Pioneering White House correspondent Helen Thomas told a National Press Club audience Dec. 7 that the country is endangered by what she called government leaders' greed, fear, and subservience to war-mongers.
“I came here in 1943,” she told a dinner audience of 30, “and I don’t think I’ve ever seen our country so bereft of ideals and ideas. I don’t see anything on the horizon that can pull us out. I hope I’m wrong.” Shown at left in a 2009 photo courtesy of Wikipedia, she described current leaders as weak and selfish. The self-described liberal doled out criticism to all sides. “Republicans,” she said, “have one goal: To get Obama. But when they see the country falling apart, that’s all they can do?"
“As for Obama,” she continued, “I think he’s weak. He has no courage.” She said the country urgently needs “a stand-up guy who’ll do the right thing.” What are some examples?
“The first priority should be jobs.” Also, “Make people pay their taxes, and stop the wars.” She estimated at least 700 U.S. military bases around the world. “We’re killing all of these people [in undeclared wars]. Why? Is it any surprise that people will fight back for their country? There’s no doubt we want to eliminate Iran. Why wouldn’t they want to defend themselves?”
Thomas, 92, spoke to the Sarah McClendon Group, a speaker society named after a late White House correspondent who fought similar battles as Thomas for many years to win acceptance of women as serious journalists in male-dominated media and government circles. McClendon Group Chairman John Edward Hurley, at right, introduced Thomas as a heroine in journalism who is being smeared for her blunt talk -- and is thus in the tradition of many previous speakers appearing before the McClendon Group. Hurley is a director of the Justice Integrity Project among his multiple civic group leadership posts in Washington. For nearly a quarter of a century, the society has met at the Press Club, but with its own, independent speaker selection process. It focuses especially on speakers regarded as too controversial to speak even to journalism groups, including former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Joe Wilson and other government employees punished by their former agencies for statements disliked by top political figures and interest groups.
A Kentucky-born child of immigrants from Lebanon, Thomas began work as a "copy girl" at United Press after graduating from college in Detroit. She went on to cover every President from Eisenhower to Obama. In doing so, she gained a reputation as one of the hardest-working and most outspoken correspondents. Author of six books, she also broke many sex barriers as a White House correspondent for UP's successor UPI.
Among her successes was working with McClendon and a few other pioneers to persuade the Press Club to drop its ban against women, which ended in 1971 as women argued they could not do their jobs if the Club kept them away from newsmakers. Thomas recalled a prior incident before the ban was lifted: "A woman came into the bar. And all the members got up in arms and wanted to throw her out. But it turns out that she was an inspector for the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. And they quickly changed their tune." Thomas became the Press Club's first female officer, one of many such firsts.
Working far longer than most of her contemporaries, Thomas resigned in 2000 from UPI because of its purchase by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the right-wing Korean tycoon and Unification Church leader who had been convicted by the United States of tax evasion. She worked as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers until 2010, when she was forced to retire from journalism after a rabbi quoted her as advocating an end to Israeli abuses against Palestinians, among other opinions. A variety of news and other communications organizations joined in the widespread criticism of Thomas. The Society of Professional Journalists, for example, ended its annual lifetime achievement award rather than continue calling it the “Helen Thomas” award.
"Yes, I cried for a couple of weeks," she recalled. "Then I decided I would write. I have the right to say what I think."
Looking back this week, Thomas reiterated her controversial theme: That Palestinians should not be deprived of their land, water and freedom in order to accommodate those moving to Israel from elsewhere. Regarding changes she has observed in Washington, she said many of the nation's brightest minds came to Washington long ago out of what she called a desire to help the country during the Depression and World War II. "They weren't coming to Washington just to get a job," she said. "They had big hearts." The country, she said, "was flat on its back....Old people were dying of hunger."
"Everything is going down the drain" she said of today. "Congress is so weak now. They do nothing....Democrats are scared to death. They don't want to open their mouths. They want to keep their jobs." A photo at left, also courtesy of Wikipedia, shows Thomas on her birthday in 2009 in the front row seat she occupied with pride for many years, including three years when the Bush administration ignored her questions. This week, by coincidence the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, she again spoke bluntly by estimating that the Obama administration will keep 100,000 contractors in Iraq after the much-touted withdrawl of most combat troops. "They [private contractors] make a lot more than 'GI Joe,'" she said. "Where does the money come from?"
Afterward, I researched estimates of contractors in Iraq and saw that they have varied widely. The Department of Defense reported 52,637 (16,054 of them U.S. citizens) in October 2011. Estimates ranged from 95,000 to more than 100,000 in 2010. Those reports come from Jeremy Scahill in Obama Has 250,000 “Contractors” in Iraq and Afghan Wars and from the Guardian, US contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Find out how many US military contractors there are, and what they do.
This week, the greatest challenge to Thomas during her talk's Q&A was from a middle-aged woman who arrived late and demanded to know why Thomas wasn't more frightened of Iran. The questioner, sitting next to me, then asked me who published me. I responded and asked about her own interest. She identified as an employee of one of the nation's largest defense contractors [or war contractors, as they were known before Orwellian concepts of NewSpeak] and left a few moments later.
Thomas said she regards as especially ominous a recent plan for the United States to place 2,000 troops in Australia, which she described as part of a dangerous plan to confront China. "I think we ought to get the hell out of all these places...Why do we keep sending other people to die?"
Regarding the future, she did find a ray of hope: "I want people to rise up, and they are....We should all hit the streets and call for revolution."
Huffington Post, SWAT Raids, Stun Guns, And Pepper Spray: Why The Government Is Ramping Up The Use Of Force, Radley Balko, Dec. 5, 2011. In February of last year, video surfaced of a marijuana raid in Columbia, Mo. During the raid on Jonathan Whitworth and his family, police took down the door with a battering ram, then shot and killed one of Whitworth's dogs within seconds of entering the home and they wounded the other. They didn't find enough pot in the home to charge Whitworth with even a misdemeanor. (He was, however, charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia when police found a pipe.) The disturbing video went viral in May 2010, triggering outrage around the world. On Fox News, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer and Bill O'Reilly cautioned not to judge the entire drug war by the video, which they characterized as an isolated incident.
Business Insider, The Pentagon Is Offering Free Military Hardware To Every Police Department In The US, Robert Johnson, Dec. 5, 2011. The U.S. military has some of the most advanced killing equipment in the world that allows it to invade almost wherever it likes at will. We produce so much military equipment that inventories of military robots, M-16 assault rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, and grenade launchers eventually start to pile up and it turns out a lot of these weapons are going straight to American police forces to be used against US citizens. Benjamin Carlson at The Daily reports on a little known endeavor called the "1033 Program" that gave more than $500 million of military gear to U.S. police forces in 2011 alone. 1033 was passed by Congress in 1997 to help law-enforcement fight terrorism and drugs, but despite a 40-year low in violent crime, police are snapping up hardware like never before. While this year's staggering take topped the charts, next year's orders are up 400 percent over the same period. This upswing coincides with an increasingly military-like style of law enforcement most recently seen in the Occupy Wall Street crackdowns. Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's project on criminal justice told The Daily, “The trend toward militarization was well under way before 9/11, but it’s the federal policy of making surplus military equipment available almost for free that has poured fuel on this fire.”OpEd News, The Obama Regime has no Constituional scruples, Paul Craig Roberts, Dec. 5, 2011. Under AUMF, the executive branch has total discretion as to who it detains and how it treats detainees. Moreover, as the executive branch has total discretion, no one can find out what the executive branch is doing, who detainees are, or what is being done to them. Codification brings accountability, and the executive branch does not want accountability.
Huffington Post, Obama Should Veto Empire Over Republic, Coleen Rowley, Dec. 3, 2011. The political, military industrial, corporate class in Washington DC continues to re-make our constitutional republic into a powerful, unaccountable military empire. Yesterday the U.S. Senate voted 93 to 7 [in a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), right, and John McCain, (R-AZ)] to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, which allows the military to operate domestically within the borders of the United States and to possibly (or most probably) detain U.S. citizens without trial. Forget that the ACLU called it "an historic threat to American citizens." This bill is so dangerous not only to our rights but to our country's security that it was criticized by the Directors of the FBI, the CIA, the National Intelligence Director and the U.S. Defense Secretary! For the first time in our history, if this Act is not vetoed, American citizens may not be guaranteed their Article III right to trial. The government would be able to decide who gets an old fashioned trial (along with right to attorney and right against self-incrimination) and who gets detained without due process and put into a modern legal limbo. Does anyone remember that none of the first thousand people the FBI rounded up after 9-11, and which were imprisoned for several months (some brutalized), were ever charged with terrorism? Does anyone remember that hundreds of the Gitmo detainees who were handed over to their American military captors in exchange for monetary bounties were found, after years of imprisonment, to have no connection to terrorism?
Salon, The We-Are-At-War! mentality, Glenn Greenwald, Dec. 3, 2011. Two significant events happened on Thursday: (1) the Democratic-led Senate rejuvenated and expanded the War on Terror by, among other things, passing a law authorizing military detention on U.S. soil and expanding the formal scope of the War; and (2) Obama lawyers, for the first time, publicly justified the President’s asserted (and seized) power to target U.S. citizens for assassination without any transparency or due process. I wrote extensively about the first episode on Thursday, and now have a question for those supporting the assassination theories just offered by the President’s lawyers. The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson, did not directly address the al-Awlaki case. But they said U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States. Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy. When Obama lawyers refer to “U.S. citizens who take up arms with al-Qaida,” what they mean is this: those whom the President accuses (in secret, with no due process or evidence presented) of having taken up arms with al-Qaida. When they refer to “battlefield targeting decisions,” they do not mean a place where there is active fighting, but rather: anywhere in the world an accused Terrorist is found (leaving no doubt about that, Johnson decreed that the limits of “battlefield v. non battlefield is a distinction that is growing stale“). In other words: the whole world is the battlefield, a claim Obama officials have long embraced, and someone is a Terrorist the minute the President declares him to be one: the President is the sole judge, the sole jury, and now even the sole executioner.
Sydney Morning Herald, US targets WikiLeaks like no other organisation, Philip Dorling, Dec. 3, 2011. WikiLeaks is the target of an ''unprecedented'' US government criminal investigation, Australian diplomatic cables obtained by the Herald reveal. The cables also show the Australian government wants to be forewarned about moves to extradite Julian Assange to the United States, but that Australian diplomats raised no concerns about him being pursued by prosecutors on charges of espionage and conspiracy.