Tag Archives: Conservatives

Who is Leopoldo Lopez?

Oslo Freedom Forum – Leopoldo López from OsloFreedomForum on Vimeo.

Above: Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez speaks at the 2009 Oslo Freedom Forum organized by his first cousin, Thor Halvorssen

It is hard to argue that many of those involved in anti-government protests in Venezuela don’t have legitimate grievances — widespread insecurity and media repression cannot be ignored — or that the government’s charges against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, including “terrorism,” have been filed with sufficient substantiation.

But who is Lopez, and is there any evidence that his own methods are more democratic than those of the government he paints as corrupt and aims to topple through extra-constitutional means?

So far, US and international media has generally portrayed Lopez as an outspoken “maverick,” alluding only in passing to his oligarchic pedigree and hardline right-wing politics. Lopez has been involved in coup attempts that aimed to oust Hugo Chavez since the late president was first elected. Lopez’s leadership of the current round of protests after a hard fought election won by Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, appears to be an extension of those efforts.

I wrote about Lopez in my investigation of Thor Halvorssen and his Potemkin Village-like Human Rights Foundation. Halvorssen is a former right-wing campus activist who has leveraged his fortune to establish a political empire advancing a transparently neoconservative agenda behind the patina of human rights.

Among Halvorssen’s main PR megaphones is Buzzfeed, whose correspondent Rosie Gray flew to Oslo in 2013 to write a fawning profile of him and his Oslo Freedom Forum. (Gray has not disclosed whether Halvorssen covered her travel expenses or provided her with resources like food and lodging). Michael Moynihan, another writer who was flown to Oslo to participate in Halvorssen’s confab, published an editorial in the Daily Beast this week praising “the handsome, telegenic, and Harvard-trained Leopoldo Lopez” and slamming President Nicolas Maduro as “Mussolini-on-the-piazza.” The Daily Beast followed up with a translated version of the dramatic and carefully staged speech Lopez delivered before he turned himself in to Venezuelan authorities, which Halvorssen promptly promoted on Twitter.

Besides being the son of a CIA asset who channeled money from Venezuelan oligarchs to the Nicaraguan Contras, Halvorssen happens to be Lopez’s first cousin — Leopoldo is the son of Thor’s oil executive aunt. Through his human rights apparatus, he has played a critical role in marketing Lopez to an international audience.

In 2009, Halvorssen showcased Lopez at his Oslo Freedom Forum, presenting him beside figures like Elie Wiesel and Vaclav Havel as a “human rights leader.” I wrote about the unusual spectacle for Electronic Intifada:

In 2010, Halvorssen invited his first cousin, the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Lopez, the Harvard-educated mayor of a wealthy district in Caracas, was among the politicians who signed as witnesses in the new government after Chavez was briefly ousted in the failed US-backed coup in 2002.

Lopez is the son of a former oil executive — Halvorssen’s aunt — who allegedly funnelled profits from the state-run oil company into his new political party, leading to corruption charges that placed his political ambitions in peril, as the Associated Press reported in February (“Leopoldo Lopez, Opponent Of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Faces Corruption Charges In Venezuela”).

Described by the US embassy in Venezuela as “vindictive, and power-hungry” but also as “a necessity,” Lopez received large sums of financial support from the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.

At the 2009 Oslo Freedom Forum, Lopez was a presented as a “human rights leader,”appearing at an event that had been graced by Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel and Nobel nominee Vaclav Havel. He stirred his audience with lofty rhetoric about peace, democracy and the coming wave of freedom, casting the Venezuelan opposition as “David against Goliath.” “We know that we will overcome,” Lopez proclaimed, “we know that change will come in Venezuela.”

Noting that Lopez’s appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum was covered far more heavily in Venezuelan media than in Oslo, where it was virtually ignored, Manifestaccused Halvorssen of using his human rights confab for the purpose of “whitewashing Leopoldo Lopez … to establish a real contender for the Venezuelan presidency.”

The magazine described the Oslo Freedom Forum as a cleverly crafted “Washing Machine.”

 

 

The Bibi Connection

“US President Barack Obama is ‘naïve’ and needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel’s National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago,” Israel Hayom reported.

The Israeli National Security Council consists of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s closest advisers. And Israel Hayom is not just another right-leaning Israeli tabloid. Referred to by Israelis as the “Bibiton,” or Bibi’s mouthpiece, the paper is an instrument that gives him extraordinary political leverage. The obviously planted article in Israel Hayom rang like a bell sounding the start of Netanyahu’s own campaign in helping the Republican Party oust Obama from the White House.

Israel Hayom’s genesis demonstrates the depth of Netanyahu’s connections in Republican circles. It was created by one of Netanyahu’s top financial supporters, a Las Vegas-based casino tycoon named Sheldon Adelson, who is also a major donor to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Adelson’s closest relationship is with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a longtime ally of Netanyahu who has been running a rancorous campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Netanyahu’s less than subtle intervention has become an open issue in Israeli politics. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party has criticized Netanyahu for damaging the US-Israeli relationship. “Netanyahu spoke about consensus,” Livni said in May, “and if there is a consensus in Israel, it’s that the relationship with the US is essential to Israel, and a prime minister that harms the relationship with the US over something unsubstantial is harming Israel’s security and deterrence.”

But Livni’s warning has been ignored. Rather than hesitating, the prime minister and his inner circle are moving full steam ahead in their political shadow campaign whose ultimate goal is to remove Obama. Bibi’s war against Obama is unprecedented. While Israeli prime ministers have tried to help incumbent presidents, none have ever waged a full-scale campaign to overthrow them.

Netanyahu has engaged enthusiastic allies in the Republican Congress, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and within the right-wing media. His neoconservative allies in Washington are launching a “Super PAC” to generate emotional attack ads against Obama and any candidate that might be an obstacle to his policies. And his campaign has even broadened into an attempt to discredit The New York Times, whose editorial page and foreign policy columnists, Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen, have been critical of him.

Netanyahu’s shadow campaign is intended to be a factor in defeating Obama and electing a Republican in his place. He opposed Obama’s early demand to freeze settlements on the West Bank as a precondition for reviving the peace process, a process since the Oslo Accord that Netanyahu has attempted to stall or sabotage, despite his signing of the Wye Agreement under pressure from President Clinton. Since his adamant stand against the settlement freeze, Netanyahu has undermined every effort to engage the peace process. He appears dead set on consolidating Greater Israel, or what many Israelis call “Judea and Samaria,” and has signaled a strong desire to attack Iran.

By all accounts, Netanyahu’s personal chemistry with Obama is toxic. Obama bristles at his belligerence. But Netanyahu’s hostility has reaped rewards from him, having stopped the peace process in its tracks. The latest effort by the Quartet seems doomed to failure. And Netanyahu’s rejectionism has put Obama on the defense. Most of the US Jewish establishment has remained a bulwark for Bibi’s policies. Obama, meanwhile, has been forced to declare America’s “unshakable bond” with Israel, even as Bibi thwarts Obama’s initiatives and attacks him in the Israeli press.

As political strategy, by tainting Obama as less than full-throated in support of Israel, Netanyahu bolsters the Republican themes that the president “apologizes” for US power, is weak on national security, and is an agent of “decline.” By depicting Obama as “weak” on Israel, Netanyahu’s campaign excites right-wing Jews and evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly accept the biblical claims of the Jewish state’s historical right to Greater Israel, Judea and Samaria. Bibi’s deepest attack line against Obama merges theology with ideology.
His campaign against Obama is a high-stakes gambit that will almost certainly color US-Israeli relations well past Election Day. Already, Netanyahu has succeeded in polarizing the political debate, as his agenda is singularly aligned with the Republican Party. Yet Bibi’s short-term objectives are rapidly turning the US-Israel relationship, at least under his aegis, into a partisan issue, another litmus test of conservative ideology rather than national interest.

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Rick Perry distorted historian, who likened Texans’ “inherent chauvinism,” “belligerence” to Israel (Updated)

Update #1: Perry repeated his mis-citation of Fehrenbach in the Wall Street Journal today.

Update #2: A friend wonders if Doug Feith, who is now advising Perry on foreign policy, was the one who slipped Fehrenbach’s quote in.

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate and current Texas Governor Rick Perry attacked President Barack Obama and the Palestinian UN statehood bid in a foreign newspaper, the Jerusalem Post. Perry devoted most of the editorial to assailing Obama as anti-Israel. But buried in the op-ed, in a line intended to highlight the shared values of Texas and Israel, Perry quoted the historian T.R. Fehrenbach. “Historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of ‘civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies,’” Perry wrote.

Fehrenbach published an authoritative book on the ethnic cleansing of the Comanche Indians by the Anglo settlers of Texas. He wrote with deep sympathy for the indigenous population, and though he expressed a strong identification with Texan culture, he was harshly critical of the settlers’ cruely toward the native population. Perry’s quoting of Fehrenbach seemed curious, so I opened up my copy of Fehrenbach’s “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans” to see if he cited the historian accurately. When I found the passage Perry had pulled from, my suspicions were realized: Perry (or more likely some half-wit speechwriter) had distorted Fehrenbach’s original text and taken it wildly out of context.

The full passage Perry quoted from is on page 257 of Fehrenbach’s “Lone Star:”

The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land.

Fehrenbach would have agreed with Perry that Texas shared values with Israel. But unlike Perry, he thought that those values were all the wrong ones: hatred of the other, a reliance on violence to seize land, and a legacy of ethnic cleansing. According to Fehrenbach, what Israel did to the Palestinians in 1947 and ’48 — and continues to do — is analogous to the Texans’ treatment of the Comanches and Mexicans during the 19th century. The comparison highlights Israel’s distinction as the world’s last settler-colonial state; a country based on an anachronistic system of ethnic exclusivism. It is hard to imagine that Perry would have scored any political points by quoting Fehrenbach accurately. So instead, in the name of his presidential ambitions, he distorted and abused the writing of one of the Lone Star state’s most celebrated historians.

How an obscure conservative memo reveals the creeping Islamophobic threat to democracy

The following was originally published in Alternet.

The sudden rise of Islamophobia in the United States is alarming while the movement that advances anti-Muslim resentment seems bizarre and filled with eccentric, even dangerous characters. But when viewed in the context of a new, groundbreaking research document by the Center for American Progress and an obscure, decades-old political memorandum by a long-forgotten former Supreme Court Justice, the Islamophobic crusade raging across the country appears perfectly in line with longstanding goals and methods of conservative organizing, and is aimed at much more than demonizing Muslims.

In 1971, former US Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell submitted a confidential memorandum to his friend, Eugene Sydnor, the chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, an umbrella group representing American big business. Powell, who was serving on the boards of 11 corporations at the time, warned that America was suffering from a surplus of democratic freedom thanks to the legacy of the New Left and the countercultural revolt of the 1960′s. He declared, “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack.” Powell warned that “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries” were joining forces with “perfectly respectable elements of society from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians” to bring down American capitalism.

To roll back the surge of democracy that supposedly threatened corporate predominance, Powell urged the Chamber of Commerce to finance the creation of a new political and cultural infrastructure — a “counter-establishment” capable of unraveling the liberal establishment. The infrastructure would consist of pseudo-scholarly journals, “experts” promoted through speakers bureaus, campus pressure groups, publishing houses, lobbyists and partisan idea factories masquerading as think tanks. He wrote that operatives of the network would have to affect a “more aggressive attitude,” leveling relentless personal attacks against the perceived enemies of big business. By the last days of the Nixon administration, Attorney General John Mitchell was boasting that his conservative friends were going to take the country “so far to the right we won’t recognize it.”

Though still obscure, the Powell’ memo is one of the most important documents in recent American history. It was a blueprint for the creation of the American conservative movement, a political contingent that now controls the Republican Party and influences mainstream American opinion in ways Powell could have never imagined. Powell’s vision came to life during the late 1970′s, when neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol and former Treasury Secretary William Simon gathered together a small group of business tycoons concerned willing to lay down millions in seed money necessary to raise up a network of conservative think tanks, talking heads, and magazines capable of flooding the media with right-wing opinions, capturing the courts and taking control of Congress. Chief among the right-wing sugardaddies was Richard Mellon Scaife, a reclusive billionaire from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who controlled much of the Mellon oil fortune.

Through his various foundations, Mellon Scaife helped finance the creation of the pillars of the conservative movement, from the Federalist Society, which spearheaded the right’s takeover of the federal court system, to the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that functions as the outsourced brain of the congressional Republicans, to the Media Research Center, a right-wing watchdog group that has helped manufacture the concept of “liberal media bias.” The Tea Party, a far-right constellation of pressure groups bankrolled by extraction industry barons like the Koch Brothers, is the latest incarnation of the corporate funded conservative counter-establishment.

Scaife’s name turned up again this month in connection with a familiar cabal of right-wing corporate moneymen financing a small and relatively new political network determined to promote Islamophobia throughout America. According to an authoritative 130-page report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in Washington, Scaife and other conservative sugardaddies have pumped $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 into the Islamophobic network. Most of the money has gone to five figures known for bigoted, extremist views on Muslims, Arabs, and people of color. They are: Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative academic who urged Israel to employ methods of terrorism against Palestinian civilians and “raze Palestinian villages;” Frank Gaffney, a rightist national security wonk who has called the practice of Shariah a form of “sedition;” Robert Spencer, a writer and activist who has said that “everyone knows” most or all terrorists are Muslims; Stephen Emerson, a self-styled terror “expert” who blamed Muslims for the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, which turned out to have been conducted by a right-wing white nationalist terrorist; and David Yerushalmi, a far-right legal activist who has argued that whites are genetically superior to people of color. Behind these figures lies a cadre of equally vitriolic activists like Pamela Geller and Brigitte Gabriel who hype their work. (Read more about the Islamophobic network in my piece, “The Great Fear.”

The Islamophobic network has injected its paranoid vision of a Muslim plot to takeover the United States into the mainstream through the established conservative political apparatus, spreading anti-Muslim hysteria through right-wing radio and heavily trafficked websites like Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace, which boasts Gaffney as a key contributor. This year’s Republican presidential primary campaign became a platform for Islamophobic conspiracy theories and attacks on Muslim-Americans in general, with candidates suggesting on national television that they might demand loyalty oaths for Muslims who want to serve in the federal government. But the Islamophobic crusade has had practical consequences as well. Mosque burnings are becoming a commonplace phenomenon and anti-Muslim attitudes have reached an all-time high among Americans; The most extreme byproduct of Islamophobic campaigning was, of course, the recent terrorist rampage by the Norwegian right-wing activist Anders Behring Breivik, who quoted Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and other Islamophobic ideologues scores of times in his manifesto.

While the anti-Muslim crusaders are fairly new to most observers of American politics, they are no more than cogs in a well-honed conservative political operation that functions in the top-down style that Powell envisioned. And like Powell, behind their empty rhetoric of freedom lies a deep seated contempt for democracy. The words of Yerushalmi, the extremist legal activist, expose the real sensibility and goals of his movement: “While our constitutional republic was specifically designed to insulate our national leaders from the masses, democracy has seeped up through the cracks and corroded everything we once deemed sacred about our political order,” Yerushalmi wrote. “Prior to the Civil War, the electorate, essentially white Christian men, had access to local government. It was here, where men shared an intimacy born of family ties, shared religious beliefs, and common cultural signposts, that representative government was meant to touch our daily lives. With the social and cultural revolution which followed the emancipation, man’s relationship to political order was radically nationalized and democratized. Today, there is simply no basis to resist ‘democracy’ and the ‘open society.’”

The cadre of bigots bankrolled by corporate barons to stir fears of Islam may be focused on stigmatizing Muslims, but they are only a part of a much broader movement whose ultimate target is democracy itself.

Mike Huckabee speaks “very Zionistically” in Israeli Knesset, condemns Egyptian uprising

Avowed Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee is a natural ally of the Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government

Avowed Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee is a natural ally of the Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government

Mike Huckabee was in Jerusalem today on an important junket related to his likely presidential campaign. He used his speech before the Knesset to denounce the Egyptian uprising as a threat to all humankind, warning that “the situation could threaten the world and all those who seek peace and security. The real threat to Israelis is not the bomb but the people behind it, not weapons but the madmen behind them.”

Bibi has essentially muzzled his cabinet ministers, warning them not to make any public statements about the uprising. It is not easy for so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” to say that it wants to keep it that way. So Huckabee was left with a golden opportunity to channel the sentiments of the Israeli government and mainstream Israeli society in an address carried to the Israel public as a top story on radio and TV news (I listened to the speech on Israeli national radio today while riding a minibus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem).

Huckabee’s speech earned praise from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Yulia Shamalov-Berkowitz, who said Huckabee spoke “very Zionistically.” MK Tzipi Hotovely from the governing Likud party echoed Huckabee, declaring that ”the conflict in this region is not a matter of territory, but simply Islam against Judaism, not 1967 borders but the very formation of the state in 1948.”

The language of religious warfare is not exclusive to the Zionist right. MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a leader of the shrinking and essentially moribund Labor Party, warned that the Egyptian uprising signals the beginning of renewed conflict. “There will be a new order in the Middle East,” he said recently, noting that he has been in discussions with Mubarak. “It will become more extreme, militant and radical towards Israel from an Islamic point of view. The conclusion that we will draw is that we did not take advantage of the potential for agreements when the Middle East was more moderate.”

Given the statements of Bibi-Barak-Lieberman proxies and supporters like Huckabee, it is not hard to predict Israel’s behavior after Mubarak finally capitulates. The Israeli military-intelligence apparatus and its public relations ancillary are almost certainly crafting a tentative plan to destabilize their neighbor, or simply touching up a dusty, well-worn blueprint. They know that if Zionism is to persevere in the heart of the Middle East, and to continue to besiege and colonize Arabs — Huckabee also called for more settlement building in the West Bank — the political aspirations of Egypt’s people must be crushed, again and again.

Huckabee’s visit marks the opening of what would be the first element of any plan to destabilize Egypt: a rhetorical campaign carried out by sympathetic media and political figures (the American right-wing, heavily influenced by Christian Zionist theology, is a natural ally) to delegitimize whatever comes after Mubarak as a radical Islamist regime that not only threatens Israel, but the Western world as well.

Jerome Corsi’s Long, Strange Trip

How did a racist, conspiratorial crank become the GOPs anti-Obama point man?

How did a racist, conspiratorial crank become the GOP's anti-Obama point man?

These are good times for Jerome Corsi. Already notorious for his factually challenged book-length takedown of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Unfit For Command, the 61-year-old Corsi has another hit on his hands. His new book, Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality has made Corsi a hot commodity again on the right-wing radio circuit, the bane of the Obama campaign and catapulted to the top slot on the New York Times bestseller list. With his newfound notoriety, Corsi has brought his pathographic anti-Obama narrative to hundreds of thousands of readers–and millions on radio and TV–just as he did with Kerry. Corsi has become the court bard of the conservative movement. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi told the New York Times. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.”

Corsi’s success represents the apotheosis of a long, strange trip from the furthest shores of the right into the national spotlight. During George W. Bush’s first term, Corsi was a little-known financial services marketing specialist. In 1995, according to the Boston Globe, he coaxed twenty people into a shadowy investment venture in Poland that ultimately lost them a total of $1.2 million. “It ruined my career in the brokerage business, and it was a sad story for a lot of people,” said Bradley Amundson, one of those enlisted into Corsi’s bungled scheme. The FBI opened an investigation but never filed any charges.

Corsi had dabbled off-and-on the fringes of conservative backlash politics for nearly three decades. In his spare time, which he appeared to have lots of, Corsi busied himself at his computer, firing off opinions on the far-right website Free Republic, marked by their sexual and racial obsessions.

In a comment typical of the dozens he posted under the handle “jrlc,” Corsi wrote, “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” In another, he ranted, “Isn’t the Democratic Party the official SODOMIZER PROTECTION ASSOCIATION of AMERICA–oh, I forgot, it was just an accident that Clintoon’s [sic] first act in office was to promote ‘gays in the military.’ RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters–it all goes together.”

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