Monday, September 29, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
As Bush Admin Pushes $700B for Wall Street, Ralph Nader Asks, “Why Is There Need for a Bailout?”
Ralph Nader, Independent candidate for President and longtime consumer advocate.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Bush administration is intensifying its pressure on Congress to quickly approve a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, despite warnings from economists and some governmental officials that the bailout could worsen the financial crisis.
Last night, President Bush held a prime-time address to warn the nation’s entire economy is in danger if the bailout is not approved as soon as possible.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The government’s top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic, and a distressing scenario would unfold. More banks could fail, including some in your community. The stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account. The value of your home could plummet. Foreclosures would rise dramatically. And if you own a business or a farm, you would find it harder and more expensive to get credit. More businesses would close their doors, and millions of Americans could lose their jobs. Even if you have good credit history, it would be more difficult for you to get the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. And ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession. Fellow citizens, we must not let this happen.
JUAN GONZALEZ: [Wednesday] night’s address was the first time in his presidency that Bush delivered a prime-time speech devoted exclusively to the economy. His dire scenario about the state of the economy stood in stark contrast to his comments at his last press conference two months ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, the President is holding an emergency summit at the White House with both John McCain and Barack Obama, as well as top leaders for Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports Democratic leaders are hoping to nail down details of the bailout measure early today.
On Wednesday, McCain said he would suspend his campaign to deal with the financial crisis. He called on Obama to postpone their debate Friday night, saying he would only attend if Congress approves a bailout package before then. Obama said the debate in Oxford, Mississippi at Ole Miss should go on as planned.
We’re joined on the phone right now by a presidential candidate who was not invited to Friday’s debate, Independent candidate Ralph Nader. The longtime consumer advocate has been a vocal critic of the Wall Street bailout.
Ralph Nader, welcome to Democracy Now! First, let’s start off with John McCain announcing that he is going to suspend his campaign and wants the debate cancelled.
RALPH NADER: Well, I think Senator McCain is showboating. I mean, what’s going on in Washington and Congress now is the Bush administration is trying to pull the Constitution out by its roots and demand that Congress give it a blank check, without any criteria, without any accountability, for $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. It’s not dependent on whether John McCain returns to Washington other than to vote. I think he’s turning his back on over 50 million American voters who expect him to show up in Ole Miss with Barack Obama and who have made arrangements to do so. He talks a lot about honor and commitment. I think he ought to change his mind and get down to Ole Miss.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, the Democrats are claiming that they’ve been able to get some key concessions from the administration on its original plan. They say now they’re going to be—they’re going to cap CEO pay for those who participate in this bailout and that they’re going to get some kind of government participation or investment in these firms, so that if they make profits later on, that—or these securities make profits later on, that the government will be able to participate. But your sense—are these real substantive changes, or is this basically cosmetics on a plan that shouldn’t be in place in the first place?
RALPH NADER: Well, so far, it’s wish fulfillment. If you watch what Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Banking Committee, said yesterday, nothing has really been decided.
And also, it’s not clear at all why a bailout is needed. That’s part of the stampede in the pack and the panic that Bush and Paulson and Bernanke are pushing Congress toward. You know, it’s eerily reminiscent, when you listen to Bush yesterday, of how he stampeded the Congress and the country into the criminal war invasion of Iraq in 2003. I mean, look at all his statements: this could do this, this would do that, farms failing, small business, tada, tada. The first question we have to ask as citizens is, why is there a need for a bailout?
The only conceivable purpose of Treasury intervention, said Roger Lowenstein in the New Republic recently, quote, "is to buoy the market using taxpayer funds by paying higher-than-market prices. After all, if the government merely intended to match the market, what would be the point?” end-quote. In other words, if these mortgage-backed securities are distressed, well, they’re going to fetch a lower price. There’s huge amount of money on the sidelines in Wall Street, everybody admits that. So, as a hedge fund manager basically said, look, if the price comes down lower than what the government is trying to keep elevated, we’ll buy this paper. Warren Buffett put $5 billion into Goldman Sachs this week. There’s a lot of money to go around.
It’s quite interesting how the Bush regime is creating its own panic. When the government keeps saying Chicken Little, Chicken Little, the market is going to react in a very nervous manner. It’s a reversal of what the government usually does, which is to counsel stability and patience, etc.
So, the first question Congress should ask in detailed hearings, which aren’t occurring, is simply, why is there need for a bailout? Second is, if there is a need for a bailout, why $700 billion? And third, if there is a need for a bailout, what kind of bailout? Taxpayer equity? So the taxpayer can recover if these companies make a profit, they can recover surplus, perhaps the way they did on the taxpayer bailout in 1979 with Chrysler, where Jimmy Carter demanded that Chrysler issue stock warrants to the Treasury, and Chrysler turned around, and the Treasury sold the warrants for a $400 million profit.
I don’t think the Democrats show any nerve that they are going to do anything but cave here. And the statements by Nancy Pelosi are not reassuring, which is, “Well, it’s the Republicans’ bill, you know. Let them take responsibility for it.” That doesn’t work. She’s the Speaker of the House. The Democrats have got to say, “Slow down. We’re not going to be stampeded into this bill by Friday or Saturday. We’re going to have very, very thorough hearings.” Otherwise, it’s another collapse, at constitutional levels, of the Congress before King George IV.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. We’ll come back to this discussion. We’ll also be joined by Arun Gupta, who is the editor of The Indypendent and put out a letter on the internet that has just set the internet on fire, calling for a major protest today on Wall Street. It has gained steam. Many groups have signed on. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest on the phone with us from Pittsburgh, where he’s campaigning, is Ralph Nader, Independent presidential candidate. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, you mention how the Democrats themselves are being stampeded at this point by the Bush administration. In my column in the Daily News yesterday, I raised how another Democratic leader and another Democratic Congress handled a situation, even a more dire situation, in 1933, on the two days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president, with thousands of banks crashing at that point, and he immediately shut down all the banks on his second day in office, called Congress into an emergency session and, over the next hundred days, adopted incredible legislation, including the Glass-Steagall Act, that we’ve mentioned quite often, on federal deposit insurance, aid to homeowners, farm subsidies, created the Tennessee Valley Authority, all in the midst of a crisis, probably the most progressive amount of legislation in the nation’s history, in any period. That’s a quite different approach. And he specifically criticized the banks and Wall Street as being at the root of the crisis.
RALPH NADER: That’s right. In those days, they had a serious solvency problem for these banks, which they don’t have, by and large, today. And that was admitted by Bernanke yesterday. Basically, Bernanke is saying, “Well, we’re doing this because the banks are contracting their credit, and this is affecting the economy.” Well, you can deal with that problem in a far better way than an ill-defined $700 billion bailout with total authority to the Treasury Secretary, with no judicial review, with no criteria and no reforms.
In other words, the Democrats should say, if they’re going to concede this bailout, is to say, “Well, we want comprehensive regulation and disclosure of the financial industry to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We want criminal prosecution of the crooks on Wall Street and disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains. We want a securities derivative tax and higher margin requirements to make speculators use their money, more of their money than other people’s money, like worker pension funds, to keep down speculation, as well as to produce revenues, which might lighten the tax load on working families. And we want to give shareholders control over the corporations they own.”
And they’re not even talking about these kinds of reforms. And this is the best time to get these reforms, because this is called a must bill on Congress—in Congress, and if Bush wants his package, he’s going to have to sign them. So, there’s no reciprocity here. It’s the usual fairly good questions by the Democrats at the hearings, but because they don’t follow through, they don’t have adequate leadership, it becomes a kind of posturing. It’s just maddening to watch how vague Bernanke and Paulson are in answering one question after another. It’s just an evasion, where they keep saying, “We need to do it. We need to do it.” And their Chicken Little material is conducted in closed session with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and the Republican leadership. It’s always in closed session.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ralph Nader, something that isn’t vague are the emerging rallies against Wall Street bailout that are being held today in over a hundred cities. In Washington, protesters are gathering outside the Treasury Department at 4:00 p.m. Here in New York, a protest is set for 4:00 p.m., as well, in Bowling Green Park near Wall Street.
The day of action has been partly inspired by an email sent out Monday by New York journalist Arun Gupta. In the email, Gupta described the bailout as the biggest robbery in world history. Arun Gupta is a reporter and editor at The Indypendent newspaper here in New York. He joins us in the firehouse.
You’ve just been written up in BusinessWeek. Talk about this letter. Talk about what you are putting out there.
ARUN GUPTA: Well, I do a good bit of economic writing, and I was trying to decipher the plan this weekend, and it became quickly apparent to me that this is a financial September 11th, that the Bush administration was trying to use the shock of this crisis, the self-induced crisis in this case, to ram through legislation that was highly ill-considered in terms of the actual economic merits, on the one hand, and then, on the other hand, it was this extreme power grab that would give these huge sweeping new powers to the Treasury Department.
So I wrote up this email. I sat on it overnight, because I was hesitant to send it out. I’m a journalist, not an organizer. But after talking with a few people, they felt I should send it out, so I sent it out to about 150 activists, organizers and media folks that I know in New York City. And it just exploded. You know, I don’t take any special credit for it. I was just tapping into this huge amount of anger and resentment that was out there.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when you say “exploded,” what was the response?
ARUN GUPTA: Well, I talked to people who, within one hour of me sending it out and then them—I encouraged people, “Please forward widely.” They told me that within less than an hour, they had received it back from five or six different people. By the end of the day, apparently, a lot of big groups started jumping on it, including unions. By the next day, it was being endorsed and variations were being forwarded by True Majority, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice. And so, it was just—it really showed the power of the internet in a particular moment.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about these protests that are taking place around the country.
ARUN GUPTA: Well, it started, as you know—the idea is like gather in Wall Street, and I thought maybe it would be a dozen people, and we’d be standing on the sidewalk. But now it looks like there will be hundreds, even possibly thousands. And then, True Majority picked up the call, along with United for Peace and Justice, one of the main antiwar groups, and they said, you know, “Let’s have these day of actions around the country.”
So, all over the country now, there are going to be protests in various financial centers. I’ve been getting emails from people, you know, from every single corner of the United States, asking, you know, “What’s going on? How do we plug in?” And so, we’re just trying to point them to these websites. It’s like, look, here’s a list of the protests, or you can plan your own event. And this is really coming from across the political spectrum.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And as you said in your email, this is leaderless, and no main organization is in charge or no individual is in charge. Everyone is just participating themselves.
ARUN GUPTA: That’s what’s great about it. You know, when people say, “Who’s organizing this?” I say, “No one and everyone.” This was just a call to self-organize. And, you know, it’s like I’m just going to show up there as just one more person who’s against this ridiculous bailout, this giveaway to the rich.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, who is Henry Paulson? I mean, we know he worked for Nixon, was the aide to John Ehrlichman, the ex-con, the man who went to jail; then went off to Goldman Sachs; he and Alan Greenspan still being considered the economic wise men, even though this all happened under their watch.
RALPH NADER: That’s when you know the system is decayed and corrupt, that the people who brought us this disaster—Robert Rubin, with Bill Clinton pushing through the financial deregulation monster in 1999, which we opposed, which opened the gates for this kind of wild speculation and this casino capitalism, is still an adviser. He’s an adviser to Barack Obama. He’s an adviser to members of Congress. Henry Paulson cashed out at Goldman Sachs in 2006 a half-a-billion dollars. And now he goes to Washington to bail out his buddies.
The public outrage out there is really enormous. The calls coming into C-SPAN yesterday were overwhelmingly against this bailout, this outrageous inequity, this double standard between the guys at the top and the people who are going to have to pay the bills under this bailout, the taxpayers and the consumers.
Mr. Gupta is right in the sense that this is leaderless, but it’s got to be more than just a rally of protests. It’s got to demand something. It’s got to be focused. Otherwise, it will fritter away. We’ve had rallies on Wall Street. It’s a great place to have rallies. You can really congregate a lot of people, and the Wall Street guys look out the window, and they can see the people are coming.
But the first step is to slow down Congress. Once this bill is passed—and it’s a blanket bill. It’s only four pages, Amy, four pages of a $700 billion blank check, transferring congressional authority wholesale, and I think unconstitutionally, to the White House, King George IV at work again. Once it passes, then the chance for comprehensive regulation and all the other changes to make Wall Street accountable, instead of allow Wall Street to create a corporate state or what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called fascism, which is government controlled by private economic power, represented by people like Henry Paulson—once this happens, it’s not going to be reversible.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Ralph, what about the homeowners who were at the center of this crisis in foreclosure? A million Americans have lost their homes in recent years. There seems to be still no clear sense that any kind of bill will actually provide clear relief for people facing the loss of their homes.
RALPH NADER: You’re absolutely right, because Barney Frank was asked about that last night after the hearing, and he said, “This is a money proposition, if you’re going to deal with the homeowners. It’s not my Banking Committee; it’s Charlie Rangel’s House Ways and Means.” In other words, there’s nothing in this bill for homeowners. There’s everything in this bill to bail out the bankers who actually created this problem with these out-of-control speculative financial instruments.
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia McKinney has offered to debate Barack Obama if he’s the only one who shows up at Ole Miss tomorrow. Are you also going to make that offer? And, Ralph Nader, would you consider, given the stakes of this election, encouraging your supporters in swing states to vote for Barack Obama?
RALPH NADER: Well, first, I’d be very happy to sit in the seat emptied by John McCain. But I think the stage can handle the only—only six presidential candidates. There aren’t enough electoral colleges to theoretically win the election. And second, I’m not at all impressed by Barack Obama’s positions on this so-called bailout. It’s just rhetoric. His Senate record has not reflected that at all.
As we campaign around the country—we’re now in forty-five states plus the District of Columbia, and we’re running five, six, seven percent in the polls, which is equivalent to nine, ten million eligible voters—we are going to try to rouse the public in a specific way: laser-beam focus on their senators and representatives. When these senators and representatives, if they allow this bailout deal in this general, vague manner to pass, when they go back home, they’re going to hit hornets’ nest. This is a situation where it doesn’t matter whether the people back home are Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Nader-Gonzalez supporters. There’s such a deep sense of betrayal, of panic, of stampede, of surrender, of cowardliness in Congress, that it’s going to affect the election and the turnout.
I’d like Barack Obama, actually, to support the Nader-Gonzalez ticket.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Arun Gupta, people are bringing old junk to the protest today—records, old clothes, things they don’t want— to symbolize…?
ARUN GUPTA: That’s one of the themes, cash for trash, which is how this bailout bill is being characterized—in other words, that the government is giving the taxpayers’ good money for these worthless securities. So, many protesters are saying, well, let’s bring our own trash to Wall Street. We’ll create a junk pile and then ask the government to bail us out.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Arun Gupta is the reporter and editor of The Indypendent newspaper here in New York, organizer of today’s protest on Wall Street. There will be more than a hundred other protests around the country. We’ll report on them tomorrow. Ralph Nader, Independent candidate for president, speaking to us on the campaign trail in Pittsburgh.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
WASHINGTON—In preparation for her debate with Sen. Joe Biden next week, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin met with seasoned statesman and Nobel Peace Prize–winner Henry Kissinger yesterday to take advantage of his extensive foreign policy knowledge and expertise in carpet-bombing innocent civilians in nations with which the U.S. is not officially at war.
"Dr. Kissinger has given Gov. Palin thorough instructions for launching deadly covert military operations in tiny Southeast Asian countries in blatant disregard for human life and international law," said McCain campaign spokesperson Tracey Schmitt of Palin's brief consultation with the Nixon and Ford administrations' former secretary of state and national security adviser. "In addition, the governor now feels completely confident that, if she is ever required to step in for Sen. McCain to mastermind the toppling of a democratically elected but left-leaning South American government without congressional consent, she will be fully prepared."
Sources close to the campaign said that Palin's meeting with Vice President Cheney about how to claim executive supremacy for the purpose of bypassing constitutional limits on torture has been canceled since advisers feel she already has enough personal experience with the subject.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Fixing Wall Street Won't Fix Our Economy
By Sally Kohn, Movement Vision Lab
Posted on September 19, 2008, by AlterNet
Sure, the CEOs and hedge fund managers were greedy. There's no question that wealth and the pursuit thereof led to the sub-prime fiasco and the decline of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch and more. But what's really at play here is persistent poverty and Wall Street seeking to make a dime off the poor, consequences be damned, while Washington looks the other way.
The sub-prime crisis is the result of good people getting bad loans. Loans that triple or quadruple in interest rates, riddled with small print, are unbearable by most homeowners. But they are particularly unsustainable for low-income families working two or three jobs to make ends meet. Still, lenders scammed hardworking families with the promise of owning homes they really couldn't afford. And then greedy Wall Street managers, looking for a new way to squeeze a buck from an already bursting-at-the-seams economy, bundled up these bad loans into worse securities, sold them off, and tried to gain a profit as our national economy lost its shirt.
We could have averted the current financial crisis by creating affordable housing and good jobs, strengthening public education and providing health care and child care for all families, to help hardworking Americans thrive in the middle class instead of being pushed into poverty. We could have averted this crisis if we really cared about all families owning their own homes and created nationwide programs including affordable loans. (Even subsidized loans in the first place would have cost taxpayers less than what we're now spending bailing out Wall Street.) We could have averted this crisis if we put the needs of the majority of American families ahead of the needs of a small minority of greedy investors.
Now, 8,000 American families a day face foreclosure. But instead of prioritizing poor and even middle class families who are increasingly struggling, our government is spending billions and billions to bail out the Wall Street firms that created this crisis. Instead, we should be spending our taxpayer money to help the families who were taken advantage of in the "anything goes" unregulated financial system that years of misguided never-really-did-trickle-down economic policy created. These families need the government to help re-adjust their mortgages and cover bridge payments to avoid foreclosure.
The fundamentals of our economy are not sound. Real wages for the majority of American families have been declining while CEO salaries are at an all-time high. Health care costs and college tuition are crippling more and more families. The middle class is rapidly disappearing, and more and more of us find ourselves struggling while the gap between the rich and poor grows.
Instead of allowing Wall Street to profit off of poverty, we should fix our economy once and for all, to work better for all of us. We need universal health care, including a government-funded insurance option, to help families get out from under mounting health care debt. We need policies that reign in scam lending, from housing to the credit card industry. We need a nationwide living wage and a massive public jobs program, to address underemployment in our unstable economy while helping build essential shared infrastructure like public transportation and schools. We need new trade and immigration policies that work for working people on both sides to the border. And we need new corporate rules of the game that make big business accountable to communities and workers, not just greedy investors.
Wall Street and conservative economists have insisted that, in our laissez faire system, everyone is on their own. The poor were left on their own, to fend for themselves against twisted economic structures backed by the biggest institutions on Wall Street. Washington never left Wall Street on its own, and as Wall Street's scam deflates, Washington is coming to the rescue. But shoring up Wall Street won't make our economy work. We need to ensure that a greedy few can't exploit those who are struggling. Without poor people, this crisis would have never happened. If we prioritize ending poverty, and preventing more and more Americans from slipping into poverty, we can be sure it won't happen again.
Sally Kohn is the director of the Movement Vision Project of the Center for Community Change, which is interviewing hundreds of activists across the country to determine the progressive vision for the future of the United States.
© 2008 Movement Vision Lab All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/99383/
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Both Presidential Candidates Want To Expand The War Into Pakistan.....Meanwhile They Are Talking About Lipstick On Pit Bull's...
Tariq Ali on “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power”
From Democracy Now September 16, 2008
Pakistani border troops allegedly foiled a US raid on Pakistani territory Monday. Details of the incident remain unclear, but according to an anonymous Pakistani intelligence official, the troops fired warning shots at American helicopters near the border after US soldiers got out of them and tried to cross into Pakistan. The US military has denied the operation. This follows weeks of strikes by American Predator drone aircrafts and prompted an outcry inside Pakistan. We speak with Tariq Ali, whose new book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, takes a new a look at Pakistan and its fraught relationship with the United States. [includes rush transcript]
Tariq Ali, veteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in Lahore, Pakistan and lives in London. He has written over a dozen books, is a frequent contributor to The Guardian, The Nation and the London Review of Books and is on the editorial board of the New Left Review. His latest book, just out this month, takes a new a look at Pakistan and its fraught relationship with the United States. It’s called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani border troops allegedly foiled a US raid on Pakistani territory Monday. Details of the attack remain unclear, but according to an anonymous Pakistani intelligence official, the troops fired warning shots at American helicopters near the border after US soldiers got out of them and tried to cross into Pakistan. The US military has denied the operation.
Earlier this month, US commandos landed helicopter gunships in another Pakistani village and opened fire on a compound, killing twenty people. The commando attack followed weeks of strikes by American Predator drone aircrafts and prompted an outcry inside Pakistan.
Monday’s incident comes days after revelations President Bush had signed an order in July authorizing unilateral US strikes and ground operations inside Pakistan.
Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is expected to discuss these issues with President Bush when he visits the United States next week. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party won elections earlier this month. He hailed his victory earlier as a completion of the democratic process.
PRESIDENT-ELECT ASIF ALI ZARDARI: I reiterate, parliament is sovereign. This president shall be subservient to the parliament. And I would like history to remember that the weak democracy has managed to take a two-third majority and make a president with a two-third majority, whereas a dictator in uniform could not perform. So, democracy talks, and everybody hears. And to those who would say the Peoples Party or the presidency would be controversial under our guardianship, under our stewardship, I would say, “Listen to democracy. 99 percent of the people have spoken.”
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, speaking soon after he won the elections. Zardari vowed to continue the fight against terrorism during his swearing-in ceremony last week.
PRESIDENT-ELECT ASIF ALI ZARDARI: The government of Pakistan already has a comprehensive plan. And, of course, we bring it the impetus of the people of Pakistan. Yesterday’s war may not have had the people behind it, but today’s war does have the people of Pakistan. In fact, it has the president of Pakistan, who himself is a victim of terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Pakistani military has intensified its offensive against communities near the border, killing at least thirty-two people, including three women, in an attack on Bajaur on Sunday.
My guest today is veteran journalist, commentator, activist, author, Tariq Ali, born in Lahore, Pakistan, lives in London, has written over a dozen books, frequent contributor to The Guardian and to The Nation and the London Review of Books, on the editorial board of the New Left Review. His latest book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
TARIQ ALI: Very good to be with you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: This latest incident, your comments?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think it’s a disastrous situation. For the last year, there’s been a big debate within the US administration on whether to strike across the border or not. Many people, not part of the administration, but certainly part of the defense and political establishment, have behind-the-scenes been trying to put pressure on them, saying, “Don’t do it.” And the reason they’ve been saying that is because if this becomes a pattern and US tries to have hit-and-run—I mean, hit missions across the Pakistan border, it actually is going to help those people who they claim they are trying to fight.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
TARIQ ALI: In the sense that the Pashtun population of the North-West Frontier Province will say foreigners are now coming into our part of the country and attacking us; we’ve got to fight them. And they will join, in growing numbers, the movement against the occupation, which already exists now.
AMY GOODMAN: And Senator Obama has made clear that he does believe that the US should engage in unilateral targets if there are high-value targets there that are not being dealt with by the Pakistani government.
TARIQ ALI: I think this was a big mistake that Senator Obama made. He will regret it, because I don’t think he was briefed on what the situation in Afghanistan is. You know, historically, every time the US occupiers are cornered in a country, they try and blame the neighboring country—the same in Vietnam when they started bombing Cambodia, saying it was Cambodia’s faults. The threats against Iran, even as we speak, and now the missions in Pakistan, the bombing raids in Pakistan, the killing of civilians in Pakistan, when the real crisis and the real problem is a war and an occupation inside Afghanistan which has gone badly wrong.
After all, it’s many years, Amy, seven years since 9/11. They have had that country for seven years, and with each passing year, the situation gets worse. They antagonize more and more people who live in that country, and they are incapable of winning the war. So in order to justify their failure to win the hearts and minds of most Afghan people, they are escalating the war into Pakistan, which is going to make conditions inside the Pakistani military very serious indeed, because there will be real anger.
And this report yesterday that there was a clash between Pakistani military and US helicopters trying to land Marines close to the Pakistan border, I think is probably accurate. The report comes from the Pakistani military; the US is denying it. But it’s a very serious situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on the new president, Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto?
TARIQ ALI: Well, it is slightly entertaining to hear him talking about the enhancement of democracy, when the only reason he’s president is (a) that his wife handed over the political party she left to him in her will. I mean, that’s how he’s become leader of the Peoples Party, that Benazir’s will—
AMY GOODMAN: Him and his son.
TARIQ ALI: Him and his son. The son is the real heir, but he is going to be the prince regent and run the country ’til the son comes of age. What has this got to do with democracy?
Secondly, it’s well known that he is one of the most corrupt politicians in the country. He grew very rich when Benazir was in power on the first two occasions and amassed enormous wealth. There are corruption charges for money laundering against him in a court in Geneva.
And the picture I wish you’d shown is at his inauguration ceremony, the only other foreign leader he invited was Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and they both hugged each other. The twins against terror. But the people now—he is completely in hock, I think, to Cheney and Khalilzad—
AMY GOODMAN: How?
TARIQ ALI: —who put him in power, because they know what he is. They know what he is in terms of his corruption. And he’s an obvious creature for them. The notion that he represents Pakistani democracy—if there were direct elections to the presidency, there’s no way he would have won. His standing now is on 14 percent.
AMY GOODMAN: He and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif split over the freeing of the—or not returning the barristers and the judges to their positions. Why didn’t Zardari support that?
TARIQ ALI: Because Zardari is hostile to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, because this is a very independent-minded chief justice and because the West, which backs Zardari at the moment, is also hostile to that chief justice being put back into power. I mean, Amy, do you know what happened? That this chief justice, when a woman said, “My—
AMY GOODMAN: Iftikhar Chaudhry.
TARIQ ALI: —Iftikhar Chaudhry said, when he was chief justice, a woman approached him, a poor woman, and she said, “My son was disappeared. I don’t know where he is. No one tells me.” This chief justice of the Supreme Court summoned the head of the Federal Intelligence Agency before the court and said, “Where is this guy?” The Federal Intelligence Agency chief said, “We have no idea what you’re talking about.” And the chief justice said, “Either you produce this prisoner before me within forty-eight hours, or you go to prison.” Language like this has never been heard in the Pakistan Supreme Court or any other. Within forty-eight hours, the guy was produced. He said, “What’s the evidence against him?” No evidence; it’s just that the US and Britain had wanted him arrested. So he ordered his release.
AMY GOODMAN: How did Zardari become president, if he only had something like 14 percent support?
TARIQ ALI: Because elections to the presidency are indirect. It’s the sitting parliament and the provincial assemblies which elect the president. His party had won those elections on the heels of Benazir’s assassination. But the minute it became clear that Zardari was up to his old tricks, not restoring the judiciary, all the opinion polls showed a very rapid decline.
AMY GOODMAN: Who would win if there were direct elections?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think that if there were direct elections and Zardari were challenged by the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, there is no doubt in my mind that Iftikhar Chaudhry would sweep to power. Or Nawaz Sharif.
AMY GOODMAN: You write—your book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power. Why The Duel?
TARIQ ALI: The duel is a long struggle which has been waged by the people of this country, nearly 200 million of them, against a corrupt political elite backed by the military and the United States now for over fifty years. They have been struggling for basic sort of necessities of life: health, education, food to eat. And every time they have been frustrated, either by military coups backed by the United States or by corrupt political elites, of which Zardari is a prime example.
This is the most callous, uncaring elite you have in Pakistan today; they don’t care about the people. Human life is cheap. A figure I quote in this book, a UN statistic, that a majority of children born in Pakistan today are being born stunted because of malnutrition. Now, this, for me, is a horrific figure. And no government under the sun in that country has ever cared for the needs of the people or done much for them. And that is the duel which goes on. And the surprise is that more poor people don’t turn to religious extremism. It would be comprehensible, but they don’t do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is Musharraf now?
TARIQ ALI: I think Musharraf is—you know, lives in the house provided, heavily guarded by the military. And my own feeling is that soon he’ll start traveling abroad. His family lives in New York. He’s got a brother—a very good guy, actually—a doctor in Chicago. But I think his—you know, he has no future in Pakistani politics.
AMY GOODMAN: Billions lost, US billions, in Pakistan, as the—under Musharraf. This will continue under Zardari? Where does that money go? Who is it shoring up?
TARIQ ALI: Well, this is always—you know, exactly how they launder this money is not known to me, but the money always disappears. And this has been the case with the money provided by the West to this elite for a long, long time. I don’t think it will be too different with Zardari.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve also written extensively about Latin America. I want to ask you about the crisis in Bolivia right now. Emergency summit in Chile, all of the Latin American leaders supporting Evo Morales. He expels the US ambassador, Goldberg, from Bolivia, saying he is part of those who are trying to push him out.
TARIQ ALI: Look, the situation in Bolivia, where I was last year, is very simple. You have an overwhelming majority of the population supporting, voting for Evo Morales, voting for his referendums, wanting a new constitution. And you have a tiny Creole, i.e. white, a privileged elite who can’t bear the thought that an Indian has got elected, a native of that country is elected president and is trying to carry out his electoral promises. So they’ve tried to topple him. They’re saying they won’t listen. They’ve got mercenaries in from neighboring countries, and they do have the backing of the United States. So, what Evo Morales has done is totally understandable.
But what is also more interesting, Amy, that we were constantly being told by the upmarket press, The Economist, New York Times, etc., that what you have in Latin America is a situation where we have moderates, like Lula and Bachelet in Chile, and hardliners, like Chavez and Morales. Well, the United States has now united them all. Bachelet has attacked what is going on in Bolivia. Lula has attacked what is going on in Bolivia. So these extremist terror actions inside Bolivia have united virtually the whole of Latin America, with the exception, of course, of Colombia.
AMY GOODMAN: And the coup? Could there be a coup that removes Morales?
TARIQ ALI: Well, if there is a coup in Bolivia that removes Morales, you then have a situation of possible civil war, because the people will not tolerate their democratically elected president being removed by a coup.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but I hope we have part two this week. The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, that is Tariq Ali’s latest book, veteran journalist, commentator, author, born in Lahore, Pakistan, works out of London.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Sex Is McCain's Political Weapon
By JoAnn Wypijewski, The Nation
Posted on September 12, 2008
A man fiddling with his wedding ring in the presence of another woman usually has something on his mind. At his introduction of Sarah Palin to the world on August 29, John McCain appeared a man possessed, playing with his ring, fastening his gaze on her breasts, her backside, his right fingers sliding up from that dratted gold band to the finger tip, pinching it as if to control the volcano stirring within him. "Boxed up," the young McCain once said in a near-frenzy, describing to a confidante the state of his emotions under the Naval Academy's discipline; the expression suited his performance that Friday in Dayton, when he finally regained composure by assuming the rigid posture of attention that the academy had taught so well.
Here was McCain, the angry old warrior, deploying sex as a central political weapon to recharge his potency, his party's fortunes and the cultural oomph of the right. Not gender. The Republicans didn't need just any woman to compete with Obama for the Wow factor, the Mmm factor, the stable, loving family factor. It is a calculated bonus that adherents can now speak loftily of making history, but for different reasons, drawing deep from the well of their identities, and not for the first time, both McCain and the right needed a sexual icon.
McCain's first wife, Carol, airbrushed from his "compelling story" even when her three children trooped onstage to complete the convention's family tableau, was a swimsuit model. Tall and slender when she saw John off to Vietnam, she was five inches shorter when he returned, broken grievously from a car accident, using a catheter and a wheelchair. "I don't look so good myself," he told her; privately he told friends the sight of her "appalled" him. He began looking for a more alluring replacement almost immediately. Carol says she has "no bitterness," according to a story by Sharon Churcher in the London Daily Mail. John just "wanted to be 25 again."
At 42 McNasty, as he was called in high school, took up with 24-year-old Cindy, a former junior rodeo queen, and, having boosted his image and his net worth via a marriage vow, soon reverted to the pattern of insults and macho egotism that has typified most of his life. He denigrated her education at USC as a tour through "the University of Spoiled Children." For all but one of several miscarriages, he left her on her own. When she was popping ten to fifteen pills a day to mask her pain and "do everything he wanted," he never noticed. In 1992, in a rage over her gentle teasing about his thinning hair, he exploded, "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt," a one-two punch hurled in front of three journalists and two aides but unreported until recently, by Cliff Schecter in The Real McCain. On the campaign trail in June he joked about "beating my wife" and took umbrage when others failed to grasp the simple good fun in the remark. In early August he said he'd encouraged Cindy to enter the Miss Buffalo Chip beauty pageant at the high-revving, flesh-swinging biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. It might have been a fine quip except that up on the stage with her daughter Meghan, staring out toward the throng where a sign urged Show Ur Tits 4 McCain, Cindy had the thin, fixed smile of endurance, not joy. Just before the Palin pick, Mrs. McCain was so brittle that a supporter's energetic handshake put her in a cast. With the press and vast swaths of the country swooning over the Obama family, John needed a new queen.
Like King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, who asserted his mastery by decreeing male headship and then held a kind of beauty pageant to replace Vashti as queen, McCain found his new "partner and soulmate" in Miss Wasilla 1984. Even Cindy, who suddenly let her hair down in bed-head style, perhaps at last relieved of the burdens of wifely duties, calls it "a perfect match." If only by association, John McCain may now fancy himself in the image of his deepest desire, top gun.
There may be a trap for him in the Book of Esther, which Sarah Palin, a biblical literalist, has used as a guide since becoming governor of Alaska, but more on that in a moment. For in her immediate ascendancy, Palin has fortified the Christian leadership that saw its first major organizing successes in the 1970s using sex as a weapon behind the banner of Miss Oklahoma 1958 (Anita Bryant) and her antigay crusade. With her husband, Todd, "quite a package," Palin has fired up the Christian rank and file, who, also since the 1970s, have been on the losing end of the economy but have drawn a diverting strength from simultaneously attacking the heralds of sexual liberation (feminists and gays) and appropriating their message: holding out mind-blowing sex as God's special gift to his truest heterosexual married believers; spawning a multimillion-dollar industry in Christian sex guides, aids, toys, soft-core porn (gussied up as novels or advice); and promoting a particular image of married womanhood as sex machine, urged, as Dagmar Herzog notes in an interesting new book, Sex in Crisis, to "keep their legs shaved and vaginas douched at all times. Just in case."
For the party's cynical power elite, who simply want to make gobs of money and have fun doing it, and never tire of a little culture war that helps them achieve both, Palin is the sex symbol they've been waiting for, better looking and more real than the ghastly gasbags Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. Rush Limbaugh, who began a push for Palin as VP in February, can hardly contain himself: "Sarah Palin: babies, guns, Jesus, hot damn!" he crowed. "We're the ones that have the babe on the ticket!" Never before has a political woman been pictured so often in a T-shirt, armed--Rambette. Never before in a major political figure has the image of Mother been merged so readily with fantasies from porno. "You Go, GILF," proclaim buttons on Republican chests, that is, Governor (or Grandmother) I'd Like to Fuck, a turn on the hungry married mom, or MILF, who has tapped the sex muscles and credit cards of porn lovers for years. While older working-class men talk of "Little Sarah" and her children, other men, including some on the left, have been rapturous in expressing their librarian fetish. "I was trying to be as frumpy as I could by wearing my hair on top of my head and these schoolmarm glasses," Palin told Vogue, as if insensible to that venerable erotic figure, the tigress unleashed once the glasses are removed and the tresses fall. Why, Mrs. Palin, you're, you're b-b-beautiful... Exactly right, sonny, and no fool either.
In Sarah Palin the right has its perfect emblem: moral avatar and commodity, uniting the put-upon woman who gushes, "She's just like me!" and the chest thumper who brays, "I'd do her, and her daughter" with those who have long exploited the fear and sorry machismo of both, with the help of another durable reactionary weapon. Now that it's official, as McCain's campaign manager said, that "this election is not about issues; this election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates," McCain's only live tag appears to be, Republicans Do It Better. Translation: small-town, gun-toting, rough-and-ready, all-American Sarah and Todd versus Barack and Michelle. White Power. (Or, close enough, White-ish.) Palin Power.
And there's the rub for McCain. It looks like Palin's party now, and whatever she does for his virility, she's not the hockey mom, or the babe, or the third wife he can stomp on. If her acceptance speech was indicative, she can match the "sneering, condescending attitude" that former Republican Senator Bob Smith says is fundamental to McCain, but with a smile and a dagger's turn. Her role model Esther doesn't just win favor from the king and a reprieve for herself and her people; she enables her people to engage in bloody slaughter against the king's other subjects, maneuvers for the public execution of his closest adviser and the man's sons, sees her de facto father become the de facto king; in sum, sabotages and unmans Ahasuerus. Palin has been too cagey to identify exactly who her people are, but in playing off cronies and oilmen in Alaska and even Christians to get where she is, she does seem to have grasped the art, so vital to politics, of the exquisitely timed double cross.
JoAnn Wypijewski, a former senior editor of The Nation, is based in New York City.
© 2008 The Nation All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/98657/
Monday, September 15, 2008
August 15, 2008 | Issue 44•33 of The Onion
"I don't want to go to school," Bolduc told his parents, the crushing reality of his situation having yet to fully dawn on his naïve consciousness. "I want to play outside with my friends."
While Bolduc stood waiting for the bus to pick him up on his first day of elementary school, his parents reportedly were able to "see the wheels turning in his little brain" as the child, for the first time in his life, began to understand how dire and hopeless his situation had actually become.
Basic math—which the child has blissfully yet to learn—clearly demonstrates that the number of years before he will be released from the horrifying prison of formal schooling, is more than twice the length of time he has yet existed. According to a conservative estimate of six hours of school five days a week for nine months of the year, Bolduc faces an estimated 14,400 hours trapped in an endless succession of nearly identical, suffocating classrooms.
This nightmarish but undeniably real scenario does not take into account additional time spent on homework, extracurricular responsibilities, or college, sources said.
"I can't wait until school is over," said the 3-foot-tall tragic figure, who would not have been able, if asked, to contemplate the amount of time between now and summer, let alone the years and years of tedium to follow.
The concept of wasting a majority of daylight hours sitting still in a classroom when he could be riding his bicycle, playing in his tree fort, or lying in the grass looking at bugs—especially considering that he had already wasted two years of his life attending preschool and kindergarten—seemed impossibly unfair to Bolduc. Moreover, sources said, he had no idea how much worse the inescapable truth will turn out to be.
Shortly after his mommy, homemaker Ellen Bolduc, 31, assured him that he would be able to resume playtime "when school lets out," Connor's innocent brain only then began to work out the implication of that sentence to its inevitable, soul-crushing conclusion.
When pressed for more detail on the exact timing of that event, Mrs. Bolduc would only reply "soon." At that point, the normally energetic child grew quiet before asking a follow-up question, "After [younger sister] Maddy's birthday?" thereby setting the stage for the first of thousands of rushing realizations he will be forced to come to grips with over the course of his subsequent existence.
Madison Ellen Bolduc was born on Sept. 28.
After learning that the first grade will continue for eight excruciating months beyond that date, it was only a matter of time before Bolduc inquired into what grade comes after first grade, and, when told, would probe further into how many grades he will have to complete before allowed to play with his friends.
The answer to that fatal question—12, a number too large for Bolduc to count on the fingers of both hands—will be enough to nearly shatter the boy's still-forming psyche, said child psychology expert Eli Wasserbaum.
"When you consider that it doesn't include another four years of secondary education, plus five more years of medical school, if he wants to follow his previously stated goal to grow up to be a doctor like his daddy, this will come as an interminably deep chasm of drudgery and imprisonment to [Connor]," said Wasserbaum. "It's difficult to know the effect on his psychological well-being when he grasps the full truth: that his education will be followed by approximately four decades of work, bills, and taxes, during which he will also rear his own children to face the same fate, all of which will, of course, be followed by a brief, almost inconsequential retirement, and his inevitable death."
"Even a 50-year-old adult would have trouble processing such a monstrous notion," Wasserbaum added. "Oh my God, I'm 50 years old."
The first of Bolduc's remaining 2,299 days of school will resume at 8 a.m. tomorrow. On the next 624 Sundays, he will also be forced to attend church.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen in Kabul
story and photos by Aaron Huey, from Shambhala Sun
In the spring of last year I drove through Kabul, Afghanistan, past rows of mortar-scarred buildings, down the Darulaman Road, a former front line in the mujahedeen war, toward the Allahoddin Orphanage. Next to me in the car sat the reason for my journey: a young yoga teacher named Molly Howitt.
What Molly showed me that day was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in Afghanistan. From the top tier of a bunk bed, in one of the largest and most corrupt government orphanages in Kabul, I saw a scene through the viewfinder of my camera unlike any other in that war-torn country.
Below me was a floor covered with bodies. Not dead, or dying, or starving, but perfectly at peace, calm, and present. A dozen young boys between the ages of 8 and 12 were lying on their backs in shavasana, arms at their sides, palms facing upward. Some were smiling; others just lay still, their minds turned inward. Before that day, through that same viewfinder, I had seen a very different set of images.
I lived in Kabul for five months of 2007, photographing the opium and heroin trade, prisons, mercenaries, and massacres, among other subjects that involved terrible loss or suffering. In Molly’s yoga class, I saw compassion, and I saw hope—hope that is desperately needed in a country that is increasingly unstable and violent. Over the past few years the Taliban have reclaimed much of the south and east of the country, and their suicide bombings are increasing in both frequency and scope.
Most of the children in the Allahoddin Orphanage have lost a father or a mother to war or illness. The country has been in a continual state of conflict for 30 years. When children enter an orphanage in Afghanistan, they find themselves in a world that is cold and violent, neglectful and punishing—a world in which they are used as props to lure in foreign donations, then locked up again once the money is guaranteed.
Molly Howitt is a 28-year-old American who moved to Kabul two years ago from New Mexico. During her first weeks in the city, she was taken to the orphanage by the director of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support for Afghanistan and offered a chance to teach yoga to the children there as part of the orphanage’s vulnerable children’s program. She was shocked by the conditions: The rooms reeked of unwashed, neglected bodies, and in the winter broken windows let in the bitter cold. The most basic necessities, beyond food and a bunk, were not met. There was very little human touch, Molly says, and hopelessness darkened the prisonlike environment.
Molly began practicing yoga twice a week with two groups of boys, using traditional techniques in playful, simple, and interactive ways. They practiced in their dormitories, where 24 bare bunk beds lined the walls of each identical room. The boys took immediately to yoga with bright, energetic smiles. They were always on time and jumping with enthusiasm before class.
At first they seemed to be responding to the activity, the fun, and the physical contact, but little by little Molly noticed changes in their ability to focus. At the end of each yoga class, the children were calm, centered, and content, and the changes migrated out of class, where other staff members noticed more positive, kind, and caring behavior in the boys throughout the day. Slowly, Molly says, they came to understand even the more subtle aspects of yoga: controlled movements, breathing, resting, and stillness.
When Molly debriefs the children at the end of each class, she usually asks them what kind of special place they went to during shavasana. Often they describe “flying” to their homes, seeing mothers or fathers or grandparents who had died. Sometimes they go to the zoo, or to a park that may or may not really exist. It’s the first step in teaching the children to take control of their thoughts and their happiness, Molly says. She finds that if children can give themselves enough space they can move away from painful thoughts to ones that give them strength. In a place so full of suffering, the comfort this simple routine provides is immeasurable.
Aaron Huey is a photographer whose work has appeared in such publications as National Geographic, the New Yorker, and Smithsonian; www.aaronhuey.com. Excerpted from Shambhala Sun(July 2008), the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award winner in the category of spiritual coverage; www.shambhalasun.com.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Mission Creep: America's Unwelcome Advances
The Pentagon's foreign overtures are running into a world of public opposition.
By Chalmers Johnson for Mother Jones
August 22, 2008
Imperialism, meaning militarily stronger nations dominating and exploiting weaker ones, has been a prominent feature of the international system for several centuries, but it may be coming to an end. Overwhelming majorities in numerous countries now condemn it—with the possible exception of some observers who believe it promotes "stability" and some United States politicians who still vigorously debate the pros and cons of America's continuing military hegemony over much of the globe.
Imperialism's current decline began in 1991 with the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the collapse of its empire. The United States now seems to be the last of a dying species—the sole remaining multinational empire. (There are only a few vestiges of the old Dutch, English, and French empires, mostly in the form of island colonies and other enclaves in and around the Caribbean.) As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made clear, the United States is increasingly stressed by the demands of maintaining its empire through its own military resources. Change is in the air.
According to the Pentagon's 2008 "Base Structure Report," its annual unclassified inventory of the real estate it owns or leases around the world, the United States maintains 761 active military "sites" in foreign countries. (That's the Defense Department's preferred term, rather than "bases," although bases are what they are.) Counting domestic military bases and those on US territories, the total is 5,429.
The overseas figure fluctuates year to year. The 2008 total is down from 823 in the Pentagon's 2007 report, but the 2007 number was up from 766 in 2006. The current total is, however, substantially less than the Cold War peak of 1,014 in 1967. Still, given that there are only 192 countries in the United Nations, 761 foreign bases is a remarkable example of imperial overstretch—even more so considering that official military reports understate the actual size of the US footprint. (The official figures omit espionage bases, those located in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and miscellaneous facilities in places considered too sensitive to discuss or which the Pentagon for its own reasons chooses to exclude—e.g. in Israel, Kosovo, or Jordan.)
"The characteristic form of US power outside its territory is not colonial, or indirect rule within a colonial framework of direct control, but a system of satellite or compliant states," observes Eric Hobsbawm, the British historian of modern empires. In this sense America behaves more like the Soviet empire in Europe after World War II than the British or French empires of the 19th century.
To garrison its empire, as of last December, the United States had 510,927 service personnel (including sailors afloat) deployed in 151 foreign countries. This includes some 196,600 fighting in Iraq and 25,700 in Afghanistan.
The reach of the US military expanded rapidly after World War II and the Korean truce, when we acquired our largest overseas enclaves in the defeated countries of Germany, Italy, and Japan, and on Allied turf in Great Britain and South Korea. But despite the wartime origins of many overseas bases, they have little to do with our national security. America does not necessarily need forward-deployed military forces to engage in either offensive or defensive operations, because domestic bases are more than sufficient for those purposes. The Air Force can shuttle troops and equipment or launch bombers from continental American bases using aerial refueling, which has been standard Strategic Air Command doctrine and practice since 1951. Only after the Cold War was well under way did the Strategic Air Command expand into several overseas bases in Canada, England, Greenland, Japan, Oman, Spain, and Thailand in an effort to complicate Soviet retaliatory strategy.
We also project power through our fleet of strategic submarines, armed with either nuclear-tipped or conventional high-explosive ballistic missiles, and some 10 naval task forces built around nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. With these floating bases dominating the seas, we need not interfere with other nations' sovereignty by forcing land bases upon them.
In fact, the purpose of our overseas bases is to maintain US dominance in the world, and to reinforce what military analyst Charles Maier calls our "empire of consumption." The United States possesses less than 5 percent of global population but consumes about one-quarter of all global resources, including petroleum. Our empire exists so we can exploit a much greater share of the world's wealth than we are entitled to, and to prevent other nations from combining against us to take their rightful share.
Some nations have, however, started to balk at America's military presence. Thanks to the policies of the Bush administration these past eight years, large majorities in numerous countries are now strongly anti-American. In June 2008, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee issued a report titled The Decline in America's Reputation: Why? It blames falling approval ratings abroad on the Iraq War, our support for repressive governments, a perception of US bias in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the "torture and abuse of prisoners." The result: a growing number of foreign protest movements objecting to the presence of American troops and their families, mercenaries, and spies.
The most serious erosion of American power appears to be occurring in Latin America, where a majority of countries either actively detest us—particularly Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba—or are hostile to our economic policies. Most have been distrustful ever since it was revealed that the US stood behind the late 20th-century tortures, disappearances, death squads, military coups, and right-wing pogroms against workers, peasants, and the educated in such countries as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and Uruguay. The citizens of Paraguay appear to be recent converts to anti-Americanism thanks to speculation that the US is trying to establish a US military presence there. The only places where American troops are still more or less welcome in Latin America are Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, and, tentatively, Peru, plus a few European colonial outposts in the Caribbean.
In Ecuador, the primary battleground has been Eloy Alfaro Air Base, located next door to Manta, Ecuador's most important Pacific seaport. In 1999, claiming to be interested only in interrupting the narcotics traffic and assisting the local population, the US military obtained a 10-year deal to use the airfield and then, after 9/11, turned it into a major hub for counterinsurgency, anti-immigrant activities, and espionage. Ecuadorians are convinced that the Americans based at Manta provided the intelligence that enabled Colombian forces to launch a March 2008 cross-border attack, killing 21 Colombian insurgents on Ecuador's turf.
In 2006, newly elected Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa declared that he wouldn't renew the American lease when it expires in November 2009—unless, he tauntingly proposed the following year, the United States would let Ecuador have a base in Miami. Correa has since offered to lease the air base to the Chinese for commercial use. Ecuador also rejected a US bid to set up a base on the island of Baltra in the Galápagos, a protected wildlife refuge. The 180 US soldiers and several hundred contractors (according to the New York Times) at Manta are said to be seeking a new home in either Colombia or Peru.
Peru has proved problematic for the Pentagon. In July 2008, the US sent close to 1,000 soldiers to "dig wells and do public health work" in the southern Ayacucho region, an area once controlled by the Shining Path guerrillas. The US deployment, while seemingly harmless, has provoked demonstrations in many Peruvian cities, where such "friendship" missions are viewed as a pretext for an expanded US military presence. There is an airfield in Ayacucho—Los Cabitos—that the Americans would like to occupy, as it might provide easy access to Bolivia and Colombia. At the end of July, Colombia's defense minister chimed in, declaring that the country will not welcome a US base, although it will continue to cooperate with US military efforts in the region.
The US faces popular protests against its bases in numerous other countries. Disputes over military pollution and the handling of soldiers suspected of crimes have led to widespread resentment of US troop presence in South Korea and the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. Meanwhile, in Italy, where the United States still has at least 83 military installations, demonstrations erupted in 2006 when it was revealed that the government would let the US Army greatly enlarge its base in the northern city of Vicenza.
A town of about 120,000 nestled midway between Venice and Verona, Vicenza was home and showplace of the renowned Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, whose work so impressed Thomas Jefferson that he incorporated Palladian themes into his plantation at Monticello and the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Vicenza already housed 6,000 US troops when, in late 2003, US officials began secretly negotiating to bring in four more Army battalions from Germany. The Americans proposed closing Vicenza's small municipal airport at Dal Molin, across town from the existing base, so they could build barracks and other facilities at the airport for 1,750 additional troops.
But locals still haven't forgotten the 1998 incident in which a US Marine pilot from nearby Aviano Air Base severed an Italian gondola cable with his jet, killing 20 skiers. The pilot, who'd been flying his Prowler faster and lower than Pentagon regulations permit, was later acquitted by a US military court, although he did serve five months in prison for destroying evidence in the form of a cockpit video. Local opposition to the Vicenza proposal led local judges to suspend work at Dal Molin in June, leading to a standoff with the Berlusconi government, which supports the base expansion. A month later, the Council of State, Italy's highest court, overturned the local decision, declaring that "the authorization of a military base is the exclusive competency of the state."
Similar disputes are unfolding in Poland, the Czech Republic, South Korea, and Japan. For several years the Pentagon has been negotiating with the Polish and Czech governments to build bases in their countries for radar-tracking and missile-launching sites as part of its proposed anti-ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) network against an alleged threat from Iran. Russia, however, does not accept the US explanation, and believes these bases are aimed at it. In July, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice successfully concluded a missile defense deal with the Czech government, but it still requires ratification by the Parliament, with two-thirds of the population said to be opposed. While the Polish government had been slow to sign on, Russia's recent attack on Georgia appears to have changed its attitude. In light of Russian assertiveness, the Poles quickly accepted the American proposal to base anti-missile missiles on their soil. It remains to be seen whether this will solidify American defensive commitments to Poland or further inflame Russia's relations with NATO.
In South Korea, America faces massive protests over its attempt to construct new headquarters at Pyeongtaek, some 40 miles south of Seoul, where it hopes to locate 17,000 troops and associated civilians, for a total of 43,000 people. Pyeongtaek would replace the Yongsan Garrison, the old Japanese headquarters in central Seoul that US troops have occupied since 1945.
Meanwhile, the United States and Japan are locked in a perennial dispute over the $1.86 billion Japan pays annually to support US troops and their families on the main islands of Japan and Okinawa. The Japanese call this the "sympathy budget" in an expression of cynicism over the fact that the US cannot seem to afford its own foreign policy. The Americans want Japan to pay more, but the Japanese have balked.
All overseas US bases create tensions with the people forced to live in their shadow, but one of the most shameful examples involves the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. During the 1960s, the US leased the island from Great Britain, which, on behalf of its new tenant, forcibly expelled the entire indigenous population, relocating the islanders some 1,200 miles away in Mauritius and the Seychelles. (See "Homesick for Camp Justice.")
Today Diego Garcia is a US naval and bomber base, espionage center, secret CIA prison, and transit point for prisoners en route to harsh interrogation at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It has an anchorage for some 20 ships, a nuclear-weapons storage facility, a 12,000-foot runway, and accommodations and amenities for 5,200 Americans and 50 British police. According to many sources, including retired General Barry McCaffrey, the base was used after 9/11 as a prison for high-value detainees from the Afghan and Iraq wars. It is called Camp Justice.
Perhaps the most recent sign of trouble brewing for America's overseas enclaves is the world's condemnation of its long-term ambitions in Iraq. In June, it was revealed that the US was secretly pressing Iraq to let it retain some 58 bases on Iraqi soil indefinitely, plus other concessions that would make Iraq a long-term dependency of the United States. (See "Our Way or the Highway.") The negotiations over a long-term American presence have been a debacle for the rule of law and what's left of America's reputation, even if the lame-duck Bush administration backs down in the end.
Like all empires of the past, the American version is destined to come to an end, either voluntarily or of necessity. When that will occur is impossible to foretell, but the pressures of America's massive indebtedness, the growing contradiction between the needs of its civilian economy and its military-industrial complex, and its dependence on a volunteer army and innumerable private contractors strongly indicate an empire built on fragile foundations. Over the next few years, resistance to America's military overtures is likely to grow, meaning the agenda of national politics will be increasingly dominated by issues of empire liquidation—peacefully or otherwise.
Chalmers Johnson is the author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. It is the final volume of his Blowback Trilogy, which includes Blowback (2000) and The Sorrows of Empire (2004).
Friday, September 05, 2008
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August 31, 2008
Tricycle's Daily Dharma
What Happens to Most Pieces of Truth
One day Mara, the Buddhist god of ignorance and evil, was traveling through the villages of India with his attendants. He saw a man doing walking meditation whose face was lit up in wonder. The man had just discovered something on the ground in front of him. Mara's attendants asked what that was and Mara replied, "A piece of truth." "Doesn't this bother you when someone finds a piece of the truth, O evil one?" his attendants asked. "No," Mara replied. "Right after this they usually make a belief out of it."
-Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield, in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book