Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Justice, American-style

I think of Julian Assange in jail (no doubt a result of considerable arm-twisting by the U.S. State Department), while real criminals with the blood of many on their hands - George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Ashcroft, John Bolton, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and so many others - enjoy freedom and prosperity. The misplaced outrage is shameful. The emperor is exposed. A child in the crowd is speaking out, the "adults" all around telling him to "hush!"

Friday, December 03, 2010

Against an Imperial Presidency

I was reading this from James Madison last night. (Tea Party boosters are no doubt familiar with these passages). Here Madison addresses the dangers of what has become a popular notion of the Unitary Executive:
The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the legislature the power of declaring a state of war; it was proposed that the executive might, in the recess of the legislature, declare the United States to be in a state of war.

The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the legislature the power of raising armies: it was proposed, that in the recess of the legislature, the executive might, at its pleasure, raise or not raise an army of ten, fifteen, or twenty-five thousand men.

The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the legislature the power of creating offices; it was proposed that the executive, in the recess of the legislature, might create offices, as well as appoint officers, for an army of ten, fifteen, or twenty-five thousand men.

A delegation of such powers would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments.

The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.

The separation of the power of raising armies from the power of commanding them is intended to prevent the raising of armies for the sake of commanding them.

The separation of the power of creating offices from that of filling them is an essential guard against the temptation to create offices for the sake of gratifying favorites or multiplying dependents.

Where would be the difference between the blending of these incompatible powers, by surrendering the legislative part of them into the hands of the executive, and by assuming the executive part of them into the hands of the legislature? In either case the principle would be equally destroyed, and the consequences equally dangerous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiLeaks "Cablegate"

Over the weekend, WikiLeaks released the first installment of an archive of over 250,000 State Department "cables". The Obama Administration is condemning the dangerous and irresponsible action, while security establishment insiders are claiming there is "nothing new" in the cables.

The cable below, a fascinating example of the political treasure trove awaiting discovery at Cablegate, summarizes a January 4, 2010 meeting between General Petraeus and Yemeni President Saleh (see #10SANAA4).

The meeting discusses efforts to conceal American involvement in a Yemeni civil war while also pursuing "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (AQAP). For Western media consumption, this war has been packaged as simply the continued rooting out of AQAP.

But since 2009, American aircraft have bombed Shia rebel positions both in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia. In the cable, President Saleh "promises" (with a wink, it appears) to use the advanced American helicopters he has requested (in short supply to our own military) to combat only AQAP and not the local Yemeni rebels.

To Petraeus's proposal to use American aircraft, rather than "inaccurate" cruise missiles, in over-the-horizon attacks within Yemen, Saleh responds:
"We'll continue saying the
bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, prompting Deputy
Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just "lied" by
telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa
were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.
(President Obama also lied when he told the American people these strikes were against AQAP.)

Petraeus informs the President that he has requested "USD 150 million in security assistance for 2010", more than double the 2009 level, and requests that U.S. forces be permitted to operate on the ground in Yemen to help direct attacks, but Saleh dismisses this proposal.

And this rich discussion comes from just a single cable!

From the WikiLeaks website Q&A:
What are your motives for releasing these documents?

As US founding father James Madison famously said: "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." This basic philosophy of the American revolution inspires all our work.

The cables appear to be the single most significant historical archive every released and affects basic and heartfelt issues all over the world; geopolitics and democracy; human rights and the rule of law; national resources and global trade.

S E C R E T SANAA 000004



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2019

REF: 2009 SANAA 1430

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Commander of the U.S. Central Command
General David Petraeus congratulated President Saleh on
recent successful operations against AQAP, and informed him
that U.S. security assistance to the ROYG would increase to
USD 150 million in 2010, including USD 45 million to equip
and train a CT-focused aviation regiment under the Yemeni
Special Operations Forces. Saleh requested that the U.S.
provide 12 armed helicopters and train and equip three new
Republican Guard brigades. Saleh rejected the General's
proposal to have USG personnel armed with direct-feed
intelligence present inside the area of CT operations, but
agreed to a have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside
Yemeni territory ready to engage AQAP targets should
actionable intelligence become available. END SUMMARY.


¶2. (S/NF) CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus,
accompanied by the Ambassador, CENTCOM aides, the Embassy
DATT, and EconOff note taker, congratulated President Saleh
on successful operations against AQAP during a January 2
meeting. The General told Saleh that he had requested USD
150 million in security assistance for 2010, a substantial
increase over the 2009 amount of USD 67 million. Also
present were Minister of Defense MG Muhammed Nasser Ahmad Ali
and Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs
Rashad al-Alimi. Raising a topic that he would manage to
insert into almost every item of discussion during the hour
and half-long meeting, Saleh requested that the U.S. provide
the ROYG with 12 armed helicopters. Possessing such
helicopters would allow the ROYG to take the lead in future
CT operations, "ease" the use of fighter jets and cruise
missiles against terrorist targets, and allow Yemeni Special
Operations Forces to capture terrorist suspects and identify
victims following strikes, according to Saleh. The U.S.
could convince Saudi Arabia and the UAE to supply six
helicopters each if the American "bureaucracy" prevented
quick approval, Saleh suggested. The General responded that
he had already considered the ROYG's request for helicopters
and was in discussions with Saudi Arabia on the matter. "We
won't use the helicopters in Sa'ada, I promise. Only against
al-Qaeda," Saleh told General Petraeus.

¶3. (S/NF) Saleh agreed to General Patraeus' proposal to
dedicate USD 45 million of 2010 security assistance funds to
help establish and train a YSOF aviation regiment, allowing
YSOF to focus on al-Qaeda targets and leaving Sa'ada air
operations to the Yemeni Air Force. Without giving much
detail, Saleh also requested that the U.S. equip and train
three new Republican Guard brigades, totaling 9,000 soldiers.
"Equipping these brigades would reflect upon our true
partnership," Saleh said. The General urged Saleh to focus
first on the YSOF aviation regiment.


¶4. (S/NF) Saleh praised the December 17 and 24 strikes
against AQAP but said that "mistakes were made" in the
killing of civilians in Abyan. The General responded that
the only civilians killed were the wife and two children of
an AQAP operative at the site, prompting Saleh to plunge into
a lengthy and confusing aside with Deputy Prime Minister
Alimi and Minister of Defense Ali regarding the number of
terrorists versus civilians killed in the strike. (Comment:
Saleh's conversation on the civilian casualties suggests he
has not been well briefed by his advisors on the strike in
Abyan, a site that the ROYG has been unable to access to
determine with any certainty the level of collateral damage.
End Comment.) AQAP leader Nassr al-Wahishi and extremist
cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may still be alive, Saleh said, but
the December strikes had already caused al-Qaeda operatives
to turn themselves in to authorities and residents in
affected areas to deny refuge to al-Qaeda. Saleh raised the
issue of the Saudi Government and Jawf governorate tribal
sheikh Amin al-Okimi, a subject that is being reported
through other channels.


¶5. (S/NF) President Obama has approved providing U.S.
intelligence in support of ROYG ground operations against
AQAP targets, General Petraeus informed Saleh. Saleh reacted
coolly, however, to the General's proposal to place USG
personnel inside the area of operations armed with real-time,
direct feed intelligence from U.S. ISR platforms overhead.
"You cannot enter the operations area and you must stay in
the joint operations center," Saleh responded. Any U.S.
casualties in strikes against AQAP would harm future efforts,
Saleh asserted. Saleh did not have any objection, however,
to General Petraeus' proposal to move away from the use of
cruise missiles and instead have U.S. fixed-wing bombers
circle outside Yemeni territory, "out of sight," and engage
AQAP targets when actionable intelligence became available.
Saleh lamented the use of cruise missiles that are "not very
accurate" and welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed
precision-guided bombs instead. "We'll continue saying the
bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, prompting Deputy
Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just "lied" by
telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa
were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.


¶6. (S/NF) General Petraeus praised cooperation between the
Embassy and the NSB, YSOF, Yemeni Coast Guard (YCG), and
Counterterrorism Unit (CTU), but singled out relations with
the Yemeni Air Force as problematic. Only four out of 50
planned U.S. Special Operations Forces Command training
missions with the Yemeni Air Force had actually been executed
in the past year, he said. Saleh said he would personally
instruct Minister of Defense to improve the situation. The
General also urged Saleh to stop Yemeni Customs' habit of
holding up Embassy cargo at the airport, including shipments
destined for the ROYG itself, such as equipment for the CTU.
Saleh laughed and made a vague pledge to have the customs
issue "taken care of." Saleh complained that the ROYG had
not yet received the necessary training to operate 17 Iraqi
Light Armored Vehicle (ILAVs) provided by the USG in 2008,
saying that YSOF needed the training in order to use the
ILAVs for CT operations. The General said he would look into
having U.S. Special Operations Forces personnel conduct the

¶7. (S/NF) Pointing to the ROYG's problems in combating
rampant drug and arms smuggling, Saleh told General Petraeus
that U.S. maritime security assistance was insufficient to
cover Yemen's nearly 2,000 km of coastline. "Why not have
Italy, Germany, Holland, Japan, Saudi, and the UAE each
provide two patrol boats?" Saleh suggested. The General told
Saleh that two fully-equipped 87-foot patrol boats destined
for the Yemeni Coast Guard were under construction and would
arrive in Yemen within a year. Saleh singled out smuggling
from Djibouti as particularly troublesome, claiming that the
ROYG had recently intercepted four containers of
Djibouti-origin TNT. "Tell (Djiboutian President) Ismail
Guelleh that I don't care if he smuggles whiskey into Yemen
-- provided it's good whiskey ) but not drugs or weapons,"
Saleh joked. Saleh said that smugglers of all stripes are
bribing both Saudi and Yemeni border officials.


¶8. (S/NF) Saleh told the General that he welcomed PM Gordon
Brown's announcement of the London conference and said that
the cooperation on Yemen between the U.S., EU, Saudi Arabia,
and the UAE would be benefitial. Qatar should not be
involved, however, because "they work with Iran." In this
regard, Saleh also identified Qatar as one of those nations
working "against Yemen," along with Iran, Libya, and Eritrea.

¶9. (U) General Petraeus did not have an opportunity to clear
on this cable.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ralph Nader: Ten Questions for Tea Partiers

Published October 22, 2010 on Nader.org

Here are ten questions for Tea Partiers that they want or do not want to answer. I say it this way because people who call themselves Tea Partiers do not have the same view of politics, government, Big Business or the Constitution. Their opinions range from pure Libertarian to actively furthering the privileges of plutocracy. Their income and occupational background vary as well, though most seem to be middle-income and up.

My guess is that most Tea Partiers come from the conservative wing of the Republican Party who are fed up with both the corporate Republicans like Bush and Cheney, as well as the Democrats like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

With the above in mind, the following questions can serve to go beyond abstractions and generalizations of indignation and get to some more specific responses.

1. Can you be against Big Government and not press for reductions in the vast military budgets, fraught with bureaucratic and large contractors’ waste, fraud and abuse? Military spending now takes up half of the federal government’s operating budgets. The libertarian Cato Institute believes that to cut deficits, we have to also cut the defense budget.

2. Can you believe in the free market and not condemn hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare-bailouts, subsidies, handouts, and giveaways?

3. Can you want to preserve the legitimate sovereignty of our country and not reject the trade agreements known as NAFTA and GATT (The World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland) that scholars have described as the greatest surrender of local, state and national sovereignty in our history?

4. Can you be for law and order and not support a bigger and faster crackdown on the corporate crime wave, that needs more prosecutors and larger enforcement budgets to stop the stealing of taxpayers and consumer dollars so widely reported in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week? Law enforcement officials estimate that for every dollar for prosecution, seventeen to twenty dollars are returned.

5. Can you be against invasions of privacy by government and business without rejecting the provisions of the Patriot Act that leave you defenseless to constant unlawful snooping, appropriation of personal information and even search of your home without notification until 72 hours later?

6. Can you be against regulation of serious medical malpractice (over 100,000 lives lost a year, according to a study by Harvard physicians), unsafe drugs that have serious side effects or cause the very injury/illness they were sold to prevent, motor vehicles with defective brakes, tires and throttles, contaminated food from China, Mexico and domestic processors?

7. Can you keep calling for Freedom and yet tolerate control of your credit and other economic rights by hidden and arbitrary credit ratings and credit scores? What Freedom do you have when you have to sign industry-wide fine print one-sided “contracts” with your banks, insurance companies, car dealers, and credit card companies? Many of these contracts even block your Constitutional access to the courthouse.

8. Can you be for a new, clean system of politics and elections and still accept the Republican and Democratic Two Party dictatorship that is propped up by complex state laws, frivolous litigation and harassment to exclude from the ballot third parties and independent candidates who want reform, accountability, and stronger voices for the voters?

9. If you want a return to our Constitution—its principles of limited and separation of power and its emphasis on “We the People” in its preamble—can you still support Washington’s wars that have not been declared by Congress (Article I Section 8) or giving corporations equal rights with humans plus special privileges and immunities. The word “corporation” or “company” never appears in the Constitution. How can you support eminent domain powers given by governments to corporations over homeowners, or massive week-end bailouts by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department of businesses, even reckless foreign banks, without receiving the authority and the appropriations from the Congress, as the Constitution requires?

10. You want less taxation and lower deficits. How can you succeed unless you stop big corporations from escaping their fair share of taxes by manipulating foreign jurisdictions against our tax laws, for example, or by letting trillions of dollars of speculation on Wall Street go without any sales tax, while you pay six, seven or eight percent sales tax on the necessities you buy in stores?

Let’s hear from you Tea Partiers. Meanwhile, see the work of video-journalist, Steve Ference, who has interviewed and given voice to those among you in his new paperback “Voices of the Tea Party” published by Lulu.com on July 4, 2010.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bill Moyers: "Welcome to the Plutocracy!"

Published by truthout, Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bill Moyers speech at Boston University on October 29, 2010, as a part of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series.

I was honored when you asked me to join in celebrating Howard Zinn’s life and legacy. I was also surprised. I am a journalist, not a historian. The difference between a journalist and an historian is that the historian knows the difference. George Bernard Shaw once complained that journalists are seemingly unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. In fact, some epic history can start out as a minor incident. A young man named Paris ran off with a beautiful woman who was married to someone else, and the civilization of Troy began to unwind. A middle-aged black seamstress, riding in a Montgomery bus, had tired feet, and an ugly social order began to collapse. A night guard at an office complex in Washington D.C. found masking tape on a doorjamb, and the presidency of Richard Nixon began to unwind. What journalist, writing on deadline, could have imagined the walloping kick that Rosa Park’s tired feet would give to Jim Crow? What pundit could have fantasized that a third-rate burglary on a dark night could change the course of politics? The historian’s work is to help us disentangle the wreck of the Schwinn from cataclysm. Howard famously helped us see how big change can start with small acts.

We honor his memory. We honor him, for Howard championed grassroots social change and famously chronicled its story as played out over the course of our nation’s history. More, those stirring sagas have inspired and continue to inspire countless people to go out and make a difference. The last time we met, I told him that the stories in A People’s History of the United States remind me of the fellow who turned the corner just as a big fight broke out down the block. Rushing up to an onlooker he shouted, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?” For Howard, democracy was one big public fight and everyone should plunge into it. That’s the only way, he said, for everyday folks to get justice – by fighting for it.

I have in my desk at home a copy of the commencement address Howard gave at Spelman College in 2005. He was chairman of the history department there when he was fired in 1963 over his involvement in civil rights. He had not been back for 43 years, and he seemed delighted to return for commencement. He spoke poignantly of his friendship with one of his former students, Alice Walker, the daughter of tenant farmers in Georgia who made her way to Spelman and went on to become the famous writer. Howard delighted in quoting one of her first published poems that had touched his own life:

It is true
I’ve always loved
the daring ones
like the black young man
who tried to crash
all barriers
at once,
wanted to swim
at a white beach (in Alabama)

That was Howard Zinn; he loved the daring ones, and was daring himself.

One month before his death he finished his last book, The Bomb. Once again he was wrestling with his experience as a B-17 bombardier during World War II, especially his last mission in 1945 on a raid to take out German garrisons in the French town of Royan. For the first time the Eighth Air Force used napalm, which burst into liquid fire on the ground, killing hundreds of civilians. He wrote, “I remember distinctly seeing the bombs explode in the town, flaring like matches struck in the fog. I was completely unaware of the human chaos below.” Twenty years later he returned to Royan to study the effects of the raid and concluded there had been no military necessity for the bombing; everyone knew the war was almost over (it ended three weeks later) and this attack did nothing to affect the outcome. His grief over having been a cog in a deadly machine no doubt confirmed his belief in small acts of rebellion, which mean, as Howard writes in the final words of the book, “acting on what we feel and think, here, now, for human flesh and sense, against the abstractions of duty and obedience.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hermann Scheer

The German author, economist, renewable energy champion and parliamentarian passed away yesterday. Here is a quote from a Democracy Now interview:
The big mistake in the energy debate is that most people think, because they believe that there is a monopoly and the expertise for all energy activities in the hand of the existing energy players. Many people, including governments, including many scientists, who get their orders for studies from them, they believe and think that the present energy suppliers, the present energy trusts, the companies, they should organize the transformation. And this is a big mistake—a big mistake—because this part of the society is the only one who has an interest to postpone it. The only one. All others, all the others, have an interest to speed it up. But as long government think that it should be left to the energy companies, we will lose the race against time.
It is a fight. This is a structural fight. It is a fight between centralization and decentralization, between energy dictatorship and energy participation in the energy democracy. And because nothing works without energy, it’s a fight between democratic value and technocratical values. And therefore, the mobilization of the society is the most important thing. And as soon as the society, most people, have recognized that the alternative are renewable energies and we must not wait for others, we can do it by our own, in our own sphere, together in cooperatives or in the cities or individually. As soon as they recognize this, they will become supporters. Other—this is the reason why we have now a 90 percent support against all the disinformation campaigns. They have much more money and possibilities to influence the public opinion, but they lost this. They lost this conflict. In the eyes of the people, they lost the conflict. They are the losers already.

In California, we are currently witnessing the environmental obstructionism financed by the fossil fuel industry as Texas oil refiners Valero and Tesoro and oil billionaires Charles and David Koch underwrite California Proposition 23, with the goal of reversing the state's landmark Global Warming legislation.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Prisoners of War

Bob Woodward and All the President’s Men (2010 Edition)
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Once a serious journalist, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward now makes a very fine living as chief gossip-monger of the governing class. Early on in his career, along with Carl Bernstein, his partner at the time, Woodward confronted power. Today, by relentlessly exalting Washington trivia, he flatters power. His reporting does not inform. It titillates.

A new Woodward book, Obama’s Wars, is a guaranteed blockbuster. It’s out this week, already causing a stir, and guaranteed to be forgotten the week after dropping off the bestseller lists. For good reason: when it comes to substance, any book written by Woodward has about as much heft as the latest potboiler penned by the likes of James Patterson or Tom Clancy.

Back in 2002, for example, during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Woodward treated us to Bush at War. Based on interviews with unidentified officials close to President George W. Bush, the book offered a portrait of the president-as-resolute-war-leader that put him in a league with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But the book’s real juice came from what it revealed about events behind the scenes. “Bush’s war cabinet is riven with feuding,” reported the Times of London, which credited Woodward with revealing “the furious arguments and personal animosity” that divided Bush’s lieutenants.

Of course, the problem with the Bush administration wasn’t that folks on the inside didn’t play nice with one another. No, the problem was that the president and his inner circle committed a long series of catastrophic errors that produced an unnecessary and grotesquely mismanaged war. That war has cost the country dearly -- although the people who engineered that catastrophe, many of them having pocketed handsome advances on their forthcoming memoirs, continue to manage quite well, thank you.

To judge by the publicity blitzkrieg announcing the arrival of Obama’s Wars in your local bookstore, the big news out of Washington is that, even today, politics there remains an intensely competitive sport, with the participants, whether in anger or frustration, sometimes speaking ill of one another.

Essentially, news reports indicate, Woodward has updated his script from 2002. The characters have different names, but the plot remains the same. Talk about jumping the shark.

So we learn that Obama political adviser David Axelrod doesn’t fully trust Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. National security adviser James Jones, a retired Marine general, doesn’t much care for the likes of Axelrod, and will say so behind his back. Almost everyone thinks Richard Holbrooke, chief State Department impresario of the AfPak portfolio, is a jerk. And -- stop the presses -- when under the influence of alcohol, General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, is alleged to use the word “f**ked.” These are the sort of shocking revelations that make you a headliner on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Based on what we have learned so far from those select few provided with advance copies of the book -- mostly reporters for the Post and The New York Times who, for whatever reason, seem happy to serve as its shills -- Obama’s Wars contains hints of another story, the significance of which seems to have eluded Woodward.
Continue reading at TomDispatch.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Robert Fisk: Nine years, two wars, hundreds of thousands dead – and nothing learnt

Did 9/11 make us all go mad? How fitting, in a weird, crazed way, that the apotheosis of that firestorm nine years ago should turn out to be a crackpot preacher threatening another firestorm with a Nazi-style book burning of the Koran. Or a would-be mosque two blocks from "ground zero" – as if 9/11 was an onslaught on Jesus-worshipping Christians, rather than on the atheist West.

But why should we be surprised? Just look at all the other crackpots spawned in the aftermath of those international crimes against humanity: the half-crazed Ahmadinejad, the smarmy post-nuclear Gaddafi, Blair with his crazed right eye and George W Bush with his black prisons and torture and lunatic "war on terror". And that wretched man who lived – or lives still – in an Afghan cave and the hundreds of al-Qa'idas whom he created, and the one-eyed mullah – not to mention all the lunatic cops and intelligence agencies and CIA thugs who failed us all – utterly – on 9/11 because they were too idle or too stupid to identify 19 men who were going to attack the United States. And remember one thing: even if the Rev Terry Jones sticks with his decision to back down, another of our cranks will be ready to take his place.
Continue reading at The Independent.


Related story: The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wild time in the North Atlantic

Hurricane Danielle (top center), Hurricane Earl (bottom center) and "97L" (bottom right). The image reminds me of those from the Hubble Space Telescope showing galaxy clusters.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Goldberg’s Bogus ‘Ticking Clock’ on Iran

The following response to Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic Monthly campaign to stoke anxiety over Iran's "nuclear aspirations" is posted at Rootless Cosmopolitan.

By Tony Karon

America’s march to a disastrous war in Iraq began in the media, where an unprovoked U.S. invasion of an Arab country was introduced as a legitimate policy option, then debated as a prudent and necessary one. Now, a similarly flawed media conversation on Iran is gaining momentum.

Last month, TIME’s Joe Klein warned that Obama administration sources had told him bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities was “back on the table.” In an interview with CNN, former CIA director Admiral Mike Hayden next spoke of an “inexorable” dynamic toward confrontation, claiming that bombing was a more viable option for the Obama administration than it had been for George W. Bush. The pièce de résistance in the most recent drum roll of bomb-Iran alerts, however, came from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly. A journalist influential in U.S. pro-Israeli circles, he also has access to Israel’s corridors of power. Because sanctions were unlikely to force Iran to back down on its uranium enrichment project, Goldberg invited readers to believe that there was a more than even chance Israel would launch a military strike on the country by next summer.

His piece, which sparked considerable debate in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, was certainly an odd one. After all, despite the dramatics he deployed, including vivid descriptions of the Israeli battle plan, and his tendency to paint Iran as a new Auschwitz, he also made clear that many of his top Israeli sources simply didn’t believe Iran would launch nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it acquired them.

Nonetheless, Goldberg warned, absent an Iranian white flag soon, Israel would indeed launch that war in summer 2011, and it, in turn, was guaranteed to plunge the region into chaos. The message: the Obama administration better do more to confront Iran or Israel will act crazy.

Continue reading at Rootless Cosmopolitan

Friday, August 27, 2010

Washington Rules

The following excerpt comes from TomDispatch.com

The Unmaking of a Company Man
An Education Begun in the Shadow of the Brandenburg Gate

By Andrew Bacevich

Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me. I know. A young man in a hurry is nearly uneducable: He knows what he wants and where he’s headed; when it comes to looking back or entertaining heretical thoughts, he has neither the time nor the inclination. All that counts is that he is going somewhere. Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility.

My own education did not commence until I had reached middle age. I can fix its start date with precision: for me, education began in Berlin, on a winter’s evening, at the Brandenburg Gate, not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen.

As an officer in the U.S. Army I had spent considerable time in Germany. Until that moment, however, my family and I had never had occasion to visit this most famous of German cities, still littered with artifacts of a deeply repellent history. At the end of a long day of exploration, we found ourselves in what had, until just months before, been the communist East. It was late and we were hungry, but I insisted on walking the length of the Unter den Linden, from the River Spree to the gate itself. A cold rain was falling and the pavement glistened. The buildings lining the avenue, dating from the era of Prussian kings, were dark, dirty, and pitted. Few people were about. It was hardly a night for sightseeing.

For as long as I could remember, the Brandenburg Gate had been the preeminent symbol of the age and Berlin the epicenter of contemporary history. Yet by the time I made it to the once and future German capital, history was already moving on. The Cold War had abruptly ended. A divided city and a divided nation had reunited.

For Americans who had known Berlin only from a distance, the city existed primarily as a metaphor. Pick a date -- 1933, 1942, 1945, 1948, 1961, 1989 -- and Berlin becomes an instructive symbol of power, depravity, tragedy, defiance, endurance, or vindication. For those inclined to view the past as a chronicle of parables, the modern history of Berlin offered an abundance of material. The greatest of those parables emerged from the events of 1933 to 1945, an epic tale of evil ascendant, belatedly confronted, then heroically overthrown. A second narrative, woven from events during the intense period immediately following World War II, saw hopes for peace dashed, yielding bitter antagonism but also great resolve. The ensuing stand-off -- the “long twilight struggle,” in John Kennedy’s memorable phrase -- formed the centerpiece of the third parable, its central theme stubborn courage in the face of looming peril. Finally came the exhilarating events of 1989, with freedom ultimately prevailing, not only in Berlin, but throughout Eastern Europe.

What exactly was I looking for at the Brandenburg Gate? Perhaps confirmation that those parables, which I had absorbed and accepted as true, were just that. Whatever I expected, what I actually found was a cluster of shabby-looking young men, not German, hawking badges, medallions, hats, bits of uniforms, and other artifacts of the mighty Red Army. It was all junk, cheaply made and shoddy. For a handful of deutsche marks, I bought a wristwatch emblazoned with the symbol of the Soviet armored corps. Within days, it ceased to work.

Huddling among the scarred columns, those peddlers -- almost certainly off-duty Russian soldiers awaiting redeployment home -- constituted a subversive presence. They were loose ends of a story that was supposed to have ended neatly when the Berlin Wall came down. As we hurried off to find warmth and a meal, this disconcerting encounter stuck with me, and I began to entertain this possibility: that the truths I had accumulated over the previous twenty years as a professional soldier -- especially truths about the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy -- might not be entirely true.

By temperament and upbringing, I had always taken comfort in orthodoxy. In a life spent subject to authority, deference had become a deeply ingrained habit. I found assurance in conventional wisdom. Now, I started, however hesitantly, to suspect that orthodoxy might be a sham. I began to appreciate that authentic truth is never simple and that any version of truth handed down from on high -- whether by presidents, prime ministers, or archbishops -- is inherently suspect. The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them. Even then, the truths to which they testify come wrapped in a nearly invisible filament of dissembling, deception, and duplicity. The exercise of power necessarily involves manipulation and is antithetical to candor.

I came to these obvious points embarrassingly late in life. “Nothing is so astonishing in education,” the historian Henry Adams once wrote, “as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.” Until that moment I had too often confused education with accumulating and cataloging facts. In Berlin, at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate, I began to realize that I had been a naïf. And so, at age 41, I set out, in a halting and haphazard fashion, to acquire a genuine education.

Twenty years later I’ve made only modest progress. What follows is an accounting of what I have learned thus far.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I checked out Newt Gingrich's latest book To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine from the library. I had heard about it earlier in the year and put in a request.

It takes a lot for me to pick up a book and read it: irresistible reviews, an inspiring author, a favored subject. Or, in this case, an outlandish title.

I have to say, this book is tough to understand. More precisely, it is tough to understand how a person whom I regard as a seasoned representative, scholar, educator (and a Christian!) could write something so painfully deceitful and cynical. This book appears to be directed at an audience that Gingrich must judge as having absolutely no capacity for critical thought.

It is the worst, most self-serving book I can recall. (Of course I know there's an endless supply of such trash. I just won't touch the stuff.) But I certainly didn't expect this from Mr. Gingrich (even though I never really forgave him for the pall his "Contract on America" cast over this country.)

From the first words, I was astounded that virtually every paragraph could be challenged on it's bias, assumptions, incompleteness, veracity, or faulty logic. This result would be really difficult to accomplish - even if it you had set out to do so!

I'll have to offer some examples here (where to begin!), but I suggest you get your hands on a copy, just randomly open to any page and read. I think you'll see my point.

(And last night, it was a bit unnerving when I heard a couple conservatives speaking after winning in yesterday's primaries, channeling "The Newt". I'd swear they were pulling quotes right out of the book.)

Selected quotations:

P. 2

America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat.
The Left have expanded their power through their control of academia, the elite news media, union leaders, trial lawyers, the bureaucracy, the courts, and lobbyists at the state and federal levels. They share a vision of a secular, socialist America run for the interests of the members of the political machine that keeps them in power. It will be an America where government dominates the people rather than represents them. In short, they want to use government power to change who we are and how we think.

This danger to America is greater than anything I dreamed possible after we won the Cold War and the Soviet Union disappeared in December 1991. We stand at a crossroads: either we will save our country or we will lose it.

P. 2

Traditional America values hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and merit-based upward mobility. But the secular-socialist machine rewards its members, punishes "overachievers," kills jobs by over-taxing small businesses, and even exploits your death to tax the savings you hope to pass on to your children and grandchildren.

P. 3

For many in the secular-socialist Left, however, the only thing exceptional about America is our supposed viciousness. They believe America is an exploitive (sic), imperialist aggressor, and that the U.S. military is a nefarious tool of corporate interests. Some on the Left even hope for America's wartime defeat as a means to stop us from promoting American values across the world.

...secular socialists believe the only reliable institution is a bureaucratic, centralized, supremely powerful government....They don't believe Americans can be trusted to make the "right" decisions.

P. 4

The America in which we grew up is vastly different from the America the secular-socialist Left want to create. And that's why saving America is the fundamental challenge of our time. The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did. (Emphasis added.)

This diagnosis may strike some readers as alarmist. But this book will show just how radical, how corrupt, and how ruthless the Left have become. You will see also why the term "secular-socialist machine" is the only honest way to describe the Left's ideology and the way they operate today.

Time has not run out, but it is running short. It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us.

This is just the opening salvo, a taste of what Mr. Gingrich has in store for the reader. Note that I did not search out passages that use the term "secular-socialist machine". The label appears profusely - a useful device in brainwashing, but not in rational discourse.

If one were to replace Gingrich's use of "secular-socialist Left" with "blacks", "Hispanics" or "Muslims", it would become clear that he attacks this perceived threat in the same way racists irrationally attack the perceived threat from those "who are different".

More from the Newt:

P. 35 (Here, Newt gives a history lesson. A clear explanation why Obama is a radical.)
The "Left" is a term stemming from the seating of political parties in the National Assembly during the French Revolution. The radicals were seated on the left and the conservatives on the right. Today, the Left comprise a range of opinion favoring various levels of state control over society and over the economy. So the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda is indeed leftist...

P. 37

A purely secular outlook does not acknowledge God. It does not consider the implications of one's actions beyond the impact they make within one's own life. It does not recognize any higher moral order beyond that which human beings have rationally developed.

P. 37

For example, the Declaration of Independence, America's founding political document, boldly proclaims, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This extraordinary sentence makes some key assumptions: that God is sovereign over the affairs of the universe; that God created man; an that man must obey an order of justice God Himself has instituted.

How then can a purely secular worldview account for the original American understanding of our rights and freedoms?

It cannot.

P. 46 (Gingrich rails against radical tactics, which he himself commonly employs in his own "personal" revolution)

Perhaps nobody has been more clear about the Left's need for dishonesty than Saul Alinsky.

One of the twentieth century's most influential radicals, Alinsky is considered the godfather of community organizing...

Many of his "rules" are guideline for engaging in immoral, dangerous, political dishonesty. Echoing the maxims of Vladimir Lenin, the architect of Soviet Communism, Alinsky justifies almost any immoral act, especially outright dishonesty and hypocrisy, if it's done while pursuing revolution.

David Horowitz, in his small book Barack Obama's Rules of Revolution: The Alinsky Model, cogently explains the significance of Alinsky's teaching to the modern Left.

For Alinsky, a radical's primary goals must be acquiring power and destroying the current system. What replaces it is of secondary concern. He teaches that you amass power by organizing people based on their naked self-interest, not on any idealism or common vision of the future.

P. 62-63

President Obama hides his duplicity behind secrecy, clever language, and legalisms. Like President Reagan, Obama possesses captivating, eloquent rhetorical gifts. While Reagan used rhetoric to clarify and educate, however, Obama uses his skills to confuse and deflect. These are profoundly different models of leadership. But then, clarity was Reagan's ally, since he was a conservative who articulated the values of the American people. In contrast, as an apologist for the secular-socialist Left, Obama knows clarity is his opponent; the less the American people understand about what he is doing, the better.

P. 71-72 (As a historian, Gingrich's memory seems to fail him. Does the name Nixon ring a bell?)

Contrary to their promises to clean up Washington, the president, House speaker, and Senate majority leader have governed with a political machine mentality that is more corrupt and secretive than anything we have seen in modern American politics.

P. 129 (Another of the conservatives' arch-enemies is attacked. This one is particularly hilarious, as Gingrich attacks its one country-one vote system. Membership is even granted to despotic nations, such as Saudi Arabia! Of course, no mention is made of where most "Western democracies" sourced much of their wealth.)

In some ways, the UN machine is even worse than the machine of the American Left; first, since even the most despotic governments are entitled to UN membership, the UN is not limited by elections or the need to keep up democratic appearances. And second, lacking America's legal framework for government transparency, the organization is even more prone to corruption than is the American Left.

Despite the fact that a handful of Western democracies pay the vast majority of the UN's annual budget (the United States alone pays 22 percent), the UN's most influential voting block is a group of 130 undeveloped countries called the G-77. Using the UN's one country-one vote system, the G-77 has hijacked the UN to turn it into a mechanism for redistributing wealth from the developed to developing countries.

P. 137 (Here Newt basically expresses his outrage that the UN has the gall to criticize and obstruct some of our self-serving pursuits. In other words, that other nations have a say in the matter.)

The UN could make an immense contribution to world peace, human rights, and the spread of democracy. But it is not doing that - and that's a tragedy. Having proven impervious to all attempts at reform, we need to sideline this dysfunctional, self-perpetuating, bureaucratic machine until it stops acting as a vehicle for the world's most oppressive states to exert their will over the world's free democracies.

P. 150-151 (Newt attacks other conservation enemies - the czars and EPA. Though I guess the EPA was doing just fine under G.W., as it overturned decades of environmental protections. Gingrich loves the use of labels designed to incite and inflame.)

Consider the White House czar system. It is an unconstitutional centralization of power in the hands of the appointed, unaccountable bureaucrats. It is guaranteed to increase corruption, lead to political cronyism, and give the president unprecedented - and un-American - power to manipulate, coerce, and bribe people.

The solution is to eliminate the White House czar system, not to reform it.

The EPA has become an engine of undemocratic bureaucracy filled with people who seek to impose their fanatical views on an unwilling American population. The EPA and its entire regulation-litigation, Washington-centered, command-and-control bureacracy needs to be replaced.

That's enough. The book numbers roughly 350 pages, full of gems such as these.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No South Afghanistan Handover for a 'Few Years': US

Allowing policy decisions to be driven by "conditions on the ground", gives military leaders undo influence over our foreign policy debate. This effect is magnified when Generals Conway, Petraeus and McChrystal (with or without their Commander-in-Chief's consent) take their "wag the dog" pitch directly to the American people.

Virtually all mainstream media (and their imbedded reporters) compliantly join the choir of voices cautioning against hasty decisions in the face of "conditions on the ground". (It has been especially sad to witness NPR move into the war booster camp whenever the government pulls their chain.) Had we yielded to such blind optimism we'd still be in Vietnam.

Foreign occupation is THE condition on the ground that is at the root of this conflict.

Published on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 by Agence France Presse
WASHINGTON - General James Conway, head of the US Marine Corps, told reporters Tuesday that Afghan forces would not be ready to take over security from US troops in key southern provinces for at least "a few years."

"I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us," General James Conway told reporters, referring to Marines deployed in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Conway, who just returned from visiting Marines in Afghanistan, said some Afghan units "somewhere" might be able to assume the lead for security in 2011 but not in the south, which he called the "birthplace" of the Taliban insurgency.

His comments were the latest sign from US military leaders that a major troop withdrawal remained a long way off, despite a July 2011 deadline set by President Barack Obama for the start of a drawdown.

Conway acknowledged that public support for the US mission was declining but appealed for patience, warning of the risks of any early withdrawal.

"I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war," he said.

But Conway cited a fellow commander's assessment that "we can either lose fast or win slow."

The general added that the administration needed to do a better job of explaining the mission in Afghanistan and the importance of preventing Al-Qaeda and its allies from securing safe havens in the country.
© 2010 Agence France Presse

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Circle Jerk Continues

The same Neocons and their friends in AIPAC, who brought America (and the World) the "No-End-In-Sight Iraq War" are salivating at the prospect that the U.S. and Israel may soon kick ass in Iran. These are people who get off on war - of course, in the name of their God and defense of their tribe. They defend a nation that has surreptitiously developed between one and two hundred nuclear weapons and condemn those who seek to develop nuclear power (and quite possibly a nuclear weapon) as "madmen". American taxpayers finance this insanity and American companies profit. In deals such as the purchase of F-35 strike fighters announced yesterday, tax payer dollars are bestowed upon Israel and come back as profits for the American weapons industry. Here are some examples of the "Chicken Hawks" in action:

The Point of No Return
Published in The Atlantic
By Jeffrey Goldberg
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.
Continue reading at theatlantic.com.

In a related story, John Bolton states Israel has 8 days to hit Iranian nuclear reactor.

And, batting clean-up, we have PNAC booster Elliott Abrams: Obama Bombing Iran? Don't Be Surprised.

Finally, one of the rare voices of sanity out there: Kucinich Urges Colleagues to End 'Longest War in U.S. History'

A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

At nine years and counting, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest in our history, surpassing even the Vietnam War, and it will shortly surpass the Soviet Union’s own extended military campaign there. With the surge, it will cost the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, a sum roughly seven times larger than Afghanistan’s annual gross national product (GNP) of $14 billion and greater than the total annual cost of the new U.S. health insurance program.1 Thousands of American and allied personnel have been killed or gravely wounded.

The U.S. interests at stake in Afghanistan do not warrant this level of sacrifice. President Obama justified expanding our commitment by saying the goal was eradicating Al Qaeda. Yet Al Qaeda is no longer a significant presence in Afghanistan, and there are only some 400 hard-core Al Qaeda members remaining in the entire Af/Pak theater, most of them hiding in Pakistan’s northwest provinces.

America’s armed forces have fought bravely and well, and their dedication is unquestioned. But we should not ask them to make sacrifices unnecessary to our core national interests, particularly when doing so threatens long-term needs and priorities both at home and abroad.

Instead of toppling terrorists, America’s Afghan war has become an ambitious and fruitless effort at “nation-building.” We are mired in a civil war in Afghanistan and are struggling to establish an effective central government in a country that has long been fragmented and decentralized.

No matter how desirable this objective might be in the abstract, it is not essential to U.S. security and it is not a goal for which the U.S. military is well suited. There is no clear definition of what would comprise “success” in this endeavor. Creating a unified Afghan state would require committing many more American lives and hundreds of billions of additional U.S. dollars for many years to come.

As the WikiLeaks war diary comprised of more than 91,000 secret reports on the Afghanistan War makes clear, any sense of American and allied progress in the conflict has been undermined by revelations that many more civilian deaths have occurred than have been officially acknowledged as the result of U.S. and allied strike accidents. The Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence continued to provide logistics and financial support to the Afghan Taliban even as U.S. soldiers were fighting these units. It is clear that Karzai government affiliates and appointees in rural Afghanistan have often proven to be more corrupt and ruthless than the Taliban.

Prospects for success are dim. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently warned, “Afghanistan has never been pacified by foreign forces.”2 The 2010 spring offensive in Marjah was inconclusive, and a supposedly “decisive” summer offensive in Kandahar has been delayed and the expectations downgraded. U.S. and allied casualties reached an all-time high in July, and several NATO allies have announced plans to withdraw their own forces.

The conflict in Afghanistan is commonly perceived as a struggle between the Karzai government and an insurgent Taliban movement, allied with international terrorists, that is seeking to overthrow that government. In fact, the conflict is a civil war about power-sharing with lines of contention that are 1) partly ethnic, chiefly, but not exclusively, between Pashtuns who dominate the south and other ethnicities such as Tajiks and Uzbeks who are more prevalent in the north, 2) partly rural vs. urban, particularly within the Pashtun community, and 3) partly sectarian.

The Afghanistan conflict also includes the influence of surrounding nations with a desire to advance their own interests – including India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others. And with the U.S. intervention in force, the conflict includes resistance to what is seen as foreign military occupation.

Resolving the conflict in Afghanistan has primarily to do with resolving the distribution of power among these factions and between the central government and the provinces, and with appropriately decentralizing authority.

Negotiated resolution of these conflicts will reduce the influence of extremists more readily than military action will. The Taliban itself is not a unified movement but instead a label that is applied to many armed groups and individuals that are only loosely aligned and do not necessarily have a fondness for the fundamentalist ideology of the most prominent Taliban leaders.

The Study Group believes the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical crossroads. Our current path promises to have limited impact on the civil war while taking more American lives and contributing to skyrocketing taxpayer debt. We conclude that a fundamentally new direction is needed, one that recognizes the United States’ legitimate interests in Central Asia and is fashioned to advance them. Far from admitting “defeat,” the new way forward acknowledges the manifold limitations of a military solution in a region where our interests lie in political stability. Our recommended policy shifts our resources to focus on U.S. foreign policy strengths in concert with the international community to promote reconciliation among the warring parties, advance economic development, and encourage region-wide diplomatic engagement.

We base these conclusions on the following key points raised in the Study Group’s research and discussions:

* The United States has only two vital interests in the Af/Pak region: 1) preventing Afghanistan from being a “safe haven” from which Al Qaeda or other extremists can organize more effective attacks on the U.S. homeland; and 2) ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal does not fall into hostile hands.

* Protecting our interests does not require a U.S. military victory over the Taliban. A Taliban takeover is unlikely even if the United States reduces its military commitment. The Taliban is a rural insurgency rooted primarily in Afghanistan’s Pashtun population, and succeeded due in some part to the disenfranchisement of rural Pashtuns. The Taliban’s seizure of power in the 1990s was due to an unusual set of circumstances that no longer exist and are unlikely to be repeated.

* There is no significant Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan today, and the risk of a new “safe haven”there under more “friendly” Taliban rule is overstated. Should an Al Qaeda cell regroup in Afghanistan, the U.S. would have residual military capability in the region sufficient to track and destroy it.

* Al Qaeda sympathizers are now present in many locations globally, and defeating the Taliban will have little effect on Al Qaeda’s global reach. The ongoing threat from Al Qaeda is better met via specific counter-terrorism measures, a reduced U.S. military “footprint” in the Islamic world, and diplomatic efforts to improve America’s overall image and undermine international support for militant extremism.

* Given our present economic circumstances, reducing the staggering costs of the Afghan war is an urgent priority. Maintaining the long-term health of the U.S. economy is just as important to American strength and security as protecting U.S. soil from enemy (including terrorist) attacks.

* The continuation of an ambitious U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan will likely work against U.S. interests. A large U.S. presence fosters local (especially Pashtun) resentment and aids Taliban recruiting. It also fosters dependence on the part of our Afghan partners and encourages closer cooperation among a disparate array of extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan alike.
* Past efforts to centralize power in Afghanistan have provoked the same sort of local resistance that is convulsing Afghanistan today. There is ample evidence that this effort will join others in a long line of failed incursions.

* Although the United States should support democratic rule, human rights and economic development, its capacity to mold other societies is inherently limited. The costs of trying should be weighed against our need to counter global terrorist threats directly, reduce America’s $1.4 trillion budget deficit, repair eroding U.S. infrastructure, and other critical national purposes. Our support of these issues will be better achieved as part of a coordinated international group with which expenses and burdens can be shared.

The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them.

On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems.

The more promising path for the U.S. in the Af/Pak region would reverse the recent escalation and move away from a counterinsurgency effort that is neither necessary nor likely to succeed. Instead, the U.S. should:

1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion. The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.

2. Downsize and eventually end military operations in southern Afghanistan, and reduce the U.S. military footprint. The U.S. should draw down its military presence, which radicalizes many Pashtuns and is an important aid to Taliban recruitment.

3. Focus security efforts on Al Qaeda and Domestic Security. Special forces, intelligence assets, and other U.S. capabilities should continue to seek out and target known Al Qaeda cells in the region. They can be ready to go after Al Qaeda should they attempt to relocate elsewhere or build new training facilities. In addition, part of the savings from our drawdown should be reallocated to bolster U.S. domestic security efforts and to track nuclear weapons globally.

4. Encourage economic development. Because destitute states can become incubators for terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit activities, efforts at reconciliation should be paired with an internationally-led effort to develop Afghanistan’s economy.

5. Engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability. Despite their considerable differences, neighboring states such as India, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in preventing Afghanistan from being dominated by any single power or being a permanently failed state that exports instability to others.

We believe this strategy will best serve the interests of women in Afghanistan as well. The worst thing for women is for Afghanistan to remain paralyzed in a civil war in which there evolves no organically rooted support for their social advancement.

The remainder of this report elaborates the logic behind these recommendations. It begins by summarizing U.S. vital interests, including our limited interests in Afghanistan itself and in the region more broadly. It then considers why the current strategy is failing and why the situation is unlikely to improve even under a new commander. The final section outlines “A New Way Forward” and explains how a radically different approach can achieve core U.S. goals at an acceptable cost.

Continue reading at the Afghanistan Study Group's website.

"Progress" and "Success": code words for "we really don't have a clue"

A related story: Why Petraeus Can't Make the Sale

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Economics: the dismal and schizophrenic science

Reading economist Robert Reich's column today (The Truth About China As #2), followed by Joe McDonald's piece "China's Slowdown Sends A Chill Through Trade Partners," one gets a sense of the schizophrenic nature of economics.

McDonald leads off with the statement
China's abrupt growth slowdown is sending a chill through Asian economies and as far away as Australia and Africa as its voracious demand for imports fades.

Beijing is cooling its economy with lending and investment curbs after explosive 11.9 percent first-quarter growth fed fears of overheating. Growth is slowing more sharply than expected, cutting demand for American and European factory machinery, industrial components from Asia and iron ore and other raw materials from Australia and Africa.

Then Reich tells us
Think of China as a giant production machine that's growing 10 percent a year (this year, somewhat less). The machine sucks in more and more raw materials and components from rest of world -- it's now the world's #1 buyer of iron ore and copper, and close to the #1 importer of crude oil -- and spews out a growing mountain of stuff, along with huge environmental problems.

But because the Chinese consume a smaller and smaller proportion of this stuff, it has to be exported to consumers elsewhere (Europe, North America, Japan) to keep the Chinese working. Much of the money China earns by selling it around the world is reinvested in factories, roads, trains, and power plants that enlarge China's capacity to produce far more. Another big portion is lent to or invested in the rest of the world (helping to finance America's budget deficit at very low cost).

But this can't go on. China's workers won't allow it. Workers in other nations who are losing their jobs won't allow it, either.

The answer is not simply more labor agitation in China or an upward revaluation of China's currency relative to the dollar. The problem is bigger. All over the world, we're witnessing a growing gap between production and consumption, while the environment continues to degrade. The Chinese machine is fast heading for a breakdown only because it's growing fastest.
Economics routinely uses the term "growth" without qualification. But we all know there are many kinds of growth, and all aren't necessarily good (take cancer, for example.) That growth is good is an unchallenged principle of American Capitalism.

Most of us fail to question that principle. Is all growth good? Obviously not. Then what kind of growth is good? In our capitalist system, the concept of "steady state" or balance seems to be inconceivable. what would that even look like?

Yet environmentalists such as Herman Daly have for decades argued that our present growth-for-growth's sake economic model is unsustainable and that we must re-engineer our economic models to reflect the "closed system" that Planet Earth represents.

I am convinced that there is no going back to the economic model that prevailed in the United States since World War II, that "irrationally exuberant" model of endless economic growth, the "rising tide that lifts all boats". These days, only luxury yachts are riding that tide, their skippers oblivious to the masses desperately flailing in the flood. Choose your metaphor, but America must come to grips with an economic perspective that actually encourages contraction of our out-of-control consumption and financial discipline, while re-inventing an economy based upon conservation, maximum utility of limited resources, full life-cycle accountability; and environmental, economic and social justice.

That may sound socialistic or communistic or whatever. Let's not get hung up on labels. This is what it means to live in a community where everyone takes responsibility.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

America's Biggest Jobs Program -- the U.S. Military

By Robert Reich

Former Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

America's biggest -- and only major -- jobs program is the U.S. military.

Over 1,400,000 Americans are now on active duty; another 833,000 are in the reserves, many full time. Another 1,600,000 Americans work in companies that supply the military with everything from weapons to utensils. (I'm not even including all the foreign contractors employing non-US citizens.)

If we didn't have this giant military jobs program, the U.S. unemployment rate would be over 11.5 percent today instead of 9.5 percent.

And without our military jobs program personal incomes would be dropping faster. The Commerce Department reported Monday the only major metro areas where both net earnings and personal incomes rose last year were San Antonio, Texas, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. -- because all three have high concentrations of military and federal jobs.

This isn't an argument for more military spending. Just the opposite. Having a giant undercover military jobs program is an insane way to keep Americans employed. It creates jobs we don't need but we keep anyway because there's no honest alternative. We don't have an overt jobs program based on what's really needed.

For example, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday his plan to cut spending on military contractors by more than a quarter over three years, congressional leaders balked. Military contractors are major sources of jobs back in members' states and districts. California's Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, demanded that the move "not weaken the nation's defense." That's congress-speak for "over my dead body."

Gates simultaneously announced closing the Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia, that employees 6,324 people and relies on 3,300 private contractors. This prompted Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to warn that the closure "would be a step backward." Translated: "No chance in hell."

Gates can't even end useless weapons programs. That's because they're covert jobs programs that employ thousands.

He wants to stop production of the C-17 cargo jet he says is no longer needed. But it keeps 4,000 people working at Boeing's Long Beach assembly plant and 30,000 others at Boeing suppliers strategically located in 40 states. So despite Gates's protests the Senate has approved ten new orders.

That's still not enough to keep all those C-17 workers employed, so the Pentagon and Boeing have been hunting for foreign purchasers. The Indian Air Force is now negotiating to buy ten, and talks are underway with several other nations, including Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Ever wonder why military equipment is one of America's biggest exports? It's our giant military jobs program in action.

Gates has also been trying to stop production of a duplicate engine for the F-25 joint Strike Fighter jet. He says it isn't needed and doesn't justify the $2.9 billion slated merely to develop it.

But the unnecessary duplicate engine would bring thousands of jobs to Indiana and Ohio. Cunningly, its potential manufacturers Rolls-Royce and General Electric created a media blitz (mostly aimed at Washington, D.C. where lawmakers wold see it) featuring an engine worker wearing a "Support Our Troops" T-shirt and arguing the duplicate engine will create 4,000 American jobs. Presto. Despite a veto threat from the White House, a House panel has just approved funding the duplicate.

By the way, Gates isn't trying to cut the overall Pentagon budget. He just wants to trim certain programs to make room for more military spending with a higher priority.

The Pentagon's budget -- and its giant undercover jobs program -- keeps expanding. The President has asked Congress to hike total defense spending next year 2.2 percent, to $708 billion. That's 6.1 percent higher than peak defense spending during the Bush administration.

This sum doesn't even include Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, nuclear weapons management, and intelligence. Add these, and next year's national security budget totals about $950 billion.

That's a major chunk of the entire federal budget. But most deficit hawks don't dare cut it. National security is sacrosanct.

Yet what's really sacrosanct is the giant jobs program that's justified by national security. National security is a cover for job security.

This is nuts.

Wouldn't it be better to have a jobs program that created things we really need -- like light-rail trains, better school facilities, public parks, water and sewer systems, and non-carbon energy sources -- than things we don't, like obsolete weapons systems?

Historically some of America's biggest jobs programs that were critical to the nation's future have been justified by national defense, although they've borne almost no relation to it. The National Defense Education Act of the late 1950s trained a generation of math and science teachers. The National Defense Highway Act created millions of construction jobs turning the nation's two-lane highways into four- and six-lane Interstates.

Maybe this is the way to convince Republicans and blue-dog Democrats to spend more federal dollars putting Americans back, and working on things we genuinely need: Call it the National Defense Full Employment Act.

This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Timtraveler responds to Victor Davis Hanson

Military historian and conservative think tank scholar Victor Davis Hanson was interviewed today on KQED radio's "Forum" program. Hanson refutes the "left's" claim that the War in Iraq was fought for oil. I responded with the following commentary:
Mr. Hanson stated "we have to look at the proof of the pudding...after we went in there, we had an open transparent auction and guess what: the Chinese, some European companies and the Russians bid and were accepted and they're in there now and no U.S. company is. I can't think of any so-called imperialistic venture that was intended to get oil...would then get no oil and allow all of its rivals to bid and get the concessions after we did all the heavy lifting..."

This is inaccurate, misleading and disingenuous. It may however serve Mr. Hanson's agenda. In a recent auction for oil field development in the south, it is true that American companies did not get contracts. That is because they did not even bid. But this concern about "American" companies is a straw man.

Development of oil fields is only one facet of the oil supply chain. The "winning" international bidders will receive per-barrel profits from the Iraqi state. There are still many fields to develop, many auctions yet to be run. If you are concerned about American companies, rest assured that Exxon-Mobil and Chevron are heavily involved in negotiations with the Iraqi government. Halliburton and other oil field services companies are profiting handsomely from operations in Iraq.

The United States is currently the largest importer of Iraqi oil. Expanding Iraqi oil production benefits the U.S., regardless who develops the fields. We will buy the oil whether the Russians, Chinese, Dutch or Indonesians "do the heavy lifting". Plentiful supply helps moderate the global oil market.

It would be naive to think that the United States does not have substantial influence in the Iraqi state-run auctions, which accept or reject bids and set the price oil field developers will be paid.

The more critical question is "who controls and manages the petroleum marketplace in Iraq?" You can be sure the U.S. government and the global (not just American) oil companies it depends upon are well-represented at the table. The wars are about controlling oil and establishing a powerful military presence in the midst of this volatile and resource-rich region. Cloaking this campaign in "freedom and democracy" just makes it more palatable to the American people.

Keystone: America's link to our "gentle" neighbor to the north, and their dirty, not-so-little, secret

Left: Syncrude's oil sands operations, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by: David Dodge, CPAWS

In June Congress conducted public hearings on the expansion southward into the U.S. of the Keystone pipeline, which is already delivering oil from Alberta's tar sands mining operations to Illinois.

Plans are to continue this pipeline to Oklahoma and, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico and perhaps Houston. More long-range plans extend the exploitation of tar sands into the Yukon's Mackenzie River Basin and the "North Slope" along the Arctic Ocean. As our nations, at each decision point, commit resources to these projects we are further locking in our fate, and narrowing our options to develop alternatives.

The industrialization of the Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems, elimination of arboreal forests, warming of the planet, contamination of pristine waters and endangerment of wildlife populations and indigenous cultures - all this must be considered when we fill up our gas tanks.

Industry is here to satisfy our "needs". We define those "needs" are and the value we place on them. Industry simply responds to the challenges, serving both customers and their bottom line. (Of course, when I say "we", I particularly target the richest 10% of Americans, who control most of the country's wealth. Our profligate consumption of fossil fuel far exceeds the "average American".)

These projects are being marketed as providing "energy security" and reducing our reliance upon "foreign oil".

Canada has been America's largest oil supplier for some time now. Fifty years ago, the U.S. had no need for foreign oil, now our reservoirs have been so depleted that we can supply only about 25% of our requirements, and increasingly this oil is coming from higher-risk operations, such as deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska's North Slope and planned Arctic Ocean operations, and increasingly from much more inefficient sources, such as the tar sands in Alberta or the oil shales of the Rocky Mountain States.

For oil and engineering companies, such as Bechtel, the Keystone pipeline general contractor, profitability favors continuing those operations you do best and most efficiently, that is building new pipelines and wells. Diverting energy to explore renewables, in the short term, hurts the bottom line.

For some background on this project, see:

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) PR page (Note the soft, soothing colors.)

Another industry PR machine: Consumer Energy Alliance

The resistance: OilSandsWatch.org and photos from the Alberta oil sands project. (Link no longer active: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pembina/sets/72157621954583656/show/).

And, in breaking news, one of Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.'s  many aging pipelines has spilled nearly a million gallons of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

U.N. General Assembly Adopts Resolution Recognizing Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as Human Right

122 nations voted in favor, none against, and 41 nations abstained. Among the abstentions were the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel. For text of U.N. press release, see: U.N. General Assembly Press Release

It is argued that some nations oppose such a proclamation because it may interfere with "free markets" seeking to promote privatization and commercialization of fresh water resources.

What we can do: every bottle of water we buy promotes privatization and commercialization of fresh water resources. It in turn erodes the publicly-owned utilities that provide population access to fresh water.

Support local, state and federal measures to assure free access to safe drinking water. Encourage local communities to provide and maintain public water fountains. Use environmentally sound, long-lasting refillable containers for water. Discourage the mass distribution of bottled water.

See also: Blue Planet Project

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Now it's getting personal...

On July 17th, this story appeared in the British newspaper The Telegraph: "Mystery trader buys all Europe's cocoa".

According to The Telegraph:
Even Willy Wonka might struggle to use this much chocolate. Yesterday, somebody bought 241,000 tonnes of cocoa beans.

The purchase was enough to move the entire global cocoa market, sending the price to the highest level since 1977, and triggering rumours and intrigue in the City.

It is unclear which person, or group of traders, was behind the deal, but it was the largest single cocoa trade for 14 years.

The cocoa beans, which are sitting in warehouses either in The Netherlands, Hamburg, or closer to home in London, Liverpool or Humberside is equivalent to the entire supply of the commodity in Europe, and would fill more than five Titanics. They are worth £658 million.

Analysts said it was very unlikely that a chocolate company, such as Nestle or Kraft, or even their suppliers, would buy such a huge order in one go and that is was probable that one or a number of speculators, possibly hedge funds, had attempted to corner the market. By doing this, they would have control of the entire supply in Europe, forcing the price yet higher.

Eugen Weinberg, an analyst with Commerzbank, said: “For one buyer it would likely be a little bit too large. It would be a crazy number. That said, if you’re cornering the market ...”

“If it looks like cornering, feels like cornering and the price difference between Europe and the US is so large, it probably is cornering.”
This is the kind of speculation that has led to such volatility in world markets in recent years. Gamblers seeking "something for nothing." In the end, it's "the little people" who pay the price. Those not playing the markets, those who merely depend upon "free markets" to establish a fair price. That's most of us.

To all those who rage against President Obama and his "socialist agenda" I really have to ask, "is Capitalism working for you?"

See also, an interesting Democracy Now discussion of Frederick Kaufman's article "The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It." He tells how Goldman Sachs entered the wheat futures market on a purely speculative basis and helped push a four-fold increase in worldwide wheat prices. The story appears in the July edition of Harper's

Thursday, July 22, 2010

National Peace Conference to Bring the Troops home Now!

The National Peace Conference to Bring the Troops home Now will take place in Albany, New York this coming weekend. This announcement from Voters for Peace provides details:

We'll be offering live and recorded video coverage of the National Conference to Bring the Troops Home Now! taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Albany this weekend (7/23-7/25).

The conference will bring together antiwar and social justice activists from across the country to consider what can be done to end the U.S. wars, occupations, bombing attacks, threats and interventions that are taking place in the Middle East and beyond.  See where the antiwar movement is today and where it is headed!

Our audio and video coverage starts Friday evening at 7 PM with the opening panel called "Strategies and Tactics in the Struggle to End the Empire's Wars and Occupations," featuring Medea Benjamin (CODE PINK), Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report), Teresa Gutierrez (International Action Center), Kathy Kelly (Creative Voices for Nonviolence), Kevin Martin (Peace Action), David Swanson (WarIsACrime.org), Deborah Sweet (World Can't Wait) and more.

We hope your summer is going well and look forward to seeing you soon!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

North Pole Global Refuge (NPGR)

(Left: BP-built Endicott Island, in Alaska's Beaufort Sea, site of the "Liberty Project", an example of what the petroleum industry terms a low-impact "small footprint". Flaring of natural gas is just one of the "natural features" of the Arctic contributing to Global Warming.)

Fresh from its stellar performance in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is preparing to commence drilling at its "Liberty" platform off the Alaska's North Coast. The incompetence, criminal disregard, hubris and contempt that BP demonstrated in addressing the Deepwater Horizon blowout should raise alarms wherever the oil industry is operating, and especially in remote wilderness environments.

According to a recent New York Times article (see BP Is Pursuing Alaska Drilling Some Call Risky)
Because of its location on the artificial island, (the Liberty Project) has been exempted from the moratorium on offshore drilling.

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.

The project has already received its state and federal environmental permits, but BP has yet to file its final application to federal regulators to begin drilling, which it expects to start in the fall.

Some scientists and environmentalists say that other factors have helped keep the project moving forward.

Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency’s unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

“The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre,” one of the federal scientists said.
The article goes on to say
Extended-reach drilling has advantages. Drilling at an angle might be less threatening to sensitive habitats. But engineers say that this type of drilling is riskier and more complicated than traditional drilling because it is relatively new and gas kicks are more frequent and tougher to detect.

And because of the distance and angles involved, drilling requires far more powerful machinery, putting extra pressure on pipes and well casings.
Here you can view the BP-authored Material Management Services: Liberty Project Environmental Impact Analysis.

As some interested parties view the melting of Arctic sea ice as heralding an unexpected opportunity to exploit this formerly inaccessible "resource" (as exploit we must!), it is time to create an international ecological preserve, a North Pole Global Refuge (NPGR) that restricts development, industrialization and exploitation of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent coastlines. The notion of creating a refuge expands upon measures already undertaken by the United States and Canada in establishing a joint Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Writing in the New York Times on March 28, 2009, Scott Borgerson ("visiting fellow for ocean governance at the Council on Foreign Relations") and Caitlyn Antrim (executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans) propose such a preserve:
The Arctic’s pristine waters are a leading indicator, and an important regulator, of global climate health. They are the beginning and the end of the so-called great ocean conveyor, the mighty current that connects all the world’s oceans. And they are home to a vibrant ecosystem that supports whales, polar bears and terns.
But their almost laughable vision suggests a quaint-sounding "international marine park" surrounding the North Pole above the 88th parallel.  (Prudhoe Bay, center of "North Slope" operations along the Arctic Ocean, is just above the 70th parallel.) Such a "scientific research park" would protect perhaps 2% of the Arctic Ocean from exploitation. In contrast, the Antarctic Treaty System governs all land and ice shelves south of the 60th parallel.

America, they write has
a vested interest in the peaceful development of the Arctic as a region. As citizens of a shared earth, we also have a stake in the greater good that can come from exploring the depths of the fastest warming part of the planet.

American leadership on a polar park would send a clear message that we are attuned to the climate crisis.
While visiting Prudhoe Bay in 2005, one of the features that struck me most (besides the obvious industrial complexes), was the brown haze that hung over the Arctic Ocean. Increasingly, we are dumping toxic wastes into the Arctic atmosphere, soil and water. This in an environment far less able to absorb, convert and mitigate the impacts of this damage.

According to the Times article

“The overall Liberty Project has been planned and designed to minimize adverse effects to biological resources,” BP wrote in 2007 in the development proposal to federal regulators. “Impacts to wetlands have been significantly reduced including shoreline and tundra habitat for birds and caribou.”
Since the 1990s, our now-notorious Materials Management Services has been conducting research on how to “respond to oil spills in ice infested waters”. (The methods include mechanical skimming, burning in place and use of chemical dispersants and “herders” – all benign inputs into the delicate Arctic ecosystem, I’m sure.)

The most effective solution so far, burning oil in situ, is only effective under specific conditions.

Near the end of their report, MMS cites concerns about the noise caused by seismic exploration ships and drilling operations such as Liberty – which impact marine life. Of course, all they offer is more research into mitigation of these negative impacts. Meanwhile, the industrialization proceeds…

Like other stuff, spills happen. They're inevitable. The Ixtoc blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979. The Exxon Valdez in 1989. Iraq's intentional destruction of Kuwaiti oilfields in 1991. The Prestige oil tanker spill off Spain in 2002. The continued despoiling of Nigeria's Niger Delta. Deepwater Horizon in 2010. These are just a few of the big ones that have made headlines.

In 2006, BP was fined for a large on-shore oil spill at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska's tundra. Then there was BP's Texas City refinery disaster in 2005.

The Exxon Valdez disaster occurred in the relatively-mild Prince William Sound. In the event of an at-sea oil blowout in the Arctic, who will mobilize forces to mop up oil and restore the environment - in the middle of Arctic Night? And at what cost?

For decades, the oil industry has fought to literally undermine ANWR and exploit its significant potential. It is fascinating to observe the suicidal drive to extract and consume the earth's oil and gas resources with absolutely no regard to future generations. It is simply stunning in its stupidity. Oil companies and other profit-seeking enterprises fail to understand: you minimize the environmental impact by leaving pristine wilderness alone.

As we watch the pitiful efforts of Tyvek-clad clean-up crews walk Gulf beaches picking up individual globs of oil and depositing them in petroleum-based plastic bags, we fail to draw the connections. Responsibility for such scenes rests largely with America, the world's leading consumer, and compels us to reduce our dependence upon ever-dwindling nonrenewable resources. We may not lead the revolution, but without our committed involvement, it cannot possibly succeed.

September 2 update: Greenpeace attempts to disrupt British-owned Cairn Energy's Arctic drilling off Greenland.

Related story: The Arctic Oil Rush