Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cheney: evil power behind the throne

“As chief of the black branch, I am not answerable to either the executive or legislative branch!”

Dick Cheney “speaking” in “Doonesbury” by Garry Trudeau

Even the most dim-witted Republican must realize by now that America is ruled today by the evil duopoly of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. They have been an unmitigated disaster.

As for Cheney, he is the éminence grise, the power behind the throne, the dangerous Svengali of the seven-year executive office nightmare.

The Cheney indictment contains includes:

• He engineered the unilateral, unnecessary and endless war in Iraq, what Bush now calls a “war on terror.” (The president no longer has credibility about anything.)

• Cheney pushed torture against all decent and humane instincts of the American people. Water-boarding? Cheney: a “dunk in the water” is a “no-brainer.”

• He declares that prisoners have no Geneva Convention rights.

• He has pushed government secrecy to paranoid lengths, rejecting oversight by Congress and the press.

• He expanded presidential and vice-presidential power to unconstitutional lengths.

• He urged his former aide, Scooter Libby, to break the law by outing a CIA agent whose husband had exposed one pretext for the war.

• Cheney proclaims himself above the law.

Unindictable Cheney offenses are also numerous. He has a hubris beyond stunning. He is a Mafia don. A Machiavellian. Schemer. Sinister. A dark influence on administration policies. He dominates a weak president. Even White House staffers call him Edgar Bergen, the ventriloquist for the dummy Charlie McCarthy.

Cheney is a belligerent ideologue. He sneers. He scowls. He snarls from the top of the greasy pole, a pole he ascended when he nominated himself as vice president in 2000. He speaks of opponents with venom. He runs roughshod over personnel.

Cheney is behind some of the many environmental crimes of the administration. He undermined Christine Whitman, Bush’s first head of the Environmenal Protection Agency, and drove her to resign. He was behind the lifting of restrictions on snowmobiles in national parks in his zeal to emphasize recreational use over conservation. He intervened to reverse a government policy of saving a fish species in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin.

In a devastating four-part series on Cheney in the Washington Post, reporters Jo Becker and Barton Gellman wrote: “The Klamath case is one of many in which the vice president took a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business.”

He pushed tax cuts for the wealthy beyond the wishes of the plutocratic Bush. Cheney muscled Cabinet rivals and even Alan Greenspan, then Fed chairman. Cheney shapes energy policies--in secret. He installed himself as “president of Corporate America,” as Eleanor Clift of Newsweek phrased it.

Cheney issues threats to Iran while urging Bush to take military action. In effect, Cheney says to Iran: “You’re next.”

Bush appoints reactionaries to the Supreme Court and other federal judges but behind those choices is often a list drawn up by Cheney. He refuses to allow Guantánamo to be closed. He played a dominant role in the administration’s campaign to deny global warming.

Halliburton, military contractor and war profiteer, a firm which Cheney once headed, got millions in no-bid contracts in Iraq because of Cheney’s baleful influence.

Hendrix Hertzberg recently wrote in New Yorker about Cheney: “treacherous toward colleagues, coldly manipulative of the callow, lazy and ignorant president he serves, contemptuous of public opinion and dismissive, not only of international law, but of the very Constitution.”

As a member of a joint congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal 20 years ago, Cheney praised the reprehensible Oliver North as “the most effective and impressive witness this committee has heard.”

William R. Pitt, columnist for the online Truthout, writes of Cheney: he “had the fire-eating gall, the awe-inspiring temerity, the light-bending arrogance, to put forth the argument…that the office of the vice president is not actually part of the executive branch of the federal government and is therefore not required to give any papers to anyone.”

A Supreme Court ruling in the Nixon tapes case of 1974 made it clear that even the president is not above the law. But Cheney blithely ignores such trivial matters. No surprise. Cheney is the guy who got five deferments during the Vietnam War and explained that he had other priorities.

Cheney and Bush have destroyed the essence of what it means to be an American. No wonder much of the world hates America.

Senate, Bush and judiciary gouge unions

Americans boast about their purported democracy. President Bush fatuously tries to bring democracy to Iraq. But America itself is not a democracy.

Time and again senators representing just 18 percent of the population thwart the will of the majority. And so it was that a long overdue labor measure met its demise in the Senate recently.

The bill had passed the House of Representatives, the “peoples’ ” house, 241-185. A majority in the Senate agreed to the Employee Free Choice Act, 51-48. But it takes 60 votes to allow debate and vote. The malapportioned Senate barons thwarted democracy.

The bill would have allowed employees of a company to form a union by having a majority sign cards. (Canada has long used card-check authorization.)

Opponents railed about the “sacredness” of a secret ballot, calling the card-check recognition “completely un-American.” They righteously raised the phony shibboleth of “free elections.” But the truth is otherwise. The rhetoric cloaks a system heavily weighted on the side of employers.

Companies intimidate, threaten, coerce and harass workers into voting against unionism. They fire and demote workers instrumental in union drives. They threaten to close plants if the union wins elections.

They force workers to sit through anti-union seminars, bombarding them with propaganda. Firms can legally force attendance by all workers eligible to vote at these sessions while no union representatives are allowed. Companies often spy on pro-union workers. They hire anti-union consultants.

All these tactics are illegal. It is workplace terrorism.

James Gross, Cornell labor professor, is right: “The sophistication and unlawfulness of many employer campaigns has made the secret-ballot election a sick joke. It’s not a free choice anymore.”

Even if unions “win” they lose because companies procrastinate and appeal endlessly. For example, a federal appeals court ruled, after nine years of litigation, that the Smithfield Packing Co. of North Carolina repeatedly broke the law to defeat unionization at its huge pork-processing plant.

If labor does score a rare win before the National Labor Relations Board, the punishment of companies is so minimal as to be meaningless. Firms can bust unions with impunity. Union-busting pays off in swollen bottom lines.

The NLRB ruled last fall that registered nurses who merely assigned others to shifts or duties were supervisors and not eligible to join unions. This despite the fact that they are ersatz “supervisors” without management roles.

The NLRB, stacked with Bush appointees, is a union-buster too. The Nation magazine reports that the NLRB has “restricted the right to organize of graduate student employees, temporary workers and the disabled.”

Anti-unionism is virulent in America, virulence led by Bush. He revoked Clinton-era rules that required the government to favor unionized firms with federal contracts. He rolled back overtime pay rights for six million workers. He abolished collective bargaining for federal workers in Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration.

This was all done under the fraudulent aegis of national security.

(Incidentally: the one Saddam Hussein-era law that Bush maintained in Iraq is the ban on unions.)

Bush also tried to do away with unions in the Defense Department but was slapped down by a federal district court. Unfortunately, an appellate panel reversed the decision, eviscerating collective bargaining rights set by the Wagner Act of 1935.

The reversal was unsurprising. Except for the House, many senators, Bush and the judiciary are hostile to unions.

The Bush minions are even more frenzied. The education secretary labels one union a terrorist organization. A former House minority calls unions “a clear and present danger” to national security. And a congressional troglodyte from Georgia denounces unions as “enemies of freedom and democracy.”

David Sirota, reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, rightly wrote in a Truthout online essay: “Union officials get labeled as ‘bosses’ while executives who slash corporate payrolls or dump employees pension plans get celebrated as ’cost cutters’ and ‘down-sizers.’ ”

He adds: “The more corporations and politicians crush unions, the more all workers suffer. It is no coincidence that as union membership and power have declined under withering anti-union attacks, workers have seen their wages stagnate, pensions slashed and share of national income hit a 60-year low.”

It is obvious that unions produce higher pay, better benefits and longer vacations. They give workers more power in setting working conditions and safety standards. And they benefit workers nationwide even if they are not union members.

Workers wanted a return to New Deal days when they could organize through card checks alone. But ever since the reactionary Taft-Hartley law in 1947, labor unions have seen a steady erosion of their rights.

Sixty million Americans say they would join unions if given a free choice to do so. They are not given that choice. Let’s hear no more talk about U.S. democracy.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Court’s reactionary 5 adds to national woes

The Supreme Court majority under Chief Justice Roberts has swiftly become the Five Horsemen of Reaction. The five justices are not judges but Republican politicians, every bit as fossilized as the Four Horsemen of Reaction who found New Deal laws unconstitutional.

The Roberts Court ordered resegregation of schools, endorsed sex discrimination, called the First Amendment irrelevant for students, ruled for Big Business and made money talk still louder in politics.

The court condemned race-based enrollment systems in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., toppling the greatest pillar of the Warren Court, Brown v. Board of Education.

Dissenting Justice Breyer said it was a “cruel distortion of history” for Roberts in his opinion for the court to compare the Seattle and Louisville cases to segregated school districts in the 1950s. Lawyers who worked in the Brown case denounced the decision as “preposterous” and “100 percent wrong.”

The Supreme Court was instrumental in rectifying historic wrongs and burying Jim Crow laws. Roberts and his shameful pols have reverted to separate and unequal schools.

Among the court’s many other egregious decisions this term was ruling against a woman who was making $6,500 less a year than the lowest paid male supervisor. The court’s ruling hinged on a technicality while overturning decades of precedent. The woman in the case, Lilly Ledbetter, did not learn within the required six months that she had been discriminated against.

The court ignored the reality of women in the workplace. As Justice Ginsburg said in dissent: the court “does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

Or sexual threats. One of Ledbetter’s bosses told her: “If you meet me at the Ramada Inn you can be No. 1. If you don’t, you’re on the bottom.”

The decision was made by five men, the same five--all Catholics--who upheld a horrible law barring late-term abortions. (A far, far better Catholic justice, William Brennan, voted for Roe v. Wade.)

Another repellent decision supported the principal of an Alaskan student suspended because he unfurled a banner declaring “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Roberts said the student’s symbolic speech, as cryptic as it was, encouraged illegal drug use. (Bongs are marijuana water pipes.) Justice Stevens had it right in dissent:

“The court’s ham-handed…approach is deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high school students...inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs.”

Justice Thomas with his 13th century mind sided with Roberts, as he had in the resegregation case, declaring that students should be denied free speech protection and urged return to the days when “teachers commanded and students obeyed.”

Ah, but money is a different matter. The court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits restrictions on political advertising, upholding the noxious doctrine that money is speech.

In yet another 5-4 vote evincing judicial activism from the Right, the court asked, in effect, what separation of church and state? There is none. The court blocked a lawsuit by a group of atheists and agnostics against the faith-based White House office. The office was created by executive order to give religious charities a share of federal money. You need not be a lawyer to see that as unconstitutional.

Still another outrage: the court overturned an Oregon jury award of $79.5 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris for the harm it caused smokers. It was a victory for corporate wrongdoers whose products have caused widespread injury. It follows a Roberts Court pattern: rule for the powerful over the powerless.

Ohio State law professor, Douglas Berman, made an astute observation after the court refused to grant certiorari in the case of an Arizona man sentenced to 200 years in jail for possessing 20 pornographic pictures of children. Berman pointed out: “Justices think they have a role in regulating extreme corporate punishment but…the court doesn’t embrace a role in regulating individual punishment.”

In still another repellent 5-4 ruling in one of the worst terms in Supreme Court history, the court sided with developers against environmentalists.

The biggest disappointment was Justice Kennedy. It had been hoped that he would play the pivotal role of Justice O’Connor. Instead, he joined the reaction of Roberts, Thomas and Justices Scalia and Alito.

President Bush, with his appointment of Roberts and Alito, ruined the Supreme Court just as he has ruined the nation.

The great Justice Louis Brandeis, dissenting in the New State Ice Co. case in 1932, said: “we must be ever on our guard lest we erect our prejudices into legal principles.” The Roberts Court has done just that.

Writer Hitchens indicts religions of world

god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

By Christopher Hitchens

Twelve (Warner Books). 283 pages. $24.99

god is spelled with a small g to make the author’s point in the title. The text is a searing indictment of religion and its holy texts. It follows recent books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins challenging religion.

Ronald Aronson, Wayne State University teacher and writer, observes: “In attacking religion, the four have been breaking the taboo against talking about it…Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens deserve praise for their courage and tenacity in shattering the spell.”

Hitchens, a great debunker who wrote a book scalding Mother Teresa, notes the crimes of religion and its many absurdities. He declares that all religions are fraudulent, citing chapter and verse.

“Religion is man-made,” Hitchens correctly notes. “…millions of people in all societies still prefer the myths of the cave”…religion causes “hatred and conflict in the world” and depends on “ignorance and superstition” of its followers.

In Northern Ireland, “in the name of god, the old hatreds were drilled into new generations of school children and are still being drilled.” Ditto for the Muslims and Hindus in India. Ditto for the Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

Ditto for the ghastly Taliban in Afghanistan, slaughtering the Shiite Hazara population and blowing up statues of Buddha. Ditto for Pakistan which has a law of “islamic values” allowing a woman to be gang-raped in order “to expiate the ‘shame’ of a crime committed by her brother.”

In Muslim Africa, girls are “subjected to the hell of circumcision and infibulation, which involves the slicing off of the labia and clitoris.” In Rwanda, the most Protestant nation in Africa, the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis.

In America, the un-Christian Bush administration refuses foreign aid to charities and clinics advising family planning. It rejects any evidence contrary to its ideology. The so-called reverends Robertson and Falwell declared that 9/11 was a “divine judgment” on a society allowing abortion and homosexuality. The proponents of “intelligent design” demand that its “tripe be taught to children.”

And so it goes, as the late, lamented Kurt Vonnegut would say.

“Salman Rushdie was hit by a…death sentence …for the crime of writing a work of fiction,” Hitchens writes. The book, “The Satanic Verses,” was the target of a fatwa issued in 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran deeming the book blasphemous.

“He succeeded in igniting ugly demonstrations among Muslims…across the world where crowds burned the book and screamed for the author to be fed to the flames,” Hitchens writes with rightful anger.

He adds: “It is impossible to imagine a greater affront to every value of free expression, part horrifying and part grotesque.” Yet the Vatican, the archbishop of Canterbury and the chief sephardic rabbi of Israel sympathized with the ayatollah.

Historically, religious madness has countered the truths of science. The Catholic Church forced Galileo to recant the truth of a sun-centered universe. Joshua made the sun stand still. Aquinas half-believed in astrology.

Of the many “sins” of religion, Calvin burned Servetus at the stake. The ghettoization of Jews was “imposed on them by ignorant and bigoted” Christians. “Augustine was a self-centered fantasist and an earth-centered ignoramus.” Luther was terrified of demons and believed that the mentally afflicted are the devil’s work.

Sacred texts? All a tissue of myths, half-baked sayings, mythology and nonsense, Hitchens writes, adding: “The foundational books are transparent fables.”

The Bible? It “contains a warrant for trafficking in humans, ethnic cleansing, for slavery…and for indiscriminate massacre”…“The deranged fantasies of the book of ‘Revelation.’ ”

The Koran? “Endless prohibitions of sex and its corrupt promise of infinite debauchery in the life to come.”

God? Demolition of the concept is almost an afterthought for Hitchens.

Despite these trenchant criticisms, all college students should be required to take a course in comparative religions, their beliefs and holy texts. Religion is so much a part of people’s lives throughout the world.

The course should include the atheistic tradition and critical analysis. But it never should proselytize, never breach the wall between church and state.
Hitchens’ powerful arguments are blunted by irrelevancies, longueurs, 90-word sentences and show-off erudition. Neverthless, he makes an unassailable case that religion is a malignant force in the world.