 25, 2010


WASHINGTON — A midterm campaign that has turned heavily on the issue of the mounting federal debt is likely to yield a government even more split over what to do about it, people in both parties say, with diminished Democrats and reinforced Republicans confronting internal divisions even as they dig in against the other side.
 That part about digging in against the other side pretty much means they don't / won't give a damn about the average working American.
In the weeks after next Tuesday’s elections, the White House and a lame-duck Congress will face immediate decisions testing the balance of power — on extending the Bush-era tax rates, approving overdue spending bills to keep the government operating and, possibly, debating the recommendations that President Obama has directed a bipartisan debt-reduction commission to offer by December.
But, it IS a lame-duck congress, so perhaps some self-aggrandizing pork will be doled out.
The report of the 18-member commission, which includes a dozen senior members of Congress, six from each party, will help determine whether a bipartisan consensus exists to deal with the unsustainable combination of fast-growing entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and inadequate tax revenues.
And just WHOM would the other 6 members of this 18-member commission be?  What is their agenda?  To what cohort is their loyalty most closely aligned?
The group has delayed making decisions until after the election, to avoid leaks that would become campaign fodder, but even some of its members doubt they can muster the 14 votes needed to send a package to Congress for a vote; at best they hope options left on the table, or agreed to by the chairmen — Erskine B. Bowles, a White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader from Wyoming — will find support in the spending-and-tax debates.

In interviews, a number of Democrats and Republicans agreed on one thing: For all the pre-election talk that a divided government could force the parties to work together, especially on cutting annual deficits, the opposite could just as well be true.
 Well, uh, YEAH.
David Cote, the chief executive of Honeywell International and a member of the debt commission, said in an interview that “the thing that shocked me” was that the debt crisis had been predicted for decades because of the costs of federal benefits for the baby boom generation. “We need to have a more thoughtful, nuanced discussion about what we’re going to do and what exactly does this mean,” Mr. Cote said. “And I don’t see that happening. It seems like everybody wants to just argue.”
Okay. David Cote is a military-industrial-congressional complex kind of guy, and he won't want monies allocated for anything but military contractors.
Democrats are all but certain to lose a number of seats and perhaps their majorities. Most of the casualties will be fiscally conservative Democrats from Republican-leaning areas, leaving a smaller, more solidly liberal caucus less inclined to support cost-saving changes in future Social Security benefits, for example.

Republicans’ ranks will almost certainly be strengthened by a wave of conservatives, including Tea Party loyalists, who are opposed to raising any taxes and to compromising with Democrats generally — a stand Congressional Republican leaders have adopted. And incumbents otherwise inclined to make deals are now wary, Republicans say privately, mindful of colleagues who lost primary challenges from Tea Party candidates.
But assuredly, not all Tea Party election winners are Republican Party Loyalists.
Both parties also face internal rifts that could hinder any grand bargain to reduce the annual deficits adding to the accumulated debt, which by decade’s end will reach economically dangerous levels as more retirees claim Medicare and Social Security.
Don't worry about Social Security. Those actuaries have done one hell of a job.  Medicare, that's another story entirely, and until the U.S. starts to allocate its health care dollars on the living, Medicare will DRAIN the system of cash.
Most Republicans, especially those likely to be in Congress or running for president, are taking a hard line against tax increases, eager to court the Tea Party and antitax conservatives generally. But a growing minority is arguing that the projected debt is too great to shrink with spending cuts alone unless popular benefits and military programs are put under the knife.
Shouldn't we be proud of paying taxes, and celebrate those things our taxes bring to all the people?
“Everything has got to be on the table for discussion,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, who with Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, has formed a group of anti-deficit senators to promote the recommendations from the debt-reduction commission.
Cutting military spending in half would be a great place to start!
Given the coming influx of novice lawmakers, Mr. Chambliss said in an interview, “there are a lot of things people are going to have to be educated about, on the spending side as well as the revenue side.” He added: “They’re thinking we can come in and eliminate earmarks and everybody’s going to be happy on the spending side. Gee, that just scratches the surface.”
SOME, at least, of "those people" are already pretty damn well educated about the sitchee-a-shun.
Yet the conservative blowback was fierce this month after Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a budget director for President George W. Bush and a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, suggested keeping an open mind about a consumption tax like the value-added tax used in Europe and a tariff on imported oil.
Value added is a flat tax which just kills the "middle class" (the lower 95%).
That kind of reaction cannot be lost on others. Two Republicans on the fiscal commission are Representatives Dave Camp of Michigan and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who are in line to lead the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee, respectively, if Republicans win a House majority. But they must be elected by other House Republicans in December and, Republicans say, a deal with Democrats on deficit-reduction measures could threaten that.

Democrats differ among themselves on whether to extend all the Bush tax cuts as Republicans demand, or just those for households with annual incomes below $250,000 as Mr. Obama wants. Over 10 years, an extension for the middle class would cost more than $3 trillion while extending rates for the rich, too, would cost $700 billion more; together the nearly $4 trillion is more than half the debt projected in the decade to 2020.

Many Democrats, backed by a wide range of economists, say that with unemployment stuck at nearly 10 percent, more stimulus spending is needed — for the unemployed, struggling states and cities and job-creating public works projects — before focusing on deficits. The fiscal commission is considering delaying any deficit-reduction proposals until perhaps 2012.

Democrats are also split on fixing Social Security’s long-term solvency. Mr. Obama had wanted to tackle the issue early, and he created the debt commission by executive order — after Senate Republicans blocked legislation — partly in the hope that it would propose future benefit and payroll tax changes he could embrace. Some Democrats say he will have all the more reason to lead that charge after the elections, to signal a more centrist, fiscally conservative course. Yet liberal groups have already formed a big coalition to lobby against any such move.
That's because Social Security's  so called "long-term solvency" is NOT a problem.
What could result is “deficit reduction by gridlock,” said John Podesta, the president of the progressive Center for American Progress and a chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

That would be the outcome if Republicans, as expected, block additional unemployment aid and if the parties deadlock in the lame-duck session over pending appropriations and the Bush tax cuts that expire Dec. 31. That would leave lower spending levels in place for the fiscal year 2011 and force Mr. Obama and Republicans to try to reach a tax compromise next year.

But that sort of immediate deficit reduction, said Robert Greenstein, the founder of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “will hurt the economy more than help it without doing very much to deal with the long-term problem, which is where the real issue is.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 28, 2010

A chart on Tuesday with the continuation of an article about alternative approaches to the nation’s fiscal policies misstated the political affiliation of Maya MacGuineas, an author of one of three federal budget plans that were compared. She is an independent, not a Republican. The headline for the chart also misstated the goals of two of the plans. While they all call for reducing the budget deficit, only one plan — not all three — would balance the federal budget by the year 2020. (That is the plan offered by former Senators Bill Bradley, John C. Danforth, Gary Hart and Bob Packwood.)

Wikileaks on Cuba: Fidel Castro 'nearly died'

For many reasons, I greatly admire Fidel Castro.

Wikileaks on Cuba: Fidel Castro 'nearly died'

Fidel Castro on 18 November 2010 Mr Castro now appears to be in good health
Cuban leader Fidel Castro came close to death in 2006, according to the latest secret US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks. 

Mr Castro almost died after suffering a perforated intestine during an internal flight, unnamed sources told US diplomats in Havana. 

The illness led Mr Castro to hand power to his brother Raul, although he has since returned to public life. 

The 84-year-old's health is considered a state secret in Cuba. 

The Wikileaks cables, published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, reveal the intense efforts made by US diplomats in Havana to find out the nature of Fidel Castro's illness and his chances of recovery. 

The names of the sources of information reported in the cables have been redacted by Wikileaks, but some apparently knew people who were close to the Cuban leader, or had access to his medical records. 

The details of what they say cannot be independently verified. 

One cable, sent in March 2007 by the then-head of the US interests section in Havana, Michael Parmly, quotes a report by an unnamed doctor on the moment Mr Castro fell seriously ill in July 2006.

Start Quote

He will progressively lose his faculties and become ever more debilitated until he dies”
End Quote Unnamed medical source quoted in leaked 2007 US cable
"The illness began on the plane from Holguin to Havana," reports the cable. 

As it was a short flight there was no doctor on board and they had to land urgently once they knew of Mr Castro's bleeding. He was diagnosed with diverticulitis of the colon.

The source said Mr Castro had a perforation of the large intestine and needed surgery. 

But it says he "capriciously" refused to have a colostomy, with the result that his condition deteriorated over time and he required further surgery. 

"This illness is not curable and will not, in her opinion, allow him to return to leading Cuba," the report concludes.

"He won't die immediately, but he will progressively lose his faculties and become ever more debilitated until he dies." 

Further leaked cables quote other sources as saying Mr Castro was terminally ill, and examine statements by his medical team and reports of specialist drugs being brought into Cuba. 

Television still of Fidel Castro drinking orange juice, 30 Jan 2007 Pictures released in January 2007 showed Fidel Castro looking thin and weak
But the reports of his imminent death have proved to be exaggerated. 
Mr Castro has since made an apparent recovery and earlier this year returned to making speeches and appearing in public, though he has not taken back the reins of power from his brother Raul. 

The former Cuban leader recently praised Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, saying the leaks of thousands of diplomatic cables had brought the US "morally, to its knees".

"Julian Assange, a man who a few months ago hardly anyone in the world had heard of, is showing that the most powerful empire in history can be defied," he wrote in an article published by Cuban state media. 

The US government and its intelligence agencies have been staunch enemies of Mr Castro and the communist government in Cuba for more than half a century. 

So far, all their predictions of the imminent demise of communist party rule on the island have proved false.
NRA-led gun lobby wields powerful influence over ATF, U.S. politics
By Sari Horwitz and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 12:00 AM

Behind the scenes, federal agents in charge of stopping gun trafficking to Mexico have quietly advanced a plan to help stem the smuggling of high-powered AK-47s and AR-15s to the bloody drug war south of the border.

The controversial proposal by officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives calls for a measure strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association: requiring gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles and shotguns to ATF.

The gun issue is so incendiary and fear of the NRA so great that the ATF plan languished for months at the Justice Department, according to some senior law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity but would not provide details.

The NRA got wind of the idea last month and warned its 4 million members in a "grassroots alert" that the administration might try to go around Congress to get such a plan enacted as an executive order or rule.

An ATF spokesman declined to comment about the matter. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. declined to be interviewed. Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said "the administration continues to support common-sense measures to stem gun violence."

In the past few days, the plan has quietly gained traction at Justice. But sources told The Post they fear that if the plan becomes public, the NRA will marshal its forces to kill it.

Such is the power of the NRA. With annual revenue of about $250 million, the group has for four decades been the strongest force shaping the nation's gun laws.
The fate of the Mexican gunrunning rule is only the most recent example of how the gun lobby has consistently outmaneuvered and hemmed in ATF, using political muscle to intimidate lawmakers and erect barriers to tougher gun laws. Over nearly four decades, the NRA has wielded remarkable influence over Congress, persuading lawmakers to curb ATF's budget and mission and to call agency officials to account at oversight hearings. The source of the NRA's power is its focus on one issue and its ability to get pro-gun candidates elected.

The result is that a president such as Obama, whose campaign platform called for tougher gun laws, finds his freedom of action circumscribed. The issue has bedeviled Democrats for years, especially after defeats in the 1994 midterms and the 2000 presidential election, in which Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee.
"That was the shift of the tectonic plate for the Democrats on the gun issue," said James Cavanaugh, former ATF special agent in charge in Nashville. "The thing that really, really, really scared the Democrats was Al Gore losing his home state, and the reason was the gun issue. They all know it."

The gun lobbyists are well aware of their power. "The White House is sensitized enough to understand it really is the third rail of American politics," said Richard Feldman, a former lobbyist for the NRA and a gun industry trade representative who has discussed gun policy with White House officials. "They have figured out that it is a lightning-rod issue, and they don't want it to injure them."
Led by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who was paid $1.26 million in 2008, the NRA in the past two decades has spent more than $100 million on political activities in the United States, according to documents and interviews, including $22 million on lobbying and nearly $75 million on campaigns.

Only two groups have spent more on campaigns since 1989 - the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, according to a review of campaign financing by The Washington Post.

In this year's midterm elections, 80 percent of the 307 House and Senate backed by the NRA were victorious, a Post analysis of the NRA's endorsements shows. About half of incoming House members got NRA backing, the analysis shows. In the Senate, the NRA says the number of A-rated senators is now 50.

NRA officials say their efforts protect the rights of gun owners. "We don't represent criminals who misuse firearms," said Chris W. Cox, director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "We don't represent dealers who willfully and knowingly violate the law. We represent honest, law-abiding people, including honest dealers who are often targeted in an unfortunate way."
Last year, the NRA perturbed ATF agents by sending dealers an article by an industry lawyer. "You never, ever have to speak to an ATF agent or inspector," the article said. "You have the absolute right not to answer any questions that an inspector may pose to you."
Another reason morale is low, ATF agents say, is the firearms bureau has been without a permanent director since 2006, when Congress required the position to be confirmed by the Senate. The effect was to give the gun lobby power to block a director - one senator can hold up any nomination, and the Senate needs 60 votes to overcome that opposition.
Last month, about two weeks after the midterm elections, Obama nominated a director: Andrew Traver, special agent in charge of ATF's Chicago field division.
The NRA strongly opposes Traver because he is "deeply aligned with gun control advocates and anti-gun activities," an NRA news release said. The group cited his work with the Gun Violence Reduction Project, a nationwide initiative of police chiefs, and the Joyce Foundation, which promotes stricter gun laws.
With the NRA in opposition, Traver's nomination is unlikely to be approved by Congress.
"It is clearly the most powerful lobby in the United States," said William Vizzard, a former ATF agent who is now a criminal-justice professor in California. "The NRA has shaped gun policy and shaped the ATF."
The NRA's shift Don Davis, 77, has run Don's Guns and Galleries in Indianapolis for 37 years and says he is one of the highest-volume dealers in the region. A big supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, Davis resigned from the NRA many years ago. "They used to be an organization for the hunter and the fishermen," he said recently. "Then they got into politics. They're so political, that's what they do with their money. Today if you say anything about a gun, they use their money to run against you."
The story of how a group created in 1871 to sharpen the marksmanship of soldiers transformed into a modern political juggernaut begins after serious gun control gained momentum in the United States following the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The NRA's shift came at a time of increasing urban gun violence and debate about firearm laws. It also coincided with the creation of the modern-day ATF. The agency had been born as a bureau within the Treasury Department in 1972. By the middle of that decade it was moving from busting moonshiners in Appalachia to enforcing gun laws in U.S. cities.
The NRA created a political arm in 1975, largely in response to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which expanded licensing and recordkeeping requirements for gun dealers and placed limitations on handgun sales. Shortly after, hard-liners wrested control from moderates during an NRA conference known as "the revolt in Cincinnati."
In 1978, the NRA was ready when the Carter administration proposed a rule requiring quarterly reports on gun sales from licensed firearms dealers. NRA opposition produced 350,000 letters and comments. One letter was addressed to the Gestapo, while another included a tea bag to invoke the Boston Tea Party.
Congress killed the rule and also prohibited ATF from "consolidating or centralizing" gun dealer records in a computer database, which the agency wanted to do to analyze gun traces for trafficking patterns. Congress also cut $4.2 million from the ATF budget, the amount needed to fund a computer system.
The message was clear and searing.

"It scared ATF so badly that for the next 10 years, if you said 'computer,' everybody ran and hid in the closet," Vizzard said.

When Ronald Reagan came into office, the NRA nearly succeeded in its longtime goal of abolishing ATF. Reagan wanted to eliminate the agency and transfer its powers to the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service. But NRA leaders decided they preferred the weak devil they knew to stronger new regulators. Quietly and somewhat awkwardly, they lobbied to undo their accomplishment. "As long as ATF existed, the firearms lobby could utilize it as a symbolic opponent," Vizzard said. "Without an ATF, the firearms lobby lost a key actor in the ritual drama - the villain."

Under Reagan, the NRA's power grew. In 1986, the NRA won passage of a law that limited ATF inspections of gun dealers to once a year, reduced certain violations to misdemeanors and raised the standard of proof needed to revoke a dealer's license.

The NRA said the act was necessary because ATF was too tough on honest dealers, many of whom are small mom-and-pop operations. ATF agents said the effect was to make it much more difficult to shut down rogue gun dealers.

With the election of Bill Clinton, the gun lobby faced its greatest challenge. He shepherded new laws, beginning with criminal background checks on purchasers and a 10-year ban on sales of assault weapons. One of the laws was named for James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was shot in the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.

"Clinton was the most unfriendly president to the firearms industry," said Lawrence Keane, general counsel to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun manufacturers.

Some rural Democrats with good NRA ratings sided with Clinton. In 1994, the NRA helped the GOP unseat so many Democrats that Clinton blamed his party's loss of Congress on the gun issue. The NRA spent $114,710 to help Rep. George R. Nethercutt (R-Wash.) upset House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D).

"The NRA had a great night," Clinton wrote in his autobiography. "They beat both Speaker Tom Foley and Jack Brooks, two of the ablest members of Congress, who had warned me this would happen. . . The NRA was an unforgiving master: one strike and you're out."

The cold war between ATF and the NRA went hot in 1995 when LaPierre, in a fundraising letter, called federal agents "jack-booted government thugs." Referring to ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, LaPierre wrote, "Not too long ago, it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens."

The letter backfired. Many NRA members contended LaPierre had gone too far. Former president George H.W. Bush, a gun enthusiast and decades-long member, resigned from the NRA. Bush accused the NRA of slurring a "wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us."

In the wake of that rare NRA misstep, the group turned to a new public face and president: Charlton Heston.

At the 2000 NRA convention, the former actor brought the audience to its feet with his attack on gun control advocates. In a memorable speech attacking presidential candidate Al Gore, Heston raised a replica of a Colonial musket over his head and said, echoing a bumper sticker, "From my cold, dead hands."

When Gore lost the 2000 election, many Democrats blamed it on pro-gun-control positions he had taken in the past.

Gun control activists tried a new tack: lawsuits. After watching the success of litigation against tobacco companies in the 1990s, the city of Chicago seized on a novel legal theory to sue gunmakers and stores, arguing that handgun marketing endangered public health. Bob Ricker, a former NRA counsel turned whistleblower, testified that the industry was complicit because there are gun dealers "who through willful, negligent or irresponsible actions contribute to the illicit gun market."

Industry lawyer Keane said Ricker, who died in December, was not credible, because he was a paid consultant. In response to the lawsuits, gun industry attorneys said that dealers should not be held liable for how their guns are used and that the lawsuits were an attempt to shut down the industry.

The gun lobby played a congressional trump card. In 2003, Todd Tiahrt, a Republican congressman from Kansas, surprised members of both parties with a last-minute amendment to a spending bill to exempt ATF's gun-trace database from the Freedom of Information Act. The effect was to take the heat off gun dealers with the most traces and deny the information to lawyers, academics and journalists. The Tiahrt Amendment, along with a later industry immunity bill, largely killed the litigation.

The Obama effect In January, on the massive convention floor of the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas, attendees and vendors from 75 countries milled amid the giant, dazzling booths featuring elaborate displays of weaponry, from Glocks to Bushmasters.

The annual SHOT Show - the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, the largest trade event for the shooting sports and hunting industries - drew about 60,000 buyers and manufacturers. Business was booming.

"Despite the worst recession in a generation, we have thrived," National Shooting Sports Foundation President Steven Sanetti said at the event's state-of-the-industry dinner.

The reason? Barack Obama.

Critics say the NRA and other gun organizations used Obama's candidacy and election to scare gun owners and boost their memberships. In TV ads and on the Internet, the NRA warned that Obama planned to ban handguns and close 90 percent of gun shops.

"Never in NRA's history have we faced a presidential candidate . . . with such a deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms," LaPierre wrote in a fundraising letter in 2008. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Obama never said anything about banning handguns or closing gun shops. His campaign platform promised to pursue long-standing proposals to address urban violence: reinstating the assault weapons ban, outlawing "cop killer" bullets and closing the "gun-show loophole" that permits firearm sales without background checks.

The campaign said Obama favored "commonsense measures" to protect gun rights "while keeping guns away from children and from criminals who shouldn't have them." Obama also said he would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment.

The NRA created a Web page that is still active, , to attack Obama's gun record. The site states, "Hillary was Right: You Can't Trust Obama With Your Guns." It then links to a mailer that Hillary Rodham Clinton used in the Democratic primary against Obama.

Recognizing his vulnerability in swing states, Obama began to run an alternate campaign to calm the worries of gun owners, said Ray Schoenke, a former Washington Redskins lineman who founded a moderate gun rights group, the American Hunters and Shooters Association, as part of the Obama effort.
The Obama campaign paid for Schoenke's travel to 40 events in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado to address pro-gun voters.

"The opposition said Obama was going to take away everyone's guns, tax ammunitions, tax guns, register guns and reinstate the assault weapons ban," Schoenke said. "We said, 'He is not going to do any of these things.' And he didn't."

When Holder, then Obama's nominee for attorney general, repeated Obama's gun control platform at his confirmation hearing last year, 65 Democrats wrote Holder vowing to "actively oppose" any effort to restore the assault weapons ban. It was taken off the table, along with the other proposals.

Schoenke said he was in touch with the White House after Holder's comments, and he was assured that Obama would not be making a move toward stricter gun laws unpopular with gun groups. "We basically said it ain't gonna happen," Schoenke said recently. "And it hasn't happened."

In his first 20 months in office, Obama has virtually been silent on guns.

When the Obama administration passed its budget last year, it left the Tiahrt Amendment virtually intact. It expanded police access to the gun trace data but tightened restrictions on public disclosure of the data.

Gun control advocates are disappointed.

"President Obama's first-year record on gun violence prevention has been an abject failure," said the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The NRA, whose membership has tripled since 1978, says it remains on guard.
"We're up against, in the next two years, an Obama administration embedded with people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy this great American freedom," LaPierre said on an NRA election-night webcast, "and we're going to have our work cut out for us."
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.
I've been reading William S. Lind at the defense national institute web site. His weekly posts have informed me of military theory, an immensely important topic to a blogger who blogs of war, to a father who prays his son will never have to fight in war, and to a nephew who lost a beloved uncle in combat battle to a war. Lind's articles are prescient. He just gets stuff right, as did Scott Ritter. The following article comes from a Radar e-zine piece.

The Iraq Gamble

Right But Poor
William S. Lind



Pre-war position: This arch-conservative commentator may have been the most prescient voice in the American media warning against the military dangers facing us in Iraq. His career began as a protégé of America's greatest military strategist, colonel John Boyd, and he has since achieved his own renown in that field. Prior to the war, Lind warned that invading Iraq would be of inherent benefit to both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. He predicted, "When American forces capture Baghdad and take down Saddam Hussein, the real war will not end but begin ... as an array of non-state elements begin to fight America and each other." Bottom line: "It won't be pretty." He also pointed out that a basic tenet of military theory is that a democracy cannot win any prolonged war if the people are at all uncertain about the reasons for fighting. At that point, prior to the invasion, more than half of Americans thought Saddam had a hand in 9/11. Career status:American Conservative and websites like,, and No major publications have come calling, so Still writing for a small audience. Lind is a contributor to the not many people are hearing the urgent warning he's offering now. "I think we're probably going to hit Iran and that situation could be ten times worse than what we've got in Iraq," he tells Radar.

(MG) I've blogged a lot in the past about the folly of attacking Iran. They've got 70,000,000 people. They've got an astute president. They understand US government duplicity, cheney administration war for the sake of enriching the military-industrial-academic-infotainment-neocon-theocon-fundamentalist complex, and the rovian reelection strategy. They have seen the enemy, and it is US.

(MG) And do we dare think for one moment their mullahs have forgotten how Kermit Roosevelt / Winnie Churchill / Ike gave the green light to the CIA to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh when he was about to nationalize the oil fields and charge British Petroleum more money?

(MG) Have they forgotten how the US egged Saddam on to wage war with Iran (US payback for the embarrassment to the CIA for having missed the rise to political power of the aged Shiite cleric in France, the Ayatollah Khomeini) and how the US played both sides of the Iraq - Iran fence?

(MG) Have they forgotten how inept was the rescue attempt of the American hostages held in Tehran?

(MG) Have they forgotten the willingness of the Reagan administration to trade arms for hostages, despite US federal law PROHIBITING such unauthorized dealings?

(MG) Do the US political leaders understand The Art of War?

Sun-tau said:
"Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the Way (Tao) to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.

"Therefore, structure it according to [the following] five factors, evaluate it comparatively through estimations, and seek out its true nature. The first is termed the Tao, the second Heaven, the third Earth, the fourth generals, and the fifth the laws [for military organization and discipline].
"The Tao causes the people to be fully in accord with the ruler. [Thus] they will die with him; they will live with him and not fear danger.
"Heaven encompasses yin and yang, cold and heat, and the constraints of the seasons.
"Earth encompasses far or near, difficult or easy, expansive or confined, fatal or tenable terrain."
"The general encompasses wisdom, credibility, benevolence, courage, and strictness.
"The laws [for the military organization and discipline] encompass organization and regulations, the Tao of command, and the managements of logistics.
"There are no generals who have not heard of these five. Those who understand them will be victorious; those who do not understand them will not be victorious.

"Thus when making a comparative evaluation through estimations, seeking out its true nature, ask:

Which ruler has the Tao?
Which general has greater ability?
Who has gained [the advantage of] Heaven and Earth?
Whose laws and orders are more thoroughly implemented?
Whose forces are stronger?
Whose officers and troops are better trained?
Whose rewards and punishments are clearer?
"From these I will know victory and defeat!

"If a general follows my [methods for] estimation and you employ him, he will certainly be victorious and should be retained. If a general does not follow my [methods for] estimation and you employ him, he will certainly be defeated, so dismiss him.

"After estimating the advantages in accord with what you have heard, put it into effect with strategic power (shih) supplemented by field tactics that respond to external factors. As for strategic power, [it is] controlling the tactical imbalance of power (ch'uan) in accord with the gains to be realized.

"Warfare is the Way (Tao) of deception. Thus although [you are] capable, display incapability to them. when committed to employing your forces, feign inactivity. when [your objective] is nearby, make it appear as if distant; when far away, create the illusion of being nearby.

"Display profits to entice them. Create disorder [in their forces] and take them.
"If they are substantial, prepare for them; if they are strong, avoid them.
"If they are angry, perturb them; be deferential to foster their arrogance.
"If they are rested, force them to exert themselves.
"If they are united, cause them to be separated.
"Attack where they are unprepared.
"Go forth where they will not expect it.
"These are the ways military strategists are victorious. They cannot be spoken of in advance.
"Before the engagement, one who determines in the ancestral temple that he will be victorious has found that the majority of factors are in his favor. Before the engagement one who determines in the ancestral temple that he will not be victorious has found few factors are in his favor.
"If one who finds that the majority of factors favor him will be victorious while one who has found few factors favor him will be defeated, what about someone who finds no factors in his favor?
"If I observe it from this perspective, victory and defeat will be apparent."
From The Art of War, Sun-tzu
translated by Ralph D. Sawyer

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kourtney Kardashian and Mason's Parenting/Babytalk Photo Shoot

12 Weirdest Christmas Traditions Ever