In the Belly of the Beast: 6/16/11: AL Jazeera English: “Libya: Obama’s Third War”

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“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”





Headlines for June 16, 2011


AL Jazeera English: “Libya: Obama’s Third War”

from Ted Rall’s Rallblog by Ted Rall
US President Barack Obama now has his country mired in another military quagmire in Libya  [GALLO/GETTY]

Republicans in the United States Senate held a hearing in early April to discuss the progress of what has since become the war in Libya. It was one month into the operation. Senator John McCain, the Arizona conservative who lost the 2008 presidential race to Barack Obama, grilled US generals: “So, right now we are facing the prospect of a stalemate,” McCain asked General Carter Ham, chief of the US’ Africa Command. “I would agree with that at present,” Ham replied.

How would the effort to depose Colonel Gaddafi conclude? “I think it does not end militarily,” Ham predicted.

That was more than two months ago.

It’s a familiar ritual. Once again military operation marketed as inexpensive, short-lived and – naturally -altruistic, is dragging on, piling up bills, with no end in sight. The scope of the mission, narrowly defined initially, has radically expanded. The Libyan stalemate is threatening to become, along with Iraq and especially Afghanistan, the third quagmire for the US.

Bear in mind, of course, that the US definition of a military quagmire does not square with the one in the dictionary, namely, a conflict from which one or both parties cannot disengage. The US could pull out of Libya. But it won’t. Not yet.

Indeed, President Obama would improve his chances in his upcoming reelection campaign were he to order an immediate withdrawal from all four of America’s “hot wars”: Libya, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Yemen. When US and NATO warplanes began dropping bombs on Libyan government troops and military targets in March, only 47 per cent of Americans approved – relatively low for the start of a military action. With US voters focused on the economy in general and joblessness in particular, this jingoistic nation’s typical predilection for foreign adventurism has given way to irritation to anything that distracts from efforts to reduce unemployment. Now a mere 26 per cent support the war – a figure comparable to those for the Vietnam conflict at its nadir.

Language of war

For US citizens, “quagmire” became a term of political art after Vietnam. It refers not to a conflict that one cannot quit – indeed, the US has not fought a war where its own survival was at stake since 1815 – but one that cannot be won. The longer such a war drags on, with no clear conclusion at hand, the more that US national pride – and corporate profits – are at stake. Like a commuter waiting for a late bus, the more time, dead soldiers, and material has been squandered, the harder it is to throw up one’s hands and give up. So Obama will not call off his dogs – his NATO allies – regardless of the polls. Like a gambler on a losing streak, he will keep doubling down.

US ground troops in Libya? Not yet. Probably never. But don’t rule them out. Obama hasn’t.

It is shocking, even by the standards of Pentagon warfare, how quickly “mission creep” has imposed itself in Libya. People in the US, at war as long as they can remember, recognise the signs: more than half the electorate believes that US forces will be engaged in combat in Libya at least through 2012.

One might rightly point out: this latest US incursion into Libya began recently, in March. Isn’t it premature to worry about a quagmire?

Not necessarily.

“Like an unwelcome spectre from an unhappy past, the ominous word ‘quagmire’ has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad,” RW Apple, Jr reported in The New York Times. He was talking about Afghanistan.

Apple was prescient. He wrote his story on October 31, 2001, three weeks into what has since become the United States’ longest war.

Framing the narrative

Obama never could have convinced a war-weary public to tolerate a third war in a Muslim country had he not promoted the early bombing campaign as a humanitarian effort to protect Libya’s eastern-based rebels (recast as “civilians”) from imminent Srebrenica-esque massacre by Gaddafi’s forces. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte [North Carolina] – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” the president said on March 28. “It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.”

Obama promised a “limited” role for the US military, which would be part of “broad coalition” to “protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone.” There would be no attempt to drive Gaddafi out of power. “Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – would be better off with Gaddafi out of power,” he said. “I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

“Regime change [in Iraq],” Obama reminded, “took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

The specifics were fuzzy, critics complained. How would Libya retain its territorial integrity – a stated US war aim – while allowing Gaddafi to keep control of the western provinces around Tripoli?

The answer, it turned out, was essentially a replay of Bill Clinton’s bombing campaign against Serbia during the 1990s. US and NATO warplanes targeted Gaddafi’s troops. Bombs degraded Libyan military infrastructure: bases, radar towers, even ships. US policymakers hoped against hope that Gaddafi’s generals would turn against him, either assassinating him in a coup or forcing the Libyan strongman into exile.

If Gaddafi had disappeared, Obama’s goal would have been achieved: easy in, easy out. With a little luck, Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would have little to no influence on the incoming government to be created by Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC). With more good fortune, the NTC could even be counted upon to sign over favourable oil concessions to US and European energy concerns.

But Gaddafi was no Milosevic. The dictator dug in his heels. This was at least in part due to NATO’s unwillingness or inability to offer him the dictator retirement plan of Swiss accounts, gym bags full of bullion, and a swanky home on the French Riviera.

Reaching the impasse

Stalemate was the inevitable result of America’s one foot in, one foot out Libya war policy – an approach that continued after control of the operation was officially turned over to NATO, specifically Britain and France. Allied jets were directed to deter attacks on Benghazi and other NTC-held positions, not to win the revolution for them. NTC forces, untrained and poorly armed, were no match for Gaddafi’s professional army. On the other hand, loyalist forces were met with heavy NATO air strikes whenever they tried to advance into rebel-held territory. Libya was bifurcated. With Gaddafi still alive and in charge, this was the only way Obama administration policy could play out.

No one knows whether Gaddafi’s angry bluster – the rants that prompted Western officials to attack – would have materialised in the form of a massacre. It is clear, on the other hand, that Libyans on both sides of the front are paying a high price for the US-created stalemate.

At least one million among Libya’s population of six million has fled the nation or become internally displaced. There are widespread shortages of basic goods, including food and fuel. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the NTC has pulled children out of schools in areas they administer and put them to work “cleaning streets, working as traffic cops and dishing up army rations to rebel soldiers”.

NATO jets fly one sortie after another; the fact that they’re running out of targets doesn’t stop them from dropping their payloads. Each bomb risks killing more of the civilians they are ostensibly supposed to be protecting. Libyans will be living in rubble for years after the war ends.

Coalition pilots were given wide leeway in the definition of “command and control centres” that could be targeted; one air strike against the Libyan leader’s home killed 29-year-old Saif al-Arab, Gaddafi’s son, along with three of his grandchildren, said Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. Gaddafi himself remained in hiding. Officially, however, NATO was not allowed to even think about trying to assassinate him.

Pentagon brass told Obama that more firepower was required to turn the tide in favour of the ragtag army of the NTC. But he couldn’t do that. He was faced with a full-scale rebellion by a coalition of liberal antiwar Democrats and Republican constitutionalists in the US House of Representatives. Furious that the president had failed to request formal Congressional approval for the Libyan war within 60 days as required by the 1973 War Powers Act, they voted against a military appropriations bill for Libya.

The planes kept flying. But Congress’ reticence now leaves one way to close the deal: kill Gaddafi.

As recently as May 1, after the killing of Gaddafi’s son and grandchildren, NATO was still denying that it was trying to dispatch Gaddafi. “All NATO’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Gaddafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals,” said Canada’s Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, commanding military operations in Libya.

By June 10, CNN confirmed that NATO was targeting Libya’s leader for death. “Asked by CNN whether Gaddafi was being targeted,” CNN reported, “[a high-ranking] NATO official declined to give a direct answer. The [UN] resolution applies to Gaddafi because, as head of the military, he is part of the control and command structure and therefore a legitimate target, the official said.”

In other words, a resolution specifically limiting the scope of the war to protecting civilians and eschewing regime change was being used to justify regime change via political assassination.

So what happens next?

First: war comes to Washington. On June 14, the House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner sent Obama a rare warning letter complaining of “a refusal to acknowledge and respect the role of Congress” in the US war against Libya and a “lack of clarity” about the mission.

“It would appear that in five days, the administration will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless it asks for and receives authorisation from Congress or withdraws all US troops and resources from the mission [in Libya],” Boehner wrote. “Have you … conducted the legal analysis to justify your position?” he asked. “Given the gravity of the constitutional and statutory questions involved, I request your answer by Friday, June 17, 2011.”

Next, the stalemate/quagmire continues. Britain can keep bombing Libya “as long as we choose to,” said General Sir David Richards, the UK Chief of Defence Staff.

One event could change everything overnight: Gaddafi’s death. Until then, NATO and the United States must accept the moral responsibility for dragging out a probable aborted uprising in eastern Libya into a protracted civil war with no military – or, contrary to NATO pronouncements, political – solution in the foreseeable future. Libya is assuming many of the characteristics of a proxy war such as in Afghanistan during the 1980s, wherein outside powers armed warring factions to rough parity but not beyond, with the effect of extending the conflict at tremendous cost of life and treasure. This time around, only one side, the NTC rebels, are receiving foreign largess – but not enough to score a decisive victory against Gaddafi by capturing Tripoli.

Libya was Obama’s first true war. He aimed to show how Democrats manage international military efforts differently than neo-cons like Bush. He built an international coalition. He made the case on humanitarian grounds. He declared a short time span.

In three short months, all of Obama’s plans have fallen apart. NATO itself is fracturing. There is talk about dissolving it entirely. The Libya mission is stretching out into 2011 and beyond.

People all over the world are questioning US motives in Libya and criticising the thin veneer of legality used to justify the bombings. “We strongly believe that the [UN] resolution [on Libya] is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation,” South African President Jacob Zuma said this week, echoing criticism of the invasion of Iraq.

Somewhere in Texas, George W Bush is smirking.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is

Is U.S. Attack on Libya Legal? Rep. Dennis Kucinich Debates Former Reagan Attorney Robert Turner

Libya_buttonOn Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 10 members of Congress sued President Obama for violating the War Powers Act of 1973 by failing to obtain congressional approval for military operations in Libya longer than 60 days. We host a debate between Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, one of the Congress members suing President Obama, and Robert Turner, who worked as an attorney in the Reagan White House and is a longtime critic of the War Powers Act. “President Obama’s position is absolutely clear: we are not engaged in war in Libya, and thus, if the War Powers Resolution were constitutional, it still would not apply,” Turner says. “I ask you, if another country sent 2,000 planes over the United States, and some of those missions dropped bombs on us, would that be an act of war against the United States?” says Kucinich. “That’s exactly what we’ve done in Libya.” [includes rush transcript]

Video: My NN11 panel, “Prez isn’t your boyfriend,” or “What to do when the President just isn’t that into you?”

Here’s the video of our earlier panel with (Mc)Joan Carter, Dan Choi, Jane Hamsher, Felipe Matos and me.  It was quite a lively discussion, and the audience seemed into it.  (Oh, and I’d have been wearing pants had McJoan not spilled a glass of water all over me during our lunch discussion planning for the panel – but I’m not bitter.)

Greece: general strike prompts collapse of cabinet

from World War 4 Report blogs by WW4 Report

Thousands of people joined a general strike in Greece June 14 and protesters in Athens tried to blockade parliament to prevent lawmakers from entering and voting on a new austerity plan. The rally turned violent as demonstrators hurled stones and petrol bombs, smashed windows and clashed with police, who used tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters. The riot left nearly 50 people injured, including 36 officers. Prime Minister George Papandreou said he would form a new government and put it to a vote of confidence in the coming days, hoping to win support for the austerity plan aimed at preventing the country from defaulting on its debt. Following Papandreou’s announcement, two lawmakers from his party, including former Public Order Minister Giorgos Floridis, resigned their seats, dealing a new blow to the prime minister. (SETimes, June 16)

read more

The Greek Crisis (June 2011)

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs


“Berlin, backed by the Dutch, Austrians, and Finns, have been arguing for weeks that there can be no new bailout of Greece without the country’s private creditors being forced to suffer losses on their loans. Otherwise, they argue, European taxpayers will be shouldering the costs while the international banks pocket the proceeds.

The ECB, the European Commission and other EU countries led by France argue that this could pave the way to disaster, with the financial markets decreeing the compulsory “haircuts” on private bondholders a Greek default, a “credit event” that could lay waste to the single currency.

“We are against any sort of default with haircuts and any form of private-sector event that could lead to a credit event or a rating event,” Constancio said.”

So we have an impasse, both positions make no sense. This was bound to happen sooner or later. They do not want default, but they do not want ‘haircuts’ on the loans, and they do not want the single currency to fail. But Germany also does not want to keep bailing out the bad loans that it and the other Euro big nations have made. In effect, what they are saying is that they wanted the Eurozone if it meant they win from it financially, but not if they have any responsibility for losses. This represents the position of the German ruling class, but not all, because some German banks will want the endless bail outs, because it is they who need bailing out. And some big French banks too. But anyone can see that this must come to an end somewhere. The debts are unsustainable and so are its bailing out. Something has to give. The ordinary people cannot keep being made to give up their public wealth to the private banks. Even if they did, at the end of that road exists a notional single private bank owning all public debt and assets (i.e. owning Greece), and thus becoming effectively the state, i.e. that would be de facto socialism of one type or another, probably national socialism. No capitalist wants that solution in general, for this is why they break up monopolies (because they in the end mean the death of capitalism as such), but each individual capitalist entity, fighting for their share and to avoid taking the hit, will not try to prevent it, they only want to protect themselves.

So what will happen? What can happen? Greece will default one way or another. Either Germany or Greece or both will have to effectively withdraw from the Eurozone, at least as a financial structure. Or can it be fudged, they take on the option of the haircuts but try to call it something other than a default?

This seems to have been tried, but it does not fool anyone, it is still a default. And even if suiccessful, Greece still defaults. In fact the bail outs would have to be a permanent feature of a united European currency for the long term, as for instance California in the USA is a part of the USA. But Europe is not united in this way, it is just set up for the benefit of the big nations, and these do not want the responsibilities of a real central government, so they will each go their separate way if this is political issue is left unresolved. So the German project of a unified Europe flounders on its own selfishness and the profligacy and greed of its banks. Its ‘sober’ and ‘successful’ capitalism eats itself.

How the mighty have fallen from their self made pedestals.

It looks like they might just try to stave off the culmination of this crisis, yet again In a sense they seem to be waiting for the Greek people to decide what they will do, given it is only they who have any choice and power at this time, the politicians are too hampered by their masters the banks, who want two things at the same time which are in contradiction to each other. Yet the politicians also fight the Greek people with all the forces at their disposal, because they wish to blame the people for their plight, so they are also hampering any (albeit temporary) conclusion to the crisis in this way too. So even on this front there is an unsustainable stasis. An event is awaited, a spark that will change things, some fortuitous or unfortuitous happening. The bourgeoisie keep things the same, they prolong, and cross their fingers, shuffling the lame parliament, trying to reinvigorate the semblance of democracy, for no particular reason than their is nothing else left to do.

“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

Ret’d. CIA Official Alleges Bush White House Used Agency to “Get” Cole

from Informed Comment by Juan

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Eminent National Security correspondent at the New York Times James Risen has been told by a retired former official of the Central Intelligence Agency that the Bush White House repeatedly asked the CIA to spy on me with a view to discovering “damaging” information with which to discredit my reputation. Glenn Carle says he was called into the office of his superior, David Low, in 2005 and was asked of me, “ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ”

Low actually wrote up a brief attempt in this direction and submitted it to the White House but Carle says he intercepted it. Carle later discovered that yet another young analyst had been tasked with looking into me.

It seems to me clear that the Bush White House was upset by my blogging of the Iraq War, in which I was using Arabic and other primary sources, and which contradicted the propaganda efforts of the administration attempting to make the enterprise look like a wild shining success.

Carle’s revelations come as a visceral shock. You had thought that with all the shennanigans of the CIA against anti-Vietnam war protesters and then Nixon’s use of the agency against critics like Daniel Ellsberg, that the Company and successive White Houses would have learned that the agency had no business spying on American citizens.

I believe Carle’s insider account and discount the glib denials of people like Low. Carle is taking a substantial risk in making all this public. I hope that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees will immediately launch an investigation of this clear violation of the law by the Bush White House and by the CIA officials concerned. Like Mr. Carle, I am dismayed at how easy it seems to have been for corrupt WH officials to suborn CIA personnel into activities that had nothing to do with national security abroad and everything to do with silencing domestic critics. This effort was yet another attempt to gut the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, in this case as part of an effort to gut the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

I should point out that my blog was begun in 2002 with an eye toward analyzing open source information on the struggle against al-Qaeda. In 2003 I also began reporting on the unfolding Iraq War. My goal was to help inform the public and to present sources and analysis on the basis of my expertise as a Middle East and South Asia expert. In 2003-2005 and after I on a few occasions was asked to speak to military and intelligence professionals, most often as part of an inter-agency audience, and I presented to them in person distillations of my research. I never had a direct contract with the CIA, but some of the think tanks that every once in a while asked me to speak were clearly letting analysts and field officers know about the presentations (which were most often academic panels of a sort that would be mounted at any academic conference), and they attended. I should underline that these presentations involved small travel expenses and a small honorarium, and that I wasn’t a high-paid consultant but clearly was expected to speak my views and share my conclusions frankly. It was not a regular gig. Apparently one of the purposes of spying on me to discredit me, from the point of view of the Bush White House, was ironically to discourage Washington think tanks from inviting me to speak to the analysts, not only of the CIA but also the State Department Intelligence and Research and other officials concerned with counter-terrorism and with Iraq.

It seemed likely to some colleagues, according to what they told me, that the Bush administration had in fact succeeded in having me blackballed, since the invitations rather dropped off, and panels of a sort I had earlier participated in were being held without my presence. I do not know if smear tactics were used to produce this result, behind the scenes and within the government. It was all the same to me– I continued to provide what I believe was an important service to the Republic at my blog and I know for a fact that not only intelligence analysts but members of the Bush team continued to read some of what I wrote.

What alarms me most of all in the nakedly illegal deployment of the CIA against an academic for the explicit purpose of destroying his reputation for political purposes is that I know I am a relatively small fish and it seems to me rather likely that I was not the only target of the baleful team at the White House. After the Valerie Plame affair, it seemed clear that there was nothing those people wouldn’t stoop to. You wonder how many critics were effectively “destroyed.” It is sad that a politics of personal destruction was the response by the Bush White House to an attempt of a citizen to reason in public about a matter of great public interest. They have brought great shame upon the traditions of the White House, which go back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, who had hoped that checks and balances would forestall such abuses of power.

Repeal the PATRIOT Act is the Lesson of Bush White House Spying

from Informed Comment by Juan

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Very unfortunately, President Obama just signed a four-year extension of the so-called PATRIOT Act, with three central provisions that permit warrantless spying by government agencies on US residents. This extension was rushed through the Congress with parliamentary maneuvers and opponents of it who wanted a public debate were shut down by Reid and Boehner.

If the Bush White House blithely picked up the phone and asked the Central Intelligence Agency to gather information on my private life for the purpose of destroying me politically– a set of actions that was illegal every which way from Sunday– then imagine how powerful government officials are using the legal authorization they receive from the PATRIOT Act to spy on and marginalize perceived opponents.

The act is clearly unconstitutional and guts key Bill of Right protections. Among its disturbing aspects is the access it gives government agencies to individuals’ library records, business records and other personal effects without requiring probable cause of a crime being committed. And while the wiretap provisions target non-US citizens, they extend to any conversations the latter have with US citizens. The framers of the constitution in any case believed that the liberties they proclaimed extended to “all men,” not just citizens.

Worse, Sen. Ron Wyden has said that there is a “secret PATRIOT Act” in the sense that there is a government interpretation of the act that allows surveillance and intrusiveness far beyond what the letter of the statute seems to permit.
The scale of the electronic surveillance of Americans’ private correspondence by the National Security Agency is barely imaginable, and we have no idea how much of our communications are being stored on NSA servers and sifted through by computer programs.

The Congress should revisit the PATRIOT Act in the light of the revelation of what was attempted in my regard, and should repeal the damn thing. Failing that, the federal judiciary should find it unconstitutional, which it is. But one of the things that worries me is that some of the key political and judicial personnel who might want to move against it may themselves already have been victims of surveillance, entrapment and blackmailing. Just how corrupt has our whole governmental apparatus become, that clear violations of our Constitution are blithely accepted?

Cole on Goodman & CIA Surveillance

from Informed Comment by Juan

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With something like being put under CIA surveillance by the Bush White House, you keep thinking to yourself, as in an old argument, about the things you should have said. I talked briefly to Amy Goodman, and what was on my mind was all the people who said that Bush should be given some of the credit for the killing of Usamah Bin Laden. And I thought, the Bush White House was so unserious about that task that they closed down the Bin Laden unit in the CIA, and worse, they were using the CIA to spy on American bloggers instead!

And, I mean, really. How inept do you have to be to enlist intelligence officials in monitoring bloggers? They put up their thoughts for everyone to see every day! I keep thinking of David Low’s stupid question as to what the CIA could find out about me. Did he mean, aside from the gigabytes of data at my own blog? And, if he was involved in Iraq or counter-terrorism, is he serious that he had never heard of me in 2005? Wouldn’t that be like being a rhythm and blues fan and never having heard of Alicia Keyes?

They didn’t capture Bin Laden; the Bushies were about enjoying being in power here in the US, and making sure that they had no real opposition while they were in DC.

CIA Participated in Smear Campaign Against Juan Cole

glenn carleGlenn Carle, former CIA officer, resisted White House efforts to investigate Juan Cole (Stephen Crowley/NYT)

In 2006, I wrote about a nasty smear campaign mounted against Juan Cole, who’d been nominated for a prestigious endowed chair in history at Yale. Jewish pro-Israel alumni and right-wing blogs trumpeted Cole’s alleged anti-Semitic utterances and his supposed hatred for Israel.  The campaign worked.  While his appointment was approved by the department, through an unprecedented intervention it was eventually scuttled and he returned happily to his position teaching at the University of Michigan.

Now, the NY Times’ James Risen reports a U.S. intelligence official was dragooned into a CIA investigation involving Cole in an attempt to find out embarrassing information about him that could damage his reputation.  The official notes there were at least two separate attempts to do this which he frustrated each time.  It is, of course, illegal for the CIA to investigate U.S. citizens.  Which seems to me to give Juan a built-in lawsuit.  I’d give up on a Congressional investigation since the Obama administration seems almost as backward on national security as the Bush administration was.

What the article doesn’t reveal is who in the U.S. government initiated the request for an investigation of Cole.  It seems clear to me that this would not have come from the CIA itself.  In fact, the official reveals that the discussions began after his boss came back from a White House meeting.  My money of course is on the devil himself, Dick Cheney.  This is the part of the story I’d like to see expanded.  I’m hoping Juan has filed an FOIA request, though if Cheney was smart he wouldn’t have left any fingerprints that would lead directly back to him.  It’s just too damn bad he can’t sue Cheney himself if he’s the culprit.

An equally intriguing question would be whether members of the Republican pro-Israel Jewish community and/or the Israeli government were interested in this little adventure.  They certainly would’ve been able to get Cheney’s ear.  So the question, if Cheney was the initiator, would be whether he thought this up himself or the issue was brought to him by others.  And if so, whom.

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What Drives the War on Drugs?

from Dollars & Sense Blog by mcleveland

First it was the Dominican limo driver, who disappeared while driving a client upstate. When my husband extracted him from Utica jail a month later, it turned out he’d been arrested on bogus drug charges, and his limo confiscated. Then it was a friend, set up for a drug bust by his ex-wife, to gain custody of their child. Somehow, in 1994, we ended up running a small non-profit with a big name:  Partnership for Responsible Drug Information, or PRDI—a response to the Big Media—Big Business Partnership for a Drug-Free America. For eight years we struggled for funding—foundations wouldn’t touch the issue—before we shut down in 2001.

It’s now forty years since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, the “WOD”. It was a cynical move, appealing at once to the white “silent majority” frightened by hippies, and to white southerners angered by the dismantling of Jim Crow laws. Yet while started by a Republican president, and famously identified with the wife of the next Republican president, Nancy “Just say No” Reagan, –the WOD has expanded relentlessly ever since, under both Red and Blue administrations. See Charles Blow on Drug BustNew York Times, June 10.

Moreover, it’s not just the WOD. The superb July 2011 special issue of the libertarian magazine, Reason, “Criminal Injustice: Inside America’s national disgrace” spells out how the entire criminal justice system has become more punitive, more expensive, more arbitrary and more racist. California’s “Three Strikes You’re Out” and its imitators lock up shoplifters for life. Megan’s Law and its imitators require lifetime public registration of sex offenders—even though most of them pose no threat—like the 19 year old boy who slept with his 15 year old girlfriend. Then it’s the prosecutors’ plea-bargaining racket, the forfeiture game, the jailhouse snitches, the undocumented immigrant sweeps, and so on.

So what keeps the WOD going? These three: Misinformationspecial interest capture, and increasing inequality.

Misinformation. AT PRDI, we sought to educate “opinion-makers” that the WOD was just alcohol prohibition, with all its illogic and human costs. We held forums with prominent judges as speakers, published a Directory of Drug Policy Experts for the Media, and organized the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, modeled on the premier organization that helped overturn alcohol prohibition. I published a book chapter on “Economics of Illegal Drug Markets.”

At one level, we and our fellow anti-WOD organizations succeeded. Legalization is no longer a taboo subject, and major newspapers like the New York Times regularly editorialize against the WOD. Over Federal opposition, several states have legalized medical marijuana. But the WOD keeps growing, now wreaking bloody havoc in Mexico.

Special interest capture. When Governor Rick Scott of Florida took office, he immediately signed a law requiring drug-testing of all welfare recipients and state employees. Surprise! His urgent care chain, Soltanic, makes big bucks from drug-testing. Many police departments around the country expect to meet part of their budgets by “forfeiture”: seizing and selling property involved in offenses—like our Dominican driver’s limo, or homes with marijuana plants in the closet. Defense contractors profit from arming police swat teams to break down doors in the US, as well as paramilitary forces in Mexico and Colombia. Meanwhile the prison industry, including prison unions, lobbies for more repressive laws.

Increasing inequality. In 1976, the share of wealth owned by the top 1% hit an all-time low of around 20%. Now it’s back up around 36%, close to the levels in 1929 before the Great Depression. As I have argued elsewhere, the upsurge in inequality results from the dismantling of anti-trust laws and other policies justified by free market ideology.

Until 1973, the US prison population had hovered around 200 per 100,000. Then it took off exponentially, reaching 743 per 100,000 in 2009, the highest in the world. A little over half of both state and federal prisoners are non-violent drug offenders. Most prisoners are poor, minority, and ill-educated. A coincidence? I don’t think so. A society of equals would not tolerate the reality in California that a third of young black men are in the criminal justice system.

Compelling cross-sectional evidence supports the inequality hypothesis. Here are two graphs from the Equality Trust, publisher of The Spirit Level, showing how the most unequal countries and the most unequal US states lock up the most prisoners per capita.

Inequality doesn’t register with free market ideologues. Matt Welch, editor in chief of Reason, asks about the WOD, “Why did all this happen?” He answers, “Because we let ourselves be OK with the ends justifying the means.” We?


The Growing Desperation of the Don’t-Raise-Taxes-on-the-Rich Crowd

from Robert Reich

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The much-vaunted Republican pledge not to raise any taxes is crumbling. Today 34 Senate Republicans voted to end the special tax breaks for ethanol.

According to no-tax-increase purists like Grover Norquist, this is tantamount to a tax increase.

The truth is, Republicans are divided between those who want to bring down the budget deficit and those who want to shrink government. Ending a special tax subsidy helps reduce the deficit but doesn’t necessarily shrink government. That’s why Norquist and his followers have insisted any such tax increase – including even the closing of tax loopholes – be directly linked to a corresponding tax cut.

In order to save face on today’s vote, Norquist says renegade Republicans will still be considered to have adhered to the pledge if they vote in favor of an amendment offered by Senator Jim DeMint to eliminate the estate tax. Talk about grasping at straws. DeMint’s amendment isn’t even up for a vote.

In short, the no-tax pledge is evaporating in the fresh air of reality.

What are anti-tax Republicans to do now?

For one, continue to distort the arguments of those who believe corporations and the rich should pay more taxes.

For example, in the lead op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, Cato Institute fellow Alan Reynolds claims a higher marginal tax on the super rich will bring in less revenue.

Reynolds uses my tax proposal from last February as his red herring. “Memo to Robert Reich,” he declares, “The income tax brought in less revenue when the highest rate was 70 percent to 91 percent [between 1950 and 1980] than it did when the highest rate was 28 percent.”

Reynolds bends the facts to make his case, picking and choosing among years.

In truth, the most important variable explaining the rise and fall of tax revenues as percent of GDP has been the business cycle, not the effective tax rate. In periods when the economy is growing briskly, tax revenues have risen as a percent of GDP, regardless of effective rates; in downturns, revenues have fallen.

Reynolds also distorts my proposal, implying that the bracket on which I call for a 70 percent tax is the same as in today’s tax code. Wrong. My proposed 70 percent rate would apply only to incomes over $15 million.

$15 million, Alan!

Under my proposal, incomes between $5 million and $15 million would be subjected to a 60 percent rate, and incomes between $500,000 and $5 million to a 50 percent rate.

Importantly, my proposal calls for a substantial rate reduction for families with incomes under $100,000. (Conveniently, Reynolds fails to mention this.)

Reynolds entirely ignores my central argument, which is that rather than depress economic growth, higher taxes on the rich correlate with higher growth. During almost three decades spanning 1951 to 1980, when the top rate was between 70 percent and 91 percent, average annual growth in the American economy was 3.7 percent.

Between 1983 and the start of the Great Recession, when the top rate dropped to between 35 percent and 39 percent, average growth was 3 percent.

How to explain this? Easy.

Since the early 1980s, a larger and larger share of total income has gone to the top (the richest 1 percent of Americans got 10 percent of total income in 1980, and get over 20 percent now). That’s left the vast middle class with insufficient purchasing power to boost the economy – without going deep into debt.

Lower tax rates on the rich — including lower capital gains rates — have exacerbated this regressive trend.

Finally, having misread the facts, distorted my proposal, and ignored my argument, Reynolds fails to rebut my conclusion that raising middle class purchasing power by lowering their tax rates while raising the rates at the top will help spur growth, to the benefit of all. Top earners will do better with a smaller share of a more rapidly- growing economy a larger share of a slower-growing one.

If I were a cynic, I’d say the Republican right is showing signs of desperation.

Bank CEO pay increased 36%

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Chris in Paris

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It never stops with this crowd. Enough is never enough and political leaders are afraid of any real change that might protect the rest of the country from these bandits.

Bank chiefs’ average pay in the US and Europe leapt 36 percent last year to $9.7 million, according to data compiled for the Financial Times, despite variable performance across the sector.

Two of the industry’s biggest names – Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan Chase chief executive, and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein – were paid more than 15 times their 2009 earnings.

Mr Dimon received nearly $21 million in 2010, topping the FT’s survey of the salary and bonus packages awarded to 15 top bankers. Mr Blankfein earned $14.1 million, including a $5.4 million cash bonus – up from $863,000 in 2009.



Tomgram: Chip Ward, Fire’s Manifest Destiny

from TomDispatch – Blog by Chip Ward

We’ve entered an era of environmental extremity.  Former governor of Arizona and Clinton-era Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt made the point bluntly in a recent speech: “I believe that this Congress, in its assaults on our environment, has embarked on the most radical course in our history… a pattern of a broad, sustained assault on nearly all our environmental laws.”

But the full-scale extremity of the dismantling urge of climate-change-denying (or -ignoring) House Republicans is nothing compared to the increasing extremity of nature itself.  These days, you can’t miss it if you turn on the TV news where storms, fires, and floods dominate, or simply look out your window more or less anywhere in this country right now (as I can attest having just returned from a visit to sweltering, early-June, 100-degree Washington, DC).  If you live in western Kansas, for example, and open your shades, you’re probably facing extreme drought conditions, while in the eastern part of the same state, you may be worrying about a deluge at possibly historic levels, thanks to the rampaging Missouri River.

If southeast Georgia is your habitat, then maybe you’ve noticed that, with drought conditions covering three-quarters of the state, the wildfire season that should have ended by now hasn’t, and that 300 square miles of the Okefenokee Swamp are ablaze for the sixth straight week, as new fires are reported all the time.  On the other hand, should you live anywhere downhill from the West’s high country, you’re probably worrying about whether, with summer coming on, that staggering snowpack will turn into a raging flood.  If you happen to be in Texas, facing the worst drought since the first weather records were kept, maybe you’re wondering where all the water went.  (If you’re in the Texas oil or natural gas business, reliant on large supplies of water to operate, you, too, may be wondering, and even the House Republicans can’t help you.)

If you live in Arizona… but in a pall of smoke, let Chip Ward, westerner, environmental author, and TomDispatch regular who has long been writing about a West that’s drying out, take up the story.  (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ward discusses global “weirding,” click here, or download it to your iPod here.)  Tom

How the West Was Lost
The American West in Flames
By Chip Ward

Arizona is burning. Texas, too. New Mexico is next. If you need a grim reminder that an already arid West is burning up and blowing away, here it is.  As I write this, more than 700 square miles of Arizona and more than 4,300 square miles of Texas have been swept by monster wildfires. Consider those massive columns of acrid smoke drifting eastward as a kind of smoke signal warning us that a globally warming world is not a matter of some future worst-case scenario.  It’s happening right here, right now.

Air tankers have been dropping fire retardant on what is being called the Wallow fire in Arizona and firefighting crews have been mobilized from across the West, but the fire remained “zero contained” for most of last week and only 18% so early in the new week, too big to touch with mere human tools like hoses, shovels, saws, and bulldozers.  Walls of flame 100 feet high rolled over the land like a tsunami from Hades. The heat from such a fire is so intense and immense that it can create small tornadoes of red embers that cannot be knocked down and smothered by water or chemicals. These are not your grandfather’s forest fires.

Because the burn area in eastern Arizona is sparsely populated, damage to property so far has been minimal compared to, say, wildfire destruction in California, where the interface of civilization and wilderness is growing ever more crowded.  However, the devastation to life in the fire zone, from microbiotic communities that hold soil and crucial nutrients in place to more popular species like deer, elk, bear, fish, and birds — already hard-pressed to cope with the rapidity of climate change — will be catastrophic.

The vastness of the American West holds rainforests, deserts, and everything in between, so weather patterns and moisture vary.  Nonetheless, we have beenexperiencing a historic drought for about a decade in significant parts of the region. As topsoil dries out, microbial dynamics change and native plants either die or move uphill toward cooler temperatures and more moisture.  Wildlife that depends on the seeds, nuts, leaves, shade, and shelter follows the plants — if it can.

Plants and animals are usually able to adapt to slow and steady changes in their habitat, but rapid and uncertain seasonal transformations in weather patterns mean that the timing for such basic ecological processes as seed germination, pollination, migration, and hibernation is also disrupted.  The challenge of adapting to such fundamental changes can be overwhelming.

And if evolving at warp speed (while Mother Nature experiences hot flashes) isn’t enough, plants, animals, and birds are struggling within previously reduced and fragmented habitats.  In other words, wildlife already thrown off the mothership now finds the lifeboats, those remnants of their former habitats, on fire. Sometimes extinction happens with a whimper, sometimes with a crackle and a blast.

As for the humans in this drama, I can tell you from personal experience that thousands of people in Arizona and New Mexico are living in fear.  A forest fire is a monster you can see.  It looks over your shoulder 24 hours a day for days on end.  You pack your most precious possessions, gather necessary documents, and point your car or truck toward the road for a quick get-away.  If you have a trailer, you load and hitch it. If you have pets or large animals like a horse, cattle, or sheep, you think of how you’re going to get them to safety.  If you have elderly neighbors or family in the area, you check on them.

And as you wait, watch, and worry, you choke on smoke, rub itching eyes, and sneeze fitfully.  After a couple of days of that omnipresent smoke, almost everyone you meet has a headache.  You know that when it is over, even if you’re among the lucky ones whose homes still stand, you will witness and share in the suffering of neighbors and mourn the loss of cherished places, of shaded streams and flowered meadows, grand vistas, and the lost aroma of the deep woods.

Cue the Inferno

These past few years, mega-fires in the West have become ever more routine.  Though their estimates and measurements may vary, the experts who study these phenomena all agree that wildfires today are bigger, last longer, and are more frequent.  A big fire used to burn perhaps 30 square miles.  Today, wildfires regularly scorch 150-square-mile areas.

Global warming, global weirding, climate change — whatever you prefer to call it — is not just happening in some distant, melting Arctic land out of a storybook.  It is not just burning up far-away Russia.  It’s here now.

The seas have warmed, ice caps are melting, and the old reliable ocean currents and atmospheric jet streams are jumping their tracks.  The harbingers of a warming planet and the abruptly shifting weather patterns that result vary across the American landscape.  Along the vast Mississippi River drainage in the heartland of America, epic floods, like our wildfires in the West, are becoming more frequent.  In the Gulf states, it’s monster hurricanes and in the Midwest, swarms of killer tornadoes signal that things have changed.  In the East it’s those killer heat waves and record-breaking blizzards.

But in the West, we just burn.

Although Western politicians like to blame the dire situation on tree-hugging environmentalists who bring suit to keep loggers from thinning and harvesting the crowded forests, the big picture is far more complicated.  According to Wally Covington of Northern Arizona University, a renowned forest ecologist, the problem has been building towards a catastrophe for decades.

Historically, Western forests were relatively thin, and grasses, light shrubs, and wildflowers thrived under their canopies. Fires would move through every few years, clearing the accumulated undergrowth and resetting the successional clock. Fire, that is, was an ecological process.  Then, in the 1880s, cattle were brought in to graze the native grasses under the forest canopy.  As the grass disappeared, fires were limited and smaller trees were able to mature until the land became overcrowded. Invasive species like highly flammable cheat grass also moved in, carried there and distributed in cow dung. Then, foresters began suppressing fires to protect the over-stocked timber that generated revenues and profits.

All this set the stage for catastrophe.  Next, a decade of drought weakened millions of trees, making them susceptible to voracious beetles that gnaw them to death. Warmer air carries more moisture, so winters, while wetter than normal, are not as cold.  Typical temperatures, in fact, have become mild enough that the beetles, once killed by wintry deep freezes, are now often able to survive until spring, which means that their range is expanding dramatically.  Now, thanks to them, whole mountainsides across the west have turned from green to brown.

Finally, spring runoff that used to happen over three months now sometimes comes down torrentially in a single month, which means that the forests are dry longer. Even our lovely iconic stands of aspen trees are dying on parched south-facing slopes.  Cue the inferno.

If you live in the West, you can’t help wonder what will burn next.  Eastern Colorado, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas are, at present, deep in drought and likely candidates.  Montana’s Lodgepole Pine forests are dying and ready to ignite.  Colorado’s Grand Mesa is another drying forest area that could go up in flames anytime.  Wally Covington estimates that a total of about half-a-million square miles of Western forests, an area three times the size of California, is now at risk of catastrophic fires.  As ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger observed in 2008 when it was California’s turn to burn, the fire season is now 365 days long.

The Fire Next Time

That may explain why ”smoke season” began so early this year, overlapping the spring flood season. Texas and other Western states may be drying up and readying themselves to blow dust your way, but in Utah, where I live, it was anextremely wet winter. Watersheds here are at 200% to 700% of the normal snowpack (“normal” being an ever more problematic concept out here).  Spring weather has become increasingly weird and unpredictable.  Last year we had record-breaking heat and early monsoons in May.  This year it was unusually cold and damp.  The mountains held on to all that accumulating snow, which is now melting quickly and heading downhill all at once.

So although skiers are still riding the mountain slopes of northern Utah, river-rafting guides in the south, famous for their hunger for whitewater excitement, are cancelling trips on the Colorado and Green Rivers because they are flowing so hard and high that navigating them is too risky to try.  In our more sedate settings, suburbs and such, sandbags are now ubiquitous.  Basement pumps are humming across the state.  Reservoirs were emptied ahead of the floods so that they could be refilled with excess runoff, but there is enough snowmelt in our mountains this year to fill them seven times over.  Utah Governor Gary Herbert went on television to urge parents to keep children away from fast-moving streams that might sweep them away.  Seven children have nonetheless drowned in the past two weeks.

The old gospel got it mostly right when God told Noah, “No more water, the fire next time.”  In the West we know that it is not actually a question of either/or, because they go together.  First, floods fuel growth, then growth fuels fires, then fires fuel floods.  So all that unexpected, unpredicted moisture we got this winter will translate into a fresh layer of lush undergrowth in forests that until very recently were drying up, ravaged by beetles, and dying.  You may visit us this summer and see all that new green vegetation as so much beautiful scenery, but we know it is also a ticking tinderbox.  If Mother Nature flips her fickle toggle switch back to hot and dry, as she surely will, fire will follow.

When fire removes trees, brush, and grasses that absorb spring runoff and slow the flow, the next round of floods is accelerated.  If the fire is intense enough to bake soils into a water-resistant crust, the next floods will start landslides and muddy rivers. The silt from all that erosion will clog reservoirs, reducing their capacity both to store water and to mitigate floods. That’s how a self-reinforcing feedback loop works. Back in the days when our weather was far more benign and predictable, this dynamic relationship between fire and flood was predictable and manageable.  Today, it is not.

It may be hard to draw a direct line of cause and effect between global warming (or weirding) and a chain of tornadoes sawing through Joplin, while the record-breaking blizzards of 2011 may seem to contradict the very notion that the planet is getting hotter.  But the droughts, pestilence, and fires we are experiencing in the West are logical and obvious signs that the planet is overheating.  We would be wise and prudent to pay attention and act boldly.

Biological diversity, ecological services like pollination and water filtration, and the powerful global currents of wind and water are the operating systems of all life on Earth, including humans.  For thousands of years, we have depended on benign and predictable weather patterns that generally vary modestly from year to year.  The agricultural system that has fed us since the dawn of history was based on a climate and seasonal swings that were familiar and expectable.

Ask any farmer if he can grow grain without rain or plant seeds in a flooded field.  Signs that life’s operating systems are swinging chaotically from one extreme to another should be a wake-up call to make real plans to kick our carbon-based energy addictions while conserving and restoring ecosystems under stress.

In the process, we’ll need a new vision of who we are and what we are about.  For many generations we believed that developing westward, one frontier after the next, was the nation’s Manifest Destiny.  We eliminated the Indians and the bison in our way, broke the prairies with our plows, dammed raging rivers, piped the captured water to make the desert bloom, and eventually filled the valleys with cities, suburbs, and roads.

The Wild West was tamed.  In fact, we didn’t hesitate to overload its carrying capacity by over-allocating precious water for such dubious purposes as growing rice in Arizona or building spectacular fountains and golf courses in Las Vegas.  We used the deserts near my Utah home as a dumping ground for toxic and radioactive wastes from far-away industrial operations.  The sacrifice zones in the Great Basin Desert where we tested bombs and missiles helped our military project the power that underpinned an empire.  The iconic landscapes of the West even inspired us to think that we were exceptional and brave in ways not common to humanity, and so were not subject to the limitations of other peoples — or even of nature itself.

But whatever we preferred to think, the limits have always been there.  Nature has only so much fresh water, fertile soil, timber, and oil.  The atmosphere can only absorb so much carbon dioxide and stay benign and predictable.  When you overload the carrying capacity of your environment, there is hell to pay, which means that monster fires are here to stay.

After the American West was conquered, tamed, used, and abused, the frontier of our civilizing ambitions moved abroad, was subsumed by a Cold War, was assigned to outer space, and now drives a Humvee through places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  On an overheating planet, if the West is still our place of desire and exception, then fire is our modern manifest destiny — and the West is ours to lose.

A former grassroots organizer and librarian, Chip Ward, TomDispatch regular, writes from Torrey, Utah. He is the author of two books, Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West and Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land.  His essays can be found by clicking here.  To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ward discusses global “weirding,” click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Chip Ward

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Background & Analysis, Civil Liberties, Corporations, Corruption, Environement, Events, Imperialism, Obama, US Economy, US Electoral Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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