[ Random Image ]
Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Archive for November, 2010

Writing Against the (American) Empire:
A Tribute to Chalmers Johnson

Friday, November 26th, 2010

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

“[Blowback] refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. . . . This means that when the retaliation comes, as it did so spectacularly on Sept. 11, 2001, the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.” —Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire (2010)

We want to say a few words in honor of Chalmers Johnson, a strategic analyst and former CIA consultant who became a strong critic of the U.S.’s increasingly imperialist foreign policy and its effects on American democracy. He died Saturday, Nov. 20, at his home near San Diego, at the age of 79 (not on Nov. 13 as reported by the New York Times). He is survived by his wife, Sheila Johnson. Dr. Johnson was well known as the author of the three-volume American Empire Project, including Dismantling the Empire, quoted above, and The Sorrows of Empire, along with Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, a hot seller after the September 11 attacks, and many other works.

Johnson, a former consultant to the CIA (he was a net assessments adviser to former director Allen Dulles) who earned degrees in economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, also served in the navy during the Korean War and became an avid student of Japan, China, and other Asian nations, particularly their economies.

He was admired here because of his steadfast and fact-based warnings about the dangers of imperial overreach by the United States—military and economic—particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, this formerly hard-right security hawk came around to criticize Washington for exorbitant and unnecessary expenditures in defense, on weapons programs and overseas bases—more than 700 around the globe—and, increasingly, on war. He lamented the consequences for the American people’s prosperity and the nation’s democracy.

The former head of U.C. Berkeley’s China Center and chairman of Berkeley’s political science department had a gift for explaining complex matters for general readers. In Blowback he discusses how during the Cold War “gross overinvestment” in East Asia with its cheap labor (“economic colonialism”)—a policy that benefited U.S. corporations—created massive trade deficits and harmed American workers (sound familiar?):

. . . these terms proved surprisingly costly to the imperial power. They cost American jobs, destroyed manufacturing industries, and blunted the hopes of minorities and women trying to escape from poverty. . . . The true costs to the United States should be measured in terms of crime statistics, ruined inner cities, and drug addiction, as well as trade deficits. (Blowback, 195–96)

Detailed and personal tributes from foreign policy expert Steve Clemons and editor Tom Engelhardt should be read for a fuller portrait of this important thinker; they knew him well. (Their blogs, The Washington Note and TomDispatch, are always on our blogroll at right, under National & Global.) Also, here is Tom Engelhardt’s 2006 interview with Johnson, “Cold Warrior in a Strange Land.” Steve Clemons had this to say in a post titled “The Impact Today and Tomorrow of Chalmers Johnson”:

Few intellectuals attain what might have been called many centuries ago the rank of “wizard”—an almost other worldly force who defied society’s and life’s rules and commanded an enormous following of acolytes and enemies. Wizards don’t die. . . . He is and was the intellectual giant of our times. Chalmers Johnson centuries from now will be seen, I think, as the intellectual titan of this past era, surpassing Kissinger in the breadth of seminal works that define what America was and could have been.

*

“Why should we be concerned about imperialism and militarism? It’s a suicide pact: that’s the way empires end.”

*

Photo credit (top right): K. Amemiya/Henry Holt and Company



Warm Thanksgiving Wishes to You and All

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

First we’d like to extend a simple, sincere wish for our readers and their families, and all their friends and communities: good food, good health, pleasant company, maybe a few drinks in good fellowship, and better prospects for the days ahead.

As we gather around tables filled with good warm food let us not forget the unemployed, the poor and the homeless, the soldiers and sailors far from home toiling in danger and unimaginable stress. And let’s be thankful for the many volunteers who serve food to the hungry and help veterans and military families, those who care for the sick and the wounded, and let’s give what we can to support their generosity.

What are we thankful for this Thanksgiving Day? Admittedly this time ’round a long list does not spring instantly to mind. But with a little imagination and effort we find that as usual there’s more to be grateful for than first meets the eye. AlterNet lists “8 Things Progressives Can Be Thankful For.” A list published by New Deal 2.0 of “What 20 Leading Progressives Are Thankful For” yields a mostly disappointing collection of gripes disguised as gratitude. They’re clearly not in the mood. Understandably.

We can do better. We’re thankful for the often unsung efforts of many writers, reporters, bloggers, activists, and organizers who get out there and dig into what’s going on and spread the word and mobilize efforts to promote the good and oppose the bad. (Specific example: the bloggers, writers, activists, and just good people who attend the annual Rising Tide conference in New Orleans every August 29 or so, on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.)

After the midterm shellacking we posted a long list of positive, public-friendly legislation (thanks to The Rachel Maddow Show) that the Democrats in the 111th Congress accomplished but forgot to tell the public about before the election. We’re thankful for these laws and reforms—including the infrastructure-friendly Stimulus—and we will keep pushing for more like them, although our hopes are not high for the next Congress.

We’re grateful too that despite all the setbacks public and private—and in some cases prompted by adversity—the human spirit prevails, the determination to endure and improve. Although some despair, thousands, millions of individuals are not giving up. Instead they’re working harder, trying new approaches, helping others, volunteering in often small, modest, invisible but effective ways to make this a better nation, a better world. We’re with you.

*



“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

On the anniversary of the assassination of a peace-seeking, war hero president—and at a time when the arms-reduction efforts of another peace-seeking president are being opposed for only political, not strategic, reasons by a few obstinate Republicans in Congress—we thought it fitting to present passages from President John F. Kennedy’s famous commencement address at American University in Washington on June 10, 1963. In this speech President Kennedy outlined a vision of peaceful coexistence of nations and announced “a series of concrete actions and effective agreements” the U.S. was initiating to make peace a little more likely. Kennedy’s reasons in 1963 apply to President Obama’s efforts today. Following the excerpts, please also see some key quotations from a fine book by James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, now in paperback.

“No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament—and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude—as individuals and as a Nation—for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward—by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.

. . . Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable—that mankind is doomed—that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.

We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade—therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again. . . .

Let us focus . . . on a more practical, more attainable peace—based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions—on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace—no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process—a way of solving problems.

. . . So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it. . . .

. . . both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours—and even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest.

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

From JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass

We can know the essential truth of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. That truth can set us free. . . .

On our behalf, at the height of the Cold War [in the Cuban missile crisis, October 1962], John F. Kennedy risked committing the greatest crime in history, starting a nuclear war.

Before we knew it, he turned toward peace with the enemy who almost committed that crime with him.

For turning to peace with his enemy (and ours), Kennedy was murdered by a power we cannot easily describe. Its unspeakable reality can be traced, suggested, recognized, and pondered. That is one purpose of this book. The other is to describe Kennedy’s turning. . . .

John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.

—from the Preface

*

(more…)


No “Kumbaya” for Billionaires

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

$

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Today when the New York Times reports “Tax Cut Timing Is Proving Problematic for Democrats,” we faxed and mailed the following letter to President Obama and sent similar messages to his economic team (Goolsbee, Bernstein, Elizabeth Warren), along with Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine. We’re sorry to hear the timing’s inconvenient, but our view is that a shortage of tax revenue from the upper 1 and 2 percent tax brackets is “proving problematic” for America: for the unemployed, for the crumbling infrastructure, the public transportation that isn’t being built, the teachers and police who are being laid off, and so on. The richest 1% of Americans now take home almost 24% of income; in the past 30 years more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1% (Nicholas Kristof, “Our Banana Republic”).

Join us in pressing on the White House and congressional Democrats (there are still some left) to do the right thing for America and not extend the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2%. Obama and the Democratic-led 111th Congress passed some 25 tax cuts for the middle class (the “lower 95%”), as he promised he would in 2008, but the Democrats forgot to make sure we knew it. Contact info here. White House phone: 202-456-1111. White House fax: 202-456-2461. Senate. House of Representatives.

$

Restore Top Rate to Reagan-era 50%

Dear President Obama:

It has to be you, the President, taking the lead on not extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%. Congressional Democrats won’t move without your lead. Gain the upper hand and the moral high ground by not compromising on this. Speak up, and hold firm. Stay in campaign mode—the G.O.P. surely will.

Economic fairness. It would be unfair to the point of criminal to extend the upper 2% tax cuts when the nation is suffering 10% unemployment, 15 million are unemployed, infrastructure is crumbling, and the richest 1% own almost 24% of income. In the past 30 years more than 4/5 of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1%.

Political winner. In addition to the moral argument, it is essential politically that Democrats take a stand for the middle class. The G.O.P. is handing you a gift, just as Gingrich did to Clinton over Medicare cuts. Bring it on, G.O.P.—we’re not backing down. Force the Republicans to show who they really care about. You already know that they are not serious about reducing the deficit. Anyway, the more they pay in taxes, the less they’ll have to donate to anti-Obama commercials.

“Compromise” by honoring Reagan. Raise the upper-income rates to the 50% they paid during the Reagan years of 1982–1986. Tell ’em, “You’re always praising Reagan, so if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for you now.” Honor the Gipper, and pay your share.

(more…)



A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Not Good (at All), But Could Have Been Worse

A party that governs well but communicates poorly was set back by a party that obstructs well but is more interested in holding power than in governing.

What could have been a hideous wipeout following a grotesque campaign season was instead a series of setbacks, strong disappointments, and some reliefs and bright spots. Among the setbacks we sadly count the Illinois and Pennsylvania senate races where the Democratic candidates came very close. Among the strong disappointments were the losses of progressives like Russ Feingold, Alan Grayson, and Tom Perriello. Ouch. But we were relieved by the victories of senate majority leader Harry Reid, California senator Barbara Boxer, and among the bright spots are the gubernatorial victories of Andrew Cuomo in New York and Jerry Brown in California.

But the Democratic party is in serious trouble in the midsection of the country, with painful losses from Pennsylvania west to Wisconsin . . . Obama already is not strong in the South (which sometimes includes Florida), and that’s not likely to change. (Also disappointing was Charlie Melancon’s loss to David Vitter in Louisiana; Vitter ran against Obama, disregarding Melancon.) Obama and the Democratic party must get something in gear—something like employment, jobs programs, and a focused communications department—to regain support among the Rust Belt and Midwestern voters.

What the Hell Happened?

Of course Republicans are claiming a mandate, but that’s ridiculous (and not at all supported by this CBS exit poll). We think the election results are more a matter of a sick economy (see below), Democrats’ failure to clearly explain and promote their accomplishments, and massive GOP and conservative negative advertising + 24/7 Fox News propaganda (aka the Republican Noise Machine). While Republicans insist the election results are a “referendum on Obama’s agenda” and “the voice of the American people,” let’s not forget that the GOP Tea Party candidates’ ads and secret, shadow groups’ attacks on Democrats were funded by millions of dollars from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Spending on congressional campaigns was expected to reach $4 billion. The GOP started campaigning around the inauguration; the Democrats, preoccupied with legislative accomplishments (see below), were late to the game. Further, remember that the so-called Tea Party, though it had grass-roots origins, has largely been co-opted and the Tea Party as it is now is not a people’s movement in the traditional sense: it is corporate-sponsored, establishment-driven, not grass-roots but astroturf. Ask Dick Armey and the billionaire Koch brothers. So much for “the voice of the American people.”

And “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Comparisons with the 1994 midterms (after Clinton’s first 18 months) are common, but the economy is far worse now. A closer comparison—which Republicans don’t mention—would be 1982, after Reagan’s first 18 months, when the unemployment rate was about 10 percent: Democrats gained 27 seats, cementing their majority. In 1994 unemployment was about 5.6 percent. It is now about 9.6 percent, with some 15 million people out of work, and that’s only counting the people who have not given up in despair and not counting the under-employed (those working part-time instead of full-time). Reporter Robert Scheer says that for some 50 million Americans, either they’ve lost their homes through foreclosures or their home values are underwater: the amounts owed on their mortgages exceed the property’s market value. (We recommend Sheer’s new book, The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.)

Need we add that the Republicans have done nothing to help create jobs, but instead have blocked extensions of unemployment insurance, voted against tax breaks for small businesses—often voting against their own ideas—and massively resisted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus). They wanted to intensify the economic pain and thwart the president in order to regain power. This will be their strategy for the next two years as well. Gird your loins.

Much Accomplished, Much More to Be Done

This blog has complained possibly too much about what the president and the Democrats have not done. Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that the Democrats in Congress and the White House failed to communicate to the nation the astonishingly productive legislative record that they have accomplished over the past 21 months. With bill after bill, the Donkey kicked ass, but you’d never know it from them.

On Monday, Nov. 1, The Rachel Maddow Show produced a 15-minute segment highlighting the many accomplishments of the 111th Congress. The list is impressive—“the most legislatively productive 21 months in decades”—and we only wish the DNC had boasted far and wide about these bills. With more effective messaging (and a more aggressive focus on job creation, of course), the Dems could have countered the GOP distortions and rallied stronger base support and thus invigorated voter turnout.

This Is What a Functioning Congress Looks Like

Take a look at these achievements (and spread the good word):

  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help victims of pay discrimination—especially women—challenge unequal pay. Signed by President Obama January 29, 2009.
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 expanded health insurance coverage to more than 4 million children and pregnant women. Signed by President Obama February 4, 2009.
  • Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (2009), giving about $6 billion over 5 years and increasing the number of full-time and part-time national service (AmeriCorps) volunteers from 75,000 to 250,000. Creates new programs focused on special areas like strengthening schools, improving health care for low-income communities, boosting energy efficiency and cleaning up parks, etc. Signed by President Obama April 21, 2009.
  • Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (2009) sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), described by Money magazine as “ best friend a credit card user ever had.” Credit Card Bill of Rights signed by President Obama May 22, 2009.
  • College student loan reform, March 2010: as part of the health care reform legislation, a provision “that would cut funding to private student lenders and redirect billions of dollars in expected savings into grants to needy students” (W.Post).
  • Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave FDA power to regulate tobacco. Signed by President Obama June 22, 2009.
  • Hate Crimes Prevention Act (aka Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act), made it a federal crime to commit assault based on victim’s gender, sexual orientation, etc. Signed by President Obama Oct. 28, 2009.
  • Car Allowance Rebate System (aka “Cash for Clunkers”): Begun in June 2009, and by August the auto industry was reporting strong sales—only about a half year after GM and Chrysler were bailed out by Washington. Boosted sales of safer and more fuel-efficient cars, helping clear the air and stimulating the economy.
  • Veterans benefited from the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, and the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. The American Legion said “in our view the real successes [of the 111th Congress] were the passage of bills that affected nearly every veteran in America.”

All this is even before the big-ticket items of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka The Stimulus), the monumental (and incremental) Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health care reform: click here for healthcare.gov), and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010), which included establishment of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, presently being (unofficially) headed by Harvard law professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren.

(more…)