Back in October 2006 when the Johns Hopkins study published in the British medical journal The Lancet revealed that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the US invasion (the figure at that time could have been as "low" as 392,979 and as high as 942,636 due to the inherent impossibility of pinning down the precise number), the US government and Brits heatedly denied that the Lancet figures were correct. Bush claimed that the researchers had used outdated and discredited techniques. The BBC report below shows that the Brits' chief scientific adviser concluded that the study had used robust methods and was "close to best practice." Despite this, nonetheless, the British government publicly claimed the opposite. Quelle surprise.
Check out Bill O'Reilly claiming this month that the actual numbers are around 40,000.
British Backtrack on Iraq Death Toll
By Jill Lawless
The Independent UK
Tuesday 27 March 2007
British government officials have backed the methods used by scientists who concluded that more than 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion, the BBC reported yesterday.
The Government publicly rejected the findings, published in The Lancet in October. But the BBC said documents obtained under freedom of information legislation showed advisers concluded that the much-criticised study had used sound methods.
The study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, estimated that 655,000 more Iraqis had died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. The study estimated that 601,027 of those deaths were from violence.
The researchers, reflecting the inherent uncertainties in such extrapolations, said they were 95 per cent certain that the real number of deaths lay somewhere between 392,979 and 942,636.
The conclusion, based on interviews and not a body count, was disputed by some experts, and rejected by the US and British governments. But the chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Roy Anderson, described the methods used in the study as "robust" and "close to best practice". Another official said it was "a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones".
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Back in October 2006 when the Johns Hopkins study published in the British medical journal The Lancet revealed that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the US invasion (the figure at that time could have been as "low" as 392,979 and as high as 942,636 due to the inherent impossibility of pinning down the precise number), the US government and Brits heatedly denied that the Lancet figures were correct. Bush claimed that the researchers had used outdated and discredited techniques. The BBC report below shows that the Brits' chief scientific adviser concluded that the study had used robust methods and was "close to best practice." Despite this, nonetheless, the British government publicly claimed the opposite. Quelle surprise.
Friday, March 23, 2007
("President Discusses Creation of Military Commissions to Try Suspected Terrorists") September 6, 2006: "Another reason the terrorists have not succeeded is because our government has changed its policies -- and given our military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel the tools they need to fight this enemy and protect our people and preserve our freedoms."
"FBI Violations May Number 3,000, Official Says," by R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, March 21, 2007: "The Justice Department's inspector general told a committee of angry House members yesterday that the FBI may have violated the law or government policies as many as 3,000 times since 2003 as agents secretly collected the telephone, bank and credit card records of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals residing here.
"Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that according to the FBI's own estimate, as many as 600 of these violations could be 'cases of serious misconduct' involving the improper use of 'national security letters' to compel telephone companies, banks and credit institutions to produce records.
"Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) expressed surprise at how widespread the use of national security letters had become, asking: 'Do we have that many potential terrorists running around the country? If so, I'm really worried.' He said the inspector general's report shows that 'the FBI has had a gross overreach,' and added that its officials 'can't get away with this and expect to maintain public support for the tools that they need to combat terrorism.'"
Bush: "They operate in the shadows of society; they send small teams of operatives to infiltrate free nations; they live quietly among their victims; they conspire in secret, and then they strike without warning."
Tom Engelhart, discussing Seymour Hersh's "The Redirection" in the March 2007 New Yorker: "Subsequently, some of those [White House] conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney's office. They dipped into 'black pools of money,' possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began. Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups ("some sympathetic to al-Qaeda") whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood."
Bushspeak: "And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used -- I think you understand why -- if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary."
Reality-based community: i.e., torture.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 3:13 PM
President George W. Bush goes to a primary school to talk to the kids to get a little good press.
After his talk he offers question time. One little boy puts up his hand and George asks him his name.
"Stanley," responds the little boy.
"And what is your question, Stanley?"
"I have 4 questions: First, why did the USA invade Iraq without the support of the UN? Second, why are you President when Al Gore got more votes? Third, whatever happened to Osama Bin Laden?" Fourth, why are we so worried about gay-marriage when 1/2 of all Americans don't have health insurance?
Just then, the bell rings for recess. President Bush informs the kiddies that they will continue after recess.
When they resume George says, "OK, where were we? Oh, that's right, question time. Who has a question?"
Another little boy puts up his hand. George points him out and asks him his name.
"Steve," he responds.
"And what is your question, Steve?"
"Actually, I have 6 questions. First, why did the USA invade Iraq without the support of the UN? Second, why are you President when Al Gore got more votes? Third, whatever happened to Osama Bin Laden? Fourth, why are we so worried about gay marriage when 1/2 of all Americans don't have health insurance? Fifth, why did the recess bell go off 20 minutes early? And sixth, what the hell happened to Stanley?"
Posted by Dennis Loo at 2:47 PM
Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Democratic Party's stonewall against impeachment is starting to show cracks. Two notables recently broke ranks and came out for impeachment: Rep. Dennis Kucinich and ex-Senator and former presidential candidate, George McGovern. The story about McGovern is below. Even Chuck Hagel has mentioned the possibility of impeachment recently. These are very important developments and reflect the growing strength of the impeachment/anti-war movement and the need to step up our efforts relentlessly to the point where it becomes an irresistible tidal wave. It will take a HUGE effort for this to happen, as the barriers in our way in the form of the DLC and major media (to say nothing of the GOP and radical right in general) are powerful and they are dead-set against impeachment. We, however, have the plans to succeed in place, and the momentum on our side. See previous posts and see impeach07.org.
This is a paper mache presidency. It has been allowed to continue only through the co-operation and complicity of very powerful, extremely well-heeled backers and the political and media establishment. As the scandal around the firings of the US attorneys has revealed - frankly one of the least of the monstrous deeds that this regime is responsible for - the lies and deceit are everywhere to be found, if only the political will exists to call sufficient attention to them. The Democratic party is after the White House over this particular scandal in part because they feel there's no downside for the Democrats on this so they're going after them with vigor - unlike their utter terror that anyone might accuse them of being "soft" on terrorism in connection with ending the immoral war on Iraq or challenging the fraudulent "war on terror" in general. The fact that water carrier boy Alberto Gonzalez might go down for lying about his involvement in the firings is ironic given his far great crimes of fostering and directing the torture of innocents.
The US attorney scandal shows how utterly fragile and vulnerable this regime is if enough political force is brought to bear to make them accountable for their nasty deeds. Consider all of the other crimes that they have committed. Why is Gonzalez's lying about his direct involvement in firing the US attorneys more egregious and more blatant than Bush's admission when he was caught that he's been committing a felony by circumventing FISA and spying on tens of millions of Americans for years - and then announcing that he intends to go right on doing it? How is Gonzalez more guilty than Bush and Cheney et al fixing the intelligence to fit the policy so that they could justify their unprovoked aggression on Iraq? How is Gonzalez more guilty than the White House outing a covert CIA agent? How is Gonzalez more guilty than their collective criminal negligence in the face of Katrina or global warming? [For the rest of this list, see ITP.]
Bush, Cheney, their whole cabal and all of their vicious apologists are like vampires - shine some sunlight on them and they instantly burst into flames and ashes.
As the Beatles said: "Here comes the sun."
It's up to us, the People.
Who wants to sign up?
McGovern: Cheney must go
Says Libby's conviction points to vice president's involvement in CIA leak
By John Nichols
George McGovern has a word for Vice President Dick Cheney: "Resign."
Responding to Tuesday's conviction of Cheney's former chief-of-staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI - after a trial that revealed Cheney's intimate involvement with a scheme to discredit a critic of the administration's war policies - the former congressman, senator and presidential candidate said it was time for the vice president to go.
"What we have learned about how he has conducted himself leaves no doubt that he should be out of office," McGovern says of Cheney. "If he had any respect for the Constitution or the country, he would resign."
And if Cheney does not take the liberal Democrat's counsel?
"There is no question in my mind that Cheney has committed impeachable offenses. So has George Bush," argues McGovern. "Bush is much more impeachable than Richard Nixon was. That's been clear for some time. There does not seem to be much sentiment for impeachment in Congress now, but around the country people are fed up with this administration."
At age 84, McGovern has attained the elder statesman status that is afforded politicians who held or sought the presidency. He enjoys the respect of fellow Democrats and more than a few Republicans for being, like former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a straight-talking man of deep commitment who may have lost one presidential election but won the battle for a place of honor in the nation's history texts.
McGovern testifies before congressional caucuses about how to end the war in Iraq, delivers distinguished lectures, travels widely to discuss his well-received books, defends school lunch programs with a former Republican colleague in the Senate, Bob Dole, and campaigns tirelessly - in the memory of his late daughter, Terry - to enlighten the nation about the need to better address the scourges of alcoholism.
It is in that final capacity that McGovern will return tonight to Madison, a city that has always greeted him kindly, to headline a soldout fundraising benefit at the Inn on the Park for the Teresa McGovern Center, a substance abuse treatment facility that operates under the umbrella of Tellurian UCAN. Money raised at what promises to be a packed event will be used to expand services at the McGovern Center, as well as to help pay for treatment for patients who cannot cover their own expenses.
McGovern will speak about the need to recognize alcoholism as a threat not just to individuals but society. He will recall the poignant story of his daughter's struggle with the disease, which ended in her death at age 45 in Madison in 1994. That's the personal side of this journey, his first to Madison since the death of his wife, Eleanor, in January.
But as he mingles with Madisonians, who were among the most ardent and faithful supporters of his 1972 campaign for the presidency, talk of politics will never be far from the forefront. And, even if he may be an elder statesman, McGovern will not mince words about the current occupants of the White House.
"I think this is the most lawless administration we've ever had," he says of the Bush-Cheney team. That's a strong statement coming from a man who tangled in 1972 with Nixon, and then saw Nixon's presidency destroyed by the Watergate scandals. But McGovern says there is no comparison.
"I'd far rather have Nixon in the White House than these two fellows that we've got now," said the former three-term senator from South Dakota. "Nixon did some horrible things, which led to the effort to impeach him. But he simply was not as bad as Bush. On just about every level I can think of, Bush's actions are more impeachable than were those of Nixon."
Of particular concern to McGovern is the war in Iraq, which he has steadfastly opposed.
"The war was begun in clear violation of the Constitution," McGovern says. "There was no declaration of war by the Congress. Secondly, it's a flagrant violation of international law: Iraq was not threatening the United States in any way. Yet, the United States went after Iraq. The president and vice president got away with it, at least initially, because they were willing to exploit the emotional power of the 9/11 attack to achieve their goal of getting us into a war in the Middle East."
McGovern, a decorated World War II veteran, approves of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's suggestion that Congress should look into employing the power of the purse to force the administration to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Frankly," the former senator says, "I would support anything that would get our troops out of there."
During his tenure in the Senate, McGovern worked with a Republican, Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield, to try and pass legislation to force the end of the Vietnam War. He also supported efforts to "chain the dogs of war," which were spearheaded by his liberal Democratic colleague, Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, a leading proponent of the 1973 War Powers Act.
Eagleton, who died this week at age 77, was briefly McGovern's running mate in the 1972 race. But the revelation that Eagleton had checked himself into the hospital three times for physical and nervous exhaustion led, after some internal turmoil, to a decision by McGovern to drop the Missouri senator from the ticket.
That decision, McGovern now says, was "absolutely a mistake." He now believes that the controversy would have quickly blown over. He also says that dropping Eagleton from the ticket did more harm than good.
McGovern is not afraid to delve into the historical record, even when it involves incidents related to his own career in public life. "We ought to learn from history," says the former senator, who notes that he earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University "thanks to the G.I. Bill."
"I think that the greatest deficiency in our politics these days is the fact that our leaders fail, by and large, to remember our history," says McGovern.
A close second is the caution of the current political class. McGovern calls the Congress "lily-livered" for failing to check and balance Bush and Cheney on the war.
McGovern does not suffer from the condition. He's as bold now as ever, and there is a sense of urgency about the man who could easily relax and accept the honors accorded an senior statesman of his own party and the country.
"I feel an obligation to speak up when I see these flagrant things happen," says McGovern. "I can't be silent when President Bush and Vice President Cheney choose to disregard the Constitution. Maybe if there were other people in the White House, I could slow down a little. But I can't do that as long as this administration is in charge."
Speaking of which: Is there a Democratic contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination that McGovern likes? He's making no endorsements at this stage. But, like a lot of Democrats, McGovern says, "Right now, (Illinois Sen.) Barack Obama looks awfully good."
Then again, a typically frank McGovern admits, "I've gotten to the point where I think just about anyone would be better than Bush."
Published: March 7, 2007
Posted by Dennis Loo at 11:54 AM
(This is a repost from PDA)
Some friends of ours took anti-war signs onto public trains last weekend and asked people if they would be photographed with them. On Sunday, March 18, four teams of photographers went through the New York City subway. On five subway lines, 333 people agreed to be photographed. Looking through the collection is an eye-opening experience.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 11:49 AM
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
As James Petras in the superb piece below notes, citing 19th century's Honore Balzac: "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." We have a situation today in which billions of people are suffering and dying while billions of dollars reside in a miniscule number of hands. Take particular note as well of the point he makes about how these neoliberal policies of PDD (privatize, deregulate and denationalize) have been carried out under conservatives, liberals, and ex-"Marxists" alike, under Yeltsin, Putin, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, etc., etc., ad nauseum.
In other words, the underlying economic and related political policies (i.e., neoliberalism - globalization's political expression) are the ruling dicta, not the particular coloration of the party in power at the moment. The only chance we have to depart from these truly vicious processes and results (e.g., the ONE MILLION excess deaths in Iraq today as a result of our invasion - based on projections in the Johns Hopkins study) lies in the people rising up and taking things into our own hands and wresting things in an entirely different direction. As Petras also notes, although this isn't the main focus of his piece, the level worldwide of popular restiveness and actual uprisings is rising, in some places, very sharply.
Global Ruling Class: Billionaires and How They 'Made It'
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
by James Petras
While the number of the world's billionaires grew from 793 in 2006 to 946 this year, major mass uprisings became commonplace occurrences in China and India. In India, which has the highest number of billionaires (36) in Asia with total wealth of $191 billion USD, Prime Minister Singh declared that the greatest single threat to 'India's security' were the Maoist led guerrilla armies and mass movements in the poorest parts of the country. In China, with 20 billionaires with $29.4 billion USD net worth, the new rulers, confronting nearly a hundred thousand reported riots and protests, have increased the number of armed special anti-riot militia a hundred fold, and increased spending for the rural poor by $10 billion USD in the hopes of lessening the monstrous class inequalities and heading off a mass upheaval.
The total wealth of this global ruling class grew 35% year to year topping $3.5 trillion USD, while income levels for the lower 55% of the world's 6-billion-strong population declined or stagnated. Put another way, one hundred millionth of the world's population (1/100,000,000) owns more than over 3 billion people. Over half of the current billionaires (523) came from just 3 countries: the US (415), Germany (55) and Russia (53). The 35% increase in wealth mostly came from speculation on equity markets, real estate and commodity trading, rather than from technical innovations, investments in job-creating industries or social services.
Among the newest, youngest and fastest-growing group of billionaires, the Russian oligarchy stands out for its most rapacious beginnings. Over two-thirds (67%) of the current Russian billionaire oligarchs began their concentration of wealth in their mid to early twenties. During the infamous decade of the 1990's under the quasi-dictatorial rule of Boris Yeltsin and his US-directed economic advisers, Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar the entire Russian economy was put up for sale for a 'political price', which was far below its real value.
Without exception, the transfers of property were achieved through gangster tactics – assassinations, massive theft, and seizure of state resources, illicit stock manipulation and buyouts. The future billionaires stripped the Russian state of over a trillion dollars worth of factories, transport, oil, gas, iron, coal and other formerly state-owned resources.
Contrary to European and US publicists, on the Right and Left, very few of the top former Communist leaders are found among the current Russian billionaire oligarchy. Secondly, contrary to the spin-masters' claims of 'communist inefficiencies', the former Soviet Union developed mines, factories, energy enterprises were profitable and competitive, before they were taken over by the new oligarchs. This is evident in the massive private wealth that was accumulated in less than a decade by these gangster-businessmen.
Virtually all the billionaires' initial sources of wealth had nothing to do with building, innovating or developing new efficient enterprises. Wealth was not transferred to high Communist Party Commissars (lateral transfers) but was seized by armed private mafias run by recent university graduates who quickly capitalized on corrupting, intimidating or assassinating senior officials in the state and benefiting from Boris Yeltsin's mindless contracting of 'free market' Western consultants.
Forbes magazine puts out a yearly list of the richest individuals and families in the world. What is most amusing about the famous Forbes magazine's background biographical notes on the Russian oligarchs is the constant reference to their source of wealth as 'self-made' as if stealing state property created by and defended for over 70 years by the sweat and blood of the Russian people was the result of the entrepreneurial skills of thugs in their twenties. Of the top eight Russian billionaire oligarchs, all got their start from strong-arming their rivals, setting up 'paper banks' and taking over aluminum, oil, gas, nickel and steel production and the export of bauxite, iron and other minerals. Every sector of the former Communist economy was pillaged by the new billionaires: Construction, telecommunications, chemicals, real estate, agriculture, vodka, foods, land, media, automobiles, airlines etc.
With rare exceptions, following the Yeltsin privatizations all of the oligarchs quickly rose to the top or near the top, literally murdering or intimidating any opponents within the former Soviet apparatus and competitors from rival predator gangs.
The key 'policy' measures, which facilitated the initial pillage and takeovers by the future billionaires, were the massive and immediate privatizations of almost all public enterprises by the Gaidar/Chubais team. This 'Shock Treatment' was encouraged by a Harvard team of economic advisers and especially by US President Clinton in order to make the capitalist transformation irreversible. Massive privatization led to the capitalist gang wars and the disarticulation of the Russian economy. As a result there was an 80% decline in living standards, a massive devaluation of the Ruble and the sell-off of invaluable oil, gas and other strategic resources at bargain prices to the rising class of predator billionaires and US-European oil and gas multinational corporations. Over a hundred billion dollars a year was laundered by the mafia oligarchs in the principle banks of New York, London, Switzerland, Israel and elsewhere – funds which would later be recycled in the purchase of expensive real estate in the US, England, Spain, France as well as investments in British football teams, Israeli banks and joint ventures in minerals.
The winners of the gang wars during the Yeltsin reign followed up by expanding operations to a variety of new economic sectors, investments in the expansion of existing facilities (especially in real estate, extractive and consumer industries) and overseas. Under President Putin, the gangster-oligarchs consolidated and expanded – from multi-millionaires to billionaires, to multi-billionaires and growing. From young swaggering thugs and local swindlers, they became the 'respectable' partners of American and European multinational corporations, according to their Western PR agents. The new Russian oligarchs had 'arrived' on the world financial scene, according to the financial press.
Yet as President Putin recently pointed out, the new billionaires have failed to invest, innovate and create competitive enterprises, despite optimal conditions. Outside of raw material exports, benefiting from high international prices, few of the oligarch-owned manufacturers are earning foreign exchange, because few can compete in international markets. The reason is that the oligarchs have 'diversified' into stock speculation (Suleiman Kerimov $14.4 billion USD), prostitution (Mikhail Prokhorov $13.5 billion USD), banking (Fridman $12.6 billion USD) and buyouts of mines and mineral processing plants.
The Western media has focused on the falling out between a handful of Yeltsin-era oligarchs and President Vladimir Putin and the increase in wealth of a number of Putin-era billionaires. However, the biographical evidence demonstrates that there is no rupture between the rise of the billionaires under Yeltsin and their consolidation and expansion under Putin. The decline in mutual murder and the shift to state-regulated competition is as much a product of the consolidation of the great fortunes as it is the 'new rules of the game' imposed by President Putin. In the mid 19th century, Honoré Balzac, surveying the rise of the respectable bourgeois in France, pointed out their dubious origins: "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." The swindles begetting the decades-long ascent of the 19th century French bourgeoisie pale in comparison to the massive pillage and bloodletting that created Russia's 21st century billionaires.
If blood and guns were the instruments for the rise of the Russian billionaire oligarchs, in other regions the Market, or better still, the US-IMF-World Bank orchestrated Washington Consensus was the driving force behind the rise of the Latin American billionaires. The two countries with the greatest concentration of wealth and the greatest number of billionaires in Latin America are Mexico and Brazil (77%), which are the two countries, which privatized the most lucrative, efficient and largest public monopolies. Of the total $157.2 billion USD owned by the 38 Latin American billionaires, 30 are Brazilians or Mexicans with $120.3 billion USD. The wealth of 38 families and individuals exceeds that of 250 million Latin Americans; 0.000001% of the population exceeds that of the lowest 50%. In Mexico, the income of 0.000001% of the population exceeds the combined income of 40 million Mexicans. The rise of Latin American billionaires coincides with the real fall in minimum wages, public expenditures in social services, labor legislation and a rise in state repression, weakening labor and peasant organization and collective bargaining. The implementation of regressive taxes burdening the workers and peasants and tax exemptions and subsidies for the agro-mineral exporters contributed to the making of the billionaires. The result has been downward mobility for public employees and workers, the displacement of urban labor into the informal sector, the massive bankruptcy of small farmers, peasants and rural labor and the out-migration from the countryside to the urban slums and emigration abroad.
The principal cause of poverty in Latin American is the very conditions that facilitate the growth of billionaires. In the case of Mexico, the privatization of the telecommunication sector at rock bottom prices, resulted in the quadrupling of wealth for Carlos Slim Helu, the third richest man in the world (just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) with a net worth of $49 billion USD. Two fellow Mexican billionaires, Alfredo Harp Helu and Roberto Hernandez Ramirez benefited from the privatization of banks and their subsequent de-nationalization, selling Banamex to Citicorp.
Privatization, financial de-regulation and de-nationalization were the key operating principles of US foreign economic policies implemented in Latin America by the IMF and the World Bank. These principles dictated the fundamental conditions shaping any loans or debt re-negotiations in Latin America.
The billionaires-in-the-making, came from old and new money. Some began to raise their fortunes by securing government contracts during the earlier state-led development model (1930's to 1970's) and others through inherited wealth. Half of Mexican billionaires inherited their original multi-million dollar fortunes on their way up to the top. The other half benefited from political ties and the subsequent big payola from buying public enterprises cheap and then selling them off to US multi-nationals at great profit. The great bulk of the 12 million Mexican immigrants who crossed the border into the US have fled from the onerous conditions, which allowed Mexico's traditional and nouveaux riche millionaires to join the global billionaires' club.
Brazil has the largest number of billionaires (20) of any country in Latin America with a net worth of $46.2 billion USD, which is greater than the new worth of 80 million urban and rural impoverished Brazilians. Approximately 40% of Brazilian billionaires started with great fortunes – and simply added on – through acquisitions and mergers. The so-called 'self-made' billionaires benefited from the privatization of the lucrative financial sector (the Safra family with $8.9 billion USD) and the iron and steel complexes.
How to Become a Billionaire
While some knowledge, technical and 'entrepreneurial skills' and market savvy played a small role in the making of the billionaires in Russia and Latin America, far more important was the interface of politics and economics at every stage of wealth accumulation.
In most cases there were three stages:
1. During the early 'statist' model of development, the current billionaires successfully 'lobbied' and bribed officials for government contracts, tax exemptions, subsidies and protection from foreign competitors. State handouts were the beachhead or take-off point to billionaire status during the subsequent neo-liberal phase.
2. The neo-liberal period provided the greatest opportunity for seizing lucrative public assets far below their market value and earning capacity. The privatization, although described as 'market transactions', were in reality political sales in four senses: in price, in selection of buyers, in kickbacks to the sellers and in furthering an ideological agenda. Wealth accumulation resulted from the sell-off of banks, minerals, energy resources, telecommunications, power plants and transport and the assumption by the state of private debt. This was the take-off phase from millionaire toward billionaire status. This was consummated in Latin America via corruption and in Russia via assassination and gang warfare.
3. During the third phase (the present) the billionaires have consolidated and expanded their empires through mergers, acquisitions, further privatizations and overseas expansion. Private monopolies of mobile phones, telecoms and other 'public' utilities, plus high commodity prices have added billions to the initial concentrations. Some millionaires became billionaires by selling their recently acquired, lucrative privatized enterprises to foreign capital.
In both Latin America and Russia, the billionaires grabbed lucrative state assets under the aegis of orthodox neo-liberal regimes (Salinas-Zedillo regimes in Mexico, Collor-Cardoso in Brazil, Yeltsin in Russia) and consolidated and expanded under the rule of supposedly 'reformist' regimes (Putin in Russia, Lula in Brazil and Fox in Mexico). In the rest of Latin America (Chile, Colombia and Argentina) the making of the billionaires resulted from the bloody military coups and regimes, which destroyed the socio-political movements and started the privatization process. This process was then even more energetically promoted by the subsequent electoral regimes of the right and 'center-left'.
What is repeatedly demonstrated in both Russia and Latin America is that the key factor leading to the quantum leap in wealth – from millionaires to billionaires – was the vast privatization and subsequent de-nationalization of lucrative public enterprises.
If we add to the concentration of $157 billion in the hands of an infinitesimal fraction of the elite, the $990 billion USD taken out by the foreign banks in debt payments and the $1 trillion USD (one thousand billion) taken out by way of profits, royalties, rents and laundered money over the past decade and a half, we have an adequate framework for understanding why Latin America continues to have over two-thirds of its population with inadequate living standards and stagnant economies.
The responsibility of the US for the growth of Latin American billionaires and mass poverty is several-fold and involves a wide gamut of political institutions, business elites, and academic and media moguls. First and foremost the US backed the military dictators and neo-liberal politicians who set up the billionaire-oriented economic models. It was ex-President Clinton, the CIA and his economic advisers, in alliance with the Russian oligarchs, who provided the political intelligence and material support to put Yeltsin in power and back his destruction of the Russian Parliament (Duma) in 1993 and the rigged elections of 1996. And it was Washington, which allowed hundreds of billions of dollars to be laundered in US banks throughout the 1990's as the US Congressional Sub-Committee on Banking (1998) revealed.
It was Nixon, Kissinger and later Carter and Brzezinski, Reagan and Bush, Clinton and Albright who backed the privatizations pushed by Latin American military dictators and civilian reactionaries in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's . Their instructions to the US representatives in the IMF and the World Bank were writ large: Privatize, de-regulate and de-nationalize (PDD) before any loans should be negotiated.
It was US academics and ideologues working hand in glove with the so-called multi-lateral agencies, as contracted economic consultants, who trained, designed and pushed the PDD agenda among their former Ivy League students-turned-economic and finance ministers and Central Bankers in Latin America and Russia.
It was US and EU multi-national corporations and banks which bought out or went into joint ventures with the emerging Latin American billionaires and who reaped the trillion dollar payouts on the debts incurred by the corrupt military and civilian regimes. The billionaires are as much a product and/or by-product of US anti-nationalist, anti-communist policies as they are a product of their own grandiose theft of public enterprises.
Given the enormous class and income disparities in Russia, Latin America and China (20 Chinese billionaires have a net worth of $29.4 billion USD in less than ten years), it is more accurate to describe these countries as 'surging billionaires' rather than 'emerging markets' because it is not the 'free market' but the political power of the billionaires that dictates policy.
Countries of 'surging billionaires' produce burgeoning poverty, submerging living standards. The making of billionaires means the unmaking of civil society – the weakening of social solidarity, protective social legislation, pensions, vacations, public health programs and education. While politics is central, past political labels mean nothing. Ex-Marxist Brazilian ex-President Cardoso and ex-trade union leader President Lula Da Silva privatized public enterprises and promoted policies that spawn billionaires. Ex-Communist Putin cultivates certain billionaire oligarchs and offers incentives to others to shape up and invest.
The period of greatest decline in living standards in Latin America and Russia coincide with the dismantling of the nationalist populist and communist economies. Between 1980-2004, Latin America – more precisely Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – stagnated at 0% to 1% per capita growth. Russia saw a 50% decline in GNP between 1990-1996 and living standards dropped 80% for everyone except the predators and their gangster entourage.
Recent growth (2003-2007), where it occurs, has more to do with the extraordinary rise in international prices (of energy resources, metals and agro-exports) than any positive developments from the billionaire-dominated economies. The growth of billionaires is hardly a sign of 'general prosperity' resulting from the 'free market' as the editors of Forbes Magazine claim. In fact it is the product of the illicit seizure of lucrative public resources, built up by the work and struggle of millions of workers, in Russia and China under Communism and in Latin America during populist-nationalist and democratic-socialist governments. Many billionaires have inherited wealth and used their political ties to expand and extend their empires – it has little to do with entrepreneurial skills.
The billionaires' and the White House's anger and hostility toward President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is precisely because he is reversing the policies which create billionaires and mass poverty: He is re-nationalizing energy resources, public utilities and expropriating some large landed estates. Chavez is not only challenging US hegemony in Latin America but also the entire PDD edifice that built the economic empires of the billionaires in Latin America, Russia, China and elsewhere.
Note: The primary data for this essay is drawn from Forbes Magazine 's "List of the World's Billionaires" published March 8, 2007
James Petras' most recent book is The Power of Israel in the United States (Clarity 2006 third printing). His essays in English can be found at petras.lahaine.org. And in Spanish at rebellion.org.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 12:13 PM
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I want to expand on my congrats to Bill Maher in my last post for stepping forward and challenging people about what exactly is going down in his Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO this week (Friday, March 16, 2007 episode). In his final closing remarks he said this (the transcript and podcast for that episode aren't yet online):
"So Bush went to Plan B, pissing on the Constitution and torturing random people. Conservatives always say that the great thing that Reagan did was make us feel good about America again. Well, do you feel good about America now? I’ll give you my answer and to get it out of me, you don’t even have to hold my head under water and have a snarling guard dog rip my nuts off. No, I don’t feel very good about that. They say that evil happens when good men do nothing. Well, the Democrats proved that it also happens when mediocre people do nothing."
Declarations such as this are exactly what need to happen. It is precisely what people in the public eye and people who have leadership roles in society (such as intellectuals and religious leaders) need to do more of. Too many people who have this kind of standing in society have either withdrawn in fear and/or out of denial (by failing to come to grips with the dramatic changes actually happening). This has had a disorienting effect on the broad ranks of the people because they depend so much on opinion-leaders for direction and orientation.
People in leading positions and ordinary people both need to declare which side they're on here - are you for torture or against it? are you for unprovoked attacks on countries that pose no threat and have not attacked you or against it? What? It's too hard? Please - it's no goddamn secret that this country is torturing people. The Democrats who claim to represent the people and who haven't come out and condemned the Military Commissions Act of 2006 as tyrannical and barbaric deserve utter infamy. And anyone, any citizen, who is silent in the face of this is complicit.
The reason that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been such hits, among especially the young, is because they are doing such a great job overall of speaking to what's going on and exposing the glaring contradictions between what our government says (and their apologists in the media like Fox) and what the government does. The heart and soul of humor involves contradiction, after all, so there's all kinds of raw material out there to expose these yawning, gaping, glaring discrepancies. Maher, Olbermann, Stewart and Colbert are speaking truth (what a subversive act!) and the people who hunger for truth are eating it up. The contrast between this and loud mouth bullies posturing as journalists and gutless mainstream journalists who rather party hardy with the rich and powerful than speak truth to power couldn't be sharper.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 6:12 PM
I attended the LA demonstration which a friend of mine estimated from a high post at 10,000. (The DC demonstration drew tens of thousands, the awful weather causing buses and flights to be cancelled for many out-of-towners). In the LA action, what struck me were the following:
1) the plethora of wonderful, colorful and eloquent self-made signs and outfits. I've attended scores of demonstrations in my life and I've never seen as much variety of hand-made signage and costuming as yesterday. I believe this reflects how people are broadly feeling a need to individually express their sentiments at this terrible war, the prospect of another one looming daily, and the monstrous acts being committed by this government. This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the restiveness and uneasiness among the people broadly. It shows the burning impatience that is out there and the need people are increasingly feeling to find some way to express this. We need to tap into this much more broadly and get those people who aren't yet politically active involved, including in ways that don't involve the big step for many of actually going to a demonstration/march. The "We Are Not Buying It" campaign is one of these ways and the National Days of T-Shirts for Impeachment (April 26-28) that I've proposed is another way to manifest these extremely broad, majority sentiments throughout the society and thereby change the tenor overall politically. (This week's episode of Real Time with Bill Maher ends with Maher putting the case against this government very directly - surprisingly so for such a public forum and public persona in these censorious times)!
2) the broad range of ages and demographics. There were a lot of young people, more in relative proportion than I think I've seen in probably the four years plus that the anti-Iraq war demonstrations have been underway, complementing the middle aged and older folks. This reflects a growing and extremely important trend. Probably could have been more high school aged youth than what there were to see, but still this is a good trend. One of the folks I spoke to, a middle-aged man, told me that he recalled more faculty in the 1960s speaking out against the Vietnam War than he sees happening now, and he wondered what was holding this back from happening. He noted that intellectuals and students are extremely important in social movements. Was the work of people like David Horowitz having a chilling effect? What is on the minds of academics? I said I thought that Horowitz et al was a factor, that many liberal faculty are still too much in the thrall of the Democratic Party (too much talk for my taste about who is going to be the next president), and that he was absolutely right that intellectuals and students needed to step up in a much bigger way. (On the other hand, I pointed out that I'd heard that faculty were extremely important in making the big demonstration a few weeks ago at UCSB happen by endorsing it, an indicator of the potential out there).
3) among those I spoke to and also reflected in what people wore and/or had on their signs and banners: anger at, and more resoluteness in the face of, the Democratic Party's refusal to end the war and initiate impeachment. In the past there have been many more who sought hope in the Democratic Party and yesterday I spoke to nobody who thought this. The questions were more in the realm of "why aren't they [the Democrats] doing anything?" "what's it really going to take to end this regime?" and "how are we going to get more people to become politically active?" Spoke to a guy from Brazil who said he left Brazil because of political repression and came to the land of the free and found that it was here too! And then there was the social worker who has decided to cut back to part-time because she feels that the full-time work she was doing to prepare for retirement might not be the best use of her time. She doesn't think it's at all a certainty she'll even have a retirement with what is going on in the world. She plans to spend her time devoted to becoming politically active and bringing about the changes that need so badly to happen.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 12:01 PM
Saturday, March 17, 2007
TELL CONGRESS TO DO THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY AND IMPEACH BUSH AND CHENEY NOW
Call your members of Congress now toll free at 800-828-0498, 800-459-1887 or 800-614-2803.
ACTION PAGE: http://www.peaceteam.net/impeachment_now3.php
Minutes ago the U.S. Senate AGAIN failed to exercise meaningful oversight for the national suicide which is our policy in Iraq. It is by now abundantly clear that the Republican caucus is determined to go down with the Bush presidency, and take our military and our country with them while they do nothing. Instead, a bipartisan cattle stampede of senators approved two "we don't hate the troops" resolutions, nothing but vain puffery, swearing to take "no action" about this or that. We don't in the slightest care about what action Congress is NOT going to take, we want to know is what they ARE going to do to reverse the insanity of current policy.
On the occasion of the guilty verdicts against Scooter Libby, Howard Dean was quoted as saying we would have a new president "soon enough." If he is talking about the 2008 election that is NOT soon enough, not even close. Day by day, ever more outrageous scandals and abuses of power spew forth from the White House, as we now learn that they have been so corrupted beyond redemption by their power grabs, that they even used the U.S. attorneys themselves for nakedly partisan witch hunts, to try to influence our elections, and fired all who would not bend under their political dictate.
And what was Bush's response when called on this monumental affront not just to the checks in our government, but also to the independency of our very justice system? "What was mishandled was the explanation of the cases to the Congress," he said. In Bush's mind there are no policy mistakes, let alone policy crimes. In his world there are only SPIN mistakes, when we the people aren't quite stupid enough to buy their criminal hypocrisies. We hear admissions that "mistakes were made," as if mistakes somehow made themselves. But even where there is verbal responsibility taken, there is NEVER actual accountability. The sacrificial fall guys will reluctantly resign, but NEVER is there a price paid by the core perpetrators for their conduct.
The Bush presidency is one of false appearances, phony and disingenuous words of compassion and democracy, while the true underlying agenda is the embezzlement of our national treasury, and even those of other sovereign countries, on behalf of their biggest campaign contributors, who then remorselessly relocate to evade taxes on their ill-gotten profits. The Bush presidency is to create wars out of whole cloth, to demonize not only their critics buy entire innocent populations, first Iraq, then Lebanon, now Iran. It is a mission to exacerbate terrorism to the maximum extent possible, while ignoring its actual roots causes and laying off its ringleaders, at the mortal peril of our true national security. And it is not going to STOP in any respect until the day that Bush is lawfully removed from office.
It was not enough that president Bush should pack our courts with radical ideologue judges, one of whom just this week presumed to overturn two centuries of 2nd amendment case law, to let the NRA rewrite our very Constitution. No, even the choice of cases to bring to court they must warp so that only Democrats could ever be prosecuted for any crime, despite the fact that most of the wrongdoing they were actually finding was by Republicans. How their talking head cronies howled after the Libby verdicts that it was just a political prosecution. Their new rule of law is that it's against the law to prosecute Republicans, no matter what the crime, and that any attempt to do so is by definition a political vendetta. And if the Libby trial exposed anything, it was that Cheney was the king culprit.
And hanging over everything is the preemptively declared threat of a presidential veto of any attempt, no matter how timid, to confront these high crimes. And that is why we have concluded that Dennis Kucinich is speaking the essential truth. We have long known that Bush was planning an illegal war of aggression against Iran. Shame on the leadership of the House for the sudden demise, without even a vote, of the provision in the war supplemental appropriations bill to preclude an attack on Iran without express congressional consent. Let there be a vote so we can know which members of Congress think it's OK for the president to launch horrific and disastrous new wars without even a peep from them.
What Kucinich so clearly understands in his call for impeachment is that all these things are mere symptoms of the foundational problem, the cowardice of members of Congress as they run away from actually restraining the abuse of executive power. What are non-binding resolutions except avoidance of actually challenging the policy issue? What are bills that write into themselves exceptions if the president takes "responsibility" for them? Is the role of Congress to be relegated to courteously writing the president's signing statements for him?
ACTION PAGE: http://www.peaceteam.net/impeachment_now3.php
Bush loves to lecture the American people on the lessons of 9/11. There was only one lesson to be learned from 9/11 . . . that we had the WRONG president.
And in five years since there are still too many who have not learned that critical lesson, which failure is the reason New Orleans was left to sink by a guitar strumming photo-op president, which failure is the reason even the administration drafted Patriot Act has been abused to conduct massive illegal surveillance of innocent American citizens. That failure is the reason for torture of those even suspected of being our enemies has become official U.S. policy, in utter defiance of all norms of international law and civilized decency.
That failure is the reason our entire intelligence operation against weapons of mass destruction, the life long specialty of Valerie Plame, was sabotaged and jeopardized to try to gain cheap political advantage. Or was it to keep concealed even more heinous acts of treason. That failure is the reason our military is still pursuing a fool's mission in Iraq, chasing an enemy who is not there in any significant numbers. We face nothing but two more years of such disasters and outrages every minute that George Bush, Dick Cheney and their pod people remain in any office of authority.
So what if Gonzales bites the dust. He is just one more water-carrier. He would already have been long gone had not Bush PERSONALLY intervened to quash investigation into the abuse of administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, when that first came to partial light. We have a president and vice president for whom obstruction of justice is just another burglar tool in their bag, as they rob the balance of powers in our Constitution. Let the subpoenas now issuing in the U.S. attorney scandal lead to door of the oval office, where the trail surely does directly lead.
ACTION PAGE: http://www.peaceteam.net/impeachment_now3.php
And let us renew again and again our call for Congress to impeach ALL those who have harmed we the people so grievously, and to prosecute those impeachments at the most mercifully swift speed.
Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this message to everyone else you know.
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Posted by Dennis Loo at 8:37 AM
Thursday, March 15, 2007
(I might mention that I heard today from someone in San Francisco that last month Kucinich made a major appearance among his supporters in the Bay Area and during his speech disavowed impeachment. But when he led them in a chant of "what do we want?" instead of getting "peace," a good third of the audience chanted "impeach." I bring this up because I do believe that this may have made an impression on him and had something to do with what he said today in Congress).
Remarks on the floor of the U.S. House, March 15, 2007
This House cannot avoid its Constitutionally authorized responsibility to restrain the abuse of Executive power.
The Administration has been preparing for an aggressive war against Iran. There is no solid, direct evidence that Iran has the intention of attacking the United States or its allies.
The US is a signatory to the UN Charter, a constituent treaty among the nations of the world. Article II, Section 4 of the UN Charter states, "all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. . ." Even the threat of a war of aggression is illegal.
Article VI of the US Constitution makes such treaties the Supreme Law of the Land. This Administration, has openly threatened aggression against Iran in violation of the US Constitution and the UN Charter.
This week the House Appropriations committee removed language from the Iraq war funding bill requiring the Administration, under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution, to seek permission before it launched an attack against Iran.
Since war with Iran is an option of this Administration and since such war is patently illegal, then impeachment may well be the only remedy which remains to stop a war of aggression against Iran.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 9:18 PM
Tom Engelhardt's posting below examines closely an exceptionally important case study of what has happened to mass media in the US and what those of us who still believe in that old fashioned notion truth and are proud card-carrying members of the "reality-based community" are up against.
Seymour Hersh, arguably the most important investigative reporter we have (we'd want to include Greg Palast in the same breath) - they don't come more credible and don't have a better batting average than Hersh - publishes an explosive piece in The New Yorker, arguably the best magazine in the country according to many observers. The article, "The Redirection," shows, among other things, that the Bush White House has been carrying out black OPS inside Iran since at least summer 2004, is funding Sunni terrorist groups (remember that it's Sunnis who are inflicting the greatest damage against US troops in Iraq), many of the same crew who brought us Iran-Contra have been carrying out these dirty deeds completely bypassing Congress, the CIA and the military, running this through the Vice President's Office... and the rest of the mass media can hardly stifle their yawns!
What should happen and hasn't, as Engelhardt points out, is that this should be headline news around the country, Congress should be screaming bloody murder, Op-Eds should be demanding impeachment and mass resignations, and issuing subpoenas and demanding testimony from the White House right, left, center, up, down and every other dimension.
What does this tell us? Hersh's credentials and prestige puts him at the New Yorker, the New Yorker to its credit, runs stories like this, and yet, it isn't enough!
Now, on the one hand, it's immense that he does this story (and the others that preceded it) and it's immense that the New Yorker publishes it. It's made a real difference. But the ubiquituous silence by the rest of the media and the political establishment would muffle a nuclear explosion. Indeed, it's not a stretch to imagine a scenario in which Bush/Cheney drop nukes on Iran and the majority of the mass media in this country treat it like this was necessary.
What this underscores is how far things have come, how successful the radical right has been in their creation of their own right wing media empire in Fox et al, and how consequential their presence has been in impacting the rest of the mass media and consequently the political discourse in this country. The corporate, mainstream media today largely take their political cues from the right wing media and have become what Robert Parry of Consortiumnews.com has described as the courtier press. Some voices at odds with that overall picture continue to exist, but they are few and far between compared to the past. The right wing media empire is something like the equivalent of the really big guy in the lane in basketball who can swat down any shot put up within 10 feet of the basket. As Sunsara Taylor of World Can't Wait has said, we need to call on everyone in the stands to come down onto the court and join us on the floor and change the whole dynamic and the rules of the game. The deafening silence by the mass media needs to be replaced by the sleeping giant of the people of this country waking up with a deafening roar. The very best and most important action people can undertake now is to join in the national protests, focused in Washington, D.C. in the March on the Pentagon, on Saturday, March 17th.
Tomgram: The Seymour Hersh Mystery
A Journalist Writing Bloody Murder…
And No One Notices
By Tom Engelhardt
Let me see if I've got this straight. Perhaps two years ago, an "informal" meeting of "veterans" of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal -- holding positions in the Bush administration -- was convened by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Discussed were the "lessons learned" from that labyrinthine, secret, and illegal arms-for-money-for-arms deal involving the Israelis, the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Contras of Nicaragua, among others -- and meant to evade the Boland Amendment, a congressionally passed attempt to outlaw Reagan administration assistance to the anti-communist Contras. In terms of getting around Congress, the Iran-Contra vets concluded, the complex operation had been a success -- and would have worked far better if the CIA and the military had been kept out of the loop and the whole thing had been run out of the Vice President's office.
Subsequently, some of those conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney's office. They dipped into "black pools of money," possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began. Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups ("some sympathetic to al-Qaeda") whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.
All of this was being done as part of a "sea change" in the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policies aimed at rallying friendly Sunni regimes against Shiite Iran, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian government -- and launching secret operations to undermine, roll back, or destroy all of the above. Despite the fact that the Bush administration is officially at war with Sunni extremism in Iraq (and in the more general Global War on Terror), despite its support for the largely Shiite government, allied to Iran, that it has brought to power in Iraq, and despite its dislike for the Sunni-Shiite civil war in that country, some of its top officials may be covertly encouraging a far greater Sunni-Shiite rift in the region.
Imagine. All this and much more (including news of U.S. military border-crossings into Iran, new preparations that would allow George W. Bush to order a massive air attack on that land with only 24-hours notice, and a brief window this spring when the staggering power of four U.S. aircraft-carrier battle groups might be available to the President in the Persian Gulf) was revealed, often in remarkable detail, just over a week ago in "The Redirection," a Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker. Hersh, the man who first broke the My Lai story in the Vietnam era, has never been off his game since. In recent years, from the Abu Ghraib scandal on, he has consistently released explosive news about the plans and acts of the Bush administration.
Imagine, in addition, that Hersh went on Democracy Now!, Fresh Air, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer and actually elaborated on these claims and revelations, some of which, on the face of it, seem like potentially illegal and impeachable offenses, if they do indeed reach up to the Vice President or President.
Now imagine the response: Front-page headlines; editorials nationwide calling for answers, Congressional hearings, or even the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into some of the claims; a raft of op-ed page pieces by the nation's leading columnists asking questions, demanding answers, reminding us of the history of Iran-Contra; bold reporters from a recently freed media standing up in White House and Defense Department press briefings to demand more information on Hersh's various charges; calls in Congress for hearings and investigations into why the people's representatives were left so totally out of this loop.
All I can say is: If any of this happened, I haven't been able to discover it. As far as I can tell, no one in the mainstream even blinked on the Iran-Contra angle or the possibility that a vast, secret Middle Eastern operation is being run, possibly illegally and based on stolen funds and Saudi money, out of the Vice President's office. You can certainly find a few pieces on, or reports about, "The Redirection" -- all focused only on the possible build-up to a war with Iran -- and the odd wire-service mention of it; but nothing major, nothing Earth-shaking or eye-popping; not, in fact, a single obvious editorial or op-ed piece in the mainstream; no journalistic questions publicly asked of the administration; no Congressional cries of horror; no calls anywhere for investigations or hearings on any of Hersh's revelations, not even an expression of fear somewhere that we might be seeing Iran-Contra, the sequel, in our own moment.
This, it seems to me, adds up to a remarkable non-response to claims that, if true, should gravely concern Congress, the media, and the nation. Let's grant that Hersh's New Yorker pieces generally arrive unsourced and filled with anonymuous officials ("a former senior intelligence official," "a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel"). Nonetheless, Hersh has long mined his sources in the Intelligence Community and the military to striking effect. Undoubtedly, the lack of sourcing makes it harder for other reporters to follow-up, though when it comes to papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times, you would think that they might have Washington sources of their own to query on Hersh's claims. And, of course, editorial pages, columnists, op-ed editors, Congressional representatives, and reporters at administration news briefings don't need to do any footwork at all to raise these subjects. (Consider, for instance, the White House press briefing on April 10, 2006, where a reporter did indeed ask a question based on an earlier Hersh New Yorker piece.) As far as I can tell, there haven't even been denunciations of Hersh's report or suggestions anywhere that it was inaccurate or off-base. Just the equivalent of a giant, collective shrug of the media's rather scrawny shoulders.
Since the response to Hersh's remarkable piece has been so tepid in places where it should count, let me take up just a few of the many issues his report raises.
"Meddling" in Iran
For at least a month now, our press and TV news have been full to the brim with mile-high headlines and top-of-the-news stories recounting (and, more rarely, disputing) Bush administration claims of Iranian "interference" or "meddling" in Iraq (where U.S. military spokesmen regularly refer to the Iraqi insurgents they are fighting as "anti-Iraq forces"). Since Hersh published "Plan B" in the New Yorker in June 2004 in which he claimed that the Israelis were "running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria," he has been on the other side of this story.
In "The Coming Wars" in January of 2005, he first reported that the Bush administration, like the Israelis, had been "conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since" the summer of 2004. In April of 2006 in "The Iran Plans," he reported that the Bush administration was eager to put the "nuclear option" on the table in any future air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities (and that some in the Pentagon, fiercely opposed, had at least temporarily thwarted planning for the possible use of nuclear bunker-busters in Iran). He also reported that American combat units were "on the ground" in Iran, marking targets for any future air attack, and quoted an unnamed source as claiming that they were also "working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast. The troops ‘are studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds,' the consultant said. One goal is to get ‘eyes on the ground'… The broader aim, the consultant said, is to ‘encourage ethnic tensions' and undermine the regime."
In "The Redirection," he now claims that, in search of Iranian rollback and possible regime change, "American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the [Iranian] border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq." In his Democracy Now! radio interview, he added: "[W]e have been deeply involved with Azeris and Baluchis and Iranian Kurds in terror activities inside the country… and, of course, the Israelis have been involved in a lot of that through Kurdistan… Iran has been having sort of a series of backdoor fights, the Iranian government, because… they have a significant minority population. Not everybody there is a Persian. If you add up the Azeris and Baluchis and Kurds, you're really 30-some [%], maybe even 40% of the country."
In addition, he reported that "a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours," and that its "new assignment" was to identify not just nuclear facilities and possible regime-change targets, but "targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq."
Were there nothing else in Hersh's most recent piece, all of this would still have been significant news -- if we didn't happen to live on a one-way imperial planet in which Iranian "interference" in (American) Iraq is an outrage, but secret U.S. operations in, and military plans to devastate, Iran are your basic ho-hum issue. Our mainstream news purveyors don't generally consider the issue of our "interference" in Iran worthy of a great deal of reporting, nor do our pundits consider it a topic worthy of speculation or consideration; nor, in a Congress where leading Democrats have regularly outflanked the Bush administration in hawkish positions on Iran, is this likely to be much of an issue.
You can read abroad about rumored American operations out of Pakistan and Afghanistan aimed at unsettling Iranian minorities like the Baluchis and about possible operations to create strife among Arab minorities in southern Iran near the Iraqi border -- the Iranians seem to blame the British, whose troops are in southern Iraq, for some of this (a charge vociferously denied by the British embassy in Tehran) -- but it's not a topic of great interest here.
In recent months, in fact, several bombs have gone off in minority regions of Iran. These explosions have been reported here, but you would be hard-pressed to find out what the Iranians had to say about them, and the possibility that any of these might prove part of a U.S. (or Anglo-American) covert campaign to destabilize the Iranian fundamentalist regime basically doesn't concern the news mind here, even though past history says it should. After all, many of our present Middle Eastern problems can be indirectly traced back to the Anglo-American ur-moment in the Middle East, the successful CIA-British-intelligence plot in 1953 to oust Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (who had nationalized the Iranian oil industry) and install the young Shah in power.
After all, in the 1980s, in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, the CIA (with the eager connivance of the Pakistanis and the Saudis) helped organize, arm, and fund the Islamic extremists who would someday turn on us for terror campaigns on a major scale. As Steve Coll reported in his superb book Ghost Wars, for instance, "Under ISI [Pakistani intelligence] direction, the mujahedin received training and malleable explosives to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in Soviet-occupied cities, usually designed to kill Soviet soldiers and commanders. [CIA Director William] Casey endorsed these despite the qualms of some CIA career officers."
Similarly, in the early 1990s, the Iraq National Accord, an organization run by the CIA's Iraqi exile of choice, Iyad Allawi, evidently planted, under the Agency's direction, car bombs and explosive devices in Baghdad (including in a movie theater) in a fruitless attempt to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime. The New York Times reported this on its front page in June 2004 (to no effect whatsoever), when Allawi was the Prime Minister of American-occupied Iraq.
Who knows where the funding, training, and equipment for the bombings in Iran are coming from -- but, at a moment when charges that the Iranians are sending into Iraq advanced IEDs, or the means to produce them, are the rage, it seems a germane subject.
In this country, it's a no-brainer that the Iranians have no right whatsoever to put their people, overtly or covertly, into neighboring Iraq, a country which, back in the 1980s, invaded Iran and fought a bitter eight-year war with it, resulting in perhaps a million casualties; but it's just normal behavior for the Pentagon to have traveled halfway across the planet to dominate the Iraqi military, garrison Iraq with a string of vast permanent bases, build the largest embassy on the planet in Baghdad's Green Zone, and send special-operations teams (and undoubtedly CIA teams as well) across the Iranian border, or to insert them in Iran to do "reconnaissance" or even to foment unrest among its minorities. This is the definition of an imperial worldview.
Let's leave Iran now and briefly take up a couple of other matters highlighted in "The Redirection" that certainly should have raised the odd red flag and pushed the odd alarm button here at home far more than his Iranian news (which did at least get some attention):
1. Iran-Contra Redux: Does it raise no eyebrows that, under the leadership of Elliot Abrams (who in the Iran-Contra period pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress and was later pardoned), such a meeting was held? Does no one want to confirm that this happened? Does no one want to know who attended? Iran-Contra alumni in the Bush administration at one time or another included former Reagan National Security Advisor John Poindexter, Otto Reich, John Negroponte (who, Hersh claims, recently left his post as Director of National Intelligence in order to avoid the twenty-first century version of Iran-Contra -- "No way. I'm not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. [National Security Council] running operations off the books, with no [presidential] finding."), Roger Noriega, and Robert Gates. Did the Vice President or President sit in? Was either of them informed about the "lessons drawn"? Were the Vice President's right-hand men, I. Lewis Libby and/or David Addington in any way involved? Who knows? In the Iran-Contra affair, the Reagan administration drew together the seediest collection of freelance arms dealers, intelligence agents, allies, and -- in the case of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian regime -- sworn enemies in what can only be called "amateur hour" at the White House. Now, it looks like the Bush administration is heading down a similar path and, given its previous "amateur hour" reputation in foreign policy, imagine what this is likely to mean.
2. Jihadis as Proxies: Using jihadis as American proxies in a struggle to rollback Iran -- with the help of the Saudis -- should have rung a few bells somewhere in American memory as another been-there, done-that moment. In the 1980s -- on the theory that my enemy's enemy is my friend -- the fundamentalist Catholic CIA Director William Casey came to believe that Islamic fundamentalists could prove tight and trustworthy allies in rolling back the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan, as a result, the CIA, backed by the Saudis royals, who themselves represented an extremist form of Sunni Islam, regularly favored and funded the most extreme of the mujahedeen ready to fight the Soviets. Who can forget the results? Today, according to Hersh, the Saudis are reassuring key figures in the administration that this time they have the jihadis to whom funds are flowing under control. No problem. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.
3. Congress in the Dark: Hersh claims that, with the help of Saudi National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan (buddy to the Bushes and Dick Cheney's close comrade-in-arms), the people running the black-ops programs out of Cheney's office have managed to run circles around any possibility of Congressional oversight, leaving the institution completely "in the dark," which is undoubtedly exactly where Congress wanted to be for the last six years. Is this still true? The non-reaction to the Hersh piece isn't exactly encouraging.
To summarize, if Hersh is to be believed -- and as a major journalistic figure for the last near-40 years he certainly deserves to be taken seriously -- the Bush administration seems to be repeating the worst mistakes of the Reagan administration and of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, which led inexorably to the greatest acts of blowback in our history. Given what we already know about the Bush administration, Americans should be up nights worrying about what all this means now as well as down the line. For Congress, the media, and Americans in general, this report should have been not just a wake-up call, but a shout for an all-nighter with NoDoz.
In my childhood, one of the Philadelphia papers regularly ran cartoon ads for itself in which some poor soul in a perilous situation -- say, clinging to the ledge of a tall building -- would be screaming for help, while passersby were so engrossed in the paper that they didn't even look up. Now, we have the opposite situation. A journalist essentially writing bloody murder in a giant media and governmental crowd. In this case, no one in the mainstream evidently cares -– not yet anyway -- to pay the slightest attention. It seems that there's a crime going on and no one gives a damn. Think Kitty Genovese on a giant scale.
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 9:41 AM
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
When the White House's plans to attack Iran were highlighted by, among other things, advance word and early release of Sy Hersh's "The Redirection" in the New Yorker's March 5, 2007 issue, a number of Democrats said that if Bush attacked Iran that this would be the last straw and that they would move for impeachment. John Conyers was one of these people. You can hear him say this here. To which Cindy Sheehan said: "What are we supposed to do, hope that Bush attacks Iran so we can impeach him?"
Recall that this Congress was elected with a clear mandate from the voters in November 2006 to end the war on Iraq. Several weeks ago Newsweek published its January 2007 poll showing that 58% of the American people wish that the Bush administration was "simply over." Now what have our esteemed Congressional representatives done with this mandate and the will of the people?
See the following piece from the AP. Congress, which has the power, the sole power according to the Constitution, to declare war, has decided not to "tie the hands" of the President should he decide to launch a war on Iran. In fact, in order to "concentrate" on trying to end the existing war with Iraq, Congress wants to give Bush a free hand to launch yet another war!
Congress may as well commit hari kiri and dismiss itself since we wouldn't want to do anything like prevent the President from going to war whenever and where ever he deems fit, do we? Why, that would be giving into the terrorists who want to destroy our way of life! Better that we destroy our "way of life" before anyone else does! Now that's the American way!
From Chapter 9 of ITP by Barbara Bowley:
"Bush has mused out loud think that it would be better if he were a 'dictator.' But the aggressive, behind-the-scenes strategy to concentrate nearly all power in the Executive Branch and make it unaccountable to any vestiges of democratic monitoring is more than the product of the efforts of a power-hungry administration. The general trend towards stripping Congress of most of its power (including especially its constitutional right to declare war) predates Bush and Cheney and reflects the exigencies of an imperialist superpower bent on having its way in the world, irrespective of what 'the people' want. What we see in the Bush/Cheney regime is a great heightening of this general trend and open defiance of any Congressional attempts to monitor and investigate. Like the proverbial frog in the pot story where if you were to drop a frog into a pot of boiling water it would immediately jump out but if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and slowly warm it up the frog will be cooked before it knows what hit it, the American people and 'rule of law' have been getting the heat turned up on them."
Dems Abandon War Authority Provision
By David Espo and Matthew Lee
The Associated Press
Tuesday 13 March 2007
Top House Democrats retreated Monday from an attempt to limit President Bush's authority for taking military action against Iran as the leadership concentrated on a looming confrontation with the White House over the Iraq war.
Officials said Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the leadership had decided to strip from a major military spending bill a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.
Conservative Democrats as well as lawmakers concerned about the possible impact on Israel had argued for the change in strategy.
The developments occurred as Democrats pointed toward an initial test vote in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday on the overall bill, which would require the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008, if not earlier. The measure provides nearly $100 billion to pay for fighting in two wars, and includes more money than the president requested for operations in Afghanistan and what Democrats called training and equipment shortages.
The White House has issued a veto threat against the bill, and Vice President Dick Cheney attacked its supporters in a speech, declaring they "are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out."
House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio issued a statement that said Democrats shouldn't count on any help passing their legislation. "Republicans will continue to stand united in this debate, and will oppose efforts by Democrats to undermine the ability of General Petraeus and our troops to achieve victory in the Global War on Terror," he said.
Top Democrats had a different perspective.
Pelosi issued a written statement that said the vice president's remarks prove that "the administration's answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement that America was less safe today because of the war. The president "must change course, and it's time for the Senate to demand he do it," he added.
The Iran-related proposal stemmed from a desire to make sure Bush did not launch an attack without going to Congress for approval, but drew opposition from numerous members of the rank and file in a series of closed-door sessions last week.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said in an interview there is widespread fear in Israel about Iran, which is believed to be seeking nuclear weapons and has expressed unremitting hostility about the Jewish state.
"It would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran," she said of the now-abandoned provision.
"I didn't think it was a very wise idea to take things off the table if you're trying to get people to modify their behavior and normalize it in a civilized way," said Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York.
Several officials said there was widespread opposition to the proposal at a closed-door meeting last week of conservative and moderate Democrats, who said they feared tying the hands of the administration when dealing with an unpredictable and potentially hostile regime in Tehran.
Public opinion has swung the way of Democrats on the issue of the war. More than six in 10 Americans think the conflict was a mistake - the largest number yet found in AP-Ipsos polling.
But Democrats have struggled to find a compromise that can satisfy both liberals who oppose any funding for the military effort and conservatives who do not want to unduly restrict the commander in chief.
"This supplemental should be about supporting the troops and providing what they need," said Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., on Monday upon returning from a trip to Iraq. Boren said he plans to oppose any legislation setting a clear deadline for troops to leave.
In his speech, Cheney chided lawmakers who are pressing for tougher action on Iran to oppose the president on the Iraq War.
"It is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel's best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened," he said.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 5:30 AM
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I'm reprinting here Paul Krugman's March 5, 2007 article on the revelatory scandal at Walter Reed Army Hospital. I also recommend highly, if you haven't seen it, It is Just Not Water Reed, by Anne Hull and Dana Priest also on March 5, 2007 in the Washington Post.
An excerpt from their article:
"[M]uch deeper has been the reaction outside Washington, including from many of the 600,000 new veterans who left the service after Iraq and Afghanistan. Wrenching questions have dominated blogs, talk shows, editorial cartoons, VFW spaghetti suppers and the solitary late nights of soldiers and former soldiers who fire off e-mails to reporters, members of Congress and the White House - looking, finally, for attention and solutions.
"Several forces converged to create this intense reaction. A new Democratic majority in Congress is willing to criticize the administration. Senior retired officers pounded the Pentagon with sharp questions about what was going on. Up to 40 percent of the troops fighting in Iraq are National Guard members and reservists - 'our neighbors,' said Ron Glasser, a physician and author of a book about the wounded. 'It all adds up and reaches a kind of tipping point,' he said."
Will this be THE tipping point? Bill Maher the other night described it as such. Roseanne Barr was one of his guests, by the way, and she kicked butt! The props that hold up this despicable White House continue to get knocked out. Whether this is the coup de grace or not, it only underscores the urgent necessity to rid this country and the world of these tyrants who cry crocodile tears over the soldiers but who care less about their actual fates than they do about their mint juleps - witness Barbara Bush as Plaintiff's exhibit #1.
Not only did the Bush White House privatize services at Walter Reed - they're paying MORE for it than they would have if it were civil service employees still doing it. Their mania to privatize everything they can, regardless of the costs, is one of the reasons why FEMA was gutted and why they allowed private developers to drain marshlands surrounding New Orleans, marshlands which provide natural protection against storm surges.
The next time the Bush regime and their apologists say "we support the troops" think - in fact, better yet, say very loudly - "Walter Reed."
Valor and Squalor
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Monday 05 March 2007
When Salon, the online magazine, reported on mistreatment of veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center two years ago, officials simply denied that there were any problems. And they initially tried to brush off last month's exposé in The Washington Post.
But this time, with President Bush's approval at 29 percent, Democrats in control of Congress, and Donald Rumsfeld no longer defense secretary - Robert Gates, his successor, appears genuinely distressed at the situation - the whitewash didn't stick.
Yet even now it's not clear whether the public will be told the full story, which is that the horrors of Walter Reed's outpatient unit are no aberration. For all its cries of "support the troops," the Bush administration has treated veterans' medical care the same way it treats everything else: nickel-and-diming the needy, protecting the incompetent and privatizing everything it can.
What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veterans' health care - like the Federal Emergency Management Agency - became a shining example of how good leadership can revitalize a troubled government program. By the early years of this decade the Veterans Health Administration was, by many measures, providing the highest-quality health care in America. (It probably still is: Walter Reed is a military facility, not run by the V.H.A.)
But as with FEMA, the Bush administration has done all it can to undermine that achievement. And the Walter Reed scandal is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration's misgovernment became obvious to everyone.
The problem starts with money. The administration uses carefully cooked numbers to pretend that it has been generous to veterans, but the historical data contained in its own budget for fiscal 2008 tell the true story. The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans' medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.
To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.
More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency's Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack "special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service," will be turned away.
So when you hear stories of veterans who spend months or years fighting to get the care they deserve, trying to prove that their injuries are service-related, remember this: all this red tape was created not by the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but by the Bush administration's penny-pinching.
But money is only part of the problem.
We know from Hurricane Katrina postmortems that one of the factors degrading FEMA's effectiveness was the Bush administration's relentless push to outsource and privatize disaster management, which demoralized government employees and drove away many of the agency's most experienced professionals. It appears that the same thing has been happening to veterans' care.
The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.
And Mr. Waxman, who will be holding a hearing on the issue today, appears to have solid evidence, including an internal Walter Reed memo from last year, that the prospect of privatization led to a FEMA-type exodus of skilled personnel.
What comes next? Francis J. Harvey, who as far as I can tell was the first defense contractor appointed secretary of the Army, has been forced out. But the parallels between what happened at Walter Reed and what happened to New Orleans - not to mention parallels with the mother of all scandals, the failed reconstruction of Iraq - tell us that the roots of the scandal run far deeper than the actions of a few bad men.
Posted by Dennis Loo at 7:53 AM
Saturday, March 10, 2007
When I spoke recently at a pro-impeachment event, two people simultaneously said in response to something I said: "We don't have time for a movement."
It's true that the hour's late and it's true that our government has already put in place mechanisms (e.g., the Warner Act and the Military Commissions Act) to carry out draconian repression domestically. It's true that we face an implacable enemy. But saying that we don't have time for a movement is like showing up for a demonstration and forgetting to bring any signs. It's like going into a war and neglecting to bring any ammunition. It's like having a banquet but not putting out any food. A movement is the one and only hope that we have. And this should not be a source of despair.
People mean different things when they say we don't have time for a movement. In some cases, it's an expression of frustration that more people haven't yet stepped forward into active political life and they worry that sufficient numbers won't step forward. And in the alternative therefore they think that we must rely on something more ready-at-hand like, perhaps, convincing the existing political leadership to alter their ways or using constitutional attorneys to sue the government for war crimes. When you look at history, as Howard Zinn has eloquently pointed out in the body of his entire work (and in the Introduction to ITP), it's been movements, not condescending saviors, that have given us any of the really valuable and good things. It's only been through movements' collective power that FDR or JFK or LBJ or the Warren Court or, for goodness sake, even Nixon (who ended the Vietnam War because he had to or face worse consequences) have done anything worthwhile.
This "we don't have time for a movement" phrase was also uttered by Dave Lindorff on a KPFA show that he, Peter Phillips, and I were on on September 28, 2006 - the Living Room, hosted by Kris Welan. The thrust of Lindorff's point was that the impeachment movement had to back Democrats.
Lindorff is co-author with Barbara Olshansky of The Case for Impeachment. He and I were jousting on the air over what most needed to happen - this was several weeks before the November 2006 elections. I was saying that we needed to first and foremost put our energy into building a powerful mass movement to fundamentally and dramatically alter the overall political atmosphere in this country. Lindorff argued that electing Democrats was our only hope.
I said that breaking the GOP's stranglehold over Congress would be a good thing, but that we couldn't put all our eggs in that basket - regardless of who was in charge of Congress, we had to rely principally upon an irrepressible popular upsurge to create the conditions in which Congress felt it had no choice but to proceed with impeachment and conviction. I also pointed out that the electoral path was treacherous: the last two presidential elections (and a few key Congressional and gubernatorial races) had been stolen. Lindorff had either never heard the evidence for this or was unconvinced. See my "No Paper Trail Left Behind: the Theft of the 2004 Presidential Election" posted in August 2005. See also, for a more thorough analysis with additional evidence, my Chapter Two in ITP: "Never Elected, Not Once: the Immaculate Deception and the Road Ahead.")
As we all know, of course, the Democrats did get back the majority in Congress in November 2006. The electorate resoundingly repudiated the GOP. But a funny thing happened on the way to the majority: the Democrats continue to refuse to impeach (having made no secret prior to the election that they did not intend to impeach if they won). They also haven't stopped funding the Iraq war and are co-operating with the GOP and Bush/Cheney in threatening Iran with an attack.
Lindorff wrote in frustration a piece on BuzzFlash and CounterPunch entitled "Only the People Can Save Us Now: Sell-Out Democrats Have Walked into a Bush Trap on Iraq," on 12/20/2006 (these are excerpts from his piece, with boldfacing mine):
"They [the Democrats] could have initiated efforts to halt funding for further war and foreign occupation. Of course, taking such stands and actions would have opened them to charges of being 'soft on terror,' but the public clearly isn't buying that crap any more. With a little courage and leadership they could have handled it, and come out winners.
"Instead, they took what they thought was the easy road, condemning not the criminal policies themselves, but only the administration's handling of the wars. This led some to call not for an end to the wars, but for more troops.
"And what are the Democrats in Congress going to do? Devoid of any principles, their chance to demand an end to reckless imperialist military adventures squandered, they are likely to fall in line and vote to fund both an escalation of the Iraq War and an expansion of the military.
"While the hour is late, there is yet a slim chance for the public to rescue the Democrats from this course of political suicide and the nation from disaster.
"I realize counting on Democrats to do the right thing, even in their own self-interest, is a thin reed on which to rest hopes for a return to national sanity, but we need to grasp it."
Lindorff and Olshansky's book is an excellent presentation of some of the grounds for impeachment. Their book and ours (ITP) and the others are all important contributors to the impeachment movement. But there are some key points in The Case for Impeachment with which I strongly disagree and that I believe leads people down the wrong path. This is particularly true around their view of the Democrats and desire to "return" to the days when separation of powers held true. As Zinn points out in his Introduction to ITP, separation of powers has never really operated all that much, and when it comes to foreign policy, not hardly at all.
Arguing as Lindorff does in the "Only the People Can Save Us Now..." piece (by the way, it's always been only the people who could save us) that the Democrats should show some courage and leadership and that they would then come out winners, that they are on a politically suicidal course, that the Democrats need to be rescued and that it's in the Democrats' self-interest to do the right thing are all premised on an incorrect view of who the Democrats really are. The Democrats know exactly what they're doing. They aren't mixed up about what's in their best interest.
It is true that the Democrats could cut off the funding for the war right now, could oppose the steps towards war with Iran, could initiate impeachment proceedings immediately and that doing these things would deliver to the Democrats the gratitude of the nation and utterly destroy the GOP's chances of winning any offices for the next several election cycles at the very least. (For those who say that there aren't sufficient votes to impeach and convict in Congress now, note that upon initiation of actual investigatory hearings on this regime's actions, the overwhelming evidence of malfeasance, wrong-doing, illegality and criminality would come spilling out like the maggots you see when you open the lid on a trashbin that's been holding rotten food for months. This would shock the nation, deliver to the Democrats a windfall that would render the GOP a mere cipher for a long time to come, and make voting for the White House political suicide).
The reason why the Democrats haven't done these things and are actively and publicly declaring that they will not do these things is not because they are just too goddamn stupid to realize what's in their best interest and can't see what is patently obvious to the vast majority of people in this country right now. They don't do these obvious - and morally and legally proper - things because they aren't mainly partisan rivals of the GOP who are going to do what they can to take seats away from their rivals. Instead, the Democrats are best understood as the other major representative of big capital in the US. Because they appeal to different social bases, the GOP and Democrats frame their agendas in somewhat different language. But they share fundamental agreements on the fundamental matters. They recognize that the whirlwind that might ensue in an impeachment process, the Pandora's Box that would be opened, would create a situation that could very well sweep them aside as well as the GOP because the masses of people could be sprung into political life and then all bets are off about what would emerge from this. It is task of the people and our duty in the face of the abdication of leadership by the political leadership and the mass media in this country to create that very whirlwind. And we can do this!
As I wrote in ITP:
"The key figures in this new economic and political order are transnational corporations that dwarf most of the world’s national economies. As of 2000, of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, 51 of them were transnational corporations. Wal-Mart was larger than 182 countries. The 200 largest corporations’ combined sales were larger than all of the world’s countries’ economies less the top 10 countries in economic size! Moreover, this concentration of wealth and power is accelerating. The dominance of these giant conglomerates and their allies in government means that we can expect ever-rising levels of job and social insecurity since this is the fundamental logic driving globalization. The Democrats are not going to stand up to these transnationals; they have not, nor are they capable of it. Hoping and praying that electing Democrats in 2006 will somehow turn this around is a losing strategy. The main problem isn’t that the Democrats are spineless or that they can’t get their act together. The main problem is that both major parties are the political representatives of big capital and of globalization.
"It’s important to further recognize that this isn’t just because the Democrats are beholden to big campaign contributors, resolvable through campaign reform legislation, although that is obviously part of the picture. The essence of the problem is that this situation is precisely what we should expect. When you’re talking about economies on a world scale in which the major players are monstrously large and the stakes involved are gigantic, there is no reason to expect that the people who run in these kind of circles, whether they are CEOs or public officials, are going to truly subject their fantastic power and wealth to the whims of an electorate in which everyone rich and poor alike has one vote. Would you, if you had their level of power and wealth and their ideology? If you had more power than 182 countries and you were one corporation, would you let the electorate decide they were going to, for example, nationalize you? Would you put the fate of your extremely concentrated power and wealth in the hands of 'the people?'
"Both major parties in this country are in agreement that this new economic order of globalization, this security state, is the right thing. They differ somewhat over some particular policies, with some sectors, for example, more based in science and more concerned about the environment (e.g., Gore), but they don’t differ on the fundamentals. The media are themselves fully embedded within this new economic order; they are themselves major corporations. The Democrats aren’t the leading political representatives of this new order because in their highest and best expression, the Democrats are FDR New Dealers, and the material basis for that stance has been getting wiped out systematically over the last thirty years. That is why the Democrats appear to be so hapless and so feeble against the GOP’s cutthroat viciousness, for the GOP represents the most aggressive, most in your face cutting edge of the ascendant neoliberal state." (pp. 43-44)
Put another way, there has been a momentous sea change in the political economy in the US (and the world) over the last approximately thirty years. The gigantic disparities in wealth and the behemoth dimensions of transnationals brought into being by globalization and the collapse of the socialist camp (thus producing an international situation in which the US imperialist empire has no real rivals and therefore no real motivation to compromise with anyone or make any concessions to labor or progressive demands) cannot help but produce a fundamental situation that both major political parties in this country will reflect. To cite another example of this: in order to have a minimally viable presidential candidacy during the nomination's process, a candidate must raise at least $250,000/day. A quarter million dollars a day for well over a year! Who are you going to get this money from, who must you mainly rely upon, and who are you therefore beholden to?
Posted by Dennis Loo at 10:03 PM