Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Will Obama's promise to talk to enemies work with Iran?

By DeWayne Wickham

It’s hard to imagine that when Barack Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to hold direct talks with America’s enemies he could have contemplated the back and forth he just had with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ok, the exchange between the American president and his Iranian counterpart fell short of a direct conversation. The two men talked at, not to, each other while in New York for the United Nations’ annual General Assembly. But their exchange of barbs came shortly before an expected high-level face-to-face encounter next month between Iranian and U.S. diplomats to discuss the contentious issue of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

It also followed rumored, under the radar, contacts between officials of the two countries’ embassies in Afghanistan that hold out the possibility of cooperation in finding a political settlement to the long-running conflict in that country.

So, while he actually didn’t go mano-a-mano with Ahmadinejad, Obama appears to be making good on his promise, at least in the case of Iran, to talk to this nation’s adversaries – a commitment that probably has him wondering at times: “What was I thinking?”

That question must have flickered through Obama’s mind when Ahmandinejad suggested the U.S. government might have orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people in this country to save a faltering economy and justify a military presence in the Middle East.

Then, Ahmadinejad added injury to insult by claiming a majority of Americans share that view. Nevermind there is no known polling data to support that charge – or even found more than 15% of Americans who agree with it – the Iranian leader didn’t waiver in espousing this idea.

And neither did Obama in rejecting it. “It was offensive. It was hateful,” Obama said of Ahmadinejad’s speech in an interview with the BBC that was broadcasted into Iran.

Ahmadinejad called Obama’s response “amateurish,” as if the two men were involved in a global game of trash talking.

“The power in Iran is segmented. He’s trying to placate the more right wing elements in Iran” by using the U.S. government as a straw man, said James Steele, a political science professor at North Carolina A&T State University.

That’s a plausible explanation for Ahmandinejad’s charge. Another is that he is a mental case.

I’m not talking about the kind of insanity that would get him a one-way ticket to an asylum. But he may well suffer from the kind of mental disorder that is driven by the fanaticism of a religious zealot or fervor of an unyielding ideologue. In fact, Ahmandinejad might actually fit both bills.

Since taking office in 2005, he has used the annual General Assembly as a staging area for his increasingly vitriolic attacks on the United States. Until now, his most confounding attack came when he accused this country of “nuclear apartheid” for trying to deny Iran the nuclear weapons Ahmandinejad has repeatedly said it doesn’t want.

It is the unsettled question of the intent of Iran’s nuclear program that leaves Obama little choice but to keep talking to Iran – at least for now. If the talks next month, which will include Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China, produce meaningful results the exchange he had with Ahmandinejad will a diplomatic blip.

If, however, no progress is made toward proving that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons Obama must decide what to do when talk fails with a nation that has Ahmandinejad at its helm.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Withers a bit player in FBI campaign against King

By DeWayne Wickham

Asked about the recent revelation that famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers spied on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the FBI, Andrew Young downplayed the significance of this betrayal. “The movement was transparent and didn’t have anything to hide anyway,” the King disciple and former Atlanta mayor told The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.

It might not have had anything to hide, but it had a lot to protect.

From December 1963 until his assassination on April 4, 1968, King was the target of a secret FBI surveillance that, ostensibly, sought to determine whether his efforts to gain fairness and equality for blacks was influenced by communists. But it quickly became what the FBI would later admit was an “unjustified and improper” attempt to discredit King, according to the 1976 report of a U.S. Senate committee that investigated these abuses.

That effort took the FBI far afield of its mission. In 1964, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved a plan by the bureau’s domestic intelligence division to replace King with “a new national Negro leader.” After approving it, Hoover said he was “glad to see that light has finally ” come to the unit, which was primarily responsible for uncovering spies and counterintelligence threats.

Withers, who had nearly unfettered access to King and his small circle of advisers, was just a bit player in the FBI campaign. This doesn’t make the treachery Withers is accused of any less despicable, but history would not be well served if his actions weren’t framed in a broader context.

While the FBI never found evidence that King was being influenced by communists — which is what likely moved Young to say the movement had nothing to hide — the FBI’s push to undermine King’s leadership left the movement he led with a lot to protect.

Tipped off about his whereabouts , the FBI bugged King’s telephones and hotel bedrooms for years and tried to use the overheard conversations to pit other civil rights leaders against him, break up his marriage and to get journalists to expose his personal failings. And when the worst of what it got amounted to little more than salacious pillow talk, the FBI continued to press its attack on King — even after his death.

In 1969, the bureau discussed using information about King’s “personal behavior” ” to keep Congress from creating a national holiday in his honor.
All of this might come as a surprise to many people in this country, half of whom were born after King’s untimely death 42 years ago. After being stalled in Congress for 15 years, the King holiday bill became law in 1983. Cities large and small have enshrined his name — if not a memory of the FBI’s vendetta against him — to street signs and schools.

Today, people on the ideological left and right lay claim to the tenets of the “I Had a Dream” address that King gave during the 1963 March on Washington. But two days after King riveted the world with those words, William Sullivan, who headed the FBI’s domestic intelligence unit, called it “a demagogic speech.”

To the extent that Withers provided Hoover and his G-Men with information that allowed them to track King’s movements and peer behind the curtains of his personal life, he must be condemned.

But it is the FBI — not the black photographer who died in 2007 — that deserves the lion’s share of our outrage for what was done to King at its behest.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A civil rights victory Republicans won't claim

By DeWayne Wickham

You can bet it won’t take 142 years for Republicans to run away from this civil rights victory.

The recent ruling by a California federal judge that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is unconstitutional comes in a 6-year-old case brought by Log Cabin Republicans, a fringe group within the GOP that champions gay and lesbian rights. The policy, which allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep secret their sexual orientation, has been in place since 1993.

Shortly before this “don’t ask, don’t tell” decision was rendered, Republicans were consumed with talk of rolling back a civil rights victory they won in 1868 with ratification of the 14th amendment. Among other things, that constitutional amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” who are subject to this country’s jurisdiction.

For nearly a century and a half, Republicans took great pride in claiming this important addition to our nation’s founding document. But their rabid attempts to stem the flow of illegal aliens across our borders have pushed many leading Republicans to call for making the children of these people an exception to this amendment.

Now many of those very same Republicans might soon be doing battle with a wing of their party that has found little space for its members inside the GOP pup tent. But in celebrating his group’s legal victory, Log Cabin Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper directed his initial fire at Democrats, who overwhelmingly back congressional efforts to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Senate’s Democratic leadership, he said in a partisan shot that seemed intended to forestall the inevitable GOP infighting, failed to schedule a vote on a repeal measure after the Senate Armed Services Committee passed it in May.

That was a weak attempt by Cooper to deflect attention away from the fact that 11 of 12 Republicans on the Armed Services Committee voted against the repeal measure and Arizona Sen. John McCain, its ranking GOP member, threatened a filibuster if it was brought up for a vote on the Senate floor. Cooper also failed to mention that when a similar bill was passed in the House, only five Republicans voted for it while 168 GOP lawmakers voted against it.

Ostensibly, Republicans say they oppose taking any action on “don’t ask, don’t tell” until the Pentagon completes a study on the impact of its repeal on the military. But that’s a smoke screen for their long-standing opposition to gays and lesbians serving in this nation’s armed services. If Republicans win control of either House of Congress in November, there’s little chance that a bill ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” will win final passage.

But even as the GOP lawmakers distance themselves from the federal court victory won by their Log Cabin colleagues, there’s a strong likelihood the question of whether gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military will be decided by the courts — not on Capitol Hill. Even so, a final adjudication of this matter could be years away.

In the meantime, Republicans will be forced to decide whether they want to wage a two-front campaign to deny birthright citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants and fight a rear-guard battle to thwart the efforts of gays and lesbians to serve openly in this nation’s armed forces.

It’s times like these that the party of Abraham Lincoln seems to have lost its way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Voters should send Tea Partiers to early political grave

By DeWayne Wickham

With Labor Day behind us, the nation’s voters now are expected to treat more seriously the election campaigns they thus far have given short shrift.

To say that up until now Americans have not paid much attention to the election process would be a reassuring explanation for the success of the Tea Party candidates who espouse views that threaten to turn this nation and its founding document upside down.

Tea Party-backed candidates who have won the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Kentucky, Alaska, Utah, Nevada and Colorado harbor views on a range of issues — like immigration, and the Second and Fourteenth Amendments — that ought to frighten thinking voters into the arms of their opponents.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party-backed GOP Senate candidate in Kentucky, blurted out during post-election interviews that he thinks Congress went too far in outlawing racial discrimination by owners of private property. He also said neighborhood associations and private business owners should be free to discriminate on the basis of race. He’s since backtracked on both of these positions with doubletalk that falls far short of what sounds like a true change of heart.

And Paul has yet to retreat from his support of a call for Congress to find a way to undo the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship. In 1856, the know Nothing Party’s platform called for a waiting period of 21 years before an immigrant could become a citizen. Paul and other candidates, like Utah’s Tea Party-Republican Mike Lee, think children born in this country to illegal aliens shouldn’t automatically become American citizens.

Nevermind that the Constitution says “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are citizens. They want to undo that constitutional provision. The Tea Party-GOP fusion candidates in Kentucky, Alaska, Utah, Colorado and Nevada back Arizona’s immigration law, which for them is an acceptable usurpation of the federal government’s authority.

And then there is Sharron Angle. In a throwback to the Wild West, the Nevada GOP Senate candidate has repeatedly talked about the possibility that people who dislike the actions of Congress might resort to a “Second Amendment (right to bear arms) remedy ” to assuage their discontent. It’s the kind of warped sense of entitlement that plunged this nation into a bloody civil war.

With the general election less than 60 days away voters ought to focus on reversing the meteoric rise of the Tea Partiers, who are the linear successors to the aptly named anti-immigration, Know Nothing Movement that flourished for a brief time during the 1850s. It elected eight governors, 43 members of the U.S. House and U.S. five senators during that time. But it ultimately collapsed from the weight of its own intolerance and blurred political vision.

The Tea Party Movement claims to be rooted in the traditional — but long compromised — Republican ideals of fiscal responsibility, small government and free markets. But its support of Arizona’s immigration law signals an intolerance of Hispanics that mirrors the Know Nothing Movement’s attempt to keep Catholics out of this country.

Left alone, there’s a good chance the Tea Party will sputter out of existence as quickly as the Know Nothing Movement did. But that may not be fast enough, given the stand Tea Party candidates are taking on issues.

Voters should speed up that process on Election Day.