Guess What "Surprise" Republicans Yearn For

Everybody knows it, but it took a tacky Republican operator to come right out and say it. Charlie Black, John McCain’s campaign adviser, recently let drop to Fortune magazine that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil would be a “big advantage” for the Republican presidential candidate.  Of course McCain lost no time in distancing himself from Black’s remark, with the same bogus moral outrage with which he decries racist slurs on his opponent.  “I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true. I’ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear.” Black duly threw on some sackcloth and echoed McCain: “I deeply regret the comments. They were inappropriate. I recognize that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration.”

Now, Black is no novice in campaign tactics. Nearly 40 years ago he helped put Jesse Helms in the US senate, and has been an innovative dirty trickster ever since. He knew exactly what he was doing when he let drop that remark to Fortune, just as McCain no doubt approved the indiscretion.  Both men know that McCain’s last best hope of beating Barack Obama in the November election is to rattle the nation’s teeth  with vivid evocations of national emergency,  and stampede the fearful voters into  putting a “war hero” into the Oval Office. Both men also know that almost seven years after the Trade Towers went down, the possibility of a terrorist attack is not the prime source of disquiet for most Americans, who can barely afford to drive to work or pay the mortgage on their homes.

The signs that the “war on terror” is losing its political edge are manifold. In the months after the 9/11 attack the Bush administration faced no serious opposition in trampling the US constitution under foot in the name of national security. The Patriot Act shot through Congress with just one senatorial “No” vote, from Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.  The symbol of U.S. “resolve” around the world  became the prison at Guantanamo, filled to this day with men against whom no formal charges had been laid, subjected to appalling tortures and denied the right to legal counsel.

This month the U.S. courts have delivered two resounding rebuffs to the White House’s efforts to say that prisoners  haled to Guantanamo had no rights under U.S. law. On June 12 , in the case of Boumediene v. Bush , the US Supreme Court  ruled, 5-4, that Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen seized in October 2001,  was entitled to habeas corpus – i.e., the right under the US constitution to have an independent court of law review the legality of  his detention. Justice Anthony Kennedy stated ringingly in his draft of the majority opinion, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”

The right erupted in fury, denouncing “the Boumediene Five”.  The Wall Street Journal bellowed in an editorial that the majority justices had signed the death warrants of American soldiers fighting terror overseas. At a town hall meeting in Pemberton, N.J., McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” For his part Obama  reiterated his “firm belief that we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution.”

Then, this last Monday, a three-judge federal court in Washington followed swiftly in the tracks on the June 12 ruling, declaring that Hozaifa Parhat, a 33-year-old Uighur Muslim from the oppressed Xinjiang province of China, seized in Turkmenistan in 2001, had the right to seek release immediately through a writ of habeas corpus. Thus, in the space of less than a fortnight, the US courts sliced away what Bush and his lawyers have insisted for seven years to be the vital right to hold terrorists indefinitely, without charges or rights of any sort.

Judges mostly rule in tune with the temper of the times, and the decisions this month are no exception. The surmise of those who dream, like Black, of a new terrorist attack, is that if one had rocked America on June 1 of this year the judges might well have held their hand. David Addington, senior aide to vice president Dick Cheney was quoted last year by Jack Goldsmith, a former Justice Department lawyer, as having said yearningly that “we’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court,” referring to the  secret and in fact compliant FISA court that oversees clandestine wiretapping.

Almost every presidential election sees allegations of an imminent “October surprise”. There’s zero doubt what sort of surprise McCain and the desperate Republicans are yearning for.

The Truth About Petraeus’ Surge , the Sixties, and much else besides

Watching the princes and princesses of the Fourth Estate last week mourning Russert, their fallen champion, I brooded as no doubt did many other CounterPunchers on the staggering failures of the Fourth Estate in the Bush era. How effortlessly they rolled from the WMD debacle into the chipper early reports of the war’s glorious progress, then into promotion of the surge and now, for well over a year, into ecstatic bulletins on the Surge’s success.

As antidote, I strongly recommend a detailed repot by that excellent journalist and historian. Gareth Porter, in our latest CounterPunch newsletter. Here’s how Porter begins his detailed report:

Throughout 2007 and 2008, Gen. David Petraeus successfully directed the development of a propaganda scenario portraying a fierce struggle for Iraq between shadowy figures in Iran, fueling “proxy war” against the United States through its support for “special groups,” and U.S. forces working to roll up those Iranian-sponsored networks.

That story line was extraordinarily useful to the Bush administration – or, more precisely, to the Bush-Cheney White House and the U.S. military command in Iraq.  It served three distinct purposes simultaneously. First, it provided a new rationale for U.S. occupation in Iraq  that promised to stretch years into the future – fighting Shiite foes, which were supposedly sponsored by Iran. As al Qaeda’s power seemed to fade during 2007, that purpose filled what would otherwise have been a void in regard to reasons for a continued U.S. military role in the country.

Second, the assertion of Iranian troublemaking in Iraq provided a rationale for the limited attack on Iranian bases, which was Dick Cheney’s ambition, and, thus, for a possible trigger for an Iranian response that could justify an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But it also serves to divert attention from the embarrassing fact that the Bush administration and Iran have been backing the same horse in Iraq. Since early 2005, Iranian strategy has been centered on support for Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad, because those governments were led by and dependent on the political support of loyal Iraqi agents of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the time the IRGC had created the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. The Baghdad regime, therefore, represents a joint U.S.-Iranian condominium.

The “proxy war” propaganda claim has revolved around one central lie, which is that Iran has used “special groups,” meaning militia groups that have broken away from Sadr, to try to force the United States out of Iraq and destabilize the Iraqi regime. The term “special groups” itself was invented not by Iran but by the U.S. military…”

Porter goes on to build up a devastating case against the mendacious constructs of Petraeus and his staff. He pinions  the eager gullibility of Congress and press in swallowing the story. His piece alone is worth a subscripton to our twice-monthly newsletter.

Another excellent piece in the same newsletter is former US Senator Jim Abourezk’s  account  of the  White Clay whiskey peddlers selling alcoholic beverages to the Indians. This squalid epic goes back to the 1800s, and stretches forward to the present day.  Jim was born on the Rosebud reservation, and became the nation’s first Arab-American senator back in the 1970s,  serving with great distinction. He remains a crusading lawyer in Sioux Falls and recounts his ongoing efforts to shut down the illegal liquor trade in White Clay which has caused so much human disaster.

Moving from the epic to the ridiculous, I have to hand Gerard DeGroot: The 60s Unplugged. A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade.  You think Todd Gitlin is silly? They just never let go. I write an unflattering assessment of DeGroot’s  preposterous work. All in the CounerPunch newsletter. Now, all you have to do is subscribe.

Ahmed Shawki and “Democracy Now”

Ahmed Shawki is usually a jovial fellow, as well as being one of the leading lights of the Trotskyist tendency known as the International Socialist Organization. What has made the Chicago-based Ahmed distinctly less jovial in the years since 9/11/2001 is unendingly bad treatment at airline security. Because of his name and ethnic contour he gets screwed around in all manner of outrageous ways.

Imagine, therefore, the fury and distress of Ahmed and his family when Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, on the unlucky day of Friday, June 13, ran a story on Shawki Ahmed Omar, an American citizen captured and detained in Iraq by United States military forces, without legal process and with no meaningful access to counsel.  Democracy Now chose to illustrate this story on its site with a photograph of Ahmed Shawki, of Chicago. Dilligent efforts were immediately made to get Democracy Now to fix the problem on its site, but without getting any satisfaction from an apparently indifferent crew at the Temple  of Goodman. Finally, in the middle of the following week, Goodman did okay a correction, albeit relocating Ahmed from Chicago to California.

I queried the ISO’s Sharon Smith, who is married to Shawki,  about the facts of the matter and here’s how she answered:

Hi Alex,

No, Ahmed hasn’t suddenly moved West. He still lives in Chicago, as he has since 1983. But an Ahmed Shawki with a California address is all we got in the way of a correction from DN! on Wednesday of this past week.

And even that took 5 days. After the photo appeared on Friday, June 13, presenting a photo of Ahmed Shawki from Chicago as the alleged terrorist Shawqi Ahmed Omar (please be sure that I do not wish to imply that Omar is an actual terrorist), Ahmed’s photo stayed there for all the world to see until the following Monday morning. So for several days, Ahmed’s photo was associated with a convicted Iraqi terrorist, and we had to wait until Wednesday for a broadcast correction (that erroneously stated Ahmed’s residence as in California rather than Illinois).

Needless to say, this was a very traumatic experience for Ahmed. He faced racism before 9-11, but since then he has been pulled off airplanes and our family was driven out of our last neighborhood due to anti-Arab racism. And as we all know, various government agencies are not looking for facts, but only excuses, to further harass and incarcerate Arabs and Muslims. So this was a big deal for us. We had no direct contact with anyone at DN! but relied on mutual acquaintances to state our case, as soon as the photo appeared. We became increasingly frustrated, as the days went by and no action was taken to make this correction—which at some future point, could be crucial if Ahmed is targeted by one of the many agencies empowered to do so. Because we had no direct contact with DN!, we can’t state with any accuracy what DN!’s official response was to this error on their part. And no one from DN ever attempted to contact Ahmed directly, either to apologize or to get the facts straight.

Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed by this outcome. We expected better from Democracy Now! which we have had, until now, nothing but respect. For those who purport to be bringing integrity back into the news media, we expected, well, a bit more integrity.


In Russert’s Wake

My dry-eyed remarks about Tim Russert here last week elicited a large number of enthusiastic letters from CounterPunchers astounded at the commotion at his passing. In a separate piece I did on Russert I concluded thus:

After the Watergate scandal was over in 1974 and Nixon bundled off in disgrace to California, Katharine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company and employer of Woodward and Bernstein, cautioned journalists: ““The press these days,” she sternly told them, “should … be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.”    Out of that warning came the failures to see conspiracy where it did exist, in the manufacture of the WMD threat and in the treatment of politics as business-as-usual, somewhat like a game —  an approach in which Russert excelled and which made him many friends and far too few enemies.  He never had to lunch alone. In the 1880s, Joseph Pulitzer hung a sign in the newsroom of his paper, the New York World, which read: “The World has no friends.” Russert, as the recent obsequies attest, had far too many.

A few days later, on June 25m  came this amusing sequel from Chicago-based CounterPuncher, John Mauck:

Hey Alexander, Today on the Washington Post website, they had an online discussion with Len Downey [The Post’s dreary  editor]. Per your column I asked a simple question: Chicago: Hey Len, What is your opinion of Katharine Graham’s quote: “The press these days should be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.”

To this I got an amusing answer: Leonard Downie Jr.: It’s timeless wisdom. She said that many years ago, and it was true then and it’s true now. We keep that responsibility in mind every day.” I thought that might crack you up. Keep up the Counterpunching!

A few other notes from my Russert mailbag:

Alex, You wrote, “Final question: Since NBC had a huge stake in Tim Russert’s future (“Meet the Press” brought in $50 million a year and they paid him around $5 million a year) you’d have thought the network’s executives would have taken a look at the tv screen and raised the alarm. Across the past three months  he looked in increasingly awful shape, bright red in the face, overweight and sometimes with a slightly glazed, sad look. I told people I thought he was set to die of a heart attack right there in the studio, which is exactly what happened.”

You weren’t the only one, I never watched, but my mother-in-law, a retired nurse, thought the same thing.  She saw him on MTP the Sunday before he died, and thought, he looks awful.  She was really alarmed and wanted to call and urge that he get immediate medical attention!

Richard Estes

And this one from Tom Layman, in Champaign, Illinois:

Alex: Very insightful. I don’t know how many times the honor-givers mentioned his interview with Cheney prior to the war as if merely asking a question lit a fire under Cheney’s feet. But what stands out to me (& I have yet to bring this up elsewhere where I can reply) is his question to Dennis Kucinich in the primary debates about UFOs. The “Journalist of record” was making an obvious attempt to marginalize Dennis as a nut case. I don’t recall anyone ever making that kind of leap with, say, Bush’s claim that God wanted him to invade Iraq.


An architect  in Nashville send this larger perspective on Russert:


Bravo! Finally someone speaks the truth.  Sat. I was on a very challenging bike ride for my age (58, same age as Russert).  I got back into biking after a bad back injury and was told it might help and was riding for a while beside a younger man(50) who was well.. rich he was riding an expensive bike. Anyway, he commented that he had left his high stress job where he was a CEO and got into this biking as it lowered his BP ( his BP was through the roof when he was CEO.) and that his Dad had died much as Tim Russert had at about the same age.   “Hell he looked awful these past months” he commented.

I noted to him a number of male acquaintances, friends etc that had died of heart attacks between what I think are the make or break it years for men age 50-60.

The conversation started when he yelled to me “Hey have you noticed how no one is saying why Tim Russert died.. like working himself to death a true American role model”.

He noted that he had the money but was heading in the same direction so he bought his “vanity bike” to try something else and it had led him to a better life.

Certainly there were other options for Tim also.  Maybe not as drastic as giving up the helm as this ex CEO had but certainly working less hours and integrating some exercise or family and friend time in.  I don’t buy the family man stuff either.  Way back when I had  a more high profile job when my kids were very young one day they said “Daddy will you ever be home for Dinner?”.  I worked literally 20 minutes away and had nor been home in almost 2 years for dinner because of my job.  I had gained 20 plus and smoked like hell and no exercise.  Well this “OL” Marine quit that job (those type of jobs do not allow or at least in those days a way to work less) I was in my late 30’s then and I still look back knowing it was the right move.  I am still alive and saw my kids grow and shared much with them. I fared on the lousy side for a time for income and have not worked onprestigious projects but that all seems to mean less and less as I age.

Tennessee Architect

A distinctly unflattering one:


Thanks for the article on the ” Russert Send-Off “. The are some very revealing points. Like that of Russert not having any enemies despite 20 Years in the News Business. I was curious as to what his salary was and the figure you quote, 5 Million Dollars, is also revealing. Why should that be so revealing ?  Let me touch upon a subject that was not brought up in your article.

In the Russert Send-Off NBC put a number of video interviews of News Media “Luminaries” and bio pieces on their website. One of those bio pieces focused on Russert’s father who is quite elderly. And like most Octegenarians Russert’s father has not been able to tend to his own needs. Up until recently the elder Russert has been forced to accept the generosity of his neighbors who prepared his meals and took care of his clothes. It was also revealed that Russert wanted to put his  father in a “Senior Citizen’s Home” against his father’s wishes. You know, those places where you are warehoused until you have the dignity to kick-off. For someone like the younger Russert, with all his money, to do that to do that to his father shows you what type of family man he really was. I wonder if Russert Sr’ s neighbors really know what old Tim’s net worth really was ? And if they do what they think of him now ? Some “Family Man” !


Bob Marston

A man of the cloth had this to say:

I was sadden but not surprised that the news media ran amok and raised Mr. Russert higher than God. However, I do remember Mr. Russert, as you stated in the amen corner for the war, and I also remember that when the White House wanted to send out propaganda and disinformation, Russert was their man. Dick Cheney knew who to call, and why would Libby throw Russert name in the hat of who was told what? However, the mainstream news media had to make themselves look good especially after Scott McClellan throw them under the bus, so Russert’s grandiose send off was a pat on the back for themselves.  Furthermore, Russert grilled Obama about Farrakhan, but he seemed not to care about the war, poverty, economical downturns, and many of the social issues and other pertinent issues that this country faced, and Brian Williams was a part of the grilling team too. After all, these two so-called powerhouses could get away with it, just like Williams fabricated his story in Tennessee by stating that McCain was received well at the anniversary of Dr. King.  McCain was booed so loudly, one could not hear the broadcast.

And to add to the knighting and apostleship of Russert, the media said that the rainbow in the sky was Russert’s rainbow. However, someone’s hermeneutics is displaced because the last time that I read  the Old Testament, the rainbow was a covenant and a token to remind us that God would not destroy the earth in seed time and harvest by flood, and after seeing the floods in Illinois and Wisconsin, we certainly needed that reminder. Some may call me a busy body fanatical preacher, but so many lives have been lost because of the lies told to get us to Iraq, and now the oil companies hope to prosper, and Bushes Executive order 13303 will aid them. Finally, the mainstream news media has blood on its hand like Pilate, yet soap and water will not remove the stains. So in order to remove the blood stains, why not use Russert the same way as they used him along with others to sell this heinous criminal war.

Rev. S.D. Whitaker

And lastly, from Louisiana:

Hearing all this noise about Russert being such an astute political observer, I wondered whether I had missed this. He seemed somewhat conventional & low-octane prosaic to me, and a lot of his “sharp questioning” missed the mark. But the real thing I have against him is having Rush Limbaugh in his show & going on & on about how Limbaugh was a modern Walter Lippmann. In fact, I was wondering whether it was some sort of a joke, as not even Limbaugh harbored such a pretension. Limbaugh is basically an entertainer of modest, if not mediocre accomplishments, as well as an out-and-out flâneur. He has never made any claims to have inhabited a heavy-thinker bureau, but Russert slobbered all over him as if he were a philosopher king. Maybe there are some reactionaries who would earn such an encomium, but not Limbaugh or that low-life snob, William F. Buckley, jr. I never did get over how Russert was so gulled by Limbaugh & fawned over him disgustingly. Pretty soon we shall be free of all this weeping & moaning over Russert; but why didn’t someone cite Don Vito Corleone? Remember when he asked Johnny Fontaine: “You spend time with your family?”

Donald Juneau

As the commotion began to subside, the New York Times ran a news story stuffed with self-aggrandizing quotes from doctors, all to the general effect that Russert had seemed to be in the best of health, his vital indicators seemed to be in the comfort zone, his pills seemed to be working, and then, gosh darn it, he keels over. Moral: the Reaper strikes when he wants and there ain’t a thing a bunch of overpaid doctors can do about it.

So how come plenty of people were able to to a free, unsolicited diagnosis of  T. Russert on TV and say, My God, call a doctor someone. That guy’s in awful shape.

My Life with Thomas Mann

In his always entertaining and instructive column on this site  The Musical Patriot David Yearsley this weekend describes the appalling sunburn inflicted on him by Thomas Mann, for reasons I shall not divulge, except to say Yearsley took Mann with him on holiday.

How many arms has Thomas Mann turned into spaghetti, lugging his vast novels around Europe in the vain hope that on some beach or restful glade the traveller will finally settle accounts with the Joseph Trilogy. When I left Oxford I took my girlfriend Jenny Barnes plus Joseph and his weighty Brothers on a tour of Mallorca. The vehicle was a Lambretta, and Thomas Mann x 3 rode postillion, right behind Jenny, who was right behind me.  I wasn’t used to the Lambretta or to the weight of three hardback vols of T. Mann. I would over-rev, the Lambretta would rise on its rear wheel and fall over backwards on top of Jenny and me and Thomas. One time this happened was right outside the gates of Robert Graves’s house in Deya. I ripped my pants and sat on the Mann vols as Jenny sewed the pants up. Mann tagged along the whole of the trip, but I never got anywhere with him. A very over-rated novelist in my opinion.

Footnote: A shorter version of the first item in this Diary  ran on The First Post  last Friday. ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at







Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.