"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

World in Revolt: The Global Backlash Against Budget Cuts

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Firemen on strike in Nice, France, on September 7, 2010

Oldspeak:“The canaries in the mineshaft are chirping. Here’s to hoping the American populace hears them before it’s too late. The “Austerity Measures” have already begun.”

From Anthony DiMaggio @ Truthout:

Americans should take a page from activists throughout the rest of the world if they’re seriously interested in resisting the massive budget cuts afflicting this country. Effective social change only comes about through mass action – a lesson that has emerged after years of grassroots uprisings in the U.S. and throughout the world. Consider some of the evidence from various cases below.

The French: Don’t Call Them Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Over a million French workers turned out in the streets this month to protest proposed government budget cutbacks by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The rallies were part of a 24-hour strike that shut down flights and railway services, in addition to closing schools throughout the country. Government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 motivated these protests, even though France already has one of the lower retirement rates throughout Europe. The opposition is also driven by resistance to plans to fire 7,000 teachers, the proposed lengthening of pay periods for public employees, and plans to cut pension benefits.

The mass turnout of a million people in France is the functional equivalent (after controlling for population differences) of seeing more than 4.5 million organize throughout the United States to protest state budget cuts and mass layoffs. Such a movement has not been seen among public sector workers, despite the fact that this segment of the economy traditionally benefits from the strongest worker organization through its continued reliance on mass unionization.

This is not the first protest in France either in recent years. Last June, nearly 1 million turned out nationwide to protest proposed budget cuts – a sign of a sustained national activist campaign that will not relent until the government backs down on its austerity measures. The case of France demonstrates that necessity doesn’t have to be the mother of invention. Well-off people can organize to protect hard fought wage gains and other benefits, and we don’t need to wait until we’re on the verge of destitution (as Americans are doing) to be engaged in activism and protest. Of course, France’s strong history of labor unionism has helped spur sustained rounds of resistance to budget cuts, whereas the American public has become increasingly divorced from working class unionism in recent decades (unions represent less than 15 percent of all American workers today).

Sweatshops are NOT Inevitable: The Case of Bangladesh

The people of Bangladesh most strikingly put to shame the elitist apathy that is sapping the collective will of the American people. With radically less, the poor people of Bangladesh have achieved so much more than Americans (at least in the last two years) in the areas of popular activism and protesting economic injustice. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party is leading a mass movement to protest the terrible working conditions and pay levels in sweatshops throughout the country. Demonstrations that took place this summer just outside of the country’s capital of Dhaka protested the refusal of the national government to improve power and gas supplies, and the unwillingness to ease the suffering of those who are enduring increased food prices. 50,000 garment workers came together to demand the equivalent of $70 per month, a major increase from the estimated $14-23 per month they were receiving. The lower rates of pay they receive are below the national poverty line, and contribute to great unrest and instability among Bangladesh’s workers.

The demand for increased pay represents a major challenge to the unimpeded profits of American companies (operating in country) such as Wal-Mart, Levi Strauss, and H&M, which have been happy to subjugate an entire nation to wage slavery. The protests were highly effective in drawing national and international attention to the plight of Bangladesh’s working poor. At least 76 factories were forcibly shut down, in retaliation against the government’s reneging on a promise to increase wages for the country’s 2.5 million garment workers. The case of Bangladesh should be inspiring for all those throughout the world dealing with austerity measures, as it shows that even in the direst of circumstances, there is no such thing as “inevitability” of low pay. All workers retain the right to a living wage, and many are willing to fight for it. Of course, it also helps to have a political party (as those in Bangladesh do) which will fight for popular change.

Protests on the Forgotten Continent: Increasing Desperation in Mozambique and South Africa

Many Americans would be hard pressed to demonstrate any sort of knowledge of African politics. The continent is traditionally seen as outside of citizens’ interests, as attention to global politics is a low priority for the American public (outside of following events in countries the U.S. is bombing). Still, increasing desperation throughout Africa has been accompanied by serious action on the part of the disadvantaged and desperate. Violent protests and riots in Mozambique this month were the result of increasing global food prices. Food costs increased dramatically in light of deteriorating global environmental conditions – most specifically the severe droughts in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Northern and Western Africa, which have exacted a terrible toll on global crop yields.

Prices for bread, electricity, and water have gone up by nearly a third in Mozambique, and were accompanied by looting throughout the nation’s capital of Maputo. Public anger was further stoked by the government’s refusal to intervene to help the poor deal with major increases in food and energy costs.

Strikes in South Africa are driven by public sector workers, who are demanding better benefits from the government. Strikes throughout the country this summer went on for weeks, and were accompanied by the forced closing of schools and the short-staffing of hospitals, as more than a million public servants refused to return to work until their demands for a 8.6 percent pay raise were met. Union activism succeeded in forcing the South African government to the negotiation table, in an effort to end the nation-paralyzing strikes.

Europe in Decline: Protesting the Decline of Living Standards in the U.K., Spain, and Greece

While Americans are overwhelmingly sitting back and accepting the “necessity” of massive budget cuts and mass layoffs that will inevitably make the economic crisis worse, union activists in Europe are taking the initiative in rejecting comparable efforts in their countries. This June saw the emergence of a national rebellion in Spain, where a day-long strike protested a 5 percent pay cut across the board directed against public sector teachers, firefighters, hospital workers, and other local government positions. The cuts were undertaken in the name of balancing budgets and protecting the prosperity of future children, ironically while assaulting the living standards of the parents and children of today. The rebellion in Spain was truly massive, with an estimated 75 to 80 percent of public workers – or more than 2.5 million people – taking part.

The Spanish government wants further cuts, with salaries frozen in 2011 and future pension funding that will not be adjusted for inflation. Spain’s workers are sending the message that they won’t go down without a fight. At a time when national unemployment is over 20 percent (with total unemployment at 4 million and underemployment reaching 40 percent of the population), Spain’s workers are standing up and saying “no more!”

Summer protests in Greece were designed to draw attention to increasing national desperation. One in five now live below the poverty line, and the situation is certain to get worse as proposed austerity measures – including tax hikes, pay cuts, and pension freezes – are undertaken. By July 2010, Greece’s public service workers had engaged in a half dozen strikes, forcing a shutdown of public transportation and closing down schools, courts, hospitals, and newspapers. The protests galvanized tens of thousands to turn out in cities across the country, prompting chants of “hands off our pensions” in opposition to draconian cuts directed against the country’s working class.

In the United Kingdom, students, staff, and faculty across 100 universities came together to organize on-campus protests in June to resist planned government layoffs, salary cuts, and reductions in courses. The public was not fooled over the incremental nature of the cuts, which will be implemented over a number of years, but will affect three-quarters of the country’s schools. The cuts are quite significant in scale – approximately 200 million pounds (or $300 million in U.S. dollars) across the country.

Protests in the U.S.: What are We Waiting For?

The United States is suffering under its own economic calamity over the last few years, too. Unemployment is consistently increasing, while massive state budget cuts are succeeding in throwing out countless public servants across the states in recent years. Underemployment is currently at over 20 percent, while unemployment benefits were barely extended in a bitter national debate between both parties this summer. To make matters worse, the economy is limping along, showing little sign of a real recovery, while the specter of future bank and financial failures loom in the background.

Many will wonder, why is there so much activism throughout the rest of the world, but comparatively much less in the United States in resisting neoliberalism and austerity-based budget cuts? Part of the explanation in the cases of resistance in Greece, Spain, Mozambique, South Africa, and Bangladesh is the fact that workers in those countries are comparatively much worse off than Americans when it comes to deteriorating pay, benefits, and other worker protections. Unemployment levels are often much higher than in the U.S., while pay levels have long been comparative lower. This explanation, however, is partial at best. The U.K. is characterized in many ways by a relatively stronger social welfare state (especially in relation to health care) than that seen in the U.S., and less extreme conditions for workers, with 7.8 percent unemployment compared to the United States’ 9.6 percent official unemployment. Yet, British public sector workers are far more organized and intolerant of the gutting of public education. France has a similar level of unemployment to the U.S. at 10 percent and a far more advanced social welfare state, yet its workers have responded with a coordinated national campaign to protest budget cuts. In contrast, American protests against far larger austerity measures (in the form of mass layoffs and talk of serious pension cuts) are being met by scattered local protests at best. No salient national campaign is emerging across localities in this country, nor does it appear that one is on the horizon in the near future.

The relatively stronger position of labor unions throughout Western Europe also doesn’t fully explain the weak level of protests in the U.S. Most of the strikes and protests discussed above were led by public sector workers, an area of the U.S. economy that has traditionally been characterized by strong unionization and organization. While only 7.2 percent of U.S. private sector workers are part of a union, the figure is at nearly 40 percent of public workers, and that figure actually grew from 2008 to 2009.

A major cause of U.S. apathy is likely the depoliticization of the American electorate and the lack of a collective working class consciousness. A majority of Americans distrust their political officials, while a growing number feel that they cannot rely upon the national government to improve their living standards. This latter trend should be particularly disturbing for those on the left who see the national government as the primary medium for promoting the improvement of living standards for the masses and for establishing and promoting collective goods. Establishing universal health care and universal funding for higher education, in addition to the strengthening of food stamps, head start, job training, Social Security, and a slew of other welfare programs will only be accomplished by increasing our support for, and reliance on the national government. These progressive victories will not emerge by “getting government out of our lives,” or by turning our back on national politics.

Americans are incessantly bombarded by conservative propaganda stressing the theme that government is the problem, rather than part of the solution in terms of promoting American prosperity. Diversionary mass media direct public attention toward fashionable consumption and meaningless celebrity news, rather than toward important political and economic issues, such as whether Americans will have a job tomorrow as a result of massive budget cuts and a weakening economy. American educational institutions do a pitiful job in informing the young about the importance of social movements in bringing about positive social change. Finally, structural changes in the economy force Americans to work longer hours for less pay, leaving less time for political education and activism.

All of these forces come together to wreak havoc on the prospects for renewed progressive activism among the American public. Progressive change is further hindered by the emergence of faux “social movements” like the Tea Party, supplemented by “grassroots uprisings” in the form of birtherism and anti-Muslim racism. These “movements” are largely media-induced, fueled by right-wing Republican and punditry-based hatred, which seeks to take advantage of the very real economic grievances of Middle America. There is more than a bit of Nazi-esque race-baiting and scapegoating involved in this process, especially when looking at the equation of Muslims with Nazism (seen among many protesting the Manhattan Muslim Community Center).

Until we begin to address the structural problems that plague American society, we will see little progress in organizing the masses to oppose the reactionary assault on the populace. Without action, there will be little support for a progressive agenda for real change. Americans must realize that the only way forward is through a direct confrontation with political and economic elites. Positive progressive change is never willingly given up by elites – it must be forcibly taken from below. This is the most important lesson to take from the global backlash against neoliberalism.

Retribution For A World Lost In Screens

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2010 at 11:55 am

Oldspeak: “We have been conditioned by electronic hallucinations to expect happy talk. We demand it. In this state of cultural illusion any description of actual reality, because it does not consist of the happy talk that pollutes the airwaves from National Public Radio to Oprah, is dismissed as “negative” or “pessimistic.” The beleaguered Jeremiahs who momentarily stumble into our consciousness and in a desperate frenzy seek to warn us of our impending self-destruction are derided because they do not lay out easy formulas that permit us to drift back into fantasy. We tell ourselves they are overreacting. If reality is a bummer, and if there are no easy solutions, we don’t want to hear about it. The facts of economic and environmental collapse, now incontrovertible, cannot be discussed unless they are turned into joking banter or come accompanied with a neat, pleasing solution, the kind we are fed at the conclusion of the movies, electronic games, talk shows and sitcoms, the kind that dulls our minds into passive and empty receptacles. “

From Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of retribution. She exacted divine punishment on arrogant mortals who believed they could defy the gods, turn themselves into objects of worship and build ruthless systems of power to control the world around them. The price of such hubris was almost always death.

Nemesis, related to the Greek word némein, means “to give what is due.” Our nemesis fast approaches. We will get what we are due. The staggering myopia of our corrupt political and economic elite, which plunder the nation’s wealth for financial speculation and endless war, the mass retreat of citizens into virtual hallucinations, the collapsing edifices around us, which include the ecosystem that sustains life, are ignored for a giddy self-worship. We stare into electronic screens just as Narcissus, besotted with his own reflection, stared into a pool of water until he wasted away and died.

We believe that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war. We believe that money, rather than manufactured products and goods, is real. We believe in the myth of inevitable human moral and material progress. We believe that no matter how much damage we do to the Earth or our society, science and technology will save us. And as temperatures on the planet steadily rise, as droughts devastate cropland, as the bleaching of coral reefs threatens to wipe out 25 percent of all marine species, as countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh succumb to severe flooding, as we poison our food, air and water, as we refuse to confront our addiction to fossil fuels and coal, as we dismantle our manufacturing base and plunge tens of millions of Americans into a permanent and desperate underclass, we flick on a screen and are entranced.

We confuse the electronic image, a reflection back to us of ourselves, with the divine. We gawk at “reality” television, which of course is contrived reality, reveling in being the viewer and the viewed. True reality is obliterated from our consciousness. It is the electronic image that informs and defines us. It is the image that gives us our identity. It is the image that tells us what is attainable in the vast cult of the self, what we should desire, what we should seek to become and who we are. It is the image that tricks us into thinking we have become powerful—as the popularity of video games built around the themes of violence and war illustrates—while we have become enslaved and impoverished by the corporate state. The electronic image leads us back to the worship of ourselves. It is idolatry. Reality is replaced with electronic mechanisms for preening self-presentation—the core of social networking sites such as Facebook—and the illusion of self-fulfillment and self-empowerment. And in a world unmoored from the real, from human limitations and human potential, we inevitably embrace superstition and magic. This is what the worship of images is about. We retreat into a dark and irrational fear born out of a cavernous ignorance of the real. We enter an age of technological barbarism.

To those entranced by images, the world is a vast stage on which they are called to enact their dreams. It is a world of constant action, stimulation and personal advancement. It is a world of thrills and momentary ecstasy. It is a world of ceaseless movement. It makes a fetish of competition. It is a world where commercial products and electronic images serve as a pseudo-therapy that caters to feelings of alienation, inadequacy and powerlessness. We may be locked in dead-end jobs, have no meaningful relationships and be confused about our identities, but we can blast our way to power holding a little control panel while looking for hours at a screen. We can ridicule the poor, the ignorant and the weak all day long on trash-talk shows and reality television shows. We are skillfully made to feel that we have a personal relationship, a false communion, with the famous—look at the outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana or Michael Jackson. We have never met those we adore. We know only their manufactured image. They appear to us on screens. They are not, at least to us, real people. And yet we worship and seek to emulate them.

In this state of cultural illusion any description of actual reality, because it does not consist of the happy talk that pollutes the airwaves from National Public Radio to Oprah, is dismissed as “negative” or “pessimistic.” The beleaguered Jeremiahs who momentarily stumble into our consciousness and in a desperate frenzy seek to warn us of our impending self-destruction are derided because they do not lay out easy formulas that permit us to drift back into fantasy. We tell ourselves they are overreacting. If reality is a bummer, and if there are no easy solutions, we don’t want to hear about it. The facts of economic and environmental collapse, now incontrovertible, cannot be discussed unless they are turned into joking banter or come accompanied with a neat, pleasing solution, the kind we are fed at the conclusion of the movies, electronic games, talk shows and sitcoms, the kind that dulls our minds into passive and empty receptacles. We have been conditioned by electronic hallucinations to expect happy talk. We demand it.

We confuse this happy talk with hope. But hope is not about a belief in progress. Hope is about protecting simple human decency and demanding justice. Hope is the belief, not necessarily grounded in the tangible, that those whose greed, stupidity and complacency have allowed us to be driven over a cliff shall one day be brought down. Hope is about existing in a perpetual state of rebellion, a constant antagonism to all centers of power. The great moral voices, George Orwell and Albert Camus being perhaps two of the finest examples, describe in moving detail the human suffering we ignore or excuse. They understand that the greatest instrument for moral good is the imagination. The ability to perceive the pain and suffering of another, to feel, as King Lear says, what wretches feel, is a more powerful social corrective than the shelves of turgid religious and philosophical treatises on human will. Those who change the world for the better, who offer us hope, have the capacity to make us step outside of ourselves and feel empathy.

A print-based culture, as writer Neil Postman pointed out, demands rationality. The sequential, propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter Ong calls the “analytic management of knowledge.” But our brave new world of images dispenses with these attributes because the images do not require them to be understood. Communication in the image-based culture is not about knowledge. It is about the corporate manipulation of emotions, something logic, order, nuance and context protect us against. Thinking, in short, is forbidden. Entertainment and spectacle have become the aim of all human endeavors, including politics, which is how Stephen Colbert, playing his television character, can be permitted to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Campaigns are built around the manufactured personal narratives of candidates, who function as political celebrities, rather than policies or ideas. News reports have become soap operas and mini-dramas revolving around the latest celebrity scandal.

Colleges and universities, which view students as customers and suck obscene tuition payments and loans out of them with the tantalizing promise of high-paying corporate jobs, have transformed themselves into resorts and theme parks. In this new system of education almost no one fails. Students become “brothers” or “sisters” in the atavistic, tribal embrace of eating clubs, fraternities or sororities. School spirit and school branding is paramount. Campus security keeps these isolated enclaves of privilege secure. And 90,000-seat football stadiums, along with their millionaire coaches, dominate the campus. It is moral leprosy.

The role of knowledge and art, as the ancient Greeks understood, is to create ekstasis, which means standing outside one’s self to give our individual life and struggle meaning and perspective. The role of art and scholarship is to transform us as individuals, not entertain us as a group. It is to nurture this capacity for understanding and empathy. Art and scholarship allow us to see the underlying structures and assumptions used to manipulate and control us. And this is why art, like intellectual endeavor, is feared by the corporate elite as subversive. This is why corporations have used their money to deform universities into vocational schools that spit out blinkered and illiterate systems managers. This is why the humanities are withering away.

The vast stage of entertainment that envelops our culture is intended to impart the opposite of ekstasis. Mass entertainment plays to the basest and crudest instincts of the crowd. It conditions us to have the same aspirations and desires. It forces us to speak in the same dead clichés and slogans. It homogenizes human experience. It wallows in a cloying nostalgia and sentimentalism that foster historical amnesia. It turns the Other into a cartoon or a stereotype. It prohibits empathy because it prohibits understanding. It denies human singularity and uniqueness. It assures us that we all have within us the ability, talent or luck to become famous and rich. It forms us into a lowing and compliant herd. We have been conditioned to believe—defying all the great moral and philosophical writers from Socrates to Orwell—that the aim of life is not to understand but to be entertained. If we do not shake ourselves awake from our electronic hallucinations and defy the elites who are ruining the country and trashing the planet we will experience the awful and deadly retribution of the gods.

Forget About That ‘Official’ Poverty Rate. It’s Much Worse Than You Think.

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Oldspeak: “Conveniently omitted from recently reported poverty statistics: The Census Bureau uses a long outdated method to calculate the poverty rate, measuring poverty based on costs of living metrics established back in 1955.  They ignore many key factors, such as the increased costs of medical care, child care, education, transportation, and many other basic costs of living. They also don’t factor geographically based costs of living, a persons assets and liabilities, and 52 million people enrolled in “anti-poverty” programs. All told, 239 million or 77% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. All this while 1 percent of Americans hoards 13 TRILLON IN INVESTABLE WEALTH. In a word-Plutocracy.”

From David DeGraw@ Alter Net:

While the shocking new poverty statistics from the Census Bureau indicating that a record 43.6 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009 emphatically demonstrates the severity of the economic crisis, the Census is drastically undercounting this demographic. Apparently the government’s poverty statistics are as accurate as its unemployment statistics.

I have read many reports that simply restate what the government has said without questioning the fact that the metrics it uses to calculate poverty are extremely outdated.

News reports say that in 2009 the poverty rate “skyrocketed” to 43.6 million — up from 39.8 million in 2008, which is the largest year-to-year increase, and the highest number since statistics have been recorded — putting the poverty rate for 2009 at 14.3 percent. This is obviously a tragedy and horrific news. However, this is also the result of lazy reporting.

Let’s revisit the 2008 Census total stating that 39.8 million Americans lived in poverty. It turns out that the National Academy of Science did its own study and found that 47.4 million Americans actually lived in poverty in 2008. The Census missed 7.6 million Americans living in poverty that year.

How did that happen? The Census Bureau uses a long outdated method to calculate the poverty rate. The Census is measuring poverty based on costs of living metrics established back in 1955 — 55 years ago! They ignore many key factors, such as the increased costs of medical care, child care, education, transportation, and many other basic costs of living. They also don’t factor geographically based costs of living. For example, try finding a place to live in New York that costs the same as a place in Florida.

So the Census poverty rate increase of 3.8 million people will put the 2009 National Academy of Science (NAS) number at a minimum of 51.2 million Americans. And if the margin of discrepancy is equivalent to the 7.6 million of 2008, we are looking at a NAS number of at least 52 million people for 2009.

Let’s also consider the fact that more than 20 million people were on unemployment benefits last year. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis concluded that unemployment insurance temporarily kept 3.3 million people out of poverty. Food stamp assistance kept another 2.3 million people out of poverty. If we were to include all of these people, we’d be looking at almost 60 million Americans living in poverty. Which means the government number doesn’t account for over 14.1 million Americans in poverty.

Now let’s look at the poverty line these numbers are based on: $22,050 for a family of four. Let me repeat that: $22,050 for a family of four. That breaks down to $5,513 per person, per year. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine living in the United States on $459 per month. That amount will barely get you a good health insurance policy, never mind food, clothes and a roof over your head. No wonder why a record 50.7 million Americans do not have health insurance. (Beware: 50.7 million Americans without health insurance is a government-based number. If you had health insurance for only one day last year, you are not counted in this total.)

Clearly, the Census is setting the income level for its poverty measurement extremely low. If we were to increase that measure by just a small increment, to $25,000 for a family of four, I estimate that the National Academy of Science would come up with a number of nearly 100 million Americans in poverty.

Let’s also consider the staggering amount of Americans — 52 million, roughly 17 percent of the population — who are currently enrolled in “anti-poverty” programs. Over 50 million are on Medicaid, 41 million on food stamps, 10 million on unemployment, 4.4 million receive welfare. Not counted in this “anti-poverty” total are 30 million children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. Another metric: if it wasn’t for Social Security — note to deficit hawks — 20 million more would be added to the poverty total.

The effect of people moving in with family members instead of living on their own has further masked the severity of the poverty crisis. Foreclosures, unemployment, increased cost of education and health insurance have led the average household to grow in size. As Patrick Martin reports:

The number of multifamily households increased by 11.6 percent from 2008 to 2010, and the proportion of adults 25-34 living with their parents rose from 12.7 percent in 2008 to 13.4 percent in 2010. The poverty rate for these young adults was 8.5 percent when they were considered part of their parents’ household, but would have been 43 percent if they had been living on their own.

This trend is currently increasing. Although it is terribly under-reported, foreclosure rates continue to rise. We just experienced the worst month of foreclosures in history; the generation just graduating from college is carrying record levels of student-loan debt, and they are being forced into much lower income levels than anticipated, if they can even find employment.

Another glaring factor clouding our view of poverty in America is that the Census does not calculate a person’s assets and liabilities. Considering the massive debts most Americans are carrying, this would make the poverty rate explode. Stephen Crawford and Shawn Fremstad from Reuters concisely summed up this point:

As Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, along with economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, write in their new book Mis-measuring Our Lives, “Income and consumption are crucial for assessing living standards, but in the end they can only be gauged in conjunction with information on wealth.” This point is just as relevant to poverty measurement as it is to other measures of living standards.

To understand why this is the case, consider two families: one had an income that puts them a few thousand dollars below the poverty line, which was $22,050 for a family of four in 2009; the other has an income a few thousand dollars above the line. Looking only at income, the first family is worse off than the second.

Now add what the family owns and owes into the mix. Let’s say the first family has substantial net equity in its home and moderate liquid savings for a “rainy day,” while the latter has no liquid savings or, as is becoming too common these days, has liabilities that dwarf their assets such as an “underwater” mortgage. Using this more comprehensive method, the latter family, despite a modestly higher income, is actually the poorer one.

In my analysis, a key metric to judge the overall economic security and hardship level of a country is the percentage of the population living paycheck to paycheck. Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck can tell you about the stress and psychological impact it has on you when you know your family is one sickness, injury or downsizing away from economic ruin. The employment company CareerBuilder, in partnership with Harris Interactive, conducts an annual survey to determine the percentage of Americans currently living paycheck to paycheck. In 2007, 43 percent fell into this category. In 2008, the number increased to 49 percent. In 2009, the number skyrocketed up to 61 percent.

In their most recent survey, this number exploded to a mind-shattering 77 percent. Yes, 77 percent of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. This means in our nation of 310 million citizens, 239 million Americans are one setback away from economic ruin.

So when I hear the government and media tell me that 43.6 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009, while that is horrifying enough, I get extraordinarily frustrated knowing that even that sad statistic is putting a major positive spin on this economic disaster that is still far from over. While the economic top half of 1 percent now fears a “double-dip,” the overwhelming majority of Americans are still in the same downward spiral they’ve been on.

For one last missing piece to this equation, corporate profits are soaring while all this is devastation is occurring. Despite this economic crisis, it’s not like our country doesn’t have the money. A recent study done by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management found that a mere 1 percent of Americans are hoarding $13 trillion in “investible wealth.” Yep, 1 percent of Americans are hoarding $13 TRILLION in “investible wealth,” and that doesn’t even factor in all the money they have hidden in offshore accounts.

As American philosopher John Dewey once said, “There is no such thing as the liberty or effective power of an individual, group, or class, except in relation to the liberties, the effective powers, of other individuals, groups or classes.”

The United States now has the highest inequality of wealth in our nation’s history. Tens of millions of Americans are wondering how they are going to pay their bills, while the people who caused this crisis are rolling around in $13 trillion. The robber barons have been displaced as America’s most despotic and depraved ruling class.

UN Warned Of Major New Food Crisis At Emergency Meeting In Rome

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

July's wildfires in Russia have led to a draconian wheat ban, pushing up prices.

Oldspeak: “Not a big story today in the most gluttonous nation on the planet, but it could be in the not too distant future. The world may be on the brink of a major new food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculators, the UN was warned at an emergency meeting on food price inflation. Nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night – another food crisis would be catastrophic for millions of poor people worldwide.  Environmental disasters are beyond our control, (if you discount the impact of global warming) but Wall Street’s treatment the world food supply as a comodity to be traded for profit and a transition from factory farming to more agro-ecological ways of food production can be controlled and changed.”

From John Vidal @ The U.K. Guardian:

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting in Rome today was called last month after a heatwave and wildfires in Russia led to a draconian wheat export ban and food riots broke out in Mozambique, killing 13 people. But UN experts heard that pension and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets may also be responsible for inflation in food prices being seen across all continents.

In a new paper released this week, Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on food, says that the increases in price and the volatility of food commodities can only be explained by the emergence of a “speculative bubble” which he traces back to the early noughties.

“[Beginning in ]2001, food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors,” De Schutter writes. “The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the US housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behaviour of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.”

He continues: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [has been] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”

A near doubling of many staple food prices in 2007 and 2008 led to riots in more than 30 countries and an estimated 150 million extra people going hungry. While some commodity prices have since reduced, the majority are well over 50% higher than pre-2007 figures – and are now rising quickly upwards again.

“Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds are witnessing significant price increases,” said De Schutter, who spoke today at The UK Food Group’s conference in London.

Gregory Barrow of the UN World Food Program said: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.”

Sergei Sukhov, from Russia’s agriculture ministry, told the Associated Press during a break in the meeting in Rome that the market for grains “should be stable and predictable for all participants.” He said no efforts should be spared “to the effect that the production of food be sufficient.”

“The emergency UN meeting in Rome is a clear warning sign that we could be on the brink of another food price crisis unless swift action is taken. Already, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night – another food crisis would be catastrophic for millions of poor people,” said Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid’s hunger campaigner.

An ActionAid report released last week revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450bn a year – more than 10 times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One.

Food prices are rising around 15% a year in India and Nepal, and similarly in Latin America and China. US maize prices this week broke through the $5-a-bushel level for the first time since September 2008, fuelled by reports from US farmers of disappointing yields in the early stages of their harvests. The surge in the corn price also pushed up European wheat prices to a two-year high of €238 a tonne.

Elsewhere, the threat of civil unrest led Egypt this week to announce measures to increase food self-sufficiency to 70%. Partly as a result of food price rises, many middle eastern and other water-scarce countries have begun to invest heavily in farmland in Africa and elsewhere to guarantee supplies.

Although the FAO has rejected the notion of a food crisis on the scale of 2007-2008, it this week warned of greater volatility in food commodities markets in the years ahead.

At the meeting in London today, De Schutter said the only long term way to resolve the crisis would be to shift to “agro-ecological” ways of growing food. This farming, which does not depend on fossil fuels, pesticides or heavy machinery has been shown to protect soils and use less water.

“A growing number of experts are calling for a major shift in food securitypolicies, and support the development of agroecology approaches, which have shown very promising results where implemented,” he said.

Green MP Caroline Lucas called for tighter regulation of the food trade. “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organisation,” she said.

Wiretapped Phones, Now Internet? Obama Wants To Wiretap Internet Communications.

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 8:46 am

Oldspeak: Big Brother is a nosey fucker ain’t he? He wanna know ALL YA BUSINESS. :-| Americans are unwittingly being relieved of more and more of their civil liberties and rights to privacy in the name of national security. ‘In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a succession of laws that has made it far easier for law enforcement and security officials to spy on online and other communications with or without warrants…Now they want the additional benefit of the internet being wiretap-friendly”

From Troy Wolverton @ The San Hose Mercury News:

Privacy advocates on Monday sharply criticized a U.S. government plan to make it easier for police and spy agencies to eavesdrop on Internet communications.

National security and U.S. law enforcement officials are preparing to submit a bill to Congress that would require all Internet companies to be able to tap into any online communications that they enable, The New York Times reported Monday. While government officials quoted by the Times said the legislation is needed because much communication among criminals and terrorists has moved online, privacy advocates called the proposal dangerous and excessive.

Google, Facebook, Skype and other local Internet companies contacted by the Mercury News declined to comment on the proposal. But Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a group that promotes the rights and interests of online consumers, said it “would give away the digital keys to our consumer data kingdom.”

“This is too much to give away to any government, Republican or Democrat,” he said. “This proposal should be fought by civil libertarians, consumers and business leaders.”

The bill, which hasn’t yet been released, would require companies that provide encrypted communications to be able to break into those coded signals upon receiving a legal wiretapping order, according to the Times. It would also require companies that provide peer-to-peer software, such as Skype, to be able to spy on phone calls and instant messages made over that software, which probably would require fundamental changes in the way those applications work.

Government officials quoted by the Times argued that the proposal would merely preserve their current powers, rather than grant new ones. Law enforcement officials have long had the ability to record or listen in on traditional phone calls.

But increasingly, telephone calls and other communications are encrypted or made outside the traditional phone networks using technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol and peer-to-peer networking. Because peer-to-peer phone calls don’t pass through a central server or communications hub, they aren’t easy to tap midstream. And encryption can be difficult to break if officials don’t have a digital key to unlock it.

The Obama administration’s concerns are similar to those raised recently by India and Dubai, which have threatened to block Research In Motion’s BlackBerry service if not given access to the encrypted messages sent through RIM’s servers.

But privacy advocates challenged the claim that U.S. officials are losing their policing abilities. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a succession of laws that has made it far easier for law enforcement and security officials to spy on online and other communications with or without warrants, noted Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an online civil liberties group. The government has also amassed massive databases of electronic information that it can use in investigations, he said.

“This view that law enforcement is being left in the dark by technology is a myth,” Rotenberg said. Government officials have a “lot of ways” to investigate crimes and terrorist threats.

“Now they want the additional benefit of the network being wiretap-friendly,” he added. “We’re saying that simply goes too far.”

Encryption and peer-to-peer networking have become widely used on the Internet for everyday communications, advocates say. Online purchases, financial transactions and even e-mail messages are routinely encrypted these days. And some new laws setting privacy standards have encouraged the wide use of encryption for storing and transmitting health information and other electronic or online records.

“For (government officials) at this point to try and set back the clock would be a mistake,” said Phil Zimmerman, who created the popular encryption program PGP and who helped spearhead the successful fight against a similar law enforcement effort in the 1990s. “We would all oppose it and we would probably prevail.”

Zimmerman and other advocates argue that providing a “back door” into online communications to allow government officials to spy on them would make those communications fundamentally insecure, providing a point of vulnerability that hackers could exploit. In Greece in 2005, hackers used just such a back door to eavesdrop on phone calls made by the prime minister and other officials.

“This is a bad idea,” Rotenberg said. “Not just bad in the sense that it opens the door to Big Brother surveillance, but it “… puts Internet users and companies at greater risk of identity theft, corporate espionage and surreptitious spying.”

This Country Just Can’t Deal With Reality Anymore

In Uncategorized on September 27, 2010 at 9:03 am

Oldspeak:“The consequences of the nation’s three-decade-old decoupling from reality are becoming painfully obvious… Millions of Americans are complaining about their loss of economic status, their sense of powerlessness, their nation’s decline.  But instead of examining how the country stumbled into this morass, many still choose not to face reality. Instead of seeking paths to the firmer ground of a reality-based world, people from different parts of the political spectrum have decided to embrace unreality even more…”

From Robert Parry @ Consortium News:

As Election Day 2010 approaches – as the United States wallows in the swamps of war, recession and environmental degradation – the consequences of the nation’s three-decade-old decoupling from reality are becoming painfully obvious.

Yet, despite the danger, the nation can’t seem to move in a positive direction, as if the suctioning effect of endless spin, half-truths and lies holds the populace in place, a force that grows ever more powerful like quicksand sucking the country deeper into the muck – to waist deep, then neck deep.

Trapped in the mud, millions of Americans are complaining about their loss of economic status, their sense of powerlessness, their nation’s decline. But instead of examining how the country stumbled into this morass, many still choose not to face reality.

Instead of seeking paths to the firmer ground of a reality-based world, people from different parts of the political spectrum have decided to embrace unreality even more, either cynically as a way to delegitimize a political opponent or because they’ve simply become addicted to the crazy.

The latest manifestation of the wackiness can be found in the rise of the Tea Party, a movement of supposedly grassroots, mad-as-hell regular Americans that is subsidized by wealthy corporate donors (such as the billionaire Koch brothers) seeking to ensure deregulation of their industries and to consolidate their elite control over the political process.

The Tea Party madness is aided and abetted by a now fully formed right-wing media apparatus that can popularize any false narrative (like Islam planning to conquer Christian America as represented by the building of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero).

The Right sees an advantage in spreading even the nuttiest of smears against President Barack Obama. So you have right-wing author Dinesh D’Souza and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich concocting a toxic brew of racist nonsense about Obama somehow channeling the anti-colonialism of his late Kenyan father.

“Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s,” D’Souza wrote in Forbes. “This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

Incredibly, indeed.

The “factual” basis of this “analysis” apparently is that Obama entitled his touching story about his youth, Dreams of My Father, which was a book that focused on the absence of his father from his life.

In a less crazy time, one might have expected D’Souza’s claptrap to be denounced by politicians across the political spectrum, but that is not the time we live in.

Instead, Gingrich, a leading figure in the Republican Party and a potential candidate for president in 2012, praised D’Souza’s racist psycho-babble as the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama,” adding that D’Souza unlocked the mystery of who Obama is by addressing his “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

Gingrich also pretended that he and D’Souza were the truth-tellers here, not just propagandists spreading a smear. Gingrich said they simply were unmasking Obama who has “played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”

How It Happened

But how did the United States of America get here? How could the most powerful nation on earth with a sophisticated media that is constitutionally protected from government censorship have stumbled into today’s dreary place filled with such up-is-down commentary?

As a journalist in Washington since 1977, I have had a front-row seat to this sad devolution of American reason. As the process advanced, I have at times felt like a Cassandra trying to warn others about the risks of abandoning fact and rationality in favor of propaganda of whatever stripe.

I also have watched Newt Gingrich since he was a freshman congressman in 1979, when I was a congressional correspondent for the Associated Press. Though I have met many politicians in my career and know they can be an egotistical bunch, Gingrich’s burning ambition – his readiness to do whatever was necessary – stood out even then.

Unlike many other congressional Republicans of the time, Gingrich cared little for constructive governance but a great deal for political gamesmanship. He was already plotting his route to national power and was ready to use whatever tactics would advance his personal and ideological cause.

However, America’s decoupling from reality – and its disappearance into the swamp of unreality – began in earnest with the rise of actor and ad pitchman Ronald Reagan, who crafted a host of get-something-for-nothing policies that appealed to a nation that was struggling to adjust to a more complex world.

Reagan promised that tax cuts tilted to the rich would generate more revenue and eliminate the federal debt; that this money also could finance a massive military buildup which would frighten America’s enemies and restore national prestige; that freeing corporations from government regulations and from powerful unions would herald a new day of prosperity; that the country could turn its back on alternative energy and simply drill for more oil; that whites no longer had to feel guilty about the plight of blacks; that traditional “values” – i.e. rejection of the “counter-culture” – would bring back the good old days when men were men and women were women.

Despite the appeal of Reagan’s message to many Americans, it was essentially an invitation to repudiate reality. Before joining Reagan’s ticket as his vice presidential nominee, George H.W. Bush had famously denounced the tax-cut plan as “voodoo economics.” Early in Reagan’s presidency, his budget director David Stockman acknowledged that the tax cuts would flood the government in red ink.

But tax policy wasn’t Reagan’s only ignore-the-future policy. While rejecting President Jimmy Carter’s warnings about the need for renewable energy sources, Reagan removed Carter’s solar panels from the White House roof and left the nation dependent on oil. Reagan also led campaigns to break unions and to free corporations from many government regulations.

Scaring the Public

In foreign policy – although the Soviet Union was in rapid decline – Reagan put ideological blinders on the CIA’s analysts to make sure they exaggerated the Soviet menace and justified his military buildup.

Reagan achieved this “politicization” of the CIA by placing in charge his campaign chief William Casey, who, in turn, picked a young CIA careerist named Robert Gates to purge the analytical division of its long tradition of objectivity. Gates arranged the scariest intelligence estimates possible.

Reagan also credentialed a group of young intellectuals who became known as the neoconservatives – the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle and Robert Kagan – who emerged from an elitist tradition (advocated by philosopher Leo Strauss) that it was their proper role to manipulate the less-educated masses and guide them in certain directions.

After Reagan gave the neocons oversight of his Central American policies, the neocons worked with seasoned CIA propagandists, like Walter Raymond Jr. who was moved over to the National Security Council, to develop what they called “perception management” strategies for controlling how the American people would see and understand things.

The neocons used fear, exaggeration and outright lying to get the American people behind Reagan’s support for brutal military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala and the contra rebels seeking to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. Truth was subordinated to policy.

Perception management operatives targeted honest journalists, human rights activists and congressional investigators who dug up unwanted facts that challenged Reagan’s propaganda. To discredit truthful messages, the neocons “controversialized” the messengers.

These techniques proved very successful, in large part, because many senior executives at leading news outlets – from the AP where general manager Keith Fuller was a Reagan enthusiast to the New York Times where executive editor Abe Rosenthal was himself a neocon – sided with the propagandists against their own journalists. [For details on “perception management,” see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Meanwhile, the American Right began building its own media infrastructure with wealthy foundations footing the bills for a host of political magazines. Far-right religious cult leader Sun Myung Moon poured billions of mysterious dollars into the Washington Times and other media operations. [See Secrecy & Privilege.]

By contrast, the American Left mostly under-funded or even de-funded its scattered media outlets. Some, like Ramparts, were shuttered, while other formerly left-of-center publications, such as The New Republic and The Atlantic, changed hands to neocon and conservative owners. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]

Whatever the long-term costs, Reagan made many Americans feel good in the short run. They liked the idea of not having to pay for government services (by simply putting the bill on the government’s credit card) and many bought into Reagan’s notion that “government is the problem.”

So, in 1984, Reagan’s gauzy “Morning in America” vision won big over Walter Mondale’s appeal for fiscal responsibility.

The Iran-Contra Window

Perhaps the last best hope to reassert reality came with the Iran-Contra scandal, which played out from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Reagan’s secret arms-for-hostages deals with Iran had the potential to unravel an interconnected series of national security cover-ups and scandals, including cocaine smuggling by Reagan’s contras and creation of the “perception management” operation itself.

However, again, truth about these complex scandals was not considered that important, either in Congress or within the Washington news media. The governing Democrats, the likes of Rep. Lee Hamilton and later President Bill Clinton, chose to sweep the scandals under the rug in the hope that the Republicans would reciprocate through a renewed bipartisanship. [See Secrecy & Privilege.]

Not only were those hopes unrequited, the Republicans actually grew more emboldened and more partisan. The GOP and its allies ramped up personal attacks on Clinton by turning loose its powerful new media infrastructure, which by the 1990s featured the Right’s domination of AM talk radio.

A typical example of the Right’s propaganda was to distribute lists of “mysterious deaths” of people somehow connected to President Clinton. Though there was no evidence that Clinton was implicated in any of the deaths, the sophistry of the argument rested simply on the number of cases.

When I checked out some of the cases and relayed my findings of Clinton’s innocence to one right-wing source, he told me that maybe I could show that Clinton wasn’t responsible for some of the deaths but I couldn’t account for all and that it would be “a big story” if the President was responsible for even a few deaths.

I responded that it would be a “big story” if the President were responsible for even one, but the problem was that there was no evidence of that, just the insidious impression created by a long list of vague suspicions.

What the Right learned was that it could achieve political gain by circulating an endless supply of baseless or wildly exaggerated allegations. Many Americans would believe them just because of the repetition over right-wing talk radio, especially by the most prominent talker Rush Limbaugh.

On Election Night 1994, Democrats were stunned by how effective the tactic of using bogus and hyped anti-Clinton charges proved to be. Between the smearing of Bill and Hillary Clinton and the voters desire to punish Democrats for raising taxes to close the Reagan-Bush-41-era deficits, the Republicans swept to control of the House and Senate.

Newt Gingrich achieved his long-held goal of becoming House Speaker, and Rush Limbaugh was made an honorary member of the Republican congressional caucus.

In the years that have followed – especially with the emergence of Fox News in the mid-to-late 1990s – the dominance of right-wing propaganda over non-ideological reality moved to the center of the American political process.

As in the 1980s, much of the blame should fall on the mainstream news media. Rather than push for difficult truths, many journalists in the corporate media protected their careers by going with the flow or turned their attention to trivial and tabloid stories.

The Bush-43 Era

During Campaign 2000, journalists from publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post ganged up on Al Gore. They even made up quotations to put in his mouth so they could haze him as if they were the cool kids on campus and he was the goofy nerd.

By contrast, journalists knew to fawn all over the ultimate big man on campus, George W. Bush, as he made them feel important by giving them nicknames. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

When Gore still narrowly defeated Bush in Election 2000, the major news media stood aside as Bush and the Republicans stole the White House.

After Bush’s allies on the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the counting of votes in Florida to give him the “victory,” some executives at major publications felt that pointing out the fact that Gore actually won – if all votes legal under Florida law had been counted – would undermine Bush’s “legitimacy” and thus it was better not to let the public know. In other words, ignorance had become bliss.

Some columnists, like the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, went so far as to hail the overturning of the popular will under the theory that Bush would be a uniter, while Gore would be a divisive figure.

The see-no-evil attitude hardened after the 9/11 attacks when mainstream outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, consciously misreported their own findings of a Gore victory in Florida, based on an unofficial media recount. Instead of leading with that remarkable fact, they buried the lede and highlighted that Bush would still have won some partial, hypothetical recounts. [See Neck Deep.]

The media mood after 9/11 – a combination of misguided patriotism and fear of right-wing retaliation – caused the mainstream press to retreat further into self-censorship and even collaboration. Key journalists, such as the Times’ reporter Judy Miller and the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, became handmaidens to Bush’s propaganda about Iraq.

With only a few exceptions, the U.S. news media let itself become silly putty in the hands of the neocons, who had returned to power under Bush-43 with a much broader foreign policy portfolio than Reagan had ever given them. Whereas Reagan confined them mostly to Central America, Bush-43 gave them the strategically vital Middle East.

Not surprisingly, the neocons reprised their old strategy of perception management, stoking excessive fears of Iraq’s mythical WMD programs and stomping out any counter embers of doubt. For millions of Americans, the WMD lies became truth as they were repeated everywhere, from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Aping the Right

After watching the success of the Bush administration’s propaganda, some on the Left decided that their only hope was to give the neocons a taste of their own disinformation medicine.

Though the 9/11 evidence pointed to Bush’s incompetence in ignoring warnings and failing to stop al-Qaeda’s terrorist operation, some American leftists felt that it wasn’t enough to convince the people that Bush was simply a bonehead. The feeling was that Bush had so bamboozled the people that they needed to be shocked out of their trances by something bigger.

So, this small group brushed aside the evidence-backed narrative of Bush’s incompetence and even a competing interpretation of that factual framework, claiming that Bush had “let 9/11 happen.” Instead, this group insisted that the only way to wake up America was to make a case that Bush “made it happen,” that he was behind the 9/11 attacks.

To accomplish this feat, these activists, who became known as “9/11 truthers,” threw out all the evidence of al-Qaeda’s involvement, from contemporaneous calls from hijack victims on the planes to confessions from al-Qaeda leaders both in and out of captivity that they indeed had done it. The “truthers” then cherry-picked a few supposed “anomalies” to build an “inside-job” story line.

The “truthers” even recycled many of the Right’s sophistry techniques, such as using long lists of supposed evidence to overcome the lack of any real evidence. These sleight-of-hand techniques obscured the glaring fact that not a single witness has emerged to describe the alleged “inside job,” either the supposed “controlled demolition” of the Twin Towers or the alleged “missile” attack on the Pentagon.

Some supporters of the “inside-job” theory may have simply been destabilized by all the years of right-wing disinformation. Reality and real evidence may have lost all currency, replaced by a deep and understandable distrust of the nation’s leaders and the news media.

Other “truthers” whom I’ve talked with view their anti-Bush propaganda campaign as a success because it injected some doubts among the American people about Bush. One told me that this was the only attack line against Bush that had gained any “traction.”

However, after President Obama’s election in 2008, the Right again demonstrated its mastery of the disinformation techniques. Unlike the Left, the Right could roll out the heavy artillery of a multi-layered media apparatus that pounded the public with barrage after barrage of conspiracy theories.

Falsehoods took on the color of truth simply by their endless retelling. For instance, the canard that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii as his birth certificate shows, has gained credibility with large numbers of Americans including about half of Republicans, some polls show. Similarly, the Right has convinced tens of millions that Obama is a Muslim, though he is Christian.

The Right’s media power has enabled the Republicans to portray Obama as some un-American “other,” while the GOP has little fear that its spreading of racist-tinged conspiracy theories will hurt the party’s election chances.

The latest example is Dinesh D’Souza’s bizarre theorizing about Obama’s channeling his late father’s opposition to British colonialism in Kenya, a reincarnated dream which somehow has morphed into Obama’s “socialist” agenda which is “alien” to American values.

Instead of roundly condemning D’Souza for this strange and racist article, Gingrich – one of the supposed intellectuals of the Republican Party – went out of his way to praise the nonsense as “profound.”

As former Bush-43 speechwriter David Frum noted in a blog post, “With the Forbes story and now the Gingrich endorsement, the argument that Obama is an infiltrating alien, a deceiving foreigner – and not just any kind of alien, but specifically a Third World alien – has been absorbed almost to the very core of the Republican platform for November 2010.”

Despite some internal GOP critics like Frum, the Republican Party clearly feels that it has a winning formula, using such psychological warfare to exploit a confused and embittered electorate. That confidence will be tested on Nov. 2, although if most prognosticators are correct, the Republicans have good reason to feel confident.

Whatever happens on Election Day, the longer-term challenge will be to rebuild an old-fashioned commitment to fact and reason within both American journalism and the broader political system.

Though lying is not foreign to U.S. politics and media, telling the truth has always been a fundamental American value, one that is vital to democracy.

The great task of restoring the Republic must include honest efforts to dig out recent history’s ground truth, which can then be used to build a path out of the disinformation swamp and onto the dry land of rational political discourse.

CNN Reporter: Network Censored Footage Of Iraq War Crime By U.S. Troops

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Oldspeak:”The Military Industrial Complex has learned the P.R. lessons of Vietnam: War MUST be sanitized and redacted for public consumption. If Americans see the true face of war, they have little stomach for it. The Ministry of Truth is doing it’s job well. Obama. Bring ‘em home. ALL OF THEM. “

From Daniel Tencer @ Raw Story:

A former CNN Iraq correspondent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder says his employers wouldn’t run footage he filmed of what he describes as a war crime by US troops, an Australian news source reports.

Michael Ware, who covered Iraq for CNN from 2006 until last year, describes the incident as “a small war crime, if there is such a thing.”

In 2007, Ware was with a group of US soldiers in a remote village in Iraq that was under the control of al Qaeda militants. Ware says there was a teenage boy in the street carrying a weapon for protection.

‘‘(The boy) approached the house we were in and the (US) soldiers who were watching our backs, one of them put a bullet right in the back of his head. Unfortunately it didn’t kill him,’’ Ware told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as quoted at the Brisbane Times.

Ware said his footage of the incident was deemed “too graphic” by CNN bosses to be placed on the air.

he Brisbane Times quotes Ware:

We all spent the next 20 minutes listening to his tortured breath as he died.

I had this moment … that I realized despite what was happening to this man in front of me, I’d been more concerned with the composition of my (photo) shot than I was with any attempt to either save him or at the very, very least ease his passing.

I indeed had been indifferent as the soldiers around me whose indifference I was attempting to capture.

Ware became “obsessed” with the footage of the incident, playing it repeatedly, said John Martinkus, a journalism teacher at the University of Tasmania and a friend of Ware’s.

“Part of him was like, ‘How could I just stand by and watch that happen?’ It was a really horrible, stark moral choice that he faced and he still wrestles with that,’’ Martinkus said.

Ware says the footage belongs to CNN and he can’t release it himself.

The Australian citizen returned to his native Brisbane last December to recover from the trauma of nearly a decade in war zones (he covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for Time prior to moving to CNN.)

Members of his family say he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and endures “nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia and mood swings,” according to the Brisbane Times.

Ware was reportedly kidnapped during his stint as a war correspondent. In the incident,recounted at Men’s Journal, he was grabbed by followers of the al Qaeda warlord Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

They dragged Ware into an anonymous building in Baghdad, hung up a banner, and were preparing to tape his execution with his own camera — until an Iraqi friend of his, a former Baathist, insisted they spare his life. “I didn’t leave my hotel room for three days after that,” he said. “I was nauseated for weeks.”

Ware thus became “the only Westerner to be captured and later released by Al Qaeda in Iraq,” reports ABC in Australia.

The CNN correspondent has been known for occasionally stepping into controversy. In 2006, heaired partial footage of militants stalking and killing US troops, prompting then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to declare that “CNN has now served as the publicist for an enemy propaganda film.”

In 2007, some bloggers accused Ware of disrupting a Baghdad press conference by Sen. John McCain, who at the time was gearing up for a White House run. Ware denied the allegation, and Raw Story reported that video evidence backed up Ware’s denial.

The Obama Syndrome: What Really Has Changed?

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2010 at 11:42 am

Oldspeak:“Extention of Bush-era torture policy, expansion of the ‘secret’ drone war in Pakistan (more drone strikes ordered in 18 months than in Bush’s entire presidency), 100,ooo troops/mercenaries still in Iraq, massive expansion of  the Afghan ‘War’ (in spite of the fact it’s widely believed no more than 50-100 Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan), toothless ‘financial reform’ , weak ‘health care reform’, ‘education reform’ that will turn public education in to a private for profit business. Change I can’t believe in. “

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

We speak with British Pakistani political commentator, writer, activist and editor of the New Left Review, Tariq Ali. He is the author of numerous books; his latest is The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad.

But right now we’re staying with Tariq Ali. He has a new book out; it’s called The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad. Some might say that’s a little harsh.

TARIQ ALI: I know some of his supporters might feel it’s a little harsh, but I think that we’ve had two years of him now, Amy, and the contours of this administration are now visible. And essentially, it is a conservative administration which has changed the mood music. So the talk is better. The images of the administration are better, the reasonable looks. But in terms of what they do—in foreign policy, we’ve seen a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies, and worse, in AfPak, as they call it, and at home, we’ve seen a total capitulation to the lobbyists, to the corporations. The fact that the healthcare bill was actually drafted by someone who used to be an insurance lobbyist says it all.

So, it’s essentially now a PR operation to get him reelected. But I don’t think people are that dumb. I’ve been speaking to some of his, you know, partisan supporters, and they’re disappointed. So the big problem for Obama is that if you do nothing and promise that you would bring about some changes, you will not have people coming out to vote for you again. And building up the tea party into this great bogey isn’t going to work. It’s your own supporters you have to convince to come out and vote for you, as they did before. I can’t see that happening.

AMY GOODMAN: The cover of your book, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, is a picture of the face, the head of President Obama, and half of it is peeled away to reveal President Bush.

TARIQ ALI: Well, this, you know, I think, is a sort of very brilliant West Coast montage artist, and they are the best. Whenever there’s a crisis, they come up with an image which says it all. And I like that image a lot, and I used it very deliberately to show the continuation, that it’s not a case that we have a new administration. We do, technically, but it’s continuing with many of the old policies in the—how it deals with the economy. When you have people like Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, occasionally Frank Rich in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd, these people who were desperate for a Democrat administration being incredibly critical of some of its things, when you have venerable professors like Gary Wells saying, “I’m disappointed,” the honeymoon didn’t last long with Obama. It lasted much, much longer with Clinton. And one reason for that is that he had raised hopes and was unable to deliver. He turned out to be an apparatchik and a political operator from one of the worst Democrat areas in the country, Chicago, and that’s what he behaves like.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Gibbs, the White House press spokesperson, going after the so-called “professional left”? Your thoughts?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, it’s interesting that they are incapable of dealing with the right. With the right, it’s conciliation. That’s what they feel they have to appeal to. With critics from the left, they tend to be very harsh, as if they are saying to us, “You don’t know how lucky you are.” But why are we lucky? I mean, you know, we judge people not by how they look or what they say, but by what they do. And what Obama has been doing is, you know, to put it mildly, extremely disappointing at home, and abroad it’s murderous. On Palestine, on Iran, no changes at all. So, one has to spell this out, because if they don’t realize that they’re doing this, they’re going to get more shocks. And Rahm Emanuel refers to people on the liberal left who are critical of Obama, and he uses a bad swear word and then says, “effing retards”—well, we’ll see who the retards are after the midterms, Amy. That’s all I can say.

AMY GOODMAN: Surrender at Home, War Abroad You were born in Pakistan. You ultimately went to Britain, where we just came from last night. It’s been interesting to see the politics there, but also the devastation of the war, the effects of the wars, on the population at home in Britain. A report in the paper the other day, when we were in London, saying that 20,000 veterans are in prison, mainly Iraq, Afghanistan war veterans, for committing violent and sexual crimes. But what about the war abroad and what President Obama is doing—says he’s scaling back Iraq, still about 50,000—actually, well more than that—military, and you could say paramilitaries with a mercenary armies there, and in Afghanistan, the surge?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, again, let’s look at it concretely. Bush had promised exactly the same withdrawal pattern from Iraq: by this time, we will be out. Obama has followed it. They’re not going out. What is essentially happening, they’re reducing the presence of combat troops and eliminating it in the big cities, and building six huge military bases all over Iraq, in which they’ll keep between fifty and sixty thousand soldiers, ready to act when the need be—just like the British did when they occupied Iraq in the ’20s and ’30s of the last century. And the British were then driven out by a violent upheaval and revolution in the ’50s. So the US is keeping these bases in, (a) to control Iraq, and (b) as a warning to Iran. And I think there’s going to be trouble.

The war isn’t over at all. We’ve seen, just a few days ago, huge explosions in Baghdad and Fallujah. It’s a total disaster and a mess. And to present that as somehow “mission accomplished part two” is a joke. That country has been wrecked, a million Iraqis dead, its social infrastructure destroyed. And in Afghanistan, they are now going from bad to worse. They know, and General Eikenberry knows and says, we cannot win this war militarily. They can’t lose it, but they can’t win it, either. So, political solution is the only way out, and that means that they have to have an exit strategy. Obama isn’t even talking about that, because that might be construed as a sign of weakness. But by who? The army knows what’s going on. They can’t stay there forever.

AMY GOODMAN: It was quite astounding, with the tremendous attention on Terry Jones threatening to burn a Quran, a horrific symbol all over the world, as it would be for any religious book, but at the same time, what was coming out of Afghanistan, a report of a kill team—this is a US kill team—who was taking souvenirs of fingers and other body parts, that getting very little attention in terms of what it means for not just the Muslim community, but for people all over the world.

TARIQ ALI: But, you know, Amy, some of us who are sort of elderly now remember exactly the same things happening in Vietnam during that war, where there were lots of report—in those days publicized much more, I have to say—of US soldiers in Vietnam taking trophies, which were parts of bodies of Vietnamese dead or who they had killed or tortured to death.

AMY GOODMAN: And just this report we read today, Michael Ware, well known face on CNN, constantly on talking about Iraq—

TARIQ ALI: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: —saying when he had this footage of a US soldier killing an Iraqi teen, they did not allow him to run that footage. And CNN owns it, so he can’t get it.

TARIQ ALI: It’s a disgrace that CNN did that, but that is a sign of how the global media corporations have been reporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Self-censorship has been the order of the day. They haven’t wanted to offend the US military, in sharp contrast to how the Vietnam War was covered. I remember Morley Safer on CBS News reporting a family’s home being destroyed by US Marines and Safer commenting, “We’re fighting for freedom.” That sort of stuff is not permitted now. The global corporations don’t do it, which is why programs like this are important. But now that if he can’t even use the footage that he took, what is that? I mean, how people in that part of the world know exactly what’s going, and it’s not the Quran burnings that upset them so much—but they do, too—but what is happening to their daily lives with the US and NATO presence. That is what upsets them, and that is the root of the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we were just in London and saw a production that’s based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, but it’s The People Speak. It’ll air on History Channel UK on October 31st, a remarkable production of British people’s history. And one of the people who is portrayed there was you, talking about “Blair-faced liars.” But you have a long history of decades of organizing around global politics in Britain. What about solutions right now? I mean, you have this One World March that’s going to be taking place on October 2nd in Washington, DC, based on jobs, justice and education. What about the kind of organizing that you feel is the most effective? People say, well, what should Obama do? What should Obama do? He is one person, albeit occupies the most powerful position on earth. But isn’t it really about movements, pressuring these individuals? That’s what makes history.

TARIQ ALI: I agree with you entirely. And I remember saying to lots of activists in the United States during the Obama election campaign—you know, people mobilized by MoveOn.org, etc.—and I would say to them, “Fine. You’re campaigning for Obama. You want him elected. OK, good. Let’s hope he delivers what you hope he’s going to deliver. But he’s not going to deliver even that if you just elect him and go back home.” And I remember arguing for a massive antiwar gathering for the inauguration, which would pressure right from day one on the new administration, saying, “Congrats, Barack. Now out of Baghdad and Iraq. Out of Kabul and Afghanistan,” from the word go. Without that, politicians don’t do anything. We wouldn’t have won any democratic rights, unless people had fought for them. The right of women to vote would never have been got, unless there’d been suffragettes fighting for it. So, that is the lesson, I’m afraid. And, you know, when people tell me in this country, “Oh, but there’s pressure from these kooks on the right, the tea party and this and that,” I said, “Obama boasts, and his office boasts, that they have 13 million supporters online. Well, what the hell are they doing with them? I mean, why couldn’t they mobilize even a tiny proportion of these to come out and give them support?” They don’t do that. So, someone has to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Or they’re there and the media doesn’t cover them. When you had one of the tea party rallies in Washington—I believe it was right on the anniversary of the war—there were about 500 members of the tea party there. There were thousands of people protesting the war. It got almost no coverage, certainly not equal to what happened with the tea party.

TARIQ ALI: Exactly. So the exaggerated threat of the tea party is played up by the right-wing media, Fox and many others, because they see it as a useful way to hammer the administration. But the administration’s inability to take them on in terms of arguments, that is what’s worrying, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tariq Ali, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to talk about the tea party with Glenn Greenwald. Tariq Ali, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad is the name of his new book.

Will The US And China Be Locked In A Global Battle Over Oil?

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Oldspeak:”China has overtaken America to become the world’s number one energy consumer, a development that signals a massive global power shift. The fact that China is the world’s leading energy consumer is bound to radically alter its global policies, just as energy predominance once did America’s.  No doubt this will, in turn, alter the course of Sino-American relations, not to speak of world affairs.  With the American experience in mind, what can we expect from China?”

From Michael T. Klare @ Tomsdispatch:

If you want to know which way the global wind is blowing (or the sun shining or the coal burning), watch China.  That’s the news for our energy future and for the future of great-power politics on planet Earth. Washington is already watching — with anxiety.

Rarely has a simple press interview said more about the global power shifts taking place in our world.  On July 20th, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, told the Wall Street Journal that China had overtaken the United States to become the world’s number one energy consumer.  One can read this development in many ways: as evidence of China’s continuing industrial prowess, of the lingering recession in the United States, of the growing popularity of automobiles in China, even of America’s superior energy efficiency as compared to that of China.  All of these observations are valid, but all miss the main point: by becoming the world’s leading energy consumer, China will also become an ever more dominant international actor and so set the pace in shaping our global future.

Because energy is tied to so many aspects of the global economy, and because doubts are growing about the future availability of oil and other vital fuels, the decisions China makes regarding its energy portfolio will have far-reaching consequences.  As the leading player in the global energy market, China will significantly determine not only the prices we will be paying for critical fuels but also the type of energy systems we will come to rely on.  More importantly, China’s decisions on energy preferences will largely determine whether China and the United States can avoid becoming embroiled in a global struggle over imported oil and whether the world will escape catastrophic climate change.

How to Rise to Global Preeminence

You can’t really appreciate the significance of China’s newfound energy prominence if you don’t first grasp the role of energy in America’s rise to global preeminence.

That the northeastern region of the young United States was richly endowed with waterpower and coal deposits was critical to the country’s early industrialization as well as to the North’s eventual victory in the Civil War.  It was the discovery of oil in western Pennsylvania in 1859, however, that would turn the U.S. into the decisive actor on the global stage.  Oil extraction and exports fueled American prosperity in the early twentieth century — a time when the country was the planet’s leading producer — while nurturing the rise of its giant corporations.

It should never be forgotten that the world’s first great transnational corporation — John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company — was founded on the exploitation and export of American petroleum.  Anti-trust legislation would break up Standard Oil in 1911, but two of its largest descendants, Standard Oil of New York and Standard Oil of New Jersey, were later fused into what is now the world’s wealthiest publicly traded enterprise,ExxonMobil.  Another descendant, Standard Oil of California, became Chevron — today, the third richest American corporation.

Oil also played a key role in the rise of the United States as the world’s preeminent military power.  This country supplied most of the oil consumed by Allied forces in both World War I and World War II.  Among the great powers of the time, the U.S. alone was self-sufficient in oil, which meant it could deploy massive armies to Europe and Asia and overpower the well-equipped (but oil-starved) German and Japanese militaries.  Few realize this today, but for the architects of America’s victory in the Second World War, including President Roosevelt, it was the nation’s superior endowment of petroleum, not the atom bomb, that proved decisive.

Having created an economy and military establishment based on oil, American leaders were compelled to employ ever more costly and desperate measures to ensure that both always had an adequate supply of energy.  After World War II, with domestic reserves already beginning to shrink, a succession of presidents fashioned a global strategy based on ensuring American access to overseas petroleum.

As a start, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf kingdoms were chosen to serve as overseas “filling stations” for U.S. refiners and military forces.  American oil companies, especially the descendants of Standard Oil, were aided and abetted in establishing a major presence in these countries.  To a considerable extent, in fact, the great postwar strategic pronouncements — the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, the Nixon Doctrine, and especially the Carter Doctrine — were all tied to the protection of these “filling stations.”

Today, too, oil plays a critical role in Washington’s global plans and actions.  The Department of State, for example, still maintains an elaborate, costly, and deeply entrenched military capability in the Persian Gulf to ensure the “safety” and “security” of oil exports from the region.  It has also extended its military reach to such key oil-producing regions as the Caspian Sea basin and western Africa.  The need to retain friendly ties and military relationships with key suppliers like Kuwait, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia continues to dominate U.S. foreign policy.  Similarly, in a globally warming world, a growing American interest in the melting Arctic is being propelled by a desire to exploit the polar region’s untapped hydrocarbon reserves.

Planet Coal?

The fact that China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s leading energy consumer is bound to radically alter its global policies, just as energy predominance once did America’s.  No doubt this will, in turn, alter the course of Sino-American relations, not to speak of world affairs.  With the American experience in mind, what can we expect from China?

As a start, no one reading newspaper business pages could have any doubt that Chinese leaders view energy as a — possibly the — major concern of the country and have been devoting substantial resources and planning to the procurement of adequate future supplies.  In addressing this task, Chinese leaders face two fundamental challenges: securing sufficient energy to meet ever-rising demand and deciding which fuels to rely on in satisfying these requirements.  How China responds to these challenges will have striking implications on the global stage.

According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), Chinese energy consumption will grow by 133% between 2007 and 2035 — from, that is, 78 to 182 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).  Think about it this way: the 104 quadrillion BTUs that China will somehow have to add to its energy supply over the next quarter-century equals the total energy consumption of Europe and the Middle East in 2007.  Finding and funneling so much oil, natural gas, and other fuels to China is undoubtedly going to be the single greatest economic and industrial challenge facing Beijing — and in that challenge lays the possibility of real friction and conflict.

Although most of the country’s energy funds are still expended domestically, what it spends on imported fuels (oil, coal, natural gas, and uranium) and energy equipment (oil refineries, power plants, and nuclear reactors) will significantly determine the global price of these items — a role that, until now, has been largely filled by the United States.  More important, however, will be the decisions China makes about the types of energy it will come to rely on.

If Chinese leaders were to follow their natural inclinations, they would undoubtedly avoid relying on imported fuels altogether, given how vulnerable foreign-energy dependence can make a country to overseas supply disruptions or, in China’s case, a possible U.S. naval blockade (in the event, say, of a prolonged conflict over Taiwan).  Li Junfeng, a senior Chinese energy official, was recently quoted as saying, “Energy supply should be where you can plant your foot on it” — that is, from domestic sources.

China does possess one kind of fuel in abundance: coal.  According to the most recent DoE projections, coal will make up an estimated 62% of China’s net energy supply in 2035, only slightly less than at present.  A heavy reliance on coal, however, will exacerbate the country’s environmental problems, dragging down its economy as health-care costs mount.  In addition, thanks to coal, China is now the world’s leading emitter of climate-altering carbon dioxide.  According to the DoE, China’s share of global carbon-dioxide emissions will jump from 19.6% in 2005, when it barely trailed the U.S. at 21.1%, to 31.4% in 2035, when it will tower over all other countries in net emissions.

As long as Beijing refuses to significantly reduce its reliance on coal, ignore its rhetoric on global-warming negotiations.  It simply won’t be able to take truly meaningful steps to address climate change.  In this way, too, it will alter the face of the planet.

Recently, the country’s leaders seem to have become far more sensitive to the risks of excessive reliance on coal.  Massive emphasis is now being placed on the development of renewable energy systems, especially wind and solar power.  Already, China has become the world’s leading producer of wind turbines and solar panels, and has already begun exporting its technology to the United States.  (Some economists and labor unions, in fact, claim that China is unfairly subsidizing its renewable-energy exports in violation of World Trade Organization rules.)

China’s growing emphasis on renewable energy would be good news, if it resulted in substantial reductions in coal use.  At the same time, the country’s drive to excel at these techniques could push it into the forefront of a technological revolution, just as early American dominance of petroleum technology propelled it to the front ranks of world powers in the twentieth century.  If the United States fails to keep pace, it could find the pace of its decline as a world power quickening.

Whose Saudis Are They?

China’s thirst for added energy could also lead quickly enough to friction and conflict with the United States, especially in the global competition for increasingly scarce supplies of imported petroleum.  As its energy use ramps ever upward, China is using more oil, which can only lead to greater political economic, political, and someday possibly even military involvement in the oil-producing regions — areas long viewed in Washington as constituting America’s private offshore energy preserves.

As recently as 1995, China only consumed about 3.4 million barrels of oil per day — one-fifth the amount used by the United States, the world’s top consumer, and two-thirds of the amount burned by Japan, then number two.  Since China pumped 2.9 million barrels per day from its domestic fields that year, its import burden was a mere 500,000 barrels per day at a time when the U.S. imported 9.4 million barrels and Japan 5.3 million barrels.

By 2009, China was in the number-two spot at 8.6 million barrels per day, which still fell far below America’s 18.7 million barrels.  At 3.8 million barrels per day, however, domestic production wasn’t keeping pace — the very problem the U.S. had faced in the Cold War era.  China was already importing 4.8 million barrels per day, far more than Japan (which had actually reduced its reliance on oil) and nearly half as much as the United States.  In the decades to come, these numbers are guaranteed only to get worse.

According to the DoE, China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s leading oil importer, at an estimated 10.6 million barrels per day, sometime around 2030.  (Some experts believe this shift could occur far sooner.)  Whatever the year, China’s leaders are already enmeshed in the same power “predicament” long faced by their American counterparts, dependent as they are on a vital substance that can only be acquired from a handful of unreliable producers in areas of chronic crisis and conflict.

At present, China obtains most of its imported oil from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, Oman, Sudan, Kuwait, Russia, Kazakhstan, Libya, and Venezuela.  Eager to ensure the reliability of the oil flow from these countries, Beijing has established close ties with their leaders, in some cases providing them with significant economic and military assistance.  This is exactly the path once taken by Washington — and with some of the same countries.

China’s state-controlled energy firms have also forged “strategic partnerships” with counterpart enterprises in these countries and in some cases acquired the right to develop major oil deposits as well.  Especially striking has been the way Beijing has sought to undercut U.S. influence in Saudi Arabia and with other crucial Persian Gulf oil producers.  In 2009, China imported more Saudi oil than the U.S. for the first time, a geopolitical shift of great significance, given the history of U.S.-Saudi relations.  Although not competing with Washington when it comes to military aid, Beijing has been dispatching its top leaders to woo Riyadh, promising to support Saudi aspirations without employing the human rights or pro-democracy rhetoric usually associated with American foreign policy.

Much of this should sound exceedingly familiar.  After all, the United States once wooed the Saudis in a similar way when Washington first began viewing the kingdom as its overseas filling station and turned it into an unofficial military protectorate.  In 1945, while World War II still raged, President Roosevelt made a special trip to meet with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and establish a protection-for-oil arrangement that persists to this day.  Not surprisingly, American leaders don’t see (or care to recognize) the analogy; instead, top officials look askance at the way China is poaching on U.S. turf in Saudi Arabia and other petro-states, portraying such moves as antagonistic.

As China’s reliance on these overseas suppliers grows, it is likely to bolster its ties with their leaders, producing further strains in the international political environment.  Already, Beijing’s reluctance to jeopardize its vital energy links with Iran has frustrated U.S. efforts to impose tough new economic sanctions on that country as a way of forcing it to abandon its uranium-enrichment activities.  Likewise, China’s recent loan of $20 billion to the Venezuelan oil industry has boosted the status of President Hugo Chávez at a time when his domestic popularity, and so his ability to counter U.S. policies, was slipping.  The Chinese have also retained friendly ties with President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan, despite U.S. efforts to paint him as an international pariah because of his alleged role in overseeing the massacres in Darfur.

Arms-for-Oil Diplomacy on a Dangerous Planet

Already, China’s efforts to bolster its ties with its foreign-oil providers have produced geopolitical friction with the United States.  There is a risk of far more serious Sino-American conflict as we enter the “tough oil” era and the world supply of easily accessible petroleum rapidly shrinks.  According to the DoE, the global supply of oil and other petroleum liquids in 2035 will be 110.6 million barrels per day – precisely enough to meet anticipated world demand at that time.  Many oil geologists believe, however, that global oil output will reach a peak level of output well below 100 million barrels per day by 2015, and begin declining after that.  In addition, the oil that remains will increasingly be found in difficult places to reach or in highly unstable regions.  If these predictions prove accurate, the United States and China — the world’s two leading oil importers — could become trapped in a zero-sum great-power contest for access to diminishing supplies of exportable petroleum.

What will happen under these circumstances is, of course, impossible to predict, especially since the potential for conflict abounds.  If both countries continue on their current path — arming favored suppliers in a desperate bid to secure long-term advantage — the heavily armed petro-states may also become ever more fearful of, or covetous of, their (equally well-equipped) neighbors.  With both the U.S. and China deploying growing numbers ofmilitary advisers and instructors to such countries, the stage could be set for mutual involvement in local wars and border conflicts.  Neither Beijing nor Washington may seek such involvement, but the logic of arms-for-oil diplomacy makes this an unavoidable risk.

It is not hard, then, to picture a future moment when the United States and China are locked in a global struggle over the world’s remaining supplies of oil.  Indeed, many in official Washington believe that such a collision is nearly inevitable.  “China’s near-term focus on preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait… is an important driver of its [military] modernization,” the Department of Defense noted in the 2008 edition of its annual report, The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.  “However, analysis of China’s military acquisitions and strategic thinking suggests Beijing is also developing capabilities for use in other contingencies, such as a conflict over resources…”

Conflict over planetary oil reserves is not, however, the only path that China’s new energy status could open.  It is possible to imagine a future in which China and the United States cooperate in pursuing oil alternatives that would obviate the need to funnel massive sums into naval and military arms races.  President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, seemed to glimpse such a possibility when they agreed last November, during an economic summit in Beijing, to collaborate in the development of alternative fuels and transportation systems.

At this point, only one thing is clear: the greater China’s reliance on imported petroleum, the greater the risk of friction and conflict with the United States, which relies on the same increasingly problematic suppliers of energy.  The greater its reliance on coal, the less comfortable our planet will become.  The greater its emphasis on alternative fuels, the more likely it may make the twenty-first century China’s domain.  At this point, how China will apportion its energy needs among the various candidate fuels remains unknown.  Whatever its choices, however, China’s energy decisions will shake the world.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet.

Capitol Hill Reaction To Poverty Figures Sidetracked By Political Concerns

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Homeless man at the McPherson Square Metro Station, Kike Arnal (2005)

Oldspeak:” 1 in 7 americans in poverty. “….Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” -Emma Lazarus. Our corporate-controlled politicians would do well to visit the Statue of Liberty and get a refresher course on what America is supposed to be all about. It’s not about helping those who need it LEAST. It’s about helping those who need it MOST.”

From Michael A. Fletcher @ The Washington Post:

Deborah Weinstein, a longtime advocate for the poor, calls the news that one in seven Americans is living in poverty “a national emergency.”

But for much of Washington’s political class, the shocking new poverty numbers provoked not alarm about the poor but further debate over tax cuts for the middle class.

“We know that a strong middle class leads a strong economy,” President Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden on Friday, as he used the new census report, which also showed that middle-class income has dipped slightly over the past decade, to continue making his case for limiting the cuts to family incomes under $250,000.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House and Senate had no reaction to the poverty report. But earlier in the week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the Senate floor to argue for extending the tax breaks to everyone, saying, “We can’t let the people who have been hit hardest by this recession and who we need to create jobs to get us out of it” be subject to a tax increase.

McConnell’s spokesman later clarified the statement, saying that McConnell indeed believes the economic downturn has hit the poor harder than it has high-income business owners, who also have suffered.

The reluctance of political leaders on both sides of the aisle to directly confront the fact that growing numbers of Americans are slipping into poverty reflects a stubborn reality about the poor: They are not much of a political constituency.

“We talk to many people on Capitol Hill who do believe poverty is important and is a blight on our nation,” said Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of national organizations that advocates for the poor. “But we are also up against a general recognition that poor people don’t vote in great numbers. And they certainly aren’t going to be making campaign contributions. That definitely puts them behind many other people and interests when decisions are being made around here.”

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who counts among his legislative accomplishments bills to extend unemployment insurance and to provide housing for people suffering from AIDS, said that the current downturn has expanded the definition of the poor. No longer are the poor the chronically impoverished who scrape along at the bottom of the economic pecking order in good times and bad. They now include many working people who have been thrown out of their jobs by a brutal recession.

“The fact is, increasingly, we are talking about people we know,” McDermott said. Still, he said, “For most elected officials, there is nothing politically in talking about the poor. In fact, they don’t vote very well and they are not very participatory in political life. Politicians tend to talk to people who get involved.”

McDermott said he has been urging his colleagues to take a fresh look at poverty. The new report showed that the ranks of the American poor soared to their highest level in half a century in 2009. Meanwhile, millions more are existing just beyond the poverty line, which is about $22,000 a year for a family of four.

The official poverty rate is just one aspect of the economic upheaval unleashed by the recession. Since 2007, the country has lost almost 4 million wage earners. And for the first time since the government began tracking health insurance in 1987, the number of people who have health coverage declined, a circumstance destined to change when the Obama-led health-care overhaul fully kicks in by 2014.

With foreclosures continuing to rise and long-term unemployment at record levels, McDermott said, the legacy of the economic crisis will affect society in a way the country has not experienced since the aftermath of the Great Depression.

Even amid the devastating downturn, Americans seem ambivalent toward the needy. The instinct to help those in tough straits is often constrained by a lurking feeling that the poor are to blame for their own problems. Or, that what helps the needy might take something away from everyone else.

The debate over extending unemployment benefits, which now last as long as 99 weeks, generated increasing commentary that the benefit was sapping people of the desire to work.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said that more than two decades of polling shows that a solid, if fluctuating, majority of Americans believe government has a responsibility to care for the poor.

“But as you begin to ask more specific questions, you get lower levels of support for specific programs as people worry about costs, taxes and the rise of government,” Kohut added. “Plus, there is a great deal of political polarization of this.”

A 2009 Pew survey found that 63 percent of Americans believed government should take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. But that number fell to 48 percent when people were asked whether government should help the needy even if it increases the debt. Nearly two in three Democrats, 43 percent of independents and 29 percent of Republicans agreed with that statement.

All of which explains why even many staunch Democrats have not talked much about poverty.

On Thursday, hours after the Census Bureau released the poverty numbers, Obama issued a written statement that quickly broadened the discussion beyond the poor.

“Today, the Census Bureau released data that illustrates just how tough 2009 was,” the statement said. “Even before the recession hit, middle class incomes had been stagnant and the number of people living in poverty in America was unacceptably high, and today’s numbers make it clear that our work is just beginning.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 405 other followers