31 July 2007

Crisis Is Also an Opportunity for Change

Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys: The Case for Resilience
By Chip Ward

Resilience. You may not have heard much about it, but brace yourself. You're going to hear that word a lot in the future. It is what we have too little of as our world slips into unpredictable climate chaos. "Resilience thinking," the cutting edge of environmental science, may someday replace "efficiency" as the organizing principle of our economy.

Our current economic system is designed to maximize outputs and minimize costs. (That's what we call efficiency.) Efficiency eliminates redundancy, which is abundant in nature, in favor of finding the one "best" way of doing something -- usually "best" means most profitable over the short run -- and then doing it that way and that way only. And we aim for control, too, because it is more efficient to command than just let things happen the way they will. Most of our knowledge about how natural systems work is focused on how to get what we want out of them as quickly and cheaply as possible -- things like timber, minerals, water, grain, fish, and so on. We're skilled at breaking systems apart and manipulating the pieces for short-term gain.

Think of resiliency, on the other hand, as the ability of a system to recover from a disturbance. Recovery requires options to that one "best" way of doing things in case that way is blocked or disturbed. A resilient system is adaptable and diverse. It has some redundancy built in. A resilient perspective acknowledges that change is constant and prediction difficult in a world that is complex and dynamic. It understands that when you manipulate the individual pieces of a system, you change that system in unintended ways. Resilience thinking is a new lens for looking at the natural world we are embedded in and the manmade world we have imposed upon it.

In the world today, efficiency rules. The history of our industrial civilization has essentially been the story of gaining control over nature. Water-spilling rivers were dammed and levied; timber-wasting forest fires were suppressed; cattle-eating predators were eliminated; and pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics were liberally applied to deal with those pesky insects, weeds, and microbes that seemed so intent on wasting what we wanted to use efficiently. Today we are even engineering the genetic codes of plants and animals to make them more efficient.

Surprise Happens

Too often we understand the natural systems we manipulate incompletely. We treat living systems as if they were simple, static, linear, and predictable when, in reality they are complex, dynamic, and unpredictable. When building our manmade world on top of those natural systems, we regularly fail to account for inevitable natural disturbances and changes. So when the "unexpected inevitable" occurs, we are shocked. Worse, we often find that we have "all our eggs in one basket," and that the redundancy we eliminated in the name of efficiency limits our options for recovery. This applies to manmade systems, too.

Our efficient energy and food systems are perfect examples of how monolithic and brittle our infrastructure can become. Political turmoil in the Middle East, storms ravaging offshore oil wells, refinery fires, terrorism, and any number of other easily imaginable, even inevitable disruptions send gas prices soaring and suddenly our oil-dependent economy is pitched into a crisis. Because there is no readily available alternative to how we fuel our way of life -- no resilience -- our dependence on fossil fuels leaves us especially vulnerable to crisis. Our food system is likewise vulnerable, since it is so dependent on oil-based fertilizers and pesticides and relies on cheap and consistent supplies of gas for farm machinery and shipping.

Redundancy -- alternative energy sources, for example -– would have left us options to fall back on in a time of such crisis. We did not develop those options, however, because they weren't considered "competitive." That is, if one energy source is cheaper to produce than others -- ignoring, of course, all the associated and unacknowledged environmental and health costs -- then that is the predominant energy source we will use to the exclusion of all others. Decades ago, oil and coal were cheap and so we constructed an entire energy infrastructure around those resources alone. (Nuclear squeaked through the door only because it was so heavily subsidized by government.) Solar and wind couldn't compete according to the rigid market criteria we applied, so those sources hardly exist today. We are still told that we will get them only when they become more competitive.

Our focus on efficiency in building manmade systems has been short-sighted because it fails to anticipate change over the long run. Resiliency is eliminated at each turn by owners, managers, and planners steeped in the cult of efficiency and trained to cut out profit-reducing redundancy whenever it appears. In organizations, this usually works well -- at least for a while. But our attempt to maximize the use of natural systems has, in this regard, been an unmitigated disaster.

Most of the technological means we use to overcome nature's inefficiencies seem clever and beneficial until the long-term drawbacks dawn on us. In the Northwest, for instance, dams seemed like a great way to produce electricity and make rivers navigable until, that is, the salmon began to die and an entire Northwest ecosystem that depended on salmon began to unravel. Until they broke under the power of Hurricane Katrina, the levees in New Orleans seemed to be a neat alternative to those messy coastal wetlands and inconvenient barrier islands we had wiped out for keeping storm surges in check.

Bees Drop Dead

The recent collapse of honeybee colonies across the United States provides a compelling example of how we removed resilience from a fundamental ecological service -- pollination -- to make it more efficient and the unexpected blowback we are now suffering from that. In this case, there is little resilience in the manmade system of food production that relies on healthy populations of commercial bee colonies to pollinate crops and too little resilience left in the natural world for bees to recover quickly from whatever is wiping them out.

Pollination is a fundamental process that happens many ways -- birds do it, bees do it, even butterflies and moths do it. But humans who grow food rely almost exclusively on bees; and not the hundreds of species of wild bees either, but one bee, the European honeybee. Sometimes resilience in nature is the availability of diverse options to fall back on in times of disturbance, but even when there is one choice, like bees for pollinating crops, there are still resilient features, redundancies that we eliminate at our peril. For hundreds of years, numerous dispersed and varied bee populations meant that a scarcity of bees here could be compensated for by an abundance of bees there. Not anymore. We have grabbed this key ecological process to maximize its use and have wrung out what resiliency there was.

Although the widespread disappearance of bees from our landscapes sounds like the stuff of melodramatic science fiction, like those movies about Ebola virus or asteroid strikes, the situation is both dire and all too real. Bee-tracking experts estimate that, across 26 states, between a half-million and a million of 2.4 million bee colonies have collapsed this year. Because many fruit, vegetable, and seed crops, worth about $12 billion annually, rely on the most affected bee, the European Honeybee, for pollination, bee loss will translate into increased food costs for consumers and a potential loss of food variety as well.

Nobody knows for sure why bee colonies are collapsing. German researchers recently speculated that the rapid growth in cell-phone use might be a cause, that some kind of tipping point had been crossed where bees could no longer navigate and communicate in an electro-magnetic environment saturated with cell-phone signals. This speculation is based upon experiments in which forager bees abandoned hives next to which cell phones had been placed. But bee populations are collapsing across the nation, including in areas with less cell phone ubiquity.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

The suddenness of the collapse is puzzling, but one possibility would be the emergence of some new killer parasite or bee mite -- a development that could result in such a precipitous decline. After all, bee pollination is big business. Bees are transported and mixed today in ways never before possible, giving the tiny parasitic critters that bees carry in their guts all sorts of opportunities to find new hosts. But whatever the specific cause of bee colony collapse, the context of this pollinator catastrophe is an old story.

Once upon a time we had lots of small, local farms. Farmers relied on dispersed bee populations to pollinate their crops, enhanced and encouraged by the work of local beekeepers. When monoculture was but a glint in the agricultural eye, when cows, chickens, pigs, and more than one crop was still part of the farming dynamic, a farmer might also keep a hive or two. Before we replaced meadows and prairies with sprawling subdivisions, there was enough habitat for local bee populations to thrive and meet agricultural demands. Not anymore.

Today, when farms are massive and almost invariably dedicated to single crops, there just aren't enough local bees to do the work required. In addition, the crops we grow need to be pollinated at different times. So, for example, vast crops of almonds in California need to be pollinated in February when there aren't enough local bees around, so the growers import bees to do the job.

Diesel-Driven Bee Slums

In fact, we ship billions of bees from here to there and back again in tractor-trailer trucks to pollinate our food crops. Like so many other aspects of modern agriculture, bee pollination has become a business that matches the scale of our food-production system. So, out with the inefficient, inflexible, insufficient local bees and in with diesel-driven colonies of commercial bees that arrive in sufficient numbers where and when we want them. The top beekeeping corporation in America can put 70,000 hives on the road at one time.

What happens to bees in such circumstances is probably similar to what happens to all creatures living in crowded and overpopulated environments -- illness can spread quickly. A dairy farmer in Vermont told me that, when you have a hundred cows in the milking barn, you can use antibiotics sparingly. But put a thousand cows together and you're applying antibiotics all the time. Whatever happens in one cow's blood stream tends to go through the whole herd quickly -- and the more cows that are crowded together, the more viruses, parasites, and infections are in play.

The same thing happens to chickens and pigs in factory farms, which is why they get antibiotics routinely. Why would bees be an exception to the vulnerability to illness that comes with agriculture conducted on such a massive scale? You can't, however, apply antibiotics to bees the way you can to cows because bees are more likely to trade mites than infections, so new miticides are being developed.

Logically enough, bee vulnerability is increased if the immune responses of the bees are low. A friend of mine drove tractor-trailer trucks filled with bees as a summer job in college. He drove by night when the bees were in their hives and quiet. The goal was to get to his destination before dawn and unload the bees onto the targeted crop before they became busy, uncooperative, and agitated. When the trip was rough, when there were breakdowns or bad weather en route, he said, thousands of bees died. If stress kills bees, it is not unreasonable to assume it lowers immune response.

Bees have to be fed between trips. High fructose corn syrup is hauled to them in tanker trucks, which probably isn't any better for their health than it is for ours. Bees, of course, encounter and incorporate pesticides and herbicides in the fields they pollinate, as well as all the other background pollutants we have put into the environment. Toxic chemicals also lower immune thresholds. Who knows what those genetically modified plants they encounter do to them? Add it all up and you get overcrowded, malnourished, stressed-out, poisoned, possibly cell-phone radiated, disturbed bees. Any -- or all -- of this could contribute to the present colony collapse, or it could be due to some as yet unknown factor or development. When it comes to resiliency, however, it doesn't matter. What does matter is the missing redundancy in the system.

Read all of it here.

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Returning 4 Million to Their Homes Is Not a US Benchmark

Iraq: One in seven joins human tide spilling into neighbouring countries
Patrick Cockburn in Sulaymaniyah
Published: 30 July 2007

Two thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homes every day. It is the greatest mass exodus of people ever in the Middle East and dwarfs anything seen in Europe since the Second World War. Four million people, one in seven Iraqis, have run away, because if they do not they will be killed. Two million have left Iraq, mainly for Syria and Jordan, and the same number have fled within the country.

Yet, while the US and Britain express sympathy for the plight of refugees in Africa, they are ignoring - or playing down- a far greater tragedy which is largely of their own making.

The US and Britain may not want to dwell on the disasters that have befallen Iraq during their occupation but the shanty towns crammed with refugees springing up in Iraq and neighbouring countries are becoming impossible to ignore.

Even so the UNHCR is having difficulty raising $100m (£50m) for relief. The organisation says the two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees - Syria and Jordan - have still received "next to nothing from the world community". Some 1.4 million Iraqis have fled to Syria according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, Jordan has taken in 750 000 while Egypt and Lebanon have seen 200 000 Iraqis cross into their territories.

Potential donors are reluctant to spent money inside Iraq arguing the country has large oil revenues. They are either unaware, or are ignoring the fact that the Iraqi administration has all but collapsed outside the Baghdad Green Zone. The US is spending $2bn a week on military operations in Iraq according to the Congressional Research Service but many Iraqis are dying because they lack drinking water costing a few cents.

Kalawar refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah is a microcosm of the misery to which millions of Iraqis have been reduced.

"At least it is safe here," says Walid Sha'ad Nayef, 38, as he stands amid the stink of rotting garbage and raw sewage. He fled from the lethally dangerous Sa'adiyah district in Baghdad 11 months ago. As we speak to him, a man silently presents us with the death certificate of his son, Farez Maher Zedan, who was killed in Baghdad on 20 May 2006.

Kalawar is a horrible place. Situated behind a petrol station down a dusty track, the first sight of the camp is of rough shelters made out of rags, torn pieces of cardboard and old blankets. The stench is explained by the fact the Kurdish municipal authorities will not allow the 470 people in the camp to dig latrines. They say this might encourage them to stay.

"Sometimes I go to beg," says Talib Hamid al-Auda, a voluble man with a thick white beard looking older than his fifty years. As he speaks, his body shakes, as if he was trembling at the thought of the demeaning means by which he feeds his family. Even begging is difficult because the people in the camp are forbidden to leave it on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Suspected by Kurds of being behind a string of house robberies, though there is no evidence for this, they are natural scapegoats for any wrong-doing in their vicinity.

Refugees are getting an increasingly cool reception wherever they flee, because there are so many of them and because of the burden they put on resources. "People here blame us for forcing up rents and the price of food," said Omar, who had taken his family to Damascus after his sister's leg was fractured by a car bomb.

The refugees in Kalawar had no option but to flee. Of the 97 families here, all but two are Sunni Arabs. Many are from Sa'adiyah in west Baghdad where 84 bodies were found by police between 18 June and 18 July. Many are young men whose hands had been bound and who had been tortured.

"The majority left Baghdad because somebody knocked on the door of their house and told them to get out in an hour," says Rosina Ynzenga, who runs the Spanish charity Solidarity International (SIA) which pays for a mobile clinic to visit the camp.

Sulaymaniyah municipality is antagonistic to her doing more. One Kurdish official suggested that the Arabs of Kalawar were there simply for economic reasons and should be given $200 each and sent back to Baghdad.

Mr Nayef, the mukhtar (mayor) of the camp who used to be a bulldozer driver in Baghdad, at first said nobody could speak to journalists unless we had permission from the authorities. But after we had ceremoniously written our names in a large book he relented and would, in any case, have had difficulty in stopping other refugees explaining their grievences.

Asked to list their worst problems Mr Nayef said they were the lack of school for the children, shortage of food, no kerosene to cook with, no money, no jobs and no electricity. The real answer to the question is that the Arabs of Kalawar have nothing. They have only received two cartons of food each from the International Committee of the Red Cross and a tank of clean water.

Even so they are adamant that they dare not return to Baghdad. They did not even know if their houses had been taken over by others.

Abla Abbas, a mournful looking woman in black robes, said her son had been killed because he went to sell plastic bags in the Shia district of Khadamiyah in west Baghdad. The poor in Iraq take potentially fatal risks to earn a little money.

The uncertainty of the refugees' lives in Kalawar is mirrored in their drawn faces. While we spoke to them there were several shouting matches. One woman kept showing us a piece of paper from the local authority in Sulaymaniyah giving her the right to stay there. She regarded us nervously as if we were officials about to evict her.

There are in fact three camps at Kalawar. Although almost all the refugees are Sunni they come from different places and until a month ago they lived together. But there were continual arguments. The refugees decided that they must split into three encampments: one from Baghdad, a second from Hillah, south of Baghdad, and a third from Diyala, the mixed Sunni-Shia province that has been the scene of ferocious sectarian pogroms.

Governments and the media crudely evaluate human suffering in Iraq in terms of the number killed. A broader and better barometer would include those who have escaped death only by fleeing their homes, their jobs and their country to go and live, destitute and unwanted, in places like Kalawar. The US administration has 18 benchmarks to measure progress in Iraq but the return of four million people to their homes is not among them.


[+/-]

A Picture of Chaos

Interior Ministry mirrors chaos of a fractured Iraq
By Ned Parker, Times Staff Writer
July 30, 2007

The nerve center of the nation's police is not so much a government agency as an 11-story powder keg of factions.

BAGHDAD — The colonel pulls his Mercedes into the parking lot of the drab, 11-story concrete building, scanning the scene for suspicious cars.

Before reaching for the door handle, he studies the people loitering nearby in hopes he will be able to recognize anyone still there later in the day. He grips his pistol, the trigger cocked, wary of an ambush.

He has arrived at his office.

This is Iraq's Ministry of Interior — the balkanized command center for the nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the government here to grind nearly to a halt.

The very language that Americans use to describe government — ministries, departments, agencies — belies the reality here of militias that kill under cover of police uniform and remain above the law. Until recently, one or two Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior police officials say.

That killing has been reduced, but Western diplomats still describe the Interior Ministry building as a "federation of oligarchs." Those who work in the building, like the colonel, liken departments to hostile countries. Survival depends on keeping abreast of shifting factional alliances and turf.

On the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.

The third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.

The sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to the Badr Organization militia. Its leader, Deputy Minister Ahmed Khafaji, is lauded by some Western officials as an efficient administrator and suspected by others of running secret prisons.

The seventh floor is intelligence, where the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups struggle for control.

The ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.

"They have some bad things on the ninth," says the colonel, a Sunni who, like other ministry officials, spoke on condition of anonymity to guard against retaliation.

The ministry's computer department is on the 10th floor. Two employees were arrested there in February on suspicion of smuggling in explosives, according to police and U.S. military officials. Some Iraqi and U.S. officials say the workers intended to store bombs there. Others say they were plotting to attack the U.S. advisors stationed directly above them on the top floor.

Months after the arrests, it's unclear whether the detainees are Sunni insurgents or followers of Muqtada Sadr, the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric whose portrait stares down from some office walls in a sign of his spreading influence in the ministry.

Partitions divide the building's hallways, and gunmen guard the offices of deputy ministers. Senior police officials march up and down stairs rather than risk an elevator. They walk the halls flanked by bodyguards, wary of armed colleagues.

"What is in their hearts? You do not know who they belong to," a senior officer said.

The factionalization of the ministry began quickly after Saddam Hussein's fall. As with most Iraqi government departments, deputy ministers were appointed to represent each of the country's main political parties. Deputies then distributed jobs among party stalwarts.

The initial winners were the Kurdish Democratic Party and the two Shiite parties, Dawa and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which sponsors the Badr Organization. The Kurdish party is one of two factions that control Iraq's northern provinces.

Sadr's Al Mahdi militia started late in the patronage game but has made significant inroads, particularly among the guard force that surrounds the ministry compound.

Parties representing the Sunni minority, which controlled Iraq in Hussein's day, have been almost entirely purged from the ministry in the last two years. Three of the ministry's longest-serving Sunni generals have been killed in the last year.

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

30 July 2007

Anti-Progressive, Anti-Revolutionary, But It Might WORK

Forget Third Parties – It Ain’t Gonna Happen: Hijack The Democrats
By David Michael Green

07/30/07 "ICH" -- -- Huge numbers of Americans are disgusted with both the Republican and the Democratic parties right now, and are hungrily clamoring for a third alternative.

I know, I know – imagine that! What’s not to like about one party that stands for greed, murder and destruction, and another that stands by for greed, murder and destruction?

Nevertheless, somehow things are not going so swimmingly in the world of American partisan politics. The arch-Republican in the White House has job approval ratings in the mid-20s and sinking. The former Republican Congress, equally regressive, was tossed out on their ears, losing control of both houses last year. Not to be outdone, the Democrats who gained control of Congress as the expression of an angry public demanding change have spent the last seven months responding to that mandate by doing ... well, virtually nothing. Now their standing in public opinion is slightly lower than Bush’s.

So it comes as no surprise that tens of millions of Americans are fed up with both parties and anxious to find something else that they can not only vote for in good conscience, but can actually win. I, too, have shared that dream, have voted third party, and have even volunteered for one during a presidential election campaign. Remember Barry Commoner? Remember his candidacy for president as the leader of the Citizen’s Party in 1980?

Yeah, well, I rest my case. Third party alternatives to hopelessly nihilistic Republicans, hopelessly equivocal Democrats, and the hopelessly self-serving lot of them make total sense except for one small problem. They can’t win.

Not literally, of course. Technically, a third party could win. It’s just that they don’t, and, short of some dramatic changes in the future, that will continue to be the case – that is, they won’t.

I don’t dispute the circular determinism in a statement like that, which is no doubt the first response in the minds of those advocating an alternative to the two bankrupt political parties now running (and ruining) the country. It’s quite correct to argue that continuing to believe that third parties can never win, and that a vote for one of them is therefore ‘wasted’, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s absolutely true that this is the first impediment to the success of a third party in America, and one which by definition must be resolved before any such party can possibly succeed. But what is too often left out of the discussion are the additional and quite enormous obstructions which are waiting right behind this first one to block the rise of a new party to power in America.

To begin with, there is the country’s ideological diversity. Compared to other democracies, ours has been historically pretty muted in this regard, though the range of popular ideological positions has increased somewhat in recent years, particularly as the Republican Party migrated from the center-right to the far right over the last few decades. But the comparative diversity of ideology in America relative to other countries is not really the point here.

What is the point is that the degree of diversity we do have is prohibitive to a successful third party arising in the United States. Unless one is contemplating the rise of multiple new parties to viability (and here we’ve transitioned from hope to fantasy, I’m afraid), the resulting difficulty posed by this ideological diversity is pretty plain to see. Lots of people, for example, are disgusted right now with George Bush and his co-conspirators in the mainstream of the Republican Party. Most loathe him from the left, thinking he is an arrogant fool who is destroying virtually all the political values they hold dear. But others loathe him with equal intensity from the right, largely for the crime of not destroying those values fast enough. Between the Harriet Miers nomination and the immigration bill debacle, no small fraction of the sixty-five percent of America currently reviling the president are cavemen even more regressive than Bush (which may seem unimaginable to progressives, but is quite literally the case). And in-between are those of the angry middle, who are seriously disgruntled, but are reluctant to lean very far in either ideological direction for a solution to their unhappiness.

What’s the relevance of all this? Well, try to imagine a third party with a presidential candidate that could be viable. Some of the current crop of disaffected voters would be happy to vote for Ralph Nader to replace Bush, but many others would equate that to living under Mao. Likewise, many of those wishing for a third party, complete with its own presidential candidate, would be delighted if someone like David Duke carried their standard. If it is imaginable for progressives that it could ever get worse than Bush/Cheney, this is certainly it. Then, of course, in the center you have the Ross Perot sort of voter, who is dissatisfied enough with existing choices to entertain alternatives, but not something ‘fringe’ in an ideological sense.

Put all this together and you have a sufficient critical mass for precisely nothing. Except perhaps maintenance of the status quo. Thus, one huge reason that the rise of an alternative third party in the United States is highly unlikely is the insufficient support for a single specific alternative, even when there is substantial general support among the electorate for some other option beyond the two parties. The idea is great in theory, and even more compelling when a significant cohort of the public says they want a third party to vote for. But unless you see redneck-pickup-truck-with-a-gunrack-driving-god-fearing-Georgia-crackers voting for Angela Davis, and unless you see long-haired-herbal-tea-drinking-Berkeley-lesbian-housing-rights-militants voting for John Bolton, forget about it. Maybe someone like Mike Bloomberg would get a healthy number votes if he ran in 2008, but the former Republican would get few from the left, nor would the Jewish mayor of New York City get many from the right.

So, after the vast bulk of voters have cast their lot once again with either Republicans or Democrats, the remaining dissenters – even if they are large in number – will dissipate their potential impact across a panoply of choices. Some will vote Green Party. Some Libertarian. Some Reform Party. Some the other Reform Party. Some Constitution, Natural Law, Populist, Taxpayers, Socialist or whatever other party is on the ballot. Even if all of the votes for these alternative parties in aggregate amounted to a numerical challenge to the Democrats and Republicans (and they are currently very far from doing so), the individual share of each of these various representations of different ideologies would completely dissipate any substantial impact, and likely any impact at all, like the air going out of a balloon.

Those are two monumental obstacles to the potential success of a third party in this country, but we still haven’t even discussed what amounts to the biggest – namely, our electoral system. The term refers to the mechanism by which votes at the ballot box are translated into parliamentary delegates (or members of Congress) in a representative democracy. That might sound painfully straightforward and obvious, but the methods available for doing this are anything but, sometimes producing (far more painfully) obscure and mathematically complicated schemes which voters sometimes don’t begin to understand. Don’t know whether you prefer the Borda count over Bucklin voting, the Condorcet method, Single Non Transferable Voting (affectionately known as SNTV), the Gallagher Index, the Sainte Laguë or d'Hondt methods (or perhaps you are all about the cloneproof Schwartz sequential dropping method, instead)? No worries, neither does just about anybody else. This confusion is not a good attribute for an electoral system to possess, but there are many other factors to consider as well, and polities are frequently experimenting trying to find the best system (none are perfect).

The question of electoral system choice may seem mundane in the extreme, but the consequences are enormous. Arguably, one of the factors which brought the Nazis to power was the flawed electoral system of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first (and, obviously, tragically failed) experiment with democracy. But even if a given system doesn’t crash that badly, another of the consequences to the choice of electoral systems – and one which is highly relevant to the present discussion – is the number of viable political parties which they tend to produce.

All the multiple variations of electoral systems can be boiled down to essentially two types, plus a third and increasingly popular form, which is simply a hybrid of the first two. One of the two types is known as proportional representation (PR). Among other attributes, it can have a satisfying simplicity to it and, more importantly for our purposes, it tends to encourage the existence of multiple parties that are at least moderately prominent in a given system. That is because the basic principle, as the name implies, is that each party is awarded a number of legislators in parliament that is proportional to the vote it receives in a single polity-wide election. Therefore, even a small party which could only garner, say, six percent of the vote would nevertheless gain representation in the legislature. In fact, it would have six percent of the seats, which would be likely to mean, depending on the size of the body, more than thirty representatives (most lower houses of parliament – the ones with the most power – seem to be about 500-700 members in size). And, since there can be a certain (virtuous or vicious) cyclical quality to the growth or demise of political parties – such that having representation in parliament makes it easier to gain more of the same, and not having it makes it harder – this system is good news for small parties.

But there are also certain prominent downsides to PR, as well. First, progressives should remember that it wouldn’t only be lefty parties benefitting from this system in America. Where PR produces Green parties in parliament, it also produces the National Front. Second, so many parties usually means the necessity of coalitions to form governments, and that often means instability – coalitions break apart, and governments fall in-between elections, sometimes frequently. Too much instability and enter the Nazis, stage right. And, on top of all this, even PR systems have a tendency to produce two major parties alternating in government (usually in coalition with one or more smaller ones), anyhow, which somewhat defeats the purpose if our goal is get a third party to govern, not that America is anywhere remotely near converting to PR, anyhow. No one is even talking about it.

The main alternative electoral system to PR doesn’t tend to suffer from these maladies, but also doesn’t typically produce many small parties in government. This is the district model, and the way it works is to divide the polity into geographical districts and hold simultaneous elections in each. There are many variations possible on how to identify a winner from those separate mini-elections, but in the United States we use a plurality criterion. Do you have one more vote than anyone else in your district (even if you have far less than a majority, as would likely be the case in a district with multiple candidates)? Congratulations. You have a plurality, and you’re going to Congress.

It’s easy to see why such a system is hard on third parties. Let’s say there was a prominent third party in the United States – I’ll use my buddies the Greens, since they were kind enough to name their party after me! – and they won perhaps twenty-five percent of the vote nationwide, in a Congressional election cycle. A very respectable showing, no? But, of course, there is no national election, per se – only a bunch of simultaneous district contests (435 for the House representatives, every two years). Nevertheless, for the sake of exposition, let’s say that the Greens got 25 percent of the vote in every district. Let’s also say that in half the districts the Democrats get 40 percent of the vote to the Republicans’ 35 percent, and vice-versa in the other half. In a PR system, the Greens would be awarded 25 percent of the seats in the House for this showing. Under the district model, however, such as is practiced in the United States, their twenty-five percent of the votes translates into precisely zero seats in Congress (arguably disenfranchising one-fourth of the electorate).

(By the way, the presidential election works essentially the same way, and would even were we to eliminate the Electoral College. You can’t readily split the presidency like you can a parliament, so only one person can claim the prize, leaving voters for all the other candidates holding the bag, even if these losing voters represent a majority in total – as was the case, for example, in 1992, when Clinton won the presidency with only 43 percent of the popular vote.)

What does all the foregoing discussion ultimately mean? The bottom line here is this: One, we’re not likely to change electoral systems in America any time soon. Two, unless we do, it will continue to be enormously difficult for any third party to gain enough traction to achieve viability, let alone to govern. Three, even if we did opt for PR, there are serious downsides to that system as well (a hybrid seems to be the best alternative, in which half of the legislature is chosen using the district model, and the other half using PR – Germany, Italy and other democracies employ this method), not least of which would be the concurrent rise of some nasty gangs of parliamentary thugs on the rabid right who could make Cheney’s little GOP horror show seem tame by comparison. And, Four, even though it would likely provide representation in Congress, PR would still probably not bring a third party to power, except possibly as a junior partner in some sort of coalition government. Such a party would chronically occupy the role of a small fry swimming among big sharks, though it might have some improved chance over decades’ time to rise to greater prominence.

In short, for reasons involving ideological diversity, electoral mechanics and more, the third party path is not the solution to the present crisis of democracy in America, especially from the perspective of forwarding the progressive agenda.

If you’re dubious about the above theoretical analysis, feel free to try on the empirical one instead – it’s even more grim. Here are two statistics that more or less say it all. There are 535 members of Congress in America. Guess how many come from a third party. The answer is zero. Not a single one. Doesn’t that suggest rather infertile ground for such a plant to take root? But if you’re still not convinced, how about this, then: When was the last time the United States experienced the reshuffling of the party structure such that a new party rose to the level of sustained viability? The answer is about 160 years ago, with the birth of the Republican Party. That, in a country which has only had political parties for about 200 years. In other words, this country has had two primary parties vying for power for almost its entire existence, and the last time even the name of one of those changed (but not the number of them, which has essentially never changed) was 4/5's of our history ago. I, for one, would argue that the ground for our multiparty plant has gone from infertile to downright toxic.

But here’s where the good news comes in. If the above description sounds like rather an inconceivable degree of stability for a political system spanning that many decades and myriad crises, that’s because it is. And it is this observation that brings us closer to the true remedy for our problems. How could such a rigid two-party system – of the same two parties, no less – survive against all the powerful changes, strains and pressures of the last century and a half? And these are considerable. Such a laundry list would have to include, minimally, the Civil War, Reconstruction, industrialization, immigration, expansion, imperialism, civil rights movements for minorities, women and gays, the national rise to global prominence, the Cold War, about seven major hot wars and two impeached presidents, just to get started. Why the incredible stability of the party system, then? The answer is that the American political system doesn’t tend to adopt new third parties, and it doesn’t implode from the pressures of frustrated change, because what it does instead is to accommodate various political aspirations within the malleable shells of the existing parties.

A look at either one of them amply demonstrates the point. The Republican Party was born as essentially the political vehicle for the anti-slavery movement, when the existing parties failed to provide an outlet for that rising sentiment. Could today’s regressive GOP amalgamation of robber-barons, religious troglodyte foot-soldiers and nearly outright racists possibly look any different from the party of Abe Lincoln? Indeed, the GOP of today would have been reactionary even in Lincoln’s time. So what happened? How could the party of emancipation become the party of kleptocracy? What happened was that the robber-barons stole it and morphed it, growing increasingly clever over time as to how to employ nationalism, jingoism, imperialism, racism, sexism, external bogeymen, general fear and cultural backwardness in order to line up sufficient votes, augmenting those of the richest two percent of the country, necessary to form a viable party. The examples of this are as endless as they are depressing, running from red scares to race-baiting and back again. More contemporaneously, suffice it to say that not for nothing did Karl Rove arrange to place gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in eleven states for election day 2004. (My personal fantasy is to find every fool who voted for one of those but now hates Bush and shake them vigorously by the shoulders, yelling in their faces, “Are you happy now? Isn’t it great that there won’t be any gay marriages in our crumbling excuse for a country?”)

Ahem. Uh, where was I? (Please stop me before I fantasize again.) Ah, yes – morphing parties. Similar to the GOP experience, it was not so long ago that the main component of the Democratic Party was the Solid South of white voters below the Mason-Dixon line. It was FDR who turned the party into a much broader coalition that came to include the working class, union members, Jews, Catholics, intellectuals, liberals, urban-dwellers, immigrant communities and more, as well as the white South. It was LBJ (fully knowingly, and with lots of help from the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Atwater, Rove, Bush I, Bush II and the rest) who alienated white racists, both North and South, by pursuing various civil rights agendas, principally concerning race.

In short, both parties look a lot different today than they once did, and that happened largely through the efforts of activists seeking to achieve precisely that end. And this, it seems to me, remains the only viable solution for the progressive community today – not a continuing hopeless quest for a prominent third party that has a very low probability of materializing, especially given the institutional and ideological obstacles described above.

What progressives need to do today is what regressives began doing forty years ago. We need to seize the party closest to our politics and take control of it, marginalizing DLC types like Clinton or Lieberman into irrelevance, just like the old Gerry Ford centrist wing of the Republican Party was shoved aside by the radical right. We must become the parasites that infect the host until we eventually take it over completely.

It would be lovely if there was an alternative, but to my mind the above concepts and historical precedent amply demonstrate the improbability of a third party rising to power. Moreover, even if one did eventually arise, in the meantime we continue to risk producing the Nader 2000 effect – such that following our best instincts splits the left-of-regressive vote and succeeds only in empowering the worst alternatives. (For example, imagine a race in 2008 between Clinton and Giuliani, with Gore running as the nominee of the Green Party. Clinton and Gore would collectively receive far more votes than would Giuliani, but Giuliani would be the next president, even without the Electoral College effect.)

And let’s not kid ourselves, way too many Americans presently worry if the Democratic Party is too liberal to govern, not whether it can become progressive enough. A large part of that has to do with the complete collapse over the last decades of the progressive message and especially the Party, in the arena of public debate. The American public is going to have to be deprogrammed and reprogrammed after decades of regressive Moonyism (including by the Moonies themselves). That is a separate issue, albeit one which is much better addressed by an ideology that has the benefit of a solid institutional platform from which to operate. But the point is that a third party to the left of the Democrats would not at present be anything like an easy sell. Far easier to win by turning one of the only two alternatives available to voters into a progressive party (especially when the other one has become reprehensible in the extreme).

All of which leaves two questions. First, can the Democratic Party serve that function, or is it hopelessly lost, a permanent captive to its corporate masters? I know of no evidence whatsoever that Paul Wellstone or Bernie Sanders (an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and an avowed socialist, for chrissakes) have been ostracized by party elites or subjected to attempts made either to force a change to their politics or to drum them out of the party. Ditto Barney Frank, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, John Conyers (or, should I say, the Congressman formerly known as John Conyers), or Henry Waxman. Howard Dean was something of a threat to the status quo party hacks in 2004, it’s true, but my guess is that that was mostly because it wasn’t yet hip at that time to be anti-war, and they feared that a Dean candidacy would take down the whole party with it (which, no doubt, must be why they brought in a real fighter like John Kerry to go up against Rove and the GOP). Anyhow, nowadays Dean is chairing the damn thing, so their resistance to him can’t have been that intense.

All of which suggests to me that the party is ours for the taking if we want it. Given enough Wellstones, we can own this thing and shape it into a force for true progressive change. And if you still require additional evidence that it can be done, just remember that it has been done – twice already (or even three times if we count some of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy ideas). Both the New Deal in the Thirties and then the Great Society in the Sixties were periods of substantial and meaningful progressive flowering in American government, even if they weren’t ultimately everything we might have wanted them to become (and let’s not forget that we are dealing here with the most politically backwards populace amongst all the Western democracies). Moreover, and again following on those models, the ascension of a relatively progressive president such as perhaps Al Gore could help expedite this process from the top down.

But then comes the second question, could a progressive Democratic Party win? Again, it seems to me that both history, contemporary conditions and loads of polling data provide a pretty compelling affirmative answer. That it has happened twice suggests that it is certainly possible. That polling data consistently demonstrate the public tending to favor progressive positions on almost every issue put before them, despite decades of unanswered regressive brainwashing, is further argument that this is possible. Finally, Americans are growing increasingly anxious today as their prosperity, their empire, and their sense of security are diminishing right before their very eyes. These conditions are likely to grow more, not less, acute, particularly as Baby Boomers transition from being net contributors to the welfare state system back to being net recipients (never underestimate the depth or the power of Boomer selfishness!).

Such insecurity-inducing scenarios radicalize politics, if that’s not too strong a term, pushing the electorate either to the right or the left. One of those alternatives has just recently been tried. Its chief exemplar now has Watergate-level job approval ratings, which will only get considerably worse in the ensuing months. It is true that the public could theoretically be persuaded to turn further still to the right, but you don’t much hear those voices out there clamoring for that direction amongst the political class. Even the few remaining droolers like Bill Kristol who advocate for something idiotic like bringing Bushism to Iran now that it has demonstrated its wonderful virtues in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly being sneered at like the laughable but still dangerous morons they are. The right-wing experiment in American politics is a complete and utter failure, of course, but more importantly it is increasingly recognized as such. It has totally come a cropper in terms of public opinion. This is 1932 all over again. No more Hoover, no more Bush. The country began its retreat from this horror show in 2006, and would have started even earlier had not John Kerry been such an abysmal presidential candidate. It is now turning decisively to an alternative somewhere to the left of the current GOP, as it more or less must. The only question (further national security ‘emergencies’ aside, of course), is what will be there for it to turn to, and how far down that path we go from here.

Personally, I don’t give a damn about the Democratic Party (which for decades has almost never failed to disappoint anyone possessing any progressive expectations for it), or any other party. In fact, I share many of the concerns about the general pernicious effects of partisanship that the Founders held – though I also recognize that, as a practical matter, it’s pretty hard to envision doing national politics in a polity of 300 million people (and politically lazy ones, at that) without the organizing benefits and programmatic shorthand that parties bring to the table. While I don’t care about parties, what I do care about are policies. Do we have healthcare, or not? Do we rescue people after a hurricane and flood devastate their city, or not? Do we act like an predatory empire, or not? If the Democrats can deliver the right policies, then fine. If we need the Greens to do the job instead, hey, that’s groovy too. If we have to import SWAPO from southern Africa to get it done, then whatever. Heck, I’d even vote Republican (gulp) if they somehow miraculously managed to stumble into some good politics (though that’s probably about as likely as Dick Cheney volunteering to become a soldier). I could care less about the label and the organization, as long as it delivers progressive policies for the country.

As a practical matter, though, a third party – let alone a viable leftist third party – is extremely unlikely to develop for all the theoretical and historical reasons outlined above. Our mission, therefore, should be to capture the Democratic Party and lead it toward a series of increasingly progressive (and already publicly popular) legislative accomplishments, starting with ending the war and providing universal national healthcare coverage. It won’t be that hard to do, and we can thank the Dark Side in part for creating the best conditions in half a century for this opportunity (just the same, though, I think I’ll pass on sending a nice note of gratitude to Mr. Rove). After all, it’s not exactly like avoiding unnecessary wars, providing healthcare and quality education for all, pursuing economic justice, or saving our little planetary spaceship from the threat of global warming are such radical ideas that would be hard to sell.

I share the sentiment of many in the progressive community that the Democratic Party is, with a few notable exceptions, a cesspool of ambitious sell-outs, ready to mortgage any policy position or principle in service to their own petty personal gratifications. It would be wonderful, for that reason, if we could just nuke the thing and move on to something else. Wonderful, but not possible.

Fortunately, there is another alternative. I say we hijack it instead.

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.


[+/-]

Free the San Francisco 8!

Former Black Panthers in Prison Need Your Support: Free the San Francisco 8!

Eight former Black Panthers are currently in prison in California on charges related to the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer. Similar charges were thrown out back in 1975 after it was determined that the evidence used to indict the men was extracted by police torture. Two of the men have been held as political prisoners the past thirty years in New York State prisons, but the other six have been living regular lives, working and raising families. A ninth man is still being sought by the police.

These men, known collectively as the San Francisco 8 (SF 8) are being held on $3 million bail each. This bail is considered excessive and the men, their legal team and their supporters are trying to get it reduced so that those members of the SF 8 who are not currently serving time can go home during the upcoming legal proceedings. The struggle to gain these men's freedom is gaining but will require much more public support. In a manner similar to the campaign waged in 1971-1972 to free Angela Davis and the ongoing campaign to free Mumia Abu Jamal, this campaign must become a widespread and international campaign.

As part of this growing effort, several supporters of the SF 8 spoke on a panel at the US Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia in June 2007. Among the speakers were former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and former Panther Kathleen Cleaver. Ms. Cleaver's remarks were addressed to the mostly young audience at the forum and provided them with a historical overview of the Black Panther Party. In addition, she talked about the US government's counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO and how the Panthers and other leftist popular organizations organized despite the police harassment and attacks. In addition, she spoke about the differences between the 1960s/1970s and now. Most importantly, she spoke about community and the need to understand the nature of how the State has been very successful in criminalizing groups and people who organize against it. To fight this phenomenon, Cleaver emphasized the need to organize and maintain popular support beyond the radical community.

When she introduced Ms. McKinney, she spoke to McKinney's attempts to get Congress to investigate the COINTELPTO program.

In order to gather some information about the current status of the case, I recently got in touch with Claude Marks- a member of the Freedom Archives and one of the main organizers of the Free the SF 8 Defense Committee. Our exchange follows.

Ron: Hi Claude. The last time I checked in with you , most of the SF 8 had just been arrested and the authorities were working on getting the others extradited to California. Can you update the readers to where the case is now? Are the men still in jail? What is their bail?

Claude: Yes, they remain in jail and the bail is currently set at $3 million each. August 6 is when hearings on bail reduction continue - starting with Ray Boudreaux and Richard O'Neal. Arguments based on their responsible roles in their communities and to their families and countering the notion that they are flight risks, will be made. In the case of Ray Boudreaux, it is evident from the video "Legacy..." that he was fully aware of being targeted and yet, voluntarily made all of his appearances before the 2005 grand jury. Their intent is to fight the unjust charges and win!

The hope is that bail will be reduced and will be set at amounts obtainable through securing property (by California law at twice the value of the bail amount) allowing their defense to continue with them in the streets and with their families.

Ron:I know this is conjecture, but why do you think the state has set the bail so high? What are they afraid of?

Claude:I think the bail is set high as part of the state's criminalization of them - the same reason they are brought into the public courtroom in chains and shackles.

Ron: How has the response of the public been--in San Francisco? How about the rest of the country? The world?

Claude: Support is growing tremendously - as people find out about the case they are outraged that such enormous resources are being expended to prosecute these elder of the black community. National and now international showings of "Legacy..." along with our efforts to speak widely about the case are responsible for a much broader movement being built.

Ron: Most observers agree that this case is (as the SF 8 said in their May 19, 2007 statement) "a continuation of COINTELPRO." Can you explain how and why this is so?

Claude: The prosecution is designed to re-criminalize resistance to a repressive and racist state. The conditions that led to demands for self-determination and an end to police & government violence against the black community, that led to the ten-point platform of the Black Panther Party and the creation of community programs, still exist. The fact that more black people are in prison than in higher education, that poverty levels are unrivaled, that the future for black and brown children is so bleak makes the politics of these men and the movements they helped lead even more urgent today. The state wants to warn people that resistance to colonialism and empire is futile or comes at a very high price.

COINTELPRO's goals and practice are not only much the same under Homeland Security and The Patriot Act - but are unencumbered by a political climate that took outrage at violations of civil and human rights in the 1970s when a Congressional investigation declared illegal the FBI led program. Today, the government, state and federal, act with impunity as long as they use the 'T' word. The evidence in this case - still based on the torture and brutality of police interrogators against some of these men - is now being put forth as acceptable - torture having been re-defined and also justified in the Guantanamos and Abu Ghraibs and Atticas...and the jails of New Orleans.Ron: Also, what do you all make of the recent release of the CIA documents (the so-called Family jewels)? I read a writer somewhere making the point that the release was timed to turn our attention away from the current doings of the government and its secret police. What's your take on that?

Claude: The current regime is worse, and feeling emboldened by numbed public opinion. It is up to us to marshal the community outrage and build a movement that rejects the sense of government impunity - a movement that forces the dropping of these charges and a release of these 8 men - including the long overdue release of Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell who are parole eligible and have lived more than half their lives in prison behind COINTELPRO prosecutions.

Ron: In recent months, several environmental activists have been jailed for their supposed involvement in arson and other such actions against various corporate and research facilities. Without getting into the logic behind these actions and their effect, do you believe the government's pursuit and prosecution of these activists is related at all to the government's insistence on prosecuting the SF 8?

Claude: The so-called justice department wants to smash any and all dissent and has for years targeted the environmental and animal rights movements to make their resistance costly. The sentencing of Jeff 'Free' Luers to almost 28 years for property crimes by an Oregon Judge who stated that Free was being made an example to discourage the building of a movement was the opening parry of the 'Green Scare.' Yes, this is part of creating a chilling effect on dissent and a repressive atmosphere that selectively labels people terrorists to suit the goals of an extreme right-wing agenda.

Ron: These folks have received some pretty stiff penalties because the prosecution has been able to portray them as "terrorists." What do you think this means in the long term for the SF 8 and for political activism of any sort?

Claude: The SF 8 will prevail because the legal case is weak and the political movement will expose the torture-induced statements and build sizeable community-based outrage at these prosecutions.

Ron: Back to the SF 8. When is the next bail reduction hearing? After that, what's next?

Claude: Bail hearings resume August 6. Other motions will address matters like the 30+ year delay when there is no new evidence, lost evidence, as well as the unnecessary chaining and shackling of these men in court.

Ron: How can the readers support the defense? Are there buttons and bumperstickers? What about speaking engagements? And personal support for the brothers in jail?

Claude: For a list of what you can do to stay informed and contribute to building a support movement in your community check out this site

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.

[+/-]

Where's the Truth?

The time for an independent investigation was when we knew unequivocally that we had been lied into the Iraq war (roughly December 2002). But we'd never say stop if someone started this business now.

The Only Remedy for an Administration that Refuses to Investigate Itself: Independent Counsel Time

Congressional leaders are calling for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible perjury charges against Alberto Gonzales. As we saw during the Watergate scandal, the executive branch cannot be counted on to investigate itself.

Watergate led to the enactment of the Ethics in Government Act. Three years after Richard Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment, President Jimmy Carter asked Congress to pass a law authorizing the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute unlawful acts by high government officials. The bill empowered the attorney general to conduct a preliminary 90-day investigation when serious allegations arose involving a high government official. President Carter, who signed the bill in 1978, declared, “I believe that this act will help to restore confidence in the integrity of our government.”

Under the act, the attorney general could drop the investigation if he determined it was unsupported by the evidence. But if he found some merit to the charges, he was required to apply to a three-judge panel of federal court judges who would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate, prosecute, and issue a report.

The referral clause of the independent counsel statute provided, "An independent counsel shall advise the House of Representatives of any substantial and credible information which such independent counsel receives, in carrying out the independent counsel’s responsibilities under this chapter, that may constitute grounds for an impeachment.” But Congress, reacting to Kenneth Starr's witch hunt which led to Bill Clinton's impeachment, allowed the independent counsel statute to expire by its own terms in 1999.

With the death of the independent counsel statute, the pendulum had swung back. By failing to renew the act, Congress returned the investigation of high government officials to pre-Watergate policies. Once again, the power to appoint an independent counsel would rest with the executive branch, that is, the attorney general. The Department of Justice drafted a set of regulations to guide future investigations.

Now the attorney general, not a three-judge panel, has the authority to appoint and remove special counsel to investigate top government officials. He exercises power over indictments and other prosecutorial actions, and the special counsel remains accountable to the attorney general. He can block “any investigative or prosecutorial step” he deems “inappropriate or unwarranted."

Justice Department regulations call for the appointment of an outside special counsel when:

(1) a criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted,

(2) the investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney's Office or litigating division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department, and

(3) under the circumstances it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter. When these three conditions are satisfied, the attorney general must select a special counsel from outside the government. (28 C.F.R. 600.1, 600.3 (2007).)

In light of material inconsistencies in Alberto Gonzales's testimony before Congress, a criminal investigation is warranted. Gonzales, who is suspected of committing perjury,has a conflict of interest. The public interest requires that the highest prosecutor in the land be brought to justice.

Congress should appoint a permanent special counsel to investigate and advise Congress about misconduct by high government officials, beginning with Alberto Gonzales. That procedure should lead the House Judiciary Committee to initiate impeachment proceedings against Gonzales.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild. Her new book, Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, was just published by PoliPointPress. Her articles are archived at http://www.marjoriecohn.com.


[+/-]

29 July 2007

What If the Nazis Get It First?

From the appearance of present-day Amerikkka, it seems the Nazis did get it first.

The Decision to Risk the Future: Harry Truman, the Atomic Bomb and the Apocalyptic Narrative
by Peter J. Kuznick
July 28, 2007, Japan Focus


In his personal narrative Atomic Quest, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arthur Holly Compton, who directed atomic research at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory during the Second World War, tells of receiving an urgent visit from J. Robert Oppenheimer while vacationing in Michigan during the summer of 1942. Oppenheimer and the brain trust he assembled had just calculated the possibility that an atomic explosion could ignite all the hydrogen in the oceans or the nitrogen in the atmosphere. If such a possibility existed, Compton concluded, "these bombs must never be made." As Compton said, "Better to accept the slavery of the Nazis than to run a chance of drawing the final curtain on mankind."[1] Certainly, any reasonable human being could be expected to respond similarly.

Three years later, with Hitler dead and the Nazis defeated, President Harry Truman faced a comparably weighty decision. He writes in his 1955 memoirs that, on the first full day of his presidency, James F. Byrnes told him the U.S. was building an explosive "great enough to destroy the whole world."[2] On April 25, 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Brigadier General Leslie Groves gave Truman a lengthy briefing in which Stimson reiterated the warning that "modern civilization might be completely destroyed" by atomic bombs and stressed that the future of mankind would be shaped by how such bombs were used and subsequently controlled or shared.[3] Truman recalled Stimson "gravely" expressing his uncertainty about whether the U.S. should ever use the bomb, "because he was afraid it was so powerful that it could end up destroying the whole world." Truman admitted that, listening to Stimson and Groves and reading Groves's accompanying memo, he "felt the same fear."[4]

Others would also draw, for Truman, the grave implications of using such hellish weapons. Truman noted presciently in his diary on July 25, 1945, after being fully briefed on the results of the Trinity test, that the bomb "may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark."[5] Leading atomic scientists cautioned that surprise use of the bomb against Japan could precipitate an uncontrollable arms race with the Soviet Union that boded future disaster for mankind. The warnings reached Truman's closest advisors if not the President himself. Truman nevertheless authorized use of atomic bombs against Japan, always insisting he felt no "remorse" and even bragging that he "never lost any sleep over that decision."[6] For over sixty years, historians and other analysts have struggled to make sense of Truman's and his advisors' actions and the relevance of his legacy for his successors in the Oval Office.

In an incisive and influential essay, historian John Dower divides American interpretations of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into two basic narratives--the "heroic" or "triumphal" and the "tragic."[7] The "heroic" narrative, shaped by wartime science administrator James Conant and Stimson, and reaffirmed by all postwar American presidents up to and including Bill Clinton, with only Eisenhower demurring, justifies the bombing as an ultimately humane, even merciful, way of bringing the "good war" to a rapid conclusion and avoiding an American invasion against a barbaric and fanatically resistant foe. Although Truman initially emphasized revenge for Japan's treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor, subsequent justifications by Truman, Conant, Stimson, and others stressed instead the tremendous number of Americans who would have been killed and wounded in an invasion.[8] As time passed, defenders of the bombing increasingly added generous estimates of the number of Japanese who the atomic bombings saved. While highlighting the decisive role of atomic bombs in the final victory had the unfortunate consequence of downplaying the heroic efforts and enormous sacrifices of millions of American soldiers, it served American propaganda needs by diminishing the significance of Soviet entry into the Pacific War, discounting the Soviet contribution to defeating Japan, and showcasing the super weapon that the United States alone possessed.[9]

This victor's narrative privileges possible American deaths over actual Japanese ones.[10] As critics of the bombing have become more vocal in recent years, projected American casualty estimates have grown apace--from the War Department's 1945 prediction of 46,000 dead to Truman's 1955 insistence that General George Marshall feared losing a half million American lives to Stimson's 1947 claim of over 1,000,000 casualties to George H.W. Bush's 1991 defense of Truman's "tough calculating decision, [which] spared millions of American lives,"[11] to the 1995 estimate of a crew member on Bock's Car, the plane that bombed Nagasaki, who asserted that the bombing saved six million lives--one million Americans and five million Japanese. The recent inclusion of Japanese and other Asian casualties adds an intriguing dimension to the triumphal narrative, though one that played little, if any, role in the wartime calculations of Truman and his top advisors.

To this triumphal narrative, Dower counterposes a tragic one. Seen from the perspective of the bombs' victims, the tragic narrative condemns the wanton killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the inordinate suffering of the survivors. Although Hiroshima had some military significance as a naval base and home of the Second General Army Headquarters, as Truman insisted, American strategic planners targeted the civilian part of the city, maximizing the bomb's destructive power and civilian deaths. It produced limited military casualties. Admiral William Leahy angrily told an interviewer in 1949 that although Truman told him they would "only...hit military objectives....they went ahead and killed as many women and children as they could which was just what they wanted all the time."[12] The tragic narrative, in contrast to the heroic narrative, rests on the conviction that the war could have been ended without use of the bombs given U.S. awareness of Japan's attempts to secure acceptable surrender terms and of the crushing impact that the imminent Soviet declaration of war against Japan would have.

Each of these narratives has its own images. The mushroom cloud, principal symbol for the triumphal narrative, has been almost ubiquitous in American culture from the moment that the bomb was dropped. Showing the impact of the bomb from a distance, it effectively masks the death and suffering below.[13]

Survivors on the ground, however, unlike crew members flying above, vividly recall the flash from the bomb (pika), which signifies the beginning of the tragic narrative, and, when combined with the blast (don), left scores of thousands dead and dying and two cities in ruins. No wonder many Japanese refer to the bomb as pikadon and the mushroom cloud that so pervades the American consciousness has been superseded in Japan by images of the destruction of the two cities and the dead and dying.

The Smithsonian's ill-fated 1995 Enola Gay exhibit was doomed when Air Force Association and American Legion critics demanded the elimination of photos of Japanese bombing victims, particularly women and children, and insisted on removal of the charred lunch box containing carbonized rice and peas that belonged to a seventh-grade schoolgirl who disappeared in the bombing. Resisting efforts to humanize or personalize the Japanese, they objected strenuously to inclusion of photos or artifacts that would place human faces on the bombs' victims and recall their individual suffering. For them, the viewpoint should have remained that of the bombers above the mushroom cloud, not the victims below it. It is worth noting that, prior to the change in military policy in September 1943, U.S. publications were filled with photos of Japanese war dead, but no U.S. publication carried photos of dead American soldiers.[14]

For one who has confronted the still-smoldering hatred that some American veterans feel toward the Japanese six decades after the U.S. victory, it is stunning how little overt anti-Americanism one finds in Japanese discussions of the bombings. The Japanese, particularly the hibakusha (bomb-affected persons), have focused instead on their unique suffering. Drawing on the moral authority gained, they have translated this suffering into a positive message of world peace and nuclear disarmament. In fact, a vigorous debate about Japan's responsibility for its brutal treatment of other Asian peoples began in the early 1980s, picked up steam with the revelations by comfort women in the early 1990s, and has raged unabated, especially among Japanese intellectuals and politicians, since 1995, fueled, in part, by regular criticism from China and South Korea.[15]

In recent summers, I have been startled, during my annual study-abroad course in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the frequency with which some Japanese, particularly college students, justify the atomic bombings in light of Japan's wartime butchery and the emperor's culpability for Japan's colonialism and militarism. Perhaps this should be expected given the multi-layered silence imposed on Japan in regard to atomic matters--first by Japan's own government, humiliated by its defeat and inability to protect its citizens, then by official U.S. censorship, which banned publication of bomb-related information, then by the political exigencies of Japanese dependence on the U.S. under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which blunted criticism of U.S. policy, and finally by the silence of many bomb victims, who faced discrimination in marriage and employment when they divulged their backgrounds.

Many hibakusha remain incensed over their treatment by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), which the U.S. set up in Hiroshima in 1947 and Nagasaki in 1948 to examine but not treat the bomb victims.

Adding insult to injury, the ABCC sent physical specimens, including human remains, back to the U.S. and did not share its research results with Japanese scientists or physicians, results that could have been helpful in treating atomic bomb sufferers.[16] Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, who spent three years studying weapons scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, explains the process of dehumanization whereby American scientists turned "the dead and injured bodies of the Japanese into bodies of data" and then sought additional American subjects for further experimentation. By turning human beings into dismembered body parts and fragments and calculating damage instead of wounds, coldly rational scientific discourse allowed Americans to study Japanese victims without ever reckoning with their pain and suffering. One scientist even got annoyed with Gusterson for saying the victims were "vaporized" when the correct term was "carbonized."[17]

Although Dower is undoubtedly correct that the heroic and tragic narratives, those of victors above and victims below the mushroom clouds, dominated the discussions surrounding the 50th anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these two narratives by no means exhaust the range of interpretive possibilities. Missing from much of the debate has been consideration of what I call the apocalyptic narrative, a framework for understanding U.S. actions that has even greater relevance to today's citizens who must continue to grapple with the long-term ramifications of nuclear war, particularly the threat of extinction of human life. While this third narrative has important elements in common with the tragic narrative, maintaining, as did much of America's top military command, that surrender could have been induced without the use of atomic bombs, it does not see the Japanese as the only victims and holds Truman, Byrnes, and Groves, among others, to a much higher level of accountability for knowingly putting at risk all human and animal existence.

Nor does the apocalyptic narrative have the kind of easily identifiable images associated with the other two narratives. Unlike the religious association with Armageddon or the images of alchemical transmutation in which destruction leads to rebirth and regeneration, nuclear annihilation is random, senseless, final, and universal. As with the end-of-the-world images associated with the existential crisis of 1929-1930, the post-apocalyptic nothingness resulting from nuclear annihilation is devoid of redemptive possibilities. The late 1920s and early 1930s cosmological theories coupling the concept of heat death with that of the expanding universe anticipated, in the distant future, a barren, lifeless planet drifting aimlessly through time and space in a universe indifferent to human existence. Such a vision, popularized by British astronomers James Jeans and Arthur Eddington, was reflected in the work of influential American thinkers like Joseph Wood Krutch and Walter Lippmann. Although the proximate causes differ, with nuclear annihilation resulting from human technological rather than natural destruction, the symbolism, once human life and consciousness have been expunged in Truman's "fire destruction," is in other respects similar.[18]

By unleashing nuclear weapons on the world as the U.S. did in 1945, in a manner that Soviet leaders, as expected, immediately recognized as ominous and threatening, Truman and his collaborators were gambling with the future of life on the planet. Scientists at Chicago's Met Lab had issued reports and circulated petitions emphasizing just this point before the bombs were tested and used, warning against instigating a "race for nuclear armaments" that could lead to "total mutual destruction."[19]

In order to force immediate surrender and save American lives by delivering a knockout blow to an already staggering Japan, or, as Gar Alperovitz alternatively argues, to brandish U.S. might against and constrain the Soviet Union in Europe and Asia, or, as Tsuyoshi Hasegawa contends, to exact revenge against Japan while limiting Soviet gains in Asia, Truman willingly risked the unthinkable. He did so without even attempting other means to procure Japanese surrender, such as clarifying the surrender terms to insure the safety and continued "rule" of Emperor Hirohito as Stimson and almost all of Truman's other close advisors urged him to do, but which he and Byrnes resisted until after the two atomic bombs had been dropped; allowing Stalin to sign the Potsdam Proclamation, which would have signaled imminent Soviet entry into the war; or announcing and, if necessary, demonstrating the existence of the bomb. What terrified many scientists from an early stage in the process was the realization that the bombs that were used to wipe out Hiroshima and Nagasaki were but the most rudimentary and primitive prototypes of the incalculably more powerful weapons on the horizon--mere first steps in a process of maximizing destructive potential.

Physicist Edward Teller impressed this fact on the group of "luminaries" Oppenheimer assembled in the summer of 1942, looking past the atomic bomb, which he considered as good as done, toward development of a hydrogen bomb, thousands of times more powerful, which became the focus of most of their efforts that summer.[20] Not all scientists shared Teller's enthusiasm over this prospect. As Rossi Lomanitz recalled: "Many of us thought, 'My God, what kind of a situation it's going to be to bring a weapon like that [into the world]; it might end up by blowing up the world.' Some of us brought this up to Oppenheimer; and basically his answer was, 'Look, what if the Nazis get it first?'"[21]

In July 1945, physicist Leo Szilard drafted a petition signed by 155 Manhattan Project scientists urging the President not to act precipitously in using atomic bombs against Japan, warning: "The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction, and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of their future development. Thus a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for the purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale."[22] Arthur Compton observed, "It introduces the question of mass slaughter, really for the first time in history."[23] Stimson, whose finest moment would come in his desperate postwar attempt to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, told the top decision makers, including Groves and Byrnes, on May 31, 1945, that the members of the Interim Committee did not view the bomb "as a new weapon merely but as a revolutionary change in the relations of man to the universe...; that the project might even mean the doom of civilization or it might mean the perfection of civilization; that it might be a Frankenstein which would eat us up."[24] Oppenheimer correctly pointed out to the participants in that same Interim Committee meeting that within 3 years it might be possible to produce bombs with an explosive force between 10 and 100 megatons of TNT -- thousands of times more powerful than the bomb that would destroy Hiroshima.[25]

Hence, the apocalyptic narrative, applying an ethical standard to which leaders of the time could realistically be held, and an understanding of short-term and long-term consequences that should be expected of policymakers, indicts Truman, Byrnes, and Groves not only for the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki but for behaving recklessly and thoughtlessly in inflicting a reign of terror on the rest of humankind. In 1942, Compton assessed the odds of blowing up the world and decided it was not worth the risk. In 1945, Truman contemplated the prospect of future annihilation but apparently gave it little serious consideration. To make matters worse, he did next to nothing to make amends for his wartime shortsightedness when the opportunity to control nuclear weapons presented itself again during the first year of the postwar era.

Throughout that first year, Henry Wallace, who Roosevelt had asked to stay on as Secretary of Commerce after Truman replaced him as Vice President, struggled valiantly to avert an arms race and ease the threat of nuclear war . When Wallace persisted in criticizing administration policy toward the Soviet Union and the bomb, Truman ousted him from the Cabinet. In his address to a national radio audience on the night he submitted his letter of resignation, Wallace again voiced the theme that provoked Truman's ire, charging that the U.S. government's present course may mean "the extinction of man and of the world."[26] That Truman bears so much responsibility for creating this perilous state of affairs, regardless of his conscious intentions, justifies the application of such a harsh standard of judgment and demands a closer look at the man and his early presidency. For if Harry Truman, a relatively decent man, could behave so irresponsibly, what assurance is there that future presidents, under comparable circumstances, might not do the same? In fact, several have already come frighteningly close.

Read the rest here.

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Kick the Bastards Out

Race is the Tripwire for the Progressive Movement: John Conyers and Impeachment
by Rev. Lennox Yearwood
July 27, 2007, After Downing Street

On July 23, Cindy Sheehan, Ray McGovern and I met with U.S. Rep. John Conyers about the issue of impeachment. We delivered a petition for impeachment with one million American signatures. While we met, 400 activists waited in the halls outside of his office along with a hoard of media to find out what the outcome of the meeting would be. The meeting was a very significant moment for the progressive movement from a historical standpoint. The movement for impeachment and the immediate reactions to why John Conyers was publicly targeted on this issue reflect how race continues to be, as my dear friend Bill Fletcher says, the tripwire for the progressive movement.

Rep. Conyers is a great mentor to me and my respect for him is unquestionable. He has been fighting for peace and justice and civil rights for decades inside and outside of Congress. He is a man for the people and for America. So, it was a truly disappointing moment on Monday, when we realized – as mentor and mentee – that we do not agree on his role as the Chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary committee to uphold our constitution by holding our President and Vice President accountable for their impeachable offensives.

After concluding our meeting I stepped into the hallway with Cindy Sheehan and Ray McGovern to inform the crowd that he refused to put impeachment back on the table. We then returned to his office and sat down, refusing to leave until Capitol Police arrested us.

Since Monday, our action has been criticized on two fronts. First, by the tedious “maintain the Democratic party line no matter what” folks who think that we should wait Bush out until November 2008 and get back at him by voting in a Democrat for President. Second, by folks who have interpreted our targeting of Rep. Conyers, a deeply respected African-American leader in Congress, as an attack that is fundamentally racist by the White leftists of the anti-war movement.

To uncritical supporters of the Democratic Party, I say this is not a time for partisan politics. To use the American people’s frustration with Bush as political leverage in the 2008 elections, and to ignore the constitutional responsibility the legislative branch has to hold the executive branch accountable through the impeachment process, flies in the face of our democracy. People are dying in Iraq because of Bush’s lies; people are being tortured in Guantanamo because of Bush’s disregard for the Constitution and international law; and the American people are loosing faith in our democracy. But, Congress doesn’t get that, and that is why their current approval rating is lower than Bush’s.

To my African-American counterparts who take issue with the White progressive anti-war movement, I understand your criticism of our recent action in Mr. Conyers office, but I do not agree. It was extremely difficult to challenge a man that means so much to African-Americans, but impeaching Bush is critical to the future of our country. We cannot let the precedent stand that Bush has established, which severely oversteps the bounds of executive power. We cannot send the message that such actions will not go unpunished, or at least unchecked.

Impeachment begins in the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, which Rep. John Conyers chairs. He is in the position to begin the impeachment process or keep it from happening, and no other human being is in that position. In addition, Rep. Conyers is the recognized authority on Capitol Hill both on impeachment and on the impeachable offenses of Vice President Cheney and President Bush. He and his staff literally wrote the book on them before the Democrats won the majority last November: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/constitutionincrisis.

Moreover, the action on Monday was not a first resort – it was a last resort. There is no other recourse against Bush for the American people after impeachment, and if Rep. Conyers does not put forth impeachment then we have no recourse and the Democrats will have failed us.

This moment is not about race, it is not about John Conyers, and it is much bigger than the divides within our movements. This moment is about our future as a country, because humanity is at stake. The Bush administration’s hunger for war has caused so much instability in our world that we face a state of permanent wars.

The challenge we face as activists and leaders is how can we possibly bring an end to this madness when the Democrats in power are not with us? We need a broad-based movement that can hold our elected officials accountable and to create such a movement we need to address our internal divides. The reason many African-Americans have interpreted our action against Rep. Conyers as racial betrayal goes deep into the tradition of the progressive movement. How we can begin to address this is something I will discuss in an upcoming article.

In the meantime, for the sake of our country and our world, let us all work to impeach Bush and Cheney now.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is the President of the Hip Hop Caucus. The Hip Hop Caucus is a national, nonprofit, non-partisan organization meant to inspire and motivate those of us born after the ‘60s civil rights movement.


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Victory, Undefined and Unachieved

Operation Enduring Occupation: American Lies and Iraqi Nationalism

The international tragedy of not learning history’s lessons can be monumental. In the case of the Iraq war the result of not heeding the past is perhaps the worst it has been in centuries.

One wonders what led the U.S. and the world to its current situation. What caused a nation once respected as a beacon of peace and freedom (whether or not that reputation was ever deserved) to descend into the immorality of a pre-emptive strike, another overthrow of a sovereign government and finally the chaos of monitoring a bloody civil war in Iraq?

As is so often the case, the answers can be found in history, a history that is often ignored amid imperial designs masquerading as paranoid thoughts of dire threats to the American way of life.

In the June 1985 issue of ‘Monthly Review’ the following was stated: “Are we going to take the position that anti-Communism justifies anything, including colonialism, interference in the affairs of other countries, and aggression? That way, let us be perfectly clear about it, lies war and more war leading ultimately to full-scale national disaster.”

Today the communist bugaboo, so effectively used by several Cold War presidents, is passé; the former Soviet Union is struggling with severe economic issues and has long since ceased to be a world leader. So a new enemy had to be invented. With Iraq sitting on much of the world’s oil supplies, and a U.S. president who, along with much of his administration, has a long history of involvement in the oil industry, radical Islam is the new big bad wolf. The attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001 enabled this newest monster to take a very tangible form for the American public, which threw itself behind Mr. Bush as he marched soldiers off to Afghanistan to find the perpetrator of that disaster, overthrow the repressive Taliban that was said to be hiding Osama bin Laden and oh, by the way, allow Union Oil of California to build a pipeline through the country, something the Taliban had forbidden.

The association with radical Islam was easily transferable from Afghanistan to Iraq. On February 5, 2005, then Secretary of State Colin Powell solemnly told the world from the podium of the United Nations that Iraq had not accounted for its stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons. “We have evidence these weapons existed,” said he. “What we don’t have is evidence from Iraq that they have been destroyed or where they are.”

He spoke of the nerve gas VX, stating darkly that a single drop could kill a person. That U.N. inspectors were searching the country, and receiving cooperation from Saddam Hussein as they did so, was not sufficient for Mr. Powell and his boss, Mr. Bush. The inspectors were ordered out of the country by the United States, and 130,000 American soldiers invaded, unleashing unprecedented terror upon the Iraqi people.

So Mr. Bush, a complete stranger to combat and war himself, pulled the strings, forcing these dedicated Americans unnecessarily into harm’s way. Two months later he declared victory. Yet, inexplicably, the war did not end; thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died since he stood in full uniform (which he, of course, never donned in actual battle) on the deck of the aircraft carrier the Abraham Lincoln. Four years later, with ‘victory’ both undefined and certainly unachieved by whatever definition one may want to ascribe to it, he decided to escalate the war.

As he watches for the results of his ‘surge,’ the president has either forgotten, or perhaps never learned, a vital lesson, one journalist James Cameron succinctly described regarding Vietnam. “A nation of peasants and manual workers who might have felt restive or dissatisfied under the stress of totalitarian conditions had been obliged to forget all their differences in the common sense of resistance and self-defense. From the moment the United States dropped its first bomb on the North of Vietnam, she welded the nation together unshakably.”

Certainly, this is not entirely true of Iraq, but the parallel is striking. The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have not forgotten their centuries-old differences, but have united in one area: their hatred for and resistance to the U.S. occupation of their country. The America presence in their country only distracts them from any possible reconciliation with each other. This reconciliation will take years to achieve, but U.S. soldiers patrolling the streets and monitoring the actions of Iraqi citizens, often killing them as they do so, will only prolong the already painful process. The beginning of the end of the war will only be achieved when the last U.S. soldier leaves.

When, one wonders, will that be? The New York Times reported that the Bush Administration foresees that U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq at least until 2009. The current plan, developed by General David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker includes the following: “The coalition, in partnership with the government of Iraq, employs integrated political, security, economic and diplomatic means, to help the people of Iraq achieve sustainable security by the summer of 2009.” The term ‘coalition,’ of course, is a euphemism for ‘American military,’ since the American military presence in Iraq has been by far the overwhelming majority. In June of 2007 the U.S. had approximately 166,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq; the next largest contingent, numbering approximately 5,500, was from Great Britain.

So current U.S. government plans are to maintain the occupation of Iraq until at least 2009. And since the American presence in Iraq only perpetuates the violence there, one can easily predict that that date will be pushed out again and again, until such time that the American public is so fed up with the continuing waste of American lives that it finally demands an end. It took years for that to occur during the Vietnam era; one can only hope that the American public has learned the lessons the current administration has missed, and will insist on U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq sooner, rather than later.

Robert Fantina is the author of Desertion and the American Soldier.


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