INDEX (stories follow)
It isn’t just Florida — the Koch Brothers control many universities, and may own the next Sec’y of Commerce
from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by email@example.com (Democracy Now!)
from Robert Reich
- Israeli Troops Kill 13 Pro-Palestinian Protesters in Multiple Border Confrontations
- Egypt Security Forces Crackdown on Pro-Palestine Protesters at Israel Embassy, Hundreds Injured
- International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Muammar Gaddafi, Son and Intelligence Chief
- United Arab Emirates Hires Blackwater Founder to Build Mercenary Army
- Head of International Monetary Fund Arrested on Sex Crime Charges
- Japan Expands Exclusion Zone around Damaged Nuclear Plant, Greenpeace Calls for Radiation Investigation
- Saudi Diplomat Assassinated in Pakistan
- Guatemala: Dozens Found Decapitated in Historic Drug-Related Mass Killing
- Michel Martelly Sworn In as Haiti’s President
- Key Mississippi Floodgate Opened Up as Waters Rise, Tens of Thousands Threatened
- Israeli Forces Seriously Injure American Student Filming Nonviolent Protest
But the widows and orphans of Iraq cannot hope that the New York police would similarly frog-march George W. Bush off his first-class flight and arrest him for crimes against humanity.
Glenn Greenwald argues that the lessons of the Nuremberg trials have been forgotten and that Bush and other members of his administration should be tried for war crimes. His piece builds on earlier journalism on this subject, such as that of Jan Frel. Not only should Bush and his cronies be tried for launching an aggressive war, but many jurists want them tried for crimes against humanity such as torture, in which they have admitted engaging.
The US and other United Nations members are signatories to the United Nations Charter, which as a treaty has the force of law. Chapter 7 of the UN charter forbids war except under two conditions: 1) Self-defense or, 2) a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing war against a regime that is posing a threat to international order.
Chaper 7, article 51 says,
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
Chapter 7, Article 42, says, after describing in article 41 economic boycotts and other non-military measures against rogue states:
Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.
Bush had neither pretext for an Iraq War but prosecuted that war nevertheless. I.e., his war was neither self-defense nor did it have a UNSC resolution behind it affirming that invading Iraq was necessary to preserving international order. Bush’s was a lawless war of naked aggression that has left hundreds of thousands dead.
Like Frel, Greenwald quotes Benjamin Ferencz, a nonagenarian former Nuremberg prosecutor, who repeats and underlines the point that aggressive warfare is the chief human rights crime, since all other crimes committed in the course of the war issue from this decision.
I’ve been surprised to discover that many of my readers do not appear to understand that the US has treaty obligations under the UN charter, and do not know that the charter only allows war under these two conditions. The US invoked the UN framework in Korea, in the Gulf War, and in Libya, and it offers our best hope for moving beyond an international jungle where the strong fall upon the weak at will. President Eisenhower explicitly rejected the 1956 war of Britain, France and Israel on Egypt on the grounds that it was a war of aggression that violated the stipulations of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
I agree entirely with Greenwald that it is dangerous to let members of the Bush administration off the hook for their war crimes (which go beyond the initial transgression of launching a war of aggression with no UNSC sanction). There is no difference in principle between what Bush and Cheney did and what Slobodan Milosevic did, except that we live in a hypocritical world of victor’s justice. To shield the rich and powerful makes a mockery of Chapter 7.
But I would argue that it is precisely the contrast between an action like the UNSC-sanctioned intervention in Libyaand Bush-Cheney’s cowboy invasion and occupation of Iraq that helps underline how criminal the latter enterprise was.
The body that could most easily gather evidence against Bush, Cheney and others in that administration and begin the process of subpoenas is the two houses of the US Congress. But the Democratic-dominated Senate has openly eschewed prosecution. And the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would resist such a move on partisan grounds. The documentary evidence for criminal activity would surely not be so hard for our national legislature to get hold of, if the will existed to do the right thing. President Eisenhower did not hesitate to defend the UN Charter even against close allies. His like, unfortunately, would be hard to find in American politics today.
It isn’t just Florida — the Koch Brothers control many universities, and may own the next Sec’y of Commerce
Let’s take that apart a little at a time, starting with the end — the Koch Brothers Machine. You see, it’s not justFlorida State’s economics department they’ve bought. The Koch Brothers own a lot of university econ departments. From those departments come economists, and among those economists are political appointees.
So, let’s start with universities owned by the Koch Brothers. McCarter points us to this story from ThinkProgress about the Koch Brothers take-over of universities (my emphasis throughout):
Yesterday, ThinkProgress highlighted reports from the St. Petersburg Times and the Tallahassee Democrat regarding a Koch-funded economics department at Florida State University (FSU). FSU had accepted a $1.5 million grant from a foundation controlled by petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch on the condition that Koch’s operatives would have a free hand in selecting professors and approving publications. The simmering controversy sheds light on the vast influence of the Koch political machine, which spans from the top conservative think tanks, Republican politicians, a small army of contracted lobbyists, and Tea Party front groups in nearly every state.
As reporter Kris Hundley notes, Koch virtually owns much of George Mason University, another public university, through grants and direct control over think tanks within the school. For instance, Koch controls the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, an institute that set much of the Bush administration’s environmental deregulation policy. And similar conditional agreements have been made with schools like Clemson and West Virginia University. ThinkProgress has analyzed data from the Charles Koch Foundation, and found that this trend is actually much larger than previous known. Many of the Koch university grants [pdf] finance far right, pro-polluter professors, and dictate that students read Charles Koch’s book as part of their academic study[.]
The list of schools is shocking; read the ThinkProgress article for the details. Schools named include:
- Florida State University
- George Mason University
- Clemson University
- West Virginia University
- Brown University
- Troy University
- Utah State University
And that’s just the big guys. The article adds:
Charles Koch Foundation grants, along with direct Koch Industries grants, are distributed todozens of other universities around the country every year, to both public and private institutions. Some of the programs, like the Charles Koch Student Research Colloquium at Beloit College, are funded by grants of little over $130,000 and simply support conservative speakers on campuses. We have reached out to several of the schools to learn more about the agreements, but none so far have returned our calls.
And then there’s this, the command-and-control mechanism:
Part of the effort is coordinated through operatives like Richard Fink, who doubles as a vice president at Koch’s corporate lobbying office. Through an organization called the Association of Private Enterprise Education, Koch organizes these corporate-funded university departments into a powerful intellectual movement.
This truly is a machine. It’s amazing what two determined, hubris-crazed guys can do with $43 billion dollars to throw around. These two guys, as an entity, control the fifth largest fortune in America. Every time they sit down to dinner, it’s a business meeting. If you like your government efficient, plutocracy beats democracy every single time.
So what about the next Secretary of Commerce? Back to McCarter:
One of the key candidates to replace Gary Locke as Commerce Secretary is none other than Tim Roemer, a former “distinguished scholar at the Mercatus Center.”
Way back when, in early 2005 when Roemer was being considered for DNC chair, Markos wrote about Roemer’s position with this key “part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, a Scaife funded right-wing think tank.” He wrote that, “[o]ne of the ways the Right ‘educates’ public officials, opinion leaders,etc., is to send them to expensive ‘retreats’ at exclusive resorts, nice hotels, etc. where they are wined and dined and treated to first-class amenities.”
(See above for the Mercatus Center; look for George Mason University.)
During the Bush II run at Social Security, Roemer was speaking at gatherings and “retreats” like the ones mentioned, to “fellow Democrats” no less, about “market-based solutions” to Social Security. A made man.
Roemer is a Movement Conservative operative, a retainer rather than a baron (that is, he does the work of the barons, as opposed to being one). He’s also Barack Obama’s Ambassador to India.
Barack, Barack — shades of soon-to-be-former FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker, whom you put in charge of the Comcast-NBC merger. You do mean business, don’t you. (I’ll be writing more about Baker shortly, just as soon as Google/Blogger restores our draft posts — hint.)
In the meantime, keep your eye on the next Commerce Secretary appointment. It will tell you a lot about where Obama is taking us. There’s not much spinning room in the decision to appoint a Koch-anointed op like Roemer.
As I noted in my Twitter feed, and have written here before, the Republicans have a “tell.” They attack Democrats for things Democrats aren’t doing, but Republicans are doing (thus accusing Joan of being the racist), in the hopes of deflecting attention from their own sins and creating a he-said-she-said where both sides are lobbing the same charge, so clearly neither can be right. (To wit: One of the people attacking Joan is a Tea Party leader. You’ve heard of the Tea Party, that racist bastion. Just read through the Google links on “tea party” and “racism.”) The GOP is also good at a second tactic witnessed here: going after our strengths. If Joan is one of our top messengers, and she is, then she must be destroyed.
Here’s an excerpt of Joan’s piece. Considering how much the right is freaking out over it, she’s clearly on to something.
Newt Gingrich doubled down on his clever new slur against President Obama as “the food stamp president.” He tried the line in a Friday speech to the Georgia Republican convention, and he used it again on “Meet the Press Sunday.” It’s a short hop from Gingrich’s slur to Ronald Reagan’s attacks on “strapping young bucks” buying “T-bone steaks” with food stamps. Blaming our first black president for the sharp rise in food-stamp reliance (which resulted from the economic crash that happened on the watch of our most recent white president) is just the latest version of Rush Limbaugh suggesting that Obama’s social policy amounts to “reparations” for black people.
But when host David Gregory suggested the term had racial overtones, Gingrich replied “That’s bizarre,” and added, “I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.” That’s not quite as extreme or silly as Donald Trump declaring “I am the least racist person there is,” but it’s up there. He also told Georgia Republicans Friday that 2012 will be the most momentous election “since 1860,” which happens to be the year we elected the anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln president, and he suggested the U.S. bring back a “voting standard” that requires voters to prove they know American history — which sounds a lot like the “poll tests” outlawed by the Voting Rights Act.
Just last week Gingrich said Obama “knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit,” which just happens to be home to many black people. And last year Gingrich accused Obama of “Kenyan anti-colonialist behavior” that made him “outside our comprehension” as Americans, spreading Dinesh D’Souza’s idiocy that Obama inherited angry African anti-colonialism from the Kenyan father he never knew. “This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president,” Gingrich told the National Review Online last year.
The moral philosopher Cornel West, if Barack Obama’s ascent to power was a morality play, would be the voice of conscience. Rahm Emanuel, a cynical product of the Chicago political machine, would be Satan. Emanuel in the first scene of the play would dangle power, privilege, fame and money before Obama. West would warn Obama that the quality of a life is defined by its moral commitment, that his legacy will be determined by his willingness to defy the cruel assault by the corporate state and the financial elite against the poor and working men and women, and that justice must never be sacrificed on the altar of power.
Perhaps there was never much of a struggle in Obama’s heart. Perhaps West only provided a moral veneer. Perhaps the dark heart of Emanuel was always the dark heart of Obama. Only Obama knows. But we know how the play ends. West is banished like honest Kent in “King Lear.” Emanuel and immoral mediocrities from Lawrence Summers to Timothy Geithner to Robert Gates—think of Goneril and Regan in the Shakespearean tragedy—take power. We lose. And Obama becomes an obedient servant of the corporate elite in exchange for the hollow trappings of authority.
No one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama, believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed. He bitterly describes Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”
“When you look at a society you look at it through the lens of the least of these, the weak and the vulnerable; you are committed to loving them first, not exclusively, but first, and therefore giving them priority,” says West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University. “And even at this moment, when the empire is in deep decline, the culture is in deep decay, the political system is broken, where nearly everyone is up for sale, you say all I have is the subversive memory of those who came before, personal integrity, trying to live a decent life, and a willingness to live and die for the love of folk who are catching hell. This means civil disobedience, going to jail, supporting progressive forums of social unrest if they in fact awaken the conscience, whatever conscience is left, of the nation. And that’s where I find myself now.”
“I have to take some responsibility,” he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. “I could have been reading into it more than was there.”
“I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator and working with [Sen. Joe] Lieberman as his mentor,” he says. “But it became very clear when I looked at the neoliberal economic team. The first announcement of Summers and Geithner I went ballistic. I said, ‘Oh, my God, I have really been misled at a very deep level.’ And the same is true for Dennis Rossand the other neo-imperial elites. I said, ‘I have been thoroughly misled, all this populist language is just a facade. I was under the impression that he might bring in the voices of brother Joseph Stiglitzand brother Paul Krugman. I figured, OK, given the structure of constraints of the capitalist democratic procedure that’s probably the best he could do. But at least he would have some voices concerned about working people, dealing with issues of jobs and downsizing and banks, some semblance of democratic accountability for Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who are just running amuck. I was completely wrong.”
West says the betrayal occurred on two levels.
“There is the personal level,” he says. “I used to call my dear brother [Obama] every two weeks. I said a prayer on the phone for him, especially before a debate. And I never got a call back. And when I ran into him in the state Capitol in South Carolina when I was down there campaigning for him he was very kind. The first thing he told me was, ‘Brother West, I feel so bad. I haven’t called you back. You been calling me so much. You been giving me so much love, so much support and what have you.’ And I said, ‘I know you’re busy.’ But then a month and half later I would run into other people on the campaign and he’s calling them all the time. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. He doesn’t have time, even two seconds, to say thank you or I’m glad you’re pulling for me and praying for me, but he’s calling these other people. I said, this is very interesting. And then as it turns out with the inauguration I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.’ Beginning in Iowa to Ohio. We had to watch the thing in the hotel.”
“What it said to me on a personal level,” he goes on, “was that brother Barack Obama had no sense of gratitude, no sense of loyalty, no sense of even courtesy, [no] sense of decency, just to say thank you. Is this the kind of manipulative, Machiavellian orientation we ought to get used to? That was on a personal level.”
But there was also the betrayal on the political and ideological level.
“It became very clear to me as the announcements were being made,” he says, “that this was going to be a newcomer, in many ways like Bill Clinton, who wanted to reassure the Establishment by bringing in persons they felt comfortable with and that we were really going to get someone who was using intermittent progressive populist language in order to justify a centrist, neoliberalist policy that we see in the opportunism of Bill Clinton. It was very much going to be a kind of black face of the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council].”
Obama and West’s last personal contact took place a year ago at a gathering of the Urban League when, he says, Obama “cussed me out.” Obama, after his address, which promoted his administration’s championing of charter schools, approached West, who was seated in the front row.
“He makes a bee line to me right after the talk, in front of everybody,” West says. “He just lets me have it. He says, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself, saying I’m not a progressive. Is that the best you can do? Who do you think you are?’ I smiled. I shook his hand. And a sister hollered in the back, ‘You can’t talk to professor West. That’s Dr. Cornel West. Who do you think you are?’ You can go to jail talking to the president like that. You got to watch yourself. I wanted to slap him on the side of his head.”
“It was so disrespectful,” he went on, “that’s what I didn’t like. I’d already been called, along with all [other] leftists, a “F’ing retard”by Rahm Emanuel because we had critiques of the president.”
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, has, West said, phoned him to complain about his critiques of Obama. Jarrett was especially perturbed, West says, when he said in an interview last year that he saw a lot of Malcolm X and Ella Bakerin Michelle Obama. Jarrett told him his comments were not complimentary to the first lady.
“I said in the world that I live in, in that which authorizes my reality, Ella Baker is a towering figure,” he says, munching Fritos and sipping apple juice at his desk. “If I say there is a lot of Ella Baker in Michelle Obama that’s a compliment. She can take it any way she wants. I can tell her I’m sorry it offended you, but I’m going to speak the truth. She is a Harvard Law graduate, a Princeton graduate, and she deals with child obesity and military families. Why doesn’t she visit a prison? Why not spend some time in the hood? That is where she is, but she can’t do it.”
“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.”
“He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” he says. “He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me.”
“This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,” West laments. “We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.”
“Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?” West asks. “If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk. The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways.
“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” he says. “It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties. Our last hope is to generate a democratic awakening among our fellow citizens. This means raising our voices, very loud and strong, bearing witness, individually and collectively. Tavis [Smiley]and I have talked about ways of civil disobedience, beginning with ways for both of us to get arrested, to galvanize attention to the plight of those in prisons, in the hoods, in poor white communities. We must never give up. We must never allow hope to be eliminated or suffocated.”
AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Most Americans have no idea what the debt ceiling is but it sounds like it shouldn’t be breached. Only 27 percent support raising it. When talking heads jabber about the debt ceiling, millions of eyes glaze over. TV channels are switched.
It should be a yawn. It’s a technical adjustment that used to be – and still should – be made automatically. Democrats should never have agreed to linking it to an agreement on the long-term budget deficit.
But now that it’s in play, there’s no end to what the radical right can demand. John Boehner is already using the classic “they’re making me” move, seemingly helpless in the face of Tea Party storm troopers who refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless they get their way. Their way is reactionary and regressive – eviscerating Medicare, cutting Medicaid and programs for the poor, slashing education and infrastructure, and at the same time reducing taxes on the rich.
If the only issue was cutting the federal deficit by four or five trillion dollars over the next ten years, they wouldn’t have to cave at all. The goal can be achieved by doing exactly the opposite of what radical Republicans are demanding – keeping everything Americans truly depend on, but cutting unnecessary military expenditures, ending corporate welfare, increasing spending on education and infrastructure, and raising taxes on the rich.
I commend to you the “People’s Budget,” a detailed plan for doing exactly this – while reducing the long-term budget deficit more than either the Republican’s or the President’s plan does.
When I read through the People’s Budget my first thought was how modest and reasonable it is. It was produced by the House Progressive Caucus but could easily have been generated by Washington centrists – forty years ago.
But of course the coming battle isn’t really over whether to cut the long-term deficit by trillions of dollars. It’s over whether to shrink the government we depend on, and give corporations and the super-rich even more tax benefits they don’t need.
The main reason the “center” has moved so far to the right – and continues to move rightward – is radical conservatives have repeatedly grabbed the agenda and threatened havoc if they don’t get their way. How much will the President and congressional Democrats cave in to their extortion? When even Nancy Pelosi says “everything is on the table” you’ve got to worry.
We can fortify the President and congressional Democrats and prevent them from moving even further right by doing exactly what the Tea Partiers are doing — but in reverse.
The message from the “People’s Party” should be unconditional: No cuts in Medicare and Medicaid or Social Security. More spending on education and infrastructure. Pay for it and reduce the long-term budget deficit by reducing military spending and raising taxes on the rich. The People’s Budget is the template.
But what can the People’s Party threaten if our representatives give way? This is the heart of our dilemma. Are we prepared to say no to raising the debt ceiling? Are we ready to mount primary challenges to incumbent Democrats who cave in?
In an interview on Meet the Press on Sunday, Gingrich backed the individual mandate.
In the same interview Sunday, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Gingrich backed a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance, complicating a Republican line of attack on President Barack Obama’s health law.
The former House speaker’s decision to stick with his previous support for an individual mandate comes days after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defended the health revamp he championed as governor, which includes a mandate.
However, in a video posted to his website, Gingrich said he opposes federal mandates.
“I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional,” he said in a video posted on his website on Monday and apparently shot this morning outside a Washington, D.C., hotel where Gingrich was addressing an Alzheimer’s convention.
They’ve got an excellent Jon Stewart clip over at The Right’s Field, not to be missed.
Republicans know their party is much better at convincing the public to do things, en masse, against its own interest. So what better than to let states repeal individual acts of Congress. Forget about those crazy old guys who wrote the Constitution, the guys who Republicans always tell us already thought of everything. Apparently their original intent for how our country would work is no longer relevant. Why? Because the Republican party would like the ability to use the power, and terror, of the masses to do a lot of nasty stuff that would never make its way through Congress and past any president. And that’s just no fun when you’re more autocrat than democrat.
In a very real way the Republicans hate our system of government and the fact that it guarantees a freedom from tyranny that often trumps the GOP’s wackier ideas. It’s why you see the Republicans routinely undermining an independent judiciary, and now you see them undermining our entire system of federal governance. They think the Framers got it wrong – that at its core, our country was made wrong – simply because they can’t always get everything they want.
Well, it’s called nullification, and there’s nothing new about it. We fought a war that killed over 600,000 of our citizens to defeat this idea. And the adherents of the idea were regarded as traitors to the Union. These guys just want to re-fight the War of Southern Rebellion.
More on nullification here.
However, Republicans poo-pooing the necessity of raising the debt ceiling might want to look to conservative icon Ronald Reagan. In 1983, Reagan warned that the consequences of failing to raise the nation’s borrowing limit “are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate”:
The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what the politicians think. What matters is what the experts say – the economists and Wall Street itself. And Wall Street has already warned Boehner to stop even threatening to block the increase.
The Wall Street executives say even pushing close to the deadline — or talking about it — could have grave consequences in the marketplace.
“They don’t seem to understand that you can’t put everything back in the box. Once that fear of default is in the markets, it doesn’t just go away. We’ll be paying the price for years in higher rates,” said one executive.
Another said that “anyone interested in ‘testing’ the debt ceiling should understand the U.S. debt traded wider [with a higher yield] than Greek debt roughly five years ago. Then go ask CBO what happens to our deficits/public debt to GDP, if the 10-year [Treasury bond] goes from 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent.” The executive said such an increase would result in a downgrade of U.S. debt by ratings agencies and an end to the dollar as the standard global reserve currency.
Another nugget from a new poll:
The poll also flashed an ominous sign for Republicans urging GOP leaders to fight raising the debt ceiling. Fifty-six percent believe failing to raise the debt ceiling will be “disastrous” for the country, compared with 32 percent who think it will not have a “serious impact.”
Oddly, in spite of the ongoing GOP lie machine, the American people seem to get it.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I just wanted to point out that Adam Hochschild’s remarkable history of the warfighters and antiwar activists of World War I, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, got a rave front-page review Sunday in the last newspaper book review section standing, the New York Times’s. (Click here to read it.) With that in mind, let me remind you that the offer this website made on May 3rd — a personalized, signed copy of Hochschild’s book in return for a $100 contribution (money which helps keep us afloat) — still stands. Go to our donation page to check it out. Tom]
As Department of Defense officials prepared for an invasion of Iraq in early 2003, they were intent on giving good war at home and abroad all at once — and on creating images that, like the comingPax Americana in the Middle East, would be forever. They planned, as they then liked to say, on “dominating the media environment.”
Ever since defeat in Vietnam, the military had, after all, been working overtime experimenting with ways to rein in and control reporters and coverage of its wars. Their ultimate solution in the field was the “embedding” process, including pre-war “boot camps” for journalists. By turning reporters into embeds and so creating their own version of Stockholm syndrome, military officials expected to ensure the kind of coverage they felt they deserved.
Meanwhile, in the war zone they built a quarter-million-dollar stage set for nonstop war briefings. At home, they gave a boost to a form of militarized “journalism” already up and running during Gulf War I in which retired high military officers, like so many play-by-play analysts on Monday Night Football, became regular TV news consultants. This time around, they fielded a squadron of retired top brass, carefully coached by the Pentagon and sent out as “experts” to narrate America’s wars on almost every TV network imaginable.
In addition, over the years, they tamed the media effectively enough that war commanders like General David Petraeus could use it as a megaphone to launch remarkably coordinated publicity blitzes for their coming campaigns. The only thing none of the planners counted on was the Afghans and Iraqis. Thanks to their ragtag insurgencies, the half-life of triumph proved remarkably brief. Who now remembers that American “heroine” Jessica Lynch? Or the triumphant, American-assisted toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad? Or the presidentialTop Gun landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln and the abortive “Mission Accomplished” momentthat followed?
But if the U.S. military failed to deliver good war, it was remarkably successful when it came to delivering “good military.” As the recent blitzkrieg of coverage of the SEALs and other special operations forces indicates, the media remains deeply enamored with the U.S. military and Peter Van Buren, an American diplomat just back from a year running a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq, offers an explanation of how this happened on the ground. (His remarkable book on the experience, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, will be out in September. To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses the farce of nation-building in Iraq, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
The War Lovers
Why It Feels So Good to Be Embedded with the U.S. Military
By Peter Van Buren
Objective reporting on the SEAL team that killed bin Laden was as easy to find as a Prius at a Michele Bachmann rally. The media simply couldn’t help themselves. They couldn’t stop spooning out man-sized helpings of testosterone — the SEALs’phallic weapons, their frat-house, haze-worthy training, their romance-novel bravado, their sweaty, heaving chests pressing against tight uniforms, muscles daring to break free…
You get the point. Towel off and read on.
What is it about the military that turns normally thoughtful journalists into war pornographers? A reporter who would otherwise make it through the day sober spends a little time with some unit of the U.S. military and promptly loses himself in ever more dramatic language about bravery and sacrifice, stolen in equal parts from Thucydides, Henry V, and Sergeant Rock comics.
I’m neither a soldier nor a journalist. I’m a diplomat, just back from 12 months as a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) leader, embedded with the military in Iraq, and let me tell you that nobody laughed harder at the turgid prose reporters used to describe their lives than the soldiers themselves. They knew they were trading hours of boredom for maybe minutes of craziness that only in retrospect seemed “exciting,” as opposed to scary, confusing, and chaotic. That said, the laziest private knew from growing up watching TV exactly what flavor to feed a visiting reporter.
In trying to figure out why journalists and assorted militarized intellectuals from inside the Beltway lose it around the military, I remembered a long afternoon spent with a gaggle of “fellows” from a prominent national security think tank who had flown into Iraq. These scholars wrote serious articles and books that important people read; they appeared on important Sunday morning talk shows; and they served as consultants to even more important people who made decisions about the Iraq War and assumedly other conflicts to come.
One of them had been on the staff of a general whose name he dropped more often than Jesus’s at a Southern Baptist A.A. meeting. He was a real live neocon. A quick Google search showed he had strongly supported going to war in Iraq, wrote apology pieces after no one could find any weapons of mass destruction there (“It was still the right thing to do”), and was now back to check out just how well democracy was working out for a paper he was writing to further justify the war. He liked military high-tech, wielded words like “awesome,” “superb,” and “extraordinary” (pronounced EXTRA-ordinary) without irony to describe tanks and guns, and said in reference to the Israeli Army, “They give me a hard-on.”
Fearing the Media vs. Using the Media
Such figures are not alone. Nerds, academics, and journalists have had trouble finding ways to talk, write, or think about the military in a reasonably objective way. A minority of them have spun off into the dark side, focused on the My Lai,Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon-style psycho killers. But most spin in the other direction, portraying our men and women in uniform as regularly, daily, hourly saving Private Ryan, stepping once more into the breach, and sacking out each night knowing they are abed with brothers.
I sort of did it, too. As a State Department Foreign Service Officer embedded with the military in Iraq, I walked in… er, deployed, unprepared. I had never served in the military and had rarely fired a weapon (and never at anything bigger than a beer can on a rock ledge). The last time I punched someone was in ninth grade. Yet over the course of a year, I found myself living and working with the 82nd Airborne, followed by the 10th Mountain Division, and finally the 3rd Infantry Division, three of the most can-do units in the Army. It was… seductive.
The military raised a lot of eyebrows in my part of the world early in the Iraq invasion with their policy of embedding journalists with front-line troops. Other than preserving OpSec (Operational Security for those of you who have never had The Experience) and not giving away positions and plans to the bad guys, journalists were free to see and report on anything. No restrictions, no holding back.
Growing up professionally within the State Department, I had been raised to fear the media. “Don’t end up on the front page of the Washington Post,” was an often-repeated warning within the State Department, and many a boss now advises young Foreign Service Officers to “re-read that email again, imagining it on the Internet, and see if you still want to send it.” And that’s when we’re deciding what office supplies to recommend to the ambassador, not anything close to the life-and-death stuff a military embed might witness.
When I started my career, the boogieman was syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, then Washington Post columnist Al Kamen. Now, it’s Jon Stewart and Wikileaks. A mention by name in any of those places is career suicide. Officially, State suggests we avoid “unscripted interactions” with the media. Indeed, in his book on Iraq and Afghan nation-building, Armed Humanitarians, Nathan Hodge brags about how he did get a few State Department people to talk to him anonymously in a 300-page book with first-person military quotes on nearly every page.
So, in 2003, we diplomats sat back and smugly speculated that the military didn’t mean it, that they’d stage-manage what embedded journalists would see and who they would be allowed to speak to. After all, if someone screwed up and the reporter saw the real thing, it would end up in disaster, as in fact happened whenRolling Stone’s Michael Hastings got Afghan War commander Stanley McCrystal axed as a “runaway general.”
We were, however, dead wrong. As everyone now agrees, journalists saw what they saw and talked to whomever they chose and the military facilitated the process. Other than McCrystal (who has since been redeemed by the same president who fired him), can anyone name another military person whacked by reporting?
I saw it myself in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commander of all troops in Iraq, would routinely arrive at some desert dump where I happened to be, reporters in tow. I saw for myself that they would be free to speak about anything to anyone on that Forward Operating Base (which, in acronym-mad Iraq, we all just called a FOB, rhymes with “cob”). The only exception would be me: State had a long-standing policy that on-the-record interviews with its officials had to be pre-approved by the Embassy or often by the Washington Mothership itself.
Getting such an approval before a typical reporter’s deadline ran out was invariably near impossible, which assumedly was the whole point of the system. In fact, the rules got even tougher over the course of my year in the desert. When I arrived, the SOP (standard operating procedure) allowed Provincial Reconstruction Team leaders to talk to foreign media without preapproval (on the assumption that no one in Washington read their pieces in other languages anyway and thus no one in the field could get into trouble). This was soon rescinded countrywide and preapproval was required even for these media interactions.
Detouring around me, the reporters would ask soldiers their opinions on the war, the Army, or even controversial policies like DADT. (Do I have to freaking spell it out for you? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.) The reporters would sit through the briefings the general received, listening in as he asked questions. They were exposed to classified material, and trusted not to reveal it in print. They would go out on patrols led by 24-year-old lieutenants, where life-and-death decisions were often made, and were free to report on whatever they saw. It always amazed me — like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where everything suddenly changes from black and white into color.
Fear Not: The Force Is With You
But the military wasn’t worried. Why? Because its officials knew perfectly well that for reporters the process was — not to mince words — seductive. The world, it turns out, is divided into two groups, those who served in the military and those who didn’t. For the rare journalists with service time, this would be homecoming, a chance to relive their youth filtered through memory. For the others, like me, embedding with the military felt like being invited in — no, welcomed — for the first time by the cool kids.
You arrive and, of course, you feel awkward, out of place. Everyone has a uniform on and you’re wearing something inappropriate you bought at L.L. Bean. You don’t know how to wear your body-armor vest and helmet, which means that someone has to show you how to dress yourself. When was the last time that happened? Instead of making fun of you, though, the soldier is cool with it and just helps.
Then, you start out not knowing what the hell anyone is saying, because they throw around terms like FOB and DFAC and POS and LT and BLUF and say Hoo-ah, but sooner or later someone begins to explain them to you one by one, and after a while you start to feel pretty cool saying them yourself and better yet, repeating them to people at home in emails and, if you’re a journalist, during live reports. (“Sorry Wolf, that’s an insider military term. Let me explain it to our viewers…”)
You go out with the soldiers and suddenly you’re riding in some kind of armored, motorized monster truck. You’re the only one without a weapon and so they have to protect you. Instead of making fun of you and looking at you as if you were dressed as a Naughty Schoolgirl, they’re cool with it. Bored at only having one another to talk to, fellow soldiers who eat the exact same food, watch the exact same TV, and sleep, pee and work together every day for a year, the troops see you as quite interesting. You can’t believe it, but they really do want to know what you know, where you’ve been, and what you’ve seen — and you want to tell them.
Even though you may be only a few years older than many of them, you feel fatherly. For women, it works similarly, but with the added bonus that, no matter what you look like, you’re treated as the most beautiful female they’ve seen in the last six months — and it’s probably true.
The same way one year in a dog’s life equals seven human years, every day spent in a war zone is the equivalent of a month relationship-wise. You quickly grow close to the military people you’re with, and though you may never see any of them again after next week, you bond with them.
You arrived a stranger and a geek. Now, you eat their food, watch their TV, and sleep, pee, and work together every day. These are your friends, at least for the time you’re together, and you’re never going to betray them. Under those circumstances, it’s harder than hell to say anything bad about the organization whose lowest ranking member just gave up his sleeping bag without prompting because you were too green and dumb to bring one with you.
One time I got so sick that I spent half a day inside a latrine stall. What got me out was some anonymous soldier tossing a packet of anti-diarrheal medicine in. He never said a word, just gave it to me and left. He’d likely do the same if called upon to protect me, help move my gear, or any of a thousand other small gestures.
So, take my word for it, it’s really, really hard to write about the military objectively, even if you try. That’s not to say that all journalists are shills; it’s just a warning for you to take care when you’re hanging out with, or reading, our warrior-pundits.
And yet having some perspective on the military and what it does matters as we threaten to slip into yet more multigenerational wars without purpose, watch thefurther militarization of foreign affairs, and devote ever more of our national budget to the military. War lovers and war pornographers can’t offer us an objective look at a world in which more and more foreigners only run into Americans when they are wearing green and carrying weapons.
I respect my military colleagues, at least the ones who took it all seriously enough to deserve that respect, and would not speak ill of them. Some do indeed make enormous sacrifices, including of their own lives, even if for reasons that are ambiguous at best to a majority of Americans. But in order to understand these men and women and the tasks they are set to, we need journalists who are willing to type with both hands, not just pass on their own wet dreams to a gullible public.
Civilian control of our military is a cornerstone of our republic, and we the people need to base our decisions on something better than Sergeant Rock comic rewrites.
Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), will be published this September and can be preordered by clicking here. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses the farce of nation-building in Iraq, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
[Note: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the U.S. Government. The Department of State has not approved, endorsed, or authorized this post.]
Copyright 2011 Peter Van Buren
- Respondents reported alarmingly high rates of harassment and discrimination while in grades K-12: harassment (78 percent), physical assault (35 percent) and sexual assault (12 percent); 51 percent of those who were verbally harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or were expelled because they were transgender or gender non-conforming, reported having attempted suicide.
- Direct housing discrimination — 19 percent reported having been refused a home or apartment and 11 percent reported being evicted because of their gender identity/expression.
- Double the rate of unemployment — survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
- Harassment, mistreatment or discrimination: 90 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it.
Lately I’ve noticed a two-pronged assault against “government” limiting “education choices” — in which the actor-advocate pretends to be a lower-middle class person (and is well cast to look it) who is working in the health care field and wouldn’t have had a chance in the world to earn a living, she says sincerely, without the education she received. From some unspecified somewhere.
“Somewhere” in these ads is a for-profit college.
Turns out there’s a brewing controversy in the for-profit college world. Surprise — many, perhaps most, for-profit colleges exist to vacuum as much money as they can, often from the government, and deliver the least education possible.
How do we know they don’t deliver? Grad rates. From the HuffPost (my emphasis throughout):
For-profit colleges graduated an average of 22 percent of their students in 2008, according to a new report from Education Trust.
That average palls [sic] in comparison to bachelor’s-seeking graduation rates at public and private non-profit colleges and universities for the same year, which averaged 55 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
The report, titled “Supbrime Opportunity” (PDF) [properly spelled, of course] also reveals that for-profit colleges increased their enrollment by 236 percent from 1998 to 2009.
The median debt of for-profit college graduates — $31,190 — far outpaces that of private non-profit college graduates, which stands at $17,040, and is more than triple the median debt for those from public colleges, which is $7,960.
So, low grad rates, high debt-to-student ratios, high debt-to-default ratios, and government subsidies. Mission accomplished, as we business types like to say.
The graduation rate for the “University” of Phoenix is 5%, to give a well-advertised example. (But hey, they have this great pretend football stadium, thanks to corporate naming rights.)
Late last month, an organization called the Coalition for Educational Success (CES) announced its intention to formulate a new code of conduct to govern for-profit higher education institutions. CES said that, in conjunction with former Govs. Ed Rendell (D-Penn.) and Thomas Kean (R-N.J.), it plans to develop standards that “will improve and ensure transparency, disclosure, training, [and] provide strong new protections for students” attending “career colleges.”
Sounds great. But what is CES and why is it proposing a higher education code of conduct right now? To understand that, one has to dive into a hotly-contested federal policy battle: the attempt by the U.S. Department of Education to implement new rules governing the for-profit college industry, which the coalition represents.
Since late last year, for-profit colleges—schools like the University of Phoenix and Devry University—have been ferociously lobbying against a new Education Department regulation (known as “gainful employment”) that would cut higher education programs off from federal dollars if too many of their students can’t find good jobs and default on their students loans. … “While a majority of career colleges play a vital role in training our workforce to be globally competitive, some bad actors are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last September.
Note the multi-pronged attack — Dem. Rendell and Repub. Kean lending their sellable names to an industry “self-regulation” maneuver (you can see those ads too, from time to time). Plus a strong push-back against the Dept. of Education. Plus attack ads criticizing government intrusion into education “choice.”
You can bet there will be action in Congress as well; after all, why have money if you can’t buy stuff with it?
If you remember just one thing, remember this (Garofalo again):
Many for-profit colleges make up to 90 percent of their revenue from the government through various avenues of aid used by their students, including federal student loans, as I reported earlier this year. They have profit margins as high as 30 percent and their CEOs make millions annually—almost all of which comes courtesy of American taxpayers.
All you need to know? They’re thieves.
For the latest, read the article; it’s excellent and rich in detail. This isn’t over, and while it’s under the radar, it shouldn’t be — there’s billions at stake, and lives.
The nation’s major health insurers are barreling into a third year of record profits, enriched in recent months by a lingering recessionary mind-set among Americans who are postponing or forgoing medical care.
The UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest commercial insurers, told analysts that so far this year, insured hospital stays actually decreased in some instances. In reporting its earnings last week, Cigna, another insurer, talked about the “low level” of medical use.
Yet the companies continue to press for higher premiums, even though their reserve coffers are flush with profits and shareholders have been rewarded with new dividends. Many defend proposed double-digit increases in the rates they charge, citing a need for protection against any sudden uptick in demand once people have more money to spend on their health, as well as the rising price of care.
Krugman: Failure to raise the debt limit could send “a terrible signal” — that “we’re a banana republic”
He talks about various temporary work-arounds and also the obvious: that Treasury bills “are the universal safe asset, the ultimate collateral”. Monkeying with that would therefore have predictable negative effects. All good comments, all mainstream stuff.
But then he considers another negative consequence that’s rarely discussed, the effect on our reliability in the eyes of other nations — on how well, in other words, we can be trusted by others to govern ourselves well. Hmm.
Mr. Krugman (my emphasis):
When you look at the US fiscal position in terms of what we’re capable of as a nation, it’s not a big problem. … [M]odest tax increases and reasonable efforts to limit health care costs could bring our long-run finances into line. … [But] What if it turns out that we’re a banana republic, with crazy extremists having so much blocking power that we can’t get our house in order?
And failing to raise the debt limit could be widely read as a signal that we are, in fact, a banana republic.
A “banana republic.” You get language like that from the fringes; not so much from Nobel laureates at the New York Times.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, a real test of mettle on both sides. Krugman thinks that Obama should “not let himself be blackmailed” because “once he gives in the first time, the blackmail will never stop.” Unfortunately, I think that ship has sailed, don’t you?
But there’s always a second time to get it right. Krugman concludes by offering advice, which suggests to me that he’s not optimistic:
This is going to be very ugly. But I don’t think there’s any way to avoid taking it all the way to the edge, and possibly over it.
These are my thoughts as well. If the crazies want to sink the country, let them, and make them own the disaster. But that’s just me; I always like playing to win.
(I wonder what odds the U.K. bookies are offering that Obama chooses this way out, now that the royal wedding bets are in the bank? Me, I’d bet with the house on this one.)
(1) Boeing NLRB decision: Readers may know about the recent NLRB ruling against Boeing (here’s a recentinterview from the Real News Network explaining the background; and here’s a piece from Labor Notes about an earlier stage of the NLRB decision).
Well, it appears that right-wingers from South Carolina (where Boeing illegally set up a plant in retaliation against union strikers in Washington State, according to the NLRB’s ruling) and beyond are criticizing the NLRB. Here isa piece from The Hill, and another from Firedoglake.
What is especially creepy to me about this is the rhetoric of it, with Rand Paul asking whether Obama has an “enemies list”:
“Mr. President, do you have an enemies list? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina appears to be a Republican state, has two Republican senators? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina is a right-to-work state? Are they on your enemies list?” Paul said.
(2) Victory on Beitbart Smear: The creepiness of the rhetoric around the attack on the NLRB reminds me of the recent hoax perpetrated by Andrew Beitbart against our pal Judy Ancel and her colleague Don Giljum (which we reported on here); both involve right-wingers accusing labor, or labor supporters, of traditionally right-wing tactics (violence, intimidation, enemies lists). Breitbart posted spliced together videos of Ancel and Giljum (taken from an intranet UMKC website) apparently showing them instructing labor studies students about the use of violence as a tactic in labor struggles. What is striking about these claims about “union thuggery” is that if you go to the post by Breitbart at biggovernment.com, the video is quite obviously patched together, and even so is mild in what it portrays the labor educators as advocating. Meanwhile, the comments by right-wingers on the video are full of real threats of violence, calls for violence, etc. I think we need to revive the phrase “right-wing thuggery.”
In any case, there was at least a partial victory in this case, as UMKC officials reviewed the video and sided with Ancel and Giljum. Giljum, whose future as an instructor at UMKC had been in doubt, was reinstated. Here is a piece from Labor Notes about the UMKC chancellor’s statement. We will be covering all this for our July/August issue, probably with a comment by Judy Ancel.