30 November 2007

Veinte Años for Voz

Remarks of John Stanford at the recent 20th anniversary dinner of Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, San Antonio, Texas.

I really appreciate being honored along with Ruth Lofgren, Nickie Valdez, T.C. Calvert, and María Antonietta Berriozábal; but I'm not sure I deserve the honor the same way the other four honorees do. Wednesday's Express News had an article noting the accomplishments of the honorees. But when it came to me, the article did not mention any accomplishments. It said: "The longtime activist is best known for Stanford vs. Texas...." This was an important case argued by Maury Maverick, Jr., American Civil Liberties Union attorney, before the U.S. Supreme Court. His arguments won from the Court a unanimous reaffirmation of the liberties guaranteed by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. I had little to do with the case except to discuss with Maury what Communists believe. The case came after a raid on my house and the seizure of thousands of books and papers. I was away at work. The real hero was my wife, who was at home at the time.

Actually, I did have a little bit more to do with the case. John J. McAvoy -- a conservative, Wall Street Republican, according to Maury -- was also an ACLU attorney on the case. After reading some of the changes made in the brief, I insisted on filing a supplemental statement of my own with the Court. Maury said the ACLU was afraid the case might be thrown out if I insisted on filing a separate statement. I was very careful with what I said, and the case was not thrown out.

I appreciate what Laura Codina and the Coordinadoras of Fuerza Unida, Petra Mata and Viola Cásares, said about me. But in all honesty I have to say that whatever I've been able to accomplish has been built on the legacy of Communists here in San Antonio before me.

In October of last year there was a symposium held at the Tamiment Library of New York University on “James and Esther Jackson, the American Left and the Origins of the Modern Civil Rights Movement.” James Jackson was a big influence in my life. At that symposium Percy Sutton, former Manhattan borough president, took the floor and spoke of his long association with and appreciation of the Jacksons. This began in San Antonio where Sutton grew up in a family of twelve, half of whom became Communists.

The six Suttons; Emma Tenayuca and John Inman, both of whom were chairs of the Communist Party of Texas; Hattie Mae Inman, who raised a family and was an inspiration to others while bedridden with five types of cancer; Manuela Soliz Sager and her husband James Sager; Luisa Moreno, and many more -- these are people to whom I'm indebted. I think this honor belongs to them also. And to my wife, Jo, whose support enabled me to be involved in struggles for peace and justice.

I consider the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center one of the most important promoters of art, culture, peace and social justice in our country.

The vision statement of the Esperanza starts off with the words: "The people of Esperanza dream of a world where everyone has civil rights and economic justice, where the environment is cared for, where cultures are honored and communities are safe." Many of you may not agree with me, but if you take the words literally, I think the world these people of Hope -- we people of Hope -- are dreaming of is Communism. It is not a world that can be achieved under today's capitalism.

When Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois joined the Communist Party in October, 1961, he stated: "Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good for all."

Earlier this month, Hugo Chávez, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, echoed this same thought on one of his weekly broadcasts of the program
Aló presidente. In the course of a telephone exchange with Fidel Castro during the program, Chávez said: "Only socialism can save humanity. The only options we have left are socialism or barbarism.”

The people's forces are gaining strength, and reasons for hope abound. Yet here in the USA we have Jena in Louisiana; racial profiling, an increase in police brutality and even killings by police here in San Antonio; continued attacks on Roe v. Wade; continued neglect of the needs of the victims of Katrina; attacks on the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered people; increasing raids on immigrants and the breakup of families; degradation of the environment; children behind bars at the Hutto Prison (renamed the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility) in Taylor, Texas; attacks on Palestinians, Arabs, and others. And on a world scale continued waste of billions of dollars monthly on wars; increased inequality between rich and poor nations; dangers of nuclear warfare; inaction in the face of global warming.

What stands in the way of building the unity of working people and of the many groups oppressed by modern capitalism, imperialism -- the unity that's needed to put an end to this madness?


Xenophobia (including anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian movements and sentiments)


Dogmatic religion (Here I'm speaking of the religion of the far Right, not the religion that calls on people to unite in the struggle for peace and social justice.)

Failure to see the role of the individual in history, which results in a lack of involvement.

How do we fight these roadblocks to progress?

We need to use every means at our disposal. I hand out the People's Weekly World, with its weekly appeals for solidarity in the building of a better world, a world of peace and brotherhood. If you don't have the most recent issue, you can pick up a copy on the table downstairs on your way out. Others use calaveras (like those in the new Voz de Esperanza) , song, music, dance, art, poetry, telling stories, writing novels, making movies. All forms of sembrando conciencia, spreading awareness and understanding -- concientización, to use an old term -- are important.

Hugo Chávez said: "Hagamos el socialismo, con amor y con pasión, y estaremos salvando a la humanidad del imperialismo, del capitalismo, de la destrucción de la especie humana.

“Let’s build socialism, with love and passion, and by doing so we will be saving humanity from imperialism, capitalism, and the destruction of the human species."

When he applied for admission to membership in the Communist Party, Dr. Du Bois said: "I have been long and slow in coming to this conclusion, but at last my mind in settled."

If you are not yet ready to join the Communist Party, take your time. Study The Communist Manifesto. It's old but still good.

And there are still many other things you can do to build a better world. There is Esperanza. Start by reading the Esperanza's remarkable Vision and Mission Statement.

This article was previously published in La Voz de Esperanza by the Esperanza Center in San Antonio, Texas.

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Suburbia Is a Ponzi Scheme

Where the politicians responsible sneak away in the night ....

The Sorrows of Suburbia: Politics and the Housing Crash

The world wide credit crisis started in the heart of America suburbia itself, and primarily through the politics of suburban development that radiated from South Florida. The story of subprime mortgage mess has not yet meshed with the campaign finance supply chain that wrapped up Florida production home builders, lawyers and lobbyists. But from the perspective of Miami and South Florida, it is clear that supply chain was managed by Jeb Bush, the former two-term governor.

Yesterday Bloomberg reported that $700 million in defaulted debt, representing sprawl (asset-backed commercial paper-- the exact details have not been disclosed) has vanished from the trust funds invested by the Jeb Bush team, adding to losses that will change American politics in 2008 and beyond.

The world-wide credit crisis is too big to contain in one frame. It still has not come home to roost, how the hundreds of billions of losses reported by the world's largest financial institutions from Hong Kong to Frankfurt to London to Beijing and Tokyo, have anything to do with politics.

But the most accurate frame to tell this story is the money trail from Jeb's loss in 1994 governor's race, to his victory in 1998, and subsequently, the presidential election stolen in Florida by George W. Bush in 2000. Both Jeb and W. were fully engaged in the policies of growth that spurred the hyperventilated housing boom that is now in flames. (for further detail, see eyeonmiami.blogspot.com under the archive feature, "housing crash")

Their programs and policies were grounded by a strategy to win Republican victories in the fastest growing suburbs in the nation. Today the massive leverage that supported suburbia has deflated, bringing hard currency consequences to taxpayers and voters whether they are Republican or not.

Although the news is now filled with the housing market crash (in Miami, it's the worst in a century), it is not being told in terms of politics. There are news segments on liar loans, reports on mortgage fraud and stories about hastily convened task forces, there are editorials on poor judgment by consumers and investors and efforts to bail them out, or millions of homeowners at risk of foreclosure, or who have been foreclosed.

These are the bits and pieces, and still, even if you laid them side-by-side, they would fail to capture the connections between the so-called fiscal conservatives and ordinary people now paying for the failure of the suburban dream.

How are Americans really hurt by suburbia?

Here is how.

Bloomberg reports today, "School districts and local governments in Florida have pulled $8 billion out of a state-run investment pool, or 30 percent of its assets, after learning that the money market fund contained more than $700 million of defaulted debt."

The State Board of Administration, that manages about $42 billion of short-term investments, including the pool, as well as Florida's $137 billion pension fund, is run by Coleman Stipanovich, brother of "Mac" Stipanovich, a Republican consultant and Bush family loyalist. In 2002, the fund lost $334 million on Enron, investing in the stock as the company was swirling down the drain - three times the loss of any other pension fund. A few years later, the same fund invested in Edison Schools whose stock value had collapsed from $37 to as little as 14 cents.

"Pardon the sarcasm," the St. Petersburg Times editorialized after the Edison deal, "but was there no Enron stock left to buy?"

Enron - through its water subsidiary, Azurix - and Edison represented two areas of policy related to manias of the Jeb Bush years: socializing risk and privatizing profits. Jeb had been quietly encouraging the privatization of Florida's water supply, administered by a network of state water management districts.

Enron's collapse put a quick end to that, although stalking horses have not given up on the dream of privatizing water resources in Florida. And of course, Jeb's acolytes, seeded through the Florida legislature, are still promoting charter schools as an answer to the teacher's and other unions.

Now, to the $500 million plus that Governor Jeb Bush lost in the empowerment of private corporations, it is necessary to add an additional $700 million of defaulted debt tied to the housing market crash.

This is not some abstract penalty imposed by bad leadership on taxpayers.

The suburbs are restless and with good reason: suburbia and its costs are a Ponzi scheme for which no political leader will go to jail.

The scheme starts with local elected officials in control of zoning, up the ladder through lobbyists, land speculators developers and local bankers, all the way to Wall Street where lawyers and financial engineers, from investment bankers to hedge funds, who already spent billions in bonuses and fees for originating debt that has no value on the secondary market.

One reason the mainstream media has a hard time focusing on the heart of the problem, is that so many Americans call suburbia, home.

The mainstream media, in large part supported by the suburban supply chain, has either ignored or lambasted critics as elitists insensitive to the millions of Americans for whom glue gun, pod housing in bland and anonymous housing tracts (in order to conform to the requirements of mortgage backed securities) is an unassailable dream.

No longer. Not when people's pensions are affected. And not even in Florida, where a Republican legislature still holds firm. For now.

Alan Farago of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment and the politics of South Florida, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.


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29 November 2007

The Political Duopoly Endorses Torture

It's time we stopped kidding ourselves. Amy talks about the "moral compass of the nation." Bullshit - it's long since vanished, virtually without a trace. I write these words, but do nothing meaningful to stop these fucking criminals that litter our landscape. Sending letters to the federal morons in control does nothing.

Have They No Shame?
by Amy Goodman, November 29, 2007, truthdig

Every Saturday, the president of the United States gives a radio address to the nation. It is followed by the Democratic response, usually given by a senator or representative. This past Saturday the Democrats chose retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to give their response, the same general accused in at least three lawsuits in the U.S. and Europe of authorizing torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in Iraq. This, combined with the Democrats’ endorsement of Attorney General Michael Mukasey despite his unwillingness to label waterboarding as torture, indicates that the Democrats are increasingly aligned with President Bush’s torture policies.

Sanchez headed the Army’s operations in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. In September 2003, Sanchez issued a memo authorizing numerous techniques, including “stress positions” and the use of “military working dogs” to exploit “Arab fear of dogs” during interrogations. He was in charge when the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison occurred.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who headed Abu Ghraib at the time, worked under Gen. Sanchez. She was demoted to colonel, the only military officer to be punished. She told me about another illegal practice, holding prisoners as so-called ghost detainees: “We were directed on several occasions through Gen. [Barbara] Fast or Gen. Sanchez. The instructions were originating at the Pentagon from Secretary Rumsfeld, and we were instructed to hold prisoners without assigning a prisoner number or putting them on the database, and that is contrary to the Geneva Conventions. We all knew it was contrary to the Geneva Conventions.” In addition to keeping prisoners off the database there were other abuses, she said, like prison temperatures reaching 120 to 140 degrees, dehydration and the order from Gen. Geoffrey Miller to treat prisoners “like dogs.”

And it’s not just about treatment of prisoners. In 2006, Karpinski testified at a mock trial, called the Bush Crimes Commission. She revealed that several female U.S. soldiers had died of dehydration by denying themselves water. They were afraid to go to the latrine at night to urinate, for fear of being raped by fellow soldiers: “Because the women, in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the portolets or the latrines, were not drinking liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And in 120-degree heat or warmer, because there was no air conditioning at most of the facilities, they were dying from dehydration in their sleep. What [Sanchez’s deputy commanding general, Walter Wojdakowski] told the surgeon to do was, ‘Don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report, but don’t brief it in the open anymore.’” Karpinski said Sanchez was at that briefing.

Former military interrogator Tony Lagouranis, author of “Fear Up Harsh,” described the use of dogs: “We were using dogs in the Mosul detention facility, which was at the Mosul airport. We would put the prisoner in a shipping container. We would keep him up all night with music and strobe lights, stress positions, and then we would bring in dogs. The prisoner was blindfolded, so he didn’t really understand what was going on, but we had the dog controlled. The dog would be barking and jumping on the prisoner, and the prisoner wouldn’t really understand what was going on.”

Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch elaborated on Sanchez: “For those three months of mayhem that were occurring right under his nose, he never stepped in. And, also, he misled Congress about it. He was asked twice at a congressional hearing whether he ever approved the use of guard dogs. This was before the memo came out. And both times he said he never approved it. [W]e finally got the actual memo, in which he approves ‘exploiting Arab fear of dogs.’ ” Brody dismissed the military report clearing Sanchez of any wrongdoing: “It’s just not credible for the Army to keep investigating itself and keep finding itself innocent.”

This is not about politics. This is about the moral compass of the nation. The Democrats may be celebrating a retired general who has turned on his commander in chief. But the public should take pause.

The Democrats had a chance to draw a line in the sand, to absolutely require Mukasey to denounce waterboarding before his elevation to attorney general. Now they have chosen as their spokesman a discredited general, linked to the most egregious abuses in Iraq. The Bush administration passed Sanchez over for a promotion, worried about reliving the Abu Ghraib scandal during the 2006 election year. Now it’s the Democrats who have resuscitated him. Have they no shame?

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.


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COINTELPRO Is Quietly Becoming Legal

The House of Reps Vote 404 to 6 to Pass the Bill that Legalizes COINTELPRO?
by Justin Ponkow and Troy Nkrumah, November 28, 2007

One month ago a bill passed almost unanimously in the House. This bill has received no mainstream news coverage. So it must not be that big of a deal, right? It's just a bill that will soon to go to Capitol Hill and since the Democrats are in control we are all safe from further infringements up on our civil rights, right? Well, maybe that is not totally correct since this bill is a lot more than meets the eye. But indicator number one should be the title, and indicator number two should be how fast it is moving through Congress.

On October 23rd of this year, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed 404 to 6 in the House. This bill is proposing an expansion of Homeland Security with the objective of spying on citizens whose political or religious beliefs might lead them to commit violent acts. And we are not referring to the attack of Megan Williams or the numerous police murders of non threatening civilians. No this is solely about spying on political dissidents whose politics were shaped through a critical analysis of US Foreign or Domestic policies.

The stated purpose of this bill is to first assemble a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence. Secondly, they will create a university-based Center of Excellence to study radicalization and homegrown terrorism.

Their definition of what defines radical and terrorism are very vague, and can be manipulated to serve several purposes. In the bill itself, it says homegrown terrorism means "the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence" by a native citizen of the United States. It is this definition that is leaves so much of this bills purpose, open to interpretation. Unfortunately, the interpretation by the same ole "powers that be" is the only one that really matters because it is them who will have the use of this bill at their disposal.

It is far too easy to point the finger at an individual or a group of individuals, and claim that they are "planning" or "threatening" the use of violence to achieve their objectives. For instance, if a group of PETA or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, decide protest a rodeo, could it be claimed that they are "threatening" the use of violence? Or if activists and concerned citizens congregate at a building to protest or demonstrate, could it be claimed that they are "planning" the use of violence or getting ready to riot?

Let's take it one step further. If there is an act of civil disobedience, in the form of blocking the entrance to that building (a non-federal building) during the political protest, and that blocking is done with the use of a minimal amount of force (people physically locking arms), will this new bill turn a simple misdemeanor trespassing into a felony punishable through the federal court system? And who has the discretion to make that determination?

"Planned" or "threatened" use of violence is a vague term, and we have seen it used before. How many times have you heard of a cop beating, shooting, or killing an individual because in the officers opinion they "posed a threat" or were "planning" harm towards the officer? This situation is no different, yet now it decriminalizes police actions at a time when we are experiencing more police killings of unarmed civilians.

What is feared by the activist community is a general crack down on social justice activism and civil disobedience, or any dissent for that matter, because it now takes on a new and legal form. Being that it is so easy to point the finger, anybody willing to speak out will be in the scope of this proposed commission. Including many Hip Hop artists who have been the most critical of the government and its agencies. In J. Edgar Hoover's time, this type of spying and repression was illegal and later became known as the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Currently these and similar practices are legal in regards to non-citizens under the heading of the "Patriot Act." Did you really think that the government was only after those who sneak into the country to commit acts of violence?

To it's defense it is claimed that this bill will not "violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents." It is also claimed that this bill will be racial, ethnically, and religiously neutral when carrying out its' study. With such claims, it is interesting that the criteria for members of this commission are individuals with expertise in "juvenile justice", "local law enforcement", and "Islam and other world religions." As if that knowledge and expertise will have any relevance to what makes "citizens" look toward other means of confronting social injustices. I would think that sociologists, social workers, academics and social justice advocates have a better grasp on why individuals or organizations gave up on working "within" the system to seek other alternatives to achieve justice and equality? Why is it that social critics are not the primary targets for this commission membership? Is it because these social critics are the primary targets of this commission?

This bill, and its 'provisions, looks like ideological profiling of potential "trouble makers" national, and especially on the university campuses. This commission and its' "studies" will be used to begin surveillance on suspected dissidents and those who might associate with them, but it will not end there. The commission's purpose is to not analyzes the critics of the government policy and suggest reforming the policies to avoid the development of "homegrown terrorists" but rather to identify and neutralize those critics.

For those that know their history, this bill should sound familiar. Back in the 50's J. Edgar Hoover, Head of the F.B.I., started the Counter Intelligence Program (known as COINTELPRO). This program was meant to, in Hoover's words, "neutralize political dissidents", and used thousands of illegal and covert operations to achieve its' means.

Though COINTELPRO claimed to watch the actions of all potentials threats, it seemed to focus all of its efforts on leftist and liberal political activists. They focused on everybody from John Lennon to Jane Fonda to keep tabs on dissidents. The other stated purpose was to "prevent the rise of the black messiah". They kept their eyes on the likes of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Hampton and many others in order to quell the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.

This new bill that is being fast tracked through Congress is nothing but a legalized COINTELPRO. And anybody that cherishes the right to speak out for their rights should keep an eye on this. If violence is already against every law of every state in the union, why exactly does there need to be a group that will spy on citizens and then possibly take actions against those whose "threat of violence" have a political undertone? And who is to be the targets? Well if history is any indicator, we know that the FBI did not use its resources to eliminate the KKK and other White Supremacy organizations, but they did do everything they could to eliminate, kill or jail the leadership of Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White left organizations.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this bill is how fast it is moving through Congress. You would think such a monumental bill would be debated and discussed to no end. At least by the few progressives left in the House of Representatives. But the actions of the House show anything but concern. (Where are you at Barbara Lee?) We saw this happen right after the attack on the World Trade Center when the congress passed the "Patriot Act" but then later complained that if they had read the text of the bill they would had more reservations because of the power it gives to the government and the rights it strips from the citizens. So I guess we can say that the House of Representatives have not learned from that past and are thus doomed to repeat it, and are repeating it.

When this bill came to House it was given certain provisions specifically to reduce debate time. Such an important bill as this was given little serious debate time, and was rushed to be passed. And it did pass. It was passed with a 404 to 6 vote. Of the notable votes, Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich did vote against the bill, whereas Presidential Candidate Ron Paul was not present to vote on the issue. This bill was hardly debated, it was passed almost unanimously, and now it is on its way to the Senate, and then the President.

There is no doubt that this bill will have the same results in the Senate, and will be signed by the President. At the speed it is moving, this bill may be a law by February, just in time for the primaries. And all of this is happening with almost nobody noticing. The news outlets are not mentioning it. It is slipping right in under our noses, like most laws of this nature do. And chances are, if you were not reading this you would still think that you had the right to defend yourself against government oppression (as stated in the Declaration of Independence) or at least the right to demonstrate at the next Democratic and Republican national conventions.

As for those of us who are concerned about our individual civil liberties, what more can we do besides sit back and shake my head in disgust. Looks like protesting will lead to federal charges. 2008 is an election year, and every candidate promises change for the future and to correct the abuses of the current administration. Yet read their congressional voting records and you will see where some of these candidates actually stand. Most are for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and keep funding it with billions of our tax dollars. And as evident in this new bill almost all of the House or Representatives are for the war against your civil and political rights. It kind of makes you wonder, why these fear mongers and ideologues run around saying, "they hate of for our freedoms" what exactly are those freedoms that we are hated for?

[Justin Ponkow is a writer for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas student paper, The Rebel Yell, and is a member of the National Hip Hop Political Convention. Troy Nkrumah is an attorney, writer and educator. He is also the Chair of the National Hip Hop Political Convention.]


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Sanity Is a Rare Commodity in the White House

If Bush Attacks Iran, He Won't Get My Taxes
By Chris Hedges

11/29/07 "The Nation" -- - -- I will not pay my income tax if we go to war with Iran. I realize this is a desperate and perhaps futile gesture. But an attack on Iran -- which appears increasingly likely before the coming presidential election -- will unleash a regional conflict of catastrophic proportions. This war, and especially Iranian retaliatory strikes on American targets, will be used to silence domestic dissent and abolish what is left of our civil liberties. It will solidify the slow-motion coup d'état that has been under way since the 9/11 attacks. It could mean the death of the Republic.

Let us hope sanity prevails. But sanity is a rare commodity in a White House that has twisted Trotsky's concept of permanent revolution into a policy of permanent war with nefarious aims -- to intimidate and destroy all those classified as foreign opponents, to create permanent instability and fear and to strip citizens of their constitutional rights.

A war with Iran is doomed. It will be no more successful than the Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon in 2006, which failed to break Hezbollah and united most Lebanese behind that militant group. The Israeli bombing did not pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen when we begin to pound a country of 65 million people whose land mass is three times the size of France?

Once you begin an air campaign it is only a matter of time before you have to put troops on the ground or accept defeat, as the Israelis had to do in Lebanon. And if we begin dropping bunker busters and cruise missiles on Iran, this is the choice that must be faced: either send US forces into Iran to fight a protracted and futile guerrilla war, or walk away in humiliation.

But more ominous, an attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with possible Silkworm missile attacks by Iran against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send the price of oil soaring to somewhere around $200 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a global depression. The Middle East has two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves and nearly half its natural gas. A disruption in the supply will be felt immediately.

This attack will be interpreted by many Shiites in the Middle East as a religious war. The two million Shiites in Saudi Arabia (heavily concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province), the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey could turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We could see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and widespread sabotage of oil production in the Persian Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for US troops.

The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has so far not joined the insurgency, has strong ties to Iran. It could begin full-scale guerrilla resistance, possibly uniting for the first time with Sunnis against the occupation. Iran, in retaliation, will fire its missiles, some with a range of 1,100 miles, at US installations, including Baghdad's Green Zone. Expect substantial casualties, especially with Iranian agents and their Iraqi allies calling in precise coordinates. Iranian missiles could be launched at Israel. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the corridor for 20 percent of the world's oil supply, will become treacherous, perhaps unnavigable. Chinese-supplied antiship missiles, mines and coastal artillery, along with speedboats packed with explosives and suicide bombers, will target US shipping, along with Saudi oil production and oil export centers.

Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, closely allied with Iran, may in solidarity fire rockets into northern Israel. Israel, already struck by missiles from Tehran, could then carry out retaliatory raids against both Lebanon and Iran. Pakistan, with its huge Shiite minority, will become even more unstable. Unrest could result in the overthrow of the already weakened Pervez Musharraf and usher Islamic radicals into power. Pakistan, rather than Iran, would then become the first radical Islamic state to possess a nuclear weapon. The neat little war with Iran, which many Democrats do not oppose, has the potential to ignite an inferno.

George W. Bush has shredded, violated or absented America from its obligations under international law. He has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International Criminal Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and biological weapons and defied the Geneva Conventions and human rights law in the treatment of detainees. Most egregious, he launched an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated evidence we now know had been discredited even before it was made public. He seeks to do the same in Iran.

This President is guilty, in short, of what in legal circles is known as the "crime of aggression." And if we as citizens do not hold him accountable for this crime, if we do not actively defy this government, we will be complicit in the codification of a new world order, one that will have terrifying consequences. For a world without treaties, statutes and laws is a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, will be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. This new order will undo five decades of international cooperation -- largely put in place by the United States -- and thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. We must as citizens make sacrifices to defend a world where diplomacy, broad cooperation and the law are respected. If we allow these international legal systems to unravel, we will destroy the possibility of cooperation between nation-states, including our closest allies.

The strongest institutional barrier standing between us and a war with Iran is being mounted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Adm. William Fallon, head of the Central Command; and Gen. George Casey, the Army's new chief of staff. These three men have informed Bush and Congress that the military is too depleted to take on another conflict and may not be able to contain or cope effectively with a regional conflagration resulting from strikes on Iran. This line of defense, however, is tenuous. Not only can Gates, Fallon and Casey easily be replaced but a provocation by Iran could be used by war propagandists here to stoke a public clamor for revenge.

A country that exists in a state of permanent war cannot exist as a democracy. Our long row of candles is being snuffed out. We may soon be in darkness. Any resistance, however symbolic, is essential. There are ways to resist without being jailed. If you owe money on your federal tax return, refuse to pay some or all of it, should Bush attack Iran. If you have a telephone, do not pay the 3 percent excise tax. If you do not owe federal taxes, reduce what is withheld by claiming at least one additional allowance on your W-4 form -- and write to the IRS to explain the reasons for your protest. Many of the details and their legal ramifications are available on the War Resisters League's website.

I will put the taxes I owe in an escrow account. I will go to court to challenge the legality of the war. Maybe a courageous judge will rule that the Constitution has been usurped and the government is guilty of what the postwar Nuremberg tribunal defined as a criminal war of aggression. Maybe not. I do not know. But I do know this: I have friends in Tehran, Gaza, Beirut, Baghdad, Jerusalem and Cairo. They will endure far greater suffering and deprivation. I want to be able, once the slaughter is over, to at least earn the right to ask for their forgiveness.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. He spent seven years in the Middle East and reported frequently from Iran. His latest book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.


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Lowering Standards and Calling It Opportunity

The Myths of Military Progress: The More Things Appear to Change, the More They Don't
By Ron Jacobs

11/29/07 "Counterpunch" -- - Making occupation and calling it peace. Killing fewer and calling it progress. Rotating troops and calling it a withdrawal. Setting up new death squads and calling them allies. Lowering standards and calling it opening new opportunities.

All of the above phenomena seem to be part of the current campaign by Washington in Iraq. There are fewer GI deaths in the country now because they don't leave the bases. Why? Because their latest allies-tribesmen paid in cold cash to kill for DC-are doing the killing and taking the hits. Indeed, some of the most fatal of those hits come from US air strikes that "mistakenly" bomb the men involved in killing the US bogeyman Al Queda in Mesopotamia, which may or may not be a phantom reality. Meanwhile, these tribesmen learn US military methods and locations while stockpiling US-supplied weaponry for some future war on their Shi'a opposites or perhaps even the same US forces they currently align themselves with.

The politicians here in the US, meanwhile, continue their cynical dealing in human life by refusing to insist on a genuine withdrawal timetable even as they steal billions from their country men and women to fight their wars and try to maintain the empire. False arguments erupt over withdrawal bills that aren't withdrawal bills because the White House insists that it has complete control over the war and its conduct while the opposition in Congress writes legislation that has more holes than a hooker's torn fishnets. Despite the impotence of the legislation, they fail to pass even that and end up giving the White house every penny it originally asked for. Wait until the election, says the opposition. Things will change then. If previous elections are any indication, the only thing that will change are the faces in the White House. Troops will remain in Iraq and the occupation/war will continue its haphazard road to control of the oilfields. Or, it will result in the defeat of Washington's plans for the region, no matter which politician sits in the Oval Office.

``We're going to fund the troops,'' Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said today (11/25/07) on the ``Fox News Sunday'' program. ``No one's trying to undercut the military.'' The subtext of this quote is simply this. No one is going to undercut the wars. After all, it is the military that fights the wars, is it not? It's hard for students of history to believe, but there was a time in the history of this nation when the military was not the untouchable institution it has become. Indeed, there was a brief shining moment when it was purely a defensive force. Unfortunately, that time was not only brief, it was also quite long ago. There has been no time in US history, however, when the military has dominated the American polity like it has since the United States entered World War Two. This domination of the political sphere is why no politician who wants to stay in power will ever defund the Pentagon and the complex it has spawned. This situation exists not necessarily because the US public wants most of their tax monies going to corporations that build weapons or to maintain an imperial army. It exists because the propaganda wing of the aforementioned complex can and will destroy the career of any politician that attacks that complex. Consequently, the number of national politicians in the two major parties fundamentally opposed to the Pentagon's sacrosanct position in US politics can be counted on one hand. Not only does fear guide these spineless men and women, but so do the dollars tossed their way by the very corporations that profit as members of the previously mentioned complex. Our silence, fed by fears that are by definition unreal allows them to get away with what can only be truthfully called murder.

Back to Iraq and Afghanistan. Violence in those countries ebbs and flows, reflecting a rhythm of death and destruction known only to the beast of war. Some children lose their parents while other parents lose their children to that beast. The dollars we pay in taxes every day feed the beast's greed despite the outspoken desire of what seems to be the majority that they be used for peaceful purposes. Perhaps the structures we allow to rule can no longer spend that money for peace. Perhaps they are too corrupted by war and its profits. Perhaps their long service to the beast of war has rendered them not incapable of conceiving a world where peace does not mean domination and does not require war in a fruitless effort to secure said peace.

It is only natural that those who are subject to this domination would resist. That resistance takes up arms only because to do otherwise is suicide. Why should one commit suicide when they are being murdered? When this is the scenario, then armed resistance become self-defense and doing nothing is defeat. If this is so, the question is raised once again: are those tribesmen currently working with the occupier in Iraq and Afghanistan merely pretending to collaborate so as to strike the final blow to the occupier when the guard is down? Wasn't this the strategy of anti-occupation forces of Muqtada al-Sadr (labeled Shi'a by the western press)? And aren't those forces now in the gunsights of the US military?

Meanwhile, the government in Baghdad's Green Zone is asking the US military to commit to a longterm agreement to stay in Iraq in substantial numbers. Besides the obvious fact that the Green Zone government really has no say in how long the US military occupies Iraq, the fact that those in power are asking the military to remain is an acknowledgement that their power does not come from the Iraqi people but from the military power of Washington. In fact, according to the November 26, 2007 Associated Press story discussing this "request" by the Green Zone government, the request was made because "Iraq's government, (is) seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups." One can be certain that those internal coups most likely refer to Washington's fear of a victorious insurgency. Tellingly, opposition to the "request" was voiced by the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, who opposes the US occupation in all its manifestations. The more things appear to change, the more they don't. The casualties continue to mount, even when they are not part of the equation.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net.


[+/-]

28 November 2007

It's Not Religion, It's a Bad Command

What Do You Know of War?
By Monica Benderman

11/28/07 "ICH" -- - -The doors have opened on another holiday season. Utility workers have spent hours hoisting holiday decorations to the tops of buildings and attaching lights to all the telephone poles in town. It won’t be long before the entrance displays of massive armored fighting vehicles that represent the muscle of the Rock of the Marne at Fort Stewart, Georgia are covered with lights.

A few hundred yards down the road from the main gate of Fort Stewart, the newly built Chapel Complex was recently christened. Red brick, with angled lines and a pristine white steeple; looking more like a courthouse than a place of worship, the building stands ready for the soldiers who will be returning from their year long deployment to Iraq next spring.

Across the street, on the grounds of the PX shopping mall stands another display of shiny pinwheels planted in the ground. The sign behind the display reads, “These pinwheels represent the 138 cases of spousal abuse confirmed at Fort Stewart in fiscal year 2007.” In 2006 the sign read “131 cases of spousal abuse” and another read “191 cases of child abuse.” What will 2008 bring?

My husband filed a conscientious objector application in 2005. He did so because of his firsthand experiences with this war, and with the abusive treatment the soldiers and veterans faced as they struggled to fulfill the oath they took to serve their country. He did so to call attention to the threats and intimidation military personnel faced, and the lack of respect they received for their service.

The military command refused to accept the application, choosing to find a way to put my husband in prison as punishment for his choice instead. As we worked to see that due process was given to my husband’s choice, I had the opportunity, one evening, to be in the same room with the command sergeant major of my husband’s battalion. I took the opportunity to ask this senior NCO if he would mind my asking him some questions, civilian to civilian. He said “No” so I asked.

“Have you ever had to kill anyone?”

The man put his hands behind his head, stared up at the ceiling and responded: “Yes I have had to shoot to kill many times.”

“Didn’t it bother you at all to know that you had killed another man?”

With his hands still behind his head and one leg crossed over another, he leaned back in his chair and said “You know I’ve got 22 years in the Army. You learn that you don’t think about what you do, you just do it. I’ve never seen the results of my shooting. That’s the problem with the ‘boys’ they’re bringing in today. I tell them and tell them in training, don’t look back – just shoot ‘rat-a-tat-a-tat’ (holding his hand out as a weapon) and don’t look back. When we was first starting out, the soldiers I came in with and me, we all learned in training, shoot and look away – walk away but don’t look at what you’ve done. If I could get anything across to these new ‘boys’ it’s that they can’t look. I see them; they shoot and then look to see if they hit their target, if they did good, if they followed orders. I see their eyes and there’s fear, and I know right away if there’s going to be trouble with that one or the other by their face after they see the result of the explosion. We’ve got to teach these boys to shoot and look away, and they wouldn’t be so bothered by what they did.”

“What do you think of the war?”

The man didn’t move much. He hunched his shoulders a little, looked across the desk and said “That’s political stuff and I don’t get involved in none of that political stuff. I do my job. If I have to go back to Iraq I go, and I take care of my soldiers. I care about my soldiers, but I don’t have no business paying attention to whether the war is good or bad, or if the president did right. I have 22 years in, and I have to do what I’m ordered to do so I don’t ask no questions.”

“What do you think about conscientious objection?”

This time he leaned forward a little, stretched and took a breath before he re-crossed his legs and folded his hands back behind his head. “There ain’t no true conscientious objectors. I’ve been in a long time, and I’ve seen only one or two that might have been real religious. It’s been my experience that when a soldier brings in an application, I always sit and talk with them and ninety-nine percent of the time he’s not a conscientious objector he’s just got major problems with his command. Whenever anyone brings in one of those applications it’s because there’s a bad command and we got to do something about fixing that. If we do the soldier ain’t got no more problems and he can go on doing his duty, but we got to get him to talk and tell us what the command is doing wrong, ‘cause it’s not religion, it’s a bad command.”

Throughout the conversation my husband was standing beside me at parade rest, having invoked his right to not respond to any questions the sergeant major wanted to ask him. At the time he was under investigation by the command which claimed his conscientious objector application was simply a protestation of the war, not worthy of their time. The command sought to charge him with “making disloyal statements” and “disrespecting a superior officer’ for having spoken out in an effort to find help for the soldiers in his unit being threatened and abused by his command.

My husband went to prison. The sergeant major went back to Iraq.

Now, suicide rates are increasing among military personnel. Spousal abuse is becoming more of a problem and no doubt more children are afraid of the empty look they see in their returning parents’ eyes.

We tell the soldiers to do what they can to get out of the military – to avoid returning to Iraq. It will not solve the problem.

Building a multi-million dollar chapel complex on one military installation is not going to fix what has been broken inside a man or a woman who has been to war.

The anger and rage of those who have been in combat will not go away simply because we tell them to get out while they can, to “walk a different road” without showing them where that road will lead.

Going to prison to speak out about what is happening to our military personnel is not going to make things right, not unless we, those of us who claim to care about our “troops” find a way to work together to do our part.

We can’t think that simply taking someone out of the war also takes them out of combat. In war, the rage makes sense and the killing of an enemy can be easily justified. War doesn’t end when the soldier comes home, and the nightmare of combat only grows darker when the battle waged is waged inside; intended to protect a place and loved ones that once meant peace from the anger of an experience that cannot be left behind.

When these men and women return home and face those they love, that anger can become a seed inside which feeds and grows off of memories of the horrors, the nightmares and the need for release – but at home there’s no battlefield on which to let go, there are only children, a spouse, or themselves when they come to fear the damage they could do if left uncontrolled, and when "help" is only a word, too many will lose the battle.

People say they understand – trust me – you don’t; not if you haven’t felt it inside, or stood helpless wondering what more can be done to simply bring peace to the heart of the person you want so much to heal.

Holiday lights are far from bright enough to light the path of those who need the peace this holiday is meant to honor.

The pristine steeple on Fort Stewart’s new chapel complex may see the day when every seat in the building is occupied. Experience tells me that those in attendance may find sanctuary but they will not find peace, even if the room is full.

Men and women volunteered to put their lives on the line to defend the peace our laws were meant to give. Their service has been abused by everyone who has stood and watched this travesty of war unfold; offering words of help only to turn and look in another direction when more than words were needed.

People will write and say, “They volunteered. They got what they deserved.”

The war is coming home and if Americans are not willing to stand together to fix what we are all responsible for breaking, they will know firsthand what it means to “get what is deserved.”

It's time to stare into the eyes of what we have allowed to happen.

Peace is not simply a word, and war does not go away when you look in a different direction.

What do you know of war?

Monica is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war and the destruction it causes to civilians and to American military personnel. Please visit their website, www.BendermanDefense.org to learn more.

Monica and Kevin may be reached at mdawnb@coastalnow.net.


[+/-]

The CIA Revealed

Another CIA sponsored Coup D'Etat? Venezuela’s D-Day: Democratic Socialism or Imperial Counter-Revolution
By Prof James Petras

11/28/07 "ICH" --- - On November 26, 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated a confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA which is devastatingly revealing of US clandestine operations and which will influence the referendum this Sunday (December 2, 2007).

The memo sent by an embassy official, Michael Middleton Steere, was addressed to the head of the CIA, Michael Hayden. The memo was entitled ‘Advancing to the Last Phase of Operation Pincer’ and updates the activity by a CIA unit with the acronym ‘HUMINT’ (Human Intelligence) which is engaged in clandestine action to destabilize the forth-coming referendum and coordinate the civil military overthrow of the elected Chavez government. The Embassy-CIA’s polls concede that 57% of the voters approved of the constitutional amendments proposed by Chavez but also predicted a 60% abstention.

The US operatives emphasized their capacity to recruit former Chavez supporters among the social democrats (PODEMOS) and the former Minister of Defense Baduel, claiming to have reduced the ‘yes’ vote by 6% from its original margin. Nevertheless the Embassy operatives concede that they have reached their ceiling, recognizing they cannot defeat the amendments via the electoral route.

The memo then recommends that Operation Pincer (OP) [Operación Tenaza] be operationalized. OP involves a two-pronged strategy of impeding the referendum, rejecting the outcome at the same time as calling for a ‘no’ vote. The run up to the referendum includes running phony polls, attacking electoral officials and running propaganda through the private media accusing the government of fraud and calling for a ‘no’ vote. Contradictions, the report cynically emphasizes, are of no matter.

The CIA-Embassy reports internal division and recriminations among the opponents of the amendments including several defections from their ‘umbrella group’. The key and most dangerous threats to democracy raised by the Embassy memo point to their success in mobilizing the private university students (backed by top administrators) to attack key government buildings including the Presidential Palace, Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council. The Embassy is especially praiseworthy of the ex-Maoist ‘Red Flag’ group for its violent street fighting activity. Ironically, small Trotskyist sects and their trade unionists join the ex-Maoists in opposing the constitutional amendments. The Embassy, while discarding their ‘Marxist rhetoric’, perceives their opposition as fitting in with their overall strategy.

The ultimate objective of ‘Operation Pincer’ is to seize a territorial or institutional base with the ‘massive support’ of the defeated electoral minority within three or four days (before or after the elections – is not clear. JP) backed by an uprising by oppositionist military officers principally in the National Guard. The Embassy operative concede that the military plotters have run into serous problems as key intelligence operatives were detected, stores of arms were decommissioned and several plotters are under tight surveillance.

Apart from the deep involvement of the US, the primary organization of the Venezuelan business elite (FEDECAMARAS), as well as all the major private television, radio and newspaper outlets have been engaged in a vicious fear and intimidation campaign. Food producers, wholesale and retail distributors have created artificial shortages of basic food items and have provoked large scale capital flight to sow chaos in the hopes of reaping a ‘no’ vote.

President Chavez Counter-Attacks

In a speech to pro-Chavez, pro-amendment nationalist business-people (Entrepreneurs for Venezuela – EMPREVEN) Chavez warned the President of FEDECAMARAS that if he continues to threaten the government with a coup, he would nationalize all their business affiliates. With the exception of the Trotskyist and other sects, the vast majority of organized workers, peasants, small farmers, poor neighborhood councils, informal self-employed and public school students have mobilized and demonstrated in favor of the constitutional amendments.

The reason for the popular majority is found in a few of the key amendments: One article expedites land expropriation facilitating re-distribution to the landless and small producers. Chavez has already settled over 150,000 landless workers on 2 million acres of land. Another amendment provides universal social security coverage for the entire informal sector (street sellers, domestic workers, self-employed) amounting to 40% of the labor force. Organized and unorganized workers’ workweek will be reduced from 40 to 36 hours a week (Monday to Friday noon) with no reduction in pay. Open admission and universal free higher education will open greater educational opportunities for lower class students. Amendments will allow the government to by-pass current bureaucratic blockage of the socialization of strategic industries, thus creating greater employment and lower utility costs. Most important, an amendment will increase the power and budget of neighborhood councils to legislate and invest in their communities.

The electorate supporting the constitutional amendments is voting in favor of their socio-economic and class interests; the issue of extended re-election of the President is not high on their priorities: And that is the issue that the Right has focused on in calling Chavez a ‘dictator’ and the referendum a ‘coup’.

The Opposition

With strong financial backing from the US Embassy ($8 million dollars in propaganda alone according to the Embassy memo) and the business elite and ‘free time’ by the right-wing media, the Right has organized a majority of the upper middle class students from the private universities, backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, large swaths of the affluent middle class neighborhoods, entire sectors of the commercial, real estate and financial middle classes and apparently sectors of the military, especially officials in the National Guard. While the Right has control over the major private media, public television and radio back the constitutional reforms. While the Right has its followers among some generals and the National Guard, Chavez has the backing of the paratroops and legions of middle rank officers and most other generals.

The outcome of the Referendum of December 2 is a decisive historical event first and foremost for Venezuela but also for the rest of the Americas. A positive vote (Vota ‘Sí’) will provide the legal framework for the democratization of the political system, the socialization of strategic economic sectors, empower the poor and provide the basis for a self-managed factory system. A negative vote (or a successful US-backed civil-military uprising) will reverse the most promising living experience of popular self-rule, of advanced social welfare and democratically based socialism. A reversal, especially a military dictated outcome, will lead to a massive blood bath, such as we have not seen since the days of the Indonesian Generals’ Coup of 1966, which killed over a million workers and peasants or the Argentine Coup of 1976 in which over 30,000 Argentines were murdered by the US backed Generals.

A decisive vote for ‘Sí’ will not end US military and political destabilization campaigns but it will certainly undermine and demoralize their collaborators. On December 2, 2007 the Venezuelans have a rendezvous with history.


[+/-]

Blackwater and Steroids

Blackwater guards pumped on steroids, lawsuit alleges

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A quarter of Blackwater security guards in Iraq use steroids and other "judgment-altering substances," according to a lawsuit filed by the families of several Iraqis killed or wounded in a Baghdad shooting in September.

The suit, filed Monday in Washington, accuses the company of fostering "a culture of lawlessness" among its guards and says the use of excessive force helps the company preserve a key selling point -- the fact that none of its protectees have been killed during the four-year-old war.

"I think there is a whole corporate culture there that essentially rewards the use of excessive force -- shooting first, asking questions later," said Susan Burke, the lead attorney in the case.

The lawsuit accuses Blackwater of war crimes, wrongful death, assault, negligent hiring and emotional distress. The plaintiffs include two wounded survivors of the September 16 shootings around Nusoor Square, in western Baghdad, and the families of five people killed in the incident. Iraqi authorities say the guards killed 17 people in an act of "premeditated murder."

Blackwater has denied any wrongdoing, arguing its contractors used necessary force to protect a State Department convoy that came under fire from insurgents.

The lawsuit accuses Blackwater of failing to control the use of steroids among its guards -- an allegation Burke said came from "people in that community," and one she said would be backed up as the case progresses.

"The reality is that Blackwater has indeed fired people for steroid use, so they're on clear notice that there's steroid use," Burke said. She said Blackwater has marketed the idea "that their people are kind of tougher and bigger than anybody else," and has turned a blind eye toward "serious, repeated situations of excessive use of force."

Read it here.

[+/-]

27 November 2007

Fencing the Southern Border

Kudos to Janet Gilles for a terrific letter in today's Austin American-Statesman about the proposed border fence, the reasons behind the largest mass migration in human history, US farm subsidies and the fallacy of "free trade" -- awesome, woman; really deserves a wide readership -- since letters are not available on the Statesman website, hope you will post it to the Raglist also. Well done!

Mariann Wizard

You are too kind, Mariann. Here’s the letter printed in today’s paper.

About the effort at Texas A & M to find a strong yet sensitive border fence to “protect the US from one of the Largest human migrations in history”, perhaps it might be wise to look at the cause of the migration.

Mexico was a largely rural land, with farmers growing 25 types of corn on their five acre tracts. While we like to think of our agriculture as efficient, in truth, the Farm Bill now stalled in the Senate subsidizes our corn farms with tens of billions of dollars, driving our small farmers, as well as small farmers around the world off their land.

Meanwhile, we are becoming well known as the biggest hypocrites in the world as we go on and on about free trade.

Let’s quit destroying the economies of weaker nations, and their immigrants will quit overwhelming our borders. Remember, we can’t keep drugs out of prisons, so it is unrealistic to think we can seal our borders.

Janet Gilles

Good work, Janet.

Sealing the borders, my ass!

Look at East Germany. Tiny borders, compared to ours. Guards empowered to shoot to kill, a step we have never been willing to take. And their borders leaked a steady stream. Keeping people in or keeping people out has never worked well except by providing the means to get everything they need where they are -- money, democracy, whatever ....

Steve Russell

Amen to Janet's letter and all. I found on my recent travels that small farmers, rural people in general, are being driven off their land from Honduras to Columbia to Brazil. 17 million people in Sao Paulo is several million people too many for one city. Any "economy of scale" was passed long ago. There are huge slums around Bogota,
Columbia because of a coalition of government officials, drug lords, and large land owners who profit from driving the small farmers off their land. The Garifina, African-Native South American people with their own language, are being driven off their coastal land in Honduras to make way for tourist hotels. Honduras has the second largest concentration of U.S. military after Iraq. Columbia is the recipient of many millions of dollars a year of our "anti-drug" money that props up the military dictatorship. I don't know how "we" are messing with Brazil. Maybe their own ruling class doesn't need help driving people off their land. Panama uses U.S. money, might as well be a State. Gambling, prostitution and pornography are legal in Panama. Very huge high rises are displacing the people in Panama City. I was distressed to find that in these wholly owned subsidiaries of the U.S. one cannot buy Cuban rum. It is definitely "we" who have crossed their borders in search of blunder.

Alan Pogue

Thanks, Alan.

According to his secretary of state, the number one foreign policy goal of the Reagan Administration was to make mj illegal in every country that wanted to trade with the US, and they did. Making wars in every country south of us.

Remember this past few years, both Canada and Mexico tried to legalize, but with the full weight of the US against it, they could not.

Such a tragedy this has led to.

And then with his zero tolerance, incarcerations went from 278 people in Travis county in 1978 to over 20,000 ten years later.

The wars keep us too busy to do what’s decent.

The rural people driven off their land as you say from Honduras to Brazil has led to the biggest migration in human history, and the machines cannot work the land efficiently enough to feed everyone. Only locally raised food can do that, the price of quarter million dollar tractors and genetically engineered seeds and chemical fertilizers is too high for the poor, and then you throw in shipping and storage and cooling.

Only the rich will be able to eat when formerly food was grown everywhere.

Janet Gilles

I found the same scenario when I was out there on the trail. The only land that the poor can have is the land that no one wants. The Monsanto and Cargil plan is in full swing. Their manifesto is to control all the food on the planet and they are moving that direction and could possibly actually do it unless something happens to change things. Rebellion seems to be impossible to me since the powers that are in control also have the media in their pocket.

Charlie Loving

And on that note, Bill Meacham says, "This is scary":

Spy Official Calling Anonymity Dead Simply Summarizing Government Spying Powers
By Ryan Singel

Donald Kerr, the second in command at the Director of National Intelligence office, gave a public speech in October saying that anonymity is gone and that privacy is best understood as what rules and oversight restrict what the government can do with information about you, as the AP reported this weekend.

Essentially, he's arguing that if you are willing to go online - thus sharing some information with at least your ISP, you should be fine with the intelligence community watching what you do, because the government has privacy boards and ISPs do not.

The AP story on that statement (.pdf) has created a media stir, given that Kerr is the number two official in the intelligence community-- which is supposed to spy on foreigners, not Americans. But this is a post-9/11 spy bureaucracy that willingly targeted Americans for surveillance without getting court approval as the law requires.

It's also a pretty clear statement of how the administration and the heads of the intelligence community think government surveillance of Americans should work.

[I]n our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Anonymity results from a lack of identifying features. Nowadays, when so much correlated data is collected and available – and I'm just talking about profiles on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube here – the set of identifiable features has grown beyond where most of us can comprehend. We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment.

Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured.

When Congress passed the so-called Protect America Act this summer, it gave the government the power to order all ISPs, email providers, VOIP phone companies and instant messaging services to turn over all communications that involve at least one person thought to be outside the United States to the government.

The intelligence community also seems to think that it can look at Americans' phone records and the To and From lines in emails to mine for terrorists, without implicating privacy rights.

In the Q&A after his Oct 23, 2007 speech at the GOE-INT Symposium, Kerr questions why it is that individuals are okay with having their emails handled by an ISP - with the threat of an insider looking at the e-mails, with having the federal government - with strong privacy rules

I was taken by a thing that happened to me at the FBI, where I also had electronic surveillance as part of my responsibility. And people were very concerned that the ability to intercept emails was coming into play. And they were saying, well, we just can’t have federal employees able to touch our message traffic. And the fact that, for that federal employee, it was a felony to misuse the data – it was punishable by five years in jail and a $100,000 fine, which I don’t believe has ever happened – but they were perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an ISP who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data. It struck me as an anomalous situation.

Hmm. Suppose there was a rogue employee at your ISP who got access to your internet traffic. The worst case scenario I can think of for most people is that that person might try to blackmail you. As for stealing your credit card, its far more likely this would happen at a restaurant or a retail store.

What can't your ISP do that an intelligence service can?

* Arrange to have you sent to a country like Syria to have you tortured like the government did to Maher Arar. Though the Canadians have since apologized and paid him $10 million for being tortured for almost a year, the U.S. government hides its culpability using the "state secrets privilege"

* Put you on a government watch list

* Find a tenuous connection between you and suspected bad guys in order to justify further surveillance

* Find a way to nail you for material support to terrorism

* Build secret files on Americans' First Amendment-protected political activities

* Use those files to round up dissidents in the event of an "emergency"

In other words, this Administration - of which Kerr is only a small player - believes that the nation's spooks microphones and data-mining robots should be inserted deep into the nation's telephone and internet infrastructure. They don't want court oversight, they don't want Congress asking questions, they don't want inspectors general crawling through their program logs. They think that they should have this power because they promise not to abuse it and there are laws prohibiting some of the things on that list.

They believe that they, unlike the Nixon Administration, won't be tempted to create an domestic enemies list. That they won't start adding groups like Food, Not Bombs and Quakers to terror data bases (only the Pentagon could be so stupid). That they won't make mistakes and transpose phone digits when doing phone surveillance (only the FBI could be so careless.) That they won't confuse Tuttle for Buttle, or Senator Ted Stevens' wife Catherine for notorious terrorist Cat Stevens.

I'm not saying that the Administration is creating an enemies list. Or that they are using their extraordinary surveillance powers for anything other than good-faith anti-terrorism work.

But they have been given the power to build an extraordinary surveillance architecture -- one that any dictator would love to have at his disposal. And they want -- and Congress looks to be set -- to make it permanent in the coming months.


[+/-]

Making Solar Work - P. Spencer

An Integrated Solar Power System
By Paul Spencer

I have collected the pieces of an interesting puzzle – an experiment actually. Y'all might be interested in the results, when they become available. I should have some initial data within three months.

Ingredients (puzzle pieces): forty 6-volt, 180 amp-hour batteries; one 2.5 kilowatt, true-sine-wave, grid-tie inverter; 0.6 kw capability photovoltaic modules; five 4-feet by 12-feet, black rubber, solar-water-heating “pads”; two 275 gallon (U.S.) plastic water tanks; two ½ horsepower electric pumps; one water-to-air heat pump (5-ton capacity).

Location: south-facing roof in Columbia River Gorge, 65 kilometers east of Portland, OR.

The inverter can make switching decisions such as: 1) if no exterior power (e.g., downed transmission lines), route from batteries to house demand; 2) if house demand is less than solar-based input, charge batteries; 3) if 2) and batteries are charged, send to the exterior power grid (turn meter backwards). OK – this is conventional stuff nowadays.

Also, water-to-air heat pumps are not only well-known, but the market is growing at an encouraging rate – encouraging because this is demonstrated to be the most efficient conventional approach to space-heating/cooling. Basically, it uses the well-known refrigeration cycle of expansion/compression to concentrate heat in one region of the machine and to remove heat from another region.

For those who don't know about the so-called geothermal heat pump system, it is typically based on pipes set about 1.7 meters deep in the ground, where soil temperature stays fairly stable at close to 10 degrees C in the temperate zones of the world. In Winter the refrigeration cycle is designed such that the heat pump pulls out some of the heat inherent in 10 degree water, sending, say, 5 degree water back into the pipes in the ground. The length of the piping system is calculated to permit the water to equilibrate at the ground temperature before returning to the heat pump. In Summer the system is valved such that the system reverses direction in terms of heat flow – the heated water goes out to the pipes in the ground. The piping systems are typically quite long, but the extent of the trenching can be reduced by digging wider trenches and looping the pipe as it is laid.

Another less-used system (that is also becoming more common) is to use black rubber pads with small channels fabricated into the length of the pads, manifolded into pipes running width-wise at either end of the pads, to capture solar-based heat in water flowing through these channels. In the U.S. swimming pools are sometimes warmed in the Spring and Fall by this method. Occasionally, these pads are used in conjunction with storage tanks to provide warm/hot water for 'hydronic' heating of floors – water-carrying tubes laid in thick mortar beds under tiles, for instance.

The idea/experiment here is to combine the heating via the black pads with a water-to-air heat pump. One 1/2 hp pump will drive the water from the storage tanks through the pads on the roof and back into the tanks. A second pump will take water from the tanks to the heat pump, when a house-interior thermostat demands hot (or cold) air.

My son helped me to install the water-heating pads on my roof two weekends ago. The last pieces were the water storage tanks, which are sitting in my driveway now. I'm getting ready to install my tanks, pumps, and heat pump in the next few weeks. (I want to get them up soon, so that I can start collecting temperature data vs. ambient conditions in Winter.) After that I'll install my solar modules, grid-tie inverter, and batteries. (Plus I will buy another 2 kw-capability of photovoltaic modules by the end of the year.)

Conditions in my neighborhood are anything but ideal. Insolation runs at about 60% of the high-prairie region just east of my county. Insolation data for this area says that I should just about cover the southern half of my roof with panels to supply about the same kwh-equivalent that I currently consume in electric resistance heating – if capture is successful.

Days here are frequently windy, and a friend – Ormond O. – predicts that the wind will actually work to pull heat out of the system – or at least to reduce the capture of the potential solar-based heat. We'll see. If glazed systems are needed to overcome this effect, at least I won't have much invested in the rubber ones (they're quite cheap). In addition my roof is only sloped at about 10 degrees from the horizontal; and, since we are above the 45th parallel, best angle would probably be something like 60 degrees in Winter.

Couple of interesting wrinkles to consider:

The tanks can be charged from rainwater on the roof;
Since my garden is one “floor” beneath my garage, I can water the garden with rainwater via the storage tanks;
In Fall, Winter, or Spring – when the rainwater is warmer than the water in the tanks, the rainwater can be used to supplant the tank water, raising the temperature and, thus, providing heat;

In Winter the water temperature from our city system comes in at about 10 C. The city system is gravity-pressurized. In the case of long-term electrical failure, the heat pump water system can be recharged from city water, and the heat pump can be run for more than one month on the batteries, assuming high-charge state initially;
In Summer the pump that lifts the water to the pads would be turned on at, say, midnight and off at, say, 5:00 AM. Idea would be to radiate heat away from the pads during the coolest part of the night. This would be for use in supporting the 'air conditioner' cycle. (We see 35 C or above about one to two weeks per year, so air conditioning would be nice during that period.)

So – as I say – this is an experiment. Comparing temperature changes to the various ambient conditions should provide some ability to predict viability – although viability may entail moving 80 km to the East of here.

[+/-]

26 November 2007

A Severe Warning Sign

A little more comedy for you tonight.

"A Generalized Meltdown of Financial Institutions"
By Mike Whitney, Nov 26, 2007, 11:50

Take a Look at Professor Roubini's Crystal Ball.

Reality has finally caught up to the stock market. The American consumer is underwater, the banks are buried in debt, and the housing market is in terminal distress. The Dow is now below its 200-Day Moving Average -- the first big "sell" signal. Anything below 12,500 could trigger program-trading and crash the market. The increased volatility suggests that we are watching a "real time" meltdown.

International Business editor for the UK Telegraph, Ambrose Evans Pritchard, summed up yesterday's action in the Asian markets:

"The global credit crisis has hit Asia with a vengeance for the first time, triggering a massive flight to safety as investors across the region pull out of risky assets. Yields on three-month deposits in China and Korea have plummeted to near 1pc in a spectacular fall over recent days, caused by panic withdrawals from money market funds and credit derivatives.

"'This' is a severe warning sign,' said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas. 'Asia ignored the credit crunch in August but now we're seeing the poison beginning to paralyze the whole global economy.'" (Credit 'Heart attack' engulfs China and Korea" Ambrose Evans Pritchard,UK Telegraph,)

The credit storm that began in the United States with subprime mortgages has spread to markets across the globe. In fact, the train has already crashed. What we're seeing now is the boxcars piling up on top of each other.

On Tuesday Chinese government officials ordered a complete halt to bank lending to slow the speculative frenzy that has created an enormous equity bubble in the stock market. According to the Wall Street Journal:

"Chinese authorities are slamming the brakes on bank lending, in their latest attempt to curb the runaway investment threatening to overheat what is soon to be the world's third-largest economy. In recent weeks, regulators have quietly ordered China's commercial banks to freeze lending through the end of the year, according to bankers in several cities. The bankers say that to comply, they are canceling loans and credit lines with businesses and individuals." ("China freezes lending to Curb Investing Frenzy" Wall Street Journal)

The move illustrates how concerned the Chinese are that a slowdown in US consumer spending will trigger a crash on the Shanghai stock market. It also shows that the Chinese are having difficulty dealing with the inflation generated by the hundreds of billions of US dollars absorbed via the trade imbalance with the US. China is awash in USDs and that surplus is causing a steady rise in food and energy costs. This could be mitigated by allowing their currency to "float" freely. But a sudden, steep increase in the Chinese yuan's value could also send the world headlong into a global recession. For now, the lending freeze and price fixing appear to be the way out.

Another sign that the markets have reached a "tipping point" appeared in a Reuters article on Wednesday; "Interbank Covered Bond Trading Halted on Volatility":

"Renewed credit turmoil and volatility led the European Covered Bond Council (ECBC) on Wednesday to suspend inter-bank market-making in covered bonds until Monday, Nov. 26.

The move is a sign of the stress in the covered bond market, which is dominated by German institutions that have almost a trillion euros of covered bonds outstanding.

Covered bonds -- backed by pools of assets that remain on the borrower's balance sheet -- are usually highly liquid and typically rated triple-A by ratings agencies. The ECBC's recommendation is aimed at relieving the pressure on market makers who are forced to quote prices at a fixed bid-offer spread.

"In light of the current market situation and in order to avoid undue over-acceleration in the widening of spreads, the 8-to-8 Market-Makers & Issuers Committee recommends that inter-bank market-making be suspended," the ECBC said in a release."

Note: This isn't mortgage-backed junk that's being sold, but highly liquid bonds that are usually easy to cash in. The ECBC's action is a sign of pure desperation and indicates that credit paralysis has infected the entire euro banking system.

Reuters: "Due to general market conditions and the specific mechanics of the inter-dealer market making it even seems possible that inter-dealer market making will not be resumed this year."

That's bad. The mechanism for converting covered bonds into cash has broken down.

The dollar took another pasting on Wednesday, sliding to $1.49 on the euro; another new record. Gold shot up to $814 per ounce. Oil continues to flirt with the $100 per barrel mark, and the yen rose to 107 per dollar forcing a sell-off of hedge fund assets levered through the carry trade.

Jon Basile, economist at Credit Suisse, summed it up like this: "There's a heck of a lot of bad news out there." Indeed.

In California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has joined with four mortgage lenders to freeze adjustable interest rates (ARMs) for some of the state's highest-risk borrowers; another unprecedented move. The Governor hopes to avoid a collapse of the California real estate market which has gone into a tailspin. Home sales have plummeted more than 40 per cent for the last two months. Prices have dropped sharply---roughly 12 per cent statewide. New construction has slowed to a crawl. Layoffs are steadily rising. Jumbo loans (mortgages over $417,000) have been put on the "Endangered Species" list. Even qualified borrowers can't get mortgages. Nothing is selling. California housing is "off the cliff".

Schwarzenegger's plan to keep over-extended subprime mortgage-holders in their homes faces an uncertain future. What incentive is there for homeowners to continue paying exorbitant monthly rates when their payments are not applied to the principle? The homeowners would be better off bailing out, accepting foreclosure, and starting over with a clean slate.

It's unrealistic to thinks that Schwarzenegger can stop the tidal wave of foreclosures that are sweeping across the state. An estimated 3 million homeowners will lose their homes nationwide.

If you want to blame someone; blame Alan Greenspan. He's the one who created this mess. According to the economist Mike Shedlock:

"The Fed caused the credit crunch by slashing interest rates to 1 per cent to bail out its banking buddies in the wake of a dotcom bubble collapse. All the Fed did was create a bigger bubble. This bubble is so big in fact that it cannot even be bailed out. It's the end of the line for a serially bubble blowing Fed.

"So not only was this the biggest credit bubble in history, this was also the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the already enormously wealthy. That is the real travesty of justice regardless of whether or not the price tag is $1 trillion, $2 trillion, or $10 trillion." (Mike Shedlock, "Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis")

The problem has gotten so serious that even Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, is putting up red flags. Last week, Paulson ignited a sell-off on Wall Street when he made this statement:

"The nature of the problem will be significantly bigger next year because 2006 [mortgages] had lower underwriting standards, no amortization, and no down payments....We're never going to be able to process the number of workouts and modifications (to mortgages) that are going to be necessary doing it just sort of one-off. I've talked to enough people now to know that there's no way that's going to work."

The desperation is palpable. Like Schwarzenegger, Paulson is trying to get mortgage-lenders to provide a safety net for struggling borrowers who are defaulting on their loans.

Paulson is calling for emergency legislation that will allow the Federal Housing Administration to play a greater role in the relief effort. The FHA has already expanded its traditional role by taking on hundreds of billions in extra debt just to keep a few "private" mortgage lenders and banks from going bankrupt. Of course, when Paulson's plan goes kaput and the debts pile up; it'll be the taxpayer that foots the bill.

"Paulson also called the Senate's failure to pass legislation overhauling mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac frustrating," saying that the two government-sponsored entities need to be playing a bigger role in the housing market.

"If we ever need them it's during times like today, and they're most valuable when there is distress in the mortgage market," he said. "I'd like to see them playing an even bigger role."(Wall Street Journal)

Fannie and Freddie, have already posted enormous quarterly losses and don't have the capital reserves to put millions of subprime mortgage-holders under their "government-sponsored" umbrella. Paulson is just grabbing at straws.

Similar troubles are brewing in the broader market where late-payments and defaults have spread to credit card debt and new car loans. Every area of "securitized" debt has suddenly veered off the road and into the ditch. Last week the Fed injected more credit into the teetering banking system than anytime since 9-11.

No one has predicted the downward-spiral in the market more accurately than Nouriel Roubini. Roubini is a Professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University. His analysis appears regularly on his blogsite, Global EconoMonitor. Last week's prediction was particularly dire and is worth reprinting here:

"It is increasingly clear by now that a severe U.S. recession is inevitable in next few months...I now see the risk of a severe and worsening liquidity and credit crunch leading to a generalized meltdown of the financial system of a severity and magnitude like we have never observed before. In this extreme scenario whose likelihood is increasing we could see a generalized run on some banks; and runs on a couple of weaker (non-bank) broker dealers that may go bankrupt with severe and systemic ripple effects on a mass of highly leveraged derivative instruments that will lead to a seizure of the derivatives markets... massive losses on money market funds with a run on both those sponsored by banks and those not sponsored by banks; ..ever growing defaults and losses ($500 billion plus) in subprime, near prime and prime mortgages with severe knock-on effect on the RMBS and CDOs market; massive losses in consumer credit (auto loans, credit cards); severe problems and losses in commercial real estate...; the drying up of liquidity and credit in a variety of asset backed securities putting the entire model of securitization at risk; runs on hedge funds and other financial institutions that do not have access to the Fed's lender of last resort support; a sharp increase in corporate defaults and credit spreads; and a massive process of re-intermediation into the banking system of activities that were until now altogether securitized." (Nouriel Roubini's Global EconoMonitor)

"A generalized meltdown of the financial system".

Looks like Chicken Little might have gotten it right this time; "The sky IS falling."

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com.


[+/-]

Conservatism Is the Ideology of Freedom

Hah, hah, hah, hah ......

If Conservatism Is The Ideology of Freedom, I’m The Queen of England
By David Michael Green

11/24/07 "ICH" -- -- - I wish I had a nickel for every time a conservative told a lie in order to sell an ideology that would otherwise be hopelessly unappealing.

But, then, what the hell would I do with ten kazillion, trillion, dollars? I wouldn’t know how to spend that much loot.

These lies are legend, and they’re endlessly retold. Everything from the one about the liberal bias in the media, or the one about Ronald Reagan ending the Cold War, to the one about how the private sector is so much more efficient than the government. And how about Saddam’s arsenal of WMD, eh? Or the tax cuts that weren’t going to drive the federal government into deficit? Or remember when George Bush told us that the war in Iraq was over, before it had even really started? Or the bit about how global warming is just a great big conspiracy among those noted well-known cabalists, er … climatology scientists?

I’m only just getting started here, but you get the point. If you’re a conservative you basically have two choices - lie or lose. ‘Cause if you tell the truth, no one in his or her right mind would buy the garbage you’re peddling.

The list of lies is endless, but my personal favorite is the one about how conservatism is the ideology of freedom, and specifically freedom from an overweening, intrusive, liberty-stealing, nanny-state government.

Sometimes when I hear that howler, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not off in some virtual reality world (like ‘Liberty’ University, or the Republican national convention) somewhere. Because, clearly, between me and the well-programmed fool mouthing these hopeless inanities, one of us is, that’s for sure.

But I’ll tell you what, if conservatism is the ideology of freedom - then I’m the Queen of England. And, one thing you can be sure of is that I’m not the Queen of England. I don’t even have the right parts and pieces, and the only crown I’ve ever worn was given to me forty years ago by some pimply-faced teenager working the cash register at Burger King. Somehow, I don’t think that counts.

Meanwhile, here’s what I’d like to know:

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who fought against the American Revolution?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always trying to take that freedom away from us, especially women and minorities? Why did they fight against the effort to end slavery, or to give women and minorities the vote, or to protect them from discrimination? Why are they still supporting efforts to disenfranchise minorities?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who bitterly opposed the New Deal at a time when Americans were ravaged by the Great Depression and the only freedom they were desperately seeking was from unemployment, starvation, humiliation and death? We should give thanks for their efforts ever since then, though, as they’ve been kind enough to keep trying to liberate seniors from the hell of receiving their Social Security benefits, bravely volunteering Wall Street to carry that burden instead.

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always propping up foreign dictators, like Saddam, Musharraf, Mubarak, Marcos, Pinochet, the Shah, Batista, the House of Saud and apartheid South Africa? Why did they, in some of these cases, secretly topple democratically elected governments to install repressive regimes, which they then assisted in the torturing of their own citizens? Exactly which definition of ‘freedom’ does that fall under?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always trying to control other people’s sexuality? Why are conservatives always telling us whom we can sleep with and what we can do in bed, even including whether we can use birth control?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always trying to make sure that the state takes control of women’s bodies, denying them reproductive choice and freedom?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always trying to tell us who we can marry? How come they believe that the state - which they always seem to hate, except when it is at war - should be able to make that most personal decision for us?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always blocking the environmental regulations which are the only hope to keep our bodies free from carcinogens and other harmful effects?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who refuse to allow us to use medical marijuana when we are suffering the effects of chemotherapy, and even perhaps at risk of dying from the wasting it causes?

Indeed, if conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are limiting the freedom of individuals to use drugs of any sort? If people want to use these substances and can do so without harming others, why do conservatives insist on restricting that freedom?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who refuse to allow us to die with dignity when we have a terminal disease, instead thrusting the state into the most personal and private decision a human being can make?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who passed an act of Congress intervening in the personal family tragedy of Terri Schiavo, with the president of the United States - the same one who couldn’t be bothered to come off vacation to deal with the 9/11 threat or the Katrina disaster - flying across the country to sign it?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are denying many of us the freedom to live by forbidding the stem-cell research that would likely produce cures to all manner of diseases now killing of millions of us every year?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are loading up our children with mountains of debt that the federal government has borrowed under the stewardship of such notorious liberals as Ronald Reagan (who quadrupled the national debt) and George W. Bush (who borrowed more money from foreign governments than all 42 of his predecessors, combined)? Right now, every eighteen year-old just starting a payroll job owes $60,000, and rising, plus interest, as their share of the nine trillion dollars conservatives have been especially instrumental in running up as national debt. What kind of freedom, exactly, does that represent? Assuming (quite ‘conservatively’) that that number rises to $100,000 before it is paid off, and that our young friend earns ten bucks an hour, it is the freedom to work five solid years, bringing home zero dollars after taxes, to do nothing whatsoever but paying off his share of the conservative binge.

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who have taken the very lives of four thousand of our soldiers for a war based completely on lies? This same war has left tens of thousands of Americans gravely wounded, likely more than a million Iraqi civilians dead, and well over four million more Iraqis as refugees from the violence. What kind of freedom is this? The freedom from having to be alive and well? The freedom to serve three and four rotations of extended tours in the hell of Iraq, keeping our military personnel safe from their nagging mothers-in-law at home?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are so anxious to take away our civil liberties, the most important of American freedoms, as enshrined in one of the greatest statements of freedom ever, the Bill of Rights? What happened to habeas corpus - a freedom dating back almost a thousand years - or the right to an attorney, or to have a trial, or to be protected from search and seizure without a judicially-issued warrant based on probable cause, or protection from torture? What happened to all those freedoms? What happened is that conservatives came to town and erased them.

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always trying to have the government jam their religion down our throats, in direct opposition to the intentions of the Founders? The United States Constitution makes precisely the same number of references to the Christian god as it does to the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Zoroastrian. That would be none. What kind of freedom is it for everyone’s tax dollars to support one group’s religion, or for our government to impose a single religion on all of us?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are always telling me I should leave the country if I don’t approve the latest war for lies they’ve cooked up? How exactly does ’shut-up or leave’ qualify as freedom of speech?

If conservatism is the ideology of freedom, how come they’re the ones who are constantly attempting to turn the executive branch of the federal government into a monarchy? By using signing statements, endless claims of executive privilege, lack of congressional oversight when they controlled Congress, thwarted oversight when they didn’t, and unprecedented levels of secrecy, they have shredded the fundamental doctrine of separated powers checking and balancing against each other. Since those ideas - the most basic concept of the Constitution - are intended to keep us safe from governments that would steal our liberties, just how is it that conservatism is the ideology of freedom?

Any one of these inconvenient truths, let alone the sum of all of them, demonstrate the absurdity of this claim. Not only is it ridiculous to call a conservatism that at every turn seeks to limit you - in what you can say, what you can ingest, who you can sleep with, marry, and even when you can end your own life - the ideology of freedom, but the only real conclusion that one can honestly come to on the basis of this historical record is of course just the opposite: Conservatism is, and has almost always been, the ideology of oppression - the very opposite of freedom.

When Americans wanted liberty from the British crown, conservative Tories not only in Britain but here as well fought to block that freedom. When ‘radicals’ sought to emancipate the slaves, conservatives fought to keep them in chains. When progressives later sought equality for women and blacks, it was conservatives who stood in the doorways blocking entrance. And, today, as we seek justice and fairness for all people regardless of their sexual orientation, it is - wait for it, now - the conservative movement which not only resists that effort at every turn, but in fact shamefully turns their homophobia into a tool used to win elections, just as they have been doing with racism for forty years now.

Indeed, you have to be more or less deaf, dumb and blind - or perhaps simply watching Fox every night for your ‘news’ (which produces the same result) - to buy into this rhetoric from the theater of the absurd. Let me reiterate: If you think these monsters who are depriving you of your liberties at every opportunity represent freedom, then you need to bow, scrape and walk backwards in my presence, as a sign of respect for the British crown. I’ll take a bunch of your money, too. Palaces aren’t cheap to maintain, buddy.

Yeah, sure, it’s true that conservatives will be right there for you if you want the freedom to buy guns and ammo, including ‘cop-killer’ bullets, assault rifles (to nail those most obstinate of pheasants, of course), or a fifty caliber rifle capable of bringing down a jumbo jet, and advertised as such in its sales literature. Of course, along with the freedom to buy these weapons (and how come, if the Second Amendment protects the bearing of “arms”, not ‘guns’, I can’t also legally buy cannons, napalm and tactical nuclear warheads - just in case the neighborhood gets a little rowdy?), also comes the lovely ‘freedom’ to join the 35,000 or so Americans every year who become very stiff corpses as a result of the massive proliferation of weapons in which America uniquely specializes. Perhaps you’d rather live in Europe, eh, enjoying being alive? Well, for the rest of you non-sissies out there, conservatives have made sure that you have the freedom to take your bullet along with you when you’re buried. What cheese-eating Frenchman ever had that freedom?

Conservatives are also busy making sure that there is plenty of freedom for corporations to pollute the land, water and air we depend on for survival. Regulation is bad, you see. Very bad. It’s much better to have freedom - including your freedom to get sick, or to live in a world careering toward global disaster - than it would be to impede on the freedom of the super-rich to make themselves super-duper-rich.

No need to worry too much about the health implications of global warming, arsenic or radioactive waste, though. Chances are you won’t live long enough to get killed this way, or to be shot by somebody whose freedom to own a gun has been well protected by nice right-wing people. That’s because conservatives are also on the front-lines in the lonely battle fighting to make sure that you have the opportunity to join the more than 47 million Americans free from having healthcare coverage, or the many tens of millions more whose policies are insufficient to keep them alive. Don’t you feel good knowing you’re free from the evils of ’socialized’ medicine? Isn’t profit-driven corporate non-care so much better? Forget about “Give me liberty or give me death”. Now you can have both!

One thing you can’t argue about, however, is that it is conservatives who will keep your taxes down. Right? Well, yeah, if you mean this year. And if you mean nickels and dimes. But then, by applying the same logic, making your house payment on a credit card would be defined as keeping your monthly expenses down. (Of course, since you’re about to lose your house anyhow, as a result of conservative economics, that may be a moot point.) But there’s just these two little problems. One is that the nice people who loan you money invariably want to be paid back. And, two, they want interest on the loans as well. I don’t know who middle-class Americans dreamed would be paying for their meager tax cuts, which - along with massively increased government spending by those paragons of fiscal responsibility, you guessed it, conservatives - were funded by charging it all on the federal plastic, but you can bet America’s creditors know all our addresses. They’ll find us when the bill comes due.

Of course, this is only the beginning. What the tax cuts were really about was shifting the burden of funding government from the wealthy to the middle class, and from today’s generation to tomorrow’s. So, not only will middle class Americans, or their kids, have to pay back everything borrowed these last six years to fund their piddly little tax cuts, plus interest accrued, but they will also be paying for the massive tax cuts that were given to the massively wealthy.

Which, of course, is really what the whole elaborate kabuki dance of conservative ‘freedom’ was ever all about, from the beginning. As one of the greatest political marketing ploys of all time, it used pathetic middle class tax cuts plus supremely ironic restrictions on social and personal liberties to sell a bunch of frightened naifs on the notion that conservatism is the ideology of freedom, all so that the ubër-class could realize their dream kleptocracy in place of a government actually devoted to public service. And, remarkably, it worked - at least for a time.

Don’t you feel better now that you’re free after decades of Reagan, Gingrich, Bush, Cheney, DeLay and Scalia? You’re free to shut up with your unpopular ideas. You’re free from having to make difficult decisions when you’re pregnant. You’re free to be arrested for smoking a joint to keep from vomiting while you’re doing chemotherapy. You’re free from having to worry about which sex you’re going to sleep with or marry. You’re free from protection against guns or from long life in a healthy environment. And when you do get shot or sick, you’re free from adequate medical care. Moreover, should you find yourself stuck with a painful and terminal illness, you’re also free from either stem-cell remedies or your own choice to end your suffering and die with dignity.

You’re also free to fall through the tattered safety net of government programs during a recession or a depression, and you’ll likely be free from making those pesky house payments very much further into the future either. You’re free from wondering whether the rest of the world hates you and your country because it’s been undermining democracies, propping up dictators, and invading oil-rich countries on the basis of completely fabricated war rationales. You’re free from having to pay your taxes today. But you’ll also be free from buying those things you wanted tomorrow, as you’ll instead be paying today’s taxes, interest on those taxes, tomorrow’s taxes, plus the share that the wealthy used to pay.

So whattaya think? Ain’t conservative freedom great?

Next time you hear a conservative ranting about the wonder and joys of freedom, tell them: “Yeah, no kidding, freedom is a really good thing. You’d like it even better if you actually tried it out some time”.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.


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