Structures of Power and National Security: An Interview with Gareth Porter
by Gary Corseri / October 31st, 2007
Gary Corseri: I want to focus on your book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, with its exposition of policy-making during the Vietnam War—and we’ll consider how that process applies today. I’ll ask you about current world crises—Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Israel/Palestine. But first, I’d like to know how you come to have the authority to write about the policy-making process?
Gareth Porter: I don’t know that I have the authority—that’s subjective. I think I have the right background, though: the curiosity of the historian to figure out what actually happened—to solve mysteries or puzzles—in terms of American policy, specifically, policy towards war; and then, International Politics. I have an interest in policy on a theoretical level. I studied under Hans Morgenthau at the University of Chicago. Morgenthau had turned against the Vietnam War by then. I considered myself a realist, taking the idea of the Balance of Power seriously—that nation-states act in terms of power relationships. That was really the only way to understand the behavior of states in international politics. Obviously, that played a role in the way I looked at, in retrospect, the Vietnam War.
GC: Perils was published in 2005. Would you describe the theme, or themes?
GP: There are really two interrelated themes.
When I began my research, I understood that power relations had something to do with the road to war in Vietnam. But, it seemed, the pertinent literature had ignored that. I had a strong sense from my reading of Cold War history, specifically of Vietnam, and particularly my editing of a two-volume documentary history of the Vietnam War back in the late 70s—I had an intuition that the Communist world was much weaker than had been reflected in the history of the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. I began my research convinced that was a key to understanding how and why the US stumbled into war. That was my first theme: that power relations matter, that there was not a real balance of power between the US and Soviet Union during this critical period from 1954 to 1965, but, rather, a profound imbalance in which the US strategically dominated the Soviet Union. It’s clear that the Soviet Union was very much on the defensive. And the US, on the offensive, had a freedom of action the Soviets didn’t have. And that played a key role in shaping US decision-making on Vietnam.
The second theme, which I discovered as I read the documents, is that there was a big difference in the responses to Vietnam between Johnson and Kennedy on the one hand and their national security advisers on the other. I go back to Eisenhower and I concluded that he was totally opposed to intervention, but that a number of people in his administration were pro-military intervention. So, there was a conflict there as well.
GC: But Ike handled it better?
GP: Eisenhower was very strong dealing with national security issues, very self-confident. He was able to quash any pressures for war. But, in the case of Kennedy and Johnson, there were inexorable pressures from the key national security officials of their administrations to commit US forces in Vietnam.
GC: What accounts for this difference between the perspectives of the president and his own advisers?
GP: National security advisers define their role as managing US power. That’s the main thing they do, whereas the president, inevitably, has a broader range of issues. He has to put the advancement of US power interests alongside other issues. He’s much more sensitive to the costs of committing forces.
GC: And the president is always balancing his own perception of domestic politics.
GP: That, of course, is true, and it can cut both ways. In fact, what I conclude with both Kennedy and Johnson is that domestic politics was part of the pressure on them to make an accommodation with their national security advisers in taking steps towards war.
GC: Your book depicts the tension between policy-making on the one hand, and “reality” on the other. I’m not talking about the kind of reality some Bush administration hack told reporter Ron Suskind that the U.S., as an empire, had the power to define; rather, about the kind that can bite us on the ass when we’re not paying attention. For example, after 14 months of struggle with his own advisers, Johnson agrees to bomb North Vietnam. But, in the interval, two new realities had emerged which would change the outcome. Can you tell us what happened?
GP: Between the beginning of the bombing and the build-up of ground forces, the Viet Cong had become much stronger than the national security advisers had anticipated; they were able to advance much farther and faster against the South Vietnamese army. Our advisers had assumed that the Communist forces in the south were not strong enough to advance dramatically without help from the north.
Second, when the U.S. began its build-up of ground forces, the assumption was that the threat of even heavier bombing, including the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, would deter the North Vietnamese from countering. That again was a profound under-estimation of the determination and capabilities of the North Vietnamese. Basically, there were two fundamental miscalculations, based on the notion that US supremacy, at the strategic and at the conventional power level, would ensure that the United States could fight a low-level war and keep it from getting out of control.
GC: Others have written about the bureaucratic nightmare that endures through changes of administration and/or party. But, I don’t think anyone has documented the twists and turns as well. Your 403-page book has over 120 pages of notes, bibliography and index. And I think the vital role of your book lies not only in helping us to understand that murky and parlous era, but in providing a template for understanding our present crises … Can you talk a little more about how politics enters into policy-making? I’m thinking about the notion of collective responsibility.
GP: Right. That’s an idea I feel strongly about.
The assumption that diplomatic historians of the US have shared–I would say almost universally–in writing about Vietnam is that the Constitutional power of the president is absolute in making war. The idea that the president does not make the definitive decision to go to war is so outside the realm of possibility that it’s dismissed. I think there’s a perfectly logical explanation for that: diplomatic historians write within a paradigm in which it’s assumed that policy-making is guided by the Constitution, that there’s a logical relationship between legal responsibilities on the one hand and political reality on the other. That’s why it’s so difficult for them to imagine that the president is really not the critical force in powering the US towards war.
In 1962, before the Cuban missile crisis, but after Kennedy had failed to take strong action against Castro and the Soviet Union when it was discovered that there were Soviet military personnel in Cuba, the Republicans then mounted a very politically effective campaign, through the media and through Republican spokespeople to attack Kennedy for being soft on Communism and weak in the face of this alleged threat from the Soviet power on our doorstep. And, there’s no doubt that Kennedy was chastened by this. And that played a role in his taking such strong measures in the Cuban missile crisis, in a sense to risk nuclear war (although we now know that he had taken steps to make sure that would not result). Kennedy felt strong political pressure, he felt his presidency could be weakened by Republicans in a situation where they could attack him on a key issue of national security. I think that caused him to feel he had to have his own national security advisers fully on board to impress the public that he was not making any policy moves to avoid the use of force in Vietnam that did not have the full support of his top national security advisers. The same thing was true, even more so, for Johnson because he was even deeper into a situation where choices were either to face the “Who lost South Vietnam?” syndrome, or to send troops. In that situation, he felt the need, even more than Kennedy, to have his top national security advisers—the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff—at least neutralized if not supporting him.
GC: That’s how politics works vis-a-vis the two-party system. But, you describe another phenomenon—the way politics are internalized inside an administration, so that Kennedy had to worry about his own people; you cite examples where Averill Harriman, for example, was practically sabotaging some of Kennedy’s efforts to open new channels of communication with the North Vietnamese. So, I wonder if you could focus on the role of the national security bureaucracy. Where do they come from? What are the origins, the operation and evolution? Most Americans do not perceive that our government works this way. How did it happen?
GP: This is the reality that dawned on me as I was researching this book. We have been virtually unaware of the extent to which the national security bureaucracy has taken on a crucial degree of power over policy; in effect, over issues of war and peace. It’s both military and civilian in character. Both are extremely important to the power we’re talking about. They’re both able to maneuver, to use methods to pressure the president, to narrow his options so it’s more likely he’ll accept their options.
We know that there are historical cases where the military leadership has been against using force—more so than civilian leadership. But in the case of Vietnam, it’s very clear: the military leadership, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the top officials in the State Department and National Security Council officials were all leaning towards military intervention. The question is precisely the one you ask: What’s the character of this political entity which developed during the Cold War, which has sprung up as a major power center that did not exist before the Cold War and which exercises so much influence over policy? My key concern is that the national security bureaucracy does not act in the abstract interest of the US, or the American people–although I think it believes it does—but, rather, in ways that further the personal and institutional interests of the advisers themselves.
GC: The implications of which are enormous, illusion-shattering …
GP: It means that the military services are concerned with maintaining and adding to their missions in a war; and when there’s an opportunity to fight a war where they feel they can accomplish those ends, they will do so. For individuals who are heads of bureaucracies—the State Department, the Defense Department, the National Security staff of the White House—they have a personal agenda to advance or expand the power of the US and to thereby add to their own status, their own prestige, their own political positions, their career c.v.’s, and various personal interests. That causes officials to push American power forward.
GC: We think that we have a balanced system, that we have checks and balances between the three branches of our government. But, in fact, the balance within the executive branch, which has become the most powerful, the most important in this age of the imperial presidency—that balance is very tenuous.
GP: Very tenuous, indeed. And, this is one of those occasions when we can skip forward, and note how the relationship between the president and his key national security advisers under the Bush administration represents a caricature of a president who is under pressure from his advisers to go to war.
Now, Bush, of course, is not Kennedy and he’s not Johnson. He’s much more willing to be manipulated. He’s a man who has no experience in foreign policy, who knows nothing about foreign policy and is really not interested in learning; therefore, he leans on his advisers far more heavily. So, even though Bush is ideologically attuned to the neo-conservatives, he is nevertheless subject to the manipulation of these officials who have their own agendas. And, we see in the case of the neo-conservatives the clearest example of a group of national security advisers who came into office with their own idea of what they wanted to accomplish—a very ambitious goal. And we have an exaggerated version of the kind of dynamics that I describe in our march to war in Vietnam.
GC: I’d like to continue to probe this bureaucratic nightmare, this meta-government. You said this began with the Cold War. I might put it back even further in the Roosevelt Administration; but, a long time ago I read that Truman had established the National Security State, and that we were no longer a republic. Do you care to dive into that?
GP: I think it’s true that the beginning of a policy of exploitation of a power advantage began in the Truman Administration. It was not so self-evident as it was during the Eisenhower Administration, where I show that in the first Indochina crisis of 1954, Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles were acutely aware of the great advantage that they had over the Soviet Union and China, and very clearly exploited that to pressure the Communist side—the Soviets, Chinese and Viet Minh—to accept a settlement at the Geneva Conference of 1954 that certainly did not reflect the local power balance within Indochina. But, I would say that it was during the Truman administration that we had this huge military build-up which put an enormous distance between the US and Soviet Union. It was that obvious power gap that gave the US an incentive to act more aggressively.
I think what you’re referring to is that the institutions—the military structure, the military bases network—existed essentially by the end of World War II, that we were already in most of these bases, particularly in East Asia then. So it was a result of that war that the US was able to exert the kind of power it did—particularly in East Asia, where the Pacific Ocean became virtually an “American Lake”. I agree that the problem began even before the Cold War, but then it was exacerbated as soon as the US carried out the first major military build-up before the Korean War, which accelerated during that war.
GC: If the process you describe is correct, concerning this government by bureaucracy, what does that tell us about our democracy? Is our president anything but a figurehead?
GP: It depends on the individual. There’s no doubt that individuals who end up in the White House, because of their background in becoming politicians, have been, since Eisenhower, individuals who are more readily willing to accommodate these institutions—particularly the military. Given their incredible power—again, I refer primarily to the military services—without somebody who is extremely determined, with a firm idea about how to prevent these institutions from being able to implement their own agendas, the president is not going to be successful in holding out against them. I think Eisenhower was the last president who was even partially successful in resisting the pressure of the military. And, of course, the military services were associated with a very powerful industrial lobby which worked through Congress. You have not just a military-industrial complex, but a military-industrial-Congressional complex. And when Eisenhower uttered his famous injunction about the military-industrial complex, he was not talking about some abstract principle; he was talking about something he had personally experienced. They had tried to force Eisenhower to go along with their own preferred national security policies, in terms of budget and programs, and Eisenhower had rebuffed them. But, they attacked him mercilessly. The representatives of the air force, in the Senate, particularly, were very critical of Eisenhower. They accused him of being soft on Communism and soft on the Soviet Union. And he never forgot that, and that was an expression of great bitterness on Eisenhower’s part.
Read the rest of it here.
31 October 2007
Structures of Power and National Security: An Interview with Gareth Porter
Argentina Elects Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner: It's the Economy
by Mark Weisbrot
October 30, 2007, Los Angeles Times
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner became the first woman elected to the presidency of Argentina on Sunday. Her victory is not difficult to explain. Her political party, under President Nestor Kirchner (her husband), led a dramatic economic turnaround that made Argentina the fastest-growing economy in the Western Hemisphere over the last five and a half years. More than 11 million people, or 28 percent of the population, were pulled over the poverty line as the economy grew by over 50 percent.
This 8.2 percent annual growth was more than twice the average for Latin America - it is more like the fastest-growing countries of Asia.
Unemployment has dropped from 21.5 percent to 8.5 percent, and real (inflation-adjusted) wages have grown by more than 40 percent.
Cristina Fernandez's victory was thus predictable and relatively easy. But the economic recovery that drove it was not so simple, and the people who led it deserve more credit than they have generally received. They had to take on not only the conventional wisdom of the economics profession, but powerful international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Their success may have some important implications for other developing countries.
When Argentina defaulted on a record $100 billion of debt at the end of 2001, almost all of the experts predicted that this would be the beginning of a long period of punishment. The country would be shunned by international financial markets and by foreign investors, they said, and this would be very damaging. The government had better reach an agreement with the IMF, and follow its advice. And it had better play nice with the defaulted foreign creditors.
The experts could hardly have been more wrong. The economy contracted for just three months after the default, and then began to grow. It hasn't stopped since.
Contrary to a common belief, Argentina's expansion was not based on exports or high commodity prices: only about 13 percent of the growth during the whole expansion was due to exports.
What did Argentina do right? Most importantly, the government got its basic macroeconomic policies right. After years of seeing its domestic economy crippled by an overvalued currency that made imports artificially cheap, the Argentine central bank targeted a "stable and competitive real exchange rate."
In other words, the authorities made sure that their currency didn't rise too high, and didn't swing wildly as a result of movements in financial markets. (Here in the U.S., where we have shed more than three million manufacturing jobs since 2001 - the bulk of them lost due to an overvalued dollar - we might take note.) They also kept interest rates low and made growth, rather than the lowest possible inflation, the top priority.
These policies are mostly a no-no among central bankers and economists, and Argentina had a few showdowns with the IMF, including a brief temporary default to the Fund in September 2003. But the Fund backed down, and the most of the defaulted international creditors ended up settling for 35 cents on the dollar in 2005.
Of course Argentina hasn't gotten a lot of foreign direct investment in the last five years and it cannot directly borrow on international bond markets. But these handicaps - which if you read the business press should spell doom - turned out not to be all that important. Nor are they permanent: in time, foreign investors and lenders will find their way back to a fast-growing economy.
The lesson: just as "all politics are local," so, too, are the most important economic policies for most countries. Getting the basic macroeconomic policies right for your own economy is a lot more important than pleasing international financial markets. That goes double for failed, unaccountable international financial institutions like the IMF. The Fund not only oversaw the train wreck that collapsed Argentina's economy from 1998-2002, it opposed the most important policies that drove Argentina's remarkable recovery.
The new government will face challenges, of the kind brought about by a fast-growing economy: keeping inflation in check and assuring adequate supplies of energy. But these problems are manageable. Of course there are some analysts who argue otherwise - but their forecasts over the last five years have not been very accurate.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (www.cepr.net).
Violence Against Women
by Ian Sinclair
October 30, 2007, Morning Star
Feminism is finished. Kaput. Outdated. Irrelevant. Didn’t you get the memo?
But wait a minute. What about the estimated 30,000 women who are sacked, made redundant, or leave their jobs every year because of pregnancy discrimination? Or the 4,000 women that are estimated to be trafficked in to the UK annually to feed the growing sex industry? And let’s not forget the increasing number of women being imprisoned, women’s gross under representation in parliament, the judiciary and the higher echelons of business and the fact women still continue to do the majority of domestic labour.
However, while all these facts are pertinent to the continuing subjection of women, perhaps the most shocking issue facing women today is the level of violence that is directed against them, something Amnesty International have been highlighting since 2005 with their ongoing Stop Violence Against Women campaign.
The cold statistics are sobering. In England and Wales one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, while one in twenty women have been the victim of rape. Rather than an aberration, it is clear violence against women is widespread, common in all communities, regardless of class, ethnic or generational differences.
We need a wholesale re-imagining of the threats women face. While the mainstream media persistently focus on stranger danger, in fact the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home. Often, this supposed cosy, secure haven, is actually a place of fear, injury, and for some, death, with two women killed by their male partner or former partner every week in the UK. Gill Hague, Director of the Violence Against Women Research Group at the University of Bristol, notes “the home is after all behind closed doors, away from the public’s eye, protected by the spoken and unspoken rules about privacy, about not interfering in other people’s business”. Regarding sexual assault, women are also most likely to be attacked by men they know - again partners or acquaintances are the most common perpetrators.
Dismayingly violence directed at women continues to be seen as acceptable by many people. For example, a 2003 BBC Online/ ICM survey of men and women found that while 78 per cent of respondents said they would report to the police or RSPCA if someone was kicking or mistreating their dog, only 53 per cent would intervene by going to the police if they knew someone was kicking or mistreating their partner. Mind blowing as this statistic is, it dovetails with previous research such as a 2005 NSPCC survey of 2,000 teenagers which found 43 per cent of respondents (both boys and girls) believed it was acceptable for a boyfriend to get aggressive in certain circumstances - if a girl cheated on him, flirted with someone else or “dressed outrageously”.
Underpinning this general acceptance of violence against women is the widespread attitude that women are partly to blame for the crimes committed against them, with a 2005 Amnesty International survey finding 26 per cent of interviewees thought a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and 22 per cent holding the same view if the woman had many sexual partners.
Rape convictions today are at an all-time low with approximately six per cent of reported rape offences resulting in a conviction (this compares with conviction rates of up to 32 per cent in the 1970s). “Rapists who end up being convicted in a court of law must regard themselves as exceptionally unlucky“, Joanna Bourke wryly notes in her new book Rape: a history from 1860 to the present. Furthermore services for victims of violence remain underfunded and inadequate, with just 32 rape crisis centres in England and Wales (compared to 84 in 1985). Just how mixed up society’s priorities are is highlighted by Liz Kelly, Professor of Sexualised Violence at London Metropolitan University, who points out there are now three times as many pole dancing clubs than rape crisis centres in the UK.
Depressing though all this is, it is important to remember significant progress has been made already, specifically because the second wave feminism of the late 1960s and early 1970s successfully campaigned for services, legal protection and to get domestic violence seen as a crime. Prior to this the plight of women who were abused was largely ignored by healthcare practitioners, and a man was within his legal right to rape his wife and beat her as long as he used a reasonable degree of chastisement.
Feminist scholars have also focussed attention on the perpetrators of the majority of violence directed at women - men - insisting they take responsibility for their actions. Indeed, with its elevation of toughness, aggression, control, power, dominance and humiliation of much that’s considered female, for the violence to end surely the popular form of masculinity needs to be challenged and, eventually, phased out? It is this line of thinking that lead Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner, authors of the influential reader Men’s Lives, to suggest that, “The man who batters women and/or children should not be viewed as a ‘deviant’ from some healthy ‘norm’, but rather as an ‘over conformist’ to mainstream male norms.”
In conclusion, while there continues to be wide ranging debate among feminists and researchers regarding the causes of violence against women, most agree it arises out of the continuing unequal position of women in society. This damaging status quo will only be changed by women (and concerned men) coming together and pressuring those who hold the reigns of power. In short, we need a new wave of feminist activism. Those who deny this and insist feminism is a historical dinosaur would do well to ponder author and activist David Edwards thought provoking truism that “there is often no greater obstacle to freedom than the assumption that it has already been attained.”
* An edited version of this article was recently published in the Morning Star. firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Lucy Ward, 'Pregnancy bias costs 30,000 jobs', Guardian, 2 February 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2005/feb/02/equality.discriminationatwork
 Mark Gould, 'Market Forces', Guardian (Society), 22 August 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2007/aug/22/guardiansocietysupplement.crime1
 Prison Reform Trust, ‘September 2004 – thousands of women needlessly imprisoned’, http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/subsection.asp?id=332. Polly Curtis, ‘Six thousand women missing from boardrooms, politics and courts’, Guardian, 5 January 2007, http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1983369,00.html.
 Amnesty International UK, ‘Stop violence against women’, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=10220
 Amnesty International UK, ‘Statistics’, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=10309
 Gill Hague and Ellen Malos, Domestic violence. Action for change (New Clarion Press, Cheltenham, 2005), p. 6.
 Peter Gould, ‘Scale of domestic violence uncovered’, BBC News, 18 February 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/uk/2752567.stm
 John Carvel and Steven Morris, 'Alarm at acceptance of abuse by teenage girls', Guardian, 21 March 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/child/story/0,7369,1442371,00.html
 Amnesty International, 'New poll finds a third of people believe women who flirt partially responsible for being raped', 21 November 2005, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=16618
 Sandra Laville, 'Efforts fail to improve rape conviction rates', Guardian, 21 July 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2131481,00.html
 Joanna Bourke, Rape: a history from 1860 to present (Virago Press Ltd, London, 2007).
 Lucy Ward, 'Half rape crisis centres face closure threat', Guardian, 3 July 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,,2117407,00.html
 Liz Kelly, ‘End violence against women blog’, End violence against women, http://endviolenceagainstwomen.blogspot.com/2007/03/three-times-number-of-lap-dancing-clubs.html
 Lyn Shipway, Domestic violence. A handbook for health professionals (Routledge, London, 2004), p. 5.
 Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner, Men's Lives (Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1989), p. 357.
 David Edwards, Free to be human: Intellectual self-defines in an age of illusions (Green Books, Devon, 2000).
The German Left in Troubled Times
by Dan Hough and Michael Koss and Jonathan Olsen
October 30, 2007, The Economist
ASK Ralf Pietras why the Left Party is growing in Duisburg and he offers a ready answer. The coal mines are exhausted, steel is forged by machine and old folk scavenge for bottles to reclaim the deposits. Duisburg, a gritty town at the junction of the Rhine and the Ruhr, has lost 35,000 good jobs in 15 years. In such adversity, the Left Party thrives. Its local membership has quintupled since it began in 2005, to 330. Mr Pietras, spokesman of the Duisburg branch, dreams of 1,000. The local Social Democratic Party (SPD), which ruled the city for 56 years until 2004, has lost half its membership in two decades.
Frighteningly for the SPD, this is a national trend. It has been governing in Berlin, from 1998 to 2005 under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, since then as the junior partner in Angela Merkel's "grand coalition". But as the Left Party gnaws away at its working-class base, the SPD is starting to panic. The clearest sign is a call by the SPD's boss, Kurt Beck, to extend the period for paying unemployment benefit to older workers. Franz Muentefering, the SPD vice-chancellor under Ms Merkel, has denounced the idea as a "U-turn" from reforms enacted by the Schroeder government. The press is speculating that his resignation may be imminent. Mr Beck threatens the foundations of the grand coalition, the Christian Democrats claim.
Why is a small party founded by east German former communists causing national ructions? One reason is that the economic upswing has left so many Germans behind. Unemployment is at its lowest level since the early 1990s, thanks partly to the reforms that Mr Beck now wants to roll back. But many of the new jobs offer lower pay and less security than those lost during the downturn, notes Markus Grabka of DIW, a research institute in Berlin. Relative poverty has jumped, with 17% of Germans earning less than 60% of the median in 2005, up from 12% in 1999. Income-tax cuts have helped the rich; the middle class has shrunk.
On these matters the Left Party is saying what most Germans seem to be thinking. According to one recent poll, 82% of Germans want to lower the retirement age from 67 (reversing another reform), two-thirds want a minimum wage and 72% think the grand coalition should do more to promote social justice. Half want German troops out of Afghanistan, but the Left Party is the only one that unqualifiedly agrees. Unlike the Greens and the Free Democrats, it has no reason to flirt with either party in the grand coalition (the SPD refuses to consider it as a potential partner at federal level).
It likes to claim it is Germany's only real opposition party.
This has come about mostly by luck. The Left Party is the third incarnation of East Germany's Socialist Unity Party, which had 2.3m members when the regime collapsed in 1989. It struggled back to life as the Party of Democratic Socialism, trying to be a normal party by catering to Ossis who felt swamped by unification. The Left Party is still strongest in the east: it wins almost a quarter of votes in the six eastern states, has been in a coalition in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and is now the SPD's partner in the city of Berlin.
It was a bust-up within the SPD that gave the Left Party its purchase in the west. Social Democrats dismayed by Mr Schroeder's reforms broke away to form Alternative Labour and Social Justice (WASG), which fought alongside the PDS in the 2005 election. Between them they took almost 9% of the vote. They formally merged into the Left Party in June.
This hybrid works mainly because there is no risk of its assuming national responsibilities anytime soon. It has two leaders: Lothar Bisky, a film-studies professor from Brandenburg (though Gregor Gysi is the party's true eastern star), and Oskar Lafontaine, a firebrand from Saarland given to populist rhetoric, who was once SPD chairman. The SPD loathes Mr Lafontaine for abruptly quitting as Mr Schroeder's finance minister in 1999. It has just published "Oskar's World", a supposedly incriminating compendium of remarks by and about him.
The Left Party's policy documents drip with hostility to capitalism. It leans toward pacifism in foreign policy and against the hawkish European Central Bank.
The long-term goal, says Dietmar Bartsch, its general secretary, is "another society" to be achieved by "evolution, not revolution". Higher taxes and lower defence spending would bring greater equality.
The party's eastern wing has communist remnants (and a libertarian strain, exemplified by Saxony's Julia Bonk, who favours a "right to get high"). But its leaders have been sobered by proximity to power. In the city of Berlin, the Left Party has abetted austerity measures such as pay cuts for public workers that would be deemed heresy in parts of the SPD. Such decisions show that "we are not merely a fair-weather party," says Harald Wolf, Berlin's economy minister.
Pragmatism is less evident in the former WASG, which is dominated by the politics of protest. Though less inclined to call themselves socialists, the westerners care less about fiscal responsibility. Lacking experience in power, they are unwilling to get it by compromise. AndrA(c) Brie, an eastern moderniser, recently warned westerners (and some easterners) against "black and white thinking" reminiscent of communist times. The Left Party's democratic credentials are often questioned, but Dan Hough says in a new book* that its leaders are all democrats. The main obstacles to co-operation with the SPD in the west are Mr Lafontaine and the stigma of the party's communist past.
The Left Party's short-term aims are thus modest. In most western states its vote is close to the 5% level needed to get into the legislature. It has already cracked Bremen's and could enter up to three more next year. Even in fertile Duisburg, the SPD's shrunken membership still dwarfs that of the Left Party and it dominates the local media, complains Mr Pietras. Hence the immediate ambition, says Mr Bartsch, "to shift the axis of politics to the left."
The SPD's troubles suggest this may be happening. That does not guarantee the Left Party a bright future. It could be hurt by a more populist SPD, by greater prosperity (incomes have picked up during the revival of the past two years) or by its own internal contradictions. But it could also evolve into a permanent candidate for coalition with the SPD (and perhaps the Greens), including at federal level. The risk then would be of losing what makes it distinctive.
But the SPD's panic may not truly subside until the Left Party becomes a potential partner, not a competitor.
* "The Left Party in Contemporary German Politics", by Dan Hough, Michael Koss and Jonathan Olsen. Palgrave Macmillan.
Respected Marine Lawyer Alleges Military Injustices
Daniel Zwerdling, NPR
All Things Considered, October 30, 2007 · By all accounts, Colby Vokey is a model officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, at one point helping command an artillery unit in Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1991.
For the past four years, Vokey has served as chief of all the Corps' defense lawyers in the western United States — and he's played a key role in some of the military's most sensitive legal issues, including the murder investigation in Haditha, Iraq, and in the debate about detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
"Colby Vokey?" muses retired Col. Jane Siegel "Integrity almost seems like a word too small to describe him."
Says Lt. Col. Matthew Cord, "He's just one of the best."
So when Vokey announced recently that he wanted to leave the Corps, it said something troubling about the military system of justice that he's served for almost 20 years. Vokey charges that some commanders and officials in the Bush administration have abused the system of justice, and he's going to retire from the Corps May 1, 2008.
People who know him say that privately, Vokey has acknowledged he is "angry" and "bitter." Publicly, Vokey describes himself as "fed up."
"I think changes to the system are well-overdue," he told NPR. "And it's a little frustrating when you see problems are highlighted time and time and again."
So how did Vokey, who's stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, evolve from a gung-ho warrior helping command an artillery unit in Desert Storm to a disillusioned officer?
Vokey says he can remember the exact moments that he decided to become a Marine, and then later, a Marine lawyer.
Just after he arrived as a freshman at Texas A&M, he met an officer in the Corps. "He was in his Marine uniform — the green trousers, the tan shirt, the ribbons, the rank, his hat," Vokey said. "Every time he made a movement it was sharp, it was crisp. You knew who was in charge. And it was him. He looked like he was one of the best. And I wanted to be one of the best."
Years later, after he had enlisted and fought in Desert Storm, Vokey got called to jury duty in a court-martial.
Vokey said it was a routine case against a Marine accused of writing bad checks. On the surface, he said, it resembled any trial in the civilian world — there was a military judge, a military prosecutor and a military defense lawyer, which the Corps always provides to defendants for free. But Vokey said when he and the other jurors began deliberating, he saw one of the biggest potential problems that can prevent service members from getting a fair trial: the senior officer on the jury tried to order everybody else how to decide the verdict.
"We walked into the deliberation room, closed the door, sat down and he said, 'All right, let's convict this guy. Let's get out of here'," Vokey said. "I said, 'Whoa, sir, I think we're supposed to talk about the evidence first.' And he said, 'Jesus Christ, you think this guy's not guilty?'"
Battles in the Courtroom
Vokey said that's when he decided to fight his battles in the courtroom — to make sure that commanders never manipulate the system of justice.
Commanders have the power to do just that, if they wanted: The same commander who accuses a Marine of breaking the law might also pick the members of the jury, which will decide if the commander is right. And that same commander might supervise the lawyer who defends the Marine against his accusations.
But Vokey teaches his defense lawyers that they have to fight commanders with every legal weapon they've got, even if it makes the commanders angry.
When he trains young Marine defense lawyers, he tells them "you have one loyalty, and that's to the client," Vokey said.
Top commanders said they appreciate and need courageous defense lawyers like Vokey.
"We are an American military," said Tom Hemingway, who retired earlier this year as Brigadier General and legal advisor at the Pentagon. "We're here to support American values, and one of the things that we have in our disciplinary system, as a requirement, is that the trial system be fair."
Hemingway said that if troops believed that commanders manipulate the system of justice, "it would destroy morale. You want people in an all-volunteer force to serve willingly. If they think the system is unfair, then they're not going to re-enlist."
Cases in Point
But Vokey says that is one reason he's feeling demoralized: he has fought cases in the past few years where officials have tried to sway the system.
For example, after officials filed criminal charges against eight Marines on the grounds that they were involved in massacring 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, the Corps assembled one of the biggest legal teams in recent history to prosecute the men. But Vokey says officials told him he had to use a much smaller team to defend them. "It made me very angry," Vokey says. "We didn't have the people and the tools that we needed to adequately defend these Marines. It really sends a message that the Marine Corp's trying to railroad these guys."
The prosecution argued that the Marines went on a senseless rampage; Vokey argued that the men fought against insurgents as they were trained to do and when civilians tragically got caught in the way, officials decided to turn the troops into scapegoats.
After Vokey fought fellow officers over the issue, a key general gave him permission to organize a much bigger military defense team, which has persuaded military investigators to drop many of the original charges.
Vokey has also watched thousands of Marines come back to Camp Pendleton from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have developed post-traumatic stress disorder or other serious mental health problems, and then taken illegal drugs or refused to show up at the base. To punish them, commanders have kicked them out of the service, with few or no benefits.
Vokey says he agrees that commanders must punish soldiers who break the rules or discipline would fall apart. But he says the system is too rigid and should blend discipline with compassion.
"What's upsetting is we've created the situation" by sending the Marines to war, Vokey said. "They fought for their country. And if we broke them, we should fix them."
The U.S. has imprisoned hundreds of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay in a military legal system that Vokey denounces as "horrific." Vokey saw the system first-hand when he agreed two years ago to defend a teenager there who had been charged with murdering a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Vokey said he knew the case would be difficult, but he discovered that the legal system at Guantanamo is a "sham."
Vokey said the military staff constantly harassed him and interfered with his defense work by making it difficult even to meet with his client or show his client the government's evidence against him. The teenager confessed to killing the soldier, but he told Vokey he confessed after being shackled for hours in excruciating positions and bombarded by screeching music and flashing lights.
FBI agents have reported seeing detainees treated in similar ways and investigators at human rights groups have reported evidence suggesting that detainees are routinely abused.
Vokey calls the system "disgraceful."
"Anytime you want to subvert the rule of law to the power of a government, you've got a very bad thing brewing," Vokey told NPR. "As an officer in the Marine Corps I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And now we are perpetrating something that if any other country in the world was doing, we would likely step in and stop it."
Hemingway, who until recently was the top lawyer advising U.S. officials on how to handle detainees at Guantanamo, dismisses those charges. Hemingway said he has asked the staff to investigate complaints by detainees, including Vokey's client, and "we have found absolutely nothing to substantiate that." He added, "I know of no one in uniform who signed up to embarrass the United States of America by running a system that doesn't meet what we consider to be appropriate standards."
Vokey, undeterred, said the legal system at Guantanamo has left him feeling "disgusted."
'A Chilling Message'
When asked to identify exactly which officials in the military and the Bush administration he believes have abused the system of justice, Vokey avoids giving an answer. When pressed, Vokey went to his bookshelf, pulled out the Manual for Courts-Martial, and read from Article 88: "'Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, vice president, Congress'" and a list of other officials, he said, "'shall be punished as a court martial may direct.'"
"I need to be careful," Vokey said.
Given that he speaks out like that, Vokey said he was not completely surprised when an official at USMC headquarters called him recently to her office in Washington and fired him as chief of defense counsels in the western United States.
Officials at the Corps would not give NPR an interview despite repeated requests.
But when former Marine Corps lawyers heard about Vokey's firing, they were incensed. Siegel said Vokey's firing sent a chilling message that some officials don't want military lawyers to defend the Constitution too vigorously.
"I believe that Colby Vokey was pulled out of his position because he's doing too good a job," Siegel said. "I think that the people in Washington, D.C., don't like that."
After Siegel and other well-known lawyers wrote a blistering letter of protest about Vokey's firing and lobbied top commanders at Marine headquarters, officials backed down and reinstated him. But critics say the Corps is just doing damage control because officials know that Vokey is planning to leave on his own.
Public Invited to the Dedication of Arlington Southwest
Big Bend Veterans for Peace invite the public to the dedication of their chapter's memorial, Arlington Southwest, fashioned after Arlington National Cemetery. The dedication ceremony, including only a reading of the names of Texan military fatalities in Iraq and the playing of Taps, will take place on Veterans Day, November 11, 2007, at 2 p.m., at the memorial site four miles east of Alpine on Hwy 90.
The 354 tombstones, made of papercrete and fabricated by chapter members, friends, and supporters of the memorial, equal the number of Texan military casualties as of this date. Mark Battista and Tom Curry, the VFP artists overseeing the construction of Arlington Southwest, point out that the memorial also honors all victims of the occupation of Iraq.
Many Veterans for Peace chapters have established Arlington memorials but this will be the only one in the nation that is a permanent installation. Brian Kokernot donated the use of his family's ranch land along Highway 90 for the Arlington Southwest memorial, hoping to create a reminder for Big Bend residents and visitors of the cost of war and our responsibilities as citizens to speak out publicly on issues with such grave consequences as war.
Big Bend participants in the Arlington Southwest installation believe they represent the majority of U.S. citizens who are against the Iraq war; they emphasize their diversity, including people with backgrounds in horticulture, architecture, teaching, construction, art, law, building trades, students, alternative building technologies, small business, physics, social work, a former school board member, and more.
Local Veterans for Peace members concur that Arlington Southwest is a necessary way to honor our troops because they note that our government has failed to honor its own troops by banning photographs of soldiers' bodies being returned to the U.S. Members of the organization use the words "honor" and "respect" when they refer to their fellow veterans and find Arlington Southwest a place for grieving and sadness over the losses of war. When asked to specify the meaning of Arlington Southwest, several chapter members said they agreed with Vietnam War veteran Tom Curry's statement:
"The reason for making Arlington Southwest, to me, is to show in a clear, dramatic way the cost and consequences of an unnecessary and illegal war started by leaders who have never seen military combat. If we could have made tombstones to represent all the U.S. troops lost and all the Iraqi civilians lost, it would probably cover most of the Kokernot ranch."
The Big Bend group, chartered in 2007, is the 151st chapter of the national veterans organization, which was founded in 1986.
Big Bend Veterans for Peace, Chapter 151
P.O. Box 30
Alpine TX 79831
Kucinich Questions Bush's Mental Health
Oct 30 03:36 PM US/Eastern
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich questioned President Bush's mental health in light of comments he made about a nuclear Iran precipitating World War III.
"I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health," Kucinich, an Ohio congressman, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board on Tuesday. "There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact."
Kucinich, known for his liberal views, trails far behind the leading candidates in most Democratic polls. He was in Philadelphia for a debate at Drexel University.
Bush made the remarks at a news conference earlier this month.
He said: "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Kucinich said he doesn't believe his comments about the president's mental health are irresponsible, according to a story posted on the newspaper's Web site.
"You cannot be a president of the United States who's wanton in his expression of violence," Kucinich said. "There's a lot of people who need care. He might be one of them. If there isn't something wrong with him, then there's something wrong with us. This, to me, is a very serious question."
30 October 2007
It looks like Americans are getting smarter about what is actually affordable. But this isn't the last word. Lets look at the broader economic context that is likely to push public opinion even further in the same direction.
Soaring oil prices will translate into widespread inflation after the prices have a chance to filter down during the next year -- into an increase for everything that moves by oil; whether by ship, plan, train, or truck, tractors on the farm or road building equipment. (it doesn't matter whether anyone believes we're at peak oil production or not; all that matters is that world demand seems to be sending oil prices higher for most of the last decade) If the fed cuts interest rates to try to revive an economy plagued by the end of the housing bubble and high consumer debt, then it means that foreigners will likely stop lending the US about $2 billion a day in unbacked loans, largely to buy oil and stuff from China. Why lend when the treasury notes you hold yield less than inflation?
If the fed raises the prime rate, then the economy sinks into recession. If they lower it, then the dollar sinks even faster than now. The sinking dollar is helping to raise the price of oil in the world market due to international competition for a limited supply. It looks like we may be caught in a "liquidity trap" where lowering interest rates fails to stimulate the economy because of the dollar's falling value. This leads to the syndrome they used to call "stagflation" during the oil crisis of the 1970's. In my opinion, a good explanation of how various factors and trade-offs interact is at this link:
-- Roger, Austin
Three-fourths of Americans believe that being smarter about development and improving public transportation are better long-term solutions for reducing traffic congestion than building new roads, according to a survey sponsored by the National Association of Realtors(R) and Smart Growth America. The 2007 Growth and Transportation Survey details what Americans think about how development affects their immediate community. Nearly three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the role growth and development play in climate change, as well as remaining concerned about traffic congestion. Half of those surveyed think improving public transit would be the best way to reduce congestion, and 26 percent believe developing communities that reduce the need to drive would be the better alternative. Only one in five said building new roads was the answer....
Read more here.
The Bank of the South: An Alternative to IMF and World Bank Dominance
by Stephen Lendman, October 30, 2007
In July, 2004, the IMF and World Bank commemorated the 60th anniversary of their founding at Bretton Woods, NH to provide a financial framework of assistance for the postwar world after the expected defeat of Germany and Japan. With breathtaking hypocrisy, an October, 2004 Development Committee Communiqué stated: "As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Bretton Woods Institutions....we recommit ourselves to supporting efforts by developing countries to pursue sustainable growth, sound macroeconomic policies, debt sustainability, open trade, job creation, poverty reduction and good governance." Phew.
In fact, for 63 hellish years, both these institutions achieved mirror opposite results on everything the above comment states. From inception, their mission was to integrate developing nations into the Global North-dominated world economy and use debt repayment as the way to transfer wealth from poor countries to powerful bankers in rich ones.
The scheme is called debt slavery because new loans are needed to service old ones, indebtedness rises, and borrowing terms stipulate harsh one-way "structural adjustment" provisions that include:
-- privatizations of state enterprises;
-- government deregulation;
-- deep cuts in social spending;
-- wage freezes or cuts;
-- unrestricted free market access for foreign corporations;
-- corporate-friendly tax cuts;
-- crackdowns on trade unionists; and
-- savage repression for non-believers under a system incompatible with social democracy.
Everywhere the scheme is the same: huge public wealth transfers to elitist private hands, exploding public debt, an ever-widening disparity between the super-rich and desperate poor, and an aggressive nationalism to justify huge spending on security for aggressive surveillance, mass incarceration plus repression and torture for social control.
An Alternative to Debt Slavery - The Bank of the South
Last December, Hugo Chavez announced his idea for a Banco del Sur, or Bank of the South, as part of his crusade against the institutions of international capital he calls "tools of Washington." The bank will be officially launched at a presidential November 3 summit in Caracas, where it's to be headquartered, with seven founding member-states - Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.
On October 12, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe announced his nation agreed to become the eighth member but said "The decision is not a rejection to the World Bank or Inter-American Development Bank, but a sign of solidarity and fraternity towards the South American community." At this time, only four South American states aren't included - Chile, Peru, Guyana and Surinam, but Chile seems likely to come aboard following Colombia's lead, and the others may decide to join them.
Finance ministers from the founding countries met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 8 to finalize the Bank's Founding Document. Many key operating issues have yet to be resolved, but unofficial information was that each nation will commit 10% of its international reserves and have equal oversight over the new institution. In a concluding news conference, Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega stated: the participating countries "have been able to overcome all obstacles that were in the way of an understanding around the formation of the Bank of the South. We can now say that the (bank) is close to becoming a reality" even though Brazil (Latin America's largest economy) hasn't yet formalized its entry.
Venezuelan finance minister Rodrigo Cabeza explained the bank will help develop the region by offering South Americans more credits. It's being "created to build a new architecture that assumes an improved relationship of the bank and its capacity to offer credits for its people." It also aims to increase liquidity and revive socioeconomic development and infrastructure investments in participating countries and keep them outside the restrictive control of the IMF and World Bank that are fast losing influence and being phased out of the region.
In 2005, 80% of IMF's $81 billion loan portfolio was to Latin America. Today, it's 1% with nearly all its $17 billion in outstanding loans to Turkey and Pakistan. The World Bank is also being rejected. Venezuela had already paid off its IMF and World Bank debt ahead of schedule when Hugo Chavez symbolically announced on April 30: "We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone." Ecuador's Raphael Correa is following suit. He cleared his country's IMF debt, suspended World Bank loans, accused the WB of trying to extort money from him when he was economy and finance minister in 2005, and last April declared the Bank's country representative persona non grata in an extraordinary diplomatic slap in the face.
The Banco del Sur will replace these repressive institutions with $7 billion in startup capital when it begins operating in 2008. It will be under "a new financial architecture" for regional investment with the finance ministers of each member nation sitting on the bank's administrative council with equal authority over its operations as things now stand. Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabeza stressed the banks Latin roots saying: "The idea is to rely on a development agency for us, led by us" to finance public and private development and regional integration projects. He added: "There will not be credit subjected to economic policies. There will not be credit that produces a calamity for our people and as a result, it will not be a tool of domination" like the international lending agencies.
Hugo Chavez's vision is to liberate the region's countries from IMF, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IBD) control that condemn millions to poverty through their lending practices. Helped by windfall oil profits, his government is already doing it with an unprecendented commitment to provide financial aid and below-market priced oil to regional and other countries. So far this year, it's on the order of around $9 billion, and, unlike the Washington-controlled kind, it comes at low cost and with good will, a cooperative spirit and few if any strings.
Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recognizes Chavez's efforts and stated his support for the Banco del Sur on an October 10 visit to Caracas. He said "One of the advantages of having a Bank of the South is that it would reflect the perspectives of those in the South (while in contrast IMF and World Bank conditions) hinder (regional) development effectiveness."
Stiglitz met with Hugo Chavez on his visit and praised his redistributive social policies. He also criticized Washington Consensus neoliberal practices that exploit the regions' people, "undermin(e)....Andean cooperation, and it is part of the American strategy of divide and conquer, a strategy trying to get as much of the benefits for American companies" at the expense of the region and its people.
Venezuela's acting ambassador to the Permanent Mission to the UN, Aura Mahuampi Rodriguez de Ortiz, warned the world body about Latin American debt during her participation in the General Debate on Macroeconomic Policies in October. She stressed: "The persistence of the foreign debt of the developing countries affects negatively on its process of development. It is not worthy to direct resources for the development of poor countries if such resources end up directed to the payment of the foreign debt" instead of going to economic development internally. She also spoke of the new Bank of the South, how it will help strengthen regional integration and also fairly distribute investments and finance projects to reduce poverty and social exclusion.
A less publicized Bank of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) will also begin operating by year end under "a new regional financial architecture under principles that create a new form of channeling financial resources" to its four country alliance - Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Chavez first proposed ALBA as an alternative to the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) in 2001 with Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia its original members in December, 2004. Nicaragua then joined the alliance in January, 2007 under its newly elected president, Daniel Ortega, who signed on as his first act in office. ALBA's goal is ambitious. It's the comprehensive integration of the region and development of its "the social state" for all its people. It's boldly based on member states complementarity, not competition; solidarity, not domination; cooperation, not exploitation; and respect for each participating nation's sovereign right to be free from the grip of other countries and corporate giants.
In April, the 5th ALBA summit was held in Caracas to discuss ways to improve the alliance. Initiatives covered included a Permanent (coordinating) Secretariat and a plan to create 12 public companies to be co-managed by ALBA member states. Its goal is to strengthen key economic sectors in areas of energy, agriculture, telecommunications, infrastructure, industrial supplies and cement production. ALBA country foreign ministers then agreed in June to create a development Bank of ALBA to help finance these ventures with low-cost credit. It will complement the Banco del Sur and also be headquartered in Caracas.
Uncertain Future Prospects
Socially responsible regional banks, like those discussed above, will challenge the dominant institutions of finance capital if they fulfill their promise. But therein lies the problem. These new institutions aren't panaceas, and they may end up letting capital interests exploit them for their own advantage. In addition, financial autonomy alone won't free the region from Washington's grip without greater change. What's needed are sweeping nationalizations of basic industries, an end to one-way WTO-style trade deals, socially redistributing national resources, developing local economies, achieving land and housing reform plus a sweeping commitment to social equity and a resolve to end a 25 year neoliberal nightmare. From 1960 to 1980, the region's per capita income growth was 82%. From 1980 to 2000, however, it was 9%, and from 2000 to 2005 only 4%. For the region, it meant sweeping poverty, inequality and the most extreme disparity between the super-rich and desperate poor in the world.
Change is needed, and Venezuela under Hugo Chavez has done most in the region to achieve it. Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas just presented his government's 2008 budget to the National Assembly that allocates 46% of it to social spending. It devotes special attention to health and education but also to subsidized and free food, land reform, housing, micro credit, job training, cooperatives and more as Chavez continues to use his nation's resources to address the needs of his people. Since he took office, social spending per person is up more than threefold and in 2006 was 20.9% of GDP.
Chavez now has an ally in Ecuador under Raphael Correa who's early efforts are promising. Hopefully, they'll continue under a new constitution to be drafted in the next six months and then put to a national referendum next year. Other Bank of the South founding countries like Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, however, claim to be center-left but, in fact, embrace 1990s neoliberalism, and financial autonomy won't change that. The Bank of the South will only work if it fulfills a mandate to prioritize local needs and development, not corporate ones. That's a tall order, and achieving it won't be easy with its dominant member, Brazil under Lula, closely tied to Washington and in its grip.
Nonetheless, small signs of change are emerging, the Bank of the South may be one of them, and a new generation of leftist leaders may in the end break Washington's weakening (but still strong) hold on the region. That's the hope, and every step forward means more power to the people and another possible world.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.
By Ghali Hassan, Oct 30, 2007, 09:33
While in Moscow in October 2007, U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice still had the time to preach U.S. “democracy” and “human rights”. Meanwhile in Iraq, daily indiscriminate bombing raids by U.S. forces on Iraqi civilians are continuing in flagrant violation of international human rights law. The aim of this deliberate hypocrisy is to manufacture delusions and induce moral bankruptcy among the population, and to justify the use of violence to further U.S.-Western imperialist agenda.
As the U.S. Secretary met with Russian “activists”, U.S. occupying forces in Iraq killed at least 34 innocent Iraqi civilians, including six women and nine children, and injured many more near Lake Tharthar, north of Baghdad. While these crimes are daily occurrence, the war against the Iraqi people has increased significantly. In addition to the rise in troop’s number – 170, 000 U.S. troops supplemented by 180,000 private mercenaries –, the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007 over the same period in 2006 has increased by five-fold. More than 30 tons of those have been cluster weapons, which targeted civilians and always resulted in a massacre of innocent civilians each time they are dropped.
As the Occupation continues, the death rate of Iraqis has doubled every year since 2003. The latest survey put the number of death to more than an estimated 1.22 million Iraqis, mostly women and children have been murdered since the 2003 U.S. aggression. The mass murder of Iraqis is not even discussed in public and the UN continues to play the role of an accomplice.
In addition to the mass murder of civilians, at least 4.5 million Iraqis have fled their homes because of the violence, and the numbers are rising steadily. More than half of them is internally displaced, refugees in their own country. They are enduring daily harsh and miserable living conditions, far worse than they have ever endured before the unprovoked aggression against their nation. The remainder have sought refuge outside Iraq. Only a small number were able to settle in the West, and the U.S. is the least interested in their wellbeing. As a result of U.S. aggression, most Iraqis have suffered the loss of a family member; more than 43 per cent of Iraqis live in absolute poverty; 70 per cent lack adequate water supplies; and 80 per cent lack sanitation (UNHCR, 2007).
The U.S. record of flagrant violation of human rights and contempt for International Law is nowhere more violent than in Iraq. On 12 May 1996, Madeleine Albright, the then Secretary of State in the Clinton’s Administration described the mass murder of 500,000 innocent Iraqi children – a direct result of the U.S.-Britain enforced genocidal sanctions – as: “a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it”. While the U.S. is well-known as an example of tyranny and the greatest enemy of democracy and human rights, very few people thought the U.S. was preparing for the total destruction of Iraq and mass murder of Iraqi civilians when the U.S. began its war of aggression to destroy the Iraqi State.
The “New” Iraq, designed by George Bush and his gang of hardcore Zionists, is a brain-drained and empty of human resources. In Bush’s thinking, the cradle of human civilisation would have to be wiped off the map and replaced by a new (Americanised) Iraq. As we know, Iraq’s cultural heritage and history have been deliberately looted and destroyed. Iraq’s professionals, including academics, scientists, doctors and teachers have been systematically liquidated in cold blood by U.S.-Israeli trained and financed murders and death squads. For rejecting Bush agenda and his Zionist scheme for their nation, Iraqis are living in state of fear and terror, and stripped of their basic human rights and dignity.
The deliberate destruction of Iraq and the creation of a dependent U.S. proxy serving U.S.-Western interests is part of the U.S.-Israel imperialist agenda. It is now clear that the U.S. primary goal in Iraq has to do with the protection of the Israeli fascist regime and U.S. imperialist domination of the region and its oil resources. Every one knows that U.S. rhetoric (of democracy and justice) is nothing short of fascist propaganda masquerading as “democracy” and “human rights”. It is worth remembering that when Adolf Hitler invaded other nations (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, etc.), Hitler uses the same concocted “human rights” pretexts to justify his war crimes.
Today’s Iraq is a lawless land where foreign mercenaries, and expatriate criminals and extremists are terrorising the civilian population with impunity. By arming and financing one faction against the other, the U.S. exacerbates the violence and hence justifies the ongoing Occupation. This criminal colonial policy is not new, as many have suggested. In order to serve their imperialist interests, U.S. and Western governments have always had strong love affairs with criminals and terrorists. Indeed, U.S. support for terrorism is part of U.S. strategy to continue the Occupation of Iraq.
Speaking of terrorists, Kurdish warlords and their militia in northern Iraq have been used by Western governments and Israel and proved to be reliable pawns. The Kurds treacherous collaboration in the murderous Occupation of Iraq is just one epoch in their history of treason and serving imperialism’s interests at the expense of ordinary Kurds. The Kurdish armed groups, the so-called Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) or Kurdistan Workers Party, are now described by the Western media as “Kurdish fighters” fighting for autonomy and are allowed to remain in a safe haven in U.S.-occupied northern Iraq. Of course, this sounds like a decent group of ‘freedom fighters’, like Roland Regan’s Contras murderers in Latin America. Forgotten is the decades-long history of the PKK campaign of terror against the Turkey.
In contrast, the image of the legitimate Iraqi Resistance against the murderous Occupation is distorted and the Resistance is portrayed as an “insurgency” and a collection of “al-Qaeda” terrorists. Likewise, Afghans who are resisting the occupation of their country are labelled “terrorists”. The democratically-elected Palestinian Resistant Movement (HAMAS) is also labelled ‘terrorists’ for legitimately resisting Israel’s terror. Hence, Palestinian children have to suffer the wrath of a U.S.-EU blockade enforced by Israel’s terror.
In 2006, the Bush Administration was behind Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah fighters there. In addition to the destruction of Lebanon vital infrastructure, Israeli aggression killed some 1,500 innocent civilians and turned more than half a million into refugees, with tacit U.S.-EU approval. Condoleezza Rice called Israel’s premeditated terror, the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”. And to make the situation worse, the U.S. and its allies not only refused to condemn or stop Israel’s terror against the civilians population, but the U.S. shipped bombs to Israel knowing in advance that the Israeli army was deliberately targeting innocent Lebanese civilians. Now, compare this with U.S. opposition to Turkey’s plan to stop Kurdish terror.
It follows, the term ‘terrorist’ is reserved for those who are rejecting U.S. domination and fighting to free themselves from U.S.-Israel Occupation. As rightly described by the late Pakistani scholar, Eqbal Ahmad, ‘terrorism’ is a floating signifier attached at will to Western enemies to evoke moral revulsion. The vagueness and inconsistency of its definition is key to its political usefulness.
Furthermore, let’s take a look at the U.S.-West hypocrisy of holding Turkey responsible for allegedly committed an “Armenian genocide” some 90 years ago while deliberately ignoring the ongoing Iraqi Genocide. As Professor Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University in New York accurately elaborated, that genocide is being instrumentalised in a way that mass slaughters which implicate the U.S adversaries are being named “genocide” and those that implicate the U.S. and its friends are not being named genocide. In the case of Turkey – a U.S.-NATO ally –, the aim is to blackmail Turkey and distort the image of Muslims and Islam, and associate Muslims with violence and deflect guilt away from U.S.-Western perpetrators of the Iraqi Genocide.
If you reflect on the ongoing violence and suffering inflicted on millions of people around the world you will realise that whether it is the mass murder of innocent Iraqi civilians and the deliberate starvation of Palestinian children or the destruction of the environment and the spread of poverty, the U.S. and its Western allies are the main perpetrators. They are on the move looking for a fight, continually fabricating lies and engineering crises in order to justify violence, as if the current sad world’s state of affairs is not enough. And they get away with whatever war crimes they have committed.
Tony Blair, the still-free and unindicted war criminal, continues to see himself performing his role as propagandist for the “values” he “shared” with George Bush. Blair’s “new” role is preaching the same fascist ideology he preached while Britain prime minister. At the expense of the lives of innocent Palestinian children, his mission is the “security” of Israel. Important issues such as the Gaza blockade – where Palestinian children are dying from starvation and malnutrition – or the human rights of some 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, including a large number of innocent women and children, enduring Israel’s brutal treatments of sadistic torture, sexual abuses and murder, are deliberately ignored.
When it comes to Israel, U.S.-Western governments employ the most blatant form of hypocrisy. For example, despite Israel’s chronic violations of international human rights law, breach of countless UN Resolutions regarding the occupation of Palestinian land, and Israel appetite for unprovoked acts of aggression, U.S.-Western governments provide unconditional political, financial and military support to Israel. The ongoing U.S. threat to attack Iran is jus a case in point. The U.S. government, with its massive arsenal of nuclear weapons, accuses Iran of posing threat to U.S. and Israel security and “having ambitions” to develop nuclear weapons. Of course, there is no hard evidence to support these concocted pretexts. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is allowing frequent inspections of its facilities by the UN Nuclear Watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Unlike Iran, Israel has refused to sign the NPT or allowed inspection of its facilities. It is clear that Israel possesses a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, and has threatened to use these weapons against countries in the region. Israel continues to illegally occupy Palestinian land. Despite all of this, Israel has the full blessing of the U.S.-Western governments.
It is worth noting that three-quarters of Americans are against U.S.-Israel military threat to attack Iran. The same number of Americans favours a diplomatic solution to the (engineered) crisis. The drumbeat for war against Iran is pushed by U.S. Zionists (the so-called ‘Neocons’), the powerful pro-Israel Jewish Lobby, and by the Israeli regime. Just take a look inside one of these pro-war U.S.-based ‘think-tanks’ (institutes), and count those with “dual loyalty” to Israel and (maybe) to the U.S.
The push for war with Iran is part of a fascist anti-Muslims/anti-Arabs propaganda campaign in the U.S. and Europe. There are concerted efforts by inherently racist Zionists, the U.S.-Western media and the entertainment industry to dehumanised and vilified Arabs. Take a look at how the mass killing of innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians is justified and applauded by U.S.-Western leaders and sold as part of U.S.-Western “shared values” to spread “democracy” and “human rights”. The campaign is a deliberate effort to spread fear and hatred, and build public support for war on Muslim nations, including Iran.
In the U.S., thousands of Muslim immigrants and American citizens have been illegally hounded in witch-hunt roundups, held in secret detention centres, “black holes”, where they disappear for months into extreme solitary confinement, and many illegally deported without due process. Their “crime” is their Muslim faith. (For more, see Chris Hedges, Truthdig, 29/10/2007).
The immoral and illegal policy of “extraordinary rendition” in which CIA agents kidnap innocent Muslims and so-called “terrorism suspects” anywhere in the world and illegally transfer them to prisons in countries where they are tortured on behalf of the U.S. or sent them to secret CIA prisons (“black sites”) hidden across Europe, where they are tortured by CIA agents is flagrant violation of international human rights law. Many Muslims, mostly innocent, include prisoners of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq have ended-up in the Pentagon official Concentration Camp at Guantánamo Bay where some of them were tortured to death.
Furthermore, Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, including women and children, are imprisoned in countless U.S.-run prisons throughout Iraq. They are denied basic human rights and enduring systematic torture, abuse and murder in violations of International Law, including the UN Convention and the Geneva Conventions against torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. The infamous Abu Ghraib (where George Bush known to have perfected the practice of torture) is just the tip of the iceberg in America’s global network of torture centres.
The Russians must be wondering about the U.S. Secretary preaching “democracy” and “human rights” in their country while deliberately ignoring not only the inequality and violations of human rights in her own country – where at least 50 million of her fellow Americans (mostly African Americans) are denied health care and treated with contempt –, but also a catalogue of U.S. government violations of International Law and contempt for human lives around the world.
In sum, the primary aim of U.S.-Western deliberate hypocrisy is to control the public, induce moral bankruptcy and justify the use of violence to further U.S.-Western imperialist agenda, using “democracy” and “human rights” as political tools. Thus, as long as U.S.-Western leaders continue to ignore their own war crimes and their complicity in war crimes, they have no moral authority or credibility to judge other countries or interfere in the affairs of other countries.
Ghali Hassan is an independent writer living in Australia.
Rumsfeld Flees France, Fearing Arrest
IPS News, October 30, 2007
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fled France today fearing arrest over charges of "ordering and authorizing" torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military's detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, unconfirmed reports coming from Paris suggest.
U.S. embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush's "war on terror" for six years.
Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.
According to activists in France, who greeted Rumsfeld, shouting "murderer" and "war criminal" at the breakfast meeting venue, U.S. embassy officials remained tight-lipped about the former defense secretary's whereabouts citing "security reasons".
Anti-torture protesters in France believe that the defense secretary fled over the open border to Germany, where a war crimes case against Rumsfeld was dismissed by a federal court. But activists point out that under the Schengen agreement that ended border checkpoints across a large part of the European Union, French law enforcement agents are allowed to cross the border into Germany in pursuit of a fleeing fugitive.
"Rumsfeld must be feeling how Saddam Hussein felt when U.S. forces were hunting him down," activist Tanguy Richard said. "He may never end up being hanged like his old friend, but he must learn that in the civilized world, war crime doesn't pay."
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) along with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) filed the complaint on Thursday after learning that Rumsfeld was scheduled to visit Paris.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
US grants Blackwater immunity
Tue, 30 Oct 2007 03:12:43
The US State Department promises Blackwater bodyguards immunity in its investigation into the massacre of Iraqi civilians by the firm.
"Once you give immunity, you can't take it away," a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told AP.
That means it's possible no criminal charges will be brought, or, if they are, it may take months.
Three senior law enforcement officials were quoted by AP as saying that all the Blackwater bodyguards involved were given the legal protections as investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security sought to find out what happened.
The bureau is an arm of the State Department. The investigative misstep comes in the wake of already-strained relations between the United States and Iraq, which is demanding the right to launch its own prosecution of the Blackwater bodyguards.
On September 2007 a Blackwater team guarding a State Department convoy in Baghdad fatally shot 17 Iraqis near a bustling traffic circle. The incident prompted US and Iraqi officials to launch an investigation into the shooting. The preliminary results of the investigation revealed that the shooting was unprovoked, despite the firm's claims that its guards had been attacked before the incident.
U.S. Military Ignored Evidence of Iraqi-Made EFPs
Analysis by Gareth Porter*
WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (IPS) - When the U.S. military command accused the Iranian Quds Force last January of providing the armour-piercing EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) that were killing U.S. troops, it knew that Iraqi machine shops had been producing their own EFPs for years, a review of the historical record of evidence on EFPs in Iraq shows.
The record also shows that the U.S. command had considerable evidence that the Mahdi army had gotten the technology and the training on how to use it from Hezbollah rather than Iran.
The command, operating under close White House supervision, chose to deny these facts in making the dramatic accusation that became the main rationale for the present aggressive U.S. stance toward Iran. Although the George W. Bush administration initially limited the accusation to the Quds Force, it has recently begun to assert that top officials of the Iranian regime are responsible for arms that are killing U.S. troops.
British and U.S. officials observed from the beginning that the EFPs being used in Iraq closely resembled the ones used by Hezbollah against Israeli forces in Southern Lebanon, both in their design and the techniques for using them.
Hezbollah was known as the world's most knowledgeable specialists in EFP manufacture and use, having perfected them during the 1990s in the military struggle against Israeli forces in Lebanon. It was widely recognised that it was Hezbollah that had passed on the expertise to Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups after the second Intifada began in 2000.
U.S. intelligence also knew that Hezbollah was conducting the training of Mahdi army militants on EFPs. In August 2005, Newsday published a report from correspondent Mohammed Bazzi that Shiite fighters had begun in early 2005 to copy Hezbollah techniques for building the bombs, as well as for carrying out roadside ambushes, citing both Iraqi and Lebanese officials.
In late November 2006, a senior intelligence official told both CNN and the New York Times that Hezbollah troops had trained as many as 2,000 Mahdi army fighters in Lebanon.
The fact that the Mahdi army's major military connection has always been with Hezbollah rather than Iran would also explain the presence in Iraq of the PRG-29, a shoulder-fired anti-armour weapon. Although U.S. military briefers identified it last February as being Iranian-made, the RPG-29 is not manufactured by Iran but by the Russian Federation.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, RPG-29s were imported from Russia by Syria, then passed on to Hezbollah, which used them with devastating effectiveness against Israeli forces in the 2006 war. According to a June 2004 report on the well-informed military website Strategypage.com, RPG-29s were already turning up in Iraq, "apparently smuggled across the Syrian border".
The earliest EFPs appearing in Iraq in 2004 were so professionally made that they were probably constructed by Hezbollah specialists, according to a detailed account by British expert Michael Knights in Jane's Intelligence Review last year.
By late 2005, however, the British command had already found clear evidence that the Iraqi Shiites themselves were manufacturing their own EFPs. British Army Major General J. B. Dutton told reporters in November 2005 that the bombs were of varying degrees of sophistication.
Some of the EFPs required a "reasonably sophisticated factory", he said, while others required only a simple workshop, which he observed, could only mean that some of them were being made inside Iraq.
After British convoys in Maysan province were attacked by a series of EFP bombings in late May 2006, Knights recounts, British forces discovered a factory making them in Majar al-Kabir north of Basra in June.
In addition, the U.S. military also had its own forensic evidence by fall 2006 that EFPs used against its vehicles had been manufactured in Iraq, according to Knights. He cites photographic evidence of EFP strikes on U.S. armoured vehicles that "typically shows a mixture of clean penetrations from fully-formed EFP and spattering..." That pattern reflected the fact that the locally made EFPs were imperfect, some of them forming the required shape to penetrate but some of them failing to do so.
Then U.S. troops began finding EFP factories. Journalist Andrew Cockburn reported in the Los Angeles Times in mid-February that U.S. troops had raided a Baghdad machine shop in November 2006 and discovered "a pile of copper discs, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order".
In a report on Feb. 23, NBC Baghdad correspondent Jane Arraf quoted "senior military officials" as saying that U.S. forces had "have been finding an increasing number of the advanced roadside bombs being not just assembled but manufactured in machine shops here."
Nevertheless, the Bush administration decided to put the blame for the EFPs squarely on the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, after Bush agreed in fall 2006 to target the Quds Force within Iran in order to make Iranian leaders feel vulnerable to U.S. power. The allegedly exclusive Iranian manufacture of EFPs was the administration's only argument for holding the Quds Force responsible for their use against U.S. forces.
At the Feb. 11 military briefing presenting the case for this claim, one of the U.S. military officials declared, "The explosive charges used by Iranian agents in Iraq need a special manufacturing process, which is available only in Iran." The briefer insisted that there was no evidence that they were being made in Iraq.
That lynchpin of the administration's EFP narrative began to break down almost immediately, however. On Feb. 23, NBC's Arraf confronted Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who had been out in front in January promoting the new Iranian EFP line, with the information she had obtained from other senior military officials that an increasing number of machine stops manufacturing EFPs had been discovered by U.S. troops.
Odierno began to walk the Iranian EFP story back. He said the EFPs had "started to come from Iran", but he admitted "some of the technologies" were "probably being constructed here".
The following day, U.S. troops found yet another EFP factory near Baqubah, with copper discs that appeared to be made with a high degree of precision, but which could not be said with any certainty to have originated in Iran.
The explosive expert who claimed at the February briefing that EFPs could only be made in Iran was then made available to the New York Times to explain away the new find. Maj. Marty Weber now backed down from his earlier statement and admitted that there were "copy cat" EFPs being machined in Iraq that looked identical to those allegedly made in Iran to the untrained eye.
Weber insisted that such Iraqi-made EFPs had slight imperfections which made them "much less likely to pierce armour". But NBC's Arraf had reported the previous week that a senor military official had confirmed to her that the EFPs made in Iraqi shops were indeed quite able to penetrate U.S. armour. The impact of those weapons "isn't as clean", the official said, but they are "almost as effective" as the best-made EFPs.
The idea that only Iranian EFPs penetrate armour would be a surpise to Israeli intelligence, which has reported that EFPs manufactured by Hamas guerrillas in their own machine shops during 2006 had penetrated eight inches of Israeli steel armour in four separate incidents in September and November, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Center in Tel Aviv.
The Arraf story was ignored by the news media, and the Bush administration has continued to assert the Iranian EFP charge as though it had never been questioned.
It soon became such an accepted part of the media narrative on Iran and Iraq that the only issue about which reporters bothered to ask questions is whether the top leaders of the Iranian government have approved the alleged Quds Force operation.
*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.
29 October 2007
Capitalism and its proponents don't give a damn about your health; they are only interested in making a profit from you.
Breast Cancer Sells
by Lucinda Marshall
October 29, 2007, Alternet
October means falling leaves, ghosts and goblins, and pink, lots of Pepto-Pink as we observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). From Campbell's Soup to Breast Cancer Barbie, it seems as if just about everyone has jumped on the pinkified bandwagon. And although October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), we'd much rather be aware of breasts, even sick ones, than talk about black eyes and things that aren't supposed to go on behind closed doors. That point is reflected in women's magazines, which devote much more space in their October issues to breast cancer than they do to domestic violence.
Of nine publications that I recently found on a grocery store magazine rack, all of which advertised breast cancer articles on the covers of their October issues, only two also contained coverage of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (and mentioned that on their covers).* And, what's worse, of the coverage dedicated to breast cancer, much of it was offensive, superficial, misleading, or flat-out wrong.
This year there is even called Beyond Breast Cancer that cheerfully proclaims that there are "10 Good Things About Breast Cancer." Who knew? And just what are the pluses of getting this dreaded disease? According to the bubblegum-colored magazine, one perk is a pair of new boobs that "will face the horizon, not the South Pole.” Better yet, they will be paid for by insurance. Oh, and you get lots of cards and flowers.
Meanwhile, both Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day give incorrect information about mammograms. Good Housekeeping claims that "[N]o one disputes that all women 50 and over should be screened annually." Yet physicians in different countries disagree on how often women over 50 should be screened. While doctors in the United States recommend annual mammograms, those in Europe say every two to three years. In Australia, where a study out last year shed significant doubt on the extent to which mammograms save lives, the recommendation is every two years. Interestingly, in some of these countries, the incidence and death rates for breast cancer are actually lower or comparable to the United States.
When they're not spewing misinformation, the October issues of the traditional women's magazines are offering overly simplistic information about breast cancer risk factors and tips for preventing it. Woman's World (not to be confused with Good Housekeeping discuss factors you can change, such as smoking, and those you can't, like genetics. Missing is any mention about the purported connection between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy. Also absent is information on parabens, phthalates and other carcinogenic chemicals, which are disturbingly common in consumer goods from lipstick to lotion.
The silence on these subjects mirrors the focus that both the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure place on the profitable business of curing cancer rather than preventing it, which likely would hurt the bottom line of many of their biggest donors. Consumers are told that shopping will help find a cure -- a message that is not lost on advertisers.
Vogue sings the praises of one prolific advertiser, Ralph Lauren, who this year is selling polo shirts with bullseyes above the breast to target breast cancer. The ad shows a group of young, mostly white women wearing skimpy thongs, the polo shirts and nothing else. Subtle, huh?
A Pine Sol ad in Essence features motorcycle riders Aj Jemison and Jan Emanuel "driving for the cure," which is awfully hard when your vehicle is spewing cancer-causing exhaust. On top of that, Pine Sol contains 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE), which has been linked to fertility disorders, birth defects and other medical problems.
Redbook carries a sparkling wine "Cheers for the Cure" ad. Curiously, their article, "Who Beats Cancer and Who Doesn't," was one of the few risk factor pieces that failed to mention the link between alcohol and breast cancer, something that is highlighted in several of the other magazines.
And what if you or someone you love gets breast cancer? Not to worry, the women's magazines are full of inspiring survivor stories. Unfortunately, while most breast cancer victims are over the age of 50, not one of the nine magazines I analyzed focused on those women and the impact the disease has on their lives. Far more typical is a piece in Vogue discussing a very attractive young woman's agonizing choice to have a preventive double mastectomy because she carries the genes that can cause breast cancer. And with the exception of Essence, whose target audience is black, most of the women in these survivor stories are white, even though black women are more likely to die from the disease.
Despite most of these magazines having sections on health, family and love, only two of them (Redbook and Essence) had any mention of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
While it is questionable that additional awareness of breast cancer is useful, in the case of domestic violence, more coverage would be helpful. Domestic violence is the most common type of violence experienced by women both globally and in the United States. The Family Violence Prevention Fund reports that one out of every three women worldwide is "beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime." Here in the United States, the rate is one in four. In 2005 (the latest year for which statistics are available), 976 women in the United States were killed by by men that they knew. Yet because we tend to see this violence as a private, shameful issue, only 20 percent of rapes and 25 percent of physical assaults against women in this country are reported to the police.
Also underreported is the great financial toll domestic violence takes on communities. FVPF estimates that the health-related costs of "rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide committed by intimate partners exceed $5.8 billion each year." About 70 percent of that goes toward direct medical costs; the other 30 accounts for indirect costs such as lost wages.
Though lacking in many other details, this month's article in Redbook did attempt to demonstrate how common domestic violence really is, with featured pictures of two women as well as two men who knew a woman who had been affected by domestic violence.
And the article in the October issue of Essence, which delves into why black America is "so silent" about the violence that is committed against black women (a number that nearly doubled between 2003 and 2004, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics), also pinpoints why more coverage in these magazines would be more useful. ""Awareness, or lack thereof, is also a factor, says Rose Pulliam, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. "We have to find a way to talk about domestic abuse that doesn't demonize our men but creates a way of looking at this as something to discuss openly," she says.
What to take away from all this? The bottom line, literally, is that we shrink away from black eyes. Breasts, on the other hand, are highly marketable commodities, as these magazines' advertising and helpful hints about pink products attest. Glamour even uses breast cancer awareness as an opportunity for a little full frontal nudity, featuring young, pretty and oh-so-white survivors with their best come hither looks. This emphasis on youth and whiteness is a true disservice to older women who are far more likely to get this disease and black women who are more likely to die from it.
Such irresponsible coverage of breast cancer and blindness to domestic violence suggest that many publications are less concerned with women's health than with making a buck. By tugging at consumers' purse strings instead of promoting their well-being, these magazines fail to serve the women who read them.
*The magazines surveyed for this article were: Essence, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day, Women’s World, Ladies Home Journal, Glamour, Vogue and Beyond Breast Cancer.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.
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