Saturday, August 23, 2008

Has the Republican Party developed a thin skin or what?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 21st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed last week’s column by questioning the Republican National Convention’s decision to deny Metro √Čireann’s request for press credentials for this columnist. I view the GOP’s decision to deny our request as just another example of various attempts still being made by the Bush administration and its allies to protect the image they wish the general public to see by censoring the perspectives, pictures, statements or words and or restricting the access of those who disagree with them.
But facts are facts and the truth is the truth no matter how hard one may try to put a happy face on your shortcomings as a leader. It is a fact that in a truly unbelievable reversal of long standing Republican Party commitments to fiscal conservatism, President Bush and his administration, along with his Republican cronies in Congress, has presided over the most fiscally irresponsible period in our nation’s history. When Mr. Bush took office, he predicted that federal debt held by the public (the amount borrowed by the US government to pay for past deficits) would shrink to just 8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009. But Bush now estimates that it will amount to 40 percent in 2009 and the worst may be yet to come. Denying a Republican Party member, who is critical of this track record of fiscal irresponsibility, press credentials for your Presidential National Convention isn’t going to fix this problem or make it go away any time soon either.
But the current Republican presidential administration has actually gone far beyond telling political appointees to retract Court ordered proposals, such as the EPA report I mentioned in previous columns, or denying media access to critics of its policies. I will now point to some other recent instances where I believe Bush and his minions have crossed the line in their vain attempts to cast themselves and or their policies in a more favorable light. A recent case in point involves media coverage of the Iraq war.
An American freelance photographer in Iraq named Zoriah Miller, was recently barred from covering the activities of US Marines in Iraq after photos of several US Marines killed in a 26 June suicide attack were posted on his website. Not satisfied with forbidding Mr. Miller to work in areas of Iraq controlled by the US Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world.
Civil liberties advocates and journalists as well as members of the American public who oppose the war in Iraq argue that this is simply one more example of the great lengths to which the Bush administration has gone in an effort to sanitize public portrayals of the war and its human costs in American lives. In a marked contrast with the Vietnam War almost 40 years ago, only about a half dozen photos of a few of the over 4,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq have ever been published during the last five years.
From the very beginning of this misguided war to bring democracy to Iraq and remake the country in the image of the United States, the Bush administration has sought manipulate US public opinion about the war. At the start of the Iraq war, it would only allow journalists and photographers it approved to accompany US forces on their combat missions. But now that the war has become increasingly unpopular with most Americans in spite of the Bush administration’s attempts to sanitize media coverage of it, journalists say it is has become that much harder to accompany troops on combat missions in Iraq.
Furthermore, Iraqi prisoners who were often photographed during the first years of the war are now off limits for such photos. The Bush administration claims that this is because “they are concerned about these prisoners’ rights.” Hmmm, I wonder what the detainees in Guantanamo Bay would have to say about the Bush administration’s new found concern for the “rights” of its prisoners of war. Would you like to hazard a guess?
Nor has the Bush administration been content to only censor photos taken by imbedded war photographers. It has also banned both photos as well as the filming of the flag draped coffins of American’s killed in Iraq arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and now routinely makes memorial services for these soldiers off limits as well. That is also the reason why Bush’s officials in the Pentagon told Obama he could only visit US soldiers wounded in Iraq at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, if he went alone and without his military adviser, retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration.
But the Bush administration isn’t just concerned about the US public’s perceptions of its misguided policies; believe it or not President Bush is also concerned about the views of citizens of other countries too. That is why the Bush administration banned US Embassy staff and State Department personnel in Germany from attending the speech Barack Obama delivered 24 July in Berlin. Shortly after hearing about Obama’s plans to speak in Berlin, he U.S. Embassy instructed all Foreign Service personnel stationed there not to attend Sen. Barack Obama's speech, which it labeled a "partisan political activity” prohibited under its regulations for those serving overseas.
But others dispute this unprecedented interpretation of the US Foreign Affairs manual. The diplomatic corps union, American Foreign Service Association objected to the ruling, saying it was an “unnecessarily narrow interpretation” of the Foreign Affairs Manual and “The fact that you are working for the U.S. government overseas should not preclude political activity that you could engage in the United States.”
While government employees in the US are not permitted to give money or work on behalf of political candidates, they are permitted to attend campaign events, political rallies and speeches made by candidates because they are still entitled to vote for them. But Republicans have suddenly developed thin skins.