Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Financial Meltdown: Time for a Holiday From Progressive Politics?

Financial Meltdown: Time for a Holiday From Progressive Politics?

By Dean Baker

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Progressives usually fight for the interests of those at the middle and bottom at the expense of those on top. However, during this period of unprecedented financial crisis, when the Wall Street rich are begging for the helping hand of the government, most progressives appear to be on the sidelines. Rather than taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to reduce inequality and educate the public about how the economy really works, progressive voices have been unusually quiet.

While the basic story on the economic crisis should be well known, it is nonetheless worth repeating. The Federal Reserve Board allowed the growth of an $8 trillion housing bubble ($110,000 of housing bubble wealth for every homeowner) in the years from 1996 to 2006. While this bubble was easily recognizable to competent economists, the entire political and financial establishments managed to ignore the housing bubble until it began to burst last year.

The collapse of the bubble is now pushing the economy into a recession. This is the result of both the direct effect of the collapse on the housing market and, more importantly, because of the indirect effect the loss of trillions of dollars of housing wealth has on consumption. Homeowners are rapidly scaling back their consumption after losing much of their life's savings in the last year.

The collapse of the housing bubble has inflicted enormous pain on tens of millions of people, but it is also inflicting pain on Wall Street and the financial sector. The honchos in this sector include many of the richest people in the country. With the collapse of the housing bubble, we are finding out they were far less financially sophisticated than any of us could have imagined. Many banks, brokerage houses and investment funds took highly leveraged bets that assumed the housing bubble would not burst. Now that it has burst, some of the richest people in the country face the risk of a middle-class lifestyle - unless the government comes to the rescue.

This is where things really get painful. Rather than taking this opportunity to tighten the screws, many progressives are standing by the sidelines or actually cheering on plans to bail out the ridiculously rich. The same people - who, on other days, are fighting to raise the income tax rate on the rich or for preserving the estate tax - are just watching as the Fed hands taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, and hoping Congress will come up with tens of billions for buying the bankers' bad mortgage debt.

There is, of course, a cover story - there always is. We have to let the Fed bail out the banks or the financial system would collapse. This would hurt everyone, especially ordinary workers. And the mortgage bailout is supposed to help low- and moderate-income homeowners.

But the cover stories don't hold water. We can keep the banks running without bailing out the incredibly rich people who drove them to ruin. England showed us the way earlier this year with its takeover of Northern Rock, a major bank that got itself in trouble with bad mortgage debt.

We can also help homeowners without bailing out the banks. The rescue proposals currently on the table would have the government buy or guarantee mortgages on homes that are still hugely overpriced. These proposals could give hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks, while providing little help to homeowners. Most would still be paying far more on their mortgage, property taxes and insurance than they would to rent a comparable home. Furthermore, the bailout conditions virtually guarantee they will never have a dime in equity.

As an alternative to bailing out the banks, we can temporarily change the rules on foreclosure to give homeowners the right to rent at the fair market rate. This would provide them with security in their home. More importantly, it would likely create a situation where most homeowners stay in their house as owners, since banks would rather renegotiate mortgage terms than end up as landlords.

The Wall Street boys got themselves in a huge mess through their own greed and stupidity. Now is the time to make sure they enjoy the fruits of their labor. These are the same people who don't think they should have to pay higher taxes so kids can get health care and childcare. There is no reason the rest of us should pay higher taxes so they can keep their mansions in the Hamptons, their private jets and retinue of personal services. Let's leave this one to the market.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (www.conservativenannystate.org). He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.

White House signals continued Iraq escalation as US death toll tops 4,000

White House signals continued Iraq escalation as US death toll tops 4,000

By Bill Van Auken
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The White House delivered a strong signal Monday that President Bush is virtually certain to support a recommendation that the escalation of the US military intervention in Iraq continue indefinitely, despite the rising death toll among US troops.

Bush held a two-hour video conference with the chief commander of the US forces occupying Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, the day after a roadside bomb killed four US troops in southern Baghdad, bringing the total American death toll in the five-year war to 4,000.

Afterwards, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told a White House press briefing that Bush sees “some merit” in the proposal to halt any further troop withdrawals after July. Asked if the president would approve the so-called “pause” that Petraeus is reportedly backing, she replied, “I think that’s not unlikely.”

She added that the president is under “no deadline” to make a decision on troop deployments, which now total approximately 155,000. Petraeus and Crocker are scheduled to return to Washington on April 8 to testify before Congress.

Also participating in Monday’s video conference was Admiral William Fallon, the chief of Central Command, which directs US military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon had argued against Petraeus’ position, calling for withdrawals to resume after a brief pause. The admiral announced his resignation, which takes effect at the end of this month, after the publication of an article citing his opposition to a war against Iran placed him publicly at odds with the policy of the White House.

Bush made a brief and oblique reference to the grim milestone in US casualty figures during a visit to the State Department Monday afternoon. Calling it a “day of reflection,” he perfunctorily declared his “deepest sympathies” to the families of those killed, “whether they were the first one who lost their life in Iraq or recently lost their lives in Iraq.”

Bush invoked the tragic squandering of 4,000 lives thus far in the US war of aggression to justify a continuation of the slaughter, vowing “to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain, that, in fact, there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made; that our strategy going forward will be aimed at making sure that we achieve victory.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking with ABC News in Jerusalem, sounded a similar note. Asked whether Washington would resume the drawing down of troop levels in the fall, Cheney replied, “That isn’t the way I think about it. It’s important to achieve victory in Iraq. It’s important to win, to succeed in the objective that we’ve established.”

Cheney added that “conditions on the ground will determine” how many troops are still fighting in Iraq by the end of the year, when the Bush administration leaves office, indicating that it was pointless to make any projections about future withdrawals.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, sought to dismiss the significance of the American death toll having passed the 4,000 mark. “No casualty is more or less significant than another; each soldier, Marine, airman and sailor is equally precious and their loss equally tragic,” a Defense Department spokesman said.

This official line from the White House and the Pentagon was largely echoed by the media. As the Chicago Tribune noted Monday, “In very few places was the number even front page news in a war now five years old.”

The Washington Post relegated the story to page 9, while the New York Times carried an unintentionally self-indicting piece entitled, “War Endures, but Where’s the Media?”

“Five years later, the United States remains at war in Iraq, but there are days when it would be hard to tell from a quick look at television news, newspapers and the Internet,” the Times article noted.

It cited a new report released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found that media coverage of the war has been drastically cut to less than one-fifth of what existed last summer. According to the study, while major print and broadcast media had devoted 18 percent of their prominent news coverage to Iraq during the first nine months of 2007, this declined to just 9 percent during the last three months of that year and plummeted to 3 percent during 2008.

Based on this report, the Times asserted: “The drop in coverage parallels—and may be explained by—a decline in public interest.” This is a self-serving lie. There is no indication of a shift in popular opinion regarding the war. Every recent poll has shown less than a third of the population supporting the war and a decisive majority believing that it should have never been launched in the first place and that US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq.

What is happening is that the same media that promulgated the lies used to promote the war in 2002 and 2003 is now—more than five years later—largely promoting the official story that the so-called surge launched by the Bush administration over a year ago has pacified the country, leading to a marked improvement in conditions there.

The mounting of the US death toll to 4,000—900 having been killed since the “surge” began—does not fit into this good news story. Therefore, it has received far less coverage than when the death toll topped 1,000 in September 2004, 2,000 in October 2005 and 3,000 in December 2006.

In reality, this appalling new statistic does not begin to reveal the massive human cost of the Iraq war. It has been estimated that for every fatality in Iraq, 15 troops are wounded—an unprecedented ratio attributable to better protective gear and improved medical technology. Many tens if not hundreds of thousands more have suffered serious psychological damage from their participation in a brutal colonial war.

According to credible estimates, for every American soldier and Marine killed in Iraq, some 250 Iraqis have lost their lives over the five years since the US invaded and occupied the country.

The prominent British polling agency, ORB, produced an estimate of 1.2 million civilian deaths last September, a figure that closely tracked the findings of a public health survey conducted 18 months earlier by a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University, which placed the most likely Iraqi death toll at 665,000 as of early 2006.

In addition to the dead, over 4 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes by violence—half of them forced into exile and the rest becoming refugees in their own country. Tens of thousands of Iraqis are imprisoned without charges in a US-run gulag, where many have faced torture and ill-treatment. Since the “surge,” the numbers of Iraqis arrested daily by US forces has doubled.

Agence France-Presse quoted one of the many millions more who have been left devastated by the carnage unleashed by the US war.

“Um Mohammed, a 49-year-old widow in Baghdad’s western Mansur neighborhood, whose husband was abducted and shot by gunmen 15 months ago, bitterly blamed the US military for the loss, which has profoundly affected her and her family,” AFP reported.

“Why does the world care so much about the 4,000 soldiers killed? No one cares about the Iraqis,” she said. “All the killings in Iraq are because of the Americans. They are the cause of all the bloodshed. I ask Allah to kill all the American soldiers—to count them all and not leave any one of them. The world regards the American soldiers as our saviors but they are murderers.”

These sentiments are representative and ensure that armed resistance will continue as long as a single American solder remains in Iraq.

Meanwhile, there are growing indications that the principal developments that underlie the supposed successes of the “surge” are beginning to unravel.

The first is the ceasefire with the Mahdi Army, loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The militia staged a show of force in Baghdad Monday, ordering shops to close in what it termed a “civil disobedience” campaign in protest over the arrest of some of its leading members by US troops and Iraqi puppet forces.

“This disobedience is to express our objections against what is happening to us. It is a peaceful protest. Our demands are to stop these aggressions and to release all the Sadrist prisoners,” said Nassar al-Rubaie, the head of the Sadrist bloc in the Iraqi parliament.

The US military claims it has launched operations only against “renegade” followers of Sadr, but the organization has charged that the repression has been indiscriminate.

At the same time, the Pentagon issued a statement Monday denying that six people killed in a strike by a US helicopter gunship in Samarra the day before were members of the Sons of Iraq, a US-backed Sunni militia. Iraqi sources had reported that they were indeed members of the militia, who were targeted while manning a roadblock.

Such attacks, together with the continuing refusal of the Shia-dominated government to integrate any of these Sunni forces into the Iraqi army or police, have led to growing threats that the militias, composed largely of former insurgents, will resume their resistance to the American occupation.

In an ominous development, General Petraeus Monday charged that a major mortar and rocket attack carried out the day before against the Green Zone—the heavily fortified enclave that houses the US Embassy and Iraqi government buildings—was the work of elements armed and trained by Iran.

“The rockets that were launched at the Green Zone yesterday...were Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets,” he said. The group that fired them, he added, were financed and trained by the Iranian Quds Force.

“All of this in complete violation of promises made by President Ahmadinejad and the other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts,” said Petraeus.

These charges, completely unsubstantiated, are part of a steady drumbeat by the Bush administration against Iran, which, coupled with Fallon’s recent resignation, suggest that even as the death toll in Iraq rises, Washington is preparing a new and even bloodier war.

Rising Health Costs Cut Into Wages

Rising Health Costs Cut Into Wages

By Michael A. Fletcher

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Higher fees squeeze employers, workers.

Recent history has not been kind to working-class Americans, who were down on the economy long before the word recession was uttered.

The main reason: spiraling health-care costs have been whacking away at their wages. Even though workers are producing more, inflation-adjusted median family income has dipped 2.6 percent - or nearly $1,000 annually since 2000.

Employees and employers are getting squeezed by the price of health care. The struggle to control health costs is viewed as crucial to improving wages and living standards for working Americans. Employers are paying more for health care and other benefits, leaving less money for pay increases. Benefits now devour 30.2 percent of employers' compensation costs, with the remaining money going to wages, the Labor Department reported this month. That is up from 27.4 percent in 2000.

"The way health-care costs have soared is unbelievable," said Katherine Taylor, a vice president for Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. "There are people out here making decisions about whether to keep their lights on or buy a prescription."

Since 2001, premiums for family health coverage have increased 78 percent, according to a 2007 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Premiums averaged $12,106, of which workers paid $3,281, according to the report.

That is why negotiators for 396 maintenance workers at Georgetown University cheered last fall after squeezing out wage increases that average a little more than 4 percent in each of the next three years, or between $20 and $40 a week. The real victory for the custodians, landscapers, plumbers and other workers was the provision imposing a one-year freeze on employees' share of health-care premiums and capping premium increases for the least expensive family plan at just under $28.

"Our members are pleased with the contract. Health care is a priority for them," said Taylor, whose union represents the Georgetown workers. "If you have good wages and poor health-care benefits, it is like getting money in one hand and losing it out of the other."

The runaway cost of health care has long been a concern, largely because of the huge number of Americans - estimated at 47 million - who are uninsured. But health-care costs are re-emerging as an economic and political issue in part because of the role they play in the stubborn problem of stagnating wages.

"It is clear that benefits have been the biggest issue on collective bargaining tables and in company compensation calculations," said Thomas A. Kochan, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They eat up scarce dollars, and that limits the amount of money firms feel they can put on the table for wage increases."

The Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), have laid out proposals for expanding health-care coverage by requiring most employers to either offer it or pay a fee to subsidize the purchase of health insurance. Expanded coverage, they say, will lower costs for everyone. They also support legislation that would make it easier to organize labor unions, something they say would give workers better leverage in seeking pay and benefit improvements.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has proposed reining in health-care costs, in part by treating the value of employer-sponsored health-care plans as income and providing a $5,000 per family tax credit for those who buy health insurance. He also supports free-market proposals aimed at stoking competition and giving patients more information, which he believes will increase pressure on health providers to control costs.

Researchers Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Victor R. Fuchs say that employer-sponsored health-care plans create the "myth" that workers are getting their health benefits for little or nothing. But, in fact, "workers and households pay for health insurance through lower wages and higher prices," they wrote in the March 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For many workers, health care and other benefits determine whether they stay on a job. "Raises and health-care benefits are both important," said Carlton L. Scott, a locksmith who has worked at Georgetown for 26 years. "They go hand-in-hand."

While about three out of four full-time workers who earn $15 an hour or less have access to health-care coverage on the job, just over half buy it, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many analysts say that the cost - lower-wage workers pay about a third of the plan premiums with employers picking up the rest - discourages many from having coverage. By comparison, nine out of 10 full-time workers making more than $15 an hour have health coverage available, and overall almost three in four are covered by their jobs.

Employers report that the unpredictable and often uncontrollable cost of health-care coverage is among their major concerns. Nearly nine out of 10 firms that responded to a National Association of Manufacturers survey last year named the cost of health insurance as one of their top-three worries - ranking it higher than government regulation, competition from imports or finding qualified employees.

An increasing number of companies are trying to control costs by promoting employee wellness campaigns and pushing insurance companies and health providers for more details about their operations.

"Certainly, it is frustrating for the benefit managers and the budgeters," said Jeri Gillespie, vice president for human resources policy at NAM. "They say, 'my pot is only so big every year and our health-care costs are rising.' "

For many employers, the choice is coming down to one between better benefits or better wages for workers. At TeraTech, a software development firm in Rockville, president Michael Smith decided early on not to pay for the health insurance his company offers its 14 employees. Instead, he included more money in his employees' salaries and offered them the option of buying health insurance, an approach that he says promotes employee awareness of the plan's costs - both for workers and the company.

"I knew health care was a money sink," Smith said. "If people don't see the full price, they don't realize how much it costs."

After several steep premium increases from his previous health plan, Smith switched to a health savings account, which allows employees to set aside as much as $7,000 a year in pretax dollars to pay for medical care. The plan is supplemented by a high-deductible health insurance plan to cover catastrophic events, which costs employees between $75 and $100 every two weeks.

Even at that, just four of Smith's employees participate in the company's medical plan. "Nooooo," responded TeraTech office administrator Alison Beman, the mother of a teenage daughter, when asked whether she took part in the plan. The plan would require Beman, who is separated from her husband, to come up with the full cost of her prescriptions, which she said makes it prohibitive. Beman is covered by her husband's health plan, which, she said, is one reason she has not gotten a divorce.

"I love working here," Beman said. "But if I didn't have that coverage, I couldn't afford routine appointments, and I would not be able to keep this job."

Ottawa Turns Off Tap On Right To Water

Ottawa Turns Off Tap On Right To Water

By Maude Barlow

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he Canadian government is at it again."

That was the opening line in an urgent email we received this week from an international NGO working to promote the right to water at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) had just participated in a session where the Canadian government had undermined a key resolution tabled by Germany and Spain at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on March 10 that calls for water and sanitation to be recognized as a human right.

The resolution, which will be voted on within the week, is currently being debated at the UNHRC session in Geneva that ends on March 28. Canada has presented numerous objections that have been echoed by the United States.

As it stands, Canada and the United States are the only two countries to go on record at the United Nations to oppose the right to water.

Canada is a member of the UNHRC until 2009; the United States is not an elected member but is allowed to engage under the rules of the Council.

The joint resolution promoted by Germany and Spain aims to establish a "special rapporteur" with the mandate to provide guidance on the right to water and sanitation, identify best practices, investigate country situations and promote the right internationally.

This follows a report by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stating that "specific, dedicated and sustained attention to safe drinking water and sanitation is currently lacking at the international level" and recommending that access to safe drinking water and sanitation be recognized as a human right.

Canada is working to weaken the resolution by demanding that references to the right to water and sanitation be removed and that the scope be reduced. Canada wants the proposed position of "special rapporteur" to be downgraded to "independent expert" serving for only one year instead of the proposed three years. Canada is also opposing visits by this expert to individual countries and the granting of a mandate enabling them to clarify the content of the right to water and sanitation.

This is the third time in six years that member nations of the UN have pushed for recognition of the human right to water. On each occasion, Canada has rejected the efforts to have water recognized as a right.

At a 2002 meeting, Canada stood alone among 53 countries by voting against the appointment of a special rapporteur on water. More recently, Canada reacted negatively to an October 2006 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council to conduct a study on the right to water.

The debate occurs as communities around the world observe today's 15th UN World Water Day.

The Liberal party defended the Harper government's position in the media earlier this week, claiming that a right to water would make Canada vulnerable to bulk water exports. This is utterly untrue.

All transboundary water issues were explicitly excluded from the scope of the resolution. A human rights convention is between a government and its citizens. Recognition of the right to water in no way affects a country's sovereign right to manage its own resources.

The reality is the resolution would be at odds with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which defines water as a good and an investment. The real issue is that the Liberals, like the Conservatives, refuse to reopen NAFTA to remove water. They would rather deny Canada and the world the right to water.

Recognizing water as a human right is vital to ensuring that governments address the reality of more than a billion people who are currently without access to clean water.

The fact that water is not acknowledged as a right has allowed decision-making over water policy to slip away from the UN and governments toward institutions promoting water privatization, which has harmed the environment and cut poor communities off from their water supplies around the world.

This motion by Germany and Spain presents new hope for groups who want to see an international solution to the global water crisis. Negotiations on the issue are expected to conclude this week and the Council of Canadians has responded to the call of our international allies by mobilizing thousands across the country to demand that our government reverse its position.

We will be marking World Water Day by working to promote the right to water in nearly 40 communities across the country. Sadly, our government seems determined to mark the day by denying that same right.

Maude Barlow is the chair of the Council of Canadians and author of Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

Where has all the rage gone?

Where has all the rage gone?

In 1968, fury at the Vietnam war sparked protests and uprisings across the world: from Paris and Prague to Mexico. Tariq Ali considers the legacy 40 years on

By Tariq Ali

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storm swept the world in 1968. It started in Vietnam, then blew across Asia, crossing the sea and the mountains to Europe and beyond. A brutal war waged by the US against a poor south-east Asian country was seen every night on television. The cumulative impact of watching the bombs drop, villages on fire and a country being doused with napalm and Agent Orange triggered a wave of global revolts not seen on such a scale before or since.

If the Vietnamese were defeating the world's most powerful state, surely we, too, could defeat our own rulers: that was the dominant mood among the more radical of the 60s generation.

In February 1968, the Vietnamese communists launched their famous Tet offensive, attacking US troops in every major South Vietnamese city. The grand finale was the sight of Vietnamese guerrillas occupying the US embassy in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and raising their flag from its roof. It was undoubtedly a suicide mission, but incredibly courageous. The impact was immediate. For the first time a majority of US citizens realised that the war was unwinnable. The poorer among them brought Vietnam home that same summer in a revolt against poverty and discrimination as black ghettoes exploded in every major US city, with returned black GIs playing a prominent part.

The single spark set the world alight. In March 1968, students at Nanterre University in France came out on to the streets and the 22 March Movement was born, with two Daniels (Cohn-Bendit and Bensaid, Nanterre students then, and both still involved in green or leftist politics) challenging the French lion: Charles de Gaulle, the aloof, monarchical president of the Fifth Republic who, in a puerile outburst, would later describe as chie-en-lit - "shit in the bed" - the events in France that came close to toppling him. The students began by demanding university reforms and moved on to revolution.

That same month in London, a demonstration against the Vietnam war marched to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. It turned violent. Like the Vietnamese, we wanted to occupy the embassy, but mounted police were deployed to protect the citadel. Clashes occurred and the US senator Eugene McCarthy watching the images demanded an end to a war that had led, among other things, to "our embassy in Europe's friendliest capital" being constantly besieged. Compared with the ferment elsewhere, Britain was a sideshow ("...in sleepy London Town there's just no place for a street fighting man," Mick Jagger sang later that year): university occupations and riots in Grosvenor Square did not pose any real threat to the Labour government, which backed the US but refused to send troops to Vietnam.

In France, the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was at the peak of his influence. Contrary to Stalinist apologists, he argued that there was no reason to prepare for happiness tomorrow at the price of injustice, oppression or misery today. What was required was improvement now.

By May, the Nanterre students' uprising had spread to Paris and to the trade unions. We were preparing the first issue of The Black Dwarf as the French capital erupted on May 10. Jean-Jacques Lebel, our teargassed Paris correspondent, was ringing in reports every few hours. He told us: "A well-known French football commentator is sent to the Latin Quarter to cover the night's events and reported, 'Now the CRS [riot police] are charging, they're storming the barricade - oh my God! There's a battle raging. The students are counter-attacking, you can hear the noise - the CRS are retreating. Now they're regrouping, getting ready to charge again. The inhabitants are throwing things from their windows at the CRS - oh! The police are retaliating, shooting grenades into the windows of apartments...' The producer interrupts: 'This can't be true, the CRS don't do things like that!'

" 'I'm telling you what I'm seeing...' His voice goes dead. They have cut him off."

The police failed to take back the Latin Quarter, now renamed the Heroic Vietnam Quarter. Three days later a million people occupied the streets of Paris, demanding an end to the rottenness of the state and plastering the walls with slogans: "Defend The Collective Imagination", "Beneath The Cobble- stones The Beach", "Commodities Are The Opium Of The People, Revolution Is The Ecstasy Of History".

Eric Hobsbawm wrote in The Black Dwarf: "What France proves is when someone demonstrates that people are not powerless, they may begin to act again."

I had been planning to head for Paris - it was something we had been discussing at the paper - but then I received a late-night phone call. A posh voice said, "You don't know who I am, but do not leave the country till your five years here are up. They won't let you back." In those days, citizenship for Commonwealth citizens was automatic after five years. I would not complete my five years until October 1968. Already Labour cabinet ministers had been discussing in public whether or not I could be deported. Friendly lawyers confirmed I should not leave the country. Clive Goodwin, the publisher of our mag, vetoed the trip and went off himself.

I went a year later to help Alain Krivine, one of the leaders of the May 1968 revolt, in his presidential campaign, standing for the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. As we touched down at Orly airport, returning from a rally in Toulouse, the French police surrounded the plane. "Hope it's you, not me," muttered Krivine. It was. I was served an order banning me from France which stayed in force until François Mitterand's election many years later.

The revolution did not happen, but France was shaken by the events. De Gaulle, with a sense of history, considered a coup d'état: in early June, he flew from a military base to Baden-Baden, where French troops were stationed, to ask whether they would support him if Paris fell to the revolutionaries. They agreed but demanded rehabilitation for the ultra-right generals whom De Gaulle had fired because they opposed pulling out of Algeria. The deal was done. Yet De Gaulle slapped down his interior minister for suggesting that Sartre be arrested: "You cannot imprison Voltaire," he ruled.

The French example did spread, worrying bureaucrats in Moscow as much as the ruling elites in the west. An unruly and undisciplined people had to be brought to heel. Robert Escarpit, a Le Monde correspondent, wrote on July 23 1968: "A Frenchman travelling abroad feels himself treated a bit like a convalescent from a pernicious fever. And how did the rash of barricades break out? What was the temperature at five o'clock in the evening of May 29? Is the Gaullist medicine really getting to the roots of the disease? Are there dangers of a relapse?... But there is one question that is hardly ever asked, perhaps because they are afraid to hear the answer. But at heart everyone would like to know, hopefully or fearfully, whether the sickness is infectious."

It was infectious. In Prague, communist reformers - many of them heroes of the anti-fascist resistance during the second world war - had that spring already proclaimed "socialism with a human face". The aim of Alexander Dubcek and his supporters was to democratise political life in Czechoslovakia. It was the first step towards a socialist democracy and was seen as such in Moscow and Washington. On August 21, the Russians sent in the tanks and crushed the reform movement.

In every west European capital there were protests. The tabloid press in Britain was constantly attacking leftists as "agents of Moscow" and was genuinely taken aback when we marched to the Soviet embassy, denouncing the invasion in strong language and burning effigies of the bloated Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. Alexander Solzhenitsyn later remarked that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia had been the last straw for him. Now he realised that the system could never be reformed from within but would have to be overthrown. He was not alone. The Moscow bureaucrats had sealed their own fate.

In Mexico, students took over their universities, demanding an end to oppression and one-party rule. The army was sent in to occupy the universities and did so for many months, making it the best-educated army in the world. On October 2 - with the eyes of the world on Mexico City 10 days before the Olympic games were due to begin there - thousands of students poured on to the streets to demonstrate. A massacre began at sunset. Troops opened fire on the crowd listening to speeches in one of the city's main squares - dozens were killed and hundreds more injured.

And then in November 1968 Pakistan erupted. Students took on the state apparatus of a corrupt and decaying military dictatorship backed by the US (sound familiar?). They were joined by workers, lawyers, white-collar employees, prostitutes, and other social layers, and despite the severe repression (hundreds were killed), the struggle increased in intensity and, the following year, toppled Field Marshal Ayub Khan.

When I arrived in February 1969, the mood of the country was joyous. Speaking at rallies all over the country with the poet Habib Jalib, we encountered a very different atmosphere from that in Europe. Here power did not seem so remote. The victory over Ayub Khan led to the first general election in the country's history. The Bengali nationalists in east Pakistan won a majority that the elite and key politicians refused to accept. Civil war led to Indian military intervention and that ended the old Pakistan. Bangladesh was the result of a bloody caesarean.

The glorious decade (1965-75), of which the year 1968 was only the high point, consisted of three concurrent narratives. Politics dominated, but there were two others that left a deeper imprint - sexual liberation and a hedonistic entrepreneurship from below. We had cause to be grateful for the latter. We were constantly appealing for funds from readers when I edited The Black Dwarf in 1968-69. One day a guy in overalls walked into our Soho office and counted out 25 grubby £5 notes, thanked us for producing the paper and left. He would do this every fortnight. Finally, I asked who he was and if there was a particular reason for his generosity. It turned out he had a stall on Portobello Road and, as to why he wanted to help, it was simple. "Capitalism is so non-groovy, man." It's only too groovy now and far more vicious.

In some ways, the 60s were a reaction to the 50s, and the intensity of the cold war. In the US, the McCarthyite witch-hunts had created havoc in the 50s, but now blacklisted writers could work again; in Russia, hundreds of political prisoners were released, the gulags were closed down and the crimes of Stalin were denounced by Khruschev as eastern Europe trembled with excitement and hopes of rapid reform. They hoped in vain.

The spirit of renewal infected the realm of culture as well: Solzhenitsyn's first novel was serialised in the official literary magazine, Novy Mir, and a new cinema took over most of Europe. In Spain and Portugal, ruled at the time by Nato's favourite fascists, Franco and Salazar, censorship persisted, but in Britain DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, written in 1928, was published for the first time in 1960. The book, in its complete form, sold two million copies.

Following Simone de Beauvoir's pioneering work in The Second Sex (1949), Juliet Mitchell fired off a new salvo in December 1966. Her lengthy essay, Women: The Longest Revolution, appeared in the New Left Review and became an immediate point of reference, summarising the problems faced by women: "In advanced industrial society, women's work is only marginal to the total economy... women are offered a universe of their own: the family. Like woman herself, the family appears as a natural object, but it is actually a cultural creation... Both can be exalted paradoxically, as ideals. The 'true' woman and 'true' family are images of peace and plenty: in actuality they may both be sites of violence and despair."

In September 1968, US feminists disrupted the Miss World competition in Atlantic City, warning shots in a women's liberation movement that would change women's lives by demanding recognition, independence and an equal voice in a male-dominated world. The cover of the January 1969 issue of Black Dwarf dedicated the year to women. Inside, we published Sheila Rowbotham's spirited feminist call to arms. (As I write this, Professor Rowbotham, now a distinguished scholar, has her job under threat from the ghastly, grey accountants who run Manchester University. We are now in an epoch of production-line universities with celebrities paid fortunes to teach eight hours a week and genuine scholars dumped in the bin.)

And, yes, there was also the pleasure principle. That the 60s were hedonistic is indisputable, but they were different from the corporatised version of today. At the time they marked a break with the hypocritical puritanism of the 40s and 50s, when censors prohibited married couples being shown on screen sharing a bed and pyjamas were compulsory. Radical upheavals challenge all social restrictions. It was always thus.

In the prefigurative London of the 18th century, sexual experiments required the cover of break-away churches such as the Moravians and surreal Swedenborgians (for whom "love for the holy" was best expressed in the "projection of semen"): both preached the virtues of combining religious and sexual ecstasy. Sexual orgies were a regular feature of Moravian ritual, according to which penetration was akin to entering the wounds in Christ's side. William Blake and his circle were heavily involved in all of this and some of his paintings depicting this world were censored at the time. I hope this does not come as too much of a shock to my old friend Tony Benn and others who sing Jerusalem without realising the hidden meaning of:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear!

Homosexuality in Britain was decriminalised only in 1967. Gay liberation movements erupted with activists demanding an end to all homophobic legislation and Gay Pride marches were launched, inspired by the Afro-American struggles for equal rights and black pride. All the movements learned from each other. The advances of the civil rights, women's and gay movements, now taken for granted, had to be fought for on the streets against enemies who were fighting the "war on horror".

History rarely repeats itself, but its echoes never go away. In the autumn of 2004, when I was in the US on a lecture tour that coincided with Bush's re-election campaign, I noticed at a large antiwar meeting in Madison a very direct echo in a utopian bumper sticker: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam." The sound engineer in the hall, a Mexican-American, whispered proudly in my ear that his son, a 25- year-old marine, had just returned from a tour of duty in the besieged Iraqi city of Fallujah, the scene of horrific massacres by US soldiers, and may show up at the meeting. He didn't, but joined us later with a couple of civilian friends. He could see the room was packed with antiwar, anti-Bush activists.

The young, crewcut marine, G, recounted tales of duty and valour. I asked why he had joined the marine corps. "There was no choice for people like me. If I'd stayed here, I'd have been killed on the streets or ended up in the penitentiary serving life. The marine corps saved my life. They trained me, looked after me and changed me completely. If I died in Iraq, at least it would be the enemy that killed me. In Fallujah, all I could think of was how to make sure that the men under my command were kept safe. That's all. Most of the kids demonstrating for peace have no problems here. They go to college, they demonstrate and soon they forget it all as they move into well-paid jobs. It's not so easy for people like me. I think there should be a draft. Why should poor kids be the only ones out there? Out of all the marines I work with, perhaps four or five percent are gung-ho flag-wavers. The rest of us are doing a job, we do it well and hope we get out without being KIA [killed in action] or wounded."

Later, G sat on a sofa between two older men - both former combatants. On his left was Will Williams, 60, born in Mississipi, who had enlisted in the army aged 17. He was sure that, had he not left Mississippi, the Klu Klux Klan or some other racist gang would have killed him. He, too, told me that the military "saved my life". Following a stint in Germany, he was sent to Vietnam. Wounded in action, he received a Purple Heart and two bronze stars; he also began to change following a rebellion by black troops at Camranh Bay protesting racism within the US army.

Following a difficult period readjusting, Williams read deeply in politics and history. Feeling that the country was being lied to again, he and Dot, his companion of over 43 years, joined the movement opposing the war in Iraq, bringing their Gospel choir voices to rallies and demonstrations.

On G's right was Clarence Kailin, 90 years old that summer and one of the few remaining survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish civil war. He, too, has been active in the movement against the war in Iraq. "Our trip was made in considerable secrecy - even from our families. I was a truck driver, then an infantry man and for a short time a stretcher-bearer. I saw the brutality of war up close. Of the five Wisconsinites who came to Spain with me, two were killed... later, there was Vietnam and this time kids from here died on the wrong side. Now we have Iraq. It's really bad, but I still believe there is an innate goodness in people, which is why so many can break with unworthy pasts."

In 2006, after another tour of duty, G could no longer accept any justification for the war. He was admiring of Cindy Sheehan and the Military Families Against the War, the most consistently active and effective antiwar group in the US.

A decade before the French Revolution, Voltaire remarked that "History is the lies we agree on". Afterwards there was little agreement on anything. The debate on 1968 was recently revived by Nicolas Sarkozy, who boasted that his victory in last year's presidential elections was the final nail in the '68 coffin. The philosopher Alain Badiou's tart response was to compare the new president of the republic to the Bourbons of 1815 and Marshal Pétain during the war. They, too, had talked about nails and coffins.

"May 1968 imposed intellectual and moral relaivism on us all," Sarkozy declared. "The heirs of May '68 imposed the idea that there was no longer any difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness. The heritage of May 1968 introduced cynicism into society and politics."

He even blamed the legacy of May '68 for greedy and seedy business practices. The May '68 attack on ethical standards helped to "weaken the morality of capitalism, to prepare the ground for the unscrupulous capitalism of golden parachutes for rogue bosses". So the 60s generation is held responsible for Enron, Conrad Black, the subprime mortgage crisis, Northern Rock, corrupt politicians, deregulation, the dictatorship of the "free market", a culture strangled by brazen opportunism.

The struggle against the Vietnam war lasted 10 years. In 2003 people came out again in Europe and America, in even larger numbers, to try to stop the Iraq war. The pre-emptive strike failed. The movement lacked the stamina and the resonance of its predecessors. Within 48 hours it had virtually disappeared, highlighting the changed times.

Were the dreams and hopes of 1968 all idle fantasies? Or did cruel history abort something new that was about to be born? Revolutionaries - utopian anarchists, Fidelistas, Trotskyist allsorts, Maoists of every stripe - wanted the whole forest. Liberals and social democrats were fixated on individual trees. The forest, they warned us, was a distraction, far too vast and impossible to define, whereas a tree was a piece of wood that could be identified, improved and crafted into a chair or a table. Now the tree, too, has gone.

"You're like fish that only see the bait, never the line," we would mock in return. For we believed - and still do - that people should not be measured by material possessions but by their ability to transform the lives of others - the poor and underprivileged; that the economy needed to be reorganised in the interests of the many, not the few; and that socialism without democracy could never work. Above all, we believed in freedom of speech.

Much of this seems utopian now and some, for whom 1968 wasn't radical enough at the time, have embraced the present and, like members of ancient sects who moved easily from ritual debauchery to chastity, now regard any form of socialism as the serpent that tempted Eve in paradise.

The collapse of "communism" in 1989 created the basis for a new social agreement, the Washington Consensus, whereby deregulation and the entry of private capital into hitherto hallowed domains of public provision would become the norm everywhere, making traditional social democracy redundant and threatening the democratic process itself.

Some, who once dreamed of a better future, have simply given up. Others espouse a bitter maxim: unless you relearn you won't earn. The French intelligentsia, which had from the Enlightenment onwards made Paris the political workshop of the world, today leads the way with retreats on every front. Renegades occupy posts in every west European government defending exploitation, wars, state terror and neocolonial occupations; others now retired from the academy specialise in producing reactionary dross on the blogosphere, displaying the same zeal with which they once excoriated factional rivals on the far left. This, too, is nothing new. Shelley's rebuke to Wordsworth who, after welcoming the French Revolution, retreated to a pastoral conservatism, expressed it well:

In honoured poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be

Cheney Backs Israel Over "Security"

Cheney Backs Israel Over "Security"

Mr Cheney said the US was dedicated to the peace process
US Vice-President Dick Cheney has given strong backing to Israel ahead of talks with Palestinian leaders.

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Mr Cheney said the US would never put any pressure on Israel over issues he said would threaten its security.

Speaking in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he described America’s commitment to Israel’s security as "unshakeable".

Mr Cheney will visit the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday for talks with Palestinian leaders.

"America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself - always - against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction," Mr Cheney said.

"The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps to threaten its security."

Peace efforts

Mr Cheney reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state and said Palestinian leaders could be "certain of America’s goodwill".

"We want to see a resolution to the conflict, an end to the terrorism that has caused so much grief to Israelis, and a new beginning for the Palestinian people," he sa

Mr Cheney said history had shown that "Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace" when encountered by Arab partners "who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments".

The vice-president attended an Easter Mass in Jerusalem and met more Israeli officials before his visit to Ramallah.

In a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, he reiterated Washington’s commitment to the Middle East peace process.

"We’re obviously dedicated to doing all we can as an administration to try to move the peace process forward and also obviously actively involved in dealing with the threats we see emerging in the region," he said.

In Ramallah, Mr Cheney is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

’Darkening shadows’

US President George W Bush has said he hopes for a peace deal before he leaves office in January.

Both Mr Cheney and Mr Olmert referred to regional tensions in the Middle East.

"We must not, and will not, ignore the darkening shadows of the situations in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran and the forces there that are working to derail the hopes of the world," Mr Cheney said shortly after landing in Israel.

Mr Olmert said that there were "many items on the common agenda" of the US and Israel including Iran and carrying on peace negotiations with Palestinians.

"We are watching very carefully the northern front, the behaviour of Syria, and Hezbollah," he added.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called Mr Cheney’s comments "completely biased in favour of the Israeli occupation".

He said they confirmed that the US "is a partner to Israel in its war against our people and against the Gaza Strip".

The BBC’s Tim Franks in Jerusalem says Israelis and Palestinians are sceptical about the chances for peace.

Opinion polls suggest that most people doubt that the current talks, given an extra push by the Americans at the end of last year, will lead to a deal any time soon, he says.

Mr Cheney will visit Turkey before returning to Washington.

The Naive Armchair Warriors Are Fighting A Delusional War

The Naive Armchair Warriors Are Fighting A Delusional War

Calls for the west to use force to restore its values in the face of radical Islam reveal a profound detachment from reality

By Alastair Crooke

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The French philosopher Michel Foucault notes that in all societies discourse is controlled - imperceptibly constrained, perhaps, but constrained nonetheless. We are not free to say exactly what we like. The norms set by institutions, convention and our need to keep within the boundaries of accepted behaviour and thought limit what may be touched upon. The Archbishop of Canterbury experienced the backlash from stepping outside these conventions when he spoke about aspects of Islamic law that might be imported into British life.

Once, a man was held to be mad if he strayed from this discourse - even if his utterings were credited with revealing some hidden truth. Today, he is called "naive", or accused of having gone "native". Recently, the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) marshalled former senior military and intelligence experts in order to assert such limits to expression by warning us that "deference" to multiculturalism was undermining the fight against Islamic "extremism" and threatening security.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, in a recent interview with a German magazine, embellished Rusi's complaints of naivety and "flabby thinking". Radical Islam won't stop, he warned, and the "virus" would only become more virulent if the US were to withdraw from Iraq.

The charge of naivety is not limited to failing to understand the concealed and duplicitous nature of Hamas and Hizbullah, Iran and Syria; it extends to not grasping the true nature of the wider "enemy" the west is facing. "I don't like the term 'war on terror' because terror is a method, not a political movement; we are in a war against radical Islam," says Kissinger. But who or what is radical Islam? It is those who are not "moderates", he explains. Certainly, a small minority of Muslims believe that only by "burning the system" can a fresh stab at a just society be made. But Kissinger's definition of "moderate" Islam sounds no more than a projection of the Christian narrative after Westphalia, by which Christianity became a private matter of conscience, rather than an organisational principle for society.

If radical Islam, with which these experts tell us we should be at war, encompasses all those who are not enamoured of secular society, and who espouse a vision of their societies grounded in the values of Islam, then these experts are advocating a war with Islam - because Islam is the vision for their future favoured by many Muslims.

Mainstream Islamists are indeed challenging western secular and materialist values, and many do believe that western thinking is flawed - that the desires and appetites of man have been reified into representing man himself. It is time to re-establish values that go beyond "desires and wants", they argue.

Many Islamists also reject the western narrative of history and its projection of inevitable "progress" towards a secular modernity; they reject the western view of power-relationships within societies and between societies; they reject individualism as the litmus of progress in society; and, above all, they reject the west's assumption that its empirical approach lends unassailability and objective rationality to its thinking - and universality to its social models.

People may, or may not, agree, but the point is that this is a dispute about ideas, about the nature of society, and about equity in an emerging global order. If western discourse cannot step beyond the enemy that it has created, these ideas cannot be heard - or addressed. This is the argument that Jonathan Powell made last week when he argued that Britain should understand the lessons of Northern Ireland: we should talk to Islamist movements, including al-Qaida. It has to be done, because the west needs to break through the fears and constraints of an over-imagined "enemy".

Camouflaged behind a language dwelling exclusively on "their" violence and "their" disdain for rationality, these "realists" propose not a war on terror, nor a war to preserve "our values" - for we are not about to be culturally overwhelmed. No Islamist seriously expects that a "defeated" west would hasten to adopt the spirit of the Islamic revolution.

No, the west's war is a military response to ideas that question western supremacy and power. The nature of this war on "extremism" became evident when five former chiefs of defence staff of Nato states gathered at a think-tank in Washington earlier this year. Their aim was not to query the realism of a war on ideas, but to empower Nato for an "uncertain world".

"We cannot survive ... confronted with people who do not share our values, who unfortunately are in the majority in terms of numbers, and who are extremely hungry for success," Germany's former chief of defence staff warned. Their conclusion was that the security of the west rests on a "restoration of its certainties", and on a new form of deterrence in which enemies will find there is not, and never will be, a place in which they feel safe.

The generals concluded that Nato should adopt an asymmetrical and relentless pursuit of its targets regardless of others' sovereignty; to surprise; to seize the initiative; and to use all means, including the nuclear option, against its enemies.

In Foucault's discourse, he identified a further group of rules serving to control language: none may enter into discourse on a specific subject unless he or she is deemed qualified to do so. Those, like the archbishop, who penetrate this forbidden territory - reserved to security expertise - to ask that we see the west for what it has become in the eyes of others, are liable to be labelled as naively weakening "our certainties" and undermining national resolve.

But do we, who are brushed out of this discourse by the blackmail of presumed expertise, really believe them? Do we really believe, after so much failure, that Islamist alternative ideas will be suppressed by a Nato plunged into an asymmetrical warfare of assassinations and killings? The west's vision for society holds power only so long as people believe it holds power. Do we really think that if force has not succeeded, that only more and greater force can restore belief in the western vision? If that is the limit to western thinking, then it is these "realists", these armchair warriors fighting a delusional war against a majority who "do not share our values", who are truly naive.

· Alastair Crooke is a former security adviser to the EU and founder and director of the Conflicts Forum conflictsforum.org

How Lethally Stupid Can One Country Be?

How Lethally Stupid Can One Country Be?

By David Michael Green

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Watching George W. Bush in operation these last couple of weeks is like having an out-of-body experience. On acid. During a nightmare. In a different galaxy.

As he presides over the latest disaster of his administration, (No, it’s not a terrorist attack - that was 2001! No, it’s not a catastrophic war - that was 2003! No, it’s not a drowning city - that was 2005! This one is an economic meltdown, ladies and gentlemen!) bringing to it the same blithe disengagement with which he’s attended the previous ones, you cannot but stop and gaze in stark, comedic awe, realizing that the most powerful polity that ever existed on the planet twice picked this imbecilic buffoon as its leader, from among 300 million other choices. Seeing him clown with the Washington press corps yet once again - and seeing them fawn over him, laugh in all the right places, and give him a standing ovation, also yet once again - is the equivalent of having all your logic circuits blown simultaneously. Truly, the universe has a twisted and deeply ironic sense of humor. Monty Python is about as funny - and as stiff - as Dick Nixon, by comparison.

It’s simply incomprehensible. It’s not so astonishing, of course, that a country could have a bad leader whose aims are nefarious on the occasions when they are competent enough to rise to that level of intentionality. Plenty of countries have managed that feat, especially when - as was the case with Bush - every sort of scam is employed to steal power, and then pure corruption and intimidation used to keep it. History is quite littered indeed with bimbos and petty criminals of this caliber. What is harder to explain is how a country of such remarkable achievements in other domains, and with the capacity to choose, and in the twenty-first century no less, allows this to happen. And then stands by silently watching for eight years as the tragedy unfolds before their eyes, all 600 million of them, hardly any of them even blinking.

And so, remarkably, as we mark now the fifth anniversary of the very most tragic of these debacles, the most destructive and the most shameful - because it was the most avoidable - the sad question of the hour is less what is to be done about it than will anyone even notice? Not likely. And not for very long if they do. And, most of all, definitely not enough so as to take meaningful action to bring it to an end, even at this absurdly late date.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. This is precisely by design. This is exactly the outcome intended by the greatest propaganda-promulgating regime since Hermann Göring set fire to the Reichstag. It was Göring himself who famously reminded us that, "Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. …Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Sure worked in Germany. And it worked even better here, because these guys were so absolutely careful to avoid exposing the costs of their war to those who could demand its end. For example, by some counts, there are more mercenaries fighting in Iraq, at extremely high cost, than there are US military personnel. There’s only one reason for that. If the administration implemented the draft that is actually necessary to supply this war with adequate personnel, the public would end both the war and the careers of its sponsors, post haste. For the same reason, this is the first American war ever which has not only not been accompanied by a tax increase, but has in fact witnessed a tax cut. Likewise - to ’preserve the dignity’ of the dead, of course - you are no longer permitted to see photographs of flag-draped caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base. And the press are embedded with forces who are also responsible for their safety, which is just a fancy way of saying that they’re so censored they make Pravda look good. It is, in short, quite easy for average Americans to get through their day, every day, without the war impacting their lives in any visible respect, and that is precisely what hundreds of millions of us are doing, week in and week out. All of this is courtesy of an administration that couldn’t run a governmental program to save its own life - but, boy, they sure as hell know how to market stuff.

So perhaps there is no excuse, after all, for my naïveté, for my credulousness in wanting to believe that twenty-first century America might be different enough not to follow the smallest of men - a personal failure and a 40-year drunkard who, unlike Herr Göring’s führer, couldn’t even claim charismatic eloquence as the sole virtue accounting for his power - to follow such a petulant child off the deep end of a completely unjustified war. Perhaps Americans and American democracy are no wiser or better than any other people or political system, even today, even after the worst century of warfare in human history, even after the mirror-image experience of Vietnam. Maybe the experience of Iraq hasn’t even changed them, and they’ll once again follow like lemmings when led to war by pathetic creatures such as George W. Bush, fifty years from now. Or five years from now. Or even five months from now, as the creature d.b.a Dick Cheney tees up a confrontation with Iran in order keep Democrats out of the White House, and himself out of jail.

Sure, presidents and prime ministers, no less than kings and führers, will lie their countries into war. Sure, they’re very good at it, and getting better all the time. Definitely a frightened people are more prone to stupidity than those lucky enough to contemplate in the luxury of quiet safety. Without question, it helps an awful lot - if you’re just Joe Sixpack, out there trying to figure out international politics in-between a long day’s work, helping the kids with their algebra homework, and the Yankee game - to have a checking-and-balancing Congress, a responsible opposition party, and/or a critical media helping you to understand the issues accurately, rather than gleefully capitulating to executive power at every opportunity. But that by no means excuses a public who were fundamentally far more lazy than they were ignorant or confused. And lazy is one thing when you’re talking about a highway bill or even national healthcare. But when it comes to war, lazy is murder.

I don’t think it took a giant leap of logic to understand that this war was bogus from the beginning, even based on what was known at the time. The war was sold on three basic arguments, each of which could have been easily dismantled even then with a little thoughtful consideration.

The first was WMD, of course. So, okay, perhaps your average American didn’t know that the United States government (including many in the current administration) had actually once supplied Saddam Hussein the material to make these evil weapons, and had covered for him at the UN and elsewhere when he used them. Although this historical myopia is very much part of the problem, of course. Americans are so ready to denounce supposed enemies without doing the slightest bit of historical homework to become acquainted with the slightest bit of history to make sense of the situation. If you don’t know that the US actually canceled elections and helped assassinate a ’democratic’ president in Vietnam, of course you’re going to support war there. If you don’t know that the US toppled a democratically elected Iranian government to steal the country’s oil and then installed a brutal dictatorship in its place, of course you’re going to be angry at US diplomats being held hostage. And if you don’t bother to learn the true history of Iraq, perhaps you’ll find the WMD argument quite persuasive.

But, in fact, even without the historical background information, it never made a damn bit of sense. Iraq had been pulverized by war and sanctions for over twenty years prior to 2003. Two-thirds of its airspace was controlled by foreign militaries. Its northern region was effectively autonomous, a separate country in all but name. It was in no position to attack anyone. Moreover, it hadn’t attacked anyone - not the United States or anyone else. Indeed, it hadn’t even threatened to attack anyone. Shouldn’t that be part of the calculation in determining whether to go to war? Do we really want to give carte blanche to any dry (we hope) drunkard in the White House who today wants to bomb Norway ("They’re stealing our fish!"), or tomorrow wants to invade Burkina Faso ("They dress funny!")?

Too often, of course, the historical answer to that question has unfortunately been yes, we apparently do want to do that. But let’s consider the massive warning signs in this case, even apart from what could be known about the administration’s lies at the time. Shouldn’t it have been enormously problematic that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? Even the administration never had the gall to make that claim. Wasn’t it transparent to anyone that America had plenty on its plate already in dealing with the enemy we were told we had, rather than adding a new adventure to the pile? And why wasn’t this thing selling throughout the world, or even amongst the traitorous half of the Democratic Party in Congress? Remember how everyone at home and abroad - yes, including the French - supported the US and its military actions in Afghanistan only twelve months before? Shouldn’t it have been a warning sign of epic proportions that these same folks wouldn’t countenance a war in Iraq just a year later? That the administration had to yank its Security Council resolution off the table, even after breaking both the arms of every member-state around the horseshoe table, because it could still only get Britain and two other patsies to lie down for this outrage, out of a total of fifteen, and nine needed to pass?

And how about the logic of that whole WMD thing, after all? Did anyone ever stop to think that several dozen other countries have WMD, including some that are pretty hostile to the United States? Did anyone not remember that the Soviets once had nearly 25,000 strategic nuclear warheads pointed in our direction? What ever happened to the logic of deterrence? To mutually assured destruction? And what about the mad rush to go to war, preempting the UN weapons inspectors from doing their job? Are we really okay with the notion that instead of ’risking’ whatever would have been at risk by giving the inspectors another six or eight weeks to finish up, we’ve instead bought this devastating war down on our own heads for no reason at all? If you stop to think about it, it makes you shudder. Which I guess explains why not too many people stop to think about it.

The second rationale for war was the bogus linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda. The extent and ramifications of this lie are so significant that the White House, it was just recently revealed, squelched a Pentagon report showing no connections between the two. Is this sort of censorship what the Bush administration means by democracy, the remedy it’s always preaching for the rest of the world but never practicing at home? Anyhow, remember how definitive Cheney and the rest were of this supposed al Qaeda linkage, based pretty much entirely on a meeting between two operatives in Prague which likely didn’t even take place? Now we find out that the Department of Defense has spent the last five years combing through a mere 600,000 documents, and found zero evidence of such a link. Not some evidence. Not mixed evidence. Zero evidence.

But you could tell even then that they had almost nothing to go on. Christ, the United States government itself has had far more interactions with al Qaeda - including helping to build the beast from its inception - than one disputed meeting between two spooks in Prague. Doesn’t it seem that a decision to go to war should hang on more than a single thread like that, let alone a narrow and tattered one? And how many of us are down for attacking any country right now that might have had a single meeting between a low-level functionary and an al Qaeda representative?

Then, once again, there’s the matter of that whole pesky logic thing. Pay attention now, class. What do we know about al Qaeda? They are devoted to religious war - jihad - in the name of replacing governments across the Middle East with theocracies, or better yet recreating the old Islamic caliphate stretching across the region, right? Right. Now if this vision could have more thoroughly contradicted Saddam’s agenda for a secular dictatorship seeking regional domination on his own Stalinist terms, it is hard to imagine how. You don’t need a PhD in international politics to see that these two actors were about as antithetical to each other as the Republican Party is to integrity. Then again, even having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the foggiest clue about what’s going on in the world, as Condoleezza Rice clearly demonstrated by brilliantly failing to anticipate that Hamas would win elections she had pushed the Palestinians to hold. For someone serving as secretary of state, this idiocy is the rough equivalent of anyone else being shocked when a dropped bowling ball hurtles to the ground, because they’re not yet fully acquainted with the concept of gravity. Evidently, in Texas this is what they call ’credentials’.

Lastly, Bush’s little adventure in Mesopotamia was supposed to bring democracy to the region, remember? Never mind, of course, that there has long already been a fairly thriving Islamic democracy, right next door. Oops! It’s called Turkey. And let’s not forget Mr. Bush’s long-standing devotion to democracy, as he amply demonstrated in the American election of 2000. Or as he has continually manifested by bravely and publicly pushing the Chinese to democratize. Just as he has with his pals in Egypt and especially the family friends running Saudi Arabia, the recipient of more American foreign aid than nearly any other country in all the world. And let’s not forget the several hundred thousand perished souls from Darfur, whom this great champion of human rights has fought valiantly to keep alive by… by… well, I’m sure he’s done a lot behind the scenes. Sure is gonna be hard for them to exercise their precious right to vote from the next world, eh?

What is clear is that the reasons given to the American public for the war in Iraq were entirely bogus. This much is already on the public record, from the Downing Street Memos and beyond. Even if we can only speculate on why they actually invaded - oil, glory, personal insecurity, Israel, clobbering Democrats, Middle Eastern dominance - what we know for sure is that the rationale fed to the public was a knowingly fabricated pack of scummy lies. It wasn’t about WMD, it wasn’t about links to al Qaeda, and it sure wasn’t about democracy.

But even if we can’t identify the true motivations within the administration for invading, we can surely begin to see the costs. Probably a million Iraqi civilians are dead. Over four million are displaced and now living as refugees. Together, these equal a staggering one-fifth of the population of the entire country. Meanwhile, the remaining four-fifths are living in squalor, fear and a psychological damage so extensive that it is hard to grasp. America has lost 4,000 soldiers, with perhaps another 30,000 gravely wounded. Hundreds of thousands more will be scarred for life from their experiences in the hell of Mr. Bush’s war. Our military is broken and incapable of responding to a real emergency, at home or abroad. Our economy will sustain a blow of perhaps three trillion dollars before it is all said and done. Our reputation in the world is in the toilet. We have turned the Iranian theocracy into a regional hegemon. And we have massively proliferated our own enemies within the Islamic community. That would be one hell of an expensive war, even if the reasons given for it were legitimate. It is nearly incomprehensible considering that they were not.

This week, a man died in France, the last surviving veteran of World War I, a devastating conflict that - even a century later - nobody can still really explain to this day. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, John McCain and Joe "Make-me-SecDef-Mac-oh-please-pick-me-Mac" Lieberman parachuted into Iraq for photo-ops to sustain the war they don’t have the integrity or the guts to abandon. Never mind that their visits had to be by surprise, and that they stroll around the Green Zone wearing armored vests - surely the most powerful measures of the war’s success imaginable. Of course, to be fair, we’ve only been at it for five years now. Perhaps after the remaining ninety-five on McCain’s agenda go by, Americans will finally be safe enough in Iraq to announce their visits in advance.

So, Happy Anniversary, America! You put these people in charge, and then - after seeing in explicit in detail what they were capable of - you actually did it again in 2004! You stood by in silence watching the devastation wrought upon an innocent people, produced in your name and financed by your tax dollars. And you continue to do just that again, now in Year Six.

Brilliant! Put on your party hat, America. You won the prize.

You’ve successfully answered the musical question, "How lethally stupid can one country be?"

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.

America’s Next 9/11

America’s Next 9/11

By Paul Craig Roberts

Go To Original

The investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein has taken up the Litvinenko case.

The media used the Litvinenko case as sensational propaganda against Russian President Putin and then tossed it aside. For those whose memories of the case have faded, Alexander Litvinenko was a former KGB officer living in England who died in 2006, apparently from the radioactive isotope Polonium-210.

The British government encouraged the tale that Russian President Putin had sent Andrei Lugovoi to poison Litvinenko’s tea at a meeting on November 1, 2006. The story appealed to people brought up on James Bond thrillers, but the story never made any sense. Polonium 2-10 is a rare and tightly controlled substance as likely to contaminate the assassin as the victim. There are far easier and more effective ways of killing someone.

Moreover, there is no evidence to connect Russia to Litvinenko’s death. But this didn’t stop the British government from grandstanding, sending an extradition request for Lugovoi in July 2007. The British government sent the request despite the facts that there is no extradition treaty between Britain and Russia and the Russian constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens. Epstein suggests that the purpose of the extradition request was to block the Russian government from investigating Litvinenko’s death in London. Litvinenko had a false passport provided by the British government. A real investigtion might have opened up the shadowy world of security consultants in which Litvinenko rubbed shoulders with former British police and intelligence officials.

The Russians asked to see the evidence. The case file delivered by the British contained nothing of substance. Not even the autopsy report was provided to the Russians. Epstein managed to convince the Russians to let him see the file and to question them about the case. In brief, if the British have a case, they are withholding the evidence.

The charge that Putin was behind Litvinenko’s death seems to have originated with Boris Berezovsky, one of the Russian Jewish oligarchs who had grabbed the lion’s share of privatized Soviet assets during Yeltsin’s presidency. http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/Berezovsky.htm Epstein reports that Berezovsky’s protector in Russia was Litvinenko, the deputy head of the organized crime unit of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. When Berezovsky fled Russia to escape fraud charges, Litvinenko followed. Epstein reports that Berezovsky has declared an agenda of “overtrowing the regime of his archenemy, Mr. Putin.” According to Epstein, “Alex Goldfarb, the executive director of Mr. Berezovsky’s foundation, prepared for Litvinenko’s end by writing out his ‘deathbed’ statement, which, according to Mr. Goldfarb, was drawn from statements Litvinenko had dictated to him.”

Epstein writes: “A few hours after Litvinenko died on November 23, 2006, Mr. Goldfarb arranged a press conference and released the sensational deathbed statement accusing Mr. Putin of the poisoning.” Web sites supported by Berezovsky spread the story that Litvinenko was murdered by the FSB.

The effort to link Putin and the FSB to Litvinenko’s death might be a tale designed to cover-up a more serious crime in the making. Polonium-210 is an indication that someone is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Epstein finds reasons to suspect that Litvinenko had, and perhaps Berezovsky has, connections to a Polonium smuggling scheme, and Litvinenko’s death resulted from accidental or careless exposure to Polonium-210.

Who would be trying to build a secret nuclear weapon or perhaps only a “dirty bomb” that would serve to spread some radiation and massive amounts of fear and hysteria? The public has been carefully prepared to suspect Iran. If such a device were exploded somewhere in the United States, Bush, Cheney, and the neocon nazis would have their second new Pearl Harbor to justify their planned attack on Iran.

We know that the Bush regime wants to attack Iran. Despite the NIE report that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program several years ago and despite no signs of a weapons program having been uncovered by IAEA inspectors, Bush, Cheney, and the neocon nazis continue to agitate for striking Iran “before it is too late.” Their politicized military commander in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus, keeps insisting that Iran is training Iraqi insurgents and supplying weapons that are killing US troops. Bush and Cheney themselves have made trips to Europe and the Middle East trying to marshall support for an attack on Iran. Anyone who is not deaf, blind and stupid knows that the Bush regime is doing everything it can to create circumstances that will permit a US attack on Iran.

We know for a fact that the Bush regime created false evidence, lied, and deceived in order to attack Iraq. All the reasons given for the US invasion have proven to be false. The real agenda has never been declared. Yet, five years later the traitors in high office who deceived Americans into a war in behalf of a hidden agenda have not been held accountable. As Agatha Christie said, getting away with one murder makes it easy to commit another.

There is so much that Americans do not know about secret schemes serving undeclared agendas. Those who have attempted to clue in fellow citizens are invariably frustrated, because Americans have been trained to dismiss the messenger who brings news of “false flag” events as a “conspiracy theorist.”

Best-selling author Steve Alten in his recently published book, The Shell Game, attempts to reach Americans with a thriller that mixes fiction with fact. Alten describes a conspiracy, beginning in 2007 and ending in 2012, by a Black Op group in a Republican administration to set off nuclear weapons in two American cities, with planted evidence pointing to Iran. It is a historical thriller predictive of our immediate future by an author who has no illusions about the US Government or the interest groups that control it.

Alten’s book is a first class thriller set in the real world of today. It is a perfect read for Americans who need their dose of reality to be watered down with fiction and delivered as entertainment.