December 21, 2011, Issue #173
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
email@example.com, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. WHAT BUSH TOLD US ABOUT IRAQ
2. THE U.S. AND IRAQ AFTER THE WAR, Part 1
3. THE U.S. AND IRAQ AFTER THE WAR, Part 2
4. THE USSR: GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
5. WAR ON IRAN HAS ALREADY BEGUN
6. VENEZUELA SUMMIT EXCLUDES U.S.
7. NEW BOOK SHOWS HOW U.S. TARGETS DISSENT
8. THE 1% ELECTION: THEIR BREAD, OUR CIRCUS
9. CONGRESS ATTACKS DRINKING WATER
10. JOBS AND MILITARY SPENDING
A QUOTE WORTH SHARING:
Noam Chomsky: "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."
1. WHAT BUSH TOLD US ABOUT IRAQ
By Activist Newsletter
[NOTE: The U.S. is getting out of Iraq after nearly nine years, but how did it get in? It was obvious by September 2002 that President George W. Bush was going to attack, and the peace movement, led by ANSWER, started organizing big time. There were demands for peace throughout the U.S. when the House and Senate passed legislation in mid-October giving Bush authority to unilaterally declare war if he thought it necessary. He invaded several months later in March. Part of what induced Congress and millions of Americans to approve a preemptive war was a peculiar speech Bush delivered Oct. 8 so full of lies and transparent efforts to frighten people that we wrote a brief story in the Oct. 15, 2002, Activist Newsletter that included an introduction and quotes from Bush. It was titled "A Presidential Ghost Story" since the Halloween decorations were already up. Here's the text.]
President Bush's speech Oct. 8 defending his intention to launch a "preemptive" war with Iraq sounded like a Halloween ghost story calculated to scare the daylights out of guileless children.
The term "terror" or "terrorist" was employed 35 times; "weapons" — for use against the United States — 33 times; "threat," to America, 17 times. Weak and wounded Iraq was virtually portrayed as a military superpower about to conquer the world.
Among the missing words was any mention of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, who have evaded capture [in Afghanistan] along with most leading operatives of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, much to the embarrassment of the White House war room. As a consequence, the two leaders — identified by Bush as enemies number one and two just a few months ago — have evidently been metamorphosed by the White House propaganda apparatus into Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who Bush assured the world was also "a student of Stalin." Al Qaeda itself was mentioned seven times, but only in reference to the Iraqi leader, not to the former "Evil One," bin Laden.
Reduced to its simplistic scare-story essentials, the following excerpts from Bush's speech tell his version of the age-old story of good against evil — the Crusading Avenger Vs. the Bogeyman of Baghdad. It's a great tale to tell the kids on Halloween in a couple of weeks. Douse the lights, ignite a single candle, sit in the shadows, and begin:
"I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace and America's determination to lead the world in confronting that threat.... [Iraq] possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism and practices terror against its own people....
"We are resolved today to confront every threat from any source that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America.... [The] Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons.... Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant.... The same tyrant has tried to dominate the Middle East...and holds an unrelenting hostility toward the United States....
"Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction.... If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today, and we do, does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons? .... We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using [aerial vehicles] for missions targeting the United States.
"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliances with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.... Confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror.
"If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America and Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.
"Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact they would be eager, to use biological or chemical or a nuclear weapons. Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.... We have every reason to assume the worst and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring.
"Some have argued we should wait, and that's an option. In my view it's the riskiest of all options because the longer we wait, the stronger and bolder Saddam Hussein will become.... There can be no peace if our security depends on the will and whims of a ruthless and aggressive dictator.... Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent feature of world events. The situation could hardly get worse...."
At this point the kids at your Halloween gathering should be scared stiff. Then put on your Saddam Hussein mask, walk into the light, and shout "Boooooo." After the children run home in panic, put on your George Bush mask and start shooting.
2. THE U.S. AND IRAQ AFTER THE WAR
Part 1 — Obama's interpretation of the war
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter
President Obama bid farewell to the Iraq war after nearly nine years of conflict in a Nov. 14 speech to troops of the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, N.C. He virtually damned the war with the faintest of praise.
The problem was that he couldn't claim victory and had to conceal an historic defeat — but at least it wasn't his war, as Afghanistan has become.
Meanwhile in Iraq, a perhaps inevitable major political crisis is brewing between the Shi'ite-led government and Sunni ministers in the regime.
The war was a fiasco for the Pentagon and a roadside bomb for America's international reputation. Obama thus resorted to conveying a deceptively selective history of former President George W. Bush's Iraq misadventure. Deploying the language of omission, ultra-patriotism, and gushing praise for the troops, Obama managed to smother the truth about the war's origins, conduct and ending.
Most Americans have long tired of the Iraq occupation, not least because the war hadn't touched most people. It was a credit card war that will burden future generations with debt, not them, and the troops were volunteers, not conscripts. People often waved the flag with gusto and participated in pro-forma displays of support for the troops and concern for their families, but not much more. Reporting about the official war-ending, flag-lowering ceremony in Washington Dec. 15, Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service noted that "hardly anyone here seemed to notice, let alone mark the occasion in a special manner."
A majority of Americans opposed the bipartisan war — almost 70% today — and they have done so for years, although a much smaller number took to the streets where it counts. Many millions protested the war even before it began. Some 500,000 went to Washington in the cold of January 2003 to demonstrate against going to war two months before Washington's "shock and awe" bombardment of Baghdad. The mass antiwar movement remained large and viable for several years, but dissipated, except for the dedicated left and pacifists, when Democrat Obama won the 2008 election. The movement had a much larger impact on public opinion and government policy than has been recognized.
In his speech Obama made no mention of such highlights as the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the shame of Abu Ghraib, or the astonishing cost of the war. He couldn't even point to any concrete military accomplishments. The vaunted 2007-8 "surge" concocted by Gen. David Petraeus was not evoked, perhaps because its main element consisted of paying the insurgents $30 million a month to stop fighting, which doesn't say much about the Pentagon's prowess. At that time some 170,000 U.S. troops maintained over 500 bases in Iraq against up to 20,000 decentralized irregular guerrillas without any of the accoutrements of modern warfare.
Instead of facts the president resorted to embellishing trifles and vacuous tributes to the troops: "The most important lesson that we can take from you is not about military strategy — it's a lesson about our national character." "As your commander-in-chief I can tell you that [the war] will indeed be a part of history." "Now, we knew this day would come. We've known it for some time. But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long."
Obama characterized the withdrawal as a "moment of success." To the uninformed this may imply some kind of victory, but it simply means the troops were withdrawn without incident.
At the beginning, the Bush Administrated estimated the war would end in victory in three months. Bush claimed victory on May 1, 2003, with his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech from an aircraft carrier. It groaned to an ambiguous finale in 105 months. The combined length of America's participation in World Wars I and II was 64 months.
The best Obama could say about one of Washington's longest wars was that "American troops... will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high." He couldn't call it a victory, but "heads held high" is supposed to rule out the perception of defeat.
But defeat is the only suitable word. Any war between a rich, overwhelmingly powerful state deploying a military juggernaut and a small poor state with a broken army that ends in a stalemate after nearly nine years is a humiliating defeat. It is being covered up, but in time we assume historians will unite around this verdict.
The White House and Pentagon fear that public awareness of a defeat in either Iraq or Afghanistan may generate another "Vietnam Syndrome." After that ultimately unpopular and vigorously protested war ended in triumph for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and D.R. Vietnam in 1975 — the American people were obviously disinclined to countenance another major war of choice in a foreign venue, especially against a developing country in Asia that doesn't directly threaten the U.S.
This didn't prevent the right-wing Reagan Administration from invading and walking over two tiny, weak countries (Grenada and Panama) and from supporting counter-insurgency campaigns in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, South Yemen, and elsewhere in the 1980s, but it took 16 post-Vietnam years (1976-1991) before the Pentagon was politically able to openly engage in a major war involving hundreds of thousands of troops (Iraq War I, otherwise known as the Gulf War).
Washington has been engaged in hot, cold or surreptitious wars for 70 years, presently spending $1.4 trillion a year on its military and national security budgets, and has provided no evidence it will stop. As such it is essential to maintain the public belief that the U.S. military is the best in the world (a frequent Obama mantra) , and that Vietnam was an inexplicable fluke or largely the fault of civilian leadership.
Obama sought to compensate for being unable to claim victory by referring to the "extraordinary achievement" of the American troops, saying, "today we remember everything that you did to make it possible." The "it" was not defined. Indeed, "Because of you, because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny." He went on to call the U.S. military "the most respected institution in our land."
Presidential praise of the Ft. Bragg troops for "serving with honor [and] patriotism" deserves some comment.
There are those who maintain that it is as impossible to serve "with honor" in a dishonorable preemptive war — an unjust, illegal, and immoral war of choice for geopolitical advantage and access to oil — as in any grossly dishonorable enterprise, civilian or military.
They ask, can one participate with honor — even with bravery or at least showing up and following the leader — in a civilian gang attack on innocent people, or for burning down a block of urban housing, or for acts of vandalism in a rural village? Is doing so any different in a criminal war while waving the national colors to advance the interests of what is today termed "the 1%"?
How do conventional criminal deeds differ from the massive criminality of U.S. imperialism in invading a country half-way around the world that was no danger to America or any other country, destroying its civil infrastructure, killing between 600,000 and a million Iraqis and causing three to four million people to become refugees? (Some estimates of Iraqi dead are 100,000 "or more." The higher figures, maintained over the years not just from newspaper accounts, derive from the British medical journal The Lancet and other independent sources.)
And what is "patriotic" about taking part in crushing a much smaller and virtually defenseless country already suffering from an earlier war and a dozen years of killer sanctions that were responsible for the deaths of yet another million Iraqis, half of them children, according to the UN?
Government hyper-patriotic propaganda probably did convince many of the military volunteers that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened America and that the Iraqi government played a role in 9/11, but these lies were exposed at least seven years ago. The soldiers, including the large number of men and women who joined primarily to obtain employment, or earn money for college, or escape poverty, or to avoid a dead-end future are daily subject to the Pentagon's rah-rah version of its rationale for the war.
The U.S. military did have its members who served with honor and patriotism. Alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower PFC Bradley Manning is an outstanding example. He is essentially on trial for exposing war crimes. Others include those who joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) or March Forward, another veteran group, who turned against and condemned the conflict and devoted themselves to working for peace. Also, we assume there were many soldiers who consciously avoided harming civilians and performed acts of kindness as well.
But an undetermined number of U.S. soldiers were involved in reprehensible treatment of civilians in Iraq, or openly displayed contempt for Iraqi customs and beliefs — often with the approval of their officers. The public testimony of IVAW members a couple of years ago was chilling, as well as the many revelations of murder and abuse that have managed to become known to the media, such as the Haditha massacre of dozens of Iraqis in 2005. As U.S. troops were leaving Iraq this month, secret military testimony about the Haditha tragedy was discovered among papers in a junkyard where they were supposed to have been burned.
President Obama's most bizarre statement at Ft. Bragg occurred when he declared that "what makes us special as Americans [is that] unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices [during the Iraq war] for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right."
Being an empire of a new type, the U.S. did not plan to transform Iraq into an old-type colony. Bush's intention in invading was to convert Iraq into a subservient satellite. Washington already had handpicked a puppet regime of exiles to take over. The next step was to use a swift Pentagon victory as a jumping off point for bringing about regime change in Iran and other countries. This was supposed to be the culmination of America's geopolitical ambition to rule over the entire petroleum-rich Persian Gulf region and entire Middle East. One byproduct was to enhance the position of U.S. corporations. Another was to denationalize the oil reserves mainly to benefit American oil companies if possible.
The invasion quickly succeeded. Given the imbalance of power how could it not? But much else of Bush's imperialist adventure turned out to be a huge exploding cigar in Uncle Sam's unsuspecting face, at a cost at least $5 trillion (when future decades of veterans' benefits and interest payments are included). Obama knows this, of course, just as he knows it's ridiculous to depict U.S. foreign policy as selfless. But he has a major defeat to cover up, and the fact that the troops withdrew with heads held high doesn't entirely do the trick.
It's true Obama opposed the war as a member of the Illinois state legislature, though he was fairly quiet as a U.S. Senator and voted in favor of funding the incredibly expensive calamity year after year. During the 2008 campaign his critique of the Iraq conflict was a major factor in the defeat of warhawk Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and helped his election victory.
Both Democratic superstars now are leading hawks on behalf of keeping Iraq under Washington's thumb, and for the Afghan war, the drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, NATO's regime-change war in Libya, threats against Iran, the suppression of the Palestinians, support for pro-U.S. dictatorships, and most recently the dangerous new policy of "containing" China.
(To be continued)
3. THE U.S. AND IRAQ AFTER THE WAR
Part 2 — Iraq's future and U.S. intentions
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter
President Obama emphasizes that he ended the Iraq campaign but he actually fulfilled the withdrawal agreement to pull out by the end of 2011 that was signed in December 2008 by outgoing President Bush and the Baghdad government. The Bush Administration labored long to compel President Nouri al-Maliki to agree that many thousands of U.S. troops could remain in the country after the bulk of forces withdrew, but the Iraqi leader ultimately refused. As a compromise the concord contained a stipulation allowing U.S. troops to remain if requested by Iraq's government.
The Obama Administration then applied pressure on Maliki to "request" that 20,000 or so American troops remain indefinitely, but its plans fell through in October. Reflecting the views of the Iraqi people, Baghdad politicians insisted that only a small number of troops may remain to train the Iraqi army. They added, however, that the troops would now be subject to the Iraqi legal system if they broke laws. The U.S. does not permit this in the many countries where its military is stationed. Washington thus was obliged to give up on retaining the troops.
The decision was an important setback for the Obama administration but a victory for Iraqi independence and a most agreeable outcome for neighboring Iran, which has considerable influence in Iraq. Washington's principal concern is that Shi'ite Iran and majority Shi'ite Iraq will in time enter in a close and relatively powerful alliance that would oppose U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf, perhaps backed by China and Russia.
According to IPS news analyst Gareth Porter Dec. 16: "The real story behind the U.S. withdrawal is how a clever strategy of deception and diplomacy adopted by Prime Minister Maliki in cooperation with Iran outmaneuvered Bush and the U.S. military leadership and got the United States to sign the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement."
Iran, which supported Bush's overthrow of Ba'athists, is a country against which Washington has held a grudge since 1979 when a popular revolution ousted the Shah of Iran, occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 62 American personnel for 14 months. The Shah was reinstalled on the Peacock Throne in 1953 by the U.S. and UK after they arranged for a monarchist coup against the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, crushing Iranian democracy but denationalizing the country's petroleum fields to benefit British and American oil companies.
The U.S. and Israel (which had very close relations with the Shah's regime) have long been seeking the opportunity to replace the anti-imperialist Islamic regime with a pro-American government, lately with threats of war, subversion, support for opposition elements, and ever tightening extreme sanctions in response to unproven allegations that Iran is constructing a nuclear weapon.
Obama told the troops that "Iraq is not a perfect place... but we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.... This is an extraordinary achievement... and today we remember everything that you [the troops] did to make it possible."
After the first false justifications for the invasion were exposed, and the Pentagon was settling in for a long occupation since notions of quick victory had had gone up in smoke like a bombed out Iraqi home, Bush Administration neoconservatives discovered that the "real" reason for the war was to "democratize" Iraq.
Iraq had been a one-party state run by the secular Ba'ath Party with Saddam Hussein as the president. Hussein crushed the Communists, then the left and other vocal opponents and organizations. The Ba'athists brooked no political opposition. They favored the minority Sunni over the majority Shi'ite Muslims. Hussein led Iraq into an unjust, unnecessary war against Shi'ite Iran throughout the 1980s, with U.S. backing.
Domestically, the Ba'athists embraced a program of social services for the people. Oil reserves and certain enterprises had been nationalized and profits provided a broad array of support for the masses, such as subsidized food. Iraq boasted the best public educational system in the Middle East. It maintained a far-reaching national healthcare system for all citizens. Iraqi women were considered to be the most equal and liberated in the Arab world. Internationally, the Ba'ath Party practiced an anti-imperialist foreign policy. For many years it upheld Pan-Arabism until its decline throughout the region, and was critical of Israel and supported the Palestinian people until the end.
Historically the U.S. supported and continues to back several dictatorships in the Middle East. It's 30-year tacit alliance the Mubarak regime in Egypt (and current backing for the quasi-military junta now in power) was hardy the worst. What set Iraq apart for Washington was its strategic geopolitical position, opposition to certain U.S. goals in the vicinity, possession of great petroleum resources, anti-Israel focus, and by 2003 its helpless military vulnerability.
Today after 20 years of U.S. wars, Iraq is a ruin. The country was virtually crippled after the destruction caused by Washington's first Iraq war in 1991 followed by debilitating sanctions and occasional bombings until the second war which started in March 2003.
The education system has been shattered. Healthcare is now poor to nonexistent for much of the population. Many rights for women have been wrenched away. Infrastructure is a wreck. Energy from the battered electrical grid remains sporadic or not available. Businesses and a number of government tasks have now been privatized to the detriment of the people. Oil has been denationalized. Poverty and inequality are widespread. Corruption is endemic. The new "democratic" political system is frequently undemocratic, and great injustices exist throughout society. Torture is a frequent tool of the police.
In addition, Washington's divide-and-conquer tactics have greatly exacerbated religious tensions, leading to near civil war at one point, and engendered the continual terrorist violence that exists to this day. The war opened the door for al-Qaeda terrorists to enter Iraq for the first time, and they are still there. The Ba'athists in power would not tolerate their presence, but the chaos of the occupation was a virtual invitation. Divide-and conquer also increased national and gender antagonisms.
America's formal war is now over but it hardly is the last of the U.S. in Iraq. Obama told the troops that "We're building a new partnership between our nations." The Bush Administration's initial "partnership" was based on becoming a virtual behind-the-scenes government in Baghdad — one of its many failures.
But Washington retains considerable power in Iraq — from economic support and credits, to arms sales, military training, trade opportunities, a connection to America's many allies and dependencies in the Middle East and worldwide and more.
Part of that partnership is the newly built largest embassy in the world and a staff of nearly 17,000. This includes a security force of over 5,000 personnel, and 150-200 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq as part of a "normal embassy presence." (By comparison, the capital city of Albany, N.Y., with a population of nearly l00,000, is served by 340 police officers.) It has been reported that much of the diplomatic staff works with Iraqi government departments or is engaged in activities for the U.S. intelligence network.
Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, long a critic of the U.S. occupation and a friend of Iran, argues the embassy contingent and security detachments are far too large, indicative of Washington's intention to play a major role in Baghdad. He told Al-Arabiya TV Nov. 3 that the "American occupation will stay in Iraq under different names."
The embassy's main responsibilities seem to be to keep the new Iraqi government in check, to protect American commercial interests, to monitor and diminish Iranian influence, to distance Iraq from present-day Syria, to keep China and Russia at bay, to contact dissidents, to gather intelligence and to discourage Iraqi criticism of Israel.
The Obama Administration is strengthening the U.S. military machine in the wake of events in Iraq. Secretary of State Clinton announced recently: “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region."
The Associated Press reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta " expects about 40,000 U.S. troops to be stationed across the Middle East after they are pulled out of Iraq." The Pentagon wants to station some in Kuwait, next to Iraq, and intends to keep a substantial force in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal, close to Iran and China. In addition the U.S. Navy is expected to increase the number of warships in the region.
The New York Times reports that "the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense."
Ironically, these six oil-rich U.S. allies, led by ultra-reactionary Saudi Arabia, offer their people less freedom and rights for women than Iraq under the Ba'athist government, but neither Washington nor the mass media single them out for criticism or demonize their leaders.
Iraq's future is a great unknown. The Sunni-Shi'ite split is far worse today than before Washington interfered. The immediate crisis is that the political system seems ready to explode. As the New York Times reported Dec. 20:
"The Shiite-dominated government ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president [Tariq al-Hashimi] accusing him of running a death squad that assassinated police officers and government officials.... A major Sunni-backed political coalition said its ministers would walk off their jobs." Speaking later in the day from the safety of the Kurdish north (where he intends to stay for the time being), Hashimi "angrily rebutted charges that he had ordered his security guards to assassinate government officials, saying that Shi'ite-backed security forces had induced the guards into false confessions." Three of the guards confessed to the charges and the video was played on nationwide TV.
Even before this latest predicament, Washington's imposed "democracy" obviously was very fragile. Some quarters have predicted a possible future civil war or an eventual three-way separation of the country into independent Kurd, Sunni and Shi'ite entities, a situation that would not necessarily displease the Obama Administration if the Iraqi government cannot be brought to heel, particularly in relation to Iran.
The Iraqi military is loyal to the Maliki government, but its deportment in relation to successor regimes or in a serious political crisis hasn't been tested. It cannot be ignored that it has been trained, equipped and influenced by the Pentagon, which would be derelict had it not developed close ties to elements in the command apparatus. The semi-independent Kurds in the north are protected by the U.S. now. Their goal is complete independence in what they call Kurdistan. America will use them as a wedge, but it has sold out Kurd aspirations before and may do so again if conditions warrant.
The U.S. can still stir up lots of trouble in Baghdad by siding with and financing this or that political faction, religious community or ethnic group — a practice at which it has become adept. It has the entire country under intense air, sea and land surveillance, with spies and informants in every branch of government, political party and the military. Key telephones are tapped and computers are hacked. The entire region is encircled with U.S. military might.
The U.S. government does not intend to let Iraq get away, unless it becomes a subordinate ally. Now one knows what comes next.
In many ways — despite one-party rule and a ruthless leader capable of tragically counterproductive decisions (the invasions of Iran and Kuwait, for instance) — the masses of Iraqi people were better off before America's two decades of pain, destruction and chaos. The Bush and Obama Administrations, echoed by the mass media, have always sought to depict the majority of Iraqis as favorable to the occupation, but this was merely propaganda aimed at domestic public opinion. Most Iraqis are very happy the U.S. is finally gone, but of course they are worried about what the future holds.
They have been living in a hell, and are now closer to emerging, but still have many problems to overcome before they break out.
4. THE USSR: GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
By Activist Newsletter
The Soviet Union imploded 20 years ago this month. In a statement Dec. 15, reported AFP, "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he regrets that the leaders of the USSR did not fight to the last to prevent its collapse two decades ago." Mikhail Gorbachev was president at the time.
Answering questions on Russian television he declared: "The USSR should have started timely economic reforms and changes as well as reforms to strengthen democratic change in the country. They should have consistently, fearlessly and steadfastly — without burying their heads in the sand or waving their arses in the air — fought for the territorial integrity of our country."
How do the Russian people feel about this? An opinion poll in Russia a few months ago by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey contained some interesting results, and then a big surprise.
Some 60% said they were "satisfied" in the new Russia; 65% thought the economic situation was good; 70% said "ordinary people" were helped by the changes since 1991; 61% said their standard of living had improved; 69% have "enhanced pride" in their country.
But, when asked "is it a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists?" 50% said "yes," 35% said "no." The rest were undecided.
Asked, "What is more important for a society — Freedom from state interference or the state insuring that no one is in need? 69% chose the state caring for all its people; 25% preferred a lack of "state interference."
Of course this does not necessarily mean that most Russians want to restore the former system, which probably would require another revolution, though a significant minority do. The New York Times reported last August that "A recent poll by the Levada Center, a respected polling agency, found that 20% of Russians share [a] wish for a return of the Soviet Union," The Communist Party, incidentally, made some gains in the recent parliamentary election, gathering 20% of the vote in this month's election.
Internationally, the implosion of the Soviet Union left the U.S. as the world's remaining superpower. Instead of reverting to a permanent peacetime economy and activities, a now unrestrained Washington vastly increased its spending on war and national security over the years. It has been throwing its military weight around the world ever since, from the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 to the bombing of Libya this year, and implicit threats of bombing Iran, to bring about regime change.
The U.S. withdrew its occupation forces from Iraq this month after almost nine years of unjust war, and as compensation is now strengthening its military position throughout the Middle East. The 10-year-old Afghan war has been expanding since President Obama took command, extending into western Pakistan.
America's Cold War against Russia modified but never ended. Efforts to "contain" and weaken the country continued in modified form ever since it dissolved two decades ago, particularly as NATO camps ever closer to Russian territory (contrary to an explicit U.S. promise that the organization would not expand "one inch to the east"), and as Washington moves ahead with placing anti-missile systems near its borders.
The Obama Administration's new Asia policy, announced last month, appears to be a first step in a new Cold War with China. The Bush Administration seemed to be starting a Cold War with China when it entered the White House but pulled back after 9/11. It resumed in a couple of years but the effort collapsed by the end of 2006 when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was ousted and neoconservatism entered terminal decline in the Bush White House. Obama's efforts may be more serious, aimed at solidifying America's global dominance by degrading China, particularly within its own regional sphere of influence in East and Central Asia.
It is politically logical that Washington's new maneuver against Beijing will draw China and Russia closer together, along with some rising countries, in opposition to America's unipolar world leadership.
— Our analysis of Obama's new China policy will appear soon.
5. WAR ON IRAN HAS ALREADY BEGUN
By Seumas Milne
They don't give up. After a decade of blood-drenched failure in Afghanistan and Iraq, violent destabilization of Pakistan and Yemen, the devastation of Lebanon and slaughter in Libya, you might hope the U.S. and its friends had had their fill of invasion and intervention in the Muslim world.
It seems not. For months the evidence has been growing that a U.S.-Israeli stealth war against Iran has already begun, backed by Britain and France. Covert support for armed opposition groups has spread into a campaign of assassinations of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare, attacks on military and missile installations, and the killing of an Iranian general, among others.
The attacks are not directly acknowledged, but accompanied by intelligence-steered nods and winks as the media are fed a stream of hostile tales — the most outlandish so far being an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. — and the western powers ratchet up pressure for yet more sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.
The British government's decision to take the lead in imposing sanctions on all Iranian banks and pressing for an EU boycott of Iranian oil triggered the trashing of its embassy in Tehran by demonstrators last week and subsequent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London.
It's a taste of how the conflict can quickly escalate, as was the downing of a U.S. spy plane over Iranian territory at the weekend. What one Israeli official has called a "new kind of war" has the potential to become a much more old-fashioned one that would threaten us all.
Last month the Guardian was told by British defense ministry officials that if the U.S. brought forward plans to attack Iran (as they believed it might), it would "seek, and receive, UK military help," including sea and air support and permission to use the ethnically cleansed British island colony of Diego Garcia [in the Indian Ocean].
Whether the officials' motive was to soften up public opinion for war or warn against it, this was an extraordinary admission: the Britain military establishment fully expects to take part in an unprovoked U.S. attack on Iran — just as it did against Iraq eight years ago.
What was dismissed by the former foreign secretary Jack Straw as "unthinkable," and for Prime Minister David Cameron became an option not to be taken "off the table," now turns out to be as good as a done deal if the U.S. decides to launch a war that no one can seriously doubt would have disastrous consequences. But there has been no debate in parliament and no mainstream political challenge to what Straw's successor, David Miliband, this week called the danger of "sleepwalking into a war with Iran," That's all the more shocking because the case against Iran is so spectacularly flimsy.
There is in fact no reliable evidence that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons programme. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report once again failed to produce a smoking gun, despite the best efforts of its new director general, Yukiya Amano — described in a WikiLeaks cable as "solidly in the U.S. court on every strategic decision."
As in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the strongest allegations are based on "secret intelligence" from western governments. But even the U.S. national intelligence director, James Clapper, has accepted that the evidence suggests Iran suspended any weapons programme in 2003 and has not reactivated it.
The whole campaign has an Alice in Wonderland quality about it. Iran, which says it doesn't want nuclear weapons, is surrounded by nuclear-weapon states: the U.S. — which also has forces in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military bases across the region — Israel, Russia, Pakistan and India.
Iran is of course an authoritarian state, though not as repressive as western allies such as Saudi Arabia. But it has invaded no one in 200 years. It was itself invaded by Iraq with western support in the 1980s, while the U.S. and Israel have attacked 10 countries or territories between them in the past decade. Britain exploited, occupied and overthrew governments in Iran for over a century. So who threatens whom exactly?
As Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, said recently, if he were an Iranian leader he would "probably" want nuclear weapons. Claims that Iran poses an "existential threat" to Israel because President Ahmadinejad said the state "must vanish from the page of time" bear no relation to reality. Even if Iran were to achieve a nuclear threshold, as some suspect is its real ambition, it would be in no position to attack a state with upwards of 300 nuclear warheads, backed to the hilt by the world's most powerful military force.
The real challenge posed by Iran to the U.S. and Israel has been as an independent regional power, allied to Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas movements. As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, Saudi Arabia fans sectarianism, and Syrian opposition leaders promise a break with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the threat of proxy wars is growing across the region.
A U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran would turn that regional maelstrom into a global firestorm. Iran would certainly retaliate directly and through allies against Israel, the U.S. and U.S. Gulf client states, and block the 20% of global oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Quite apart from death and destruction, the global economic impact would be incalculable.
All reason and common sense militate against such an act of aggression. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel's Mossad, said last week it would be a "catastrophe." Leon Panetta, the U.S. defense secretary, warned that it could "consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret."
There seems little doubt that the U.S. administration is deeply wary of a direct attack on Iran. But in Israel, Barak has spoken of having less than a year to act; Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has talked about making the "right decision at the right moment"; and the prospects of drawing the U.S. in behind an Israeli attack have been widely debated in the media.
Maybe it won't happen. Maybe the war talk is more about destabilization than a full-scale attack. But there are undoubtedly those in the U.S., Israel and Britain who think otherwise. And the threat of miscalculation and the logic of escalation could tip the balance decisively. Unless opposition to an attack on Iran gets serious, this could become the most devastating Middle East war of all.
— This article appeared in the Guardian (UK), 12-7-11
6. VENEZUELA SUMMIT EXCLUDES U.S.
By Federico Fuentes
A summit of huge importance was held in Venezuela on Dec. 2-3. Two hundred years after Latin America’s independence fighters first raised the battle cry for a united Latin America, 33 heads of states from across the region came together to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
For Latin America, the summit represented a further step away from its traditional role as the United States’ backyard and its emergence as a player in its own right in international politics.
The importance of this new institution in world politics cannot be overstated. The combined gross domestic product of the countries within CELAC make it the third-largest economic powerhouse in the world. It is also home to the world’s largest oil reserves and the first and third largest global producers of food and energy, respectively.
CELAC also builds on existing inter-regional bodies and experiments. These include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), UNASUR’s Defense Council, the Bank of the South (which only awaits the approval of the Uruguayan parliament in order to bring to life a bank that will count on $20 billion for development projects), and the establishment of trade mechanisms between some countries that replace the U.S. dollar with local and new regional currencies.
Another important integration initiative is the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a nine-nation anti-imperialist bloc initially formed in 2004 by socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
CELAC explicitly excludes the US and Canada.
However, Cuba, which has been excluded from the Organization of American States (OAS) for daring to challenge the U.S. empire and carry out a revolution, was not only included but selected to host the 2013 CELAC Summit. Chile had already been selected to host next year's.
Some are already arguing the consolidation of CELAC will represent the final nail in the coffin of the Organisation of American States (OAS), traditionally dominated by the powerful neighbors up north.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said on Nov. 29: “We believe we need a profound change in the inter-American, basically Latin American, system because the U.S.’s gravitational power [within the OAS] is clear. We need another system... where we discuss our problems in the region, not in Washington [the headquarters of the OAS], where institutions that are removed from our vision, traditions, values and needs are not imposed on us.”
The same day, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said the summit would represent “a meeting of the peoples, defending our destiny without tutelage, without patronage, so that together we can find a solution to our problems, without the presence of the U.S.”
The step comes at a time when U.S. economic and political power is in decline and the European Union is on the verge of collapse....
Latin America is in a unique position given the global context, marked by three key features: “It maintains a dynamic of regional convergence while all other [continents] are suffering from violent centrifugal forces; until now it has suffered less as a result of the recession in the imperialist centers; [and] within this heterogeneous convergent whole exists a vital nucleus that, faced with the collapse of capitalism… has raised the banner of 21st century socialism.”....
That the summit was held in Venezuela represented a double blow to U.S. interests. Having waged a relentless campaign to destroy Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, the fact it was chosen to host the summit undermines the lies peddled by Washington and the corporate media that Venezuela is isolated in the region.
Furthermore, the presence of a fully recovered Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose bout with cancer early this year forced the summit to be postponed from July, has dashed hopes that health issues could succeed were U.S.-backed coups and destabilization plans against the Chavez government have failed.
— This article is an excerpt of a report appearing in Australia's Dec. 3 Green Left Weekly. The entire article is at http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49664.
7. NEW BOOK SHOWS HOW U.S. TARGETS DISSENT
By Justin D. Martin
"Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America," By Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, The New Press, 176 pages, $17.95.
A number of 20th Century legal decisions helped establish the U.S. as having one of the freest press systems on earth. In 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects citizens not only from federal abridgment of speech, but also from interference by state governments. In 1931, the Court largely declared prior restraints to publication unconstitutional. In the 1960s, the Court made it splendidly difficult for public officials to successfully sue journalists for libel.
Nonetheless, the book Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America, by Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, reminds us why scores of countries are typically cited as having freer media environments than the U.S. The landmark Supreme Court decisions listed above protect freedoms to publish and speak, but they do not guarantee protection from all forms of government mischief after dissent occurs. Indeed, the Court’s 1925 decision in Gitlow v. New York ruled that, while the First Amendment protects citizens from some abuses by state governments, citizens may still be punished for speech “inimical to the public welfare, tending to corrupt public morals, [or] incite to crime or disturb the public peace.”
The United States vigorously protects what citizens can say — but after dissenting speech is aired, the government’s responses to these activities, including covert surveillance of citizens, can be constitutionally dubious. Hell No reminds us why the U.S. isn’t really even close to being the world’s chief guardian of free speech (in 2010, Freedom House listed 23 countries as having greater press freedom than the U.S., while Reporters Without Borders counted 19. The laurel for greatest press freedom usually goes to Finland or Norway). Although the book is geared more toward radical political activists than journalists, it jolts all readers awake with an icy reminder that the U.S. government often monitors and even punishes dissent.
Since 2008, the Ratners point out, the FBI’s authority to investigate the provenance of dissenting speech has dramatically expanded. The FBI’s so-called Mukasey guidelines, conjured by the former attorney general of the same name and adopted whole ham by the Obama administration, give the government extraordinary power to secretly investigate citizens over even lawful activity related to foreign affairs. The Mukasey guidelines themselves acknowledge that the FBI may use espionage to siphon from citizens information related to foreign affairs, even if the “information so gathered may concern lawful activities.”
Such an investigation, the Ratners point out, can target “anyone with any connection to a foreign policy issue — even a professor writing about a foreign country.” (Gulp). Not only is this constitutionally suspect, but it would appear to also violate the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which embraces the “freedom to hold opinions without interference… regardless of frontiers.” And, of course, using covert surveillance in response to lawful speech violates not only the First Amendment, but also the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Reporters in the U.S. can be incarcerated for thorough reporting and keeping promises to confidential sources. When I taught journalism at the American University in Cairo, my non-American students were shocked to learn that journalists in the U.S. could be, and in some cases are, jailed for refusing to reveal to grand juries the identities of confidential sources in their reporting. I’ve used the Borders & Bylines column (in the Columbia Journalism Review) to cry foul on free speech shortcomings in many countries, including Israel, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, and Kuwait, and these countries are indeed hard-core offenders, but my own country does plenty to speech that defiles its Constitution. Hell No is an important reminder of this.
The Ratners warn that with the blessing of the Patriot Act, the FBI and other federal agencies can distribute “National Security Letters” and, with no judicial oversight, subpoena from banks, libraries, and phone companies sensitive information about people who may be under no criminal investigation whatsoever. This is one of the most seamless ways that the U.S. government can “legally” obtain information about dissenters of which it is wary. The U.S. government mails nearly a thousand National Security Letters every week. Look out.
To be sure, there are a number of ways in which the U.S. does lead the world in freedom of speech. It is literally legal to advocate anarchy and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and dissidents can be rather specific in their rally cries as long as their plans aren’t “imminent.” Additionally, I don’t know of a country that protects more false and hateful speech, such as Holocaust denial and the defamation of dead soldiers, than the U.S. Fabricating news in the United States, while a journalistic death wish, is not generally illegal.
I personally haven’t had federal, state, or local governments interfere with, or retaliate against, my reporting. I routinely get pulled aside at U.S. airports because my passport has lots of squiggly stamps, and it’s highly possible, due to the overbroad nature of the Mukasey surveillance guidelines and the fact that I spent years reporting in the Arab world as a young man, that I’ve been placed under federal surveillance at one time or another, but I’m not aware of it.
Nonetheless, the U.S. targets speech in a number of significant ways. The record of the United States on free speech is similar to our performance on education; we lead developed nations in some ways, such as in the quality of our research universities, but by other measures, say, eighth-grade math and science, we’re noticeably behind. With regard to free speech, Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America chronicles our most serious demerits.
— From Columbia Journalism Review (12-7-11)
8. THE 1% ELECTION: THEIR BREAD, OUR CIRCUS
By Tom Engelhardt
Sometimes words outlive their usefulness. Sometimes the gap between changing reality and the names we’ve given it grows so wide that they empty of all meaning or retain older meanings that only confuse us. “Election,” “presidential election campaign,” and “democracy” all seem like obvious candidates for name-change.
I thought about this recently as President Obama hustled around my hometown, snarling New York traffic in the name of Campaign 2012. He was, it turned out, “hosting” three back-to-back fundraising events: one at the tone Gotham Bar and Grill for 45 supporters at $35,800 a head (the menu: roasted beet salad, steak and onion rings, with apple strudel, chocolate pecan pie, and cinnamon ice cream — a meal meant to “shine a little light” on American farms); one for 30 Jewish supporters at the home of Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, for at least $10,000 a pop; and one at the Sheraton Hotel, evidently for the plebes of the contribution world, that cost a mere $1,000 a head. (Maybe the menu there was rubber chicken.)
In the course of his several meals, the president pledged his support for Israel (in the face of Republican charges that he is eternally soft on the subject), talked about “taxes and the economy” to his undoubtedly under-taxed listeners, and made this stirringly meaningless but rousing comment: “No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, we're one nation. We're one people. And that's what's at stake in this election."
Outside his final event, Occupy Wall Street protesters saw something else at stake, dubbing him the “1% president.” The end result from a night’s heavy lifting: $2.4 million for his election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, nowhere close to 1% of what they will need for the next year.
These were the 67th, 68th, and 69th fundraisers attended by Obama so far in 2011, or the 71st, 72nd, and 73rd. (It depended on who was counting.) In either case, we’re talking about approximately one fundraiser every five days, a total of 6% of the events in which Obama took part in this non-election year.
Think about that. You vote for the president to spend some part of 20% of his days raising money for his own future from the incredibly wealthy. Or put another way, the Washington Post now estimates that if you add in the non-fundraising, election-oriented events that involve him — 63 so far in 2011 — perhaps 12% of his time is taken up with campaign efforts of one sort or another; and this is what he’s been doing 12 to 24 months before the election is scheduled to happen.
New York being the home of... gulp... Wall Street (1%! 1%!), Obama doesn’t exactly have it to himself. Mitt Romney was heading into town on December 14th for his own rousing round of four fundraisers. One at the Waldorf Astoria will be hosted by — you can’t be balder than this — four JPMorgan Chase executives, including James B. “Jimmy” Lee, Jr., the vice chairman of the company and the “banker who battled the Obama administration over the restructuring of Chrysler LLC.” And oh yes, Romney leads Obama in funding support from billionaires, 42 to 30 (with Rick Perry taking third place at 20).
In the 2008 election, JPMorgan employees gave $4.6 million to the candidates of their choice, coming in behind only Goldman Sachs and Citigroup on The Street. Now that, I would say, is actual electoral power. Perhaps it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that the voting that matters most takes place at those fundraisers, not in the booths where, billions of dollars in attack ads later, the usual hoi polloi pull the handles on electoral slot machines.
In ancient Rome, the emperors provided the capital’s inhabitants with “bread and circuses.” Ever since, that combination has been shorthand for rulers buying off the ruled with the necessities of life and spectacle.
In Rome, that spectacle involved gladiatorial and other elaborate games of death that took place in the Coliseum. In this age, our rulers, the 1% whose money has flooded the electoral cycle, are turning the election itself into our extended circus. This year, a series of Republican televised “debates” have glued increasing numbers of eyeballs to screens — and not just Republican eyeballs, either. Everyone waits for the latest version of a reality show to produce the next cat fight, fabulous gaffe, late-night laugh line, confession, denial, scandal, or plot twist, the next thumbs up or, far better, thumbs down on some candidate’s increasingly brief political life in the arena.
Think of it as their bread and our circus. Who can doubt that, like the crowds of Rome once upon a time, we await the inevitable thumbs-down vote and the YouTube videos that precede and follow it with a kind of continuing bloodlust? The only problem: however strange all this may be, it’s not, at least in the old-fashioned sense, an election nor does it seem to have much to do with democracy. The fact is that we have no word for what’s going on. Semi-democracy? Unrepresentative democracy? 1% democracy?
Of course, we still speak of this as a presidential election campaign, and it’s true that 11 months from now more than 60% of the voting age population will step into polling booths across the country and cast ballots. But let’s face it, if this is an election at all, it’s certainly one stricken with elephantiasis. Once, as now, a presidential race had primaries, conventions, campaigning, mudslinging, and sometimes even a few debates, but all of this had limits. In recent years, the limits — almost any limits — have been disappearing. Along the way, the process has expanded from an eight-month-long affair that most voters only began to attend to sometime in the fall of election year to a perpetual campaign, perpetually discussed, reported on, and displayed.
The primaries, for instance, have been on a forced march toward ever-earlier dates. Iowa’s — actually a “caucus” — is now on January 3rd of election year and the first official primary, New Hampshire’s is on January 10th. (Over the years, it’s repeatedly had to move its date forward from March to hold onto that status.) This time around, the “debates” leading up to the primaries began last May; previously meaningless party “straw polls,” covered as monumental events by hundreds of reporters, accompanied them; the first of a World War I-style barrage of attack ads was launched in the same period, and the opinion polls on various constellations of likely (or unlikely) candidates — what Jonathan Schell once called our “serial elections” — preceded everything, accompanied by endless media speculation about them.
It's an ever-expanding system, engorging itself on money and sucking in ever larger audiences. It’s the Blob of this era. In fact, the next campaign now kicks off in the media the day after (if not the day before) the previous election ends with speculation (polls soon to follow) handicapping the odds of future candidates, none yet announced.
Once upon a time, the perpetual candidate — former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen was the classic example — proved a kind of running joke. No longer. Now, the president himself essentially begins his campaign for a second term almost as soon as he enters the Oval Office.
Similarly, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the media-anointed Republican nominee of this electoral cycle, has in fact been running for president since at least 2006. It's been his only real “job” since leaving the governorship in 2008. In his life, he is now the embodiment of the perpetual candidate, and yet even those who make him the butt of endless TV jokes don’t find that fact strange or particularly worthy of comment.
Everywhere you care to look, the expansion of the presidential race is evident. In the fall of 1948, in an election he was supposed to lose, Democratic President Harry (“give ‘em hell”) Truman barnstormed the nation by train, decrying a “do-nothing Congress.” By comparison, President Obama has been out this fall — the equivalent of 1947 — on what is clearly the campaign trail denouncing his own version of a do-nothing Congress. And that’s only a start when it comes to turning election “year” into Election Life.
On money, the sky’s the limit. In 2000, the total federal election season cost $3 billion; in 2008, more than $5 billion, of which an estimated $2.4 billion went into the presidential campaign. With the Supreme Court having made it easier for outside money to pour in, thanks to its Citizens United decision, funding for campaign 2012 is expected to pass $6 billion and could even top $7 billion. The Obama campaign, which raised $760 million in 2008, is expected to pass the billion-dollar mark this time around (with money already pouring in from the financial and banking sector on which candidate Mitt Romney is also heavily reliant).
TV advertising alone, which topped $2.1 billion in 2008, is expected to reach or exceed $3 billion this time around. These are, of course, staggering sums. Already the attack ads, mostly on the president, mostly from the sort of Super PACs that Citizens United let loose in the land, are zinging away far in advance of any previous presidential campaign season. According to the Washington Post, $23 million worth of attack ads have come and gone, half of that from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. And as one analyst quoted by the New York Times put it, “These dollar figures we’re talking about now are going to seem quaint in a few months. And they’ll seem really quaint in eight or nine months.”
For comparison’s sake, back in 1976, in the era when pundits were first beginning to write about presidential elections as perpetual campaigns, the total spending of presidential candidates Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter was $66.9 million [AN: that equals about $660 million in 2011 dollars, roughly $330 million each].
This inundation of money has also meant an inundation of lobbyists. President Obama officially refuses to take campaign contributions from lobbyists. The New York Times recently reported, however, that 15 of his top “bundlers,” who give their own money and solicit that of others for the campaign — none registered as federal lobbyists — are “involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies,” and they are raising millions for him. A June report from the Center for Public Integrity concluded: “President Obama granted plum jobs and appointments to almost 200 people who raised large sums for his  presidential campaign, and his top fundraisers have won millions of dollars in federal contracts.”
And the 2012 Republican field of presidential contestants puts Obama in the shade. They seem determined to campaign cheek to jowl with as many lobbyists as they can corral. More than 100 federal lobbyists have already contributed to Mitt Romney’s campaign, while Rick Perry has evidently risen to candidate status on the shoulders of Mike Toomey, a former gubernatorial chief of staff, friend, and money-raising lobbyist whose clients “have won $2 billion in [Texas] state government contracts since 2008.” And that’s only scratching the surface.
In the meantime, a national machinery has been set up to staff that perpetual campaign. By early October (again 2011, not 2012), according to the New York Times, the Obama campaign had opened offices in 15 states, had paid employees in 38 states, and had a Chicago headquarters with a paid staff of 200. Thirteen months before the actual election, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee had already shelled out “close to $87 million in operating costs.” At this point, there is no Republican equivalent, as the many Republican candidates are still involved in the struggle for the nomination, while Obama, as vulnerable a president as we’ve seen in our time, miraculously lacks even a symbolic primary challenger....
It’s clear enough — or should be by now — that the electoral process has been occupied by the 1%; which means that what you hear in this “campaign” is largely refracted versions of their praise, their condemnation, their slurs, their views, their needs, their fears, and their wishes. They are making money off, and electing a president via, you. Which means that you — that all of us — are occupied, too.
So stop calling this an “election.” Whatever it is, we need a new name for it.
— Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published. — http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175478/
9. CONGRESS ATTACKS DRINKING WATER
By Sharon Guynup
This year, residents of Midland, Texas sued Dow Chemical for dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium in their drinking water. Chromium-6 is a cancer-causing chemical made infamous by Julia Roberts' film, "Erin Brockovich." There are currently no drinking water standards for chromium-6, and the chemical industry is delaying a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessment labeling it a potent carcinogen.
This is far from an isolated scenario, threats to the public drinking water supply are national in scope. From the 1950s to the 1980s, trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic metal degreaser, lurked, undetected, in the drinking water at North Carolina's Fort Lejeune - affecting up to one million marines and their families.
California's San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay Delta are contaminated with selenium and mercury. Atrazine, an agricultural weedkiller, frequently pollutes groundwater across the Midwest corn-belt. Las Vegas tap water contains radium. Across Florida, pesticides taint a public water system serving nearly 10 million people.
And in the Northeast, millions living along New York's Hudson River and New Jersey's Passaic River struggle with the industrial legacy of toxic PCB and dioxin pollution. [Activist Newsletter: In addition, the Northeast, Texas and other states are faced with present problems and potential havoc to drinking water caused by hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas.]
Americans overwhelmingly want such problems solved. Safe drinking water was of serious concern to 84% of respondents in a recent Gallup poll that also ranked water pollution as the top U.S. environmental concern.
Ensuring that Americans have clean water has been an effort with strong bipartisan support for four decades. President Richard Nixon and Congress established the EPA in response to growing public demand for cleaner water, air and environment. The Clean Water Act followed in 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.
But today there is a deep disconnect between escalating public concern and government action. Numerous bills passed this year by the Republican-led House of Representatives bash well-established scientific evidence, attempting to dismantle or delay regulations that safeguard America's water, food, air and environment.
The current war on clean water is part of a Republican deregulation agenda that screams "job killer!" at any environmental protection effort.
Both Senate and House Republicans make no secret of their ultimate goal: to end all environmental regulation and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. "EPA is a rogue agency," Nebraska Republican Representative Lee Terry recently told the Associated Press.
Texas Governor Rick Perry opened his presidential campaign by saying the agency "won't know what hit 'em" if he is elected president.
But, as David Goldston, a Natural Resources Defense Council researcher, notes, "They're changing fundamental laws, not just blocking regulations."
The REINS Act, which passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 7, is among the most draconian of these new initiatives.
By a vote of 241 to 184, the House approved the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, which would require an up-or-down vote in Congress on all rules with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more proposed by regulatory agencies.
Four House Democrats voted for the bill: John Barrow of Georgia, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and Colin Peterson of Minnesota.
The REINS Act has been flying under the media radar, embedded in both Senate and House plans for "job creation." It would require a Congressional vote on any regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more - that's 50 to 100 votes per year - creating a scheduling nightmare that would make passage of any new federal regulation virtually impossible.
Under the Act, if one house rejected or failed to vote on a rule within 70 working days, it would "be dispatched to the regulatory graveyard," notes "The Washington Post." REINS would return environmental regulation to 1890s standards - when corporations polluted with impunity.
While advertised as money savers, these attempts at deregulation are thinly-veiled corporate giveaways that will bolster industry profits at the expense of our families' health. These attacks on Clean Air and Clean Water act protections, if passed, would cause tens of thousands of premature deaths annually.
Bipartisan analyses have repeatedly shown that the cost of environmental regulation is exponentially cheaper than the costs of toxic cleanup and medical care.
European Union companies are required to provide data on chemicals they produce, detailing risk to human health and the environment. But in the United States, it's the EPA's job to evaluate the 80,000 chemicals listed in the Toxic Substances Control Act database.
In 2008, experts told Congress that "most states do not have the resources or expertise to independently develop drinking water regulations and therefore look to EPA to conduct the necessary research and collect the data and information needed to make regulatory decisions."
Public systems provide drinking water to 90% of U.S. residents.
The need for regulation is clear. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's 2009 biomonitoring report painted a chilling picture of toxic exposure, finding 212 chemicals in people's bodies, 75 of which had never before been measured in Americans.
One of them, perchlorate, was found in every person tested. Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel and other explosives that can impair nervous system development in babies and children - and it pollutes drinking water in 26 states.
But EPA is under intense pressure from Congress and corporate lobbies not to do its job. As a result, millions of us ingest toxic traces of pesticide, rocket fuel, arsenic, heavy metals, and industrial and waste treatment chemicals each day. Not because they're safe, but because EPA has only gotten around to testing 114 of the 315 pollutants found in U.S. tap water. There are no standards for the rest.
Even small residues of some pollutants can, over time, cause cancer, nervous system damage, birth defects — or spark other serious health problems.
Earlier this year, a scathing report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, criticized the EPA, highlighting long-standing problems identifying and regulating dangerous contaminants. A 2009 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American drinking water infrastructure an overall grade of D-.
EPA finally established safety limits for perchlorate in 2010 — the first chemical the agency has regulated in 15 years. Since 1996, the underfunded and resource-strapped agency has reviewed just 138 chemicals, and failed to set drinking water safety standards for any of them. These chemicals collectively pollute the drinking water of over 110 million Americans.
Health and environmental watchdog groups are pressuring EPA to meet its Congressionally-mandated duty to enforce clean water laws and insure that America's public drinking water is safe and free from dangerous chemicals.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson openly admits such failings. In a New York Times interview she agreed that the nation's water doesn't meet public health goals, and that enforcement of water pollution laws is unacceptably low.
In January, Jackson unveiled a new, streamlined Drinking Water Strategy that will regulate toxins by chemical groups rather than individual compounds. At the top of the list are 16 volatile organic compounds known to cause cancer, including benzene and petroleum products. The plan would, in theory, speed research and regulation of hazardous industrial contaminants.
For the conceivable future, it seems likely that both Congress and EPA will continue to get failing marks for their protection of the nation's drinking water.
In the meantime, filtering water is the best bet — not drinking bottled water, which many mistakenly believe is pure. In most cases, it is just bottled tap water with the addition of chemicals that leach from the plastic bottles. Chemicals can be removed from drinking water through various types of water filters, reverse osmosis, and distillation.
— From the Environment News Service Dec. 8 in cooperation with Blue Ridge Press
10. JOBS AND MILITARY SPENDING
By Nathan Rosenblum
A new report from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst shows how the money spent on the U.S. military could have been used for job creation. “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending” is an update of an earlier work by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier.
According to the report, the U.S. government spent about $689 billion on the military in 2010. The approximately equal annual amount spent on national security (such as nuclear weapons, America's 16 different spy agencies and the Homeland Security apparatus, among other expenses) is not included.
The report contains an analysis of the effects of $1 billion spent creating military and military related jobs (war manufacturing) and jobs in non-military civilian occupations. The military work produced fewer jobs —11,200. Non-military jobs amounted to 16,800. In healthcare the $1 billion produced 17,200 jobs; in education, 26,700.
Overall wages and benefits are slightly less for non-military employment, but this is frequently balanced out in a number of non-military occupations.
Although considerably more jobs may be created in non-military work, it's doubtful Congress will actually reduce spending for the military and increase it for civilian needs, except perhaps by slicing absolutely redundant war expenses. Military instillations or related operations such as factories making weapons and supplies are located in every Congressional district. While Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been stressing cuts, the military is largely off limits, as it has been for the last 70 years. There have been gestures toward reductions, such as after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, but the funding was soon restored and greatly increased.