Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Who is Paul Volcker? Obama appoints a longtime enemy of the working class

By Patrick Martin
29 November 2008

President-elect Barack Obama announced Wednesday the appointment of former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker to head a White House advisory board to oversee the new administration's policies for stabilizing financial markets. The selection of the 81-year-old Volcker puts an inveterate enemy of the working class at the side of the new president, and demonstrates the class character of the right-wing government that Obama is assembling.

In the course of the week, Obama selected his entire economic team: Timothy Geithner, currently president of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve, who will become secretary of the treasury; Lawrence Summers, former Clinton treasury secretary, who will head the National Economic Council, the chief White House group for coordinating economic policy; and Peter Orszag, who will become budget director. Summers, Geithner and Orszag are all protégés of former Clinton treasury secretary Robert Rubin, former CEO of Goldman Sachs and now director and vice chairman of Citigroup.

These appointments have been greeted favorably on Wall Street, with a 1,200-point runup in stock prices since Geithner's name was made public last Friday. Congressional Republicans hailed the selection of Geithner and Summers, and an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal November 28 by former Bush political adviser Karl Rove was headlined, "Thanksgiving Cheer From Obama: He's assembled a first-rate economic team."

But it is the selection of Volcker that is the sharpest warning to the working class. No other individual in modern US history is so closely identified with the deliberate creation of mass unemployment to drive down wages and smash the organized resistance of the working class to the demands of corporate America. He put into motion policies that led to the destruction of large sections of industry and the explosive growth of financial speculation in the US economy.

Volcker served as Fed Chairman from 1979 to 1987, a critical period in the history of the American working class, in which the official labor movement was effectively destroyed as an instrument of workers' self-defense, and the unions transformed into what they are today: a mechanism for the suppression of workers' struggles and the destruction of their jobs and wages.

Democratic President Jimmy Carter nominated Volcker—a former Chase Manhattan Bank executive—to head the Federal Reserve in August 1979, at a turning point for the American ruling class and world capitalism as a whole. The coming to power of Margaret Thatcher in Britain three months earlier first signaled the drastic shift to the right internationally on the part of big business. The selection of Volcker initiated a similar shift within the United States, which culminated in November 1980 when Ronald Reagan defeated Carter for reelection.

Runaway price inflation had sparked a series of bitter strikes by workers seeking to defend their living standards, and the Carter administration had suffered a humiliating defeat when more than 100,000 coal miners struck for 111 days in 1977-78 in defiance of a presidential no-strike order under the Taft-Hartley Law. The White House had been unable to cow the miners into submission—they publicly burned copies of the president's back-to-work order on the picket line—and Carter was compelled to rely on the leadership of the United Mine Workers union to deprive the rank-and-file of any gains from their struggle.

Volcker was brought in to initiate policies that would suppress inflation—and the wages movement in the working class—by driving up the rate of unemployment. Under his leadership, the Federal Reserve rapidly raised interest rates to an unprecedented 20 percent, choking off home-buying and purchases of cars and other durable goods and triggering a series of corporate bankruptcies.

The economic turmoil contributed heavily to Carter's defeat in the presidential contest, but that prospect did not faze Volcker, whose loyalty to the Democratic Party and the president who nominated him took a distant second place to his devotion to the long-term interests of American capitalism, which required the most draconian methods.

Once Reagan entered the White House in January 1981, Volcker worked closely with the new Republican administration, and was reappointed by Reagan in 1983 to continue his inflation-fighting course. In 1982-83, the US economy plunged into the sharpest recession of the post-World War II period.

The economic devastation was focused particularly in the industrial Midwest—steel mills, auto plants, coal mines were shut down, many of them permanently. The city of Detroit began the downward slide that has continued to this day, and Buffalo, Akron, Youngstown, Gary, Indiana and countless industrial towns followed suit.

The response to the attacks by big business and the Reagan administration was the biggest wave of strike struggles since the 1940s, beginning with the PATCO air traffic controllers strike in August 1981, where Reagan ordered the firing of 12,000 workers and made the firings stick. He had the backing of the entire US ruling elite, Democrats and Republicans alike, and critical assistance from the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, which blocked any large-scale mobilization of workers behind the PATCO strikers, leaving them to isolation and defeat.

Volcker famously praised Reagan for breaking the PATCO strike, calling his action the most important factor in bringing inflation under control.

PATCO set the pattern for the struggles which followed: Greyhound, Phelps Dodge, Hormel, International Paper, A. T. Massey Coal, Continental Airlines, and Eastern Airlines. Isolated groups of workers engaged in militant and protracted battles, in many cases against state repression and employer violence, all stabbed in the back by the AFL-CIO. The outcome was the destruction of union locals, the arrest, imprisonment and even murder of striking workers, the strengthening of the bureaucratic apparatus, and the emergence of corporatism—labor-management "partnership" —as the guiding philosophy of the American unions.

Throughout this period, there was a bipartisan anti-labor front in Washington: Republican Reagan in the White House, Democrat Volcker at the Fed, a Republican-controlled US Senate, and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Democratic governors and mayors worked hand-in-glove with unionbusting corporations, calling out the National Guard or mobilizing local police against strikes in Arizona, Minnesota, Kentucky, West Virginia and countless cities and towns.

Particularly relevant today is the role played by the Democrats in the bailout of Chrysler Corporation in 1979-80. The Carter administration provided loan guarantees to Chrysler in return for concessions by the United Auto Workers union, including the first-ever cuts in wages and benefits imposed by a major American trade union on its own membership—setting the pattern for the concessions bargaining of the 1980s.

Like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, Volcker now goes back to Washington as a principal adviser to another Democratic Party administration preparing to bail out bankrupt auto manufacturers at the expense of the auto workers and the working class as a whole. He can rely on his direct personal experience with the UAW bureaucracy to demand that the union finish the job it began three decades ago: transforming what was once the most powerful section of the American working class into a super-exploited mass of low-paid, casual laborers, without any rights.

When Obama announced that he was establishing the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, with Volcker as its head, he praised the "sound and independent judgment" of the former Fed chairman. That "judgment" included early support for Obama's presidential campaign—he gave $2,300 to Obama's primary campaign last February, the most Volcker has ever contributed to any candidate, Democrat or Republican.

"Paul Volcker hasn't been in Washington for quite some time," Obama said, "and that's part of the reason he can provide a fresh perspective."

Volcker's record from 1979 to 1987 suggests what this "fresh perspective" will consist of. Unemployment in the United States reached 11.3 percent in 1982, double the level of 1975. The average wage of young workers fell 30 percent by 1987. Infant mortality, family violence, drug addiction and other concomitants of economic hardship soared.

But the wealthiest 1 percent of the population saw a staggering 50 percent increase in their wealth during that period. That is why the American ruling elite remembers the Volcker years fondly, and why, acting through their servant Obama, the financial aristocracy has summoned the old reactionary for one last service in attacking the working class.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Gates appointment: Obama slaps antiwar voters in the face

28 November 2008

The agreement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain at the Pentagon under the incoming Democratic administration—widely reported in the US media over the past 24 hours—is the starkest and most brazen rebuff given by President-elect Barack Obama to the tens of millions who voted for him based on the false promise that he would bring “change” to Washington.

George W. Bush appointed Gates to head the Pentagon in November 2006, two years ago, following the Republican debacle in the congressional elections and the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. While millions voted for the Democrats in 2006 in an effort to compel an end to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration went in the opposite direction, escalating the US military intervention through the “surge” of an additional 30,000 combat troops. (The congressional Democrats dutifully went along, appropriating the funds required to pay for the surge and confirming Gates, General David W. Petraeus and other top officials).

Gates played a key role in these events—the appointment of Petraeus as chief US commander in Iraq, the bloody fighting of the spring and summer of 2007, with the highest US casualties of the war, the enormous increase in aerial bombardment, with a shattering effect on Iraqi society, and the combination of bribery and repression that split both the Sunni and Shi’ite opposition to the US occupation regime.

Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination over Senator Hillary Clinton in large measure because he appealed to the same antiwar sentiments that had propelled the Democrats to their victory in the 2006 congressional elections. His mantra throughout the primary campaign—a rebuke to Clinton and other rival Democratic candidates who had voted for war in the Senate—was that he would end the war in Iraq, “a war that should never have been authorized and never been fought.”

Now, with the retention of Gates at the Pentagon, and the widely reported offer of the State Department to Clinton—as well as the selection of a slew of pro-war figures for lesser national security positions—Obama is reassuring the military, the intelligence agencies and the ruling elite as a whole that he will be firmly committed to the defense of US imperialism, including clinging to every inch of territory and every drop of oil secured by the Bush administration’s criminal aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was widely noted in the US media that Gates is the first Pentagon chief in US history to be retained after a change of party in the White House. That Obama is sending a signal of his future policy was acknowledged both by media outlets generally supportive of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq and those more critical.

The Wall Street Journal called the decision “the clearest indication to date of the incoming administration’s thinking about Iraq and Afghanistan. The defense secretary has opposed a firm timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq, so his appointment could mean that Mr. Obama was further moving away from his campaign promise to remove most combat troops from Iraq by mid-2010. The two men largely see eye-to-eye on Afghanistan, which will be the new administration’s main national-security priority.”

The New York Times suggested that “Mr. Gates will now have to pivot from serving the commander in chief who started the Iraq war to serving one who has promised to end it.” But the newspaper acknowledged that it was Obama rather than Gates who was shifting gears. “In deciding to ask Mr. Gates to stay, Mr. Obama put aside concerns that he would send a jarring signal after a political campaign in which he made opposition to the war his signature issue in the early days.”

There have been attempts by Obama’s apologists in liberal quarters such as The Nation to claim that Obama himself will set the policy, including a gradual pullout from Iraq, and that he has only assembled a hawkish lineup of appointees to forestall right-wing criticism of his foreign policy. This begs the question, of course, of why figures such as Gates, Clinton and retired General James Jones, tipped for national security adviser, would agree to play a role in such a charade. An even better question would be: what assurances has Obama made to Gates about the future course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to obtain his agreement to continue in office?

More than a million people have been killed in the bloodbath unleashed by the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Five million have been displaced from their homes. Iraq has been destroyed as a functioning society. Afghanistan is already in ruins after 30 years of US-instigated warfare, and Pakistan is well on its way to becoming the next battlefield in the region.

In the eyes of most of the world’s population, and millions of Americans, Gates deserves a prominent place in the dock at a future war crimes tribunal, alongside Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Colin Powell, and others responsible for the greatest act of mass murder in the twenty-first century. In retaining Gates, and thereby embracing the policies of occupation and semi-colonial domination with which he is associated, Obama is dropping any antiwar pretense and emerging openly as the newest commander-in-chief of American imperialism.

Patrick Martin

Learning to Lead

by Dahr Jamail
November 26th, 2008 | T r u t h o u t

“Observance of customs and laws can very easily be a cloak for a lie so subtle that our fellow human beings are unable to detect it. It may help us to escape all criticism, we may even be able to deceive ourselves in the belief of our obvious righteousness. But deep down, below the surface of the average man’s conscience, he hears a voice whispering, ‘There is something not right,’ no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or by the moral code.”
- Carl Gustav Jung

What’s in a system?

We in the United States have grown acclimatized to a system that first dehumanizes us and then inevitably feeds on our dehumanization, sucking away at our resources, our rights, and our resistance while we scamper frantically around in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

We would like to imagine that it is our agency that drives us, and that our lives are under our control. The truth, however, is that we are the ones under control. The reason we do not notice it is that this control is masked as security, which we have been told is synonymous with freedom.

Recently, I passed through an airport checkpoint monitored by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and witnessed the “system” rear its ugly head yet again.

TSA is one of several security gifts from the Bush administration, or rather, from the twisted conjunction of corporate business and state power that oversees and safeguards our “freedom” and “democracy” through an elaborate system of control mechanisms.

Immediately in front of me, an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair was trying to reason with the security guard who was asking him to take off his sandals. “What do you want me to do? I didn’t wear socks so you could see my feet since I’m unable to bend over and take off my sandals.”

“Sir, you must comply with policy,” the guard said in a raised voice, as three other TSA agents moved in behind him, arms folded ominously across their chests, and surrounded the elderly man in the wheelchair who requested their assistance, doing what he could to “comply.” None of the guards stepped forward to take off his sandals for him in order to check his feet.

In exasperation he shouted, “I’m asking for help, and you won’t do it, so what do you want me to do? What the Hell am I supposed to do? What are you afraid of? I’m an old man in a wheelchair! Are you afraid of my sandals?”

The guards would not allow him through the x-ray until he eventually lowered his voice. We must never upset the status quo, because that is an important pillar of a system that holds change in dread. Do not rock the boat, and don’t you dare speak up, lest it indicate that something is wrong.

It requires no crystal ball to see that we are embedded in a system that has no qualms about harassing old men in wheelchairs or making pregnant women walk through x-ray machines. It is the same system that is killing scores of Iraqi and Afghan civilians daily, and killing the planet systemically. It is a system that requires us to be sleepwalkers, rather than alert and sensitive humans.

A Symbol Is Born

My partner was in Tanzania recently. I quote from an email from her which encapsulates the elation that individuals and societies across the globe have experienced at the unprecedented outcome of the recent presidential election in the United States. “My short band radio was already on, tuned to the BBC … I bent down to photograph a small beautiful white flower that grows on the plains here, and as I clicked the shutter, the radio announced that Obama had won the election … It was an incredible moment, to be here in East Africa as we elected our first African-American President.”

Indeed, the profundity of an African-American being elected into the office of the president of the United States of America cannot be overstated. Barack Obama will soon be living, with his family, in a White House that was constructed by black slaves. The significance is not lost on most of us, or on people across the world, especially in Africa. Indeed, the times they are a-changing.

The entire presidential campaign was abuzz with talk of change. Barack Obama, elected, symbolizes the deep desire for change in our country. We thirst for it like one would for cool water in the desert. Our lungs are starved for a breath of positive change in a new direction. We crave a genuine diversion from the death-wish course that corporate capitalism has been pursuing for as long back as most adults in this country can remember.

The victory of Barack Obama symbolizes our need for change. The inhabitants of this planet are beginning to sense the need for something that can replace the willful and self defeating death urge of corporate consumer culture that is bent upon destroying everything. The fate of the world, one could argue, is dependent on a shift in consciousness. The election of Barack Obama has demonstrated that this shift is, in fact, occurring.

My partner wrote that her entire journey “… has been wonderfully saturated by the immense excitement for Obama. Being so close to Kenya, the local news shows images of his family’s joy and the villagers dancing, and also Kenya’s own mock election of our candidates. I haven’t met a single person, who upon learning of my US citizenship didn’t initiate a conversation about Obama and the future of the US. They are thrilled, and seemingly proud, of America poised for change … and as I traverse one corner of this massive continent, I hear it over and over again: ‘We love Obama - he has a hard road ahead of him, but the world is ready to stand by him.’ One woman chose to clarify to me ‘… and it’s not because he’s black-skinned that we believe in him …’”

She continued, “After eight years of feeling angry at and ashamed by the actions of the Bush administration, and in the very moments of worldwide celebration for our country’s clear voice for a new path, I find myself feeling a certain excitement for the challenging road that lies ahead for our country. Here, amidst nearby turmoil and tribal conflicts, Africa is, as is the whole world, looking to us again with a sense of renewed possibility in their eyes.”

Undeniably, there is possibility in this moment.

But is there change?

Since it is the United States that is primarily responsible for dragging the world economy into a recession, much of the world is now relying on it to provide the solution. Needless to say, the same applies to our vainglorious attempts at empire building, our excessive contribution to heedless pollution, our invasion of sovereign states, our transgressions and violations of international law….

We have an African-American president, but let us also bear in mind that he is but a symbol, and our need and faith may not suffice for the symbol of change to deliver real change.

There is a tremendous schism between what Barack Obama is saying, and what he is doing. Already, he is gathering around him a group of people that are not only likely to maintain status quo, but worse, cause our current catastrophic situation to worsen.

On November 17, Obama promised on CBS News 60 Minutes to shut down the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, while his advisers are simultaneously crafting a plan to create a brand new system of “Preventive Detention” and “National Security Courts.” Preventive detention facilities do not give people the right to challenge their own detention, which is essentially what the Guantanamo Bay gulag has been all about - detaining people without charging them with a crime, and without trial. All we have at the moment is a suggestion of brand change, but nothing about policy change.

Obama promises to restore the moral stature of the United States. He has John Brennan and Jami Miscik, former intelligence officials under George Tenet, leading his review of intelligence agencies and making recommendations to the new administration. Brennan supported warrantless wiretapping and kidnapping (extraordinary rendition) and Miscik was involved with the politicized intelligence alleging WMDs in Iraq. They were both part of the team that provided the phony intelligence when Tenet informed Bush during the lead up to the Iraq invasion that the intelligence to support it was a “slam dunk.” The incoming administration has also revealed that there will be no attempt to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in torture during the Bush presidency.

The new Defense team is being led by former Deputy Defense Secretary John P. White, who is the chair of the Kennedy School of Middle East Initiative at Harvard, and Michele Flournoy, president of the Center for a New American Security famed for the Iraq bombing and sanctions under President Bill Clinton.

Obama’s transition team leaders are six of his top fundraisers, four of whom raised $500,000 or more for his campaign. One of them, Tom Donilan, was a lobbyist for mortgage giant Fannie Mae during 1999-2005. The President-elect himself voted in favor of the recent $750 billion bailout.

We were also treated to an echo of hollow rhetoric from the Bush chambers when the new president said on CBS that, “It is a top priority for us to stamp out al Qaeda once and for all,” and that killing or capturing the groups mastermind Osama bin Laden was “critical” to US security.

On that note, let us note that Obama has already made it clear he refuses to “rule out” using mercenary companies in war zones, he has labeled Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist organization,” he plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and he has pledged to use unilateral force in Pakistan to defend US interests.

Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, despite having stated that his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq was “mistaken,” was an important facilitator of the war. He has also shamelessly championed the absurd idea of partitioning Iraq into three areas based primarily on ethnicity and religion (Balkanization).

Nor let us forgive the apparent selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. She was an ardent supporter of her husband’s sanctions and bombing campaign against the people of Iraq throughout the 1990s, and she supported the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which helped lay the groundwork for George W. Bush’s invasion in 2003. As a US Senator, Hillary Clinton said, “Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaida members … I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and our support for the president’s efforts to wage America’s war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.”

Other so-called liberal hawks either in or advising Obama’s team include the likes of Madeleine Albright, a war criminal who, as Bill Clinton’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was asked on 60 Minutes if she thought the price of 500,000 Iraqi children killed by the sanctions was worth the price to contain Saddam Hussein and said she thought that the price was “worth it.”

The list is long, but I will just mention two more of note. Martin Indyk, the founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, spent years working for AIPAC and served as Clinton’s ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, while also playing a major role in developing US policy toward Iraq and Iran. In addition to his work for the US government, he has worked for the Israeli government, and with the neo-conservative think-tank the Project for the New American Century - which devised the US blueprint for global domination.

The idea of Obama keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense is equally disturbing. Let us remember, it is Gates who supports a new generation of nuclear weapons at a time when even George Shultz and Henry Kissinger are calling for nuclear abolition. Gates wants to apply his surge approach to Afghanistan, and while he has criticized the massive budget and influence of the Pentagon, when he had the chance to rectify both problems, he has refused to do so. For example, in his FY 2009 budget request - the last he will be officially responsible for - he added $36 billion, an increase former CENTCOM commander Anthony Zinni noted, “is roughly equivalent to the entire budget for International Affairs.”

Schism Galore

On November 16 it was reported that Obama is pursuing an ambitious peace plan in the Middle East that involves the recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.

Yet, the first appointment he made was of Rahm Israel Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff, easily the most powerful office in the executive branch. In the 1940s Rahm’s father, Benjamin, helped smuggle weapons to the Irgun, the Zionist militia of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The Irgun carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians, including the bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in 1946.

Rahm’s father, commenting on how his son would influence US policies toward Israel, is reported to have told an Israeli paper, “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

To his credit, Emanuel apologized for his father’s incendiary remarks. But that does not alter the fact that he has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner. In July 2006, Emanuel was one of several members who called for the cancellation of a speech by visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the Congress because al-Maliki had criticized Israel’s bombing of Lebanon. Around the same time, Emanuel referred to the Lebanese and Palestinian governments as ‘totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting as democracies” in a speech supporting a House resolution backing Israel’s bombing of both countries that had caused thousands of civilian casualties. He accompanied Obama to an AIPAC executive board meeting last June, immediately after the Illinois senator had addressed the pro-Israel lobby’s conference.

Emanuel is one of the most influential politicians and fundraisers in the party, and has played not an insignificant role in the costliest campaign for presidency that the country has known.

Sheldon Wolin writes in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism”:

“When a minimum of a million dollars is required of House candidates and elected judges, and when patriotism is for the draft free to extol and for the ordinary citizen to serve, in such times it is a simple act of bad faith to claim that politics-as-we-know-it can miraculously cure the evils which are essential to its very existence.”

Security Lies in Securing Bases

“The truth is replaced by silence, and the silence is a lie.” - Yevgeny Yevteshenko

Barack Obama announced on CBS that immediately upon taking office on January 20, he and his security advisers will “start executing a plan that draws down our troops” from Iraq.

What we never hear him mention is the massive US military infrastructure being developed in Iraq. The US “embassy” in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world and the most secure diplomatic compound in the world.

At a construction budget that now exceeds $1 billion, the “embassy” is a self-sustaining cluster of 21 buildings reinforced 2.5 times the usual standards, with some walls as thick as 15 feet.

Plans are for over 1,000 US government officials to work and reside there. They will have access to gyms, swimming pools, barber and beauty shops, food courts and the commissary. There will also be large-scale barracks for troops, a school, locker rooms, a warehouse, a vehicle maintenance garage, and six apartment buildings with a total of 619 one-bedroom units. The total site will be two-thirds the area of the National Mall in Washington, DC. And, luckily for these “government officials,” their water and electricity supplies and sewage treatment plants will be independent of Baghdad’s city utilities. Meanwhile, one of four residents of Baghdad, a capital city of over six million, are now displaced from their homes thanks to the so-called surge. Of those lucky enough to still have a roof over their head, they receive an average of 3-4 hours of electricity on good days, and recent reports show that at least 45 percent of Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water.

Then there are the permanent military bases in Iraq.

To give you an idea of what these look like, let’s start with Camp Anaconda, near Balad. Spread over a modest 15 square miles, the base boasts two swimming pools, a gym, a mini-golf course and first-run movie theater.

There are 30,000 soldiers who live at the Balad Air Base, where they can inspect new iPod accessories in one of the two base exchanges, which additionally offer piles of the latest electronics and racks of CDs to choose from. Thousands of civilian contractors live at the base in a section called “KBR-land.” Doctors at the base hospital carry out as many as 400 surgeries every month on wounded troops.

Air Force officials on the base claim their runway is one of the busiest in the world. A steady stream of unmanned Predator drones carrying Hellfire missiles take off from there along with F-16s, C-130s, helicopters and other aircraft from a total of 250 that the base houses.

If our troops aren’t up for the rather lavish dinners served by Third Country nationals from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh working for slave wages, they can dine at Burger King, Pizza Hut, Popeye’s or Subway, then wash it down with a mocha from Starbucks.

There are other gigantic bases in Iraq, such as Camp Victory near Baghdad Airport, which when complete will be twice the size of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, currently the largest overseas US base since Vietnam.

At Camp Liberty, adjacent to Camp Victory, soldiers even compete in triathlons. According to a news article on a DOD web site, “The course, longer than 140 total miles, spanned several bases in the greater Camp Victory area in west Baghdad.”

There is never any talk of full withdrawal of all forces from Iraq because US policy dictates a continuance of its military presence there. Less than two weeks after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, military officials announced the US intention to maintain at least four large bases in Iraq for future use, to be located respectively near Baghdad International Airport (where the triathlon was), at Tallil near Nasiriyah in the south, at either Irbil or Qayyarah (80 kilometers apart) in the Kurdish north, and one in western al-Anbar province at al-Asad. These do not include Camp Anaconda in Balad.

Billions of dollars have been spent in their construction, and if today they are in the mentioned locations, it only indicates that the military planners had blueprints ready long before Mr. Bush declared that major combat operations were over in Iraq.

Note that while US officials never use the word “permanent” when referring to military bases in Iraq, they do talk of “permanent access.” I quote from a front page story in The New York Times on April 19, 2003, entitled “Pentagon Expects Long Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq”: “There will probably never be an announcement of permanent stationing of troops. Not permanent basing, but permanent access is all that is required, officials say.”

None of the 700-plus US military bases and installations located abroad are considered “permanent,” which is why ambivalent instruments like SOFA, the Status of Forces Agreement exist.

A quick glance at US government military strategy documents is even more revealing.

The 2002 National Security Strategy claims: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” To accomplish this, it adds, we will “require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia.”

Another interesting document is “Joint Vision 2020,” within which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “vision” is, “Dedicated individuals and innovative organizations transforming the joint force of the 21st Century to achieve full spectrum dominance: persuasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict.”

The Quadrennial Defense Review offers another priceless key to US foreign policy. In this document, a stated ambition for the US military is to have the capacity to fight “multiple, overlapping wars” (Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. …) and to use the US military to “ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system.”

What can be a more obvious proclamation from US policymakers about having replaced the Cold War with a Long War for Global Empire and Unchallenged Military Hegemony? Viewed through this lens, it is not difficult to comprehend the need for permanent US bases in Iraq and elsewhere.

At the height of the Roman Empire, Rome had 39 foreign military outposts. The British had 38 at their peak. The US, in the twilight of her lust for empire, currently has just over 730 according to the Department of Defense.

We have not heard from our new President-elect any articulation of the intent of total withdrawal of all US military personnel and bases from Iraq. Nor has he made any suggestion about the imperative to alter the country’s policy of global domination.

Making Real the Symbol

But this is not the time to despair, or merely hope.

“The cure for despair is not hope. It’s discovering what we want to do about something we care about.” - Margaret Wheatley

To underscore the essence of this moment in history, I refer once again to my partner’s email from Africa, “We must not forget the tremendous responsibility we have now, to see that Obama maintains his promise of change … we must not relinquish this moment nor this victory into his hands entirely. As he learns to lead us, so must we learn to lead him.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

News & Analysis
Poverty and hunger on the rise in the US

US commits $800 billion more to bail out consumer credit and mortgage market

Britain: Lord Bingham says Iraq invasion was a violation of international law

Airport siege heightens Thailand’s political crisis

India: Hindu supremacist terror network had ties to military

Australia: Key economic indices indicate slide towards recession

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice for Obama
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One of the Republican right’s most successful inventions has been
liberal media bias. Even as the “mainstream” press has trended
rightward, the liberal-bias trope has had two big advantages in keeping
the party faithful, well, faithful. First, it allowed devotees to reject
any and all information at odds with GOP dogma. Second, it preserved the
sense of victimization essential to the right-wing world view. In
reality, the Washington political media have been functionally
pro-Republican for years. The so-called Gang of 500 long ago abandoned
journalistic ethics for those of the entertainment industry. They’re
celebrities, and as such would-be insiders and front-runners. Liberal
media? During the Clinton administration, this cohort flogged the
make-believe Whitewater scandal for years. They went hysterical over
Bill Clinton’s sexual sins and sustained false derogatory stories about
Al Gore during the 2000 election (invented the Internet, “Love Story,”
etc.). After that, the nation’s premier newspapers, specifically The New
York Times and The Washington Post, got suckered into running
single-source, frontpage propaganda about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent
weapons of mass destruction. The embedded mainstream media treated the
subsequent invasion of Iraq as the world’s biggest Boy Scout jamboree
until chaos in Baghdad became impossible to ignore.

So was it shocking after Barack Obama’s election to find pundits on TV
with warnings such as that America remains a conservative country and he
must “discipline" the “ardent activists” who elected him by engaging
“interests that usually ally with Republicans”? That was the estimable
Ron Brownstein’s advice on MSNBC.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham cautioned that despite Obama’s win, “we’re
still a center-right nation.” On CNN, the network that conservatives
view with horror, correspondent John King allowed that “the electorate
voted for Barack Obama, but still perceives him to be a liberal.”

Having made “inroads in communities that not too long ago voted
Republican,” King said, “the last thing you want to do if you want to
keep them four years from now is to alienate them with a liberal

Did Obama get largely favorable press coverage during the campaign? He
did. Largely, I think, because he was so clearly winning. Undying
Clinton hatred also played a part during the primaries. My friend Bob
Somerby of the Daily Howler Web site is only half-joking when he says
the Gang of 500 finally found something they cared about: their own
shrinking 401(k)s.

So should Obama heed them now? Not if he wants to be a successful
president. Arguing over meaningless phrases like “center-right” vs.
“center-left” would be foolish. While much of the electorate may be
uneasy about what they’ve been taught liberals think about symbolic
social issues like abortion, guns and gay marriage, strong majorities
agree with Democratic approaches on more concrete matters.

Never mind that Democrats have won the popular vote in four out of the
last five presidential elections. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp.
poll showed that “59 percent of those questioned think that Democratic
control of both the executive and legislative branches will be good for
the country.” Only 38 percent disagree. The rejection of George W. Bush
and Bushism could hardly be clearer.

Joshua Holland compiled additional data in a Nov. 10 posting at
alternet. org. On issue after bread-and-butter issue, he found, “a
significant majority of the electorate fully supports the center-left
agenda advanced by the liberal wing of today’s Democratic Party.” Among
the items cited:

Americans support an increased minimum wage by a ratio of 4-to-1.

According to a Gallup Poll, 5 percent think corporate taxes are too
high, 71 percent think they’re too low.

84 percent favor stricter pollution limits and tax credits for
alternative energy development.

Expanding public works projects, probably the single most useful thing
Obama could do to stimulate the economy, is favored by 82 percent.
Further, according to an ABC News/ Washington Post poll conducted last
June, Americans favored “providing health care coverage for all
Americans, even if it means raising taxes” by more than 2-to-1. A
Quinnipiac University survey found that 61 percent agree that it’s “the
government’s responsibility to make sure that everyone in the United
States has adequate health care.” Just 35 percent disagreed. On foreign
policy and national security issues, there’s similar support for
Democratic ideas. According to a survey by Foreign Affairs magazine,
voters asked to rank strategies for making the nation safer chose
improving intelligence (63 percent) and less dependence on foreign
energy (55 percent). For all the Beltway chatter about confronting Iran,
only 17 percent favored “attacking countries that develop weapons of
mass destruction.” In short, if Obama ignores the gasbags and leads,
Americans will follow.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.
New Today ---------- 20 November 2008

Obama’s attorney general pick and the illusion of change

News & Analysis
Child hunger in US rose by 50 percent in 2007

German Greens prepare for coalition with CDU

South Texas county indicts Cheney, Gonzales

Backroom inquiry rubberstamps false imprisonment, kidnapping and coercion by Australian intelligence agency

Sri Lankan troops capture LTTE stronghold of Pooneryn

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

McCain/Palin doomed by Bush

Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As someone who retained doubts as recently as September that Barack Obama could win the presidency, I’ve rarely been more gratified to be proved wrong. But could the Democratic nominee have prevailed without the Wall Street collapse that millions see as the financial equivalent of Hurricane Katrina ? Without the spectacle of Sen. John Mc-Cain, owner of a plethora of houses and automobiles, campaigning as the working man’s tribune, along with his new best friend Joe the (unlicensed ) Plumber ? Without Sarah Palin’s “Neiman-Marxist” shopping spree and husband Todd’s silk boxer shorts ? Can the comedy channel survive without the GOP ? From the moment he secured the Democratic nomination, Obama ran a near-perfect campaign. His handling of the TV debates was masterful. Rather than going for the knockout, he was content to display confident mastery of the issues along with an imperturbable disposition that made McCain / Palin’s efforts to portray him as a wild-eyed radical look ridiculous. Equally clear in retrospect is the wisdom of Democratic Natioal Committee chairman Howard Dean’s oft-ridiculed strategy of competing in all 50 states. President Richard Nixon’s famous Southern Strategy appears all but defunct. Apart from fools flocking to gun shops to fortify themselves (against what, pray tell ?), most Americans are responding to the prospect of an Obama presidency with relief and anticipation.

According to a recent CNN poll, 64 percent of Americans look upon Obama favorably, substantially more than voted for him. Meanwhile, an astonishing 76 percent disapprove of George W. Bush. His “rancher” pose abandoned, the president will retire to North Dallas, one of a few metropolitan areas where he’ll be able to appear in public without jeers.

Could any Republican have won this year given Bush’s legacy of failure ? I think not.

Perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the GOP plight appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Basically, argues Mark Lilla, the party that played upon the prejudices and fears of the least educated, most provincial Americans to maintain power ended up captive to its own propaganda.

In promoting the manifestly unqualified Palin, “whose ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery represent everything older conservative thinkers once stood against,” Lilla says, Republican intellectuals parodied themselves. Somewhat like self-styled Sixties “radicals” lionizing the Black Panthers, they elevated misbegotten populism into farce.

So it happened, Lilla writes, that Republican politicians and pundits came to “mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.”

In less exalted terms, GOP strategists made the fatal mistake of believing their own BS. It wasn’t only Palin. McCain spent the campaign railing against earmarks, approximately 1 percent of the federal budget. Now there’s a plan: Cancel post office and sewer construction projects in the middle of a recession. Put thousands out of work. Terrific idea.

Rush Limbaugh spent the week before the election hysterically warning his audience against Obama’s alleged plot to seize people’s 401 (k ) retirement accounts and put them into the Social Security Trust Fund. Could anybody gullible enough to believe him have investments worth seizing ?

Two days after the election, Limbaugh began blaming Obama for the ongoing financial crisis. The presidency of George W. Bush, you see, never actually happened. Right up until Nov. 3, every bad thing that happened in the U. S. A. was the fault of Bill Clinton. Starting Nov. 4, it’s all Obama’s fault.

In short, they’re out of ideas. Partly due to what I believe was a cynical decision to politicize the 9 / 11 tragedy by scheduling an Iraq war vote shortly before the 2002 elections, the GOP ran the table. Conservative ideologues had complete control of the government for six years, during which they invaded Iraq on false pretenses, bungled the war catastrophically, failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, turned Afghanistan into a running sore, allowed a major American city to drown, resorted to kidnapping and torture, gutted Fourth Amendment privacy rights, ran up massive government debt and oversaw the near-implosion of the nation’s financial system. It’s been straight downhill from “Mission accomplished” onward. So now many of the same pundits who marveled over Bush’s manly profile in his flight suit caution Obama to go slow, be mindful that America remains a “center-right” country and take care not to offend conservative sensibilities. Fortunately, the best thing I can say about Obama is that he’s far too tough and smart to listen.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The election of Barack Obama

5 November 2008

Democratic candidate Barack Obama won an overwhelming victory over Republican John McCain in the US presidential election Tuesday, and the Democrats significantly increased their majorities in both the House of Representatives and the US Senate.

As of midnight, Obama was projected to win 338 electoral votes compared to 156 for McCain, with five states still too close to call. A total of 270 electoral votes is required for victory. The Democrats had gained at least five seats in the Senate and nearly 20 seats in the House, with the outcome of many contests still undetermined.

Obama carried 26 states: all 19 won by the 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry and seven states won by Bush in that election--Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. He was leading in three more states won by Bush in 2004--Indiana, North Carolina and Montana.

Obama's national margin in the popular vote will approach ten million. He has won by the largest margin for a non-incumbent candidate for president since Eisenhower in 1952.

First and foremost, the election outcome is a massive repudiation of the Bush presidency, the Republican Party and nearly three decades of right-wing domination of American politics. It is a watershed election, one which reflects, in the electoral framework, the massive demographic, socio-economic and cultural shifts over the past quarter-century.

All of the right-wing nostrums reiterated by the media and political establishment of both parties in recent years—that America is a "right" or "center-right" nation with a majority of "red states" unshakably loyal to the Republicans, that religion and cultural "values" are the decisive political issues—have been shattered.

More significantly, the election's outcome has disproved the claim that the United States is a racist nation, and that irrational racial animosities trump all other issues. According to exit polls, only a very small percentage of voters stated that the issue of race exerted any influence on their vote. Instead, under the impact of war, financial crisis and deepening recession, tens of millions, in a completely rational manner, voted to express their democratic and essentially egalitarian aspirations—although, given the distorted and limiting framework of official politics, the only outlet for their sentiments was a vote for the Democrats.

Polls also show that two-thirds of the immense youth vote went to Obama.

The result is shipwreck for the Republican Party, with its presidential base reduced to a regional rump, consisting of the Deep South and the largely rural states of the interior West. Obama swept the East Coast from Maine down to Florida, the industrial Midwest, the entire Pacific Coast and much of the Mountain West.

The Republicans lost Senate seats in every region of the country. Democrats captured vacant seats in Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico and defeated incumbent Republicans in New Hampshire and North Carolina, with seats in Oregon, Alaska and Minnesota still undetermined. Not a single incumbent Democratic senator was defeated.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats captured three Republican-held seats in New York, three in Virginia, two in Ohio, two in Florida, two in New Mexico, and one each in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Idaho. Only three Democratic incumbents were defeated, in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

Millions of people in America and billions around the world are greeting the sweeping Republican defeat with a sense of relief and even exhilaration. However, their interpretation of the Obama victory is very different from that of the Democratic Party leadership, including Obama himself, and the ruling class constituency that backed the Illinois senator.

The US media will doubtless say that the Democratic victory is not a mandate for a radical change of course. Already, even before the votes were counted and Obama's victory was officially acknowledged, leading Democrats were putting forward precisely this position. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who threw his support to Obama during the Democratic primary contest, cautioned Tuesday night that the Democrats should "be modest" and "seek alliances." Georgia Congressman John Lewis echoed these remarks, saying the Democrats had to "go slowly" and pursue a "bipartisan" course.

In fact, Tuesday's election was a clear popular mandate for a reversal of right-wing policies that have largely been of a bipartisan character.

Whatever satisfaction the Democratic Party draws from its victory is tempered by the realization within President-elect Obama's inner circle, the party leadership and the political establishment that the mass expectations and hopes aroused by the election will not be easily contained. The outcome of the election sets the stage for a new and protracted period of intense class conflict in the United States.

The WSWS editorial board

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Evidence Establishes, Without Question, That Republican Rule Is Dangerous

Why It Is High Time to Fix This Situation, for the Good of the Nation

By John W. Dean

November 02, 2008 "Occasionally, during the past eight years of writing this column, I have addressed the remarkably dangerous manner in which Republican Party officials rule the nation when they control one or more of the three branches of the federal government. Over the same period, I've also made this argument, even more directly and loudly, in three books on the subject.

In this column, I will be more pointed on this subject than I have ever been, while also repeating a few key facts that I have raised earlier -- because Election Day 2008 now provides the only clear remedy for the ills of Republican rule.

The Republican Approach to Government: Authoritarian Rule

Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.

Republicans' authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which it to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.

Authoritarian conservatives are primarily anti-government, except where they believe the government can be useful to impose moral or social order (for example, with respect to matters like abortion, prayer in schools, or prohibiting sexually-explicit information from public view). Similarly, Republicans' limited-government attitude does not apply regarding national security, where they feel there can never be too much government activity - nor are the rights and liberties of individuals respected when national security is involved. Authoritarian Republicans do oppose the government interfering with markets and the economy, however -- and generally oppose the government's doing anything to help anyone they feel should be able to help themselves.

In my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, I set forth the facts regarding the consequences of the Republicans' controlling government for too many years. No Republican -- nor anyone else, for that matter -- has refuted these facts, and for good reason: They are irrefutable.

The McCain/Palin Ticket Perfectly Fits the Authoritarian Conservative Mold

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates, have shown themselves to be unapologetic and archetypical authoritarian conservatives. Indeed, their campaign has warmed the hearts of fellow authoritarians, who applaud them for their negativity, nastiness, and dishonest ploys and only criticize them for not offering more of the same.

The McCain/Palin campaign has assumed a typical authoritarian posture: The candidates provide no true, specific proposals to address America's needs. Rather, they simply ask voters to "trust us" and suggest that their opponents - Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are not "real Americans" like McCain, Palin, and the voters they are seeking to court. Accordingly, McCain and Plain have called Obama "a socialist," "a redistributionist," "a Marxist," and "a communist" - without a shred of evidence to support their name-calling, for these terms are pejorative, rather than in any manner descriptive. This is the way authoritarian leaders operate.

In my book Conservatives Without Conscience, I set forth the traits of authoritarian leaders and followers, which have been distilled from a half-century of empirical research, during which thousands of people have voluntarily been interviewed by social scientists. The touch points in these somewhat-overlapping lists of character traits provide a clear picture of the characters of both John McCain and Sarah Palin.

McCain, especially, fits perfectly as an authoritarian leader. Such leaders possess most, if not all, of these traits:

  • dominating
  • opposes equality
  • desirous of personal power
  • amoral
  • intimidating and bullying
  • faintly hedonistic
  • vengeful
  • pitiless
  • exploitive
  • manipulative
  • dishonest
  • cheats to win
  • highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
  • mean-spirited
  • militant
  • nationalistic
  • tells others what they want to hear
  • takes advantage of "suckers"
  • specializes in creating false images to sell self
  • may or may not be religious
  • usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

Incidentally, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney also can be described by these well-defined and typical traits -- which is why a McCain presidency is so likely to be nearly identical to a Bush presidency.

Clearly, Sarah Palin also has some qualities typical of authoritarian leaders, not to mention almost all of the traits found among authoritarian followers. Specifically, such followers can be described as follows:

  • submissive to authority
  • aggressive on behalf of authority
  • highly conventional in their behavior
  • highly religious
  • possessing moderate to little education
  • trusting of untrustworthy authorities
  • prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals and followers of religions other than their own)
  • mean-spirited
  • narrow-minded
  • intolerant
  • bullying
  • zealous
  • dogmatic
  • uncritical toward chosen authority
  • hypocritical
  • inconsistent and contradictory
  • prone to panic easily
  • highly self-righteous
  • moralistic
  • strict disciplinarians
  • severely punitive
  • demanding loyalty and returning it
  • possessing little self-awareness
  • usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

The leading authority on right-wing authoritarianism, a man who devoted his career to developing hard empirical data about these people and their beliefs, is Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer, a social scientist based in Canada, flushed out these typical character traits in decades of testing.

Altemeyer believes about 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is solidly authoritarian (with that group mostly composed of followers, and a small percentage of potential leaders). It is in these ranks of some 70 million that we find the core of the McCain/Palin supporters. They are people who are, in Altemeyer's words, are "so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

The Problem with Electing Authoritarian Conservatives

What is wrong with being an authoritarian conservative? Well, if you want to take the country where they do, nothing. "They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result," Altemeyer told me. "The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of 'old-time religion' on a crusade, and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away."

I would nominate McCain's "Joe the Plumber" as a new poster-boy of the authoritarian followers. He is a believer, and he has signed on. On November 4, 2008, we will learn how many more Americans will join the ranks of the authoritarians.

Frankly, the fact that the pre-election polls are close - after eight years of authoritarian leadership from Bush and Cheney, and given its disastrous results -- shows that many Americans either do not realize where a McCain/Palin presidency might take us, or they are happy to go there. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me, for there is only one way to deal with these conservative zealots: Keep them out of power.

This election should be a slam dunk for Barack Obama, who has run a masterful campaign. It was no small undertaking winning the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and in doing so, he has shown without any doubt (in my mind anyway) that he is not only qualified to be president, but that he might be a once-in-a-lifetime leader who can forever change the nation and the world for the better.

If Obama is rejected on November 4th for another authoritarian conservative like McCain, I must ask if Americans are sufficiently intelligent to competently govern themselves. I can understand authoritarian conservatives voting for McCain, for they know no better. It is well-understood that most everyone votes with his or her heart, not his or her head. Polls show that 81 percent of Americans "feel" (in their hearts and their heads) that our country is going the wrong way. How could anyone with such thoughts and feelings vote for more authoritarian conservatism, which has done so much to take the nation in the wrong direction?

We will all find out on (or about) November 5th.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Idealism takes a hit

Gene Lyons

Ever since the infamous Sixties, Republicans have portrayed
themselves as hard-headed realists and Democrats as sentimental
idealists; the Daddy party vs. the Mommy party, all that. Never mind
that their idea of a manly avatar is George W. Bush. Conservative
pundits, talk radio personalities, rightwing bloggers and faculty lounge
lizards alike seemingly get a testosterone boost out of contrasting
their tough-minded worldliness to feckless liberal schemes for the
salvation of mankind. Today’s reality is almost precisely the opposite.
Contemporary Republicanism has sacrificed the reasoned self-interest of
the American people to abstract ideology at every turn. It’s bitterly
amusing watching GOP culture heroes forced to confront their failures as
the party’s day of reckoning approaches.

Last week’s ritual humiliation of former Federal Reserve chairman and
free market guru Alan Greenspan by a committee of grandstanding
congressmen would be sad if not so richly deserved. A free-market zealot
as deluded as the woolliest Marxist English professor, Greenspan
professed himself horrified by the gigantic Ponzi scheme constructed by
Wall Street mortgage lenders and investment banks. Poor fellow, he’d
evidently never paused to consider why banks need armed guards.

First appointed by (who else?) Ronald Reagan, Greenspan admitted putting
too much faith in the theoretical ability of free markets to magically
regulate themselves.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending
institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a
state of shocked disbelief,” he confessed. Evidently, the oracle
persuaded himself that bankers wearing $2,000 suits and $500 shoes were
too high-minded to steal.

Democrats reminded Greenspan that he’d had the legal authority to
prevent irresponsible lending practices but refused to use it, despite
increasingly dire warnings from economists outside the government of an
unsustainable speculative housing bubble. Perennially indignant Rep.
Henry Waxman, D-Calif., put it to him directly: “Do you feel that your
ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

“Yes, I’ve found a flaw,” Greenspan conceded. “I don’t know how
significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that

Yes, it’s called human nature. Leave the vault open and chances are the
cash won’t be there in the morning. A youthful devotee of the very bad
novelist Ayn Rand, whose philosophy of objectivism holds that unlimited
greed produces unlimited good, for all his intellect Greenspan is as
credulous as a child. It’s a good thing he travels mainly by limousine
because the poor fellow would be helpless in the hands of a cunning
used-car dealer.

“For a man who was once remarkably hard to decipher,” commented Steve
Goldstein of, Greenspan “is now as clear as an empty
Lehman Brothers office.”

Greenspan actually believed that Wall Street investment bankers paid
multimillion-dollar performance bonuses on the basis of short-term paper
profits would restrain themselves from turning the nation’s financial
system into a gigantic rigged roulette wheel for the shareholders’ sake.
Even so, he retained enough self-respect not to play along with the
GOP’s latest poisonous alibi—that the entire sub-prime mortgage debacle
was somehow the fault of laws enacted under Jimmy Carter and Bill
Clinton forcing banks to make bad loans to poor blacks and Hispanics,
who defaulted and took Wall Street down with them.

That this destructive fable violates simple common sense—hundreds of
billions lost on ghetto real estate?—hasn’t prevented it from deluding
Republican true believers, who somehow failed to register the fact that
the GOP controlled the White House, Senate and House between 2002 and
2006 when the great majority of the damage was done.

Rather than act, Greenspan and his successors pooh-poohed warnings that
a speculative bubble was inflating, slashed interest rates to
near-record lows and did nothing to restrain investment in
mortgage-based securities whose underlying worthlessness was concealed
from buyers in an elaborate game of financial musical chairs.

And guess what. According to Newsweek business columnist Daniel Gross,
it turns out that while minority homeowners actually have very good
records of paying off mortgages, “lending money recklessly to obscenely
rich white guys, such as Richard Fuld of Lehman Bros. or Jimmy Cayne of
Bear Stearns, can be really risky.”

Nobody forced these jokers to lend out upward of $33 for every dollar
kept in reserve, an absurdly dangerous strategy. They did it because
they were making out like bandits on fees and commissions. With luck,
their multimillion-dollar bonuses would be safely ensconced in T-bills
when the music stopped.

Invited by GOP congressmen to blame government-sponsored mortgage giants
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the debacle, Greenspan demurred, saying
in prepared testimony, “The evidence strongly suggests that without the
excess demand from securitizers, sub-prime mortgage originations
(undeniably the original source of the crisis) would have been far
smaller and defaults accordingly far lower.” Greenspan looked like a
fool, but he did salvage his honor.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.