Former Clinton Advisor, Representing Honduran Oligarchy, Justifies Presidential Ouster and Continuing American Empire
And why liberalism and progressivism have so little in common...
By Ernest A. Canning on 8/30/2009, 4:05pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

Lanny Davis is an exceptionally talented lawyer, so much so that his close friend, the infamous Watergate mastermind, G. Gordon Liddy, reportedly said that Davis "can defend the indefensible.”

After watching Davis's skillful, yet deceptive, Aug. 7, 2009, performance on Democracy Now (video below), I had to admit that this is one of the few Liddy assessments with which I can concur.

It was supposed to be a debate between Davis, who represents a group of Honduran business elites formally operating as the Latin American Business Council of Honduras (CEAL), and Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University, pertaining to recent events in which, as reported by The New York Times, "Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup after betraying his own kind: a small clique of families that dominates the economy." Zelaya imposed "a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage" in a nation where, per a Business Week article, quoted by Grandin, "two-thirds of its 7.8 million citizens live below the poverty line...The country has one of Latin America's most unequal distributions of wealth."

A well-prepared Davis, seeking to defend the indefensible, had no intention of permitting real debate. His strategy was to dominate the discussion and denigrate any comments that did not square with his distortions as "ideological rants." His dissembling would later be exposed in a fact-check article authored by Grandin, who had trouble getting a word in edgewise during the "debate."

While Davis's slick performance, which began with an unwarranted assault on Amy Goodman's impartiality as a moderator, should be seen, the core issue to be addressed here pertains to the fact that Davis, who served as Special Council to President Bill Clinton, actively supported Sen. Joseph Lieberman's (I-CT) campaign against Ned Lamont and the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, describes himself as a "liberal."

Perhaps. But if so, that only makes ever clearer the difference between Davis's brand of "liberalism" and true progressive values...

King on a Progressive 'Revolution of Values'

Drawing a stark contrast between Davi's brand of "liberalism" and true "progressivsm," one might start with an examination of the embodiment of progressive values contained in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s April 1, 1967, "Beyond Vietnam" speech...

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit...

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered....

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast between poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.' It will look to our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, 'This is not just.' The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

Note that Dr. King's "revolution of values" is class-based. It rejects the core of the corporate global project embodied in so-called "free-trade" --- NAFTA and the WTO --- which creates extreme inequality at home and abroad while elevating the "extreme materialism" of capitalist-based consumerism above a community-based promotion of the general welfare. It is a dichotomy one can find in the current health care debate which pits the obscene wealth of a few insurance company CEOs and their Wall Street investors against the health and very lives of our citizens.

Anti-Progressive "Liberals"

In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins explodes the myth of America as a benevolent world savior, exposing what he describes as the "corporatocracy" and its Mafia-like tactics.

We’ve built the largest empire in the history of the World. It’s been done over the last fifty years since World War II with very little military might…This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through economic hit men [EHM].

Perkins described EHMs as "an elite group of men and women who utilize international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy.”

Using vastly inflated economic forecasts, the EHM’s role is to convince corruptible leaders in developing nations to accept loans for massive construction projects, such as airports, hydroelectric dams, ports, or industrial parks --- all of which would benefit only a small, wealthy local elite.

Most of the monies from these loans, which are funneled through such agencies as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, never make their way to the debtor nation. Instead they are simply transferred to the accounts of major construction firms such as Bechtel, Halliburton, and its former subsidiary, KBR.

Perkins, a former EHM, tells us:

If an EHM is completely successful, the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil…Of course, the debtor still owes us the money and another country is added to our global empire.

Where dissembling economists serve as Empire's "Economic Hit-Men," the careers of self-described "liberals," like Davis, suggest the existence of an attorney/lobbyist class who act as little more than Empire's bought-and-paid-for consigliares.

The Lanny Davis story is the story of an attorney/lobbyist shilling for corporate wealth and power.

In 1975 Davis was hired as an associate at Patton Boggs, considered the "go-to" law firm in "areas of corporate transactions/ mergers & acquisitions, securities, international, intellectual property, [and] litigation."

Per wikipedia:

Patton Boggs...lobbied on behalf of... Metabolife International. According to Associated Press, "Patton Boggs earned millions helping project reassurances to Congress and its customers that Metabolife products were safe."

...One former and four current Patton Boggs attorneys were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in San Diego...Prosecutors allege company founder Michael Ellis lied about Metabolife's safety record...to the [FDA]...In mid 2002, Patton Boggs lobbyist Lanny Davis wrote a senator whose subcommittee was investigating Metabolife that the company had received only 78 'unproven, anecdotal allegations' of strokes, heart attacks, seizures and deaths." Company documents released just one week later revealed that the number of health complaints actually numbered in the thousands.

Glenn Greenwald observes that where Davis describes himself as a "pro-labor liberal," he accepted retention "by corporations [seeking] to derail the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act..."

Foreign Entanglements

Thanks to Brad Friedman's coverage, readers have now had access to the sworn testimony of FBI whistle blower Sibel Edmonds.

Edmonds testified that the FBI targeted the covert activities of "the Turkish lobby." Turkish lobby activities included "trying to obtain...highly classified U.S. intelligence information, weapons technology information, classified congressional records..." Edmonds revealed how the Turkish lobby recruited "key U.S. individuals with access to highly sensitive information." Her account reveals a sordid tale of corruption, bribery and blackmail directed at key officials and members of Congress, including an extortion scheme designed to ensnare a married, bi-sexual Congresswoman. Edmonds testimony raises the question as to whether some of the individuals involved, including current and former members of Congress, should be investigated; possibly prosecuted for treason.

While Edmonds' testimony is alarming, what I found more troubling was that most of Edmonds' knowledge was acquired during a relatively brief stint as a Turkish (and to a lesser extent, Farsi) translator (9/15/01 - 4/02). Her work exposed her largely to just one small aspect of targetted FBI investigations --- the loosely described Turkish lobby consisting of a number of organizations and individuals including members of the Turkish diplomatic community.

Given that the Turkish lobby is but one of many foreign lobbies operating inside the U.S., it is quite plausible that Edmonds merely exposed the tip of an iceberg.

Davis, whom Glenn Greenwald asserts "is unmoored from any discernible political beliefs other than: 'I agree with whoever pays me,'" has served as the senior adviser for a 501(c)(3) organization, The Israeli Project, which has been criticized as "an advocate for hardline propaganda, pro-occupation Israeli government viewpoints and does not promote security, freedom, or peace for Palestinian people."

Per Greenwald,

Davis was also the chief U.S. lobbyist of the military dictatorship in Pakistan in the late 90s and played an important role in strengthening relations between then President Bill Clinton and de facto President General Pervez Musharraf.

And now we find Davis serving the interests of the Honduran oligarchy, whom, during the Democracy Now debate, Davis compared to "a Chamber of Commerce."

It is a group, led by Roberto Micheletti, who, in the wake of the military take-over, appointed "Nelson Willy Mejía, a former member of the Honduran death squad Intelligence Battalion 3-16 and School of the Americas graduate and instructor as Director-General of Immigration." That infamous Battalian 3-16 was established, equipped, and trained by the CIA. Although its brutal tactics were well known, "reporting on human rights atrocities" committed by Battalion 3-16 was "conspicuously absent from [then US Ambassador John Negroponte's] cable traffic," according to the National Security Archive.

The Honduran constitution, which Davis cites as gospel, was adopted in 1982 in the midst of this death squad activity. Per the U.S. State Department's 1992 Human Rights report, "although basic human rights are protected in the constitution, in practice the government has been unable to assure that many violations are fully investigated, or that most of the perpetrators, either military or civilian, are brought to justice."

Grandin's fact-check piece documents Davis's duplicitous effort to suggest that legal justification for the Honduran coup could be found in a Honduran Supreme Court decision and Article 239 of the Honduran constitution.

Grassroots International reports:

The coup regime has repeatedly suspended civil liberties and used violence to crack down on protesters. There are media reports of deaths, dozens of injuries, and disappearances in the wake of the coup regime’s crackdown. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has stated its concern for over 30 people missing or detained following the coup. The IACHR also expressed concern over the persecution of civil society leaders whose homes had been surrounded and fired on by military forces.

We do not know, at this point, whether Davis has had direct access to Secretary of State Clinton. What is clear is that, whereas the United Nations and the Organization of American States have soundly condemned the Honduran coup, Secretary Clinton "has still not even determined that a military coup has taken place" even though staff has urged her to do so. Such a formal determination "would force the Obama administration to cut off as much as $150 million in US funding to Honduras."

The Global Class War

The real problem is not simply Davis's willingness to sell his soul to the highest bidder. It is not just that this well-paid foreign lobbyist has access to the powerful, e.g., his direct access as President Clinton's special counsel which raises the specter that Davis influenced the U.S. relationship with Pakistan in a manner that may have been inconsistent with the interests of ordinary American and Pakistani citizens.

The real problem is that Davis's "liberal" facade hides a basic truth unmasked by Jeff Faux in The Global Class War.

Faux's central thesis is that, commencing with NAFTA, globalization facilitated a morphing of nation-based elites "into a global ruling class," whose class-based loyalties supersede national loyalties. Faux's insightful analysis of the bi-partisan betrayal that occurred when President Clinton rammed NAFTA through on the fast-track is quite instructive for progressives, now scratching their heads, wondering how the candidate who promised "change we can believe in" surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs-connected, Wall Street tycoons.

Against the lofty rhetoric, we have experienced the stark reality of our current President pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the $62 trillion sink hole created by the unregulated, credit default swaps Wall Street casino in order to bail out the very people who brought the U.S. economy to the brink of an economic abyss --- all against the well-published, but thoroughly ignored, advice of progressive economists, like Paul Krugman.

A classic case, emblematic of the dichotomy between "liberals" and "progressives," entails UBS, the Swiss bank which recently agreed to pay 780 million in penalties to settle allegations that it helped hide assets of some 4,500 wealthy Americans to assist them in tax evasion. As the man who blew the whistle on UBS was being handed a 40 month sentence, Obama was in Martha's Vineyard, playing golf with UBS CEO Robert Wolf, whom Obama had, in February, appointed to the White House's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

The classic example for understanding President Clinton's betrayal of American labor through NAFTA can be found in one of the principal beneficiaries of "free-trade" --- Wal-Mart. Hillary Clinton served on Wal-Mart's board of directors for six years!

Prior to 1991, Wal-Mart did not operate a single store outside the continental U.S. By 2005, "Wal-Mart had $312.4 billion in sales, more than 6,200 facilities around the world, including 3,800 stores in the United States and 3,800 international units, and [employed] more than 1.6 million associates worldwide...Approximately 138 million customers visited Wal-Mart stores each week all over the world."

This produced obscene wealth for the Walton family, whose five most prominent members "have consistently been in the top ten of the Forbes 400," each with a net worth of approximately $17.6 billion.

As revealed by Jim Hightower in Thieves in High Places, this enormous wealth at the top is punctuated by the poverty level wages of Wal-Mart’s own employees, the more fortunate of whom receive $15,000/year for full time work. But for seventy percent of the Wal-Mart workforce, the company defines “full-time” as 28 hours per week --- $11,000 per year. Not satisfied, the Scrooges at Wal-Mart devised an “off-the-clock” scheme in which employees were instructed to clock out; then assigned extra tasks for which they receive no compensation, a practice which, according to Hightower, netted Wal-Mart $30 million per year in Texas alone.

Abroad, Wal-Mart aligned itself with sweatshop labor and became the world’s largest purchaser of goods made in China.

Wal-Mart, Hightower concludes, “is now the world’s most powerful private force for lowering labor standards and stifling the middle-class aspirations of workers everywhere.”

So we look at the web site for the Honduran business organization, CEAL, which Davis represents, and what do we find? An organization whose stated goal is to strengthen “free market ideals and the regional integration processes, such as: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)" --- the same NAFTA which outsourced our manufacturing base, destroyed middle-class wages and gave us Wal-Mart in return.

Everyone laughed when Ross Perot warned us of "the giant sucking sound of jobs headed South." No one's laughing any more.

* * *

The following video is from the Aug. 7, 2009 Democracy Now! debate on the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, between attorney Lanny Davis representing the Latin American Business Council of Honduras (CEAL) and Greg Grandin, Latin American history professor at New York University...

UPDATE 08/31/09: In an op-ed, "Honduras' coup must not stand," which appeared in today's Los Angeles Times, Robert White and Glenn Hurowitz, reference Lanny Davis's lobbying in the same paragraph as Sen. Jim Demint's (R-SC) "shameless" defense of "the coup on the Senate floor." They point to a letter sent by State Department spokesman Richard Verma to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), which is worse than mere silence:

Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual. Rather, it is based on finding a resolution that best serves the Honduran people and their democratic aspirations."

"Engagement," one might add was the policy the Reagan administration applied to apartheid South Africa at a time when the ANC, as well as the world community of nations, was calling for a boycott.

White & Hurowitz go on to warn:

Continuing the slide toward accommodation of the Honduran junta would not only leave the country with an illegitimate and corrupt government, it would send a dangerous signal to other potential coup-makers around the world: Overthrow democracy with impunity.

The place where White & Hurowitz fall short can be found in their assumption that this message --- "overthrow democracy with impunity" --- was unintended. Both conservatives, like Lugar and DeMint, and so-called "liberals," like Hillary Clinton and Davis, support sham democracies that serve the interests of the corporate global project. Democracy is inconvenient when the electorate make what they perceive as the "wrong" democratic choice, e.g., Gaza, Venezuela. They oppose military coups only where those coups serve to upset the interests of the global ruling class.

UPDATE 09/04/09: State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said:

The Department of State announces the termination of a broad range of assistance to...Honduras as result of the coup d’état that took place on June 28...The Secretary of State has made the decision consistent with US legislation, recognizing the need for strong measures in light of the continued resistance of the adoption of the San Jose Accord by the de facto regime and continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras....

As noted by Democracy Now's Juan Gonzales, Crowley stopped short of labeling it a "military coup," which, under the U.S. Foreign Operations Act, would have mandated an immediate cut off of most aid.

Even as the U.S. cut $30 million, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is principally under U.S. control, gave $160 million in assistance to the Honduran regime.

But Greg Grandin, who described the State Department announcement as a "step in the right direction," does not believe the IMF assistance will sustain the Honduran coup regime.

Honduras is currently hemorrhaging about $20 million a day in currency in its reserves...about a half-a-billion dollars has dissipated over the last two months since the coup started....I think that the political elite and economic elite in Honduras realize that they’re going to have to reestablish good relations with the rest of the world in order just to stay afloat.

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).