Saturday, January 31, 2009

No More "All Options Are On The Table"?

Following up from this older post (and this one as well) - it would be nice indeed if what the following article discusses would become a reality:

Nuclear Arms Ban Is Hot Again
Interest grows among world leaders, 'Global Zero' campaign builds steam.

By Sean Casey

The movement to abolish nuclear weapons, after dropping low on the political radar, shows signs of resurging in the Obama era.

In December, 100 world dignitaries gathered in Paris to unveil the Global Zero campaign -- an effort to eliminate nuclear arms spearheaded by international political, military, and business leaders.

Principle signatories include Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert McNamara.

Global Zero seeks to develop an international agreement to disarm and dismantle nuclear arms through phased and verified reductions. The plan's first phase will call for heavy reductions to U.S. and Russian arsenals, which comprise 96 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons.

Dr. Jennifer Simons -- a Global Zero principle signatory and winner of the Vancouver Citizens' Peace award -- said there's "been a massive change of mind expressed globally" about nuclear proliferation, and that the winds of change now favour disarmament.

Treaties stalled by Bush

After the Cold War, there was a brief flurry of advancement towards disarmament.

In 1994, the U.S. and Russia agreed to de-target their strategic missiles. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was extended indefinitely the following year, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed in 1996.

But the past decade has not been kind to abolition ambitions.

Nuclear disarmament stalled in key areas. The U.S. did not ratify the CTBT, and the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 to pursue missile defence systems.

In other political and military arenas, abolition took a step backwards. India and Pakistan emerged on the world stage as nuclear powers in 1998. North Korea tested its own nuclear weapon in 2006, and Iran has been accused of pursuing technology to enrich weapon-grade uranium.

Nuclear disarmament renaissance

Despite the setbacks, new calls for disarmament have emerged from high-level policy analysts in recent years.

In January 2007, Henry Kissinger and George Schulz reignited the disarmament debate with an essay published in the Washington Post. They warned that the U.S. "will enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence" unless the world freed itself from reliance on nuclear weapons and deterrence.

Kissinger and Schulz's warnings have not gone unheeded.

Dr. Wade Huntley, research director at UBC's Liu Institute for Global Issues, told a Vancouver conference last week that recommitment to a world free of nuclear weapons "has been increasingly adopted and embraced by foreign policy and strategic thinkers across the political spectrum in the United States."

On the White House's recently updated website, the Obama administration has promised to "move toward a nuclear free world" by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, stopping the development of new nuclear weapons and by taking ballistic missiles off of hair-trigger alert.

"U.S. policy, which has long been an anchor in moving closer to a world free of nuclear weapons, could now become an engine," Huntley said. U.S. diplomatic leadership could pave the way toward "a global nuclear weapons agreement that, much like the land mines ban, would set the goal of elimination and map the path by which that goal can be realized," Huntley said.

Canadian enthusiasm waned

A poll conducted last year found 88 per cent of Canadians believe nuclear weapons make the world a more dangerous place.

But Huntley said the Canadian government's enthusiasm towards nuclear non-proliferation has waned.

"Everybody supports disarmament," Huntley said. "But what's really changed is that the nuclear issue doesn't have the prominence and priority in the public agenda the way it used to. The questions of energy development, of climate change, of human rights and human security have taken priority."

If nuclear apocalypse is no longer feared, why should disarmament continue to be a Canadian concern?

(Keep reading ...)

A World On The Edge

I hereby yield the floor (again) to Paul Rogers:

A combination of long-term trends and the global economic turmoil of 2008-09 is fuelling a potential revolution of frustrated expectations.

The global financial downturn that accelerated throughout 2007-08 for some time seemed to be largely confined to a cluster of western states - the United States, Spain, Japan and Britain among them. Yet the greater extent and severity of the crisis that erupted on "debtonation day", 9 August 2007, is becoming clearer. As late as November 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF's) monthly update was forecasting that overall world output would rise by 2.2% in 2009; the leaders were expected to be some of the "tiger" economies, especially China. Now, in late January 2009, that assessment is being downgraded sharply: to 0.5% prospective overall growth, the lowest annual rate since 1945.

There is a bleak implication here: that emerging economies will for the foreseeable future no longer be able to drive the global financial machine. This in turn dissolves the hope that they would cushion the worst impacts of the recession in wealthy states. The IMF cites a range of evidence - lower commodity prices, worsening export prospects and financial constraints - to forecast that the growth of the emerging and developing economies will shrink from 6.25% to 3.25% in 2009 (see "World Growth Grinds to Virtual Halt, IMF Urges Decisive Global Policy Response", 28 January 2009).

The impact of this fall will be especially heavy on the approximately 4 billion peole who compose the marginalised majority of the world's people, those who lack security and minimally reliable living-standards. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) warns that there could be 51 million job-losses in 2009. The food-security summit in Madrid on 26-27 January 2009 heard that while food prices had declined in the past few months, they were still 30% higher than in 2005-06 (see Victoria Burnett, "UN chief warns of food shortages in poor countries", International Herald Tribune, 27 January 2009).

The United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon drew attention to a recent rise in malnutrition, which he linked to the wider economic downturn: "With the spreading misery of shrinking economies, communities that were starting to emerge from poverty must wrestle instead with fewer jobs, limited access to credit and restricted market opportunities."

A tale of two trends

It is in this context that members of the global elite are gathering for the annual World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, on 28 January - 1 February 2009. The emphasis in most of the discussions - organised around the theme of "shaping the post-crisis world" - reflects the concerns of the rich west in particular, albeit with high-profile contributions from the prime ministers of (for example) Russia and China.

The real issue that the Davos summiteers are unlikely to address is the impact of the recession on a worldwide community in which thirty years of neo-liberal economic policies on a global scale have failed to deliver any measure of true economic justice. There has certainly been growth, most recently in some of the largest Asian economies; but this has been accompanied by the evolution of a transnational elite of well over a billion people that has forged ahead of the rest.

The extent of the divisions is staggering. A striking example is found in a study of the "household wealth survey" by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research, which shows that the richest 10% of the world's people own 85% of household wealth whereas the poorest 50% own barely 1% (see James Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks & Edward N Wolff, "The World Distribution of Household Wealth", WIDER Angle, 2/2006 [World Institute for Development Economics Research, Helsinki]).

The fundamental failure of the liberalised world system to counter such divisions has, however, been paralleled by another and far more welcome trend: the impressive growth in education, literacy and communications across the world. This achievement, owed primarily to the efforts of hundreds of millions of people across the global south, means that there are now far more people who have shared in educational progress. At the same time, this very advance carries with it a clearer and more widespread recognition of the realities of their marginalisation (see "A world in flux: crisis to agency", 16 October 2008).

This global phenomenon may be beyond the awareness of most of the world's elite - but huge numbers of people in the majority world have an acute understanding of both how far they have come and how high are the obstacles to thier further progress. The result is no longer what used to be described as "the revolution of rising expectations"; but rather a potential revolution of frustrated expectations. This has already led to revolts from the margins, which are likely to continue.

The recent experiences of China and India is instructive (see "China and India: heartlands of global protest", 7 August 2008). In 2006, for example, the Chinese authorities had to introduce a new group of security forces - 600-strong elite squads in each of thirty-six cities dedicated primarily to social control. They were intended to supplement existing policing systems attempting to cope with a rapid rise in social unrest (see Jane Macartney, "China creates crack units to crush poverty protests", Times, 20 June 2005).

In India, the neo-Maoist Naxalite rebel movement that originated in West Bengal in 1968 might have been expected to be consigned to an over-full dustbin of history (see Ajai Sahni, "India and its Maoists: failure and success", 20 March 2007). Instead it has been able to expand its influence and engage in sustained combat with official security forces; it is now active in 185 districts, located in seventeen out of India's twenty-eight states. In 2007, the movement was described by India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, as the "single biggest internal-security challenge facing India" (see P V Ramana, "Red Storm Rising", Jane's Intelligence Review, August 2008).

A further example of the potential revolution of frustrated expectations is the violent reaction to the rapid rise in food prices in 2007-08. This led to numerous riots and other civil disturbances in Mexico, Senegal, Morocco, Mauritania and elsewhere (see Dominique Baillard, "The demand for grain won't stop growing", Le Monde diplomatique, May 2008 [subscription only]).

These developments are only the more visible indicators of a deeper resentment among communities that have far greater access to communications technology (especially television) and are far more aware of the scale of the world's social divisions than ever before (see "A world in the balance", 13 November 2008). In a situation where half of the world's population is now urbanised, many of the divisions are stark and unavoidable; not least the development of heavily-guarded gated communities, some of them akin to medieval walled towns (see "A tale of two towns", 21 June 2007).

The risk of revolt

The key point here is that these alienated and often violent responses have all evolved during a period of overall growth, in which even in the midst of wide social divsions the prospect of economic betterment has remained open.

(Keep reading ...)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Late Friday Night Ode To ... Harper And His Harpies (Again)

Tonight's Ode is dedicated to our very own Canadian Incompetent-In-Chief - with a triple play at that in izonor.

First off, we have Stone Temple Pilots - Creep:

Second, we have 3 Doors Down - Loser:

And third, we have Radiohead - Creep:

Maybe our Mini Leader will finally get the message?

(Hey - one can always wish, eh?)

Keep on rockin', folks.

(and of course, you as well, Impolitic!)


White House Dismisses Report Of Iran Letter

Attacking Iran Still on the Table, Obama Spokesman Insists

Yesterday it was reported that the Obama Administration was looking at sending a reply letter to the Iranian government which would signal a willingness to improve ties and perhaps hold direct talks between the two. The move would have been the most significant move toward normalizing relations between the United States and Iran in 30 years.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was quick to dismiss the report. “Neither the president nor the secretary of state has seen such a letter,” according to Gibbs. He also added that many issues needed to be address with respect to Iran, including their illusory “illicit nuclear program” and their “threatening of peace in Israel.”

So just one day after the possibility that the Obama Administration might actually make a positive move toward peace with Iran, the White House is again raising the specter of a US military strike against Iran. The Iranian government has expressed repeated willingness to improve ties, and while President Obama has spoken of rapprochement as well his official policy has so far remained that of President Bush: barely restrained hostility.

punditman says
.... We shall see.

The Problem With "Human Resources"

I've always thought that the "begining of the end" with regards to labour rights, respect for labour and stemming overt expoitation/extorsion/domination of labour, occured when companies and corporations came up with the idea of considering their work force as "resources" - as in "human resources" - to be managed and used as any other kind of resources.

Thus conveniently putting aside the obvious verity that human beings are not things to be used and discarded when used up - in addition to the fundamental fact that our economies happen to be shouldered by ...those very same "human resources" ...

The falling stock of workers
By Rick Salutin

Blinding moments of insight often come in asides, parentheses or (among academics) footnotes; what seems overbold gets slipped past fast. This happened in a recent Globe and Mail column by Murray Campbell on the decline of Ontario's economy: "The long-term trend toward globalization" (here it comes, pay attention) "-- seeking out lower-cost jurisdictions --". And it's gone. But he said it. All the glam theory and rhetoric on globalization and free trade came down to one thing: businesses taking work from here and shipping it to where people will do it more cheaply.

Notice that he doesn't even specify what the lower costs apply to in those "jurisdictions." It must be an economic factor that dare not speak its name. So I'll name it: workers. Labour. When workers appear in news about the current crisis, it's mostly as victims, collateral damage to impersonal forces like the economy, credit freezes or globalization.

What a comedown from the heyday of classical economics. All the greats, from Adam Smith to Marx, called labour the source of wealth and value. Workers were the core of the economic process, not vulnerable bystanders.

This is why the sad hallmark of this week's federal budget is its failure to restore the wasted employment insurance system for those out of work. It's the hallmark because of what it says about our attitudes toward the economy.

When unemployment insurance began, during the Depression of the 1930s, it was built on the idea of a right to work, like other basic rights, and not just a need to survive. Also on the dignity of work. UI was meant to tide the jobless through bad patches so that they needn't grab any shabby job offer that came along for the sake of survival. It reflected a sense of work as the heart of social and economic life, in a society where left-wing parties, ideologies, writers and, above all, unions, voiced this sense.

(Keep reading ...)

"Liberal" Media Bias?

Yeah - ri-ight.

Right on cue, the White House press awakens from its Bush slumber
by Eric Boehlert

Pulling a collective Rip Van Winkle, the White House press corps has awakened from its extended nap just in time to aggressively press the new Democratic administration, just as it dogged the last Democratic president during his first days in office back in the 1990s. Conveniently skipped over during the press corps' extended bout of shut-eye? The Bush years, of course.

Suddenly revved up and vowing to keep a hawk-like watch on the Obama administration ("I want to hold these guys accountable for what they say and do") and all of a sudden obsessed with trivia, while glomming onto nitpicking, gotcha-style critiques, Beltway reporters have tossed aside the blanket of calm that had descended on them during the previous administration, a blanket of calm that defined their Bush coverage.

Can't say I'm surprised about the sudden change in behavior, though. Taking the long view, I recently went back and contrasted how the press covered the first days and weeks of Clinton's first term in 1993 with its coverage of Bush's arrival in 2001. The difference in tone and substance was startling. (Think bare-knuckled vs. cottony soft.)

One explanation at the time of the Bush lovefest was that reporters and pundits were just so burnt out by the Clinton scandal years that they needed some downtime. They needed to relax; it was human nature. Conversely, the opposite now seems to be true: Because the press dozed for so long -- because it sleepwalked through the Bush years -- it just had to spring back to life with the new administration. It's human nature.

When contrasting the early Clinton and Bush coverage, I noted it would be deeply suspicious if, in 2009, the press managed to turn up the emotional temperature just in time to cover another Democratic administration. But wouldn't you know it, the press corps' alarm went off right on time for Obama's arrival last week, with the Beltway media taking down off the shelf the dusty set of contentious, in-your-face rules of engagement they practiced during the Clinton years and putting into safe storage the docile, somnambulant guidelines from the Bush era. In other words, one set of rules for Clinton and Obama, another for Bush. One standard for the Democrats; a separate, safer one, for the Republican.

"I don't think there is a honeymoon" for Obama, Jon Banner, the executive producer of ABC's World News, announced last week. "The accountability starts immediately." See, accountability suddenly reigns supreme. Just like right after Clinton was sworn in. But Bush in 2001? Not so much.

For folks who, understandably, weren't paying attention 16 years ago or who haven't read up on their White House media history, it's hard to appreciate just how uncanny the similarities are between how the suddenly hyperactive, conflict-driven press corps (baited by the right to prove their independence) is dealing with Obama's first days and how the hyperactive press dealt with Clinton's opening days, as journalists then also seemed determined to prove their un-liberalness.

The early Clinton and Obama scripts are at times interchangeable (i.e. baseless, negative stories like the cost of Obama's inauguration and the cost of Bill Clinton's haircut). The only part that doesn't fit in with the rest of the mosaic is how the press lovingly treated the Republican in 2001 during his arrival in town.

The media's abrupt transformation last week in terms of greeting the new president -- a transformation that unfolded with great pride and even apparent glee among reporters -- was showcased during the new administration's first White House press briefing, where many reporters, previously comatose during the news-free Bush-era briefings, rose up in anger and demanded answers during a contentious session.

"Game On! Obama's Clash With The White House Press Corps" announced The Daily Beast. And under the headline, "Obama press aide gets bashed in debut," The Washington Times' Joseph Curl reported:

Although President Obama swept into office pledging transparency and a new air of openness, the press hammered spokesman Robert Gibbs for nearly an hour over a slate of perceived secretive slights that have piled up quickly for the new administration. It wasn't pretty.


And so it went at the first official White House briefing of the new Obama administration -- a fiery back and forth dispelling the notion that journalists would go easy on the guy that many reports show it went easy on during the marathon primary and general election campaigns.

Halfway through the interrogation, a reporter asked succinctly: "Is the honeymoon over already?"

Curl also reported there was yelling and shouting from journalists inside the White House press room that day. (One "spat.") Now, if you're having trouble recalling all the times the same press corps "hammered" Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer for nearly an hour -- yelled, shouted, and spat questions at him -- back in January 2001, don't worry, your memory isn't going bad. It's just that those contentious hardball sessions never actually happened.

In fact, the media's lullaby treatment of Bush at the outset of 2001 became so pronounced that even some members of the Beltway press corps acknowledged the unfolding phenomenon and how it so obviously contrasted with the high-octane coverage the outgoing Democratic administration had been bombarded with. "The truth is, this new president [Bush] has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton," Politico's John Harris, then with The Washington Post, wrote during Bush's first months in office. (Harris went on to cheer, "[G]ood for Washington in giving a new president a break at the start.")

The other Clinton/Obama connection is how the press detests the way new Democratic White Houses treat the media. Of course, the irony is thick, considering the utter contempt the Bush White House displayed toward the press. The way former chief of staff Andrew Card famously dismissed the press as just another D.C. special interest group desperately seeking access, the way aides quickly formed habits of not returning reporters' calls for weeks and months, and the way the Bush White House waved in a former male prostitute using an alias and without any valid journalistic credentials to toss softball questions during briefings. That's how Republicans brushed back the press. But it's the Democrats whom reporters lash out at. It's the Democrats whom reporters denounce with righteous indignation within days of the new administration's taking office.

Back at the outset of 1993, journalists complained that the new Clinton communications team limited their access by closing off portions of the White House to reporters, that aides didn't sufficiently schmooze journalists, and that the new president did not have enough formal press conferences. (And don't even ask what reporters did when their pals in the White House travel office got fired.) "They're dissing us," Los Angeles Times California editor David Lauter, then-White House reporter, complained in April 1993.

Well, fast-forward to last week, and it's déjà vu all over again. Here's how Politico cataloged the media's petty laundry list of grievances that sparked the press "frustration":

There have been a handful of rocky moments so far. Some press staffers found their name cards misspelled on Wednesday and phone lines weren't properly hooked up. Reporters trying to reach the press staff got emails bounced back.


And in the hours before Gibbs' briefing, the northwest gate of the White House started running out of temporary passes.

No wonder NBC's Chuck Todd compared the White House press room to Gitmo -- reporters' names were misspelled!

It was telling that in its piece about Obama's press woes, Politico noted how the Clinton administration had also run into trouble with the press over issues of access. Noticeably absent from the Politico article was any mention of how the Bush administration dramatically limited media access, regularly cordoned off information from the press, and warned reporters that edgy questions posed at the daily sessions were "noted in the building." That's all been tossed down the memory hole. It's only new Democratic presidents who are asked to play nice with the press and get badgered when they do not.

But back to the showdown at the White House briefing last week: CNN's Ed Henry, while appearing on The Situation Room, stressed to host Wolf Blitzer that he didn't think the new White House press secretary had answered his query that day about Obama's pick to become deputy defense secretary. Think about that premise for a moment (i.e. a White House press secretary artfully dodges a reporter's question) while recalling what the White House press briefings were like for reporters under Bush. Dan Froomkin at did his best to capture the vacuous nature of those exercises:

The spin, the secrets, the non-answers and the unprecedented lack of access are an insult not only to journalists, but to the public that depends on us to fully inform them about what's really going on in the White House.

Added blogger and J-school professor Jay Rosen:

The point here was to underline how pointless it was even to ask questions of the Bush White House. And reporters got that point, though they missed the larger picture I am describing. Many times they wondered what they were doing there.

And TNR's Jonathan Chait:

Much of the time [Ari] Fleischer does not engage with the logic of a question at all. He simply denies its premises -- or refuses to answer it on the grounds that it conflicts with a Byzantine set of rules governing what questions he deems appropriate. Fleischer has broken new ground in the dark art of flackdom: Rather than respond tendentiously to questions, he negates them altogether.

But suddenly for Henry, when a Democrat's in power, it's news when a White House press person doesn't answer a reporter's question during a daily briefing. After eight years of having a succession of Bush flacks who, almost with robotic precision, refused to answer weeks, months, and years' worth of daily briefing questions from reporters -- to the point where journalists stopped showing up at the daily briefings or even trying to draw out useful information from the uncooperative White House press operation -- against that backdrop, the CNN correspondent thought it was newsworthy that his question wasn't answered by the new Democratic White House spokesman.

In other words, a routine, everyday press occurrence under Bush (a reporter gets a non-answer) suddenly transformed itself into a news event under Obama.

Do reporters deserve to get straight answers at the White House? Yes. Was Henry's query a legitimate one? Absolutely. But when the non-answers came from Bush spokesmen and women, the working press corps seemed to shrug it off. On Obama's first day, though, an unsatisfactory response was suddenly worthy of discussion on cable television. Why? From the press' perspective, Democratic administrations are supposed to answer all questions. They're supposed to grant carte blanche access to the press. Republicans could do whatever they wanted to the daily briefing and defang the process to the point of irrelevancy. But Democrats? Sorry, a different set of rules apply.

(Keep reading ...)

"See" Me on WWL Radio Tonight!!!

Join Producer Diane G, and Hosts Gottlieb and Ed Encho for a Wildly Left Hour!!!

This evening, at 6pm Eastern, join us at WWL BlogTalkRadio as we discuss:

1. Equal Pay - The Lilly Ledbetter Law gets signed!

Call in and let us know if this will effect you, or has effected you in the past.

2. Conyers vs Rove.. Holder vs The Right

Is accountability a pipe dream, or did someone just repack the bowl???

3. Stimulus Package... Is Keynesianism on the Rise, or is this just more Trickle down?

Speak your minds!

Our VERY Special Guest will be OPOL, of Docudharma!!!!

Nothing like One Pissed Off Liberal to discuss with us:

1. we should have listened to the hippies

2. we should cease making war on people for bogus reasons

3. we should re-purpose the MIC to address environmental and energy issues

Tune in and Listen:

Listen to The Wild Wild Left on internet talk radio

Call in with comments or questions to:


The link to BTR live chat will be available on the WWL 15 minutes before the show!

Don't forget to plug APOV or your own blogs when introducing yourself on the Air!

When we lift any one of us on the Left, we lift us all!!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Harper/Flaherty Budget: Stimulus Too Timid, Tax Cuts Ineffective

Right. Dead on. And then some. Utter incompetence all around.

Stimulus too timid; tax cuts ineffective — NUPGE

“Everyone except the prime minister seems to understand that big problems require bold solutions. Canada needs a large-scale fiscal stimulus."

Ottawa (27 Jan. 2009) – The Harper government has let Canadians down again with a stimulus package that is short on the bold investments needed to boost the economy, create jobs and protect vulnerable families, says the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

The union says the budget is not equal to the challenges facing the country and should be significantly amended or defeated.

"When it comes to the economy the prime minister has a tin ear,” said James Clancy, NUPGE national president.

“That was obvious in the last election and the lead-up to the fall economic update. After losing the confidence of Canadians and shutting down Parliament the prime minister entered into a much-heralded ‘listening mode’ but he apparently conducted ‘listening mode’ with a tin ear as well," he says.

“Everyone except the prime minister seems to understand that big problems require bold solutions. Canada needs a large-scale fiscal stimulus but unfortunately today’s budget is underwhelming and amounts to timid tweaking at the margins.”

Equal to just 1% of GDP

Almost half of the deficit for next year is due simply to lost revenue from the faltering economy. The stimulus package announced in the budget for next year is a modest $18 billion, which represents about 1% of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP) and only half the size of efforts presented in other countries. U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed a stimulus package of about 5% of GDP.

"We're far behind what's happening internationally and that means Canadians are going to see more joblessness, uncertainty and hardship than they need to," Clancy adds. “Mr. Harper doesn't seem to realize that the dangers of being too timid are far greater than the risks of doing too much.”

A good part of the stimulus package is going to tax cuts for corporations and permanent personal income tax cuts. When it comes to reviving the economy and helping vulnerable families tax cuts do not work as well as smart public spending, Clancy points out.

“The tax cuts in today’s budget are ill-advised and will be ineffective. The most important personal tax cuts are not targeted at low-income families and most people will use tax cuts to pay down debt, build savings or buy imports – none of which will help boost the economy.”

Previous tax cuts didn't prevent recession

In recent years the Harper government has announced tax cuts totalling close to $200 billion, most of which has gone to large corporations. The union notes that these tax cuts did nothing to prevent the economic recession and says it makes no sense to expect more tax cuts to lift Canada out of a recession or help struggling families.

“The Harper government is focused on business tax cuts while at the same time funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to the big banks,” Clancy notes. “When are they going to drop their corporate tax cut ideology and instead start helping average families by doing things like ensuring the big banks reduce mortgage rates, credit card interest rates and ATM fees?”

There’s a widespread consensus among leading economists that when it comes to reviving the economy the impact of tax cuts is much lower than that of direct government spending.

“More investment in our social safety net should have been the core of today’s stimulus plan,” argues Clancy. “That would have provided more bang for the buck, more support for vulnerable families, and it would have ensured that something of value is left behind when the short-term stimulus is over.”

Little for jobless, families, elder care or students

Instead, the new budget confirms that equalization improvements already announced will be limited to the growth rate of the economy, meaning that struggling provinces will receive $7 billion less from the federal government than they had been counting on over the next two years. The budget also contained next to nothing to help the unemployed, families struggling with the rising costs of child care and elder care, students with rising debt loads, and seniors struggling with reduced retirement savings.

“Extending Employment Insurance (EI) benefits by five weeks is not nearly enough to help unemployed Canadians,” Clancy says.

“Improving access to EI and increasing benefits would have been far more helpful when it comes to putting money in the hands of those who need it most. But the budget does nothing to address our flawed system, where only 40% of workers qualify for what are now poverty-level benefits."

“Most Canadians were expecting new investments in our social infrastructure but this budget invests nothing in child care, elder care, mental health, post-secondary education or community-based social services,” he adds.

"Furthermore, the budget does nothing to improve public pensions for seniors and nothing to shore up workplace pension plans.”

(Keep reading ...)

The United Haters Of America

by Guy Reel

Somewhere deep inside the authoritarian minds of the ultra right-wingers, the fear, helplessness and paranoia that have always been so evident have reached the boiling point. For them, Obama's election and, perhaps even more so, the sight of him standing on the Capitol steps and taking the oath of office, have brought home a grim truth. They have tried to deny it for many years now, but America is not what they think it is. And because of their own incompetence, blindness to reality and the changing demographics among voters - the growing minorities and young voters who have rejected the GOP - they have lost America, perhaps for good.

And so now we hear, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, their wish of failure (and perhaps worse) for America.

Karl Rove and Marc Thiessen, the former chief White House speechwriter, have been warning that Obama's new anti-terror policies (such as closing Guantanamo Bay, prohibiting torture and stopping rendition to CIA black sites) may put the nation at risk. In The Washington Post, Thiessen wrote, "If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible - and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation."

One can read the anticipation between the lines - "When there's a terrorist attack, Republicans will rule again because that will prove Obama was wrong and Bush was right!"

Well, of course it would do nothing of the sort. First, there is no evidence that any of Bush's anti-American policies - illegal wiretapping, coercive interrogations, extraordinary renditions, or holding people without charges, lawyers or trials - have prevented any attacks. In fact, most military and intelligence personnel agree that these policies have increased terrorist recruiting and made American less safe. They have also resulted in far more terrorist attacks around the world.

Bush and Dick Cheney made similar claims during their beauty pageant goodbye strolls while completing their terms in office. The most important legacy for them is that there were no terrorist attacks on the U.S. after 9/11, and they argued that Obama's reversals of Bush's policies could invite future attacks. That argument is utter nonsense.

Leave aside the fact that more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have died, many from terrorist attacks, and that more than 150,000 Iraqis have died, many from terrorist bombings, and that hundreds more died in terrorist assaults in London and Madrid and India and Indonesia and elsewhere. Even had none of these things happened, the cause-and-effect argument simply isn't logical. It's just after-the-fact rationalization.

There is also no reason to think that most people will blame Obama if terrorists strike again, even though that's what all this noise from the right wing is about - laying the groundwork to blame the new president. Despite the evidence that the Bush administration ignored blatant warnings about 9/11, went on vacation and did nothing to stop the attacks, Americans rallied around Bush. They would likely do the same with Obama.

Now there is fear-mongering about what would happen were we to grant some rights to offenders at Guantanamo - that some would go free and incite violence against us. Well, here's a news flash: That has already happened, under Bush. The U.S. has already released more than 400 prisoners from Guantanamo, many held for years without any legal rights whatsoever. Some have simply gone home. But some have taken up arms against us (perhaps some of them because they were held without cause). The New York Times reported that one became the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and is suspected of involvement in the bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen in September.

Where are the howls of protest about this outrage? If this happens under an Obama administration, the Limbaughs and the Hannitys will be calling for his head. But, in their blind devotion to Bush, they say nothing about policies that led to an arrest and incarceration of a terrorist but were so ill-conceived and poorly managed that they forced his release. Similarly, some charges against terrorists have been or will be thrown out because Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush allowed their torture. The very policy they so lovingly embraced has actually helped the enemy.

But that actually isn't that surprising. Right-wingers have always seemed to have a strange enthusiasm for the things terrorists do and say, then they react in a way that helps the terrorists. The administration based U.S. military and foreign policy on what the terrorists said they were going to do - imagine, running U.S. policy based on the lies and threats of a bunch of wanton murderers. Bush put the country trillions more into debt to fight wars and finance tax cuts for the rich so that he could say we were taking the fight to the terrorists but could still go shopping. He let terrorists' threats lead him to ignore the Constitution, erode our moral standing in the world and drive a wedge between the U.S. and its allies. And his policies have allowed murders to go free and kill again - exactly what the right-wing claims Obama is going to do.

So it's not much of a stretch to think that, somewhere deep down, some in the extreme right wing will gain a smug satisfaction if terrorists do strike again in America. They can't wait for the blame game to start. People like Rush Limbaugh and Rove and Sarah Palin seem to think that liberals hate America. But, who, really, are the haters?

Limbaugh and many of his listeners have said they hope Obama will fail. That means they want America to fail. Or, at least, they want the kind of America that Obama stands for to fail - you know, the one where civil liberties are respected, where the rule of law prevails, where a multi-lateral foreign policy is embraced to increase homeland security, and where an African-American Democrat can become president.

They hate the America that is a liberal democracy, which it has been through most of its history. They hate the idea of equal protection for gays, of rights for the accused. They hate the idea of any kind of social welfare. This is a group that would destroy an entire industry because they hate the union workers who are fighting for better health care and wages. Yet they barely bat an eye at millions stolen by CEOs and investment bankers who raped their companies and banks and gave away billions in bonuses while the economy collapsed all around.

(Keep reading ...)

Dick Armey, Rush Limbaugh And Today's GOP

(I will be extremely busy over the next week or so, hence blogging on my part will be light - I apologize for the inconvenience)

Dick Armey And Post-Partisan Harmony
by Glenn Greenwald

Numerous people have commented on the deeply repellent behavior from former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey on Hardball yesterday, when he appeared with Salon's Joan Walsh. You can watch the video here. After dismissively cackling every time Walsh spoke, Armey finally spat at her: "I am so damn glad that you could never be my wife, 'cause I surely wouldn't have to listen to that prattle from you every day." I want to focus on two points highlighted by this episode:

First, Dick Armey isn't some obscure, aberrational Republican. He was one of the key leaders of the so-called "Gingrich Revolution" of the 1990s, when the modern incarnation of the Republican Party fully degenerated into the crazed, primitive, regional mess that it is today. He wasn't a back-bencher. He was the Republicans' House Majority Leader for eight years -- from 1995 to 2003 (when he left Congress, failed to have his son elected to his seat, and was replaced as the GOP's House Majority Leader by Tom DeLay).

People like Dick Armey -- and Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity -- are the face of today's GOP, its heart and soul. Armey, who once notoriously referred to Barney Frank as "Barney Fag," comes from a faction -- the Texas Republican Party -- that continues to advocate formally in its 2008 Party Platform (.pdf), among so many wonderful planks, that sex between gay people be criminalized and that all gay citizens be denied the most basic rights, including even the right to adopt children and to have custody over their own children [p.12]:

We also believe that no homosexual or any individual convicted of child abuse or molestation should have the right to custody or adoption of a minor child, and that visitation by such persons with a minor child should be prohibited [p. 14]. . . .

The Texas GOP wants creationism taught in the public schools alongside evolution and given "equal treatment" [p. 17]; Guantanamo to remain opened [p. 24]; the U.S. military to remain in Iraq with no timetable for withdrawal [p. 24]; and extraordinary medical care to be denied to all prisoners except for those who can pay for it themselves [p. 19].

The party's 2008 Platform also demands that the U.S. -- this is really what it says -- "cease strong arming Israel" by pressuring them "to make future diplomatic concessions, such as giving up land to the Palestinians on the West Bank" [p. 24]. American policy towards Israel, they argue, should be "based on God's biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefit of that promise" [p. 24]. Armey himself, in a 2002 Hardball appearance, advocated that Palestinians should "leave" the West Bank and Gaza (which Armey believes is part of Israel) and go somewhere else. His state party's Platform also wants the U.S. to "immediately rescind our membership in, as well as financial and military contributions to, the United Nations" [p. 25] .

These are the people who have largely been in power for the last two decades and the country is in the shape one would expect it to be in as a result. That's why all of this chatter about post-partisan transcendence and trans-partisan harmony and the like is so inane.

Why would anyone think that "common ground," on any consistent basis, can be found with people like this, or that it would be beneficial to eliminate real differences in order to accommodate their views? People in this country -- like most countries -- have radically different views of things, and politics is about having those ideas compete with one another for persuasive supremacy. This compulsion to eliminate differences and disharmony in pursuit of some feel-good, trans-partisan consensus is not only futile but also destructive. Why would it be a good idea to mold one's beliefs and actions to induce the assent of the Dick Armeys and the Texas GOPs, even if that could be done?

Second, Republicans have made about as clear as possible that even though they'll pay lip service to "bipartisanship," they don't actually want that. The principal criticism Armey was launching at Joan Walsh in that Hardball segment was that she, along with most people, degrade our politics generally, and our economic debates specifically, by turning them into partisan wars. We should rise above that for the good of the country, Armey repeatedly intoned.

But please go read the email that John Cole posted last night about the stimulus package which the very same Dick "Post-Partisan" Armey was sending around on behalf of his group FreedomWorks, on the very day he was on Hardball excoriating those who want to politicize our economic debates. Armey's mass-emailed screed urges opposition to the stimulus package as nothing more than "the Left's Multi-Billion Dollar Handout to Liberal Allies."

As I've documented many times before, Beltway "bipartisanship" means that Democrats adopt as many GOP beliefs as possible so what ultimately is done resembles Republican policies as much as possible (anyone doubting that should simply review these "bipartisan" votes of the last eight years). I'm glad that the stimulus package yesterday -- which Democrats watered down and comprised on as much as possible to please Republicans -- did not attract even a single Republican vote in the House: not one.

Republicans aren't interested in "bipartisanship" except to the extent that they can force Democrats to enact their policies even though they have only a small minority thanks to being so forcefully rejected by the citizenry. And why should they be interested in bipartisanship? Why should they vote for a stimulus package that they don't support and that is anathema to what their most ardent supporters believe? It's very hard to find any virtuous attribute of the contemporary Republican Party, but one thing that can be said for them is that -- unlike Democrats, whose overarching desire in life is to please the needy harmony fetishists by adopting as many GOP views as possible -- Republicans are willing to incur criticisms by opposing what they oppose and supporting what they support.

And that's how it should be. As Atrios wrote yesterday:

If I were advising the Republicans I would've told them to vote against the stimulus package. I would tell them to make the point clearly that if they were in charge, the bill would be a different bill. They're a competing political party and they need to, you know, highlight the fact that their vision for America is actually different. I appreciate that members of both parties don't always toe the line completely, but on a bill as big as this it makes perfect sense for it to play out as it did.

Of course the flip side is that Dems should've pushed the best plan that could pass the Senate instead of pushing some pointless fantasy about bipartisanship.

Some Obama supporters will claim that the whole post-partisan song is nothing more than a political game, a super-shrewd, exotic political tactic Obama is employing in order to cast the GOP as obstructionists. But if so, that's a Beltway tactic almost as old as Obama himself. Media Broderites and The Third Way have been demanding for decades that Democrats move as close as possible to Republicans in the name of overcoming partisanship (for instance, watch as Time's Joe Klein desperately tries to convince Dick Armey himself not to view Klein as a radical who is far away from Armey, but rather, that they're both "playing between the 40-yard-lines here").

Partisan disputes happen because people are very different and have very different views. Partisanship is about advocating for your own beliefs and discrediting the beliefs that you reject and believe are harmful. This doesn't mean that these disagreements must or should break down along Republican/Democratic lines. On so many critical, contentious issues, the leadership of the two parties are in perfect harmony. Many of the worst policies are embraced by the mainstream of both parties, and the real disagreements now break down on other lines, whether it be insider/outsider or diverging socioeconomic interests or rapidly-re-aligning ideological divisions. But politics is and should be about defeating ideas -- and people -- that are discredited and destructive.

(Keep reading ...)

Reloaded: More On the Continuing Blackmail Con Game

... and it still goes on and on and on.

And on:

What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses
By Ben White

By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street — except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

Some bankers took home millions last year even as their employers lost billions.

The comptroller’s estimate, a closely watched guidepost of the annual December-January bonus season, is based largely on personal income tax collections. It excludes stock option awards that could push the figures even higher.

The state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, said it was unclear if banks had used taxpayer money for the bonuses, a possibility that strikes corporate governance experts, and indeed many ordinary Americans, as outrageous. He urged the Obama administration to examine the issue closely.

“The issue of transparency is a significant one, and there needs to be an accounting about whether there was any taxpayer money used to pay bonuses or to pay for corporate jets or dividends or anything else,” Mr. DiNapoli said in an interview.

Granted, New York’s bankers and brokers are far poorer than they were in 2006, when record deals, and the record profits they generated, ushered in an era of Wall Street hyperwealth. All told, bonuses fell 44 percent last year, from $32.9 billion in 2007, the largest decline in dollar terms on record.

But the size of that downturn partly reflected the lofty heights to which bonuses had soared during the bull market. At many banks, those payouts were based on profits that turned out to be ephemeral. Throughout the financial industry, years of earnings have vanished in the flames of the credit crisis.

(Keep reading ...)

High-Flying Citigroup Grounds Plans for $50M Jet
By Jake Tapper
Obama Aide Called Citigroup to Complain About Jet

The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet from France.

The decision came 24 hours after the banking giant, which was rescued by a $45 billion taxpayer lifeline, defended buying the state-of-the-art Dassault Falcon 7X -- one of nine to be flying in U.S. skies -- as a smart business deal.

(Keep reading ...)

Corporations use bailout money to organize against Employee Free Choice Act
By John Amato

These people have no shame. The Huffington Post is reporting that the CEO's who received billions of tax payer dollars to save their asses are using the money to organize a massive attempt to block the Employee Free Choice Act.

Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community's top legislative priority.

Participants on the October 17 call -- including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG -- were urged to persuade their clients to send "large contributions" to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.

Bernie Marcus, the charismatic co-founder of Home Depot, led the call along with Rick Berman, an aggressive EFCA opponent and founder of the Center for Union Facts. Over the course of an hour, the two framed the legislation as an existential threat to American capitalism, or worse.

"This is the demise of a civilization," said Marcus. "This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I'm watching this happen and I don't believe it."

This is outrageous. It's bad enough to see these Bozos still try and buy private jets and hand out massive bonuses with our money, but to actively attack labor with it should be a criminal offense.

As you've seen so far, the Employee Free Choice Act is making right-wing heads explode because it places the choice of how to form a union in the hands of the workers and takes it away from big business. But I really didn't think they would take this money and use it for this purpose. The Huffington Post has audio of the calls. Reading some of what was said was infuriating.

You'll always notice that whenever most reporters mention EFCA, they call it by the right-wing name for it. Just for fun: If you drop the phrase "Card Check" in passing you'll get an angry reaction from most right-wingers and many of them don't even know why. And Bank of America has a personal vendetta going on with the SEIU now, so it's not a surprise they hosted the call.

(Keep reading ...)

Financial elite have no shame
by Linda McQuaig
Even in face of crisis, they continue to push for tax cuts instead of stimulus.

Let's imagine, for a moment, how different the public debate would be today if it had been unions that had caused the current economic turmoil.

In other words, try to imagine a scenario in which union leaders — not financial managers — were the ones whose reckless behaviour had driven a number of Wall Street firms into bankruptcy and in the process triggered a worldwide recession.

Needless to say, it's hard to imagine a labour leader being appointed to oversee a bailout of unions the way former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson was put in charge of supervising the $700 billion bailout of his former Wall Street colleagues.

My point is simply to note how odd it is that the financial community has emerged so unscathed, despite its central role in the collapse that has brought havoc to the world economy.

Of course, not all members of the financial community were involved in Wall Street's wildly irresponsible practices of bundling mortgages into securities and trading credit default swaps. But the financial community as a whole, on both sides of the border, certainly pushed hard to put in place an agenda of small government, in which financial markets largely regulated themselves and citizens (particularly high-income investors) would be spared the burden of paying much tax.

The agenda advanced much further in the US, but had an impact in Canada, particularly on the tax front.

One would think that those who pushed this agenda so enthusiastically would, at the very least, be a tad embarrassed today.

But so influential are those in the financial elite – and their hangers-on in think-tanks and economics departments – that they continue to appear on our TV screens, confidently providing us with economic advice, as if they'd played no role whatsoever in shaping our economic system for the past quarter century.

Of course, we're told there's been a major change in their thinking, in that many of them are now willing to accept large deficits in today's federal budget, in the name of stimulating the economy.

While this does seem like a sharp departure from the deficit hysteria of the 1990s, a closer look reveals the change may not be that significant.

In fact, financial types have always accepted deficits — when they liked the cause. Hence their lack of protest over George W Bush's enormous deficits, which were caused by his large tax cuts for the rich and his extravagant foreign wars.

What they don't like is governments going into deficit to help ordinary citizens — either by creating jobs or providing much unemployment relief.

(Keep reading ...)

And so it goes ...

Obama The Imperialist?

Change? In foreign policy, hardly. The new president is in the classic liberal interventionist mould

The first Democratic president in the modern era to be elected on an anti-war ticket is also, to the relief of neocons and the liberal belligerati, a hawk. Committed to escalation in Afghanistan, his foreign policy selections also indicate bellicosity towards Sudan and Iran. During his first week in office he sanctioned two missile attacks in Pakistan, killing 22 people, including women and children. And his stance on Gaza is remarkably close to that of the outgoing administration. The question now is how Obama will convince his supporters to back that stance. Bush could rely on a core constituency whose commitment to peace and human rights is, at the very least, questionable. Obama has no such luxury. In making his case, he will need the support of those "liberal hawks" who gave Bush such vocal support.

It is tempting to dismiss the "pro-war left" as a congeries of discredited left-wing apostates and Nato liberals. Their artless euphemisms for bloody conquest seem especially redundant in light of over a million Iraqi deaths. Yet their arguments, ranging from a paternalistic defence of "humanitarian intervention" to the championing of "western values", have their origins in a tradition of liberal imperialism whose durability advises against hasty dismissal. In every country whose rulers have opted for empire, there has developed among the intellectual classes a powerful pro-imperial consensus, with liberals and leftwingers its most vociferous defenders.

Liberal imperialists have resisted explicitly racist arguments for domination, instead justifying empire as a humane venture delivering progress. Even so, implicit in such a stance was the belief that other peoples were inferior. Just as John Stuart Mill contended that despotism was a "legitimate mode of government in dealing with the barbarians" provided "the end be their improvement", so the Fabians contended that self-government for "native races" was "as useless to them as a dynamo to a Caribbean". Intellectuals of the Second International such as Eduard Bernstein regarded the colonised as incapable of self-government. For many liberals and socialists of this era, the only disagreement was over whether the natives could attain the disciplined state necessary to run their own affairs. Indigenous resistance, moreover, was interpreted as "native fanaticism", to be overcome with European tuition.

Keep Reading ...

punditman says ...
It is true that Bush was profoundly unpopular, but thanks to the propaganda system, even at the height of US aggression most people didn't pay much attention to all his "collateral damage" in Iraq and Afghanistan. To no surprise, early indications are that they are paying even less attention to the deaths of innocents abroad under the overly popular Obama regime. This will change only if people stop seeing Obama as the peace president.

Punditman thinks you can kiss goodbye to any hope of the Obama administration taking Bush to task for breaking international law by willfully leading the US into war in Iraq under false premises (lies). By continuing such a policy "responsibly," is he not complicit?
And this says nothing of his fetish for attacking Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Reloaded: Meanwhile, Elsewhere ...

Following up on this older post here - I hereby yield the floor to Chris Floyd, who updates us on yet another FUBAR (two recent developments here and here) that has been going on and yet having garnered scant attention:

Silent as the Tomb: Another American-Backed Slaughter Ignored

Before taking office, Barack Obama was chided -- in certain quarters, at least -- for his long silence on the slaughter in Gaza. Of course, as we noted here the other day, the main reason he stayed mum on the subject before his inauguration was that he was in complete accord with George W. Bush's stance on the American-backed massacre of civilians.

However, there is another horrific, American-backed slaughter that Obama has been silent about for even longer -- throughout his entire presidential campaign, in fact, and continuing into his presidency. We speak, of course, of the ghastly Terror War "regime change" operation in Somalia, where American bombs, American weapons, American training, American money -- and American death squads -- aided the military forces of the Ethiopian dictatorship in its brutal invasion and murderous occupation of the long-shattered land. [For more background, see this, especially the links at the bottom.]

The aim of this savage operation was to overturn the "Islamic Courts" movement -- a coalition of various sectarian factions which had brought Somalia its first semblance of stability and security after 15 years of violence, chaos and abandonment by the outside world. The broad-based movement included a range of groups, from the very moderate to the more extreme, and represented a grass-roots effort by Somalis to rebuild their own nation on their own terms.

But these terms were not those approved by the Potomac poobahs, who had their own hand-picked warlords -- some of them on the CIA payroll -- whom they preferred to see in power. And so the "regime change" was launched in December 2006, with American bombers and missiles targeting fleeing refugees while Washington's proxy forces poured in from Ethiopia.

The results were entirely predictable: one of the worst humanitarian disasters on the planet, with many thousands killed, hundreds of thousands displaced, and millions driven into hunger and deprivation. Week after week, as the American-backed occupation went on -- with U.S. missile attacks on villages, the insertion of U.S. death squads to "clean up" after covert ops, the "rendition" of Somali refugees (and some U.S. citizens) to Ethiopia's notorious, torture-laden prisons -- more and more Somalis were radicalized, and the more extreme element in the former coalition grew stronger -- and more virulent. This too was inevitable; it has been the inevitable outcome of every single major operation in the so-called "War on Terror" that Obama has now made his own. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia (and Pakistan too, which has been a shadow theater of the Terror War, but now looks to be taking center stage soon), religious extremism has been strengthened immeasurably. And each of the Terror War theaters has been turned into seething hotbeds of anti-American fury. Now Obama is pledged to continue and exacerbate this process, with his surge in Afghanistan and his incursions into Pakistan.

In Somalia, the very extremists which were the ostensible reason for the "regime change" are now on the verge of capturing most of the country. As the Washington Post notes:

The departure of the last Ethiopian tanks from Somalia's capital is ushering in a new phase of conflict in a nation known for clan warfare: a battle for power among militias flying Islamist banners.

In some ways, the situation in Somalia, where people have long practiced a moderate and mostly apolitical form of Islam, has circled back to where it was when the Ethiopians invaded two years ago. The U.S.-supported operation was intended to oust a popular movement of moderate and radical Islamists that had taken over the capital and that the United States accused of having ties to al-Qaeda.

But the operation drove the more radical Islamist fighters, known as al-Shabab, into a brutal insurgency against the Ethiopian occupiers and the secular, transitional government their invasion installed. After the deaths of at least 10,000 people and the displacement of 1 million, Ethiopia and the United States are now supporting a political compromise that stands to return to power some of the same moderate Islamist leaders they originally ousted.

In other words, the entire operation has been completely pointless -- at least in terms of its stated objectives. A union of the "transitional government" and the Islamic Courts could have been achieved through long and arduous negotiations -- and yes, perhaps some internal fighting with the then-small extremist factions. But in any case, it would have been Somalis working out a Somali solution, building on the stability achieved by the Islamic Courts, and aided perhaps by economic and diplomatic help from the Western powers who backed the transitionals.

But of course, the true aim of the "regime change" operation was neither to quell a non-existent "terrorist threat" from the Islamic Courts nor to bring peace and stability to Somalia. It was to install, by blood and iron, a compliant government that would serve the American imperial agenda in the strategic Horn of Africa. A grass-roots movement like the Islamic Courts would be too independent, could never be relied upon; so it had to go.

Now in its place comes more chaos and murderous ruin. The insurgency against the U.S.-backed occupation is splintering violently into opposing factions now that this first attempt at "regime change" has failed so miserably. This is of course in keeping with the age-old "divide and conquer" strategy of all imperial powers. The almost certain result will be a hydra-headed, multi-sided civil war. And as the Guardian notes:

It's no mystery who will pay the highest and most immediate price. "The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe facing Somalia today threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions on a scale not witnessed since the early 1990s," Human Rights Watch's latest report warns. UN agencies say 3.25 million Somalis are already dependent on food aid; 1.3 million are internally displaced, including two-thirds of the population of Mogadishu. Twenty-five per cent of the total population is suffering from acute malnutrition.

Beset by conflict and drought, thousands more are fleeing each month in all directions – to north-eastern Kenya (already home to 220,000 Somalis), Ethiopia, Eritrea and, risking the perilous passage across the Gulf of Aden, to Yemen. This exodus is likely to grow significantly if the political impasse and related insecurity intensifies.

The seizure of a few commercial ships by the remarkably non-violent pirate gangs operating in Somalia last year brought a swift international response, with the world's great powers teaming up and giving each other carte blanche to strike Somalia whenever and however they please, as we noted here last month. [See "Abandoned by the World: UN Declares Open Season on Somalia."] It is likely that these blank checks will be cashed over and over, especially as the fighting goes on. Under the rubric of "protecting business interests" -- which is, of course, the violent extremist cult of the 'civilized world' -- and "fighting terrorism," we will likely see more and more interventions in the incipient Somali civil war.

The entirely predictable result will be more chaos, more extremism, more needless death, and more unimaginable suffering of multitudes of innocent people. But the military-business establishments of many great powers, from Washington to Beijing, will reap huge dividends -- financial and political -- from this churning sea of blood. So it will go on, while the world, and the White House, looks the other way.

(Keep reading ...)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On Striking Parallels And Repeating History ...

... over and over again. Here's (lots) more food for thought on the matter - drawing upon the close similarities between the U.S. and Israel in the way they behave:

The Necessary Violence of the Murderous National Bully
by Arthur Silber

I want to explore here some themes that are interconnected in very complex ways. It took me several years to appreciate these interconnections, so I do not expect them to be readily apparent to others. I continue to discern further aspects and ramifications of these ideas, and they are also related to certain mechanisms I will discuss when I explore the nature of tribalism in politics.

I'm prompted to offer these thoughts in part because of the monstrous devastation visited on Gaza by Israel. In considering Israel's ghastly recent actions, it is critical always to keep in the forefront of one's mind that Israel brought widescale death and destruction upon a captive population -- that Israel slaughtered many innocent people in precisely the way cattle are slaughtered. Now, while Israel's military remains in Gaza, Israel announces that it will abide by a ceasefire. Please note that this ceasefire takes effect after "after 22 days of war that killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis." Even when confronted by such a devastatingly awful death toll (and if "disproportionate" ever had any meaning, it most certainly does here), many people are proclaiming that Israel "lost" insofar as longer term goals of peace and security are concerned -- see, as just two examples, here and here. Because they believe Israel "lost," they are unable to understand Israel's motives in pursuing this course.

This view is absolutely wrong, in at least two critical ways. First, on the practical level (or speaking "pragmatically," as our incoming president might say), Israel pursued its murderous course for several weeks -- and no one at all did anything of consequence to try to stop the murder. To the contrary, Israel's strongest ally, the United States, offered enthusiastic support for these crimes, most notably in the form of almost unanimous and unqualified support from the U.S. Congress. As I've said before, this is far from surprising, since the United States government has a long history of crimes of this kind, and currently continues a crime of historic proportions in Iraq. It is to their mutual benefit for criminals of this kind to applaud each other's bloody work.

Throughout the continuing scenes of dismembered bodies, corpses of bloody children and all the nightmarish further details, Obama maintained his loathsome silence, and broke it only to express a generalized "concern" with the great suffering being endured. Obama also claimed he would have "plenty to say" about Gaza once he is inaugurated. However, as I recently discussed, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that his policy toward Israel will differ in any significant way from that of previous administrations. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that his policy will be virtually identical.

I will credit Israel for exceptionally clever timing, in the same manner I would credit a very skilled murderer for knowing how to eradicate clues to his identity. Israel says it will now stop the murder, just as Obama is about to become president. In this manner, Israel generously allows Obama to avoid having to take a stand as president about these recent events, and to indicate whether he would have stopped the massacre if he had been president as it was occurring. But the general dynamics remain unchanged. When Israel again decides to ramp up the terror -- and it will, the only question is when -- the blame will once again fall on the "terrorists" who provoked Israel, in the same manner that the U.S. government is always very careful to make every act of its own aggression the fault of the other party. And the slaughter of the innocent will commence once more.

To think that Israel "lost" reveals a significant failure to understand the operations of the State, and of a particular kind of State. Just as the U.S. drive to American global hegemony means that the U.S. government intends to have its way no matter what, Israel intends to have its way within the smaller territory which it claims for its own dominance. From this perspective, it can be seen that the exercise of power in the manner just demonstrated by Israel is not a strategy toward a further end: the exercise of power is the end. Terrorizing an entire captive population, making large numbers of people (including many entirely innocent people) believe they have no choice but to obey, and visiting destruction and death upon them if they do not do exactly as they are told -- all of that is the purpose. To summarize this point, which applies to the governments of both the United States and Israel:
The fundamental lesson is unmistakable, and unmistakably evil in intent and execution (a word made horribly appropriate in more than one sense by our government's actions): you will do exactly as we say -- or else.
Israel did all this -- and no one stopped it. When Israel does it again, it is almost certain that no one, certainly not the U.S. government, will stop it then, either. That, I submit, is precisely what victory looks like.

Here is another connection. From "Lies in the Service of Evil," and the full essay discusses this in great detail:
The crucial point is Foucault's. Let me rephrase it as follows, in connection with torture specifically.

Torture does not work. Its use permanently damages all those who are tortured, and those who administer the violence. Its "lawful" use profoundly undermines the broader society and democratic institutions in ways that are irreparable. But its persistent, ineradicable failure is entirely irrelevant for those who seek to consolidate and expand state power. Moreover, its inherent failure underscores their aim: it does not work, everyone knows it does not work, but the state does it because it can.
There is a second way in which the belief that Israel "lost" is profoundly wrong, and it concerns a particular kind of narrative: the narrative of national founding and identity. Since all States are founded upon and rely on force and coercion (for much more on this subject, see this essay), all States must periodically remind their subject-citizens of the meaning of State power, and of the fact that when the State targets you, there is precious little you have to offer by way of defense. Within this general principle, a narrower principle may also be identified: one particular kind of State is especially prone to fits of aggression, just as any bully is driven to demonstrate regularly that you (and anyone else) cross the bully at your own peril. The psychology of the bully is one that lies at the core of the American national identity, to the extent such a phenomenon can be identified. I discussed these issues at length in two essays in particular: "Bullied, Terrorized and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well," and "Let the Victims Speak."

What is true of America in this respect is also true of Israel, for their national narratives and their histories contain striking similarities. Chris Floyd recently described this as follows:
[W]hat we have been witnessing in Palestine over the past several decades is a remarkable echo of the dispossession and destruction of the Native American nations by the United States. There are myriad differences, of course, but the broad outline is basically the same: a people denigrated as primitive and inferior are being stripped of their land, driven into poverty and desperation, and killed in large numbers by another people who believe that their "manifest destiny" and moral superiority justify violent conquest and repression. Any violent resistance to the conquest is treated as barbaric terrorism -- and another justification for yet more repression, for even harsher tactics to grind down the conquered, secure "the frontier" and make it safe for "settlers" and the "civilization" they bring.

One reason that Israel persists in its harsh policies of decimation and destruction against the Palestinians is that such methods very often work: you can dispossess another people, destroy all but an ineffective remnant of their society and colonize their land to your own lasting profit and advantage. And you can do it in such a thoroughgoing manner that there will be no realistic possibility of the conquered people ever rising again to take back what was theirs. This is the example that the United States has set for Israel. It is unlikely to work in the same way or with the same degree of success for Israel in 21st century, for a number of reasons. In fact, it can -- and probably will -- end in disaster. But it is not an irrational policy; it does have many successful historical precedents -- including the history of Israel's chief benefactor.
And in "Why Most People Won't Fight," I discussed Uri Avnery's analysis of the same point:
Avnery discusses the profound similarities to be found in the national narratives of the United States and of Israel: how "Israel is a small America, the USA is a huge Israel"; how the "Mayflower passengers, much as the Zionists of the first and second aliya (immigration wave), fled from Europe, carrying in their hearts a messianic vision, either religious or utopian"; how "Both suffered a great deal in their new country. Both saw themselves as 'pioneers' who made the wilderness bloom, a 'people without land in a land without people.' Both completely ignored the rights of the indigenous people, whom they considered subhuman savages and murderers. Both saw the natural resistance of the local peoples as evidence of their innately murderous character, which justified even the worst atrocities." And then Avnery writes:
How is it that a man like Obama, the son of an African father, identifies so completely with the actions of former generations of American whites? It shows again the power of a myth to become rooted in the consciousness of a person, so that he identifies 100 percent with the imagined national narrative. To this may be added the unconscious urge to belong to the victors, if possible.

Therefore, I do not accept without reservation the speculation: "Well, he must talk like this in order to get elected. Once in the White House, he will return to himself."

I am not so sure about that. It may well turn out that these things have a surprisingly strong hold on his mental world.
These are very important insights. That Obama "identifies so completely with the actions of former generations of American whites" folds into my current series, "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class" -- a class to which Obama belongs fully and completely in every way that matters, philosophically, politically, and ideologically. Avnery provides yet another aspect of Obama's identification with the white, male rulers of America, the rulers who have held almost all power from the founding of this nation (and before) through and including today -- and into tomorrow. And Avnery's observations about the power of myth track completely with my writings about that power, and about the power of narrative. As but one example, see "Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much."
For the argument here, the crucial aspect of these very similar national narratives and histories is this: the founding and development of both America and Israel required the large-scale, even genocidal, destruction of indigenous peoples. To further that destruction, and to provide moral "justification," the indigenous peoples first had to be condemned and demonized. And because force and violence are necessary to the continuation of the State, such demonization must continue into the future, especially since additional acts of destruction will be necessary for the maintenance and consolidation of State power.

(Keep reading ...)