Wednesday, October 10, 2012

10-11-12 Activist Newsletter

October 11, 2012, Issue #185

Editor's Note: The reelection of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez by a margin of 11% is of exceptional importance for the entire leftward trend in Latin America, and a blow to Washington. We publish two articles on the election below. One is by progressive Mark Weisbrot and was published in the Oct. 9 International Herald Tribune. The other is by socialist Gloria LaRiva and was published Oct. 8 by Liberation News.

[Following is an excerpt from the executive summary of an important new report released Oct. 9 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on the drop in religious affiliation among the American people.]

By the Pew Forum

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public (19.6%) — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans — sometimes called the rise of the “nones” — is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.

These generational differences are consistent with other signs of a gradual softening of religious commitment among some (though by no means all) Americans in recent decades. Pew Research Center surveys conducted over the last 10 years, for example, find modest growth in the number of people who say they seldom or never attend religious services, as well as a declining number who say they never doubt the existence of God.

In addition to religious behavior, the way that Americans talk about their connection to religion seems to be changing. Increasingly, Americans describe their religious affiliation in terms that more closely match their level of involvement in churches and other religious organizations. In 2007, 60% of those who said they seldom or never attend religious services nevertheless described themselves as belonging to a particular religious tradition. In 2012, just 50% of those who say they seldom or never attend religious services still retain a religious affiliation — a 10-point drop in five years. These trends suggest that the ranks of the unaffiliated are swelling in surveys partly because Americans who rarely go to services are more willing than in the past to drop their religious attachments altogether.

With their rising numbers, the religiously unaffiliated are an increasingly important segment of the electorate. In the 2008 presidential election, they voted as heavily for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants did for John McCain. More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.

In 2007 Pew Research Center surveys, 15.3% of U.S. adults answered a question about their current religion by saying they were atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” The number of religiously unaffiliated respondents has ticked up each year since, and now stands at 19.6%.

While the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown significantly over the past five years, the Protestant share of the population has shrunk. In 2007, 53% of adults in Pew Research Center surveys described themselves as Protestants. In surveys conducted in the first half of 2012, fewer than half of American adults say they are Protestant (48%). This marks the first time in Pew Research Center surveys that the Protestant share of the population has dipped significantly below 50%.

One important factor behind the growth of the religiously unaffiliated is generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. Among the youngest Millennials (those ages 18-22, who were minors in 2007 and thus not eligible to be interviewed in Pew Research Center surveys conducted that year), fully one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated, compared with about one-in-ten members of the Silent Generation (9%) and one-in-twenty members of the World War II-era Greatest Generation (5%). Older Millennials (ages 23-30) also are substantially less likely than prior generations to be religiously affiliated.

But generational replacement is not the only factor at play. Generation Xers and Baby Boomers also have become more religiously unaffiliated in recent years. In 2012, 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Baby Boomers describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up slightly (but by statistically significant margins) from 18% and 12%, respectively, since 2007. The trend lines for earlier generations are essentially flat....

This report includes findings from a nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, using both landlines and cell phones, among a representative sample of 2,973 adults. In partnership with Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, the Pew Forum conducted an additional 511 interviews with religiously unaffiliated adults between June 28 and July 10, producing a total sample of 958 religiously unaffiliated respondents in the new survey....

— The full executive summary and a link to the 80-page full report is at

Mark Weisbrot

Hugo Chávez was re-elected president of Venezuela on Oct. 7, by a margin of 11%.  For most people who have heard or read about Chávez in the international media, this might be puzzling.  Almost all of the news we hear about Venezuela is bad:  Chávez is cantankerous and picks fights with the United States and sides with “enemies” such as Iran; he is a “dictator” or “strongman” who has squandered the nation’s oil wealth; the economy is plagued by shortages and is usually on the brink of collapse.

Then there is the other side of the story:  since the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry, poverty has been cut by half and extreme poverty by 70%.  College enrollment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time, and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.

So it is not surprising that most Venezuelans would re-elect a president who has improved their living standards. That’s what has happened with all of the left governments that now govern most of South America:  they have been re-elected. This is despite the fact that they, like Chávez, have most of their countries’ media against them, and their opposition also has most of the wealth and income of their respective countries.

The list includes Rafael Correa, re-elected President of Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009;  the enormously popular Lula da Silva of Brazil, re-elected in 2006, and successfully campaigned for his former Chief of Staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010;  Evo Morales, Bolvia’s first indigenous president in a majority indigenous country, re-elected in 2009;  José Mujica succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance in Uruguay — the Frente Amplio -- in 2009;  Cristina Fernández succeeded her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine presidential election by a solid margin — also with the largest media against her.

All of these left presidents and their political parties won re-election because, like Chávez, they brought significant, and in some cases huge, improvements in living standards.  They all originally campaigned against “neoliberalism,” a word used to describe the policies of the prior 20 years, when Latin America experienced its worst long term economic growth failure in more than a century.

Not surprisingly, the other left governments have seen Venezuela as part of a team that has brought more democracy, national sovereignty, and economic and social progress to the region.  Yes, democracy, too:  even the much-maligned Venezuela is recognized by most scholarly research as more democratic than it was in the pre-Chávez era.

And democracy was at issue when South America stood together against Washington on such issues as the 2009 military coup in Honduras. The differences were so pronounced that they led to the formation of a new hemispheric-wide organization including everyone but the U.S. and Canada, as an alternative to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States.

Here is Brazil's Lula last month: “A victory for Chávez (in the upcoming election) is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America . . . this victory will strike another blow against imperialism.”  The other left presidents have the same views of Chávez.

The Bush administration pursued a strategy of trying to isolate Venezuela from its neighbors, and ended up isolating itself.  President Obama promised in the 2009 Summit of the Americas to pursue a different course; but he didn’t, and at the 2012 Summit he was as isolated as his predecessor.

Although the media has been dominated by stories of Venezuela’s impending economic collapse for more than a decade, it hasn’t happened and is not likely to happen.  After recovering from a recession that began in 2009, during the world economic crisis, the Venezuelan economy has been growing for two-and-a-half years now and inflation has fallen sharply while growth has accelerated.  The country has a sizeable trade surplus.  Its public debt is relatively low and so is its debt service burden.  It has plenty of room to borrow foreign currency (it has borrowed $36 billion from China, mostly at very low interest rates), and can borrow domestically as well at low or negative real interest rates.  So even if oil prices were to crash temporarily (as in 2008-2009), there would be no need for austerity or recession. And hardly anyone is predicting a long-term collapse of oil prices.

The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba has persisted for more than half a century, despite its obvious stupidity and failure.  U.S. hostility toward Venezuela is only about 12 years old, but shows no sign of being reconsidered, despite that it is also alienating the rest of the hemisphere. 

Venezuela has about 500 billion barrels of oil and is burning them currently at a rate of one billion barrels a year. Chávez or a successor from the same party will likely be governing the country for many years to come.  The only question is when — if ever – Washington will accept the results of democratic change in the region.

— From the International Herald Tribune 10-9-12. Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C.

By Gloria La Riva

With 54.42% of a record-turnout vote, Hugo Chávez has won a fourth term as president of Venezuela in a race widely recognized as a crucial struggle between the progressive forces of the “Bolivarian Revolution” and the right-wing opposition of U.S.-backed Henrique Capriles and his  Democratic Unity coalition (MUD).

Chávez and the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are fighting to build socialism and extend solidarity to others in struggle worldwide.  Capriles had hoped to return the wealthy classes — national and foreign — to their former unchallenged status by reversing the social and economic gains of the vast majority of Venezuelans.

Since Hugo Chávez’s first election in 1998, he has led a pro-socialist revolutionary process that has made remarkable gains for the majority of Venezuelans.

Massive support could be seen in a huge rally two days prior to election day, on Friday, Oct. 5, with 3 million people dressed in bright red, who packed seven main avenues of the capital.

Before Chávez’s presidency, Venezuela — with one of the highest oil and natural gas reserves in the world — suffered from deep poverty affecting at least 66% of the population. Despite enormous natural and industrial wealth, the two dominant capitalist parties, Copei and Acción Democrática, ran the government to benefit both the Venezuelan elite and U.S. and British oil companies.

In 1989, then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez ordered the National Guard and army to repress a mass uprising against sudden fuel and food price hikes, massacring up to 3,000 people in an attack known as “the Caracazo.” Washington did not condemn this massacre by Pérez, nor criticize its “democratic ally” for human rights abuses.

Three years later, when Hugo Chávez — a young military officer — organized a military attack against Pérez, he became nationally famous. His daring action won the hearts of the most oppressed, and propelled him to the presidency in 1998.

The vote percentage for Chávez was 56.2% in 1998, 59.76% in 2000, and 63% when he was re-elected in 2006. After a nationwide referendum in February 2009, the two-term limit for president was eliminated.

Speaking in the evening before a gigantic multitude of supporters who gathered at the Miraflores presidential palace after the official vote call the evening of Oct. 7, Chávez declared: “We dedicate this victory to the women, the students, the workers, the peasants, the Indigenous peoples of our land, to the intellectuals … it is everyone’s victory.

“The next period of government won’t begin January 10 [inauguration day], the new cycle of the Bolivarian government begins today. We have to do things better, more efficiently, to meet the needs of the people. I repeat, I will be a better President each day.”

He twice made a call to the opposition to join in “national unity and to work for national peace … to not lend themselves to the destabilizing maneuvers that some were carrying out.…”

To roaring cheers, Chávez said, “This is the best Venezuela we have had in 200 years. Never before did we have a Venezuela that we have today from a moral, social, political economic and cultural point of view.”

Messages of congratulations were sent immediately by presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Cristina Fernández of Argentina, and Raúl Castro of Cuba, as soon as the official tally came in.

These leaders acknowledge the enormous importance for the whole continent. Morales said, “It is not only the triumph of the Venezuelan people, it is the triumph of the countries of ALBA and Latin America.”

Castro said, “On behalf of the government and people of Cuba, I congratulate you for this historic triumph, which shows the strength of the Bolivarian Revolution and its unquestionable popular support. … I reiterate to you our unbreakable solidarity and support.”

But more important than Chávez’s percentage of votes is the radical economic and social changes that have come about under what his supporters call the “Bolivarian Revolution.” The socialist "Bolivarian" political movement is named after the Venezuelan revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar, who was  instrumental in freeing much of Latin America from Spanish rule in the early 19th century.

The unique development of Venezuela’s new society began with the inspiration that Chávez imparted, as he called for an end to the old COPEI-Acción Democrática alliance that only made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

But U.S. imperialism may have had its way in trying to crush the Bolivarian Revolution, if it were not for the Venezuelan masses and Cuba’s support. The April 2002 fascist coup against Chávez was hatched and financed in Washington. But hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets, surrounded the Presidential Palace and backed military forces loyal to Chávez, releasing the president after three days in captivity.

The next blow was the oil sabotage by pro-imperialist management. Heroic efforts restored Venezuela’s oil industry.

Starting in April 2003 Cuba began sending what is now more than 15,000 medical doctors to provide free healthcare to the Venezuelan people. Thousands of teachers were also sent, and soon made Venezuela the second country in the continent to wipe out illiteracy.

This is not the Latin America of yesterday, when U.S. imperialism was able to expel Cuba from the Organization of American States, invade the Dominican Republic in 1965, overthrow Salvador Allende in 1973, defeat the Nicaraguan Revolution and terrorize the people of El Salvador.

Now there is a powerful anti-imperialist alliance of countries that have supported each other’s social development, sharing resources and building solidarity....

— From Liberation News 10-08-12. Gloria LaRiva is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

By Tom Engelhardt

Americans lived in a “victory culture” for much of the twentieth century. You could say that we experienced an almost 75-year stretch of triumphalism — think of it as the real “American Century” — from World War I to the end of the Cold War, with time off for a destructive stalemate in Korea and a defeat in Vietnam too shocking to absorb or shake off.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, it all seemed so obvious. Fate had clearly dealt Washington a royal flush. It was victory with a capital V. The United States was, after all, the last standing superpower, after centuries of unceasing great power rivalries on the planet. It had a military beyond compare and no enemy, hardly a “rogue state,” on the horizon. It was almost unnerving, such clear sailing into a dominant future, but a moment for the ages nonetheless. Within a decade, pundits in Washington were hailing us as “the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome.”

And here’s the odd thing: in a sense, little has changed since then and yet everything seems different. Think of it as the American imperial paradox: everywhere there are now “threats” against our well-being which seem to demand action and yet nowhere are there commensurate enemies to go with them. Everywhere the U.S. military still reigns supreme by almost any measure you might care to apply; and yet — in case the paradox has escaped you — nowhere can it achieve its goals, however modest.

At one level, the American situation should simply take your breath away. Never before in modern history had there been an arms race of only one or a great power confrontation of only one. And at least in military terms, just as the neoconservatives imagined in those early years of the twenty-first century, the United States remains the “sole superpower” or even “hyperpower” of planet Earth.

And yet the more dominant the U.S. military becomes in its ability to destroy and the more its forces are spread across the globe, the more the defeats and semi-defeats pile up, the more the missteps and mistakes grow, the more the strains show, the more the suicides rise, the more the nation’s treasure disappears down a black hole — and in response to all of this, the more moves the Pentagon makes.

A great power without a significant enemy? You might have to go back to the Roman Empire at its height or some Chinese dynasty in full flower to find anything like it. And yet Osama bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda is reportedly a shadow of its former self. The great regional threats of the moment, North Korea and Iran, are regimes held together by baling wire and the suffering of their populaces. The only incipient great power rival on the planet, China, has just launched its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished Ukrainian throwaway from the 1990s on whose deck the country has no planes capable of landing.

The U.S. has 1,000 or more bases around the world; other countries, a handful. The U.S. spends as much on its military as the next 14 powers (mostly allies) combined. In fact, it’s investing an estimated $1.45 trillion to produce and operate a single future aircraft, the F-35 — more than any country, the U.S. included, now spends on its national defense annually.

The U.S. military is singular in other ways, too. It alone has divided the globe — the complete world — into six “commands.” With (lest anything be left out) an added command, Stratcom, for the heavens and another, recently established, for the only space not previously occupied, cyberspace, where we’re already unofficially “at war.” No other country on the planet thinks of itself in faintly comparable military terms.

When its high command plans for its future “needs,” thanks to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, they repair (don’t say “retreat”) to a military base south of the capital where they argue out their future and war-game various possible crises while striding across a map of the world larger than a basketball court. What other military would come up with such a method?

The president now has at his command not one, but two private armies. The first is the CIA, which in recent years has been heavily militarized, is overseen by a former four-star general (who calls the job “living the dream”), and is running its own private assassination campaigns and drone air wars throughout the Greater Middle East. The second is an expanding elite, the Joint Special Operations Command, cocooned inside the U.S. military, members of whom are now deployed to hot spots around the globe.

The U.S. Navy, with its 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carrier task forces, is dominant on the global waves in a way that only the British Navy might once have been; and the U.S. Air Force controls the global skies in much of the world in a totally uncontested fashion. (Despite numerous wars and conflicts, the last American plane possibly downed in aerial combat was in the first Gulf War in 1991.) Across much of the global south, there is no sovereign space Washington’s drones can’t penetrate to kill those judged by the White House to be threats.

In sum, the U.S. is now the sole planetary Top Gun in a way that empire-builders once undoubtedly fantasized about, but that none from Genghis Khan on have ever achieved: alone and essentially uncontested on the planet. In fact, by every measure (except success), the likes of it has never been seen.

By all the usual measuring sticks, the U.S. should be supreme in a historically unprecedented way. And yet it couldn’t be more obvious that it’s not, that despite all the bases, elite forces, private armies, drones, aircraft carriers, wars, conflicts, strikes, interventions, and clandestine operations, despite a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that never seems to stop growing and into which we pour a minimum of $80 billion a year, nothing seems to work out in an imperially satisfying way. It couldn’t be more obvious that this is not a glorious dream, but some kind of ever-expanding imperial nightmare.

This should, of course, have been self-evident since at least early 2004, less than a year after the Bush administration invaded and occupied Iraq, when the roadside bombs started to explode and the suicide bombings to mount, while the comparisons of the United States to Rome and of a prospective Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East to the Pax Romana vanished like a morning mist on a blazing day. Still, the wars against relatively small, ill-armed sets of insurgents dragged toward their dismally predictable ends. (It says the world that, after almost 11 years of war, the 2,000th U.S. military death in Afghanistan occurred at the hands of an Afghan “ally” in an “insider attack.”) In those years, Washington continued to be regularly blindsided by the unintended consequences of its military moves. Surprises — none pleasant — became the order of the day and victories proved vanishingly rare.

One thing seems obvious: a superpower military with unparalleled capabilities for one-way destruction no longer has the more basic ability to impose its will anywhere on the planet. Quite the opposite, U.S. military power has been remarkably discredited globally by the most pitiful of forces. From Pakistan to Honduras, just about anywhere it goes in the old colonial or neocolonial world, in those regions known in the contested Cold War era as the Third World, resistance of one unexpected sort or another arises and failure ensues in some often long-drawn-out and spectacular fashion.

Given the lack of enemies —  a few thousand jihadis, a small set of minority insurgencies, a couple of feeble regional powers — why this is so, what exactly the force is that prevents Washington’s success, remains mysterious. Certainly, it’s in some way related to the more than half-century of decolonization movements, rebellions, and insurgencies that were a feature of the previous century.

It also has something to do with the way economic heft has spread beyond the U.S., Europe, and Japan — with the rise of the “tigers” in Asia, the explosion of the Chinese and Indian economies, the advances of Brazil and Turkey, and the movement of the planet toward some kind of genuine economic multipolarity. It may also have something to do with the end of the Cold War, which put an end as well to several centuries of imperial or great power competition and left the sole “victor,” it now seems clear, heading toward the exits wreathed in self-congratulation.

Explain it as you will, it’s as if the planet itself, or humanity, had somehow been inoculated against the imposition of imperial power, as if it now rejected it whenever and wherever applied. In the previous century, it took a half-nation, North Korea, backed by Russian supplies and Chinese troops to fight the U.S. to a draw, or a popular insurgent movement backed by a local power, North Vietnam, backed in turn by the Soviet Union and China to defeat American power. Now, small-scale minority insurgencies, largely using roadside bombs and suicide bombers, are fighting American power to a draw (or worse) with no great power behind them at all....

— for more of this article, go to,_disaster_on_autopilot/
—  Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt. This article originally appeared October 8, 2012 at

By John Glaser

Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney gave what was supposed to be a major speech on foreign policy Oct. 8, arguing that President Obama has not shown “leadership” and that “nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East. ”

But Romney’s speech was persistently vague, relying on rhetoric and mostly shying away from specific policy prescriptions. On each issue, he either hinted at the need for more belligerence or argued for precisely the same policies the Obama administration has carried out, while trying to present his identical take as fundamentally different.

“I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States,” Romney said, in an example of his commitment to keeping the speech as nebulous and unspecific as possible. “I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy.”

Romney opened by criticizing the Obama administration for its handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans died. He claimed the attack is indicative of al-Qaeda’s rise since Obama took office.

Romney didn’t mention the fact that Obama’s interventionist foreign policy — including imposing regime change in Libya, bombing Yemen and Pakistan with drones on a weekly basis, surging in Afghanistan, and continuing to prop up dictatorships across the region — is what is driving al-Qaeda’s growth. Instead, Romney’s remedy is a vague prescription of American “power,” as if it has been dormant for the last four years.

Romney tried to present Obama as passive and weak towards an evil and aggressive Iran heading towards nuclear weapons, but he failed to express a policy prescription that differed from Obama’s.

“I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability,” he said. “I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region-and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination.”

Indeed, President Obama has said and done all of these things. He has vowed to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, he has imposed harsh economic sanctions of unprecedented severity, and he has built up ground and naval forces in the Gulf.

Romney did hint that he would give more help to domestic dissident groups in Iran who want to overthrow the regime. “When millions of Iranians took to the streets in June of 2009,” he said, “when they demanded freedom from a cruel regime that threatens the world… the American President was silent.”

The argument that the U.S. should have used the protests in 2009 as an opportunity to impose regime change in Iran is a tired trope at this point. The protesters were not asking for regime change or for international intervention, and any move to use the events to make war against Tehran would have ended in catastrophe.

On Syria, again, Romney tried to present himself as markedly different from the Obama administration, while simply reiterating the administration’s exact policies.

“In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets,” he said. This is currently the Obama administration’s policy, as it sends non-lethal aid to the rebels and facilitates the delivery of weapons from US allies in the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Romney promised to work towards a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even though he has previously stated otherwise.

“I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel,” he said. “On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations.”

But in a leaked video, recorded surreptitiously, Romney told a private party a few months ago that he had problems with a Palestinian state “living side by side” with Israel. He objected to the so-called two state solution, because of “thorny questions” about Israeli security in an independent West Bank.

Even more dramatically contradictory, Romney said in that video that he would specifically avoid attempting to solve the long-standing dispute. He said he would “move things along” as best he could, while recognizing that “this is going to remain an unsolved problem” that we can “live with.”

— From, 10-08-12
— See Oct. 4 newsletter below for "Obama & Romney on Foreign/Military Policy."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

10-06-12 Activist Cslendsr

October 6, 2012, Issue #661
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Sunday, Oct. 7, NEW YORK CITY and NATIONWIDE: Demonstrations to commemorate the 11TH anniversary of the U.S. war against Afghanistan have been taking place in scores of cities and towns this weekend. A demonstration in New York City Sunday will take place 5-7 p.m. at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem, Manhattan. The building is at 125th St. and Adam Clayton Powel Jr. Blvd., not far from the MetroNorth train station. The actions demand: Bring the Troops Home Now! No Sanctions! Hands Off Syria and Iran! Stand with Palestine! Stop the Cutbacks! End Stop and Frisk! No to Racism, Raids and Repression. UNAC has pulled many of the nationwide actions together, but other groups such as ANSWER have organized a number of the protests in various cities.

Sunday, Oct. 7, NEW YORK: A second protest against the continuing Bush-Obama war in Afghanistan — 11 years old today —will involve antiwar military veterans and their allies who will gather at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City at 6 p.m. They "Demand an end to the 11 year war in Afghanistan. Demand an end to all U.S. wars of aggression. Remember all those who have fallen and been wounded by war. Stand up for our right, and duty, to assemble and organize." The Memorial Plaza is at 55 Water St. by South St. and the East River. The park is supposed to close at 10 p.m. but the vets say they are willing to risk arrest to continue their protest. There's more information at

Wednesday, Oct. 10, NEW PALTZ (SUNY campus): The Sociology Department invites the public to a free film screening of "Yes, in My Backyard" and a Q&A with director Tracy Huling. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium. Here is description of the film by Assistant Professor Alexandra Cox: "Since the 1980's, prisons have been a growth industry in rural places where local economies, once dependent on farming, mining, logging, and manufacturing, have collapsed. Yet over the last few years, states have begun to close prisons with some states, like New York, shuttering multiple facilities for adults and juveniles despite resistance from unions and local officials. Through the eyes of one farming-community-turned-prison-town in upstate New York, 'Yes, In My Backyard' delves into the reasons why prisons are sought after and probes the consequences of this trend for the keepers and the kept." Information (845) 257-3756.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, NEW PALTZ: The Sierra Club Mid-Hudson group is the sponsor of a free public meeting on “The Interaction of Environmental Issues and Politics.” The panel of speakers includes Assembly member Kevin Cahill. The 7 p.m. event will take place at the Jewish Community Center, 30 North Chestnut (on Rt. 32, a couple of blocks north of Main St.). Information,

Thursday, Oct. 11, WOODSTOCK: New participants are welcome to attend meetings of Middle East Crisis Response 7-8:30 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday at the Woodstock Public Library, 5 Library Lane just off Tinker St. MECR is a group of Hudson Valley residents joined together to promote peace and human rights in Palestine and the Middle East. Information, (845) 876-7906 or

Saturday, Oct. 13, NEW PALTZ: A vigil, rally and march against drones will take place downtown 12:30-2 p.m. The demand is: "No Drone Zone: Drone Warfare Abroad, Drone Surveillance Coming Here." The event begins in front of Elting Library, Main St. and North Front St. The action is co-sponsored by Women in Black New Paltz, Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, Occupy Orange, Occupy Southern Ulster, Middle East Crisis Response, and the Maury Colow chapter of Veterans for Peace in Woodstock. Information, (845) 699-3051,,,

Tuesday Oct. 16 to Monday, Oct. 22, NATIONWIDE: The new feminist organization WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend) is calling for a national week of demonstrations to Defend Women’s Rights. The "week" coincides with the second presidential debate Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y. and the third debate Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. Aside from protests in the debate cities, there will be actions in San Francisco (16th ), Los Angeles (19th), Chicago (20th), New Haven, Conn. (20th). WORD is calling the actions because, they say: "All over the country, politicians are running for office and asking women to vote for them. They want women to support them at the voting booth, but the first question is whether they will support women and women’s rights, including the right to abortion, and women’s access to health care services. The Republican Party is openly running on a program to strip women of our rights. But will the Democratic Party guarantee that they won’t surrender women’s basic rights as they have consistently done, acting as if we were simply a bargaining chip in the game of politics? This keeps happening and women’s rights are being destroyed step by step at the federal, state and local level." The website about these events and other matters pertaining to women's rights is

Friday, Oct. 19, MILLBROOK: "What's Bugging Our Forests?" is the title of a 7 p.m. free public talk on the impact of invasive species on woodlands sponsored by the Cary Institute. The Institute's Gary Lovett will discuss how several invasive species are ravaging regional forests. The talk will be held at the Cary Institute auditorium, 2801 Sharon Turnpike (Route 44). Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Information, (845) 677-5343.

Friday, Oct. 19, NEW PALTZ: Author Victoria Law will share stories from the new edition of her book "Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women," 7-8:30 p.m. at Inquiring Minds Bookstore. 6 Church St. She will "Examine the specific issues inside women's prisons, and discuss the obstacles they face when trying to organize inside," among other issues. Information, (845) 255-8300,

Saturday, Oct. 20, SAUGERTIES: Editor Victoria Law (see above) and book contributors Traci Picard and Jennifer Silverman will read from and discuss the book "Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities." The event starts at 2 p.m. at The Inquiring Minds Bookstore, 65 Partition St./200 Main St. Information, (845) 246-5775,

Sunday, Oct. 21, WOODSTOCK: A discussion about peace with three young women from Palestine and Israel will take place 2-4 p.m. at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, 1682 Glasco Turnpike. According to the organizers, "Three young women panelists will discuss the transformations that they have undergone in the years they have been involved with Creativity for Peace, a New Mexico nonprofit with operations in Israel and Palestine... of which they are senior leaders. They also will talk about their ongoing struggles and passion for peace-building, and their dreams for a future of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians." This free public meeting is sponsored by Creativity for Peace and the Woodstock Jewish Congregation.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October 4, 2012, Issue #184

By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter editor

Despite the sharp charges and counter-charges about foreign/military and national security policy there are no important differences on such matters between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. The back and forth between the candidates on international issues is largely about appearance not substance.

The Washington Post noted Sept. 26 that the two candidates "made clear this week that they share an overriding belief — American political and economic values should triumph in the world." Add to that uplifting phrase the implicit words "by any means necessary," and you have the essence of Washington's international endeavors.

There are significant differences within the GOP's right wing factions — from neoconservatives and ultra nationalists to libertarians and traditional foreign policy pragmatic realists — that make it extremely difficult for the Republicans to articulate a comprehensive foreign/military policy. This is why Romney confines himself to criticizing Obama's international record without elaborating on his own perspective, except to imply he would do everything better than the incumbent.

Only nuances divide the two ruling parties on the principal strategic international objectives that determine the development of policy. Washington's main goals include:

• Retaining worldwide "leadership," a euphemism for geopolitical hegemony.

• Maintaining the unparalleled military power required to crush any other country, using all means from drones to nuclear weapons. This is made clear in the incumbent administration's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and the January 2012 strategic defense guidance titled, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”

• Containing the rise of China's power and influence, not only globally but within its own East Asian regional sphere of influence, where the U.S. still intends to reign supreme. Obama's "pivot" to Asia is part of Washington's encirclement of China militarily and politically through its alliances with key Asian-Pacific allies. In four years, according to the IMF, China's economy will overtake that of the U.S. — and Washington intends to have its fleets, air bases, troops and treaties in place for the celebration.

• Exercising decisive authority over the entire resource-rich Middle East and adjacent North Africa. Only The Iranian and Syrian governments remain to be toppled. (Shia Iraq, too, if it gets too close to Iran.)

• Provoking regime change in Iran through crippling sanctions intended to wreck the country's economy and, with Israel, threats of war. There is no proof Iran is constructing a nuclear weapon.

• Seeking regime change in Syria, Shia Iran's (and Russia's) principal Arab ally. Obama is giving political and material support to fractious rebel forces in the civil war who are also supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The U.S. interest is in controlling the replacement regime.

• Weakening and isolating Russia as it develops closer economic and political ties to China, and particularly when it expresses opposition to certain of Washington's less savory schemes, such as continuing to expand NATO, seeking to crush Iran and Syria, and erecting anti-missile systems in Europe. In 20 years, NATO has been extended from Europe to Central Asia, adjacent to China and former Soviet republics.

• Continuing the over 50-year Cold War economic embargo, sanctions and various acts of subversion against Cuba in hopes of destroying socialism in that Caribbean Island nation.

• Recovering at least enough hegemony throughout Latin America — nearly all of which the U.S. dominated until perhaps 15 years ago — to undermine or remove left wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

• Significantly increasing U.S. military engagement in Africa.

Both the right/far right Republican Party and the center right Democratic Party agree on these goals, although their language to describe them is always decorated with inspiring rhetoric about the triumph of American political and economic values; about spreading democracy and good feeling; about protecting the American people from terrorism and danger.

Today's foreign/military policy goals are contemporary adaptations of a consistent, bipartisan international perspective that began to take shape at the end of World War II in 1945. Since the implosion of the Soviet Union ended the 45-year Cold War two decades ago — leaving the U.S. and its imperialist ambitions as the single world superpower — Washington protects its role as "unipolar" hegemon like a hungry dog with a meaty bone.

The people of the United States have no influence over the fundamentals of Washington's foreign/military objectives. Many Americans seem to have no idea about Washington's actual goals. As far as a large number of voters are concerned the big foreign/military policy/national security issues in the election boil down to Iran's dangerous nuclear weapon; the need to stand up for Israel; stopping China from "stealing" American jobs; and preventing a terrorist attack on America.

One reason is the ignorance of a large portion of voters about past and present history and foreign affairs. Another is that many people still entertain the deeply flawed myths about "American exceptionalism" and the "American Century." Lastly, there's round-the-clock government and mass media misinformation.

After decades of living within an aggressive superpower it is no oddity that even ostensibly informed delegates to the recent Republican and Democratic political conventions engaged in passionate mass chanting of the hyper-nationalist "USA!, USA!, USA!," when they were whipped up by party leaders evoking the glories of killing Osama bin-Laden, patriotism, war and the superiority of our way of life.

Since Romney has no foreign policy record, and he'll probably do everything Obama would do only worse (and he probably won't even win the election) we will concentrate mainly on Obama's foreign/military policy and the pivot to China.

One of President Obama's most important military decisions this year was a new strategic guidance for the Pentagon published Jan. 5 in a 16-page document titled "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense."

The new doctrine is the response by the White House and Congress to the stagnant economy and new military considerations. It reduces the number of military personnel and expects to lower Pentagon costs over 10 years by $487 billion, as called for by the Budget Control Act of 2011. This amounts to a cut of almost $50 billion a year in an overall annual Pentagon budget of about $700 billion, and most of the savings will be in getting rid of obsolete equipment and in payrolls. This may all be reversed by Congress.

Introducing "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership" to the media, Obama declared:

"As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints — we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces. We’ll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access. So, yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats."

Following the president, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared:

"As we shift the size and composition of our ground, air and naval forces, we must be capable of successfully confronting and defeating any aggressor and respond to the changing nature of warfare. Our strategy review concluded that the United States must have the capability to fight several conflicts at the same time. We are not confronting, obviously, the threats of the past; we are confronting the threats of the 21st century. And that demands greater flexibility to shift and deploy forces to be able to fight and defeat any enemy anywhere. How we defeat the enemy may very well vary across conflicts. But make no mistake, we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time."

The Congressional Research Service summarized five key points from the defense guidance, which it said was "written as a blueprint for the joint force of 2020." They are:
1. A shift in overall focus from winning today’s wars to preparing for future challenges.
2. A shift in geographical priorities toward the Asia and the Pacific region while retaining emphasis on the Middle East.
3. A shift in the balance of missions toward more emphasis on projecting power in areas in which U.S. access and freedom to operate are challenged by asymmetric means (“anti-access”) and less emphasis on stabilization operations, while retaining a full-spectrum force.
4. A corresponding shift in force structure, including reductions in Army and Marine Corps endstrength, toward a smaller, more agile force including the ability to mobilize quickly. [The Army plans to cut about 50,000 from a force of 570,000. In 2001 there were 482,000.]
5. A corresponding shift toward advanced capabilities including Special Operations Forces, new technologies such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and unmanned systems, and cyberspace capabilities.

Here are the new military priorities, according to Obama's war doctrine (notice the omission of counter-insurgency, a previous favorite):

• Engage in counter-terrorism and irregular warfare. • Deter and defeat aggression. • Project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges. • Counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD). • Operate effectively in cyberspace and space. • Maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. • Defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities. • Provide a stabilizing presence. • Conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations. • Conduct humanitarian, disaster relief, and other operations.

In an article critical of the military and titled "A Leaner, More Efficient Empire," progressive authors Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis wrote:

"In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer — and poor foreigners abroad — will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

" 'Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow,' the president told reporters, 'but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow.' In fact, he added with a touch of pride, it 'will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration,' totaling more than $700 billion a year and accounting for about half of the average American’s income tax. So much for the Pentagon’s budget being slashed."

The Obama Administration's so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, actually East and South Asia (including India) and the Indian Ocean area, was unveiled last fall — first in an article in Foreign Policy magazine by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton titled "America's Pacific Century," then with attendant fanfare by President Obama on his trip to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia.

The "pivot" involves attempting to establish a U.S.-initiated free trade zone in the region, while also strengthening Washington's ties with a number of existing allied countries, such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and India, among others. A few of these allies have sharp disagreements with China about claims to small islands in the South China Sea, a major waterway for trade and commerce. The U.S., while saying it is neutral, is siding with its allies on this extremely sensitive issue.

Over the months it has become clear that the principal element of the "pivot" is military, and the allies are meant to give the U.S. support and backing for whatever transpires.

The U.S. for decades has encircled China with military might — spy planes and satellites, Navy warships cruising with thousands of personnel nearby and in the South China Sea, 40,000 U.S. troops in Japan, 28,000 in South Korea, 500 in the Philippines, many thousands in Afghanistan, plus a number of Pacific island airbases.

Now it turns out that the Navy is moving a majority of its cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carrier battle groups from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In addition old military bases in the region are being refurbished and new bases are under construction. Australia has granted Obama's request to allow a Marine base to be established in Darwin to accommodate a force of 2,500 troops. Meanwhile Singapore has been prevailed upon to allow the berthing of four U.S. Navy ships at the entrance to the Malacca Straits, through which enter almost all sea traffic between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, a key trade route.

An article in the Sept./Oct. 2012 Foreign Affairs by Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, titled "The Sum of Beijing’s Fears," paints a clear picture of American power on the coast of China:

"U.S. military forces are globally deployed and technologically advanced, with massive concentrations of firepower all around the Chinese rim. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) is the largest of the United States' six regional combatant commands in terms of its geographic scope and non-wartime manpower. PACOM's assets include about 325,000 military and civilian personnel, along with some 180 ships and 1,900 aircraft. To the west, PACOM gives way to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for an area stretching from Central Asia to Egypt. Before Sept. 11, 2001, CENTCOM had no forces stationed directly on China's borders except for its training and supply missions in Pakistan. But with the beginning of the "war on terror," CENTCOM placed tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan and gained extended access to an air base in Kyrgyzstan.

"The operational capabilities of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific are magnified by bilateral defense treaties with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Korea and cooperative arrangements with other partners. And to top it off, the United States possesses some 5,200 nuclear warheads deployed in an invulnerable sea, land, and air triad. Taken together, this U.S. defense posture creates what Qian Wenrong of the Xinhua News Agency's Research Center for International Issue Studies has called a "strategic ring of encirclement."

An article in Foreign Policy last January by Clyde Prestowitz asked: "Why is the 'pivot' a mistake? Because it presumes a threat where none exists but where the presumption could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and where others could deal with any threats should they arise in the future. Because it entails further expenditures far beyond what is necessary for effective defense of the United States and its interests. And because it reduces U.S. productive power, competitiveness, and long-term U.S. living standards by providing a kind of subsidy for the offshoring of U.S.-based production capacity."

This development cannot be separated from the increasing economic growth and potential of China in relation to the obvious beginning of America's decline. Washington may remain the world hegemon for a couple of more decades — and Beijing is not taking one step in that direction and may never do so. (Beijing seems to prefer a multipolar world leadership of several nations and regional blocs, as do a number of economically rising countries.)

"Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership," as noted above, specified that the thrust of the Pentagon's attention has now shifted to Asia. The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review already has informally identified China as a possible nation-state aggressor against which America must defend itself. The U.S. claims it is not attempting to contain China, but why the military buildup? It cannot be aimed at any other country in the region but China. Why also in his convention acceptance speech did Obama brag that "We’ve reasserted our power across the Pacific and stood up to China on behalf of our workers."

The U.S. evidently is developing war games against China. On Aug. 2 John Glaser wrote in "The Pentagon is drawing up new plans to prepare for an air and sea war in Asia, presumably against China, in the Obama administration’s most belligerent manifestation yet of the so-called pivot to Asia-Pacific.... New war strategies called 'Air-Sea Battle' reveal Washington’s broader goals in the region," including a possible war."

The Aug. 1 Washington Post reported that in the games “Stealthy American bombers and submarines would knock out China’s long-range surveillance radar and precision missile systems located deep inside the country. The initial ‘blinding campaign’ would be followed by a larger air and naval assault.”

Both candidates have opportunistically interjected China-bashing into their campaigns, second only to Iran-bashing. Obama has several times told working class audiences that China is stealing their jobs. Romney fumes about China's alleged currency "cheating." Republican former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sharply criticized both candidates Oct. 3 for "appealing to American suspicions of China in their campaigns."

Kissinger, whose recent book "On China" we recommend, also wrote a piece in the March-April Foreign Affairs titled "The Future of U.S.-Chinese Relations — Conflict Is a Choice, Not a Necessity" that injects an element of understanding into the matter.

"The American debate, on both sides of the political divide, often describes China as a 'rising power' that will need to 'mature' and learn how to exercise responsibility on the world stage. China, however, sees itself not as a rising power but as a returning one, predominant in its region for two millennia and temporarily displaced by colonial exploiters taking advantage of Chinese domestic strife and decay. It views the prospect of a strong China exercising influence in economic, cultural, political, and military affairs not as an unnatural challenge to world order but rather as a return to normality. Americans need not agree with every aspect of the Chinese analysis to understand that lecturing a country with a history of millennia about its need to 'grow up' and behave 'responsibly' can be needlessly grating."

Clearly, the Obama Administration is opposed to modern China even becoming "predominant in its region" once again, much less in the world. At this stage Washington is predominant in East Asia, and between its military power and subordinate regional allies it is not prepared to move over even within China's own sphere. No one can predict how this will play out in 20 or 30 years, of course.

By the Activist Newsletter

When Sen. Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 many wishful-thinking Democratic voters viewed him as a peace candidate because he opposed the Iraq war (but voted yes on the war budgets while in the Senate). Some others assumed his foreign/military policy would be along the lines of Presidents George H. W. Bush (whom Obama admires) or Bill Clinton. Some who identified as progressives actually thought his foreign/military policy might tilt to the left.

Instead, center rightist that he is, Obama's foreign/military policy amounted to a virtual continuation of George W. Bush's Global War on Terrorism under a different name. He extended Bush's wars to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere while greatly expanding the war in Afghanistan, hiking the military budget, encouraging the growth of militarism in U.S. society by repeatedly heaping excessive praise on the armed forces, and tightening the military encirclement of China.

Summing up some of his military accomplishments a few months ago, Obama declared: "We’ve succeeded in defending our nation, taking the fight to our enemies, reducing the number of Americans in harm’s way, and we’ve restored America’s global leadership. That makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that’s an achievement that every American — especially those Americans who are proud to wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces — should take great pride in."

Obama actually has little to show for his war policy after nearly four years. Most importantly, Afghanistan — the war he supported with enthusiasm — is predictably blowing up in his face. A symbol of the Bush-Obama 11-year Afghan folly is the recent 2,000th death of an American soldier, not at the hands of the Taliban but a U.S.-trained Afghan police officer, our supposed ally. The truth is that public opinion in Afghanistan has always overwhelmingly opposed the invasion, and rightly so.

Obama hopes to avoid the embarrassment of a takeover by the Taliban or another violent Afghan civil war (as happened in the 1990s) after the bulk of U.S. troops pull out at the end of 2014. He's made a deal with the Kabul government that allows Washington to keep thousands of American troops — Army, CIA agents with their drones, elite Special Operations forces and pilots — until 2024. There are two reasons for this. One is to keep a U.S.-controlled government in Kabul as long as possible. The other is to station American combatants near Afghanistan's borders with Iran to the west and China to the east for another 10 years, a verdict hardly appreciated in Tehran and Beijing.

The Middle East is in turmoil. Israel's still threatening to attack Iran, an act that would transform turmoil into catastrophe. The Syrian regime refuses to fall, much to Washington's chagrin. Egypt's new government has just declared partial independence from Washington's longstanding domination. The plight of the Palestinians has worsened during Obama's presidency. Relations with China and Russia have declined.

Very few of Obama's 2008 foreign/military election promises have come to fruition. He said he would initiate a "new beginning" in relations with the international Muslim community which had reached a low point under Bush. America's popularity jumped after the president's promising Cairo speech in 2009. But now, after repeatedly attacking Muslim countries with drone assassins, the rating is only 15% positive, lower than when Bush was in command.

Obama had promised to improve relations with Latin America, get diplomatically closer to Iran and Cuba, settle the Israel-Palestine dispute and close Guantanámo prison, among a number of unrealized intentions.
All the foreign developments the Democrats could really brag about at their convention were ending the war in Iraq "with heads held high" as our legions departed an eight-year stalemated conflict that cost Uncle Sam $4 trillion, and assassinating al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden (which drew the most enthusiastic of those jingoist "USA! USA! USA!" chants from Democratic delegates).

Actually, Bush ended the Iraq war by signing an agreement with the Baghdad regime — before the new president took office — to pull out all U.S. troops at the end of 2011. Obama supported the treaty but tried unsuccessfully until the last minute to coerce the Iraqis to keep many thousands of American troops in the country indefinitely. ( reported Oct. 2 that up to 300 U.S. soldiers and security personnel have been training elite Iraqi security forces for months.)

Obama as warrior president discombobulated the Republicans who in past elections always benefited from portraying the Democrats as "weak on defense." Efforts to do so this year have fallen flat after the president in effect melted down his undeserved Nobel Peace Prize to make more bullets. Obama also obtained a second dividend. He wasn't besieged by antiwar protests as was his predecessor, because most anti-Bush "peace" Democrats would not publicly oppose Obama's militarist policies. (This essentially destroyed the mass U.S. antiwar movement, which has been kept going on a much smaller scale by the left and the pacifists.)

Throughout Obama's election declarations he occasionally speaks of, and exaggerates, increasing threats and hazards confronting the American people that only he can manage. He told the convention that the "new threats and challenges" are facing the country. Romney does the same thing, in spades. Overstating the threats confronting the U.S. is a perennial practice for Democratic and Republican presidents and candidates. George W. Bush brought this dishonest practice to an apogee, at times sounding as though he was reciting a Halloween ghost story to gullible children — but this year's candidates are no slackers.

Historian and academic Andrew J. Bacevich, an Army colonel in the Vietnam War and now strongly opposed to America's wars, mentioned fear-mongering in an article published in the January-February issue of The Atlantic magazine. He writes: "This national-security state derived its raison d’être from — and vigorously promoted a belief in — the existence of looming national peril.... What worked during the Cold War [fear of the 'Communist menace' and nuclear war] still works today: to get Americans on board with your military policy, scare the hell out of them."

The main purpose of this practice today is to frighten the public into uncomplainingly investing its tax money into the largest military/national security budget in the world — about $1.4 trillion this year (up to $700 billion for the Pentagon and an equal amount for national security).

This accomplishes two objectives for that elite ruling class that actually determines the course of empire: First, it sustains the most powerful military apparatus in history, without which the U.S. could hardly function as world leader (yes it has the biggest economy, but look at the shape it's in). Second, it constitutes a huge annual infusion of government cash — a stimulus? — into the economy via the military-industrial complex without the "stigma" of being considered a welfare-like plan to create jobs or benefit the people. (This is wrongly called Military Keynesianism, a notion that was repudiated by the great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes, who helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression with his plan to increase government spending to end the crisis.)

The White House and Congress talk about reductions in military spending, and there may be some cuts by eliminating obsolete defense systems — but over the decade the budget will continue to expand. Obama said to the convention, and Romney will pledge the same if elected — "As long as I am Commander-in-Chief we will sustain the strongest military in the world."

This has been a sine qua non for election to the presidency for decades. It is so familiar and so justified by official scare stories that most Americans don't think twice about paying an annual national fortune to maintain the most powerful military machine in the world to deal with a few thousand opponents with relatively primitive weapons many thousands of miles away. The U.S. military, of course, has an entirely different purpose: at time of gradual U.S. decline and the rise several other countries such as Brazil, India and China, among others — Washington's military power is intended to keep the United States in charge of the world.


By Think Progress, Sept, 26

Up to 100 million people could die as a result of climate change by 2030, concludes a new 342-page report from DARA, a nonprofit institute based in Spain, and the Climate Vulnerable Forum. A total of 20 governments commissioned the independent report (not including the U.S.).

Climate change already contributes to “400,000 deaths on average each year,” mainly due to tangential causes such as “hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries,” while “an estimated 4.5 million deaths each year are linked to air (carbon) pollution, hazardous occupations and cancer.”

These numbers will increase substantially by the end of the next decade, with “developing countries and above all the world’s poorest groups” seeing the greatest impacts. The low-emission country group “experiences approximately 40% of all its economic losses, and over 80% of all climate change-related mortality”: Climate-fueled extreme weather is already taking an economic toll on the United States. Some 220 people have died so far this year from weather-related events, and the expected cost ranges upward of $55 billion

— The full report or sections from it are at

By HuffPost

As Arctic sea ice levels hit a new record low in September scientists and activists gathered to discuss how to bridge the gap between scientific facts and the public's limited understanding that we are, in their words, "really running out of time."

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) released preliminary findings Sept. 19 suggesting that Arctic ice covered just 1.32 million square miles — the lowest extent ever recorded. This minimum is 49% percent below the 1979 average, when satellite records began.

“The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and flooding,” NSIDC scientist Dr. Julienne Stroeve declared.

The group of climate environmentalists met at a Greenpeace International panel in New York to strategize on potential responses to the changing Arctic climate as the findings were released.

"There's a huge gap between what is understood by the scientific community and what is known by the public," said NASA scientist James Hansen, adding that he believed, "unfortunately, that gap is not being closed.... We have a planetary emergency [but] it's hard for the public to realize, because they stick their head out the window and don't see much going on."

According to the panel, humans are "really running out of time" to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from reaching levels that would precipitate runaway climate change. Hansen warned that even maintaining current concentrations of approximately 390 parts per million for several centuries "guarantees disaster."

Having just witnessed climate change in action on an Arctic campaign, Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo professed, "I am scared." The Arctic seems far away, he said, but "what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic." In order to appeal to the public, Naidoo said climate change language must become more relatable. For example, on a recent campaign, he changed a banner at the last minute from "Stop Arctic Destruction" to "Don't Destroy Our Children's Future."

Beyond altering language, founder Bill McKibben said engaging the younger generation is key. Assessing recent negative climate observations, McKibben noted, "The final irony is we're at the first moment in human history where we're able to see what's going on.... But the question is whether we're going to do anything about it."

— From the Activist Newsletter: Dear reader, have you noticed during this election year that two of the major issues facing humankind — global warming and wars — have hardly been mentioned by the candidates of our two ruling parties?

By the Activist Newsletter (from various sources)

A U.S. female soldier who fled to Canada five years ago to avoid returning to the Iraq War, which she opposed, was arrested and detained at the U.S. border Sept. 22 after losing her deportation case.

Kimberly Rivera, who lived in Canada with her husband and four children, was issued a deportation order last month and given until Sept. 20 to leave the country.

The War Resisters Support Campaign said in a statement that Rivera presented herself at the U.S. border on that day and was arrested and transferred to military custody. They said her family crossed separately so her kids wouldn’t see her arrested. She is reportedly being detained at Fort Drum, near Watertown, N.Y. Alyssa Manning, Rivera’s lawyer, has said Rivera could face a jail sentence of between two to five years.

Rivera, 30, served as a private in Iraq in 2006. She said she became disillusioned with the mission. She crossed the border into Canada while on leave in February 2007, after she was ordered to serve another tour there. After arriving in Canada on leave, she applied for refugee status.

Rivera sought permanent residency in Canada based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which she hoped would take into account the fact that she has four children, ages 10, 8, 3, and 18 months, the youngest of which were born in Canada. She did not receive a decision on that application, which was submitted three years ago.

The lower house of Canada’s Parliament passed a nonbinding motion in 2009 urging that U.S. military deserters be allowed to stay in Canada, but the right wing Harper government ignored the vote.

According to Jack Todd , a Vietnam war resister who found sanctuary in Canada at the time: "It’s a far cry from the precedent established under Liberal prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, who faced down the pressure exerted by U.S. presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to allow an estimated 100,000 American war resisters to come to Canada during the Vietnam War."

Roughly 19,000 people signed an online petition protesting her deportation order and rallies were held in a number of Canadian cities Sept. 19 calling on the government to let Rivera stay in the country. U.S. Veterans for Peace have also spoken out against the deportation. The War Resisters Support Campaign, Amnesty International and the Canadian Labour Congress, intervened to no avail to convince Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to let Rivera and her family stay in Canada.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu issued a declaration of support for Rivera that was published in the Globe & Mail Sept. 17. He wrote, in part: "Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who are held in high regard are not militarily powerful nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try to make the world a better place. I truly believe that Kimberly Rivera is such a person, and that Canada can only benefit from allowing her to stay."

Rivera told a news conference before her deportation that "my biggest fear is being separated from my children and having to sit in a prison for politically being against the war in Iraq."

By the Activist Newsletter

According to Forbes magazine, which published its annual list of the 400 richest Americans Sept. 19, the income of this elite group — the very top of the 1% oligarchy — increased by about 13% to some $1.7 trillion.

The average net worth of a Forbes 400 member is now a staggering $4.2 billion, up from $3.8 billion. Forbes reported that “The gap between the very rich and the merely rich increased and helped drive up the average net worth of the Forbes 400 members to an all-time record.”

At the same time, about 1 in 6 Americans lives in poverty, hourly wages have remained flat, median household incomes fell by 4% in 2011, unemployment remains higher than 8%, the number of homeless children in New York City shelters grew from 16,000 to 20,000 in the last year, housing foreclosures are continuing at a family-destroying pace, and 50 million Americans live in food insecure households.

Recently released Census data showed a contrast between the earning power of middle-income households and the high end of the income scale. Household income has essentially fallen back to 1990 levels for the median family in America, adjusted for inflation. That household earned about $50,000 last year. Similarly, real incomes are at 1990 levels for households at the 10th percentile – very low income households. But at the 95th percentile just four rungs from the "top 1%," real household income is up 18% since 1990. Providing a major money boost to most high income individuals is the exceptionally low 15% tax rate on stock market capital gains.

The country’s three richest entrepreneurs continue to add billions to their net worth. Bill Gates at ($66 billion), Warren Buffett ($46 billion) and Larry Ellison ($41 billion), who hold onto their respective spots at numbers 1, 2 and 3, were up $7 billion, $7 billion and $8 billion, respectively. Ellison’s $8 billion jump was the biggest dollar gain of anyone on the list this year. The politically conservative Koch brothers (David and Charles) tied for 4th place with $31 billion each. The biggest loser, though he's still on the list, is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, whose fortune stumbled $8.1 billion. He is still $2.5 billion richer than he was two years ago. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($25 billion) is number 10 on the list.

— Written from information supplied by Forbes, the Christian Science Monitor sand other sources.

By Sarah Seltzer

Researchers have documented that the least educated white Americans are experiencing sharp declines in life expectancy, according to a Sept. 21 report in the New York Times about an alarming new study titled "Differences In Life Expectancy Due To Race And Educational Differences Are Widening, And Many May Not Catch Up."

Between 1990 and 2008, white women without a high school diploma lost a full five years of their lives, while their male counterparts lost three years. Experts say that declines in life expectancy in developed countries are exceedingly rare, and that American decreases on this scale "have not been seen in the U.S. since the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918." Average life expectancy was on the increase even during the Great Depression.

The study, published last month in Health Affairs, found that "in 2008 U.S. adult men and women with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s.

What are the reasons for the disturbing drop in life expectancy among poor white folks, and in particular for the unusually large magnitude of the decline? According to the Times, researchers are baffled: one expert said, “There’s this enormous issue of why.... It’s very puzzling and we don’t have a great explanation." Undoubtedly, the increasing numbers of low-income Americans without health insurance is a major contributor factor.

Researchers also say that lifestyle factors such as smoking, which has increased among low-income white women, play a role; poor folks tend to engage in more risky health behaviors than their more affluent counterparts. The study itself suggests that the "message for policy makers is clear: implement educational enhancements at young, middle, and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today."

I will offer another hypothesis, one which is not explicitly identified in the Times article: inequality. In the U.S., the period between 1990 and 2008, which is a period that saw such steep declines in life expectancy for the least well-off white people, is also a period during which economic inequality soared. Moreover, there is a compelling body of research that suggests that inequality itself — quite apart from low incomes, or lack of health insurance — is associated with more negative health outcomes for those at the bottom of the heap....

I believe that inequality-related stressors are likely to be the determining factors in declining American life expectancies, as well. I’m surprised, in fact, that the Times article did not specifically identify inequality as a causal factor, because the health risks associated with economic inequality are well-established in the scientific literature. For decades, the United States has been making a series of political choices that has distributed wealth and power upwards and left working Americans not only poorer and sicker, but also feeling far more burdened and distressed, and experiencing far less security and control over their lives. The consequences of these choices have been devastating, and absent a dramatic reversal in our political course, they are likely to get even worse....

— Excerpted from the Sept. 22 Washington Monthly.

By M. K. Bhadrakumar

The confusion in the American mind about Egypt ended this past weekend, a mere nine days since President Barack Obama made the famous remark in a television interview that he wasn't sure of post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt being the United States' ally.

The confusion actually arose when U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor scrambled to clarify that "ally" is a "legal term of art", whereas Egypt is a "long-standing and close partner" of the United States, and, thereupon, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland butted in to contradict both Obama and Vietor by insisting Egypt was indeed a "major non-NATO ally."

In an interview with The New York Times on Sept. 22, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi offered to clear up the confusion. Asked whether Egypt was an ally, Morsi smilingly remarked: "It depends on your definition of an ally." He then helpfully suggested that the two countries were "real friends."

Now, as Morsi probably intended, the thing about "real friends" is that they don't expect either side to fawn, as a poodle might do by wagging its tail. Thus when he traveled to the U.S. to address the United Nations General Assembly Sept 26, Morsi didn't have to meet with Obama. Yet they will remain "real friends" — although they've never met.

According to The New York Times, Obama cold-shouldered Morsi's request for a meeting. Cairo maintains that it is all a scheduling problem and the planning of a visit by Morsi to Washington was a work in progress. Meanwhile, Morsi has "quite a busy schedule" in New York and Obama too happens to have a "tight schedule" — this according to Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.

In fact, Morsi's only meeting with U.S. officials during this week's visit to that country may be at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (which, by the way, Obama also is attending).

There is hardly any excuse left now for the American mind to remain confused about the bitter harvest of the Arab Spring on Tahrir Square. The spin doctors who prophesied that Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood would ipso facto pursue the Mubarak track on foreign policies have scurried away.

This is especially so after watching Morsi's astounding televised interview on Saturday, his first to the Egyptian state TV since his election in June. He spoke at some length on the Iran question, which has somehow come to be the litmus test to estimate where exactly Egypt stands as a regional power.

Morsi affirmed that it is important for Egypt to have a "strong relationship" with Iran. He described Iran as "a major player in the region that could have an active and supportive role in solving the Syrian problem." Morsi explained his decision to include Iran in the four-member contact group that Egypt has formed — along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia — on the Syrian crisis.

Dismissing the Western opposition to engaging Iran, he said: "I don't see the presence of Iran in this quartet as a problem, but it is a part of solving the [Syrian] problem." He said Iran's close proximity to Syria and Tehran's strong ties Damascus made it "vital" in resolving the Syrian crisis. He: added: "And we [Egypt] do not have a significant problem with Iran; it [the Egypt-Iran relationship] is normal like with the rest of the world's states."

He made a number of other points:

• Morsi spoke defiantly in his Times interview regarding Egypt's ties with the U.S. and the latter's relations with the Arab world. The overpowering message is that Cairo will no longer be bullied by Washington. He said: "I grew up with the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned my principles in the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned how to love my country with the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned politics with the Brotherhood. I was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood."

• "Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region."

• It was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt.

• The United States must respect the Arab world's history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values.

• "If you [U.S.] want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment. When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt."

• The Arabs and Americans have "a shared objective, each to live free in their own land, according to their customs and values, in a fair and democratic fashion ... [in] a harmonious, peaceful co-existence."

• Americans "have a special responsibility" for the Palestinians because the United States signed the 1978 Camp David accord. "As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled."

• If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule. The last bit in particular is ominous. Morsi could be hinting that Egypt intends to seek changes to the 1978 peace treaty. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hurried to declare Sept. 23 that there was not the "slightest possibility" that Israel would accept any such changes. "We will not accept any modification of the Camp David Accords," Lieberman said.

The refrain by Western experts used to be that Egypt's Brothers depended on U.S. and Saudi generosity to run their government in Cairo. More important, Washington spread an impression that it enjoyed a larger-than-life influence over the New Egypt. The U.S. was supposed to have acted as a mediator between the Egyptian military and the Brothers.

But Morsi scattered the thesis. "No, no, it is not that they [military leadership] 'decided' to do it [stepping down]. This is the will of the Egyptian people through the elected president, right? The president of the Arab Republic of Egypt is the commander of the armed forces. Full stop.... We are behaving according to the Egyptian people's choice and will, nothing else ."

The picture that emerges from Morsi's stunning interview is that the U.S. has suffered a huge setback to its regional strategy in the Middle East. The fact that Obama has shied away from meeting with Morsi this week underscores the gravity of the deep chill in the U.S.-Egyptian ties. And Obama's snub comes after he took the initiative to invite Morsi to visit the U.S. and insisted it should be an early visit, even sending Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to deliver the invitation letter and thereafter following up with visits by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to Cairo.

Morsi has taken a series of steps since he took over in July, which, in retrospect, had the principal objective of conveying to Washington that he resented the U.S. diktat and intended to follow an independent foreign policy. His decision to visit China and Iran was a calculated one, intended to signal his empathy with countries that challenged U.S. hegemony in the Middle East and to underscore that he hoped to reduce Egypt's dependence on the United States. But Washington kept pretending that it didn't take notice.

However, there has been a "fast-forward" in the past 10 days, since the anti-Islam American film, the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by Egyptian protesters. Morsi didn't react to the storming of the embassy for a full 36 hours. Simply put, he could sense the Arab street heaving with fury toward the U.S. and he decided that it would be politically injudicious for him to do anything other than let the popular anger play out.

Morsi's deafening silence or inertia provoked Obama to call him up to admonish him (according to leaked U.S. accounts), but all that Morsi would do was to send police reinforcements to protect the embassy compound. He never condemned the storming of the embassy as such.

Things can never be the same again in the U.S.-Egypt relationship. A 33-year slice of diplomatic history through which Cairo used to be Washington's dependable ally is breaking loose and drifting to the horizon. Uncharted waters lie ahead for the U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Clearly, the axis that is pivotal to the U.S. regional strategy in the Middle East — comprising Israel and the so-called "moderate" Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, etc. — cannot hold together without Egypt, and the strategy itself is in peril.

In immediate terms, the fallout is going to be serious in Syria. A Western intervention in Syria now can be virtually ruled out. On the other hand, without an intervention, a regime change will be a long haul. In sum, Turkey is going to be in a fix, having bitten more than it could chew, and with the U.S. in no mood to step in to expedite the Arab Spring in Damascus. (Obama called up Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan last week to extend moral support.)

The good thing is that the U.S. and its allies may now be open to the idea of a national dialogue involving the Syrian government. In fact, the most recent Russian statements on Syria hint at an air of nascent expectations. On the contrary, nervousness with a touch of bitterness is already apparent in the comment by the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper on the weekend, while taking stock of the United States' growing difficulties with Egypt's Brothers:

"Will the U.S. president allow his legacy to bear the headline of having kept Bashar al-Assad in power? It would be a terrible legacy to leave behind, no matter how much it could be justified by such arguments as the wisdom of living with yesterday's tyrant because today's tyrant could be worse — and what is meant here is not just the tyrant of unruly mobs, but also the tyrants of Muslim extremism and its relations with moderate Islamism in power."

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia stayed away from the meeting of the quartet on Syria that Cairo hosted last Monday, without offering any explanation. Simply put, Riyadh is unable to come to terms with Egypt's return to the center stage of Arab politics after a full three decades of absence during which the Saudi regime appropriated for itself Cairo's traditional role as the throbbing heart of Arabism. Riyadh will find it painful to vacate the role as the leader of the Arab world that it got used to enjoying. Almost every single day, Saudi media connected with the regime pour calumnies on Egypt's Brothers, even alleging lately that they are the twin brothers of al-Qaeda.

Again, the elaborate charade that the Saudis stage-managed — propagating the Muslim sectarian discords as the core issue on the Middle East's political arena — is not sticking anymore, now that the two biggest Sunni and Shi'ite countries in the region — Egypt and Iran — are holding each other's hands, demonstrating goodwill and displaying willingness to work together to address key regional issues. The worst-case scenario for the Saudi regime will be if in the coming months the Arab Spring begins its fateful journey toward Riyadh and the Arabian Peninsula, where the Brothers have been active for decades, welcomes it as a long-awaited spring.

The heart of the matter is that on a regional plane, the Iranian viewpoint that the Arab Spring is quintessentially "Islamic" stands vindicated. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, the Speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, made the stunning disclosure that Iranian diplomats had met members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria as well as the Salafis (who are being financed by the Saudis) to encourage them to accept "democratic reforms through peaceful behavior, not violence." This made complete mockery of the Syrian logarithm as per the Saudi (and Turkish and U.S.) estimation — Sunni militancy as the antidote to (Shi'ite) Iran's influence in the region.

In sum, Morsi's friendly remarks about Iran point toward a regional strategic realignment on an epic scale subsuming the contrived air of sectarian schisms, which practically no Western (or Turkish) experts could have foreseen. It is a matter of time now before Egypt-Iran relations are fully restored, putting an end to the three-decade-old rupture.

The biggest beneficiary of this paradigm shift in Middle Eastern politics is going to be Iran. Arguably, we are probably already past the point of an Israeli attack on Iran, no matter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tilting at the windmill. In the prevailing surcharged atmosphere, the Muslim Middle East would explode into uncontrollable violence in the event of an Israeli (or U.S.) attack on Iran.

In the event of such an attack, Egypt's Brothers would most probably annul the peace treaty with Israel — and Jordan would be compelled to follow suit; Egypt and Jordan might sever diplomatic ties with Israel. Baghdad is seething with fury that the U.S. and Turkey are encouraging Kurdistan to secede; Lebanon's Hezbollah has been threatening retribution if Iran is attacked.

Even more serious than all this put together would be the domino effect of region-wide mayhem on the Arab street on the fate of the oligarchies in the Persian Gulf, which lack legitimacy and are allied with the U.S. — and where the Brothers have been clandestinely operating for decades.

— Reprinted from Asia Times, Sept. 25. Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: A research and investigation report by two leading U.S. universities has rejected Washington’s narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan. It concluded that the strikes are counterproductive and damaging, kill innocent civilians, and constantly terrorize people of tribal areas, depriving children of education and even target rescuers.

The Sept. 25 report is the result of nine months of research by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic). It calls for a review of the drone policy.

According to the report: “The number of high-level militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that U.S. strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further attacks.”

The report demands that the U.S. explain under what law it carries out drone attacks, and seeks an independent investigation into the drone killings, respect for human rights and international laws regarding the use of force. The report also asks journalists and media outlets to cease the common practice of referring simply to militant deaths, without further explanation. It says, “In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the U.S. safer by enabling targeted killings of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.”

The report notes Washington publicly describes its drone program in terms of its unprecedented ability to “distinguish effectively between an al-Qaeda terrorist and innocent civilians,” and touts its missile-armed drones as capable of conducting strikes with “astonishing” and “surgical” precision.

However, from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, the available data indicates that drone strikes killed up to 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom as many as 881 were civilians, including 176 children. These strikes also injured an additional up to 1,362 individuals. The frequency of drone strikes was accelerated dramatically by the Obama Administration.

In addition to causing death and injury to innocents, the research argued that the drone strikes cause great harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians. “Drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves."

The NYU-Stanford study also demanded that Washington release the Justice Department memoranda outlining the legal basis for the targeted killings in Pakistan, and make public critical information concerning drone-strike policy, as repeatedly requested by various groups and officials.

— This Sept. 25 report is from a leading Pakistani newspaper, The News International, of which the author is the investigative editor.

By the Activist Newsletter

Drone attacks are President Obama's favorite method of assassinating alleged "terrorists" in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, but the CIA — fully backed by the Obama Administration — publicly denies that it is involved in drone warfare. As such, the drone program is officially a "secret," thus denying the public the right to obtain Freedom of Information Act documents about the program.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the CIA to court Sept. 20, challenging the fiction that the aerial assassination program is a classified "secret." ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case, said:

"The notion that the CIA’s targeted killing program is a secret is nothing short of absurd. For more than two years, senior officials have been making claims about the program both on the record and off. They’ve claimed that the program is effective, lawful, and closely supervised. If they can make these claims, there is no reason why they should not be required to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act."

Following is a legal report on the suit from Jurist website Sept. 21 by Michael Haggerson:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments Sept. 20 on whether to grant a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the ACLU to obtain information from the CIA on its use of unmanned Predator drones.

The CIA argued that the U.S. government has never officially acknowledged the use of unmanned drone strikes for killings and that it cannot reveal the number of nature of the strikes without giving up confidential information protected under the FOIA.

This issue of whether the government has publicly acknowledged the use of drone strikes is critical to the case. Under the FOIA, once the government has publicly acknowledged a fact, it may not refuse to confirm that fact in court. The ACLU stated that "the court should put an end to the government's double game of selectively disclosing information about the program in public while obstinately refusing to confirm or deny the very existence of the program in federal court."

The ACLU pointed to several statements from the Obama Administration that it claims are an acknowledgement of the use of drones, but the CIA argued that none of the statements is conclusive. The ACLU has also expressed concern over reports of drone strikes being used to carry out targeted killings of U.S. citizens.

Unmanned drone strikes have been a contentious legal issue, especially their use in Pakistan. [See article directly below.] In August UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson said that the U.S. government must allow an independent investigation of the legality of its drone strike policy. In July the Pakistan Ambassador to the U.S. called on the CIA to stop using drone strikes. Earlier that month lawmakers expressed concern over the use of drones within the U.S. at a hearing in the House Committee on Homeland Security. Also in July the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU filed a suit challenging the U.S. government's targeted killing of three American citizens in drone strikes.

By the Activist Newsletter

A 40-member American peace delegation arrived in Pakistan this week to protest drone strikes and promote peaceful relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. The delegation — organized by the activist group CodePink — will meet with the families of drone victims, lawyers, academics, Pakistani politicians and U.S officials. The delegation, which will depart Oct. 10, is composed of activists from CodePink, Veterans for Peace, United National Antiwar Coalition, and other groups.

On Oct. 7, the Americans will join Pakistanis in an anti-drone march and rally in South Waziristan — a federally-administrated tribal area in Western Pakistan — to protest frequent drone strikes that have killed thousands. It is anticipated that tens of thousands will join the march. The protest is being led by the Pakistan Movement for Justice, a growing center left political party founded and led by a popular sports figure, former Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan.

“President Obama’s counter-terrorism chief John Brennan insists that U.S. drone strikes aren’t harming innocent Pakistanis, but we know that’s not true, especially since the Obama administration calls all military-age males in the area ‘militants',” said CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, an organizer of the trip and author the book "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control."

"When it comes to drones," Benjamin said, "Americans and Pakistanis see the world through different lenses. Americans are looking through the eyes of remote-control pilots safely ensconced in bases in the United States, while Pakistanis are at the receiving end of the bull’s eye. Polls show the two peoples as polar opposites: 83% of Americans support the use of drones against 'terrorist suspects overseas'; in Pakistan, among those who say they know something about drones, 97% oppose them."

By Patrick Gavin

It’s no surprise that Ralph Nader isn’t a fan of former President George W. Bush. After all, the longtime activist ran against him in both 2000 and 2004. But Nader’s even less a fan of President Barack Obama, if only because he thinks Obama was capable of so much more.

On issues related to the military and foreign policy, Obama’s worse than Bush, “in the sense that he’s more aggressive, more illegal worldwide,” Nader told POLITICO, going so far as to call Obama a “war criminal.”

“He’s gone beyond George W. Bush in drones, for example. He thinks the world is his plate, that national sovereignties mean nothing, drones can go anywhere. They can kill anybody that he suspects and every Tuesday he makes the call on who lives and who dies, supposed suspects in places like Yemen and Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that is a war crime and he ought to be held to account.”

Nader called Obama “below average because he raised expectation levels. What expectation level did George W. Bush raise?…. [Obama's] below average because he’s above average in his intellect and his knowledge of legality, which he is violating with abandon.”

“I don’t know whether George W. Bush ever read the Constitution,” said Nader. “This man taught the Constitution, and this is what we got....”

Nader doesn’t let Republicans off easy, either, calling them “the worst Republican Party in history.”

— Excerpted from POLITICO 9-25-12.

By Kate Randall

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported May 5 that 14.9% of Americans faced food insecurity in 2011. This means that one in six people lives in a household that is at risk of hunger. Of the more than 50 million people in the U.S. for whom hunger is a reality, nearly 17 million are children.

In 2011, 5.7% of U.S. households, or 6.9 million households, had what the USDA terms “very low food security.” This means that the food intake of some household members was reduced or the normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources.

The number of very low food security households rose significantly in 2011, up from 5.4% in 2010, as the number returned to the 5.7% levels of 2008 and 2009. This means that despite government claims that the recession ended in mid-2009, millions of American families face the threat of hunger on a regular basis.

Very low food security has increased dramatically over the past decade, rising from 3.3% of households in 2001 to 5.7% in 2011—a jump of more than 72% .

Ten percent of households with children—13.9 million households—were unable at times during 2011 to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. One percent of households with children (374,000 households) experienced instances of very low food security.

Poverty was the over-arching factor driving food insecurity. Among those households living at or below the official federal poverty level (FPL)—a miserly $22,350 for a family of four—17.9% suffered from very low food security. Families headed by a single woman or man, as well as African-American and Hispanic households, were substantially more likely to face food insecurity. Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) report is based on annual statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 43,000 households comprising a representative sample of the 119 million civilian households in the U.S. were surveyed in December 2011....

The food security status of households was determined on the basis of the number of food-insecure conditions reported. The 6.9 million households that faced very low food security reported many of the same experiences as they struggled to provide adequate nutrition for their families:

• Ninety-nine percent worried that their food would run out before they had the money to buy more.
• Ninety-five percent said they could not afford to purchase food to provide balanced meals.
• Ninety-seven percent reported an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals.

Nearly half of the very low food secure households reported a family member losing weight due to lack of money to purchase food. More than a quarter reported that at some point an adult did not eat for an entire day because there was not enough money for food.

More than a quarter of households headed by a female with no spouse faced low food security; 11.5% of these households were very low food secure. Nearly 18% of Hispanic households were food insecure, while 14.6% of African-American households faced food insecurity.

Food insecurity was highest in the Southern states, including in Alabama (18.2% of households), Georgia (17.4% ), Mississippi (19.2% ), Arkansas (19.2% ), North Carolina (17.1% ), and Texas (18.5% ).

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers 15 domestic food and nutrition programs. The three largest are SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the Food Stamp Program), the National School Lunch Program, and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children).

About 57% of food-insecure households reported receiving benefits from one or more of these main food assistance programs during the month prior to the December 2011 food security survey. This means that the aid from these programs is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of families struggling to put food on the table.

Another government report released this week showed the number of Americans using food stamps to purchase groceries is at all all-time high. More than 46 million people—15% of the U.S. population—received SNAP benefits in June. With the jobless rate remaining above 8% , long-term unemployment persisting, and unemployment benefits slashed, families are turning to this benefit in record numbers.

— From the World Socialist Website, Sept. 7.


[The dramatic Quebec student strike against the Liberal Party provincial government plan to raise university tuition from $2,168 to $3,793 between 2012 and 2017 ended in victory for the students last week. Over 310,000 students took part in the continual protests that began Feb. 13 and included marches of up to a half-million people. Co-author Jeanne Reynolds is a spokesperson for the student coalition CLASSE.]

By Camille Robert and Jeanne Reynolds, Sept. 24

Many mocked us, many vilified us, many told us we would achieve nothing. But after a wave of student mobilization in Quebec through the spring and summer, we can count our victories: On the first day the new (center left) Parti Québécois (PQ) took power, replacing the Liberal Party led by Premier Jean Charest, it cancelled a tuition hike and repealed a draconian anti-protest law that curbed basic freedoms of expression and assembly.

If the PQ yielded so quickly to some of our demands, it is because we organized a strike movement whose support was popular and broad, which allowed people of all ages and walks of life to express their grievances about our political and economic system, and which helped defeat the Charest Liberal government.

That might be hard to believe, going by the depictions of us in English Canada — half-witted hooligans, spoiled brats or frightening extremists. But if we are guilty of anything, it is of questioning the dogmas of the rich and powerful, who have spent the last decades trying to lower our expectations for what is politically possible.

The purveyors of such dogmas insisted we be quiet and content, because our tuition was already the lowest in Canada. But it remains lowest precisely because we have fought our government every time it tried to raise it.

As with education, the fundamental rights we value today — of abortion, collective bargaining, health care and many more — are not gifts from politicians, but a legacy of the struggles of ordinary people.

The struggle of the CLASSE student movement in Quebec has been not merely to stop the tuition hike, but to campaign for high-quality, public and free university education. This is education as a right accessible to all, not as a commodity available to those with the thickest wallets. This is education dedicated to the common good, serving freethinking and the flourishing of the potential in each person. It is an investment in our generations to come.

Our commitment to genuine democracy is a reflection of the type of society we seek to build: one that is more equal, not less, and revolves around the needs of people, not corporations.

It is also within reach. No wonder the Globe and Mail would label us “irrational,” the better to distract the public from our proposal, feasible across Canada, to fund free university education with a tiny tax on the transactions of banks — the same banks that shackle families in debt, while making billions of dollars of profit.

What we raised with such arguments and peaceful, creative protest, the government tried to silence with “emergency” laws, riot squads and tear gas. More than 3,000 have been arrested and are still charged, three times more than during G20 policing debacle in Toronto in 2010.

Such scenarios are possible only in a broken system of democracy that comes up for air once every four years, in which politicians prefer the murmurs of business lobbyists to the voices of those they supposedly represent. Our faith is in direct, participatory democracy, which we practice in assemblies of thousands where every student can give input into the decisions that impact them.

Our commitment to genuine democracy is a reflection of the type of society we seek to build: one that is more equal, not less, and revolves around the needs of people, not corporations....

This has always been the essence of our strike and our mobilization: a shared, collective vision whose scope lies well beyond student interests. In our campuses, in our workplaces, in cities and villages across our province, people have come together like never before: to talk, to debate, and to imagine a new society with us. And we are making new alliances, overcoming old divisions, all across Canada....

The social movement of the past year has taught us that police batons and corrupt politicians will not always prevail over the power of ideas. Ours is an age of cynicism, but we are learning that our dreams can be made real.

[From the Activist Newsletter: We enthusiastically praise the incredible actions of the Quebec students. We must also mention that at least the province of Quebec has a center-left ruling party (the PQ), which helped bring about the student victory. The U.S. has no such entity (much less a needed left mass party), but until it does — whether for students, or workers or women or oppressed minorities or low income and poverty families — social progress and democracy will descend ever deeper into crisis.]

By John Glaser

The Obama administration has fought hard to keep the details of its extensive surveillance activities hidden from the American people. But now, after months of litigation, the ACLU has been provided with some details — it doesn’t look good:

For years the White House has insisted that its snooping on phone and email communications fell perfectly within the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications, checked only by a secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Despite repeated demands by civil liberties groups, the administration refused to disclose how many times they gathered intelligence about American citizens.

The civil liberties group reported Sept. 28:

"Justice Department documents released today by the ACLU reveal that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.

"The documents, handed over by the government only after months of litigation, are the attorney general’s 2010 and 2011 reports on the use of 'pen register' and 'trap and trace' surveillance powers. The reports show a dramatic increase in the use of these surveillance tools, which are used to gather information about telephone, email, and other Internet communications. The revelations underscore the importance of regulating and overseeing the government’s surveillance power.

"Pen register and trap and trace devices are powerfully invasive surveillance tools that were, 20 years ago, physical devices that attached to telephone lines in order to covertly record the incoming and outgoing numbers dialed. Today, no special equipment is required to record this information, as interception capabilities are built into phone companies’ call-routing hardware."

— Edited from

By Fight Back News, Sept. 27

New York, N.Y. — Some 150 antiwar activists, religious leaders and supporters of Iran attended a special meeting here Sept. 25 with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was in New York to address the UN General Assembly.

For the past year there have been escalating threats by the U.S. over Iran’s alleged development of nuclear weapons. Many speakers made it clear that Iran has no nuclear weapons and no plan to develop them. Phil Wilayto, one of the event organizers, noted that “Iran has called for a nuclear free Middle East.” Unlike Israel, which has over 150 nuclear weapons, Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allows inspectors of its nuclear facilities.

According to a number of speakers, the U.S. is already intervening. Economic sanctions are an act of war, according to international law; the U.S. has admitted to carrying out cyber attacks on Iran’s nuclear processing facilities; and to having special operation troops on the ground. As with Libya and Syria, the U.S. is also looking for opposition groups to back inside Iran.

In addition, this past week the U.S. government removed the Mojahedin el Khalk from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. It is widely believed that they have carried out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Two of the antiwar activists attending the meeting — Joe Iosbaker, a key organizer of the Chicago anti-NATO protest and Sarah Martin, a member of Women Against Military Madness and Freedom Road Socialist Organization — have been targets of a grand jury investigation for allegations of “providing material support to terrorist organizations” in Palestine and Colombia.

Prominent among the guests was Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. “This is a terrible time in the history of America. America and Israel are pushing this nation to war with Iran over alleged attempts to build weapons of mass destruction.” He warned, “We have to stand against the war mongers.”

Ramsey Clark, who was U.S. Attorney General when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, said, “The heart of the treaty was for the nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear weapons.” He concluded, “The nuclear powers failed,” explaining how the U.S. has not lived up to its end of the deal.

Ellie Ommani, of the American Iranian Friendship Committee congratulated Iran “for successfully hosting the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned movement with 125 nations. This puts to rest the myth of Iran’s isolation.”

Leah Bolger, president of Veterans for Peace, presented her organization's five-point proposal for avoiding a war with Iran:

1. The U.S. should announce that it will revoke the $3 billion it gives Israel every year in military aid, should Israel attack Iran.
2. Insist that Israel be held to the same standards of openness and transparency that it demands of Iran with regard to its nuclear program, to include allowing IAEA inspectors into Israel, and signing on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
3. Remove U.S. Carrier Battle Groups, loaded with dozens of nuclear weapons, from the region. Discontinue “military exercises” in the area.
4. Express full support for the upcoming Helsinki meetings, and the “Nuclear Free Middle East.” Pressure Israel to attend this meeting, which is scheduled for this December.
5. Stop using U.S. veto power to protect Israel from being held accountable for its actions by the UN.

In closing remarks, President Ahmadinejad said, “The U.S. wants to expand its hegemony over the world center of energy resources. Iran will not allow this.” This brought cheers from the attendees.

By Ethan Jury

In a move set to end the longest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere, the Colombian government has agreed to October peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to be held in Norway.

The talks developed out of exploratory negotiations begun in February, and will be the first attempt in over a decade at negotiating an end to the over 50 years of conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC.

The FARC was formed in the early 1960s out of a strong peasant movement that was being brutally repressed by the Colombian ruling class. It has an armed force comprised of thousands of guerrillas. The FARC proposes a new society based on socialist principles of full employment, land rights for the peasantry, nationalization of the country’s resources and social peace. It has maintained strong opposition to the right-wing Colombian government on political and social issues, but has not limited its struggle to armed conflict.

In the 1980s, the FARC leadership formed an above-ground political party, Unión Patriótica, to unite and represent the Colombian Left in the political process. In the ensuing decade, however, over 5,000 UP members were brutally hunted and killed by government and death-squad forces, forcing the FARC to return to guerrilla tactics.

The FARC’s commander, Mauricio Jaramillo, has proposed an immediate cease-fire during the negotiations, but the proposal was rejected by President Juan Manuel Santos. Instead, Santos has called on the military to increase its attacks on the FARC. On Sept. 6, FARC commander José Epimenio Molina, known as Danilo García, was assassinated in a government bombing operation against an encampment. Molina was second in command to the FARC’s leader, Timochenko

Although Santos has been described in the capitalist media as more moderate than the previous president, Álvaro Uribe, he was minister of defense under Uribe, who waged an extermination campaign against the FARC until he left office in 2010. An extreme right-winger, Uribe presided over a violent military campaign against the FARC in the early 2000s using billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to fund paramilitary death squads. He has expressed harsh criticism of Santos’ agreement to negotiate.

Santos’ rejection of a cease-fire recalls previous failed attempts at negotiations between 1999 and 2002. The failure of those earlier negotiations is widely credited to the massive, U.S.-backed military buildup under Plan Colombia. Although Cuba and Norway have helped facilitate the talks, a shadow of uncertainty has been cast on the upcoming talks, which face other obstacles. For example, the United States refuses to allow the participation of imprisoned FARC leader Simon Trinidad, who remains a political prisoner in U.S. custody, serving an unjust 60-year sentence.

Nevertheless, the FARC leadership remains “fully committed” to the discussions and has called on the Colombian people to involve themselves in and to defend the process towards “building a stable and long lasting peace.”

— From Liberation newspaper, Sept. 24. 2012.

By Chris Garaffa

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Activists here took part in an educational meeting and protest march Sept. 15 in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to mark the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

The actions commemorated the massacre of several thousand men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, just outside Beirut, Lebanon. From Sept. 15-18, 1982, Israeli Defense Forces supported the South Lebanon Army and fascist Lebanese Phalangists in entering the refugee camps to carry out the brutal attacks.

The meeting featured video, audio and picture presentations of reports of activists who had traveled to the refugee camp in the hours and days after the massacre.

The march through downtown New Haven was accompanied by a percussion band. Marchers carried Palestinian flags and signs calling for the right of return of Palestinians to land taken by Israel. The response of a number of bystanders was positive. A group of students joined the march when they saw the banners and signs supporting the Palestinian people. The Middle East Crisis Committee called the demonstration, which included members of the ANSWER Coalition and other groups.

— From Liberation newspaper, Sept. 24.

Mark Hertsgaard

Well, what do you know: President Obama can say the C-word after all. “Climate change is not a hoax,” he said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. “More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future.”

The president was obviously drawing a contrast with Mitt Romney, whose speech at the Republican National Convention mocked the very idea of caring about climate change. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” the Republican nominee said as the party faithful chortled. “And to heal the planet,” Romney added to further laughter. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two days later, in the battleground state of Ohio, Romney repeated the line. Even George W. Bush, for all his resistance to tackling climate change, never made fun of it.

“It is nothing short of terrifying to imagine a party that openly mocks climate change taking back the White House,” the Obama campaign fired back via e-mail. True enough. But the president’s reticence has not been terribly reassuring either. Aside from his acceptance speech and three much briefer mentions in speeches to university audiences in Virginia, Colorado and Iowa the week before, Obama appears to have publicly brought up climate change only once in 2012, in an interview with Rolling Stone in April. The president has preferred to talk about “clean energy,” usually in the context of advocating an “all of the above” energy strategy: exploiting all available sources, including oil, gas and what he (inaccurately) calls “clean coal.”

The United States has been suffering through one of the hottest summers and worst droughts in its history, while the Arctic ice cap melted to its lowest level on record. Talk about terrifying. When white ice is replaced by dark seawater, more of the sun’s heat is absorbed rather than reflected, accelerating global warming. The loss of Arctic ice is the “equivalent of about twenty years of additional CO2 being added by man,” Peter Wadhams, a Cambridge professor of ocean physics, told the BBC.

Yet Obama remained silent. Even as his own administration’s scientists were affirming climate change’s role in causing the extreme weather events of 2012, the president declined to use his bully pulpit to make the connection clear to the public, much less attempt to rally Americans to action.

Of course, Obama has had a lot on his plate, above all a sluggish economy and high unemployment. But nothing else will matter if the planet becomes uninhabitable. If current emission trends continue, global temperatures will increase by nearly eleven degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, warns the International Energy Agency. “Even schoolchildren know this will have catastrophic implications,” said the IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol. Obama must know this, too; certainly his science advisers do. Perhaps that’s why he chose to utter the C-word again in Charlotte.

But there is much further to go, and the good news is that the political terrain for the climate debate may be shifting. The conventional wisdom has assumed that talking about climate change turns voters off, but a growing body of evidence indicates that speaking out about climate change—and above all how to fight it—can be a winner, thanks in part to the hellish summer of 2012. “I think we have achieved a real tipping point with the public, in that they finally see for themselves what the reality of climate change means,” says Joe Romm, editor of the nation’s leading climate science blog, Climate Progress, and author of Language Intelligence. Romm explains, “You can’t say one individual home run was due to steroids, but when somebody gets seventy in one season, then you understand what it means for them to be juiced. Our climate has been juiced by the steroids of greenhouse gases, which make almost every major extreme weather event more extreme.”

A new report called “Climate Solutions for a Stronger America” found that three in four Americans acknowledge that climate disruption is real; two-thirds believe action is required. Among the poll’s findings was that “a pro-climate action position wins votes among Democrats and Independents, and has little negative impact on Republican voters.” Such voters, the report suggests, will be receptive to framing the climate struggle as a classic quest narrative: heroes set off to vanquish villains in service of the common good. “Americans don’t run away from big challenges,” goes the script. “We turn them into big opportunities. We have a responsibility to our kids. But Big Oil and the Koch Brothers are standing in the way: corrupting our political process and blocking American clean energy innovation. It’s time to take our future back, and clean energy’s a great way to do it.”

In 2008, it looked as if Barack Obama would be the hero leading such a quest. His speech in Charlotte raised hopes among some environmentalists that after an extended absence, he may be ready to rejoin the battle. That would be a good thing. But if four years of Obama’s presidency demonstrate anything, it is the folly of waiting for him—or any president—to storm the barricades of entrenched power. If America is to vanquish the climate villains and win the quest for survival, we the people will have to be our own heroes.

— From The Nation,