"It is the death of humanity to know the price of everything but the value of nothing." ~Unknown

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Chinese Aren’t Coming

by Robert Scheer

On Tuesday, the Cold War finally ended with a historic trade agreement between China and Taiwan that will dramatically integrate the mainland’s economy with that of its claimed breakaway province.

Peace has descended on the most contentious point of conflict between East and West for the past six decades—but don’t expect the folks at the Pentagon or their military contractors to celebrate. The remaining raison d’être for much of their $700 billion budget has suddenly collapsed, and with it the claim on huge profits and high-flying careers. 

The bulk of that money, higher in constant dollars than at any other time since World War II, is spent on weapons systems to fight a sophisticated Cold War enemy that went out of business with the breakdown of the Soviet Union.

And the so-called “war on terror” does not cut it as a substitute excuse for feeding the immense maw of the military-industrial complex. It is laughable to suggest that the ever more complex and costly high-tech weaponry we continue to build is needed to defeat an opponent armed with the box cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers or a primitive roadside bomb set off by an Iraqi insurgent. 

When Sen. Joe Lieberman makes his annual case for those $2.5 billion submarines produced in his home state of Connecticut, his central argument has been that the Chinese are building equally sophisticated weapons that threaten us.

“If we do not move to produce two submarines a year as soon as possible, we are in serious danger of falling behind China,” he thundered during one Senate debate.

Obviously, it’s harder to make the case that submarines are needed to capture al-Qaida terrorists holed up in some landlocked nation’s mountain caves. So too with the ever more advanced arsenal designed to penetrate enemy defenses not even built when those Cold War adversaries still operated.

“The Chinese are coming” became the last refuge of war-profiteering scoundrels once the Russians started cutting back dramatically, but this alarm was never plausible. The authoritative quadrennial Defense Department reports have always made clear that China has at most threatened to become a regional power with Taiwan as its focus. Yet that pathetic excuse for the U.S. spending as much on its military as do the rest of the world nations combined seemed plausible to most in Congress who voted for massive military appropriations even as our government had to borrow money from the Chinese to cover our deficits.

Then those treacherous Chinese, both the mainland Communists and their feuding Taiwan-based cousins, had to go and ruin a good thing by going way beyond kissing and making up. Even when they were verbally warring they were still doing business together during this past decade. Trade between the two is already a hefty $110 billion, 41 percent of Taiwan’s exports, but the new agreement will much expand that by ending tariffs on key products while opening up the financial services industry to investors from what was once an impenetrable cross-strait divide. Taiwanese business investment on the mainland is already massive, but now it will enter the realm of the mainland’s high finance with the world economy as its playground.

The prospect of war between the two, already vastly diminished from Cold War highs, will soon not be possible without hitting their own investment assets on the other side. Which is exactly the peace of the new world order that some U.S. leaders, most prominently the first President Bush, had once welcomed. The question is whether Americans truly believe they can be winners in a world built on expanding trade rather than on military tension.

One has to wonder about our priorities when Congress cannot find the $34 billion needed to continue unemployment payments for six months to 1.7 million workers thrown out of jobs but never questions that sort of spending on military hardware with no logical purpose. The proud promise of American capitalism, often in conflict with a drearier reality, was that our economy did not need military conquest to succeed. Now it is the Chinese, of varying ideological disposition, the heirs of Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, who will test our commitment to that principle. Clearly those former enemies have concluded that power, in the modern world economy, does not grow out of the barrel of a gun, even from a very big and enormously expensive one.

The China-Taiwan agreement and its implications also raise some questions for Americans: How does a modern nation obtain national security?

Are we more secure with our permanent war economy, or is the pursuit of peace through trade and diplomacy, as the formerly most bitter of Chinese enemies are demonstrating, a better way? 

We Can’t Afford War

by Amy Goodman

“General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts,” began the attack ad against Gen. David Petraeus back in 2007, after he had delivered a report to Congress on the status of the war in Iraq.

George W. Bush was president, and MoveOn was accusing Petraeus of “cooking the books for the White House.” The campaign asked “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” on a full-page ad in The Washington Post.

MoveOn took tremendous heat for the campaign, but stood its ground.

Three years later, Barack Obama is president, Petraeus has become his man in Afghanistan, and MoveOn pulls the critical Web content. Why? Because Bush’s first war, Afghanistan, has become Obama’s war, a quagmire. The U.S. will eventually negotiate its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The only difference between now and then will be the number of dead, on all sides, and the amount of (borrowed) money that will be spent.

Petraeus’ confirmation to become the military commander in Afghanistan was never in question. He replaces Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who resigned shortly after his macho criticisms of his civilian leadership became public in a recent Rolling Stone magazine article.

The statistics for Afghanistan, Obama’s Vietnam, are surging. June, with at least 100 U.S. deaths, is the highest number reported since the invasion in 2001. 2010 is on pace to be the year with the highest U.S. fatalities. Similar fates have befallen soldiers from the other, so-called coalition countries.

Petraeus is becoming commander not only of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, but of all forces, as the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is run by NATO.

U.S. troops, expected to rise to 98,000 this year, far outnumber those from other nations. Public and political support in many of those countries is waning.

Journalist Michael Hastings, who wrote the Rolling Stone piece, was in Paris with McChrystal to profile him. What didn’t get as much attention was Hastings’ description of why McChrystal was there:

“He’s in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies—to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.”

The whistle-blower website, which received international attention after releasing leaked video from a U.S. attack helicopter showing the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and a Reuters cameraman and his driver in Baghdad, has just posted a confidential CIA memo detailing possible public relations strategies to counter waning public support for the Afghan War.

The agency memo reads: “If domestic politics forces the Dutch to depart, politicians elsewhere might cite a precedent for ‘listening to the voters.’

French and German leaders have over the past two years taken steps to preempt an upsurge of opposition but their vulnerability may be higher now.”

I just returned from Toronto, covering the G-20 summit and the protests. The gathered leaders pledged, among other things, to reduce government deficits by 50 percent by 2013. In the U.S., that means cutting $800 billion, or about 20 percent of the budget.

Two Nobel Prize-winning economists have weighed in with grave predictions.

Joseph Stiglitz said, “There are many cases where these kinds of austerity measures have led to ... recessions into depressions.”

And Paul Krugman wrote: “Who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.”

In order to make the cuts promised, Obama would have to raise taxes and cut social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Or he could cut the war budget.

I say “war budget” because it is not to be confused with a defense budget. Cities and states across the country are facing devastating budget crises.

Pensions are being wiped out. Foreclosures are continuing at record levels.

A true defense budget would shore up our schools, our roads, our towns, our social safety net.

The U.S. House of Representatives is under pressure to pass a $33 billion Afghan War supplemental this week.

We can’t afford war.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Lara Logan, You Suck

by Matt Taibbi

Lara Logan, come on down! You're the next guest on Hysterical Backstabbing Jealous Hackfest 2010!

I thought I'd seen everything when I read David Brooks saying out loud in a New York Times column that reporters should sit on damaging comments to save their sources from their own idiocy.

But now we get CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan slamming our own Michael Hastings on CNN's "Reliable Sources" program, agreeing that the Rolling Stone reporter violated an "unspoken agreement" that journalists are not supposed to "embarrass [the troops] by reporting insults and banter."

Anyone who wants to know why network television news hasn't mattered since the seventies just needs to check out this appearance by Logan. Here's CBS's chief foreign correspondent saying out loud on TV that when the man running a war that's killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag. And the part that really gets me is Logan bitching about how Hastings was dishonest to use human warmth and charm to build up enough of a rapport with his sources that they felt comfortable running their mouths off in front of him. According to Logan, that's sneaky — and journalists aren't supposed to be sneaky:
"What I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion of trust and, you know, he's laid out there what his game is… That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don't — I don't go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I mean, I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life."
When I first heard her say that, I thought to myself, "That has to be a joke. It's sarcasm, right?" But then I went back and replayed the clip – no sarcasm! She meant it! If I'm hearing Logan correctly, what Hastings is supposed to have done in that situation is interrupt these drunken assholes and say, "Excuse me, fellas, I know we're all having fun and all, but you're saying things that may not be in your best interest!

As a reporter, it is my duty to inform you that you may end up looking like insubordinate douche bags in front of two million Rolling Stone readers if you don't shut your mouths this very instant!" I mean, where did Logan go to journalism school – the Burson-Marsteller agency?

But Logan goes even further that that. See, according to Logan, not only are reporters not supposed to disclose their agendas to sources at all times, but in the case of covering the military, one isn't even supposed to have an agenda that might upset the brass! Why? Because there is an "element of trust" that you're supposed to have when you hang around the likes of a McChrystal.

You cover a war commander, he's got to be able to trust that you're not going to embarrass him. Otherwise, how can he possibly feel confident that the right message will get out?

True, the Pentagon does have perhaps the single largest public relations apparatus on earth – spending $4.7 billion on P.R. in 2009 alone and employing 27,000 people, a staff nearly as large as the 30,000-person State Department – but is that really enough to ensure positive coverage in a society with armed with a constitutionally-guaranteed free press?

And true, most of the major TV outlets are completely in the bag for the Pentagon, with two of them (NBC/GE and Logan's own CBS, until recently owned by Westinghouse, one of the world's largest nuclear weapons manufacturers) having operated for years as leaders in both the broadcast media and weapons-making businesses.

But is that enough to guarantee a level playing field? Can a general really feel safe that Americans will get the right message when the only tools he has at his disposal are a $5 billion P.R. budget and the near-total acquiescence of all the major media companies, some of whom happen to be the Pentagon's biggest contractors?

Does the fact that the country is basically barred from seeing dead bodies on TV, or the fact that an embedded reporter in a war zone literally cannot take a shit without a military attaché at his side (I'm not joking: while embedded at Camp Liberty in Iraq, I had to be escorted from my bunk to the latrine) really provide the working general with the security and peace of mind he needs to do his job effectively?

Apparently not, according to Lara Logan. Apparently in addition to all of this, reporters must also help out these poor public relations underdogs in the Pentagon by adhering to an "unspoken agreement" not to embarrass the brass, should they tilt back a few and jam their feet into their own mouths in front of a reporter holding a microphone in front of their faces.

Then there's the part that made me really furious: Logan hinting that Hastings lied about the damaging material being on the record:

"Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn't really make a lot of sense to me… I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn't add up here. I just — I don't believe it."

I think the real meaning of that above quote is made clear in conjunction with this one:

"There are very good beat reporters who have been covering these wars for years, year after year. Michael Hastings appeared in Baghdad fairly late on the scene, and he was there for a significant period of time. He has his credentials, but he's not the only one. There are a lot of very good reporters out there. And to be fair to the military, if they believe that a piece is balanced, they will let you back."

Let me just say one thing quickly: I don't know Michael Hastings. I've never met him and he's not a friend of mine. If he cut me off in a line in an airport, I'd probably claw his eyes out like I would with anyone else. And if you think I'm being loyal to him because he works for Rolling Stone, well – let's just say my co-workers at the Stone would laugh pretty hard at that idea.

But when I read this diatribe from Logan, I felt like I'd known Hastings my whole life. Because brother, I have been there, when some would-be "reputable" journalist who's just been severely ass-whipped by a relative no-name freelancer on an enormous story fights back by going on television and, without any evidence at all, accusing the guy who beat him of cheating.

That's happened to me so often, I've come to expect it. If there's a lower form of life on the planet earth than a "reputable" journalist protecting his territory, I haven't seen it.

As to this whole "unspoken agreement" business: the reason Lara Logan thinks this is because she's like pretty much every other "reputable" journalist in this country, in that she suffers from a profound confusion about who she's supposed to be working for. I know this from my years covering presidential campaigns, where the same dynamic applies.

Hey, assholes: you do not work for the people you're covering! Jesus, is this concept that fucking hard?

On the campaign trail, I watch reporters nod solemnly as they hear about the hundreds of millions of dollars candidates X and Y and Z collect from the likes of Citigroup and Raytheon and Archer Daniels Midland, and it blows my mind that they never seem to connect the dots and grasp where all that money is going.

The answer, you idiots, is that it's buying advertising! People like George Bush, John McCain, Barack Obama, and General McChrystal for that matter, they can afford to buy their own P.R. — and they do, in ways both honest and dishonest, visible and invisible.

They don't need your help, and you're giving it to them anyway, because you just want to be part of the club so so badly. Disgustingly, that's really what it comes down to. Most of these reporters just want to be inside the ropeline so badly, they want to be able to say they had that beer with Hillary Clinton in a bowling alley in Scranton or whatever, that it colors their whole worldview. God forbid some important person think you're not playing for the right team!

Meanwhile, the people who don't have the resources to find out the truth and get it out in front of the public's eyes, your readers/viewers, you're supposed to be working for them — and they're not getting your help. What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Is it worth all the bloodshed and the hatred?

Who are the people running this thing, what is their agenda, and is that agenda the same thing we voted for?

By the severely unlikely virtue of a drunken accident we get a tiny glimpse of an answer to some of these vital questions, but instead of cheering this as a great break for our profession, a waytago moment, one so-called reputable journalist after another lines up to protest the leak and attack the reporter for doing his job.

God, do you all suck!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Enter, Real Populists

by Jim Hightower

Few people today call themselves populists, but I think most are. I'm not talking about the recent political outbursts by confused, used and abused tea-bag ranters who've been organized by corporate front groups to spread a hatred of government.

Rather, I mean the millions of ordinary Americans in every state who're battling the real power that's running roughshod over us: out-of-control corporations.

With their oceans of money and their hired armies of lobbyists and lawyers, these self-serving, autocratic entities operate from faraway executives suites and Washington backrooms to rig the economic and governmental rules so that they can capture an ever-bigger share of America's money and power.

You can yell yourself red-faced at Congress critters you don't like and demand a government so small that it'd fit in the backroom of Billy Bob's Bait Shop and Sushi Stand, but you won't be touching the corporate and financial powers behind the throne.

In fact, weak government is the political wet dream of corporate chieftains, which is why they're so ecstatic to have the tea party out front for them. But the real issue isn't small government, it's good government.

(Can I get an amen from Gulf Coast fishing families on that!?)

It's necessary to restate the solid principles of populism and reassert its true spirit, because both are now being severely perverted by corporate manipulators and a careless media establishment.

To these debasers of the language, any politicos or pundits who tap into any level of popular anger (toward Barack Obama, liberals, the IRS, poor people, unions, gays, immigrants, Hollywood, community organizers, environmentalists et al.) get a peel-off "populist" label slapped onto their lapels — even when their populist pose is funded by and operates as a front for one or another corporate interest. That's not populism, it's rank hucksterism — disguising plutocrats as champions of the people.

Now is the time for progressives to reassert their populist beliefs and bona fides, for we're living in a teachable moment in which it's possible to reach most Americans with an aggressive and positive approach to achieving a higher level of economic and political democracy.

There is a spreading and deepening recognition within today's broad middle class that they've been abandoned to a plutocracy that feels free to knock them down and leave them there. The distain that the power elites have for the rest of us is glaringly and gallingly apparent.

— Wall Street billionaires crash our economy but are bailed out at our expense to continue their banksterism against us.

— We're told to accept a "jobless recovery" and to sit still for a "new normal" of perpetually low wages, continuing losses of American jobs, and steady erosion of union and consumer power.

— We're presented with two flagrant examples of murderous corporate greed —first, at Massey Energy's deadly coal mine, then at BP's deadly offshore oil well — yet no corporate executive has even been arrested.

Do the Powers That Be (whether liberal or conservative) really imagine that the great majority of Americans don't see or don't care about this rank classism, this in-your-face stiffing of the middle class?

This is where populists come in.

You wouldn't know it from the corporate media, but in just about every town or city in our land you can find some groups or coalitions that, instead of merely shouting at politicians, have come together to find their way around, over or through the blockages that big money has put in the way of their democratic aspirations.

In the process of organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing, these groups are building relationships and community, creating something positive from a negative.

With the rebellious spirit and sense of hope that have defined America from the start, these populists are directly challenging the plutocratic order that reigns over us. This populism is unabashedly a class movement — one that seeks not merely to break the iron grip that centralized corporate power has on our country, but also to build cooperative democratic structures so that ordinary people, not moneyed interests, define and control our country's economic and political possibilities.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Speaker Pelosi, More War Funding Next Week Is No 'Emergency'

by Robert Naiman

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is committed to passing an emergency war supplemental before the July Fourth recess, Roll Call reports.
Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no "emergency" requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation.

This fact -- that there is no emergency requiring an immediate appropriation -- is absolutely critical, because the claim that there is some "emergency" requiring an immediate infusion of cash, otherwise there will be some new apocalyptic catastrophe, is the means by which the Pentagon and the White House hope to dodge two sets of questions about the war supplemental urgently being asked by Democratic leaders in the House.

Secretary Gates has complained that if the war money is not approved by July 4, the Pentagon might have to do "stupid things" like furlough civilian Pentagon employees.

I am not in favor of furloughs, even of Pentagon employees (can we furlough someone who approves breaking into Afghans' homes in the middle of the night and killing pregnant women?), but as "stupid" goes, furloughing Pentagon employees doesn't hold a candle to laying off public school teachers, which is the likely consequence of allowing the Pentagon and the White House dodge their critics in the House.

The war funding proposal has been sitting in the inbox for six months. What kind of "emergency" is that?

The $33 billion represents about five percent of the gargantuan Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can live with a little more delay, while we get answers to some urgent questions.

The first set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: now that we've dumped McChrystal, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Yesterday, thirty Members of the House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, demanding that the questions about the war raised by Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone article be answered before the House votes on the Pentagon's request for more money.

According to Hastings' article, "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further." A senior military official says, "There's a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer," which is a pants-on-fire contradiction to the promises made when the last increase of forces was announced. Meanwhile, McChrystal's Chief of Operatons, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, said:

"It's not going to look like a win...This is going to end in an argument." If it's going to end in an argument anyway -- Mayville is surely right -- why shed more blood? Don't we have a right and obligation to demand a straightforward and concrete accounting of what the additional bloodshed is purportedly going to achieve?

Ninety-eight Members of the House -- almost a quarter -- have now signed on to legislation demanding that President Obama establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shall the House not debate establishing a timetable for military withdrawal before voting on more money for pointless killing?

The second set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: what the hell is the federal government doing about Main Street's economic crisis?

While it is not the responsibility of the Pentagon to do something about Main Street's economic crisis, it is the obligation of the Pentagon to defend more Pentagon spending as the best use of public resources, at a time when states and local governments are looking at mass layoffs of public employees, including school teachers.

This is the question that House Appropriations chair David Obey put on the table when he said he would sit on the war appropriation until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

But on money to save teachers' jobs, the White House is still Absent Without Leave, hiding behind the purported threat of a Senate filibuster, just as it did on the public option for health insurance. If it fought for teachers, the White House could win.

But it isn't fighting, because unlike the war funding, teachers' jobs are not a White House priority.

If we want this to change, Obey has to be able to make good on his threat. And that means the House has to be willing to call the Pentagon's bluff.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy

Friday, June 25, 2010

In Dire Straits, Americans Whimper Instead

by Ted Rall

PORTLAND, OREGON--In 1967 animal researchers conducted an interesting experiment. Two sets of dogs were strapped into harnesses and subjected to a series of shocks. The dogs were placed in the same room.

The first set of dogs was allowed to perform a task--pushing a panel with their snouts--in order to avoid the shocks. As soon as one dog mastered the shock-avoidance technique, his comrades followed suit.

The second group, on the other hand, was placed out of reach from the panel. They couldn't stop the pain. But they watched the actions of the first set.

Then both groups of dogs were subjected to a second experiment. If they jumped over a barrier, the dogs quickly learned, the shocks would stop. The dogs belonging to the first set all did it.

But the second-set dogs were too psychologically scarred to help themselves. "When shocked, many of them ran around in great distress but then lay on the floor and whimpered," wrote Russell A. Powell, Diane G. Symbaluk and P. Lynne Honey in Introduction to Learning and Behavior.

"They made no effort to escape the shock. Even stranger, the few dogs that did by chance jump over the barrier, successfully escaping the shock, seemed unable to learn from this experience and failed to repeat it on the next trial.

In summary, the prior exposure to inescapable shock seemed to impair the dogs' ability to learn to escape shock when escape became possible."

The decrease in learning ability caused by unavoidable punishment leads to a condition called "learned helplessness."

Which brings us to the midterm elections.

Battered and bruised, with no apparent way out, the American electorate has plunged into a political state of learned helplessness. They've voted Democratic to punish rapacious Republicans. They've voted Republican to get rid of do-nothing Democrats. They've tried staying home on Election Day.

Nothing they do helps their condition. They're flailing.

The great mass of Americans works longer hours for less pay. Until, inevitably, they get "laid off." Is there a working- or middle-class American who hasn't lost his job or been close to someone who got fired during the last few years? Even in 2009, when global capitalism entered its final crisis and millions of Americans were losing their homes to the same banks their taxes were paying to bail out, the world's richest people--those with disposable wealth over $30 million--saw their assets soar by 21.5 percent.

Go ahead, little leftie: smash the windows at Starbucks in Seattle. It won't stop transnational corporations from raping the planet and exploiting you. Enjoy your Tea Party, little rightie. It sure is cute, listening to you talk about the wee Constitution. "Your" government and the companies that own "your" leaders have your number. And they're listening to your phone calls.

The public is now in full-fledged flailing mode. Just two years ago, you will recall, Obama and the Democrats swept into power on a platform of hope and change: hope that things might improve, by changing away from the Bushian Republicanism of the previous eight years.

Now, depending who you listen to, people have either turned against the hope and the change, or against the failure of ObamaCo to deliver it. "The voters, I think, are just looking for change, and that means bad news for incumbents and in particular for the Democrats," says Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster.

Change from change we can't believe in. Again.

According to the latest NBC News/Washington Post poll, this is the same electorate that "shows grave and growing concerns about the Gulf oil spill, with overwhelming majorities of adults favoring stronger regulation of the oil industry and believing that the spill will affect the nation's economy and environment." Because you know the Republicans are all about more regulation of Big Oil. And care so much about the environment.

Does your head hurt yet?

There is some good news: Three major polls find that most Americans don't believe Obama has a plan to fix the economy. Yes, this is good news; it proves that the public isn't totally crazy.

Like the poor Set B dogs in that 1967 experiment, Americans are running around aimlessly, veering between two parties that differ only in their degree of harm. Republicans are evil; Democrats enable it.

Next: lying on the ground and whimpering.

The way out is obvious. If a two-party corpocracy beholden to gangster capitalism is ruining your life, get rid of it.

Don't whimper. Bite.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Firing McChrystal Is Not Enough

by Tom Andrews

It's not enough to fire General McChrystal for his latest public act of insubordination. It's time to fire the entire Afghanistan strategy. How can Congress possibly appropriate an additional $33 billion to a General who does not believe in the mission, the Commander-in-Chief or the administration officials he so obviously holds in contempt? The answer is obvious: it can't.
Obama & McChrystal
There are two possible explanations for this latest McChrystal rip at the Obama administration in the soon-to-be-released issue of Rolling Stone: either he is out of control, cracking under the pressure of a failure with his name all over it, or he has decided he needs to engage in a new round of media manipulation to weaken the hands of the administration figures he disdains and blames for setbacks to his strategy.

Either way, the President needs to fire McChrystal now. But he also needs to recognize that this latest debacle is further evidence that it is time to fundamentally change course. If he is unwilling to do so, Congress needs to say "no" to the administration's $33 billion Supplemental Appropriation request when it hits the floor of the House this week or next.

McChrystal's closest advisors speak openly in the article that they do not believe the war in Afghanistan is winnable. Here is how McChrystal's Chief of Operations told Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings that the war in Afghanistan is going to end: "'It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win' said Major General Bill Mayville, 'This is going to end in an argument.'"

As Hastings writes: "So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war." And that is what key figures in the military have in mind, notwithstanding the president's commitment to begin withdrawing US troops in July of next year. According to a senior military official in Kabul: "There is a possibility that we could ask for another surge of US forces next summer if we see success here."

Another surge? Without a clear exit strategy from Afghanistan - and 96 Members of Congress are demanding one by co-sponsoring legislation sponsored by Jim McGovern in the House - senior military leaders are conducting operations in Afghanistan as if escalation, not withdrawal, could very well be in the cards. And why not? McChrystal backed the administration down before, why not again?

McChrystal began his campaign of public pressure on the Obama administration by leaking his demand for 40,000 additional troops to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post when President Obama was reviewing his war policy. Then there was the public repudiation of Vice President Biden and his preferred strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. When asked if he could support a presidential decision to rely on a counterterrorism approach to defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as Vice President Biden advocated, McChrystal replied "The short, glib answer is no."

McChrystal publicly threatened insubordination if the Obama administration did not toe the line and give him exactly what he was demanding. It worked: he not only kept his job, he got everything that he wanted.

Where has McChrystal's strategy led us? What he once described as a "model" operation in Marja, General McChrystal now describes as "a bleeding ulcer." The Pentagon's latest quarterly report to Congress on the war confirms that the insurgency in Afghanistan is expanding its operations and increasing in sophistication. Efforts to strengthen the Afghan National Army have been stymied by "high attrition and low retention" of recruits. Meanwhile, according to the Pentagon report, the insurgency has a steady and growing supply of fighters: "A ready supply of recruits is drawn from a frustrated population where insurgents exploit poverty, tribal friction and a lack of governance to grow their ranks."

McChrystal has become increasingly worried about the consequences of Americans paying attention to the failing war. A Senior Advisor to McChrystal told Rolling Stone, "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular."


Congress needs to pay attention. They can start by heeding the advice of Andrew Wilder of Tufts University, who told Hastings that handing over the cash McChrystal wants for his failing operation in Afghanistan will only make things worse: "Throwing money at the problem only exacerbates the problem."

It's time to stop the manipulation, the insubordination and the military dreams of endless war in Afghanistan.

Fire McChrystal and then fire the strategy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Global War Racket Exposed: Trillions in Resources & Funding Our Enemies

By David DeGraw

Building on my Af-Pak War Racket report, a few recent news items help expose the true drivers of current wars around the world.

#1) Wherever there is a war, look for CIA/IMF/private military war profiteers covertly funding and supporting BOTH sides in order to keep the wars raging and the profits rolling in. As former CIA Station Chief John Stockwell explained: “Enemies are necessary for the wheels of the US military machine to turn.”
Here’s an important glimpse of truth to seep through last week in the NY Times, via Raw Story:
US-backed ‘bribes’ in Afghanistan may be funding Taliban
On June 7, the day Afghanistan became America’s longest-ever war, the New York Times reported on an ongoing investigation poised to prove that private security companies “are using American money to bribe the Taliban” to fuel combat and thus enhance demand for their services. The news follows a “series of events last month that suggested all-out collusion with the insurgents,” the Times said.
“The American people are paying to prop up a corrupt government that may be using our money to pay private companies to drum up business by paying the insurgents to attack our troops,” [Kucinich] said…. The Times interviewed a NATO official in Kabul who “believed millions of dollars were making their way to the Taliban.” [read more]
#2) On top of that report, Sunday’s headlines read, “Pakistani spy agency supports Taliban:”
Pakistan’s main spy agency continues to arm and train the Taliban and is even represented on the group’s leadership council despite U.S. pressure to sever ties and billions in aid to combat the militants, said a research report released Sunday.
The findings could heighten tension between the two countries and raise further questions about U.S. success in Afghanistan since Pakistani cooperation is seen as key to defeating the Taliban, which seized power in Kabul in the 1990s with Islamabad’s support.
U.S. officials have suggested in the past that current or former members of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, have maintained links to the Taliban despite the government’s decision to denounce the group in 2001 under U.S. pressure. [read more]
First off, these two reports are really not news at all. Reports of American tax dollars ending up in the hands of the Taliban have been coming out since the start of the war and the ISI, as the CIA has been well aware of for years now, has been playing both sides of this war and is pivotal in keeping the war going. Secondly, I have long wondered when the CIA / US military would start exposing all of this in the mainstream propaganda press as a pretext to further expand the war into Pakistan.

#3) As a result of all this, and not surprising at all to people who were paying close attention to Obama’s surge strategy, costs and death counts are quickly rising. Jim Lobe reports from Afghanistan that the “News is Bad.”
While U.S. officials insist they are making progress in reversing the momentum built up by the Taliban insurgency over the last several years, the latest news from Afghanistan suggests the opposite may be closer to the truth.
Even senior military officials are conceding privately that their much-touted new counterinsurgency strategy of “clear, hold and build” in contested areas of the Pashtun southern and eastern parts of the country are not working out as planned despite the “surge” of some 20,000 additional U.S. troops over the past six months.
Casualties among the nearly 130,000 U.S. and other NATO troops now deployed in Afghanistan are also mounting quickly. [read more]
#4) In a propaganda effort to spin away from all the latest bad news, the desperate US military has pulled this dusty old news report out of their back-pocket and launched a psychological operation in the NY Times to give a positive spin in hopes of further manipulating US public opinion:
U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves…. The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys. [read more]
In the process of this latest propaganda campaign, the Pentagon has unwittingly exposed two things that I will now jump on. A) The real reason why we are in this war to begin with: it’s all about natural resources. And B) All the BS statements about these “previously unknown deposits” clearly prove, yet again, that the NY Times is only too happy to play the role of a straight-up propaganda paper. For those of us paying attention, we’ve been reading reports about these minerals for the past decade! Roland Sheppard just sent this along:
“The New York Times, when it was beating the drums of war in 2002, failed to mention that the USGS published a report, at that time, Mines and Mineral Occurrences of Afghanistan Compiled by G.J. Orris and J.D. Bliss. Open-File Report 02-110. On page 16, they list as ‘Significant Minerals or Materials’ magnetite, hematite, chalcopyrite, covellite, chalcocite, cuprite, malachite, azurite, molybdenite, and native gold – lithium is mentioned on page 10 under ‘References.’”
So, from the very beginning, as I went into further detail in the past, the war in Afghanistan is all about resources. I’ll get back to the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” in a minute, here’s a brief excerpt from my prior report on another key resource in the region:
Up until 9/11, oil companies, with the help of the Bush administration, were desperately trying to work out a deal with the Taliban to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. One of the world’s richest oil fields is on the eastern shore of the Caspian sea just north of Afghanistan. The Caspian oil reserves are of top strategic importance in the quest to control the earth’s remaining oil supply. The US government developed a policy called “The Strategy of the Silk Route.”
 The policy was designed to lock out Russia, China and Iran from the oil in this region. This called for U.S. corporations to construct an oil pipeline running through Afghanistan. Since the mid 1990s, a consortium of U.S. companies led by Unocal have been pursing this goal. A feasibility study of the Central Asian pipeline project was performed by Enron. Their study concluded that as long as the country was split among fighting warlords the pipeline could not be built. Stability was necessary for the $4.5 billion project and the U.S. believed that the Taliban would impose the necessary order.

The U.S. State Department and Pakistan’s ISI, impressed by the Taliban movement to cut a pipeline deal, agreed to funnel arms and funding to the Taliban in their war for control of Afghanistan. [read more]
Then of course we have the war in Iraq, again from my previous report:
As an AlterNet report put it: “In January 2000, 10 days into President George W. Bush’s first term, representatives of the largest oil and energy companies joined the new administration to form the Cheney Energy Task Force.”
 Secret Task Force documents that were dated March 2001, which were obtained by Judical Watch in 2003 after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, contained “a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects…” They also had: “… a series of lists titled ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts‘ naming more than 60 companies from some 30 countries with contracts in various stages of negotiation.
None of contracts were with American nor major British companies, and none could take effect while the U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iraq remained in place. Three countries held the largest contracts: China, Russia and France — all members of the Security Council and all in a position to advocate for the end of sanctions.
Were Saddam to remain in power and the sanctions to be removed, these contracts would take effect, and the U.S. and its closest ally would be shut out of Iraq’s great oil bonanza.”
Project Censored highlighted a Judicial Watch report that stated: “Documented plans of occupation and exploitation predating September 11 confirm heightened suspicion that U.S. policy is driven by the dictates of the energy industry. According to Judicial Watch President, Tom Fitton, ‘These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public.’”
So that’s the oil angle of this resource war, now back to the lithium angle.

This longest war in US history is very similar to the even longer wars raging in Northern Africa, another resource rich paradise of death and destruction. In the late 1990s, CIA-connected corporations like Bechtel worked with NASA to conduct infrared satellite studies to discover mineral rich regions throughout the world. Other than the discoveries in South-Central Asia (Af-Pak region), Northern Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo region), emerged as a key source for future resources. In particular, the mineral coltan, which like lithium, is vital to powering most computer technology. Since Bechtel and NASA made these discoveries, a report from The International Rescue Committee revealed that an astonishing 5.4 MILLION Africans have been killed in the region. For some background, here’s an excellent report from July 2001, in Dollars and Sense magazine:
The Business of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dena Montague and Frida Berrigan
“This is all money,” says a Western mining executive, his hand sweeping over a geological map toward the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is explaining why, in 1997, he and planeloads of other businessmen were flocking to the impoverished country and vying for the attention of then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The executive could just as accurately have said, ‘This is all war.’
The interplay among a seemingly endless supply of mineral resources, the greed of multinational corporations desperate to cash in on that wealth, and the provision of arms and military training to political tyrants has helped to produce the spiral of conflicts that have engulfed the continent – what many regard as “Africa’s First World War.” These minerals are vital to maintaining U.S. military dominance…” [read more]
For further detail, here’s Project Censored’s 2003 report:
American Companies Exploit the Congo:
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been labeled “the richest patch of earth on the planet.” The valuable abundance of minerals and resources in the DRC has made it the target of attacks from U.S.-supported neighboring African countries Uganda and Rwanda.
The DRC is mineral rich with millions of tons of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium, niobium, and tantalum also known as coltan. Coltan has become an increasingly valuable resource to American corporations. Coltan is used to make mobile phones, night vision goggles, fiber optics, and capacitators used to maintain the electrical charge in computer chips….
The DRC holds 80% of the world’s coltan reserves, more than 60% of the world’s cobalt and is the world’s largest supplier of high-grade copper. With these minerals playing a major part in maintaining US military dominance and economic growth, minerals in the Congo are deemed vital US interests.
Historically, the U.S. government identified sources of materials in Third World countries, and then encouraged U.S. corporations to invest in and facilitate their production. Dating back to the mid-1960s, the U.S. government literally installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which gave U.S. corporations access to the Congo’s minerals for more than 30 years. However, over the years Mobutu began to limit access by Western corporations, and to control the distribution of resources. In 1998, U.S. military-trained leaders of Rwanda and Uganda invaded the mineral-rich areas of the Congo. The invaders installed illegal colonial-style governments which continue to receive millions of dollars in arms and military training from the United States. Our government and a $5 million Citibank loan maintains the rebel presence in the Congo. Their control of mineral rich areas allows western corporations, such as American Mineral Fields, to illegally mine. Rwandan and Ugandan control over this area is beneficial for both governments and for the corporations that continue to exploit the Congo’s natural wealth….
San Francisco based engineering firm Bechtel Inc. established strong ties in the rebel zones as well. Bechtel drew up an inventory of the Congo’s mineral resources free of charge, and also paid for NASA satellite studies of the country for infared maps of its minerals. Bechtel estimates that the DRC’s mineral ores alone are worth $157 billion dollars. Through coltan production, the Rwandans and their allies are bringing in $20 million revenue a month. Rwanda’s diamond exports went from 166 carats in 1998 to 30,500 in 2000. Uganda’s diamond exports jumped from approximately 1,500 carats to about 11,300. The final destination for many of these minerals is the U.S.” [read more]
And to close this out, let me return to “The Business of War” report by Dena Montague and Frida Berrigan. As you will see, you always have to follow the money, the bankers and our friends at the IMF are always at the root of global death and destruction, and are the true Masters of War:
“Today, the United States claims that it has no interest in the DRC other than a peaceful resolution to the current war. Yet U.S. businessmen and politicians are still going to extreme lengths to gain and preserve sole access to the DRC’s mineral resources. And to protect these economic interests, the U.S. government continues to provide millions of dollars in arms and military training to known human-rights abusers and undemocratic regimes. Thus, the DRC’s mineral wealth is both an impetus for war and an impediment to stopping it….
During his historic visit to Africa in 1998, President Clinton praised Presidents Kagame and Musevini as leaders of the ‘African Renaissance,’ just a few months before they launched their deadly invasion of the DRC with U.S. weapons and training….
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources. Although the IMF and World Bank were aware that the rise in GDP coincided with the DRC war, and that it was derived from exports of natural resources that neither country normally produced, they nonetheless touted both nations as economic success stories….
In January 2000, Chevron – the corporation that named an oil tanker after National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice – announced a three-year, $75 million spending program in the DRC, thus challenging the notion that war discourages foreign investment…. As one investor put it, “It is a good moment to come: it is in difficult times that you can get the most advantage.”….
In April 2001, a scathing UN report argued that Presidents Kagame and Museveni are “on the verge of becoming the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” The two leaders, the report alleged, have turned their armies into armies for business….
According to East African media reports, U.S. diplomats continue to view Rwanda and Uganda as “strategic allies in the Great Lakes region” and “would not want to upset relations with them at this time.” …. The IMF and World Bank have also indicated that their policies toward Rwanda and Uganda will remain unchanged….”
Famed two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient US Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler accurately summed up the situation when he said: “I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism…. The general public shoulders the bill. This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones, Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.”

Sing it with me:
“Come you masters of war…
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know,
I can see through your mask…”

Read more of David DeGraw’s work at
David DeGraw, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is an investigative journalist who has been featured in many publications and websites. He is the founder and editor of, editorial director of and author of The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Al Franken Slams Supreme Court For Dismantling Legal Protections (VIDEO)

Al Franken Slams Supreme Court For Dismantling Legal Protections (VIDEO)

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) railed against the Supreme Court in a speech to progressive legal scholars Thursday night, declaring that "the Roberts Court has systematically dismantled the legal protections that help ordinary people find justice when wronged by the economically powerful."

Franken in particular decried the way conservative legal scholars have changed the popular perception of what Supreme Court justices do -- and what justice is.
They've distorted our constitutional discourse to make it sound like the Court's rulings don't matter to ordinary people, but only to the undeserving riff-raff at the margins of society.
So unless you want to get a late-term abortion, burn a flag in the town square, or get federal funding for your pornographic artwork, you really don't need to worry about what the Supreme Court is up to.
The ACLU has a long and proud history of defending the First Amendment, and while I haven't seen polling on this, I'd bet that most Americans are fairly pro-First Amendment. But, thanks to a generation of conservative activism, the ACLU is now best known as "those guys who hate Christmas."
By defining the terms of constitutional debate such that it doesn't involve the lives of ordinary people, conservatives have disconnected Americans from their legal system. And that leaves room for lots of shenanigans.
And Franken said it's the conservatives who have become activist judges.
I mean, I don't speak Latin. But unless stare decisis means "overturn stuff," then maybe it's time for conservatives to stop calling other people "dangerous radicals."
Stare decisis means "to stand by that which is decided" and is the legal principle that precedent decisions are to be followed by the courts.
Franken said the corporate tilt of the Court is not an abstract matter:
If you have a credit card, if you watch TV, if you file insurance claims, if you work - in other words, if you participate in American daily life at all - then you interact with corporations that are more powerful than you are.
The degree to which those corporations' rights are protected over yours, well, that's extremely relevant to your life.
And in case after case after case, the Roberts Court has put not just a thumb, but a fist, on the scale in favor of those corporations.
There were some moments of Franken's trademark humor. He opened by telling the audience at the American Constitution Society national convention: "Look to your left. Look to your right. Odds are, at least one of the three of you will someday be filibustered by Senate Republicans."

Dawn Johnsen also made her first public remarks since it became clear that the Obama White House either couldn't or wouldn't get the Senate to confirm her as head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. (Johnsen also wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week.)
David Ingram blogged for the Legal Times:
She told an overflowing crowd that she did not want her experience to discourage others from taking on controversial causes.
"As to whether I would have changed any of my positions or softened my stances or decided to just sit out a few issues, the message could not be more clear or more simple: I have no regrets," Johnsen said.

FULL TEXT OF FRANKEN'S SPEECH (As Prepared For Delivery):

Thank you, Judy, for that introduction, and for your work on behalf of working Americans. Thank you to Caroline Fredrickson for your leadership and for inviting me to speak here tonight.
Thank you all for being here tonight, and for the good work you do to defend the Constitution and the American values it represents.
It is an honor to address this convention.
Speakers at past ACS gatherings have included Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys General, other cabinet secretaries, federal judges, and distinguished legal scholars.
So tonight I guess we'll finally get an answer to the question: "What do Stephen Breyer, Laurence Tribe, and Al Franken have in common?"
Other than: "They were all in the front row when the Dead played the Garden back in '71."
Tonight, we celebrate the rise of a new generation of progressive legal scholars and jurists.
Look to your left. Look to your right.
Odds are, at least one of the three of you will someday be filibustered by Senate Republicans.
Speaking of which, I'd like to give a special shout-out to all the filibustered nominees we have here with us tonight.
The Republican obstruction that is standing between you and the work you've agreed to do for your country is unacceptable. And we will continue to fight it.
In particular, I want to recognize Dawn Johnsen, who should be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. What Republicans have done to keep you from doing that important job is flat out wrong.
And I want to recognize Goodwin Liu, who should be sitting on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals right now, and who deserves an up-or-down vote.
When I joined the Senate, I was thrown right into the fire as a member of the Judiciary Committee, where, by the way, I enthusiastically voted for Goodwin.
On my fifth day in office, I found myself taking part in the confirmation hearings for now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Just like I am tonight, I was one of the few non-lawyers in the room, but I didn't mind.
You see, I did some research, and it turns out that most Minnesotans aren't lawyers, either.
But that doesn't mean they aren't directly affected every day by what happens on the Supreme Court, and in our legal system.
I don't think you need to be a lawyer to recognize that the Roberts Court has, consistently and intentionally, protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans.
And you certainly don't need to be a lawyer to understand what that means for the working people who are losing their rights, one 5-4 decision at a time.
Tonight, I'd like to talk about how we got to this sad moment in American legal history - because it didn't happen by accident.
Conservative activists - led by the Federalist Society - have waged a remarkably successful battle to re-shape our legal discourse, and thus our legal system.
And they're not done yet.
I should acknowledge up front that this story is kind of a downer.
But there's good news: the ending has not yet been written. And I really believe that, if we pay attention to how things got so bad, we'll learn how to make them better.
Federalist Society members have long believed that, if you change the way you talk about the law, you can change the law.
They are right.
If you listen to the U.S. Senate talk about judicial nominees, you'd be forgiven for thinking that originalism was a time-honored American value, one of the things we fought the British to protect.
But ironically enough, originalism - like the designated hitter - only dates back a few decades.
Indeed, as Cass Sunstein has pointed out, it was Robert Bork who first popularized the notion that the Constitution should be interpreted according to what we believe was the "original understanding" of its authors.
Just to clarify: That's not Robert Bork the Founding Father. That's Robert Bork the 20th century conservative legal activist.
Originalism isn't a pillar of our Constitutional history. It's a talking point.
During his confirmation hearing, John Roberts broke out another conservative talking point. He said: "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them." And he promised: "I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."
How ridiculous. Judges are nothing like umpires.
You know who agrees that judges are nothing like umpires? The guy who came up with the umpire analogy in the first place.
In 1886, in State v. Crittenden, a Louisiana Supreme Court Justice ruled that "a trial is not a mere lutte" - lutte is a French term for a wrestling match, as this analogy dates back to when baseball was a just a cult phenomenon - "a trial is not a mere lutte between counsel, in which the judge sits merely as an umpire to decide disputes which may arise between them."
So, when it comes to this analogy, I guess I'm an originalist.
But this kind of bamboozlement is effective. You hear Senators of both parties rush to condemn judges who might "legislate from the bench."
The end result is that people like Goodwin Liu - a brilliant, thoughtful, passionate young legal mind with a terrific life story and character references from the likes of Ken Starr - get tagged as dangerous radicals.
Look, say what you will about Ken Starr, but he's not the sort of guy who pals around with dangerous radicals.
Well. Not left-wing radicals.
The Federalist Society has changed the way we talk about judges - and the way we talk about justice.
Justice Souter once said: "The first lesson, simple as it is, is that whatever court we're in, whatever we are doing, at the end of our task some human being is going to be affected."
Conservatives would like us to forget this lesson.
They've distorted our constitutional discourse to make it sound like the Court's rulings don't matter to ordinary people, but only to the undeserving riff-raff at the margins of society.
So unless you want to get a late-term abortion, burn a flag in the town square, or get federal funding for your pornographic artwork, you really don't need to worry about what the Supreme Court is up to.
The ACLU has a long and proud history of defending the First Amendment, and while I haven't seen polling on this, I'd bet that most Americans are fairly pro-First Amendment. But, thanks to a generation of conservative activism, the ACLU is now best known as "those guys who hate Christmas."
By defining the terms of constitutional debate such that it doesn't involve the lives of ordinary people, conservatives have disconnected Americans from their legal system. And that leaves room for lots of shenanigans.
By controlling the conversation, the Federalist Society has moved the Supreme Court sharply to the right.
"Including myself," Justice Stevens said in an interview with the New York Times, "every judge who's been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That's bound to have an effect on the court."
And, indeed, the Roberts Court has overturned two principles I believe are deeply ingrained in our Constitution, in our legal tradition, and in our American values.
First: Judicial restraint.
As I have noted repeatedly - and in an increasingly exasperated tone of voice - over the last few years, Justice Thomas has voted to overturn federal laws more often than Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer combined.
They haven't just been activists in their decisions, but also in their process.
In both Citizens United and Gross, the Court answered questions it wasn't asked, reaching beyond the scope of what they accepted for appeal to overturn federal laws the conservative wing didn't like.
I mean, I don't speak Latin. But unless stare decisis means "overturn stuff," then maybe it's time for conservatives to stop calling other people "dangerous radicals."
Second, and more importantly: They've overturned the principle that the law should be a place where ordinary people can turn for relief when wronged by the powerful.
At the front entrance to the Supreme Court building here in Washington, beneath the words "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW," there's a set of 1,300-pound bronze doors.
Countless Americans have flowed through those doors to see the place where that principle is protected.
Now those doors have been locked to the public. Things have changed.
Supreme Court jurisprudence involves weighing competing interests.
Most Americans are familiar with cases in which the Court has had to balance individual rights against some compelling state interest.
It's easy to feel disconnected from these cases. Even though the government has awesome power - enough to take away your freedom, or even your life - the degree to which that power is deemed to supersede your individual rights doesn't really enter into the daily lives of most Americans.
But there's more than one kind of power.
If you have a credit card, if you watch TV, if you file insurance claims, if you work - in other words, if you participate in American daily life at all - then you interact with corporations that are more powerful than you are.
The degree to which those corporations' rights are protected over yours, well, that's extremely relevant to your life.
And in case after case after case, the Roberts Court has put not just a thumb, but a fist, on the scale in favor of those corporations.
A fist with brass knuckles. Which weigh a lot. Because they're brass.
It's important to recognize that, for some conservative legal activists, this is the whole point. Do they want to undercut abortion and immigration and Miranda rights? Sure. But those are just cherries on the sundae.
What conservative legal activists are really interested in is this question: What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation's right to profit?
And their preferred answer is: None of them. Zero.
More than a century ago, in Lochner, the Court held that a state cannot intervene to protect the interests of an individual entering into a work relationship with an employer.
In other words, the Court held that employees should have to fend for themselves against the same powerful corporations they rely on for a paycheck.
Last month, Rand Paul, the Republican Senate candidate down in Kentucky, got into some hot water for suggesting that we really shouldn't have used the law to force private businesses to stop discriminating against African-Americans, that the market would have eventually handled it.
My question was: In what year would the market have gotten around to doing that? 1965? 1967? 1987? 1997?
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act deals with the workplace, because your rights at work are civil rights.
And without legal protection, workers would have no leverage to secure those basic rights: the right to organize and bargain for better wages, the right to a safe work environment, the right not to get fired because of who you are.
It's a nightmare for progressives, but a dream for powerful economic elites and their legal activist allies: a return to Lochner, to a system of corporate authoritarianism where business giants hold all the cards and workers have to hope that the market will someday provide them with basic rights.
Those elites are well on their way.
The Roberts Court has systematically dismantled the legal protections that help ordinary people find justice when wronged by the economically powerful.
In Stoneridge, it stripped shareholders of their ability to get their money back from the firms that helped defraud them.
In Conkright, it gave employers more leeway to deny workers their pension benefits.
In Leegin, it made it harder for small business owners to stop price fixing under the Sherman Act. Now, the burden is on them--small business owners--to show that price fixing will hurt competition.
In Iqbal, it made it harder for everybody to get their day in court.
In Exxon, it capped punitive damages resulting from the Exxon Valdez oil spill because, get this, having to own up to your mistakes creates "unpredictability" for corporations. Which, by the way, means that BP's liability may be capped because the Court doesn't want to cause an unpredictable impact on its future profitability.
In Rapanos, it cut huge swaths of wetlands out of the Clean Water Act. Wetlands that had been covered for 30 years.
You know what has a lot of wetlands? Minnesota. No, really. You know what else has a lot of wetlands? The Gulf Coast.
I could spend a long time talking about how these cases were wrongly decided. But I'm not an academic - and these aren't academic issues.
These decisions affect real people. They hurt real people.
Jamie Leigh Jones is a real person who went to work for KBR, then a Halliburton subsidiary. When she arrived in Iraq in July of 2005, she immediately complained to her supervisors about sexual harassment in her barracks, which housed over 400 men and only a handful of women.
KBR just mocked her. Then, four days after she got to Iraq, she was drugged and gang-raped by several of her co-workers. When she woke up, she struggled to the infirmary and had a doctor administer a rape kit, which KBR promptly lost.
Then, Jamie was locked in a shipping container under armed guard and prohibited from any contact with the outside world.
Because of the Court's decision in Circuit City, KBR had been able to force new employees like Jamie to sign a contract requiring that any future disputes be arbitrated in secret and not in open court.
So Jamie Leigh Jones spent four years fighting for her right just to get her day in court after her employer put her in a dangerous situation, ignored her concerns, and kept her hostage in a shipping container after she was gang-raped.
Lilly Ledbetter is a real person who worked as a manager at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama. Towards the end of 20 years of service there, she noticed that her male co-workers had gotten more and better raises. By 1998, when she took early retirement, she was earning several hundred dollars less per month than her male counterparts. So she sued.
But the Court decided to give Goodyear maximum leeway to avoid responsibility for pay discrimination, thanks to the most unbelievable loophole you can imagine. The law requires that discrimination claims be brought within 180 days. The Court decided that this meant within 180 days - from the time Goodyear started discriminating against Lilly, not the most recent discriminatory check.
And Lilly lost out on a chance to recoup years of wage increases that were illegally withheld just because she's a woman.
Now, the judiciary is just one branch of our system. I was proud to pass legislation giving victims like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. And I was thrilled to see that the very first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
But even as it has closed the door on ordinary Americans looking for justice in the legal system, this Court has made it harder for the political system to address these injustices.

In Citizens United, the Roberts Court overstepped its procedural bounds so that it could graciously provide corporations with First Amendment rights and, by the way, open the door to foreign entities deciding our elections.

But, again, as bad a piece of jurisprudence as that decision was, even worse could be the ramifications it will have on the lives of real people.
Well into the 1960s, oil companies didn't want to stop putting lead in gasoline despite the fact that they knew how dangerous it was.
But Congress passed the Clean Air Act anyway. And the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood dropped 84 per cent over the next quarter century.
And around that same time, our car companies still didn't want to put seat belts in cars, even though they knew it would save lives.
But Congress passed the Motor Vehicle Safety Act anyway. And by the year 2000, the fatality rate from car accidents had dropped 71 per cent.
Both laws passed just a couple of months before midterm elections.
Does anybody think either would have stood a chance if Standard Oil and GM had been able to spend millions of dollars in those campaigns?
In Citizens United, the Court didn't just abdicate its duty to subject efforts to impair our political process to strict scrutiny. It served as an accomplice to such an effort.
Not satisfied with giving corporations a leg up on individuals under the law, the Roberts Court is trying to prevent the American people from fighting back.
Bummed out yet? Well, we're finally in a good position to fight back.
It took the conservative legal movement decades to produce this activist Supreme Court. We're still in our first decade. But already the American Constitution Society has established itself as a major force in our legal system.
And while we often continue to struggle to get our nominees confirmed and our message heard, we have a President who understands that our legal system is broken when it favors the powerful over the powerless, and I know for a fact that I'm not the only Senator ready to take action.
So let's talk about what we can do.
Right now, I'm co-sponsoring legislation called the DISCLOSE Act that would force the heads of corporate-sponsored advocacy groups to appear in their ads, require corporations to tell their shareholders what they're spending political dollars on, prohibit corporations from who receive taxpayer dollars from telling taxpayers how to vote, and keep foreign-controlled corporations out of our elections.
It's a start.
But it's important to recognize that Citizens United is really the first major shot fired in a coming battle over information, a battle that extends beyond paid political advertising.
For instance, I'm very concerned about media consolidation. If we care about public debate, then it matters who runs our media companies.
The trend is towards vertical integration of the companies who produce the programs Americans rely on for information, and the companies who run the pipes through which Americans receive those programs.
Executives at both Comcast and NBC Universal swear that they're not interested in corporate control of programming. I used to work at NBC; I know better. And I'm very worried about this merger.
We should also be very worried about efforts to undermine the free flow of information on the Internet.
Right now, a blog loads just as quickly as a corporate webpage. An email from your mother comes through just as smoothly as a bill notification from your bank. An independent bookstore can process your order as quickly as Barnes and Noble.
But top telecommunications companies have declared their interest in offering "prioritized" Internet service for companies who can pay for it. This could lead to the creation of a high-speed lane for wealthy corporations and transform the Internet from an open playing field into yet another place where powerful economic elites have a bigger megaphone than the rest of us.
Some of the same people who were instrumental in the Federalist Society's effort to change our legal system are now working to help corporations increase their control over the flow of information.
If you control the flow of information, you can control the conversation around important issues. If you can control the conversation, you can change this country.
But we can't be satisfied with stopping conservatives and their corporate clients from controlling the narrative when it comes to our legal system.
We have to fight back with our own.
In our narrative, the legal system doesn't exist to help the powerful grow more powerful - it exists to guarantee that every American is entitled to justice.
In our narrative, we defend our individual rights and liberties against corporate encroachmentgovernment overreach. just as fiercely as we defend them against
In our narrative, judicial restraint actually means something - for starters, how about ruling only on the case you're presented?
In our narrative, even if those big bronze doors have to remain closed for security reasons, the door to our legal system should be open to everyone, because what happens in our legal system matters to everyone.
If you followed my career before I got to the Senate, you know that I'm a big believer in speaking truth to power, and in the power of telling the truth.

To legal scholars and lovers of our constitution, the truth about what's happened over the last 30 years is at the heart of our struggle to restore balance to our courts and wisdom to our laws.

But I gotta be honest with you: That's not why I'm here tonight. And I think you know that, or you would have invited a lawyer.
 I'm here tonight because, for the people I represent in Minnesota and for regular working people all over the country, that truth is at the heart of their struggle, too.
Their struggle to earn a fair wage at a job that treats them well. Their struggle to live their lives free of corporate intrusions into their privacy. Their struggle to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Their struggle to find justice when they're wronged.

I know how important it is that our legal system support individuals in that struggle. And so do you. But most people don't. And we have to change that.

The American Constitution Society has a role to play in the national conversation around our Constitution and our laws. And not just within the walls of a debating society.

Ordinary Americans have to understand what's at stake for them in all this. And that means someone has to bring them into the debate.
It is my hope that you will. And it is my great honor to stand with you in that fight.
Thank you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Military Money Pit

by Joshua Green

BROODING OVER the deficit is Washington's civil religion, and as the budget gap exploded over the last two years, we've witnessed a revival. From the Tea Party to the White House, the deficit is a driving concern. Fear of adding to it has thwarted Democratic efforts at another stimulus. Anger over it could determine who controls Congress. No force in politics is more powerful.

So it's odd that the largest category of discretionary spending has largely escaped scrutiny: military spending. In January, when President Obama proposed a three-year freeze in discretionary spending, he pointedly exempted the military. Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators and policy experts asked an important question: Why?

The group, The Sustainable Defense Task Force, encompasses the political spectrum - from Barney Frank, on the left, to Ron Paul, on the right - along with a host of military reformers. They share a belief that unrestrained military spending is a danger to the budget, and to the country. And they make a persuasive case that we can spend less without sacrificing security.

Today, the United States spends more on its military than during the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union no longer poses a threat, yet we continue to spend huge sums protecting countries in Europe and Asia. This defense subsidy allows Europeans to provide a level of social welfare far in excess of what the United States offers its citizens. If Germany, France, and Britain bore more of their own defense costs, US tax dollars could go elsewhere, or nowhere.

Overpriced, underperforming weapons systems are a hardy Washington perennial also ripe for the cutting. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the V-22 Osprey - all identified as potential cost savings in the task force report - have been targeted by reformers for years.

No less a hawk than Dick Cheney has pronounced the V-22 "a turkey.'' That we continue paying for these weapons makes even less sense now that terrorists, not communists, are the enemy.

This sorry state of affairs persists mainly for two reasons. Presidents rarely confront it: Republicans like to spend money on the military, and Democrats are afraid not to. "For years,'' Frank said, "the major obstacle to a Democrat winning the presidency was being seen as soft on defense. That's why Mike Dukakis put on that helmet and got in a tank.''

The other reason is that Congress tends to think about boondoggle weapons systems in the context of jobs, not deficits. Killing a turkey is viewed as eliminating a major employer. (Last month, Frank voted over the objections of the defense secretary to fund a duplicate F-35 engine built in Lynn, but says he'd kill the fighter altogether if it came to a vote.) So we still buy useless weapons, over the protests of reformers and defense officials.

That kind of backward thinking could start to change. Bringing the deficit under control is a zero-sum game. Eventually, we'll have to raise taxes and cut spending. As budget pressure grows, the nearly $1 trillion in military cuts proposed by the task force could look appealing. One way of getting this done is through the president's Deficit Reduction Commission, which will recommend a package of cuts to Congress in December for an up-or-down vote. The Sustainable Defense Task Force is lobbying the commission to do what Obama wouldn't: consider military cuts, and in the context of the entire federal budget. Members like Frank and Paul say they'll vote against any package that doesn't, and encourage congressional colleagues to do likewise.

Obama speaks often about overcoming old ways of thinking, but he chooses his fights carefully. He's ducked this one for now. But it's hard to see why he'd maintain the Democrats' defensive crouch, especially when military spending cuts would achieve two things he holds dear. First, it would demonstrate that he's serious about deficit cutting, which might free him and his party from their political stricture. Second, it would give him an opportunity to cooperate with Republicans, and not just moderates, but true deficit hawks like Paul.

Targeting wasteful military spending - like, say, those subsidies to the French - might even channel Tea Party anger over government spending toward a productive purpose.

Joshua Green is senior editor of The Atlantic. His column appears regularly in the Globe.