Friday, February 25, 2011

Tom Engelhardt: We're Not the Good Guys

All-American Decline in a New World: Wars, Vampires, Burned Children, and Indelicate Imbalances
By Tom Engelhardt / February 25, 2011

This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history. Yes, comparisons can be made to the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91. For those with longer memories, perhaps 1968 might come to mind, that abortive moment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to the streets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.

For those searching the history books, perhaps you’ve focused on the year 1848 when, in a time that also mixed economic gloom with novel means of disseminating the news, the winds of freedom seemed briefly to sweep across Europe. And, of course, if enough regimes fall and the turmoil goes deep enough, there’s always 1776, the American Revolution, or 1789, the French one, to consider. Both shook up the world for decades after.

But here’s the truth of it: you have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previous paradigm, even as -- from Wisconsin to China -- it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet. Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous -- or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) -- in the presence of unarmed humanity. And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.

Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational. Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable. Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable. Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over? And if so, what will that turn out to mean? If not, what exactly are we seeing? What light bulb was it that so unexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains -- and why now? I doubt those who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves. And that’s good news. That the future remains -- always -- the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that's the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.

Nonetheless, you would expect that a ruling elite, observing such earth-shaking developments, might rethink its situation, as should the rest of us. After all, if humanity can suddenly rouse itself this way in the face of the armed power of state after state, then what's really possible on this planet of ours?

Seeing such scenes repeatedly, who wouldn’t rethink the basics? Who wouldn’t feel the urge to reimagine our world?

Let me offer as my nominee of choice not various desperate or dying Middle Eastern regimes, but Washington.

Life in the Echo Chamber

So much of what Washington did imagine in these last years proved laughable, even before this moment swept it away. Just take any old phrase from the Bush years. How about “You’re either with us or against us”? What’s striking is how little it means today. Looking back on Washington’s desperately mistaken assumptions about how our globe works, this might seem like the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.

It would seem like a good moment for Washington -- which, since September 12, 2001, has been remarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedly miscalculated the nature of global power -- to step back and recalibrate.

As it happens, there's no evidence it's doing so. In fact, that may be beyond Washington’s present capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollars it pours into “intelligence.” And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our military commanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers who swarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all. It’s as if the cast of characters that makes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.

As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that is all too swiftly passing into the history books. While many have noticed the Obama administration's hapless struggle to catch up to events in the Middle East, even as it clings to a familiar coterie of grim autocrats and oil sheiks, let me illustrate this point in another area entirely -- the largely forgotten war in Afghanistan. After all, hardly noticed, buried beneath 24/7 news from Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that war continues on its destructive, costly course with nary a blink.

Five Ways to Be Tone Deaf in Washington

You might think that, as vast swathes of the Greater Middle East are set ablaze, someone in Washington would take a new look at our Af/Pak War and wonder whether it isn’t simply beside the point. No such luck, as the following five tiny but telling examples that caught my attention indicate. Consider them proof of the well-being of the American echo chamber and evidence of the way Washington is proving incapable of rethinking its longest, most futile, and most bizarre war.

1. Let’s start with a recent New York Times op-ed, “The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter.” Published last Tuesday as Libya was passing through “the gates of hell,” it was an upbeat account of Afghan War commander General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan. Its authors, Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl, members of an increasingly militarized Washington intelligentsia, jointly head the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Nagl was part of the team that wrote the 2006 revised Army counterinsurgency manual for which Petraeus is given credit and was an advisor to the general in Iraq. Fick, a former Marine officer who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and then was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul, recently paid a first-hand visit to the country (under whose auspices we do not know).

The two of them are typical of many of Washington’s war experts who tend to develop incestuous relationships with the military, moonlighting as enablers or cheerleaders for our war commanders, and still remain go-to sources for the media.

In another society, their op-ed would simply have been considered propaganda. Here’s its money paragraph:

It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.

This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts. What our two experts are really announcing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War, 2014 will not be its end date. Not by a long shot.

Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported. Four years from now our “withdrawal” plans, according to Nagl and Fick, will leave 25,000 troops in place. If truth-telling or accuracy were the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’ Grows Longer.”

Even as the Middle East explodes and the U.S. plunges into a budget “debate” significantly powered by our stunningly expensive wars that won’t end, these two experts implicitly propose that General Petraeus and his successors fight on in Afghanistan at more than $100 billion a year into the distant reaches of time, as if nothing in the world were changing. This already seems like the definition of obliviousness and one day will undoubtedly look delusional, but it’s the business-as-usual mentality with which Washington faces a new world.

2. Or consider two striking comments General Petraeus himself made that bracket our new historical moment. At a morning briefing on January 19th, according to New York Times reporter Rod Nordland, the general was in an exultant, even triumphalist, mood about his war. It was just days before the first Egyptian demonstrators would take to the streets, and only days after Tunisian autocrat Zine Ben Ali had met the massed power of nonviolent demonstrators and fled his country. And here’s what Petraeus so exuberantly told his staff: “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go.”

It’s true that the general had, for months, not only been sending new American troops south, but ratcheting up the use of air power, increasing Special Operations night raids, and generally intensifying the war in the Taliban’s home territory. Still, under the best of circumstances, his was an exultantly odd image. It obviously called up the idea of a predator sinking its teeth into the throat of its prey, but surely somewhere in the military unconscious lurked a more classic American pop-cultural image -- the werewolf or vampire. Evidently, the general’s idea of an American future involves an extended blood feast in the Afghan version of Transylvania, for like Nagl and Fick he clearly plans to have those teeth in that jugular for a long, long time to come.

A month later, on February 19th, just as all hell was breaking loose in Bahrain and Libya, the general visited the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul and, in dismissing Afghan claims that recent American air raids in the country’s northeast had killed scores of civilians, including children, he made a comment that shocked President Hamid Karzai’s aides. We don’t have it verbatim, but the Washington Post reports that, according to “participants,” Petraeus suggested “Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.”

One Afghan at the meeting responded: "I was dizzy. My head was spinning. This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd."

In the American echo-chamber, the general’s comments may sound, if not reasonable, then understandably exuberant and emphatic: We’ve got the enemy by the throat! We didn’t create Afghan casualties; they did it to themselves! Elsewhere, they surely sound obtusely tone deaf or simply vampiric, evidence that those inside the echo chamber have no sense of how they look in a shape-shifting world.

3. Now, let’s step across an ill-defined Afghan-Pakistan border into another world of American obtuseness. On February 15th, only four days after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt, Barack Obama decided to address a growing problem in Pakistan. Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier armed with a Glock semi-automatic pistol and alone in a vehicle cruising a poor neighborhood of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, shot and killed two Pakistanis he claimed had menaced him at gunpoint. (One was evidently shot in the back.)

Davis reportedly got out of the vehicle firing his pistol, then photographed the dead bodies and called for backup. The responding vehicle, racing to the scene the wrong way in traffic, ran over a motorcyclist, killing him before fleeing. (Subsequently, the wife of one of the Pakistanis Davis killed committed suicide by ingesting rat poison.)

The Pakistani police took Davis into custody with a carful of strange equipment. No one should be surprised that this was not a set of circumstances likely to endear an already alienated population to its supposed American allies. In fact, it created a popular furor as Pakistanis reacted to what seemed like the definition of imperial impunity, especially when the U.S. government, claiming Davis was an “administrative and technical official” attached to its Lahore consulate, demanded his release on grounds of diplomatic immunity and promptly began pressuring an already weak, unpopular government with loss of aid and support.

Senator John Kerry paid a hasty visit, calls were made, and threats to cut off U.S. funds were raised in the halls of Congress. Despite what was happening elsewhere and in tumultuous Pakistan, American officials found it hard to imagine that beholden Pakistanis wouldn’t buckle.

On February 15th, with the Middle East in flames, President Obama weighed in, undoubtedly making matters worse: “With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan,” he said, “we've got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country's local prosecution."

The Pakistanis refused to give way to that “very simple principle” and not long after, “our diplomat in Pakistan” was identified by the British Guardian as a former Blackwater employee and present employee of the CIA. He was, the publication reported, involved in the Agency’s secret war in Pakistan. That war, especially much-ballyhooed and expensive “covert” drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal borderlands whose returns have been overhyped in Washington, continues to generate blowback in ways that Americans prefer not to grasp.

Of course, the president knew that Davis was a CIA agent, even when he called him “our diplomat.” As it turned out, so did the New York Times and other U.S. publications, which refrained from writing about his real position at the request of the Obama administration, even as they continued to report (evasively, if not simply untruthfully) on the case.

Given what’s happening in the region, this represents neither reasonable policy-making nor reasonable journalism. If the late Chalmers Johnson, who made the word “blowback” part of our everyday language, happens to be looking down on American policy from some niche in heaven, he must be grimly amused by the brain-dead way our top officials blithely continue to try to bulldoze the Pakistanis.

4. Meanwhile, on February 18th back in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of that country’s “largest money exchange houses,” charging “that it used billions of dollars transferred in and out of the country to help hide proceeds from illegal drug sales.”

Here’s how Ginger Thompson and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times contextualized that act: “The move is part of a delicate balancing act by the Obama administration, which aims to crack down on the corruption that reaches the highest levels of the Afghan government without derailing the counterinsurgency efforts that are dependent on Mr. Karzai’s cooperation."

In a world in which Washington’s word seems to travel ever less far with ever less authority, the response to this echo-chamber-style description, and especially its central image -- “a delicate balancing act” -- would be: no, not by a long shot.

In relation to a country that’s the prime narco-state on the planet, what could really be “delicate”? If you wanted to describe the Obama administration’s bizarre, pretzled relationship with President Karzai and his people, words like “contorted,” “confused,” and “hypocritical” would have to be trotted out. If realism prevailed, the phrase “indelicate imbalance” might be a more appropriate one to use.

5. Finally, journalist Dexter Filkins recently wrote a striking piece, “The Afghan Bank Heist,” in the New Yorker magazine on the shenanigans that brought Kabul Bank, one of Afghanistan's top financial institutions, to the edge of collapse. While bankrolling Hamid Karzai and his cronies by slipping them staggering sums of cash, the bank’s officials essentially ran off with the deposits of its customers. (Think of Kabul Bank as the institutional Bernie Madoff of Afghanistan.) In his piece, Filkins quotes an anonymous American official this way on the crooked goings-on he observed: “If this were America, fifty people would have been arrested by now.”

Consider that line the echo-chamber version of stand-up comedy as well as a reminder that only mad dogs and Americans stay out in the Afghan sun. Like a lot of Americans now in Afghanistan, that poor diplomat needs to be brought home -- and soon. He’s lost touch with the changing nature of his own country. While we claim it as our duty to bring “nation-building” and “good governance” to the benighted Afghans, at home the U.S. is being unbuilt, democracy is essentially gone with the wind, the oligarchs are having a field day, the Supreme Court has insured that massive influxes of money will rule any future elections, and the biggest crooks of all get to play their get-out-of-jail-free cards whenever they want. In fact, the Kabul Bank racket -- a big deal in an utterly impoverished society -- is a minor sideshow compared to what American banks, brokerages, mortgage and insurance companies, and other financial institutions did via their “ponzi schemes of securitization” when, in 2008, they drove the U.S. and global economies into meltdown mode.

And none of the individuals responsible went to prison, just old-fashioned Ponzi schemers like Madoff. Not one of them was even put on trial.

Just the other day, federal prosecutors dropped one of the last possible cases from the 2008 meltdown. Angelo R. Mozilo, the former chairman of Countrywide Financial Corp., once the nation’s top mortgage company, did have to settle a civil suit focused on his “ill-gotten gains” in the subprime mortgage debacle for $67.5 million, but as with his peers, no criminal charges will be filed.

We’re Not the Good Guys

Imagine this: for the first time in history, a movement of Arabs is inspiring Americans in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere. Right now, in other words, there is something new under the sun and we didn’t invent it. It’s not ours. We’re not -- catch your breath here -- even the good guys. They were the ones calling for freedom and democracy in the streets of Middle Eastern cities, while the U.S. performed another of those indelicate imbalances in favor of the thugs we’ve long supported in the Middle East.

History is now being reshaped in such a way that the previously major events of the latter years of the foreshortened American century -- the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, even 9/11 -- may all be dwarfed by this new moment. And yet, inside the Washington echo chamber, new thoughts about such developments dawn slowly. Meanwhile, our beleaguered, confused, disturbed country, with its aging, disintegrating infrastructure, is ever less the model for anyone anywhere (though again you wouldn’t know that here).

Oblivious to events, Washington clearly intends to fight its perpetual wars and garrison its perpetual bases, creating yet more blowback and destabilizing yet more places, until it eats itself alive. This is the definition of all-American decline in an unexpectedly new world. Yes, teeth may be in jugulars, but whose teeth in whose jugulars remains open to speculation, whatever General Petraeus thinks.

As the sun peeks over the horizon of the Arab world, dusk is descending on America. In the penumbra, Washington plays out the cards it once dealt itself, some from the bottom of the deck, even as other players are leaving the table. Meanwhile, somewhere out there in the land, you can just hear the faint howls. It’s feeding time and the scent of blood is in the air. Beware!

[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books). You can catch him discussing war American-style and that book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.]

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

Source / TomDispatch

Fluxed Up World

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Onward and Upward, Wisconsin Labour

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / Fluxed Up World

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Concrete Proposals for Changing Our Environmental Outcome

Wind turbines at Bangui Bay, Luzon Island, Philippines (Photo by Storm Crypt)

UNEP: $1.3 Trillion a Year Would Turn World Economy Green

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 21, 2011 (ENS) - Investing two percent of the market value of all the world's goods and services into 10 key sectors can start a transition towards a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy, the UN Environment Programme said today in a new report.

The sum, currently amounting to an average of $1.3 trillion a year, would grow the global economy at the same rate, if not higher, than forecast under current economic models, but without the rising risks, shocks, scarcities and crises common to the existing, resource-depleting, high carbon "brown" economy, says the study.

Compiled by UNEP in collaboration with economists and experts worldwide, the report was presented today to environment ministers from more than 100 countries in Nairobi at the opening of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum.

Part of a bigger macro-economic study published online, the report is aimed at accelerating sustainable development, meeting and sustaining the UN's Millennium Development Goals agreed by all world leaders in 2000, and lowering the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

It forms part of UNEP's contribution to preparations for the Rio+20 conference scheduled in Brazil next year - 20 years after 1992's landmark summit in Rio de Janeiro. There, countries agreed on Agenda 21, the world's first blueprint for sustainable development.

World leaders at the 2012 summit, set for May 14-16, are expected to agree on a political document that will guide action on sustainable development policy for decades to come and give rise to a World Environment Organization emerging from the upgrading of UNEP.

Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director, said, "The world is again on the Road to Rio, but in a world very different to the one of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992."

"Rio 2012 comes against a backdrop of rapidly diminishing natural resources and accelerating environmental change," he said, "from the loss of coral reefs and forests to the rising scarcity of productive land; from the urgent need to feed and fuel economies and the likely impacts of unchecked climate change."

"The Green Economy, as documented and illustrated in UNEP's report, offers a focused and pragmatic assessment of how countries, communities and corporations have begun to make a transition towards a more sustainable pattern of consumption and production. It is rooted in the sustainability principles agreed at Rio in 1992, while recognizing that the fundamental signals driving our economies must evolve in terms of public policy and market responses," said Steiner.

Desertification leaves the people of Niger searching for water. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne courtesy UNEP)

UNEP defines a Green Economy as "one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities."

The 10 sectors identified in the report as key to greening the global economy are: agriculture, buildings, energy supply, fisheries, forestry, industry including energy efficiency, tourism, transport, waste management and water. Such investments must be accompanied by national and international policy reforms, the report emphasizes.

"We must move beyond the polarities of the past, such as development versus environment, state versus market, and North versus South," said Steiner.

"With 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day and with more than two billion people being added to the global population by 2050, it is clear that we must continue to develop and grow our economies," said Steiner. "But this development cannot come at the expense of the very life support systems on land, in the oceans or in our atmosphere that sustain our economies, and thus, the lives of each and everyone of us."

Said economist Pavan Sukhdev, on secondment from Deutsche Bank and head of UNEP's Green Economy Initiative, "Governments have a central role in changing laws and policies, and in investing public money in public wealth to make the transition possible. By doing so, they can also unleash the trillions of dollars of private capital in favor of a Green Economy."

"Misallocation of capital is at the center of the world's current dilemmas and there are fast actions that can be taken starting literally today - from phasing down and phasing out the over $600 billion in global fossil fuel subsidizes to re-directing the more than $20 billion subsidies perversely rewarding those involved in unsustainable fisheries," Sukhdev said.

A green investment scenario achieves higher annual growth rates than a business as usual scenario within 5-10 years, the report states. Global demand for energy rises somewhat but returns to current levels by 2050, which is about 40 percent less than what is expected under business as usual due to substantial advances in energy efficiency.

UNEP chief Achim Steiner with representatives of the Tunza Youth Advisory Council in Nairobi, February 19, 2011 (Photo courtesy UNEP)

A green investment scenario is projected to reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by about one-third by 2050 compared to current levels. The atmospheric concentration of emissions should be held below 450 parts per million by 2050, a level essential for having a chance to limit global warming to the 2°C threshold most climate scientists say must be met to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

"A Green Economy is not about stifling growth and prosperity," said Sukhdev. "It is about reconnecting with what is real wealth; re-investing in rather than just mining natural capital; and, favoring the many over the few. It is also about a global economy that recognizes the intergenerational responsibility of nations to hand over a healthy, functioning and productive planet to the young people of today and those yet to be born."

"The Green Economy provides a vital part of the answer of how to keep humanity's ecological footprint within planetary boundaries," said Steiner. "It aims to link the environmental imperatives for changing course to economic and social outcomes - in particular economic development, jobs and equity."

Transition to a green economy will not be without its risks and challenges - from "greening" traditional brown sectors to meeting rapidly changing market demands in a carbon constrained world, the report finds.

Therefore, it concludes, "world leaders, civil society and leading businesses must engage collaboratively to rethink and redefine traditional measures of wealth, prosperity and well-being. What is clear is that the biggest risk of all would be to continue with the status quo."

Click here to read the report, "Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication - A Synthesis for Policy Makers," and the full draft chapters, including the modeling and scenarios.

Source / Environmental News Service

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Passing Off Cultural Pathology as Intelligence

When a Country Goes Insane
By Robert Freeman / February 21, 2011

This must be what it’s like when a country goes insane, when it falls down a rabbit hole and tries to pretend that everything is normal.

It can’t tell truths from lies. Hucksters pose as upright men, and people imagine they are Solons, avatars of insight come down from the ages. Sleazy operators pass themselves off as statesmen, as thinkers of deep gravitas, and the crowds, unable to distinguish sanctimony from sincerity, bravado from bullshit, lap it up.

Let’s be clear. It was the Republicans who wrecked the economy. Both their people and their policies drove the economy into the ditch. They wrecked the economy not once, but twice in the last eighty years.

So Republicans condescending to instruct Americans about how to fix the economy is like the captain of the Titanic lecturing shipping operators about safe procedures for navigating the north Atlantic. No sane society would tolerate it. But this one does.

How bad is it this time?

Six million people have lost their jobs. Twenty five million are underemployed. Many will never work again. Eight trillion dollars of middle class wealth has been destroyed in the housing collapse. One out of four mortgage holders are under water, owing more on their home than it’s worth. Fifty million people are living in poverty. One out of eight Americans are on food stamps. One of every two children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives.

How much worse can it get?

And the rich? Corporate profits are at an all-time high. But corporate taxes — not the imaginary “nominal” rates they whine so bitterly about, but the taxes actually paid — are among the lowest in the industrial world. Income inequality is at its highest level since 1917. Between 2000 and 2006, two thirds of all the growth in the entire economy went to the top 1%. And the “too big to fail” banks, those that wrecked the economy and extorted trillions of dollars from the government to rescue them? They are now even bigger.

How much better can it get?

And the Republicans’ response? The working and middle class need to pay. Never mind that it was Reagan and Bush I who quadrupled the national debt in only 12 years, and Bush II who doubled it again in only eight, all to grease the pockets of their wealthy base. It’s the working and middle class who need to be bled. They still have assets that can be milked from them. They can still be made more subservient, more docile.

They need to give up the union protections that have afforded them the slightest bargaining power against the largest organizations on earth. They need to give up environmental protections, even though every one of them have rocket fuel in their bodies from water contamination. They need to give up the mortgage interest deductions that allowed them to buy and own their own homes.

They need to give up government help with college loans that allowed their children to get the education they could never have. They need to give up any expectation of extended unemployment insurance, even though there are five people looking for every job available. They need to give up the retirement protections that Social Security has promised them for the past 75 years.

In other words, they need to give up any expectation of security, or dignity. They need to give up any childish illusions that they have any say in the government, that it is operated for any such quaint Madisonian ends as “the general welfare.” They need to put on their kneepads and accustom themselves to being grateful servants to their new feudal masters, assuming their masters will have them. It’s sickening.

Even though it was trillions of dollars of government bail-outs that saved the banks and their shareholders from bankruptcy… Even though it was government stimulus that reversed the 750,000 monthly job losses that were savaging the economy when Obama took office… Even though it was government FDIC insurance that protected millions of savers from being wiped out, and unemployment insurance that mitigated the collapse of aggregate demand, staving off another Great Depression…

It’s the poor, the working, and the middle classes that must be made to pay, for in the Republicans’ psychotic world government is existentially bad because it is through government that democracy tries to modulate the worst excesses of capitalism, which is existentially good.

It’s almost surrealistic. But decades of relentless Republican hate-mongering against the government has done its job.

Never mind that it was government that pulled off the greatest feat of social engineering in history. In 1900, only 4% of Americans graduated from high school. By 2000, more than 80% did. It was this mass educated public that made possible the most technically sophisticated economy in the history of the world.

It was government that won both World War I and World War II, leaving the U.S. economy astride the world like a colossus, able to harvest the fruits for decades. It was the government GI Bill program that educated a generation of young people to ultimately defeat the Soviet Union.

It was the government that wired every house in the country for electricity during the Great Depression, setting up the largest household consumer-goods market in the world in the 1950s: home appliances. And it was government guarantees for home loans that set off the greatest building boom in the history of the world: suburbia.

It was government that paved more than 3 million miles of road between 1930 and 1960, making possible the massive economic boom associated with automobiles, mass mobility, and more. It was government research that invented the graphical user interface and the Internet.

None of that matters.

Hate is stronger than logic and more than anything else, Republicans love their hate. It’s the only thing that gives them power. The more vicious, the more loony they are, the more they are treated like savants, like prophets channeling some higher wisdom, come though it may from the self-loathing gutter of political prostitution. They pull stuff out of their ass and brazenly pass it off as stone tablets. And people swoon.

Of course, you can understand why. The media genuflect before gibberish and idolize idiocy. They are the media-tors of a Gresham’s Law of public discourse where bad information drives out good. For their own slick whoring they become “players,” while everybody else is left with a debauched civic currency, a crushed economy, and a collective impotence that makes true democracy and true prosperity impossible.

Alice in Wonderland would be amazed, even repulsed, that such cultural pathology passes for intelligence, even civilization. At least she stood up to the inanities of the Mad Hatter, the insanities of the Queen of Hearts, the arrogant deceits of Humpty Dumpty. But she didn’t live in today’s America.

[Robert Freeman writes on economics, history and education. He teaches history and economics at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. and is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a national non-profit that helps American students build schools in the developing world through contributions of one dollar. He can reached at]

Source / Common Dreams

Fluxed Up World

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Day, This Case Will Be Heard

George Bush told NBC's Matt Lauer that critics of waterboarding should read his memoirs. Photograph: NBCU photobank/Rex Features.

George Bush: no escaping torture charges
By Katherine Gallagher / February 8, 2011

Sooner or later, Bush will step into a country where he will be prosecuted for authorising the abuses of the 'war on terror'

Late last year, former US President George W Bush recounted in his memoir, Decision Points, that when he was asked in 2002 if it was permissible to waterboard a detainee held in secret CIA custody outside the United States, he answered "damn right". This "decision point" led to the waterboarding of that person 183 times in one month. Others were waterboarded, as well.

Waterboarding is torture. In the past, the US prosecuted and convicted Japanese officials who waterboarded US and allied prisoners. US Attorney General Eric Holder has unequivocally stated that waterboarding is torture.

The United States is under an absolute obligation under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) to investigate, prosecute and punish torturers. And yet, here was the former president of the United States admitting he authorised torture. And nothing.

The raison d'etre of the Convention Against Torture is to eradicate torture. And one of the primary tools for preventing torture is to prosecute and punish those who are found to have tortured. In failing to prosecute – or even investigate – George W Bush following his admission, the United States failed to uphold its obligations under CAT.

George Bush was supposed to travel to Geneva later this week to attend a charity gala. Switzerland is also a signatory to the Convention Against Torture – and, as a party to CAT, has undertaken that it will prosecute or extradite for prosecution anyone present in its territory who it has a reasonable basis for believing has committed torture. As calls for Switzerland to investigate Bush for torture mounted, and news began to spread that complaints would be filed on Monday morning by two people held in US custody during Bush's years in office and tortured, the announcement came that Bush had cancelled his trip.

Switzerland, at least for the time being, will not be called upon to examine the regime that governed detentions at Guantánamo, the redefinition of torture that allowed for interrogation techniques that could constitute torture, and the use of stress positions, manipulation of food, sleep and temperatures, forced nudity and excessive force against detainees. The Geneva prosecutor will also now not have to comb through the nearly 200-page UN report into global practices in relation to secret detention. This report examined the "black sites" established under Bush to hold detainees in CIA custody and interrogate detainees using so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques", which have been found to constitute torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The prosecutor will also now not be confronted with the International Committee of the Red Cross's stark conclusions about this programme (pdf):

"This regime was clearly designed to undermine human dignity and to create a sense of futility by inducing, in many cases, severe physical and mental pain and suffering, with the aim of obtaining compliance and extracting information, resulting in exhaustion, depersonalisation and dehumanisation."

George Bush himself would also have been an excellent source of evidence in support of opening an investigation for torture: Bush acknowledged on numerous occasions that he authorised and condoned the waterboarding of detainees held in US custody. In September 2006, Bush told the world that under his leadership and authority, the United States had "changed its policies" and was using an "alternative set of procedures" on persons in secret detention facilities run by the CIA outside the United States – in violation of international law. Bush had authorised the creation of the CIA secret detention programme five years earlier. Bush confirmed that he approved the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques".

The presentation of this evidence and this case must now wait for another day, and for another country to fill the impunity gap created by the refusal of the US department of justice to open an investigation in George Bush and the torture programme he authorised. There are 147 signatory states to the Convention Against Torture, and each has the obligation to open an investigation – should George Bush decide to travel to one of these countries. Bush, as a former president, enjoys no immunity from prosecution for torture.

The case against Bush for torture will not be taken up in Switzerland this week. But one day, this case will be heard.

Source / The Guardian

Thanks to Deva Wood / Fluxed Up World

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Searching for the Features of a Post-Capitalist Society

Global Crisis Strengthens WSF’s Legitimacy
By Julio Godoy / February 5, 2011

European non-governmental organisations combating neo-liberal globalisation find their position vindicated by the ongoing socio-economic and environmental crisis upsetting the world.

The legitimacy of the demands of the European members of the World Social Forum (WSF) is not only founded in the massive support they enjoy from workers and peasants groups across the globe. Now, it enjoys the endorsement of governments which not long ago were supporters of neo-liberal globalisation.

"The endorsement by European governments of our basic demands, such as the transaction tax, constitutes a great satisfaction," Hugo Braun, of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC), told IPS.

"But European governments must still realise that the global crisis cannot be solved with simply declarations of intentions. The system cannot be repaired, the system must be replaced by another one," Braun said. "We need a strict control of financial markets, a democratisation of the economy, a transfer of wealth from the top of society to the lower classes, on a global basis."

Braun, who is taking part in the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, said that the main subject of the gathering should be "the search for the features of a post capitalistic society. Profit driven capitalism cannot solve the crisis, it is rather the cause of it."

The financial transaction tax is one of the most emblematic demands of European NGOs opposed to neo-liberalism. The idea - which calls for the exaction of a small fee on all speculative financial transactions to pay for development projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America - is based on the proposal of late Nobel Prize winner in economics James Tobin. In 1997 the tax was the founding pillar of the ATTAC group in France.

ATTAC is a founding member of the European Social Forum (ESF) and of the WSF.

The call for a financial transaction tax has recently been endorsed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who promised to put it on the agenda of the Group of 8 and the Group of 20 debates. During 2011, France will be coordinating both groups.

The German government publicly stated its support for Sarkozy’s plan to put the financial transaction tax high on the G-8 and G-20 agendas this year. Sarkozy also announced that his government would propose control instruments against speculation in foodstuff markets to stop rising prices and guarantee food supply.

With general awareness of the global economic and environmental crisis, several themes that have defined the WSF for the last 10 years have become standard parts of a critique of neo-liberalism - from rejection of free trade to denouncing intensive agriculture and the privatisation of public services.

"The alter globalisation movement represented by the World Social Forum has renewed contemporary politics," says French journalist Laurent Joffrin, director of the daily newspaper Liberation.

Joffrin points out that the international political agenda is now dominated by numerous themes the WSF and its member organisations rescued from indifference - such as the plight of landless workers in developing countries, the rejection of intensive agriculture and industrial production of food, and the constraints imposed by the global environmental crisis.

"The WSF… forces the traditional Left to revise its own positions on all these subjects, including international trade, tax justice, financial globalisation, and climate change refugees," Joffrin said.

While during the first half of the past decade, governments of the industrialised countries of the world followed the old maxim of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, that there was "no alternative" to neo-liberal globalisation, the WSF has insisted since its beginnings that "Another World is Possible."

The global financial crisis - provoked by neo-liberal deregulation, and its spill over into the entire economy - has proven that the Thatcherite position was self-destructive, and that alternatives on how governments can cope with financial markets and in general economic globalisation are not only possible but more importantly, indispensable.

Braun pointed to the growing emissions of greenhouse gases - despite the global awareness that reducing these emissions is central to stopping and reverting climate change. "Instead of reducing emissions, profit driven capitalism continues to heat the Earth," he explained.

Braun also referred to the socio-economic consequences of climate change, and the urgent need to establish global climate justice, in favour of developing countries and of future generations.

Confronted with the criticism that the WSF is just another NGO fair, without real impact in global politics, Braun said that indeed "the WSF needs to mobilise people, make people realise that only organised popular political pressure can make governments and corporations change their behaviour."

Braun pointed out that ATTAC and other NGOs are organising a "global action day" in favour of the financial transaction tax. "On Feb. 17, we will carry out demonstrations across European capitals to support the transaction tax, at least at the European level," he said.

Source / IPS - Inter Press Service

Fluxed Up World

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Then the Joke Is On You

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Roger Baker / Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Sport of Health Care in Amerikkka

Super Bowl Commercial for the Dead Patients
By Donna Smith February 5, 2011

I'd love to see a Super Bowl commercial Sunday that stated the facts about how many Americans will die on Super Bowl Sunday this year because they didn't have access to the healthcare they needed. 123 will die on Sunday, and perhaps a photo of one of the dead every 12 minutes or so during a commercial break would be instructive. That's how often someone dies in the country because he or she couldn't get care.

The Dead Patient's Society grows larger by 123 every single day in America. There is no time off for major sporting events.

Every 12 minutes while we jam in nachos and giggle about the most creative Super Bowl ads, someone will die who could have -- should have -- been saved. That dead person didn't have the cash or the credit or the insurance approval to get the care he or she might have accessed in order to survive to see the Packers and the Steelers play.

The patients die while doctors and hospitals hold at arm's length the treatments that could have saved lives. I don't understand how they do it. I have never understood how the people or provider organizations that take oaths to care for the sick and relieve suffering can get a phone call from an insurance company and then turn their backs when payment is denied. Or how they see a shivering, hurting person and turn them away when care is so easily available. Too bad we cannot run the sick to the field on Super Bowl Sunday and have teams of medical experts rush to treat them. But then they are not star football players, are they?

Oh, I understand the evil empire of the for-profit insurance giants and that providers cannot give away healthcare lest they go broke. I do get that. But, still, I do not know how neighbors turn their backs on neighbors and doctors turn their backs on patients. I couldn't do it. Maybe I am weak in that regard. I always wonder why we don't see and hear more about the dear doctors and providers who defy the financial death warrants and treat people in spite of the financial risk. I know there are some. We just don't hear about them too much. Some doctors say they have to be careful lest their hospitals and other doctors punish them for speaking or acting outside the profit-making fold.

The death every 12 minutes of a sick or injured American won't make the news on Super Bowl Sunday. It didn't make the news today, and it won't make the news tomorrow. We care an awful lot more about the big game than the end game for patients in America.

The membership ranks grow daily from all walks of life, all ages and from all across the nation. While a people's revolution unfolds in Egypt -- and perhaps beyond -- American patients are staging their own silent and deadly revolt. Slow, wasting, preventable deaths don't make the evening news in America or elsewhere.

The 123 Americans who died today without access to life-saving treatment are part of the acceptable cost of doing business for the American healthcare industry -- and they are part of the acceptable political casualties for those elected to govern for the common good who just don't quite do that.

Even our loved ones and neighbors are sometimes immune to the ravages of patients' realities. Obedient up until the very brutal end, patients and families often don't know how to fight back against the hospitals and providers who won't supply the care -- or they are mislead into thinking there is nothing that can be done, and the insurance companies that deny the treatment suffer only minimal challenges to their control over life and death decisions for thousands and thousands of people every month.

Monday morning, the big game will be over. Either the Steelers or the Packers will be the champions, and we'll look forward to next year's football season and the chance that our favorite team might make it to the big game. For me, it's the Broncos, so chances aren't so great.

But for hundreds of Americans, there will be no new season. The rest of us will have been very distracted by all the energy surrounding the game and the hype.

If we had a progressively financed, single-standard of high quality care for all in America, more Americans could enjoy life more fully and be more a part of the communities in which they live. I'm betting many of those who will die this Super Bowl weekend would rather have been cheese-heads than deadheads. But I am also betting most Americans will not be thinking too much about that while such a large and showy distraction allows so many of us to look away.

But if there were a face every 12 minutes on one of those super important, Super Bowl commercial breaks, and a brief line or two about why that person just died and how simple it might have been to save that life, maybe we'd be forced to face our super bowl of suffering. And maybe if we posted a price tag for that live-saving treatment denied, we'd be able to compare the cost for advertising time during the Super Bowl compared to cost to save a life. At least we ought to know honestly what our values really are -- saving human life just really isn't one of our super-priorities.

[Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses United (the new national arm of the California Nurses Association) and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.]

Source / Common Dreams

Fluxed Up World

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