Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's Nobel

The World Is Persuaded

Juan Lopez, the chair of the Communist Party in California wrote a nice piece about Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize in the Oct. 17 issue of People's World. In "Obama's peace prize is a wise and timely decision," Lopez says that the rest of the world perceives Obama as having already accomplished a great deal that goes well beyond the rhetorical.

"To be sure," Lopez writes, "[Obama's actions] understood in the context of the last 30 years and the dangers humanity faces in the near future ... represent a qualitative break with the past..." Several of Obama's initiatives, regarded as "just talk" by critics are perceived by much of the rest of the world as different from all U.S. foreign policy since Reagan and already fruitful. These include "... steps to stem proliferation of nuclear weapons leading to their eventual elimination; a commitment to policies to protect the environment and develop sustainable energy resources; diffusing hotbeds of international conflict more often than not provoked by the previous administration[s]; sitting down for talks with leaders of Iran and other nations previously listed as 'terrorist'; serious efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution; pledging to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and relaxing travel to the island nation."

Though Lopez is positive about Obama's accomplishments to date, he remains a critical observer who expects more, including a wish that the U.S. pull out of the war in Afghanistan. I would add, as well, that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not enough, though it might serve as a transition to a just solution, which must include the end of the Jewish theocratic state in Israel and the establishment of a truly democratic state that fully enfranchises Palestinians.

There are a whole host of progressive domestic policies that Obama should be pursuing, also, but Lopez is clear that the political climate makes many changes difficult to achieve. Maintaining "the left-center core of the multiclass coalition that elected Obama" is absolutely essential, he argues.

"Our strategic goal must be to consolidate the November 2008 victory against the far right in the 2010 and 2012 election cycle ... if the extreme right manages to significantly get its footing back in any significant way during the next election cycles, it will rebound on the nation and the world with a vengeance."

I agree. The bizarre coalition of corporate and fundamentalist religious interests that elected Bush and Cheney is still viable. Obama is not a progressive, but he is a thoughtful and well-intentioned moderate. He can be pushed to the left, but not if progressives who want more stand aside while the Republican right pursues its own restoration.

In Re: Joe Lieberman

To Kill the Ghoul, You Kill the Brain

I've never liked Joe Lieberman much and I was thrilled when he lost in the Connecticut Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate in 2006. After all, he was one of the principal Democratic enablers of the invasion of Iraq. He's also a leading Senate comforter of Israel and an obvious friend of Likud. His selection as Al Gore's running mate in 2000 was one of the reasons why many progressives were reluctant supporters of the Democratic ticket that year. And though Gore and Lieberman won the popular vote over Bush and Cheney, Lieberman is very likely one of those who counseled Gore against challenging the Florida vote count.

There's plenty of other things to get down on Lieberman about. Here's another example.

It follows that Lieberman's surprise victory as an independent candidate in the Connecticut general election for Senate over Ned Lamont (the Democrat who beat him in the primary) was a major disappointment (for me, at least). In 2008, Lieberman compounded his offenses by appearing at the Republican convention to nominate John McCain. One might then have expected Democratic leaders in the Senate to deny him a variety of privileges that go to party loyalists; he was even allowed to continue as chair of a Senate committee. This magnanimity was connected to the perceived need for Democrats to reach a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.

Now comes Lieberman to say (in today's Washington Post-"Centrists unsure about Reid's public option") "he remains opposed to a government-run insurance plan in any form." The Post article goes on to say that "unless the public option language is dropped [Lieberman] probably will align with Republicans to block the measure."

Quelle surprise! It puts me in mind of "The Night of the Living Dead," in which the zombies appear to be virtually indestuctible until it is discovered that one must "kill the brain to kill the ghoul." Joe Lieberman is not a zombie, of course, but I'm just sayin' he has this weird way of coming back from defeat and plaguing the dreams of progressives.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

US Out of Afghanistan

Still no good war

So now we are treated to the spectacle of a decent human being, caught up in a set of ideological and culture blinders, agonizing over whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Personally, I've never been a completely convinced pacifist, but the evidence continues to accumulate, as I age, that no war is a good war.

There are probably a million mildly persuasive to absolutely convincing reasons why Barack Obama should decide to pull the US military out of Afghanistan ASAP--not that I think that is the decision Obama is going to make--but one of my favorites is that we can't afford this war. In fact, it ought to be pretty clear by now that we plainly can't afford war, period.

After all, maintaining readiness for war already costs the country more than $1 trillion each year; that's the rough cost of a peacetime military budget + all sorts of military-related expenditures buried in other departmental budgets, like the department of energy+the interest on that part of the national debt that has been incurred in preparing for and fighting wars+spending that never makes the budget, at all, including "black" book operations, like spying and aggressive subversions of interests deemed hostile to the US. That $1 trillion also does not include the last 8 years of spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, a total nearing another $1 trillion. It also does not include probably another $2 trillion in veterans' benefits, which will be expended in the future, much of that for health problems, including PTSD, afflicting vets because of their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. (To see a source for these figures go here.)

Such dollar totals are universal healthcare dollars, California bail-out dollars, urban mass transit dollars, and rebuild and revitalize public education dollars. Healthcare, healthy state budgets, mass transit, good public education, these are the things that secure a nation's future, that increase the security of a people, but we don't have them and can't pay for them because we are always at war or preparing for war, or both.

There are other, perhaps more serious considerations, like the murder of innocents and the killing of soldiers--Iraqi, Aghani and American--that should overwhelm any interest in continuing, or escalating, the war in Afghanistan. Marc Weisbrot (co-director, with Dean Baker,of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) has recently distributed a column arguing that the US war effort in Afghanistan has already failed (find Occupying Afghanistan Is Making Things Worse here). The column suggests that as many as one million Iraqis have died since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The corresponding number for Afghani casualties is much lower, but the Afghani population is also smaller and Afghani casualties will rise as the war escalates.

Citing a variety of sources, Marc also observes that the turnout in the Afghan election five years ago was almost twice the turnout in this year's election. In any case, he says, al-Qaeda isn't even significantly present in Afghanistan anymore, the group's core has moved to Pakistan.

The one possible argument against ending the war in Afghanistan is what happens to the lives of Afghani women, if the Taliban, with their misogyny and fundamentalism, return to power. Still, there are other ways to helpfully address women's issues globally and the United States is not exploring many of those alternatives. And the devastation of the current war is falling equally on women, in any case.

Moral arguments never seem very effective, but we should make them anyway, as Weisbrot does in his piece:

"There is also a moral dimension here that is overlooked by the pundits. It is wrong to kill people, including civilians, and bring mayhem and destruction to other countries simply to "save face" or fend off political attacks from right-wing politicians. Thank God there are millions of Americans who understand this much better than their elected, appointed, and self-appointed leaders. If they keep up the heat, this war will end."

I don't know if I believe that last part about the war ending. But I'm happy to go along, if it will help.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Pro-War, Anti-Environment, Israel as Spearhead Matrix

Christian Fundamentalists & Big Oil

If Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy, is to be believed, the West has been prosecuting an oil war against the Middle East since World War I. “…the hundred year duration is clear enough, the subject matter was indeed oil, and English speakers…were invariably among the arms bearers,” says Phillips, as he demolishes the succession of Anglo-American public relations arguments for action that preceded each outbreak of hot war in the area.

Phillips says the two most recent US-Iraq wars
“were lubricated by deceits—in the first instance the Iraqi armored threat to Saudi Arabia and the fabrication that Iraqi invaders had ripped three hundred premature Kuwaiti babies from hospital incubators; in the second involving the unsustainable charges that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Former CIA desk officer [Stephen] Pelletiere minces few words on this, saying that the behavior of the Americans and British in the run-ups to both wars bore a disturbing similarity to ‘the Big Lie’ used by the Germans in launching World War II.”

Of course, for this argument to be credible, Phillips must make the case that the hunger for control over oil globally has been a dominant feature of US policy for most of the last century. Indeed, he pursues this point with great vigor and effectiveness, beginning with John D. Rockefeller and the establishment of the domestic US oil industry in the 19th century, through the Middle Eastern oil concessions obtained by Gulf, Texaco and Standard Oil of California during the first third of the 20th century, the overthrow of Iran’s nationalist government in 1953 and the installation of the Shah of Iran as the head of a regime subservient to US interests, the development of a comprehensive global strategy outlined by Henry Kissinger and others, and ending with the presidencies of Bush I and Bush II, the scions of a four-generation oil family.

I remember, with some chagrin, arguing that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was not about oil. It was, I believed at the time, both a residual effect of the Cold War against the old Soviet Union, and the natural logic of a militarized US economy that would inevitably launch large-scale attacks and fire off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missiles simply to maintain economic momentum and employment (notwithstanding the existence of plenty of studies showing the long-term negative impact of military spending on both economic growth and employment).

In making that argument, I seemed to be suffering from a bad case of not seeing the forest while cleverly focusing on a few quite obvious trees. The simple truth is that the Cold War was very much about the development of the Soviet Union as a superpower rival for control of resources, and the profit enjoyed by the military-industrial complex fit nicely into a larger goal of using force or the threat of force to ensure US access to Third World resources, oil, in particular.

In fact, a 1991 report from the Worldwatch Institute asserts that the US military is the country’s single largest oil consumer. And in 2007, Michael Klare (at this website) estimated that Pentagon operations consumed upwards of 14 million gallons of oil each day. Obviously, this creates a lot of momentum for a warmaking machine to fight wars over oil.

Phillips’ book also carefully explores the way Christian fundamentalists and oil interests built the electoral coalition that dominated US politics over the last 25 years. He is particularly persuasive in tracing the way electoral college results that made presidents out of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes overlap significantly with concentrations of fundamentalist voters in the country’s largest oil-producing states, which are also home to the corporate headquarters of the once-dominant, and still influential, oil companies.

Out of all of this, grow three issues of major concern to me:

1. Though the unholy alliance of Christian fundamentalism and oil has suffered severe setbacks, it remains the most powerful promoter of military intervention by the United States.
2. In his 2005 book, Phillips observed that “the evidence that natural resources issues are taking on theological as well as political overtones is mounting…close to a majority of those who voted for Bush believe the bible to be literally true.” Here again, the unholy alliance remains the single strongest voice deriding the science behind climate change activism. Republicans in Congress remain the single most significant obstacle to effective action to address climate change.
3. Israel, I believe, was founded with the approval of the US and other world powers who saw the Jewish state as an outpost in the struggle for control over oil resources. The existence of Israel as a Jewish theocratic state is one of the most important provocateurs of Islamic terrorism, but the unholy alliance is indifferent to that consequence because the country maintains its utility as an outpost and because Christian end-timers believe that conflict in the Middle East is compatible with the approach of apocalypse and the rapture.

I will examine all three of these issues in subsequent posts.

I Don't See No Stinkin' Climate Change

Post op-ed writers knee-deep
in rising waters

What can I say? Writing to the Washington Post just makes my day, even if they don't return the love. This is letter to the Post #25.

Two recent columns on the cost of reversing global climate change suffer from the same weakness—an unwillingness to consider the complete picture that leads the writers, Bjorn Lomborg (“Costly Carbon Cuts,” Sept. 28) and George Will (“Cooling Down the Casandras, Oct. 1”), to rather polemical denunciations of the costs of addressing climate change while ignoring the full range of anticipated consequences. (Also, see Dean Baker's comments on Lomborg's column here.)

Will’s column, in fact, makes simple fun of the climate change threat, noting that the average annual change in global temperatures is not relentlessly upwards. But Will, who has consistently denied that climate change is upon us, does not cite any scientific evidence that the threat is not real in the short- or long-term. Instead, he resorts to ridicule. Though Will is an amusing writer, he has long since disqualified himself as a reasonable contributor to a discussion of climate change and what to do about it.

Lomborg, whom Will has actually cited in the past, does not challenge basic assumptions about climate change, but claims that the cost of addressing it will far exceed the benefits. To come to this conclusion, Lomborg cites a high-end estimate of the cost of reducing greenhouse gasses ($46 trillion) and a low-end estimate ($1.1 trillion) of the benefits from avoiding the “expected climate damage.”

Of course, the economic model Lomborg relies on places no valuation on human life, biodiversity or other nonquantifiable damage. But the economic damage to, say, Bangladesh, where rising seas will wipe out 80% of the country’s GDP [and cause enormous social dislocation], will have little impact on the global economy. Lomborg and economists who rely on such calculations are clearly unconcerned that Bangladeshis will suffer grievously from a problem they have not created. The rest of us ought not be so sanguine about the effects there or anywhere else.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Wild Once and Captured (revised)

On Hearing Annie Lennox

A prairie full of flowers,
a whisper full of rhythms,
a mirror full of faces,
a mountain cloaked in ragged glow,
every one a rarity
designed in mystic fever.

Here music summons silence,
here longing is allure
and touching is an art
and dancing is a language
and searching leads us one by one
to stories all our own,
and to stories told in common.

Here smolders spirit
rich and ripe
with promise, peace and legend.
There drums yammering in clearings
where we are jamming with justice
who was wild once and captured
and has broken out again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

No War Is Good Policy

Iraq and Afghanistan:
Deja Vu All Over Again

Here's Letter to the Post, #24
(It didn't get published, either. Too long, perhaps.):

General Stanley McChrystal’s report on the Afghanistan war might have been leaked a day or two early by someone who wants President Obama to escalate the war, but worrying about who did so, or why, diverts attention from more important considerations.

Perhaps the pivotal statement in McChrystal’s report reads, “Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate."

McChrystal also warned against preoccupation “with protection of our own forces” in Afghanistan (“Less Peril for Civilians, but More for Troops,” Post, Sept. 23). These two points, combined with what we already know—that the cost of our current wars is unsustainable, that the war in Iraq was instigated under false pretenses, and that the US’s ability to retaliate in force was understood and discounted by Osama bin Laden long before 9-11—should lead us to some fresh conclusions about war policy:

1. We are engaged in wars that al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not mind fighting and, ultimately, reinforce their recruiting and anti-American messages.
2. Serious US losses at any point provoke calls to escalate wars with unachievable goals at further (unaffordable) expense.
3. No other reasonable foreign policy goals are enhanced, especially progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by continuing the war in Afghanistan.

It should be equally clear that the next one trillion dollars we spend on warmaking is the very same one trillion we need to resolve our current health care gridlock. Forty years ago, we proved that we could not simultaneously wage unjust war and build the Great Society. That lesson is even more universally applicable today. Spending for war is incompatible with building a just world in which a greater portion of humanity can share. If we wish to honor the past sacrifices of soldiers and civilians, American or otherwise, we will invest in peace.