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

Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

While 40% Of Food Is Uneaten, Millions Go Hungry In The U.S., Congress Considers Food Stamp Cuts As Drought Threatens Food Supply

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm

DroughtOldspeak: “Austerity Measures are still coming home to roost, with much more to come.  “With millions of Americans struggling to stave off hunger, anti-poverty groups are asking that Congress abandon proposals to cut off support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supplies assistance commonly called food stamps. “The numbers underscore the point that people still continue to struggle, and that cuts some in Congress are proposing to our nation’s nutrition safety net will only worsen a bad situation,” -Jim Weill  coincidentally, conditions are perfect, for Monsanto and the rest of the Biotech Bigs to introduce their genetically modified drought-resistant corn and wheat to ‘help fuel the worlds fight against poverty and hunger” 

By Mike Ludwig @ Truthout:

Nearly one in five Americans could not afford the food they or their families needed at some point in the past year, and now anti-poverty advocates are pressing Congress to abandon proposed food stamp cuts as a historic drought threatens to drive up food prices across the country.

A Gallup poll released this week shows that 18.2 percent of Americans did not have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed at least once during the past year. In 15 states, at least 1 in 5 Americans polled in the first half of 2012 reported struggling to pay for food during the past 12 months.

Little has changed since 2011, when 18.6 percent of Americans reported struggling to afford food, but proposed food stamp cuts in Congress and the worst drought in half a century could soon make matters worse.

The drought has impacted 80 percent of the country’s agricultural lands, and the US Department of Agriculture predicts that consumers will see meat and dairy prices increase within two months. Increases in the cost of packaged products, such as cereal, containing corn and flour are expected in about 10 to 12 months.

The rate of Americans facing food hardship peaked in late 2008 as the economy fell into a deep recession. The rate spiked from 16.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 19.5 percent in the last quarter.

Congress Considers Cutting Food Stamps

With millions of Americans struggling to stave off hunger, anti-poverty groups are asking that Congress abandon proposals to cut off support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supplies assistance commonly called food stamps.

“The numbers underscore the point that people still continue to struggle, and that cuts some in Congress are proposing to our nation’s nutrition safety net will only worsen a bad situation,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

 

SNAP funding is included in the 2013 omnibus agriculture appropriations bill. The Senate version would cut $4.4 billion over ten years and would cause about 500,000 households to lose an average of $90 in nutritional assistance each month.

SNAP cuts in the House version, which seeks about $16 billion in SNAP reductions, would make the same cuts and change eligibility requirements to push at least 1.8 million people out of the food stamp program.

“These cuts to SNAP will particularly harm seniors, children and working families, taking food away from the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” Weill said, echoing concerns shared by the White House and Democrats in Congress.

The White House opposes the deep SNAP cuts proposed in the House, which are largely supported by Republicans eager to cut domestic spending.

The number of participants in SNAP programs has been at a historic high since the recession began, and SNAP spending increased from $30 billion in 2007 to $73 billion in 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Regional Food Disparity

In general, more people living in Southern states report struggling to pay for food. Mississippi tops the national Gallup list, with 24.9 percent of those polled in the state reporting struggling to pay for groceries during the past year. Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and Nevada join Mississippi as the top five states where people face food hardships.

People living in Southern states will also be hardest hit by increases in food prices due to drought, according to Gallup. People living in the Mountain Plains and Midwest states that make up America’s breadbasket are least likely to face food hardship. North and South Dakota top the list of states where residents are least likely to go hungry.

Despite the troubling data on food hardship, vast amounts of America’s food supply goes to waste. The National Resources Defense Council reported this week that 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That’s about 20 pounds of food per person every month.

 

Party Down: The 2012 Presidential Election & The Politics Of Fantasy

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Oldspeak:”The illusion of choice is seductively powerful.  It makes it seem as though there are 2 choices, and a myriad of differences between them, when in reality there is only one choice. 2 sides of one coin.  Emblazoned on both sides of that coin: “neoliberalism at home, imperialism abroad.” The presidential campaign necessarily must devolve into little more than a national marketing campaign—replete with the assorted gimmicks, tricks, and deceptions inherent to that vile craft deemed “public relations.” Thus, the “decision” to be made in 2012 is limited to that between Brand Obama and Brand Romney. No different in approach, really, than choosing between Pepsi and Coke—Nike and Adidas. For just as with all branding, the 2012 decision is not about deciphering between two differing products or candidates—as they both promise to deliver the same agenda of neoliberalism at home, imperialism abroad—but rather choosing between two sets of experiential promises (fictitious as they are). In terms of 2012, it’s the dim hope and vague slogan of “Forward” proffered from camp Obama, versus team Romney’s promise of comfort to be found in a restoration of America power.  In other words then, the man best able to peddle the most convincing fantasy to the American consumer this fall shall be the one to ultimately prevail in November.  All befitting of an empire of illusion.” -Ben Schreiner Kick back & enjoy the most horrifying reality show on Earth. ELECTION 2012.

By Ben Schreiner @ Dissident Voice:

Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the most convincing fantasies.

— Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion

With both tickets now set, the democratic farce that is the U.S. presidential election lumbers into its final act. And for a campaign already rife with all the petty trivialities and celebrity intrigues more suiting of a reality TV show, it is no surprise that both political parties intend on using their upcoming political conventions to furnish choreographed spectacles designed for little more than prime time viewing.

According to the New York Times, a “$2.5 million Frank Lloyd Wright inspired theatrical stage,” complete with 13 different video screens, will welcome the television viewer of the Republican national convention in Tampa. All part of an effort, the Times notes, to cloak that cold, vulture capitalist Romney in a veil of “warmth, approachability and openness.” As a senior Romney advisor boasted to the paper, “Even the [wooden video screen] frames are designed to give it a sense that you’re not looking at a stage, you’re looking into someone’s living room.” (Presumably a direct mock-up of one Romney’s living rooms.)

Protecting Mitt’s newly crafted aura of “approachability and openness” from the potential wayward vagabond, the city of Tampa will spend $24.85 million alone on law enforcement personnel during the four day convention. This will include a massive deployment of 3,500-4,000 “contingency officers” from up to 63 outside police departments. Hospitality clearly has its limits.

It is all much the same for the Democratic convention set for early September in Charlotte. The award-winning Brand Obama is also much too valuable to be tarnished by the taint of social unrest.

The looming crackdown on dissent Charlotte-style, though, will be eased by nothing short of an Orwellian city law allowing any large public gathering to be declared “an extraordinary event.” Arbitrary search and arrest of any individual the police fancy will then be ipso facto legal. (Like such police practices are in any way “extraordinary.”)

Of course, all those hapless souls set to be greeted with the swing of the police truncheon in the streets of Tampa and Charlotte will garner nary a mention from the herd of corporate media planning to embed safely within the bunkered convention halls. Instead, the legions of dimwitted media pundits and talking heads will busy themselves filling air time as they wax-poetic on the true splendor of American democracy manifested in the sheets of convention confetti raining from the rafters.

The media’s neat packaging of the entire spectacle as all part of the must-see docudrama titled “Decision 2012” will undoubtedly do little to hide the true nature of the charade from the perceptive observer. Nonetheless, the politics as entertainment orgy will precede forth, with the media present to celebrate and partake in it all. Which can only give added credence to the Neil Postman quip that, “In America, the least amusing people are its professional entertainers.”

The fundamental matter of whether there is truly decision at all to be made in 2012, needless to say, is rather dubious.

As the New York Times writes of the international outlooks of Obama and Romney: “The actual foreign policy differences between the two seem more a matter of degree and tone than the articulation of a profound debate about the course of America in the world.” Put differently, threats to bomb Iran, “contain” China, and bow to Israel are simply beyond debate.

Indeed, even leftist supporters of Obama admit there is no discernible difference between the two candidates. As Obama backers Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson instead argue, “November 2012 becomes not a statement about the Obama presidency, but a defensive move by progressive forces to hold back the ‘Caligulas’ on the political right.” Such bankrupt arguments inevitably rear their ugly head every four years in the now tired attempt to send the fractured American Left scurrying straight into death vise of the “Party of the people.”

Given this altogether pitiful state of affairs, the presidential campaign necessarily must devolve into little more than a national marketing campaign—replete with the assorted gimmicks, tricks, and deceptions inherent to that vile craft deemed “public relations.” Thus, the “decision” to be made in 2012 is limited to that between Brand Obama and Brand Romney. No different in approach, really, than choosing between Pepsi and Coke—Nike and Adidas. For just as with all branding, the 2012 decision is not about deciphering between two differing products or candidates—as they both promise to deliver the same agenda of neoliberalism at home, imperialism abroad—but rather choosing between two sets of experiential promises (fictitious as they are). In terms of 2012, it’s the dim hope and vague slogan of “Forward” proffered from camp Obama, versus team Romney’s promise of comfort to be found in a restoration of America power.

In other words then, the man best able to peddle the most convincing fantasy to the American consumer this fall shall be the one to ultimately prevail in November.

All befitting of an empire of illusion.

Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon. He may be reached at: bnschreiner@gmail.com. Read other articles by Ben.

 

The United States’ Secret Armies Fighting Perpetual War Plunge Us Deeper Into Violence

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Shadow figureOldspeak: “While corporocratic media focuses the U.S. peoples  attention on Willard Romney’s  Birther Joke,  a “Legitmate Rape” scandal and the latest  mass shooting, Obama’s Secret wars are making matters worse for the U.S.  Combined with his remote controlled drone bombing campaigns, they are literally manufacturing ‘terrorists’ and violence.   (This is essential to prosecuting perpetual war.)  Is there any wonder why the terrorism U.S. visits on the world is coming home? Literally manifesting in its citizens, lashing out in violence born of  the effects of corporate consolidation,  job destruction, austerity measures and the hollowing out of  the American economy? “The multitudes of crimes these killers, torturers, kidnappers, propagandists, special operations units and spies have carried out in our name are well known to those outside our gates. There are hundreds of millions of people who have a tragic intimacy with the twisted and brutal soul of American imperialism. Okinawans. Guatemalans. Cubans. Congolese. Brazilians. Argentines. Indonesians. Iranians. Palestinians. Panamanians. Vietnamese. Cambodians. Filipinos. South Koreans. Taiwanese. Nicaraguans. Salvadorans. Afghans. Iraqis. Yemenis. Somalis. They can all tell us who we are, if we can listen. But we do not. We are as ignorant, gullible and naive as children. We celebrate fictitious red-white-and-blue virtues while our clandestine armies, which at times achieve short-term objectives but always finally plunge us deeper into violence, have steadily weakened and discredited the nation as well as the purported values for which it stands.” -Chris HedgesAs the nation grows weaker, so does its ability to resist tyranny. As the nation is directed to focus on an ever-expanding universe of things that don’t really matter, the corporatocracy grows stronger. Further consolidating control over and monitoring more and more aspects of citizens lives. Stripping away ever more rights, protections, avenues of dissent, transparency, accountability, oversight, citizen participation.   The militarization & violence saturation of societies and cultures worldwide continue unabated.  Perpetual secret war is marketed to the people like a reality show as in “Stars Earn Stripes“. While our actual secret wars, supplied its death-dealing machines by the same entities that, bring us this sort of  entertainment (The American TV network NBC and all it’s related outlets are wholly owned subsidiaries of multinational weapons manufacturer General Electric. )When will the people say “ENOUGH”! !When will we reject the violence that consumes the world, get off the Violence-Go-Round, and embrace healing, collaboration, love and peace? It’s the only sure way to change the fate of our planet.  “War Is Peace”. “Ignorance Is Strength”. “Freedom Is Slavery“. Profit Is Paramount.

By Chris Hedges @ Truthout:

A Swedish documentary filmmaker released a film last year called “Last Chapter-Goodbye Nicaragua.”In it he admitted that he unknowingly facilitated a bombing, almost certainly orchestrated by the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which took the lives of three reporters I worked with in Central America. One of them, Linda Frazier, was the mother of a 10-year-old son. Her legs were torn apart by the blast, at La Penca, Nicaragua, along the border with Costa Rica, in May of 1984. She bled to death as she was being taken to the nearest hospital, in Ciudad Quesada, Costa Rica.

The admission by Peter Torbiornsson that he unwittingly took the bomber with him to the press conference was a window into the sordid world of espionage, terrorism and assassination that was an intimate part of every conflict I covered. It exposed the cynicism of undercover operatives on all sides, men and women who lie and deceive for a living, who betray relationships, including between each other, who steal and who carry out murder. One knows them immediately. Their ideological allegiances do not matter. They have the faraway eyes of the disconnected, along with nebulous histories and suspicious and vague associations. They tell incongruous personal stories and practice small deceits that are part of a pathological inability to tell the truth. They can be personable, even charming, but they are also invariably vain, dishonest and sinister. They cannot be trusted. It does not matter what side they are on. They were all the same. Gangsters.

All states and armed groups recruit and use members of this underclass. These personalities gravitate to intelligence agencies, terrorist cells, homeland security, police departments, the special forces and revolutionary groups where they can live a life freed from moral and legal constraints. Right and wrong are banished from their vocabulary. They disdain the constraints of democracy. They live in this nebulous underworld to satisfy their lusts for power and violence. They have no interest in diplomacy and less in peace. Peace would put them out of business; for them it is simply the temporary absence of war, which they are sure is inevitable. Their job is to use violence to purge the world of evil. And in the United States they have taken as hostages our diplomatic service and our foreign policy establishment. The CIA has become a huge private army, as Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” that is “unaccountable to the Congress, the press or the public because everything it does is secret.” C. Wright Mills called the condition “military metaphysics”-”the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military.”

Since the attacks of 9/11 the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)-which includes the Green Berets, the Army Rangers and the Navy SEALs-has seen its budget quadrupled. There are now some 60,000 USSOCOM operatives, whom the president can dispatch to kill without seeking congressional approval or informing the public. Add to this the growth of intelligence operatives. As Dana Priest and William M. Arkin reported in The Washington Post, “Twenty-four [new intelligence] organizations were created by the end of 2001, including the Office of Homeland Security and the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Task Force. In 2002, 37 more were created to track weapons of mass destruction, collect threat tips, and coordinate the new focus on counterterrorism. That was followed the next year by 36 new organizations; and 26 after that; and 31 more; and 32 more; and 20 or more each in 2007, 2008, and 2009. In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11.”

There are now many thousands of clandestine operatives, nearly all of them armed and equipped with a license to kidnap, torture and kill, working overseas or domestically with little or no oversight and virtually no transparency. We have created a state within a state. A staggering 40 percent of the defense budget is secret, as is the budget of every intelligence agency. I tasted enough of this subterranean world to fear it. When you empower these kinds of people you snuff out the rule of law. You empower criminals and assassins. One of these old CIA operatives, Felix Rodríguez, was in El Salvador when I was there during the war in the early 1980s. He wore Che Guevara’s Rolex watch. He had removed it from Guevara’s body after ordering Guevara to be executed in the Bolivian jungle. I would later run into clandestine operatives in the Middle East, Africa or Yugoslavia I knew from the wars in Central America. We would invariably chat briefly in Spanish. It was a strange fraternity, even if I was the outsider. The Great Game.

These black forces have created as much havoc, or blowback, in the Middle East as they did in Latin America. And by the time they are done there will be so many jihadists willing to blow themselves up to vanquish America, the Islamic radicals will be running out of explosives. These clandestine operatives peddle a self-fulfilling prophecy. They foment the very instability that allows them to continue to proliferate like cockroaches. The dozens of CIA kidnappings-”extraordinary renditions”-of radical Islamists in the late 1990s, especially from the Balkans, many shipped to countries such as Egypt where they were tortured and murdered by our allies, was the fuse that lit the al-Qaida bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attacks on the Navy destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. Militant Islamists had publicly vowed reprisals for these renditions.

“Let me tell you about these intelligence guys,” President Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying in Robert M. Gates book “From the Shadows.” “When I was growing up in Texas, we had a cow named Bessie. I’d get her in the stanchion, seat myself, and squeeze out a bail of fresh milk. One day, I’d worked hard and gotten a full pail of milk, but I wasn’t paying attention and old Bessie swung her shit-smeared tail through that bucket of milk. Now, you know, that’s what these intelligence guys do. You work hard and get a good program or policy going, and they swing a shit-smeared tail through it.”

These operatives invariably prey on the useful idiots, those naive idealists who bind themselves to a cause and are oblivious to the evil they serve, or to those simply greedy for money and a little power. Joseph Conrad got it right in “The Secret Agent,” his novel about anarchist revolutionaries who recruit the mentally disabled Stevie to place a bomb at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Al-Qaida repeated this scenario when it convinced Richard Reid, a petty criminal who was challenged mentally, to get on an airplane with a shoe bomb. The CIA is no different. When the CIA could not induce the Chilean army commander, General René Schneider, to overthrow the elected government of Salvador Allende, it recruited Chilean soldiers to assassinate him. The CIA provided submachine guns, ammunition and $50,000 to the group. It shipped the money and weapons from Washington to Santiago in the regular diplomatic pouch and then hand-delivered the cash and guns to the hit men. On the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1970, the killers surrounded Schneider’s car and shot him. He died three days later. Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-orchestrated coup on Sept. 11, 1973. And this is, basically, what happened in the La Penca bombing in Nicaragua in 1984. Torbiornsson, one of those dimwitted “internationalists” who showed up in Managua under the guise of journalism or solidarity, allowed himself to be used by the Sandinista intelligence service. The target of the bombing was the mercurial rebel leader Eden Pastora, once a commander with the Sandinistas who had defected to fight for the U.S.-backed Contras (the CIA found him as unmanageable as the Sandinistas had) before returning to become part of the Sandinista government in Managua. Pastora was wounded in the blast.

I was in El Salvador in May 1984 when Pastora offered to hold a meeting with journalists in La Penca. It was a long way to travel for one story. I decided in the end not to make the trip with my colleagues. It was a decision that may have saved my life.

What none of us knew until Torbiornsson’s admission is that he had been approached by Sandinista intelligence officials and asked to take along a Sandinista spy whose name was supposedly Per Anker Hansen. When the bombing was first investigated, Torbiornsson lied. He told investigators that he had met Hansen, who passed himself off as a Danish photographer, six weeks before the bombing, when they stayed in the same hotel in Costa Rica. Now Torbiornsson concedes he was introduced to Hansen in Managua. He said that though he knew Hansen was a spy he had no inkling he was an assassin.

“It took me a long time to understand that it was my friends who put the bomb,” Torbiornsson told the BBC in speaking of the Sandinistas. “It has been like a wound in my soul. … I cannot emphasize how sorry I am.”

Hansen was, according to an investigation carried out by reporters Juan Tamayo and Doug Vaughn at The Miami Herald, in fact named Vital Roberto Gaguine. He worked clandestinely with the Sandinistas in the 1980s and was a member of the Argentine People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP). He brought and ignited the bomb. He reportedly died in 1989 while carrying out an armed assault with 18 others on army barracks outside Buenos Aires. Enrique Haraldo Gorrioran, who was the commander of the ERP cell in Managua and who ordered the barracks attack, but who did not take part, is reputed to have been a double agent, sending Gaguine and his companions to assured slaughter. He is reportedly living in Brazil from the earnings the revolutionary group made from kidnappings and bank robberies. Trust is exiled in this world. Those who willingly sacrifice others are often themselves sacrificed.

The Newsweek correspondent Susan Morgan, standing in the front, shielded Torbiornsson from the full force of the blast. Morgan suffered serious injuries in one arm, her legs and face. The BBC recently ran a video clip of Morgan confronting the hapless Torbiornsson, who seems still unable to fully understand his culpability.

The killers and the paymasters, the spies and gangsters, the terrorists and jihadists, on all sides of the divide, have grown in numbers to carry out a vast war in the shadows. They are determined to perpetuate the senseless violence and mayhem that are the currency of their profession. And they make peace and diplomacy impossible. That is their goal. Sen. Frank Church in 1975, after chairing a Senate committee investigation into U.S. intelligence activities, defined “covert action” as a “semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies, and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists.”

The multitudes of crimes these killers, torturers, kidnappers, propagandists, special operations units and spies have carried out in our name are well known to those outside our gates. There are hundreds of millions of people who have a tragic intimacy with the twisted and brutal soul of American imperialism. Okinawans. Guatemalans. Cubans. Congolese. Brazilians. Argentines. Indonesians. Iranians. Palestinians. Panamanians. Vietnamese. Cambodians. Filipinos. South Koreans. Taiwanese. Nicaraguans. Salvadorans. Afghans. Iraqis. Yemenis. Somalis. They can all tell us who we are, if we can listen. But we do not. We are as ignorant, gullible and naive as children. We celebrate fictitious red-white-and-blue virtues while our clandestine armies, which at times achieve short-term objectives but always finally plunge us deeper into violence, have steadily weakened and discredited the nation as well as the purported values for which it stands. These clandestine armies travel the globe, awash in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, sowing dragon’s teeth that rise up later, like the warriors in the myth of the Golden Fleece, to become mirror images of our own monstrosities.

Obama Admininstration Helps Undermine U.N. Arms Control Treaty While Touting Record-High Weapons Sales Abroad

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Picture/VW028/arms1.jpgOldspeak:As the talks collapsed at the United Nations, a top U.S. State Department official openly bragged that U.S. government efforts had helped boost foreign military sales to record levels this year. Speaking to a group of military reporters, Andrew Shapiro, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, said, “We really upped our game in terms of advocating on behalf of U.S. companies. I’ve got the frequent flier miles to prove it.” According to Shapiro, U.S. arms sales have already topped $50 billion in 2012, putting the U.S. on pace to increase its total for the year by 70%.” -Amy Goodman. Meanwhile, 82 people a day are killed via gun violence in America.  Mass shootings occur far too regularly. Remote controlled killings are normalized.  These actions are even more shameful in light of recent tragic events. It’s become clear that the order of the day in our current ‘civilization’ is that profit is paramount. Preserving human life is not a priority. 1st world powers make flowery speeches about preserving peace, reducing violence and conflict, while simultaneously fomenting proxy wars.  Zealously bankrolling death, destruction, and violence.  Leading with world in supplying client states with weapons of mass destruction. When will this profoundly hypocritical madness end?!” “War Is Peace”

Related Stories:

The Obama Administration Torpedoes the Arms Trade Treaty

U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Fails On U.S. Opposition After False NRA Gun Rights Threat
By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Guest:

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. His latest book is called, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.”

AMY GOODMAN: Arms control advocates are blaming the Obama administration for last week’s failed negotiations over the first-ever global agreement regulating the $60 billion arms trade. While most United Nations member states favored a strong treaty, the United States and Russia said there was not enough time left for them before Friday’s deadline to clarify and resolve issues they had with the draft treaty. The U.S. — the world’s largest manufacturer — had demanded a number of exemptions and ultimately said it needed more time to review the proposals. White House officials had cited the need to protect Second Amendment rights in the U.S., despite U.N. assurances the treaty text would not interfere. Amnesty International USA said the U.S. had shown stunning cowardice, adding, “It’s a staggering abdication of leadership by the world’s larger exporter of conventional weapons, to pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing an historic breakthrough.”

As the talks collapsed at the United Nations, a top State Department official openly bragged that U.S. government efforts had helped boost foreign military sales to record levels this year. Speaking to a group of military reporters, Andrew Shapiro, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, said, “We really upped our game in terms of advocating on behalf of U.S. companies. I’ve got the frequent flier miles to prove it.” According to Shapiro, U.S. arms sales have already topped $50 billion in 2012, putting the U.S. on pace to increase its total for the year by 70%.

For more we’re joined by Bill Hartung, author of, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” We welcome you to Democracy Now! Bill, explain what happened, how the treaty negotiations took place and what happened at the very end last week.

BILL HARTUNG: One of the toughest things is the were trying to get consensus. So, a number of smaller countries raised procedural issues. All those had seemed to be resolved. Within a day of the end of the negotiations, activists thought the treaty was going to happen. Not perfect, but certainly would make it harder to sell to human rights abusers, throw guns into war zones. The U.S. then suddenly pulled back and said, well we don’t think the treaty is really ready, let’s sort of start from scratch. Essentially, that was the last straw. Other countries like Russia put up obstructions. But once the U.S. pulled out it was the last nail in the coffin.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what was the U.S. involvement all along and why is the U.S. so important to the ATT, the Arms Trade Treaty?

BILL HARTUNG: The U.S. is the biggest arms exporters in the world, and in other areas has been a political leader. Here the Obama administration was pulling back. They weren’t really using any political muscle to support this; they were, sort of, reluctant participants. But, I do not think it was expected that they were going to go so far as to actually torpedo the treaty. They had not supported key elements like regulating ammunition, which was central to keeping — stopping the killing.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the players who were at the United Nations, the forces lobbying against the ATT, the Arms Trade Treaty. Talk about the power of the NRA.

BILL HARTUNG: The NRA has taken an interest in the global arms trade going back about two decades. Their theory, which has been discredited, is if you regulate guns anywhere, there will be regulated everywhere. Also, they’re opposed to treaties of any form. Basically, they love guns, they hate treaties, and this was a chance for them to exert influence both within the U.N. and also against the Obama administration to keep it from taking a stronger stand.

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne LaPierre was at the United Nations, the spokesperson for the head of the National rifle Association.

BILL HARTUNG: Yes, he was there. He gave a speech where basically he said the treaty was an offense to any American who breathed free air. They were way over the top, especially given that the treaty was designed to let countries regulate arms within their own borders; really dealt only with cross border transfer. So, they really — not only were they an obstacle, but they were completely off base in their characterization of the treaty.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, spoke to Fox News about his concerns about the U.N. arms treaty.

Larry Pratt: It would complete work against what the Second Amendment is intended to do, but it doesn’t seem that the Constitution as much of an obstacle or problem for this administration. But, nevertheless, shall not be infringed, it is something that a treaty can’t trump. The very language in the Constitution dealing with treaty making says that treaties have to be made under the authority of the United States. And if we the People haven’t given authority for gun control to the United States through the federal government, then its hands are tied.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Larry Pratt, Executive Director of the Gun Owners of America. Bill Hartung, your response?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, there’s two problems with that. Once, obviously, if you agree to a treaty, it’s ratified by the Senate, the people have spoken. That’s why you elect representatives. Second of all, as I mentioned, the treaty had nothing to do with domestic gun control. It’s essentially a paranoid fantasy the NRA translated into their political force around the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, the torpedoing of the arms trade treaty, the ATT, took place exactly a week after the Aurora massacre in Colorado with 12 people killed and many injured. Talk about the links between what’s happening in the United States — very quickly, President Obama came out and said, we don’t need new laws around gun-control, affirming the Second Amendment and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney also shares the same view on that — and then you have this global treaty at the United Nations, within days, torpedoed.

BILL HARTUNG: I think it sends an awful signal to the world. Not only are we not willing to keep arms from killing people overseas, but also our government is not willing to take strong action to prevent the kind of massacre that happened in Aurora within our own borders. The NRA bridges that gap, because they tried to kill the arms treaty, they’ve tried to prevent any gun regulation in the U.S., even though their own membership, in some cases, supports stronger measures than their leadership does. So, to some degree, it’s not really the kind of grass-roots movement that’s presented. There’s the leadership out ahead sort of on the right wing of it, also they’re heavily funded by the gun manufacturers. So, it’s really a special interest group masquerading as some sort of mass movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean.

BILL HARTUNG: Well, the leadership is out in front of the membership in terms of harsh opposition to any gun-control, even things like a waiting period, registration of guns, making sure you can’t walk into a gun show as a criminal and buy a gun easily — which is what happened in the Columbine case. Controls of assault rifles like the ones that was used in Aurora. All of these things are being blocked by NRA leadership, and companies like Smith & Wesson that made gun that was used in Aurora, the military style assault weapon, have given over a million dollars to the NRA. Some gun shops say, round up your purchase and we’ll give the difference to the NRA; called the Roundup Program — that’s put millions in their coffers. So, the NRA would prefer not to have that known, but places like the Violence Policy Center have exposed it in some detail.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, I want to ask you about how best to regulate arms. Let me ask you, for a moment, about what happened in Illinois. Very interesting news. The Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, has unveiled a proposal to ban assault weapons in Illinois. On Tuesday, he used his amendatory veto power to propose banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and attachments. Quinn is the first U.S. governor to formally put forward an assault weapons ban since the shooting massacre in Aurora, Colorado last month.

PAT QUINN: We should show the nation that when something really bad happens as happened in Aurora, Colorado, a horrific massacre, that we don’t stand idly by. We take action to deal with the source of that problem, and I think we have done that today.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Bill Hartung, was this a surprise? How significant is this? Could this lead other governors to do the same thing?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, we haven’t seen that kind of courage by other elected officials, and I’m hoping that it gets the ball rolling and it will be emulated in other states. As I indicated, to some degree, the NRA is a paper tiger, and what I mean by that is they don’t have full support of their own membership. Eighty percent of the public support sensible gun controls. So, really, they’ve kind of puffed up their political force beyond what it really is, and they’ve sort of harped on the fact that they’re important in key states like Pennsylvania, swing states like Ohio and Virginia, North Carolina. But even there, I think if you had people explaining — governors for example — the impact of these things, I don’t think you would have the majority of people, even in the NRA, supporting easy access by criminals to military-style assault rifles.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of best regulating arms, I want to go first to one of the activists who set up a mock cemetery outside the U.N. Wednesday to urge negotiators to pass a strong Arms Trade Treaty. David Grimason has been active in calling for stringent arms regulations ever since his 2-year-old, Alistair, was shot and killed during a family visit to Turkey nine years ago.

DAVID GRIMASON: A treaty that doesn’t include all conventional weapons and all ammunition is, to me, would just be pointless. At the moment, you’ve got kind of unscrupulous governments that are willing to sell arms to any nation, not really caring about how they’re going to be used. If we don’t get a strong treaty, then that will continue, and the numbers we’re seeing, with 2000 people a day dying, that will continue unless we get a strong treaty.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, your response?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, I think he is absolutely right. I mean countries like Russia arming Syria, China arming Sudan, the U.S. doesn’t have clean hands here selling to places like Bahrain that have crushed democracy movements; countries like Saudi Arabia which are not undemocratic themselves but have supported the crushing of democracy in Bahrain, sent troops there. Yet we have the biggest weapons deal in history with the Saudis. Sixty billion dollars, which there’s nothing to compare to that in history. So there’s this signal by the U.S., we’re going to still arm dictatorships, even in the midst of the Arab Spring. We’re not going to get up front about regulating some of these sales, we’re going to try to delay it. So, I think it sends an awful message to the world and doesn’t represent the views of the American public.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to President Eisenhower. In fact, part of the name of your book comes from that famous address that President Eisenhower gave. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous farewell speech to the nation. It was January 17, 1961.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: My fellow Americans, this evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex, the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persists.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Eisenhower’s farewell address, January 17, 1961. An excerpt from the documentary “Why We fight.” More than 50 years after that speech, many argue the military-industrial complex is stronger than ever. Bill Hartung?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, I think is certainly is stronger than ever. Companies like Lockheed Martin, by itself, gets $36 billion a year from the Pentagon — essentially, people are paying Lockheed Martin tax of $300 a year or more. It’s the biggest entity that’s getting money from the federal government, it’s also involved not only in arms exports, building nuclear weapons, building fighter planes, building combat ships, but it’s also one of the key players in trying to roll back regulations on arms exports and to try to keep the Obama administration from reducing Pentagon spending. So, it’s working on all fronts, you know, to change our policy in a more militarized direction, and as I said, that runs counter to what the average American thinks. Even in states that depend on military spending, recent polls show they’re willing to cut military spending to a greater degree than the so-called sequester, the automatic cuts, that would come if Congress doesn’t get in a budget deal together to reduce the deficit. So, in the same sense that Eisenhower talked about, that military-industrial complex subverts democracy, we are seeing the very same thing today.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Bill, one of the world’s most notorious arms smugglers was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a New York federal court judge — not for smuggling, but for conspiracy and terrorism charges. Viktor Bout is known as “The Merchant of Death” for running what the United Nations and U.S. officials say was an intentional arms trafficking network. In April, during a pre-sentencing telephone interview with Voice of Russia Bout maintained his innocence saying all arms suppliers in the U.S. would be in prison, too, if the same standards were applied across the board.

VIKTOR BOUT: I am innocent. I don’t commit any crime. There is no crime to sit and talk. If you’re going to apply the same standards to me, then you’re going to, you know, jail all those arms dealers in America who are selling the arms and ending up killing Americans. They are involved even more than me.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Viktor Bout. Bill Hartung, your response, if you can respond to what Viktor Bout is saying, respond to the power of U.S. military contractors, and also talk about whether the ATT, the Arms Trade Treaty, is totally dead.

BILL HARTUNG: Well, I think starting with the treaty, there is a move by the groups that supported it to take it to the General Assembly of the United Nations. There they need a majority, not a full consensus. I think that is a hard thing to do, but certainly worth as much energy as possible. I do not think it is impossible to do that. In terms of Bout’s statement, perhaps the U.S. is not quite on the level he was; he was arming Sierra Leone, He was arming Angola, some of his arms went to the Taliban. But, the U.S. had links to Bout. His companies were being hired to ferry weapons into Iraq. Many dealers like Bout have past associations with the CIA, with intelligence agencies around the world, helping them carry out deals like Iran-Contra. So, as I said, the U.S. doesn’t that have clean hands in this, and without an arms trade treaty, somebody like Bout can go around the world, hide behind different laws in different countries, deal with the patch-work regulations we have now, which is why it took so long to get him into jail. And as you said, they didn’t even get him on arms trafficking, but rather on a lesser, different charge. So, that’s why, I think torpedoing the arms trade treaty is really unconscionable because it makes a possible for the Viktor Bouts of the world to continue to operate relatively unimpeded.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, President Obama’s relationship with weapons manufacturers; with Lockheed Martin, with Boeing, with the many other in the military-industrial complex.

BILL HARTUNG: Well, He’s not at the level of the Bush administration, which really had many, many Lockheed Martin people in the administration, but they have had people, for example lobbyists from Raytheon, top level jobs in the Pentagon, they’ve had advisers in the White House, on the board of Boeing. They’ve been really, as you mentioned, there’s people in the State Department bragging about how much they’ve helped the industry. And, not only Obama, but the Congress, which gets millions of dollars from the industry, has people working there who used to work for companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman at the top level of the Armed Services Committee in the two houses. So, that is exactly what Eisenhower was talking about, the revolving door from industry into government, the money flowing to government to help destroy arms export regulations, funding of Right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation that helped block things like the Arms Trade Treaty and reductions in military spending, cuts in the Star Wars program. So, unfortunately, without more public pressure, which I think is necessary and possible, the military-industrial complex is going to roll over many of the things that most people in this country think our government should be doing in this area.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, I want to thank you for being with us, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Bill Hartung is author of, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.”

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