Thursday, December 31, 2009

Real Progressive Reform in Government or Anywhere Else is Not Merely Rhetorical


This is a very interesting, insightful, and yet highly contradictory article. On the one hand Bai does an excellent analysis of what is currently wrong with the Obama presidency and why so many factions of the progressive liberal and left wing of the Democratic Party--and among independent radicals and progressives outside of the DP--are so justifiably upset with the meandering and heavily compromised directions domestic and foreign policy have taken over the past year. On the other however Bai establishes a curiously apologetic tone on Obama's behalf that is just as flat and disingenuous in its own way as Obama's half hearted rhetorical slap at Wall Street. For example: In no way is Obama's present political trajectory like that of historically mainstream progressive politicians like FDR and La Follete. Progressivism in government is not merely a projection of individual "temperament" or "populist sentiment". That is, the issue is emphatically not whether Obama himself is or is not a "populist"--by either temperament or style. No. The real issue is whether he is a true progressive by dint of his actual governmental policies and programs. In other words SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE is what is most important and valuable in any truly progressive or reformist agenda. It's absurd to assert as Bai does in this article that Obama's pursuit of national healthcare reform in and of itself "may well place him alongside F.D.R. and Lyndon Johnson in the pantheon of progressive presidents who were able to substantially amend the nation’s social contract." That would be true if in fact Obama and the Democratic Party in Congress had actually proposed, pursued, and won a truly progressive or even liberal reform of the health insurance industry. However as we all well know by now that is very far from the case. By contrast FDR's "New Deal" strongly progressive reforms in social security, union protections, workers' rights, and financial and corporate regulation among many other programs were far more substantive, useful, and dynamic than anything Obama has yet advocated and fought for; even LBJ's "Great Society" domestic policy agenda--however marred and distorted by his disastrous foreign policy in Vietnam-- was actually progressive with regard to civil rights and anti-poverty legislation in ways that the Obama administration have not even yet proposed let alone actually politically fought for and won.

So the real issue for the Obama Presidency and all progressives and liberals challenging him is not whether as Bai absurdly suggests that if "today’s liberals are serious about calling themselves progressives, then they may yet have to give up on the ideal of a president who enthusiastically excoriates fat cats — settling instead for a leader who is serious and methodical about reforming their ways." That deceptive and ultimately empty statement still smacks as one of "style over substance." It's not a matter of whether Obama and his administration does or does not rhetorically excoriates "fat cats." It's a matter of whether his policies and programs actually does something valuable, concrete, and definite that advocates, promotes, advances, and protects the political, social, and economic interests of the masses of working people and the poor that goes far beyond mere excoriation of the wealthy elites toward widespread democratic reform and fundamentally progressive change in the society and culture as a whole. That's what "progressivism" in government or anywhere else really means and Obama-- like any other President or politician --has to be held fully accountable for whether he's actually on the side of the great majority of the citizenry or that of the wealthy political and economic elites--who most decidely are not. Rhetoric or personal style in and of themselves are not enough...


January 3, 2010


No-Commoner Obama
New York Times

20% of liberal Democrats say that Obama listens to liberals in his party more than moderates.

There was something discordant, even tinny, about Barack Obama’s attempt to castigate Wall Street last month. No doubt the president was trying to acknowledge and channel the resentments in his own party — and in the country — when he told CBS’s Steve Kroft during a “60 Minutes” interview, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.” Yet the rhetorical slap felt a little flat. In part it was the oddity of the epithet, a musty Washington cliché that had the effect of making Obama, the most urbane president in a half-century, sound as if he belonged in some black-and-white talkie from the ’40s. Why, listen here: I oughtta pound you — and all your fat-cat pals!

But it was also Obama’s body language, the dutiful way in which he delivered the line and elaborated on it, that gave the impression of a dapper man trying on an ill-fitting suit. When the president sat down for an amiable conversation with a group of those very same fat cats the next day, it only reinforced the impression among disenchanted Democrats that Obama shows more deference to moneyed interests than he does to liberals.

Go to any Democratic enclave in Washington these days, and you will hear the same complaint: Obama isn’t a real progressive, and not only because his economic team, culled mostly from Wall Street, boasts an elite pedigree. Union leaders are incensed over the administration’s ambivalence toward a bill that would make it easier to organize workers. Black lawmakers accuse Obama of doing little to stem unemployment among the poor. Liberals in Congress are appalled that the president has jettisoned the “public option” he once championed for his health care plan, which has only temporarily distracted them from their fury over the military buildup in Afghanistan. The left is on the verge of full revolt.

For any Democratic president of the modern era, of course, such a state of affairs is about as predictable and unavoidable as repeats of “Law and Order.” Going back to the 1960s, a succession of Democrats have had to navigate two currents — on one side, the movement liberals who embrace social justice as their guiding cause, and on the other, more moderate coalition builders. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both identified more with the moderates than with the liberals and paid the price. Carter faced a challenge from his left, in the person of Ted Kennedy, during his 1980 re-election bid, and Clinton’s legacy of “triangulation” haunted his wife’s candidacy last year. Obama has long managed to plant himself in both camps, by virtue of his rhetoric and his résumé. In his writings, Obama casts himself as a flexible idealist, a less-partisan Democrat who rejected the dogmas of the ’60s generation. But largely because of his early stance against the Iraq war, and because he was a onetime community organizer and the first African-American president, liberals felt certain that he had to be, at heart, one of them.

By the definition of the word as it came to be used in the early part of the 20th century, Obama is indisputably in the progressive tradition. Like both Roosevelts and Woodrow Wilson, he has pursued financial regulation — radical by the standards of the last two presidents — that would seek to temper the power of the markets without controlling them. His recalibration of campaign fund-raising, achieved through the triumph of small-dollar donations over the influence of lobbyists and corporations, would have delighted progressives like Robert La Follete, who fought in their day for women’s suffrage and the direct election of senators. And Obama’s relentless pursuit of health care reform, even at the expense of provisions that liberals held sacred, may well place him alongside F.D.R. and Lyndon Johnson in the pantheon of progressive presidents who were able to substantially amend the nation’s social contract.

What Obama is not, at least not by temperament, is a populist. This is why digressions like his “fat cat” moment come off sounding forced and why a lot of liberal activists find his governing style disconcerting. In the last decade of Democratic politics, going back to Al Gore’s theme of “the people versus the powerful,” the party has rediscovered its populist voice in domestic policy, a strident counter to the pro-Wall Street policies of the Clinton era and the corporatist culture of the Bush years.

What so many liberal critics really want in a Democratic president now is someone who will denounce the wealthy and punish the barons of industry (and insurance). Exasperated by the old notion of a rising tide that lifts all boats, something that turned out not to be true in the era of globalization, the left demands confrontation and contrast, and, at almost every juncture, Obama gives them compromise and complexity instead.

A year into Obama’s presidency, it is no longer inconceivable, if still unlikely, that he could face a challenge within his own party in 2012, especially if Democrats suffer sizable losses next November. (When Howard Dean made a point of trying to scuttle health care reform altogether, was he simply trying to get a better bill, or was he setting himself up as a populist insurgent?) And yet, history would suggest that it is the progressive, and not his populist antagonist, who makes change palatable and, in doing so, alters the trajectory of the country. William Jennings Bryan remains something of a patron saint to the economic populists, but it was Theodore Roosevelt who channeled the popular unrest of the day into a movement away from unbridled corporatism. And it is T.R.’s distant cousin Franklin, not contemporaries like Huey Long, who is celebrated for having made the New Deal the guiding framework for 60 years of American government. If today’s liberals are serious about calling themselves progressives, then they may yet have to give up on the ideal of a president who enthusiastically excoriates fat cats — settling instead for a leader who is serious and methodical about reforming their ways.

Matt Bai writes about national politics for the magazine.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Declining American Economy, American Corporations, and the Financial Sector: 2000-2009


The whole truth and nothing but from the economist Paul Krugman...


December 28, 2009


The Big Zero
New York Times

Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade’s middle years — when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble — well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.

Last and least for most Americans — but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV — it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like “Dow 36,000” predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.

So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.

For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America’s business and political establishments, a belief that we — more than anyone else in the world — knew what we were doing.

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds,” he said, “at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

When Is Guantanamo Bay Prison Going To Be Closed Down?


This is sheer ineptitude on the part of the Obama Administration. Just ridiculous! The President is quickly turning into Jimmy Carter--another worldclass political bungler--right before our very eyes! There is no way under the sun that Obama can possibly excuse or defend not closing down Guantanamo after an entire year has passed and he continues to claim in public (as he did just two weeks ago in Oslo upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize) that it is a "major priority" to have already closed it down (remember what the President said on inaugural day January 20, 2009?). Now everything is being set back to "at least" 2011. Just like the continuation of the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the many related issues of torture, secret warfare, and rendition of the previous criminal Bushwhacker administration, the Obama Administration has consistently shown an ominous tendency to lie and dissemble about its own actual goals and "priorities" with respect to American foreign policy. In any event Obama and his former Bush/Clinton team of hawkish military policy makers and advisors (Hillary, Jim Jones, Robert Gates) bear complete responsibility for the now ongoing criminality of the U.S. government in these matters and no amount of "moral" hand wringing or passing the buck to rightwing Republicans-- who like always oppose the very idea of closing down this heinous prison--can make up for this disaster...


December 23, 2009

Plan to Move Guantánamo Detainees Faces New Delay
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantánamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest — a far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama’s signature national security policies than they had previously hinted.

While Mr. Obama has acknowledged that he would miss the Jan. 22 deadline for closing the prison that he set shortly after taking office, the administration appeared to take a major step forward last week when he directed subordinates to move “as expeditiously as possible” to acquire the Thomson Correctional Center, a nearly vacant maximum-security Illinois prison, and to retrofit it to receive Guantánamo detainees.

But in interviews this week, officials estimated that it could take 8 to 10 months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades before any transfers take place. Such construction cannot begin until the federal government buys the prison from the State of Illinois.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.

But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for Thomson.

The administration will probably not have another opportunity until Congress takes up a supplemental appropriations bill for the Afghanistan war. Lawmakers are not likely to finish that bill until late March or April.

Moreover, the administration now says that the current focus for Thomson financing is the appropriations legislation for the 2011 fiscal year. Congress will not take that measure up until late 2010.

Frustrated by the difficulties in obtaining financing from Congress, administration officials had discussed invoking a little-known statute that would allow the president to declare a national emergency and then use military funds allocated for other construction projects to buy and retrofit the Illinois prison.

That statute, however, has never been used for a project quite like this one. Fearing that lawmakers would be angered by such a move and could respond by erasing the statute, the administration decided not to invoke it.

Matthew Waxman, who was assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs in the Bush administration, said the Obama administration would need lawmakers’ support for its long-term post-Guantánamo plans. Invoking emergency powers to unilaterally buy Thomson, he said, would be “poking Congress in the eye in a way that would be very counterproductive.”

Still, it is not clear that Congress will be willing to approve money enabling the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to domestic soil — especially as the 2010 midterm election campaign heats up, with the likelihood that Republicans will pick up seats.

This year, Congress restricted the ability of the executive branch to transfer detainees into domestic prisons, a ban reiterated in the 2010 military appropriations bill.

The Thomson proposal enjoys strong support from Illinois Democrats, including Gov. Patrick J. Quinn and Senator Richard J. Durbin, who have hailed the idea as a means of creating jobs. More than 300 people turned out Tuesday in Sterling, Ill., for a hearing on the proposal, The Associated Press reported, and emotions ran high among people on each side of the proposal.

The White House has argued that closing Guantánamo would enhance national security by removing a symbol used by terrorist recruiters. It also said the closing would save taxpayers money because the Defense Department pays $150 million a year to operate the Guantánamo prison on the naval base there, while running the Illinois prison would cost $75 million.

Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Obama remained committed to closing the Guantánamo prison, adding, “We will continue to work with Congress to ensure that we secure the necessary funds to purchase and upgrade the Thomson prison, which will operate at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers, next year.”

But many Republicans oppose closing Guantánamo, arguing that housing the detainees on United States soil would create unnecessary security risks. Some crucial moderate Democrats are also skeptical.

Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is said to have privately expressed doubts to administration officials about the plan. Another member of that committee, Representative Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California, also raised security and legal questions about the proposal.

“Particularly making something on U.S. soil an attraction for Al Qaeda and terrorists to go after — inciting them to attack something on U.S. soil — that’s a problem, and we need to think it through,” Ms. Sanchez said in an interview Tuesday.

In the Senate, Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, has argued that the problem with Guantánamo has been its lack of due process rights, not its physical location. He said recently that terrorism suspects “do not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.”

Mr. LaBolt pointed out that the detainee population was now smaller than it had been at any time since 2002, and that on other fronts in the effort to close Guantánamo, “substantial progress has been made in recent weeks.”

For example, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. recently announced the first sets of civilian and military prosecutions for 10 detainees, and more such announcements are expected soon.

Last week, the United States transferred six detainees to Yemen in a trial program of repatriation to that country. About 91 of the roughly 200 detainees at Guantánamo are Yemeni; many are not considered “high value” suspects, but officials have been reluctant to repatriate them because of security conditions in Yemen.

Still, Congressional resistance to approving money for Thomson represents a steep hurdle toward dealing with the detainees who the administration has decided can neither be prosecuted nor safely transferred to the custody of other countries.

Indeed, Mr. Waxman said, the debate is certain to set off discussions on an issue that could drive away many civil-liberties-minded Democrats who have voiced initial support for Mr. Obama’s Thomson plan: the administration’s intention to imprison some detainees on United States soil without trials. “Some members of Congress may want to support rapid closure of Guantánamo but not to signal support for broad military detention powers,” Mr. Waxman said.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From Naomi Klein's Newsletter: On Obama, Copenhagen, Climate Change, and The Left

For Obama, No Opportunity Too Big To Blow
By Naomi Klein
December 21, 2009

Contrary to countless reports, the debacle in Copenhagen was not everyone's fault. It did not happen because human beings are incapable of agreeing, or are inherently self-destructive. Nor was it all China's fault, or the fault of the hapless UN.

There's plenty of blame to go around, but there was one country that possessed unique power to change the game. It didn't use it. If Barack Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative and inspiring commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, all the other major emitters would have stepped up. The EU, Japan, China and India had all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, but only if the U.S. took the lead. Instead of leading, Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.

(The "deal" that was ultimately rammed through was nothing more than a grubby pact between the world's biggest emitters: I'll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.)

I understand all the arguments about not promising what he can't deliver, about the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, about the art of the possible. But spare me the lecture about how little power poor Obama has. No President since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn't threaten the stability of life on this planet. He has refused to use each and every one of them. Let's look at the big three.

Blown Opportunity Number 1: The Stimulus Package

When Obama came to office he had a free hand and a blank check to design a spending package to stimulate the economy. He could have used that power to fashion what many were calling a "Green New Deal"—to build the best public transit systems and smart grids in the world. Instead, he experimented disastrously with reaching across the aisle to Republicans, low-balling the size of the stimulus and blowing much of it on tax cuts. Sure, he spent some money on weatherization, but public transit was inexplicably short changed while highways that perpetuate car culture won big.

Blown Opportunity Number 2: The Auto Bailouts

Speaking of the car culture, when Obama took office he also found himself in charge of two of the big three automakers, and all of the emissions for which they are responsible. A visionary leader committed to the fight against climate chaos would obviously have used that power to dramatically reengineer the failing industry so that its factories could build the infrastructure of the green economy the world desperately needs. Instead Obama saw his role as uninspiring down-sizer in chief, leaving the fundamentals of the industry unchanged.

Blown Opportunity Number 3: The Bank Bailouts

Obama, it's worth remembering, also came to office with the big banks on their knees -- it took real effort not to nationalize them. Once again, if Obama had dared to use the power that was handed to him by history, he could have mandated the banks to provide the loans for factories to be retrofitted and new green infrastructure to be built. Instead he declared that the government shouldn't tell the failed banks how to run their businesses. Green businesses report that it's harder than ever to get a loan.

Imagine if these three huge economic engines—the banks, the auto companies, the stimulus bill—had been harnessed to a common green vision. If that had happened, demand for a complementary energy bill would have been part of a coherent transformative agenda.

Whether the bill had passed or not, by the time Copenhagen had rolled around, the U.S. would already have been well on its way to dramatically cutting emissions, poised to inspire, rather than disappoint, the rest of the world.

There are very few U.S. Presidents who have squandered as many once-in-a-generation opportunities as Barack Obama. More than anyone else, the Copenhagen failure belongs to him.

Watch Naomi and Bill McKibben react to President Obama's Copenhagen speeches. Naomi says that Obama "could have come to the table with inspiring emissions cuts and we would be in a very, very different mood today. He didn't do it. It's time to stop making excuses for him and get mad."

Catch Naomi in New York City and Washington DC this January

January 13, New York City. Naomi in conversation with Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing, moderated by Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now and New York Times bestselling author of Breaking the Sound Barrier. See event details here.

January 15, Washington, DC. Discussion on climate debt. Co-sponsored by ActionAid and Busboys & Poets. See event details here.

No Logo 10th Anniversary Edition in Stores Now!

Don't forget to pick up your copy of the 10th Anniversary edition of No Logo, complete with a new introduction by Naomi.

Have a happy and healthy New Year!

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The Courage to Say No
By Naomi Klein
The Nation
December 16, 2009

On the ninth day of the Copenhagen climate summit, Africa was sacrificed. The position of the G-77 negotiating bloc, including African states, had been clear: a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3-3.5 degree increase in Africa.

That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, "an additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger" and "water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people." Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts the stakes like this: "We are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale.... A global goal of about 2 degrees C is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development."

And yet that is precisely what Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, proposed to do when he stopped off in Paris on his way to Copenhagen: standing with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and claiming to speak on behalf of all of Africa (he is the head of the African climate-negotiating group), he unveiled a plan that includes the dreaded 2 degree increase and offers developing countries just $10 billion a year to help pay for everything climate related, from sea walls to malaria treatment to fighting deforestation.

It's hard to believe this is the same man who only three months ago was saying this: "We will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position.... If need be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent.... What we are not prepared to live with is global warming above the minimum avoidable level."

And this: "We will participate in the upcoming negotiations not as supplicants pleading for our case but as negotiators defending our views and interests."

We don't yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400 billion a year in financing (the Africa group's position) to a mere $10 billion. Similarly, we do not know what happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo just weeks before the summit and all of a sudden the toughest Filipino negotiators were kicked off their delegation and the country, which had been demanding deep cuts from the rich world, suddenly fell in line.

We do know, from witnessing a series of these jarring about-faces, that the G-8 powers are willing to do just about anything to get a deal in Copenhagen. The urgency clearly does not flow from a burning desire to avert cataclysmic climate change, since the negotiators know full well that the paltry emissions cuts they are proposing are a guarantee that temperatures will rise a "Dantesque" 3.9 degrees, as Bill McKibben puts it.

Matthew Stilwell of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development—one of the most influential advisers in these talks—says the negotiations are not really about averting climate change but are a pitched battle over a profoundly valuable resource: the right to the sky. There is a limited amount of carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere. If the rich countries fail to radically cut their emissions, then they are actively gobbling up the already insufficient share available to the South. What is at stake, Stilwell argues, is nothing less than "the importance of sharing the sky."

Europe, he says, fully understands how much money will be made from carbon trading, since it has been using the mechanism for years. Developing countries, on the other hand, have never dealt with carbon restrictions, so many governments don't really grasp what they are losing. Contrasting the value of the carbon market—$1.2 trillion a year, according to leading British economist Nicholas Stern—with the paltry $10 billion on the table for developing countries, Stilwell says that rich countries are trying to exchange "beads and blankets for Manhattan." He adds: "This is a colonial moment. That's why no stone has been left unturned in getting heads of state here to sign off on this kind of deal.... Then there's no going back. You've carved up the last remaining unowned resource and allocated it to the wealthy."

For months now NGOs have gotten behind a message that the goal of Copenhagen is to "seal the deal." Everywhere we look in the Bella Center, clocks are going "tck tck tck." But any old deal isn't good enough, especially because the only deal on offer won't solve the climate crisis and might make things much worse, taking current inequalities between North and South and locking them in indefinitely. Augustine Njamnshi of Pan African Climate Justice Alliance puts the 2 degree proposal in harsh terms: "You cannot say you are proposing a 'solution' to climate change if your solution will see millions of Africans die and if the poor not the polluters keep paying for climate change."

Stilwell says that the wrong kind of deal would "lock in the wrong approach all the way to 2020"—well past the deadline for peak emissions. But he insists that it's not too late to avert this worst-case scenario. "I'd rather wait six months or a year and get it right because the science is growing, the political will is growing, the understanding of civil society and affected communities is growing, and they'll be ready to hold their leaders to account to the right kind of a deal."

At the start of these negotiations the mere notion of delay was environmental heresy. But now many are seeing the value of slowing down and getting it right. Most significant, after describing what 2 degrees would mean for Africa, Archbishop Tutu pronounced that it is "better to have no deal than to have a bad deal." That may well be the best we can hope for in Copenhagen. It would be a political disaster for some heads of state—but it could be one last chance to avert the real disaster for everyone else.

Climate Structural Adjustment: We’ll Save Your Life On Our Terms
By Naomi Klein
December 17, 2009

It's the second to last day of the climate conference and I have the worst case of laryngitis of my life. I open my mouth and nothing comes out.

It's frustrating because I was just at Hillary Clinton's press conference and desperately wanted to ask her a question – or six. She said that the U.S. would contribute its "share" to a $100-billion financing package for developing countries by 2020 – but only if all countries agreed to the terms of the climate deal that the U.S. has slammed on the table here, which include killing Kyoto, replacing legally binding measures with the fuzzy concept of "transparency," and nixing universal emissions targets in favor of vague "national plans" that are mashed together. Oh, and abandoning the whole concept (which the U.S. agreed to by signing the UN climate convention) that the rich countries that created the climate crisis have to take the lead in solving it.

Unless every country here agrees to the U.S. terms, the Secretary explained, "there will not be that kind of a commitment, at least from the United States."

It was naked blackmail – forcing developing countries to choose between a strong fair deal that stands a chance of averting climate chaos and the funds they need to cope with the droughts and floods that have already arrived. I wanted to ask Clinton: Is this not climate structural adjustment, on a global scale? We'll give you cash, but only with our draconian conditions?

And who is the U.S. to call the shots when it carries the heaviest responsibility for emitting the gasses that are already wreaking havoc on the climates of the global south – what happened to the principle that the polluter pays?

But…no point raising my hand, no voice.

I feel a bit like a walking metaphor because this is the day that pretty much all the NGOs have been locked out of the Bella Center, making this a much less interesting place. Almost all the side events have been canceled and people are scrambling to find alternative spaces around the city in which to meet. Some youth groups staged a sit-in last night to protest their expulsion.

As the big shots arrive and civil society is expelled, it may well turn out that months of activism and negotiations don't matter much in the face of raw power plays like the one Clinton launched this morning: sign on our terms or get nothing.

Bolivia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solon put it best: "It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the ‘Green room,' in small stealth dinners with selective guests."

The image from the Bella Center that will forever stay with me is seeing security guards refuse entry to Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, who has been fighting Shell and other oil giants in the Niger Delta for decades, losing friends like Ken Saro Wiwa to the struggle and being jailed himself. Meanwhile, the oil execs walk the halls of the Bella Center with impunity.

Even if I could talk I'd be speechless.

Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Secretary Clinton's proposal "a naked form of blackmail"

On Democracy Now, Naomi reacted to Hillary Clinton's proposal at Copenhagen, telling Amy Goodman: "You know, I just blogged about this, and the headline I put on is 'Climate Structural Adjustment,' because this is what the International Monetary Fund was so famous for doing. You need help? Your country is collapsing? Here’s our list of demands: privatize your water, lay off your people. But this is on a massive, massive scale. So, yeah, I would call it blackmail. And I think that, unfortunately, countries are so desperate for aid that they may well accept this terrible deal. And those are the stakes here." Watch the program here.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the New York Times and #1 international bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Published worldwide in September 2007, The Shock Doctrine is being translated in 27 languages. It was a finalist for several prizes including the 2007 LA Times Book Award, New York Public Library Bernstein Award for Journalism, and the National Business Book Award (Canada). In 2008 it won the Canadian Booksellers Association’s Libris Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year and is longlisted for the inaugural 2009 Warwick Prize for Writing (UK). The six minute companion film, created by Alfonso Cuaron, director of Children of Men, was an Official Selection of the 2007 Venice Biennale and Toronto International Film Festivals and was a viral phenomenon, downloaded over a million times.

Her first book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies was also an international bestseller, translated into over 28 languages with more than a million copies in print. A collection of her work, Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate was published in 2002.

Naomi Klein writes a regular column for The Nation and The Guardian that is syndicated internationally by The New York Times Syndicate. In 2004, her reporting from Iraq for Harper’s Magazine won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Also in 2004, she co-produced The Take with director Avi Lewis, a feature documentary about Argentina’s occupied factories. The film was an Official Selection of the Venice Biennale and won the Best Documentary Jury Prize at the American Film Institute’s Film Festival in Los Angeles.

She is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of King’s College, Nova Scotia.

The Necessity of Mass Political Struggle for Real National Healthcare Reform

Message from regarding upcoming Senate vote on healthcare:

In just about 48 hours, the Senate will vote on its health care bill, and then House and Senate leaders and the White House will meet to negotiate the final bill.

While the House bill is quite strong, the Senate health care bill is seriously flawed. And with negotiations about to begin, we have one last chance to fight for key fixes in the final bill.

Here are five key problems with the Senate bill that must be fixed. Please check this out, then pass it on! Click here to post on Facebook, or here to post on Twitter.

Five Critical Flaws in the Senate Health Care Bill

The Senate bill would:

#1—Deny Americans the choice of a public option. In contrast, the House bill contains a national public option, the key to real competition, greater choice, and lower costs.1

#2—Leave insurance unaffordable for some lower income and working people. Both bills require virtually all Americans to buy insurance. But even with the subsidies provided, some families could have to pay up to 20% of their income on health care expenses.2

#3—Impose dangerous restrictions on women's reproductive health care. Unfortunately, both bills do this and the House provision is worse. Both versions would be a dangerous step and neither should be in the final bill.3

#4—Tax American workers' health coverage to pay for reform. The Senate would pay for part of reform by taxing the hard-won benefits packages of some working Americans. The House, on the other hand, pays for reform with a small surcharge on only the wealthiest Americans—a far better approach.4

#5—Allow insurance companies to remain exempt from anti-trust laws. Under current law, insurance companies are actually exempt from laws designed to prevent monopolies and price-gouging. The House bill would fix this, but the Senate bill leaves it in place.5

Of course, these aren't the only problems with the bill. Most glaringly, both the Senate and House bill would leave millions uninsured,6 a far cry from the vision of universal coverage so many of us have fought for. That remains a long-term goal.

But these five things need to be fixed immediately—and we need to spread the word to make sure House and Senate leadership and the White House get the message we're counting on them to craft a final bill with these key fixes.

Can you spread the word? Forward this email, and click here to post on Facebook, or here to post on Twitter.

Thanks for all you do.

–Kat, Carrie, Michael, Joan, and the rest of the team


1. "Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Public Plan," The New York Times, December 19, 2009

"The House Bill and the Senate Bill," The Now! Blog, December 21, 2009

"Why We Need a Public Health-Care Plan," The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2009

"Why a public health insurance option is key to saving costs," Economic Policy Institute, June 25, 2009

2. "Assessment of Affordability Provisions in the Exchange in House (H.R. 3962) and Senate (H.R. 3590) Health Reform Bills," Health Care for America Now

"Finishing Reform Right: Fixing affordability before the President signs a health care bill," The Now! Blog, December 22, 2009

"Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Individual Mandate," The New York Times, December 19, 2009

"The House Bill and the Senate Bill," The Now! Blog, December 21, 2009

"Senate health bill is launch pad," Jacob Hacker, December 22, 2009

3. "Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Abortion," The New York Times, December 19, 2009

4. "Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Paying for the Proposals," The New York Times, December 19, 2009

5. "Comparing the House and the Senate Health Care Proposals: Insurance Regulations," The New York Times, December 19, 2009

6. "H.R. 3962, Affordable Health Care for America Act," Congressional Budget Office, November 20, 2009

"Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," Congressional Budget Office, November 18, 2009

"REPORT: How the Senate Bill Compares to Other Reform Legislation," Think Progress, November 19, 2009

Want to support our work? We're entirely funded by our 5 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.

PAID FOR BY MOVEON.ORG POLITICAL ACTION, Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee. This email was sent to Kofi Natambu on December 22, 2009. To change your email address or update your contact info, click here. To remove yourself from this list, click here.


The video below exposes the real political nitty gritty on the current state of the national healthcare debate via the progressive news program "The Ed Show" from MSNBC.

If the American left and all other truly progressive forces in the country don't wake up and actively fight for real change and genuine alternatives-- regardless of what the Obama Administration does or doesn't do--then we will all "deserve" our fate as sadsack quiescent victims of the corporate state. Mere cynicism, facile disillusionment, and passive alienation on its own won't cut it in the face of ongoing rightwing bullying and "liberal"/gliberal cowardice. If we truly want change we will-- like always-- have to be willing and able to FIGHT for it through relentless struggle and active public involvement. Anything less than that is not only self delusional but self destructive...


Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Democratic Party and President Obama Are Roundly Defeated on National Healthcare Reform Legislation--and We Pay the Price for their Defeat


It's now official: The Democratic Party and President Obama have completely sold us out on national healthcare reform. This is nothing but a huge victory for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and a massive insult to the average citizen/consumer. The rightwing thugs of the Republican party and their neoconservative Democratic Party lackeys bullies the "gliberal" DP wimps and a President who simply doesn't have the courage, conviction, and independence to do anything but kiss the ass of his mortal political enemies and falsely claim that he's the "winner." Like hell he is. Shameless. Pathetic. Predictable.

Read it and weep...


"The Senate bill is a legislative fraud that will enrich corporations, impoverish young, underemployed adults, and diminish women's rights. This is a huge setback for America's health, a mean-spirited victory for Lieberman and the Republican Scrooges, and a moral disgrace that should and will shame Democratic Party candidates in 2010 and Obama in 2012. This defeat follows serious policy setbacks with finance industry reform, foreclosure relief, consumer protection, government secrecy, rendition, unconstitutional signing statements, escalation of war in the Middle East, military tribunals, domestic spying, climate change, and every other controversial issue. What issue is left to be hopeful about?"

--One of many similar comments following the article below. Go to the article link above to read the entire comments section

Reid Has 60 Votes Needed to Pass Health Care Reform Bill
Saturday 19 December 2009
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled a final compromise Saturday morning to the Senate health care bill that some progressive Democratic leaders, labor unions, and grassroots organizations said has been gutted of any meaningful consumer reforms and amounts to a bailout for the insurance industry.

The language in Reid’s 383-page "manager's amendment" includes further concessions over abortion that were made in order to win the support of Sen. Ben Nelson, (D-Nebraska), who had said he would not vote for the bill if it did not include tighter restrictions prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion.

On Saturday morning, after marathon negotiation sessions with Reid, Nelson announced that he intended to put his weight behind the bill, becoming the crucial 60th vote. Reid needs the support of 60 senators to cut off debate and fend off a Republican-led filibuster.

At a news conference Saturday morning, Nelson said, “Change is never easy, but change is what’s necessary in America. And that’s why I intend to vote for health care reform.

Reid tweeeted Saturday morning, "Thanks to Sen. Ben Nelson for announcing his support for the Senate health care bill, making him our 60th vote."

Under Reid's new proposal, according to the New York Times, "states would have the authority to bar coverage for abortions by new government-approved health insurance plans."

A section of the bill titled “state opt-out of abortion coverage” explains how this would work: “A state may elect to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through an exchange in such state if such state enacts a law to provide for such prohibition.”

Some health plans receiving federal subsidies could offer coverage for abortion, but they could not use federal money to pay for the procedure. They would have to use money taken from premiums paid by subscribers and would have to keep it separate from federal money.

The government would subsidize premiums for many low- and moderate-income people. Under Mr. Reid’s amendment, some health plans receiving federal subsidies could offer coverage for abortion, but they could not use federal money to pay for the procedure. They would have to use money taken from premiums paid by subscribers and would have to keep it separate from federal money.

The Hill reported that Nelson also won "a major concession on the proposed expansion of Medicaid to everyone with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. "

Nelson, along with governors of both political parties, expressed anxiety that the expansion would burden state budgets. Under the manager's amendment, the federal government will cover more of the cost of the expansion than under the original bill.

Nearly two months after Reid announced details of the Senate health care bill, which included the coveted public option and an "opt-out" provision, meaning individual states could decline to participate; the legislation has been dramatically altered to the point of being unrecognizable.

The public option has been dropped entirely, although Reid, as recently as last week, insisted that it was still part of the final package albeit in the form of a provision that expanded Medicare to individuals beginning at age 55.

But Reid stripped that provision from the bill this week after Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Connecticut), said he would move to filibuster the legislation if the amendment remained intact.

The concession, which came at the urging of senior Obama administration officials, angered some Democratic lawmakers and lead grassroots organizations, such as, to launch an online campaign urging supporters to sign a petition calling for the Senate bill to be defeated.

“The latest Senate health care bill has no public option. No expansion of Medicare. And it does too little to guarantee that uninsured Americans will actually be able afford the coverage they'll be required to purchase,” said Moveon’s “No Deal” email sent to supporters Friday.

In a statement Saturday, President Obama said, "As with any legislation, compromise is part of the process."

But the president said he's "pleased that recently added amendments have made this landmark bill even stronger. Between the time the bill passes and the time when the insurance exchange gets up and running there will now be penalties for insurance companies that arbitrarily jack up rates on consumers.

"And while insurance companies will be prevented from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions once the exchange is open, in the meantime there will be a high risk pool where people with pre-existing conditions can purchase affordable coverage."

The way in which Democrats now propose to expand affordable health care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans is simply by tightening regulations governing the health care industry.

Reid, according to The Hill, did leave intact a proposal to create multi-state, nonprofit health insurance plans that "would be negotiated by the federal Office of Personnel Management, which manages the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as an alternative to the traditional insurance plans that would be offered under the bill."

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a cost analysis of the revised bill Saturday, which said the legislation would cost $871 billion over 10 years and cut the federal deficit by $132 billion during that timeframe.

Reuters noted that the figures "meet President Barack Obama's goal of cutting the deficit and having a total cost of about $900 billion over 10 years. The rosy report card could help the proposal gain support."

Still, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, (D-California), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday the Senate bill “is much more expensive than it appears and will leave taxpayers holding the bag for a huge give-away to the private insurance industry.”

“The Senate plan requires everyone to buy health insurance, creating some 30 million new customers for insurers, but it does not have a public option to control costs,” Woolsey said, calling the Senate bill a “gift” to health insurance companies. “By providing low-cost competition, the public option would have forced insurers to rein in the spiraling costs of premiums.”

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted this week underscored the discontent among liberals over the fact that the public option had been scrapped.

According to the poll, 47% said the health care package in its current state is a “bad idea,” while 32% said they believed it was a “good idea.”

MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd, said via Twitter Wednesday that much of the “movement on the 'bad idea' comes from some of the president's core support groups, folks upset about lost public option."

Todd added that “large majorities of the president's core support groups believe his plan is a ‘good idea,' but the margins have shrunk."

Still, according to the poll, 41% of respondents said they believe that the Senate should pass something as opposed to not passing reform legislation at all.

Woolsey said the public might not realize that the Senate bill will cause financial hardship for many.

“The Senate bill insists that people buy insurance that many cannot afford now, and many more will not be able to afford in the future, given that premiums are rising four times faster than wages.” she said. “So who will pay when people must buy health care insurance they can’t afford? Taxpayers.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, however, said it's time to "take a deep breath."

"Consider just how much good this bill would do, if passed — and how much better it would be than anything that seemed possible just a few years ago," Krugman wrote Friday. "With all its flaws, the Senate health bill would be the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare, greatly improving the lives of millions. Getting this bill would be much, much better than watching health care reform fail."

The fractious nature of the health care debate among Democrats reached a boiling point earlier this week when Howard Dean, a physician and the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, told Vermont Public Radio Tuesday that the health care bill marked “the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate.”

“Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill,” Dean said.

The former Vermont governor followed up his statements with hard-hitting opening salvo in an op-ed published in Thursday’s Washington Post.

“If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill,” Dean wrote. “Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.”

White House senior adviser David Axelrod reacted angrily to Dean’s earlier statements and said it would be “insane” to derail the legislation because of ideological differences over the inclusion of a government-run insurance program to compete with the private sector.

"We're on the verge of doing something that would make an enormously positive difference for people," Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” "I don't think you want this moment to pass. It will not come back again."

Former President Bill Clinton agreed.

He said Thursday that although the Senate bill is not drafted the way he would have drafted it, nor does it contain "everything everyone wants," abandoning it would be a "colossal blunder" for the Democratic party and "far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country."

Labor unions, including the Services Employee International Union (SEIU), meanwhile urged passage of the Senate bill, but the groups were critical about the concessions Democratic leaders made this week to secure passage of the legislation.

SEIU president Andy Stern said Thursday, “We don’t like the bill. It has to be improved. But we don’t think that these senators are going to do any better.”

Unions spent millions of dollars on lobbying efforts this year to gain support of health care reform, due in large part to assurances by Democrats that a bill would include a government-operated insurance program.

Stern said he holds out hope that earlier proposals along the lines of a public option will find its way back into a final piece of legislation before it’s sent to Obama for his signature. In a letter to union members Thursday, he called on Obama to uphold his campaign promise before signing legislation into law.

“President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. His call of ‘Yes We Can’ was not just to us, not just to the millions of people who voted for him, but to himself. We all stood shoulder to shoulder with the president during his hard-fought campaign,” Stern wrote.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, however, registered deep disappointment with the Senate bill, saying in a statement Thursday that “it bends toward the insurance industry, will not check costs in the short term, and its financing asks working people and the country to pay the price, even as benefits are cut,”

“The House bill is the model for genuine healthcare reform,” Trumka said. Working people cannot accept anything less than real reform.”

Republicans, who stand united against the health care bill, promised to make it difficult for Democrats to hold a final vote on the legislation, expected to take place Christmas Eve.

U.S. Imperialism, Obama's False Consciousness, and the Rancid Ghost of Orwellian Doublespeak


Another appropriately fierce, scathing, and brilliant takedown of President Obama's pompous, dishonest, and hubris filled "Nobel Peace Prize" speech and his openly immoral and arrogant defense of 'American Exceptionalism' (better known and understood in the real world as U.S. imperialism). Read Part II of this article for the relevant details....Like I said in my earlier editorial in these pages on this subject (see
: The Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama, and American Foreign Policy posted on December 11, 2009) Orwellian doublespeak is alive and well in the White House...


December 15, 2009

Miraculous Organ
Blair, Obama and the Narcissist's Defense

In recent days we have all witnessed two vomitous eruptions of moral nullity that would tax the powers of a Voltaire or a Vidal to do them proper justice; they quite o'er-crow the meager gifts of a hack like me. But I will sketch a few observations here nonetheless, if only to add one more small voice to those few who bear witness to the evils perpetrated by our unaccountable leaders.

We speak of course of Barack Obama's Nobel speech and Tony Blair's recent comments on the Iraq War. Let's take the lesser figure first.


Since leaving office, Tony Blair has dipped his blood-smeared snout into various corporate troughs, amassing millions, while simultaneously becoming one of the great whited sepulchres of our day, making a great show of his conversion to Catholicism, his "faith foundation," and so on. He has even lectured at Yale Divinity School. But this holy huckster looks more haunted every day. The glaring, bulging eyes, the frantic rictus of his grin – indistinguishable from the grimace of a man in gut-clenching pain --- and the ever-more strident, maniacal defense of his war crimes give compelling testimony to the hellish fires consuming his psyche.

Next month, Blair will go before the Chilcot Inquiry, a panel of UK Establishment worthies charged with investigating the origins of Britain's role in the invasion of Iraq. Although the worthies have been remarkably toothless in their questioning of the great and good so far – the smell of whitewash is definitely in the air – the inquiry has at least performed the useful function of bringing the forgotten subject of Iraq back into the public eye, while collating and confirming, with sworn testimony, much of what we have learned in dribs and drabs over the years about the rank, deliberate deceit behind this murderous catastrophe. One choice bit that has emerged from the inquiry is the revelation that the centerpiece of Blair's case for immediate war – the claim that Saddam Hussein could hit Europe with WMD-loaded missiles on just 45 minutes' notice – came from unconfirmed, third-hand gossip passed along by an Iraqi taxi driver.

As Blair's turn on the well-padded Chilcot cushion draws near, he has launched frantic efforts to keep his testimony secret while at the same time trying to undercut the rationale for the whole war origins inquiry, which has focused on the professed justification for the invasion: disarming Iraq's (non-existent) WMD. So last week, Blair gave an interview to a friendly, timorous chat-show host in which he made the brazen admission – no, the proud boast – that he would have found a way to drive Britain into war with Iraq even if he had known for certain that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. (And of course, given the nature of the "'intelligence" that Blair used in his pre-war WMD claims it is certain that Blair was indeed certain that Saddam had no such weapons when the invasion was launched).

Thus it is now Blair's contention that there is no charge to answer concerning the origins of the war; all this WMD guff is meaningless. He would have found "other arguments" to persuade Britons to follow George W. Bush into the war that American militarists had long been planning.

Blair's admission has drawn a remarkable response from another Establishment mandarin, Sir Ken Macdonald, who served for five years as Director of Public Prosecutions under Blair's government – and now works in private practice at a major law firm…alongside Tony Blair's wife, Cherie. The headline in The Times puts it plainly: "Intoxicated by power, Blair tricked us into war." In his column, Macdonald writes:

"The degree of deceit involved in our decision to go to war on Iraq becomes steadily clearer. This was a foreign policy disgrace of epic proportions and playing footsie on Sunday morning television does nothing to repair the damage. It is now very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tony Blair engaged in an alarming subterfuge with his partner George Bush and went on to mislead and cajole the British people into a deadly war they had made perfectly clear they didn’t want, and on a basis that it’s increasingly hard to believe even he found truly credible.

"...Mr Blair’s fundamental flaw was his sycophancy towards power. Perhaps this seems odd in a man who drank so much of that mind-altering brew at home. But Washington turned his head and he couldn’t resist the stage or the glamour that it gave him. In this sense he was weak and, as we can see, he remains so. Since those sorry days we have frequently heard him repeating the self-regarding mantra that “hand on heart, I only did what I thought was right”. But this is a narcissist’s defence and self-belief is no answer to misjudgment: it is certainly no answer to death. “Yo, Blair”, perhaps, was his truest measure."

Macdonald also gives us a sneak peek inside the workings of the elite, with observations that doubtless apply equally well across the ocean:

"In British public life, loyalty and service to power can sometimes count for more to insiders than any tricky questions of wider reputation. It’s the regard you are held in by your peers that really counts, so that steadfastness in the face of attack and threatened exposure brings its own rich hierarchy of honour and reward. Disloyalty, on the other hand, means a terrible casting out, a rocky and barren Roman exile that few have the courage to endure. So which way will our heroes jump?

"We must hope in the right direction — for it is precisely this privately arranged nature of British Establishment power, stubborn beyond sympathy for years in the face of the modern world, that has brought our politics so low. If Chilcot fails to reveal the truth without fear in this Middle Eastern story of violence and destruction, the inquiry will be held in deserved and withering contempt."

It is almost certain that the Chilcot inquiry will produce little more than the usual blood-flecked whitewash. Certainly, Tony Blair will face no official action for his crimes; he will not even lose any of his corporate sponsors, unlike the heinous Tiger Woods, whose sexual intimacy with consenting adults is obviously far worse than the murder of more than one million innocent people. (We'll never see Woods lecturing at Yale Divinity School now!)

But keep looking at Blair's face; watch, year by year, as it brings forth the hideous fruits of the inferno within. For as one of his illustrious countrymen once put it: "Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ."


"A narcissist's defense." As a description of Obama's Peace Prize speech, Macdonald's phrase could hardly be bettered. But the intense, near-pathological self-regard in the speech was not Obama's alone, of course; we must do him the credit of acknowledging that in this regard, at least, he was what we so often proclaim our leaders to be: the embodiment of the nation. His soaring proclamation of American exceptionalism, in a setting supposedly devoted to universal principles of peace, was breathtaking in its chutzpah – but entirely in keeping with the feelings of the vast majority of his countrymen, and the ruling elite above all.

Many have already remarked on Obama's adoption of Bush's principle of unilateral, "pre-emptive" military action, anytime, anywhere, whenever a leader declares his nation is under threat. This approach -- which Bush called "the path of action" -- was roundly scorned by critics of the former regime, many of whom now scramble to praise Obama's "nuanced" embrace of aggression. But again, let us give credit where it is due; in this aspect of the speech, Obama did in fact go beyond Bush's more narrowly nationalist conception, saying: "I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation."

Thus Obama would, apparently, extend the right of unilateral military action to "any head of state" that feels the necessity of defending his or her nation. But of course this is just empty verbiage, a pointless, bald-faced lie that not even Bush would have tried to get away with. Would Obama accept a unilateral, pre-emptive strike by Tehran against Israel, where top legislators and government officials routinely talk of attacking Iran? Would Obama cheer the "right" of Russia to strike unilaterally at Poland if the U.S. "missile shield" deal, now on hold, was suddenly consummated? Would Obama support a unilateral strike by India at Pakistan -- or vice versa -- in the still-seething cauldron of tensions on the subcontinent, where both nations legitimately feel threatened by the other? Would he support the right of Kim Jong-il to "defend his nation" by attacking South Korea the next time there is a threatening border incident there?

No, it is clear that only the United States -- and its allies, like Israel -- are to be allowed the supreme privilege of unilateral war. The line was inserted in the speech simply because it would sound good in the moment, and create a temporary emotional reaction that might carry listeners past the macabre incongruity underlying the entire event: giving a peace award to the bloodstained leader of a military machine hip-deep in the coagulate gore of two, vast, civilian-slaughtering wars.

Obama staked his boldest claim to American exceptionalism with a passage that he lifted, almost verbatim, from his West Point speech just a few days before, when he announced his second massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan:

"Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."

Here is chutzpah -- and hubris -- raised to the level of the sublime. Obama has taken the words he used to instigate the certain death of thousands of human beings and the acceleration of hatred, extremism, chaos and brutal corruption around the world -- and offered them as justification for the hideous, unabashedly Orwellian doctrine at the core of his speech: War is Peace. In this perverse inversion of values, Obama, as a warmaker, is actually a peacemaker, you see -- and thus a legitimate heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was evoked at several points in the speech.

And here we come to what was for me the most revolting part of the speech. And perhaps the most significant too. All the cant about America's altruism and "enlightened self-interest" in killing millions of people (Indochina was one of many convenient blank spots in Obama's historical survey) for the sake of all the children of the world (red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in our sight) was just par for the rhetorical course. It was nothing that had not been said many times before, including the references -- so lauded by Obama's liberal apologists -- to those inadvertent "mistakes" America seems to keep making, out of a surfeit of good intentions, no doubt. But I don't think an American president has so openly and directly traduced the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi before. (And to do it while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, no less! Oh, that sublime brass....)

Although larded with usual hyper-yet-flaccid, florid-yet-false oratorical stylings that have become Obama's trademark, his words about King and Gandhi drip with scorn and condescension. I was actually taken aback when I read these passages:

"I make this statement [about the moral justification for war] mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms."

The intellectual incoherence and arrogant sneering behind this supposedly laudatory passage is staggering. After claiming to be the personal embodiment of King and Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent action, Obama gives the game away with this line: "I face the world as it is." Those two guys, they were just dreamers, they were unrealistic, they were unserious; they didn't "face the world as it is," they weren't savvy and pragmatic, like me. I have to go to war because I'm a head of state "sworn to protect and defend my nation."

[Here, Obama indulges in a trope that is pandemic among his apologists: the idea that he was somehow forced to become the head of a militarist state waging endless war around the world, that he has somehow woken up and found himself "the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. But of course he chose to pursue this kind of power in this kind of system -- chose it, pursued it, fought like hell to win it. It's what he wanted. Yet still this notion of Obama as a helpless victim of fate -- lost in a world he never made -- persists.]

He then goes on to give the lie to his previously stated admiration for Gandhi and King: "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." Thus, King, Gandhi and any practitioner of non-violent resistance to evil are, ultimately, naive, ineffectual -- weak.

Notice the incoherence – or perhaps deliberate elision – at work here. Obama says he must face down "threats to the American people" -- and then talks about Hitler's armies, immediately coupling, and rhetorically equating them, with al-Qaeda's scattered handful of hidden fugitives. Are the American people now threatened by Hitler's armies? Are al-Qaeda's paltry forces -- less than 100 of them in Afghanistan, according to Obama's own war-wagers -- the equal of Hitler's armies of millions of men?

But there is a deeper untruth beyond these cheap rhetorical tricks. For it is blatantly untrue to say that "a nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." First of all, one cannot make that statement because this approach was never tried. Therefore you cannot state categorically that it would not have worked. Doubtless it would have cost millions of lives; but as Gandhi himself pointed out, the violent resistance to Hitler's armies also cost tens of millions of lives. But Obama's formulation -- which is a hackneyed one indeed -- only deals with one view of non-violent resistance to Hitler: i.e., from the outside, resisting his armies as they poured across the borders. There is another way in which a non-violent resistance movement without any doubt could have "halted Hitler's armies": if it had taken root and spread throughout Germany itself, including among the armed forces and its supporting industries.

In the event, this did not happen. But it was not, and is not, an impossibility for humankind to pursue such an approach. Therefore it is fatuous and false to state what cannot possibly be known: whether non-violent resistance would have thwarted Nazism, and whether this would have been more or less costly than the way of violence.

Similarly, it is false to say that "negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." The only response to this bald statement is: How do you know? Has anybody tried it? No. Therefore you cannot call it an impossibility -- and then use this supposed, untested "impossibility" as your justification for laying waste to whole nations. You may say that it would be unjust to negotiate with al-Qaeda, that those who use murderous violence to achieve their ends should simply be killed or prosecuted. (Where then would that leave the leaders of the exalted, exceptional, unilateral United States?) But of course this is precisely what Gandhi did: he sat down and negotiated with the representatives of an empire that had caused the deaths of millions of his own people. He negotiated with them in good faith, with good will, despite what they had done and were doing to his people -- and despite the fact that many of his interlocutors, such as Winston Churchill, hated him with a blind, racist fury. And he was successful -- although again, not without cost, both before and after the liberation. But Gandhi, and King, knew the costs of non-violence – because they were genuinely savvy, and genuinely realistic about the nature of evil.

In any case, aside from the particulars of any real situation or hypothetical scenario, the speech is a glaring example of Obama's deep-seated (and perhaps unconscious) contempt for the path of peace, and its practitioners. It is also a manifestation of his own inferno, of his desperate need to justify -- to himself and to the world -- his free, deliberate choice to follow the blood-choked "path of action" as the commander-in-chief of a bloated, brutal war machine.

No one forced any of these decisions – or these specious, obscene justifications – on Obama or Blair. Their own narcissism -- their own lust for power and their love for the system that gave them that power – has covered them with the blood and shame that now taint their every word and deed.

Chris Floyd is an American writer and frequent contributer to CounterPunch. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at

Friday, December 18, 2009

AFL-CIO and SEIU Unions Demand that President Obama and the Democratic Party Fight For Progressive Agenda in National Healthcare Reform Struggle


Like my beloved late father and all my uncles and aunts and siblings and damn near every friend and associate I have ever known I am and shall always remain A UNION MAN...'Nuff said...


Nation's Largest Union: Change Health Care Bill Or Else
by Sam Stein

Huffington Post

The nation's largest union group said Thursday that it will not support the Democratic health-care bill unless "substantial changes" are made to the current Senate version.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement to reporters that without a public option for insurance coverage or an employer mandate - and with a tax on high-end insurance plans that some union members get - the health care legislation supported by Senate Democrats falls far short of meeting his group's standards.

"[For] this health care bill to be worthy of the support of working men and women, substantial changes must be made," said Trumka. "The AFL-CIO intends to fight on behalf of all working families to make those changes and win health care reform that is deserving of the name."

The remarks are a strong indication that the coalition of pro-health-care-reform groups has begun to fray. Earlier in the day, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern penned a letter to his fellow union members in which he called out President Barack Obama for abandoning his own principles of reform.

"President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. His call of 'Yes We Can' was not just to us, not just to the millions of people who voted for him, but to himself. We all stood shoulder to shoulder with the President during his hard fought campaign. And, we will continue to stand with him but he must fight for the reform we all know is possible," Stern wrote.

"Our challenge to you, to the President, to the Senate and to the House of Representatives is to fight," Stern continued. "Now, more than ever, all of us must stand up, remember what health insurance reform is all about, and fight like hell to deliver real and meaningful reform to the American people."

Stern, like Trumka, called for Democrats to make changes to the legislation as the process moves forward. And his rebuke of Obama - a staunch personal ally - was a telling sign of the growing frustration within the labor movement.

Both labor leaders were particularly incensed over the concessions made by the Senate's Democratic leadership to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the 60th member of their caucus. "The public option is declared impossible. Americans cannot purchase Medicare at an earlier age. The health insurance reform effort we have needed for a century is at risk," Stern wrote.

Officials at both unions met late into the night on Wednesday in emergency sessions to discuss the Senate bill. Aides say the conversations were lengthy and, at times, emotional. The labor community, while privately angry with the White House and Democrats in Congress, still needs the support of these lawmakers on other legislative priorities. Meanwhile, having poured millions into advertisement and man-hours in order to get health care passed, they have watched in horror as the principles they worked for were abandoned in a matter of days.

Officials are also aware of how much would be lost by simply scrapping the bill altogether. Stern noted that under the Senate's bill 30 million additional people would be covered, pre-existing conditions would no longer be an excuse to deny coverage, and people who get sick would no longer lose their insurance. Trumka, likewise, pointed to "good things" in the Senate bill, including the fact that "insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or impose lifetime or unreasonable annual limits."