Wednesday, June 9, 2010

South Carolina budget cuts target education and health care

South Carolina budget cuts target education and health care

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The South Carolina legislature last week approved a $4.9 billion state budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The budget includes huge cuts in education, AIDS funding, and other social programs and includes no tax or fee increases. The budgetary cuts are part of a nationwide austerity policy being implemented in states across the country, cutting programs on which working people depend while preserving the profits of the wealthy corporations.

The bill will next make its way to the office of Republican Governor Mark Sanford, who will have the power to veto specific provisions before the bill is executed July 1.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, both Republicans, said they expect the legislature will agree to a number of likely vetoes by the governor when the bill returns to the legislature on June 15.

The budget, which would place spending at $4.9 billion, represents a reduction of more than 25 percent compared to the 2006-2007 budget of $6.658 billion.

Last Wednesday, the House was 13 votes short of agreeing to the version of the bill proposed on May 27 by a conference committee composed of six members from both the House and the Senate. On Thursday, minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline, Republicans who had been blocking passage of the budget agreed to a compromise on the issue of state health plan abortion coverage.

In March, a group of House Republicans rallied in an all-night session with the goal of ending all abortion coverage for rape and incest victims under the state health insurance plan. The Senate version of the bill removed this provision, and the conference committee version did not restore it.

Republicans in favor of the abortion provision agreed to vote for the conference committee’s version of the budget because of promises that a separate bill instituting a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and legislation to end abortion coverage in instances of rape and incest will be a legislative priority next year.


Schools in South Carolina have already faced more than $800 million in cuts over the past two years. On April 14, hundreds of people rallied in the capital to oppose further cuts.

Myrtle Beach’s Horry County School District will likely have to cut $17 million from its budget for the upcoming school year, based on the South Carolina budget approved Thursday. The school board will be deciding this week how to implement the cuts, which will undoubtedly fall hard on district students.

“The children are the ones who are losing on this,” Charline Web, whose son is a middle school student in the district, told Myrtle Beach’s WMBF News.

Misty Brigham, whose daughter is an elementary school, told reporters that “they don’t need to start putting 30 to 40 students per classroom like has been talked about because that lowers my child’s education.”

Schools in the city of Charleston also face a likely cut of $7 million.

Health care

On May 25, 2010, several hundred people rallied at the South Carolina State House to protest budget cuts to the AIDS drug assistance program. The program provides AIDS medication to about 2,000 people who cannot afford the medication on their own.

Dr. Bambi Gaddist, who chairs the HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Taskforce, says the medication—which will now be unavailable to people who depend on the program—helps reduce the likelihood that the disease is spread. South Carolina ranks seventh in the country in newly reported HIV and AIDS cases, and this new reduction in spending will lead to a further deterioration of public health in the state.

A provision in the bill would also eliminate breast cancer screenings for 16,000 poor South Carolina women. Opponents of the cuts have cited cancer survival statistics, along with South Carolina’s own recent breast cancer statistics, pointing to the vital need for such screenings.

According to experts, if detected early, 98 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer are still alive five years later. If detected later, the five-year survival rate falls to 84 percent if the cancer has not spread, and falls dramatically, to only 23 percent, if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Approximately 2,820 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in South Carolina in 2009, and 640 women died of the disease.

According to the Best Chance Network (BCN), South Carolina already has one of the highest rates of uninsured women in the nation. The BCN is a division of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. It provides mammograms, clinical breast exams, pap screenings, pelvic exams, diagnostic procedures, and community education on breast/cervical cancer and early detection.

The jobs bill passed last Friday by the US House could lead to a further reduction of South Carolina’s budget by $175 million. To appease Republicans, Democratic lawmakers revoked provisions that would have provided extra federal economic stimulus money to states and extended health insurance subsidies for unemployed workers.

Millions would be cut from South Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services programs, with Medicaid funding facing the biggest hit, at close to $30 million. The Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Social Services, Department of Health and Environmental Control, Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Probation, Parole & Pardon Services, and the Department of Motor Vehicles all face multimillion dollar cuts.

Colorado leads state government attacks on US teachers

Colorado leads state government attacks on US teachers

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State governments throughout the US have recently passed legislation attacking teachers’ jobs, living standards and working conditions as part of a nationwide assault on public education. New laws include measures targeting tenure and other job protections for educators, broadening the scope of privately funded charter schools, and increasing the use of standardized testing.

The Obama administration is spearheading this attack through the “Race to the Top” funding pool, in which states compete for funds by seeing which can impose the most regressive measures against teachers and public schools. In conducting these attacks state officials and the White House have counted on the collaboration of the teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of teachers, and their state affiliates.

Driving the recent flurry of legislation is the second round of federal Race to the Top funding, a pool of $3.4 billion available only to states that show they are willing to increase “accountability” in education by dismantling teacher protections and expand access for charter schools. Only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, received money from the first round, prompting state governments to use legislation to force through changes opposed by teachers. The second round of applications were due June 8.

One of the most punitive pieces of legislation was in Colorado. On May 20, the state’s Democrat-controlled state legislature passed and Democratic governor Bill Ritter signed into law State Bill 191, which overrides teacher tenure and seniority and places heavy emphasis on standardized test scores. After Colorado finished in 14th place in the first round of applications, Ritter had attacked the process as inscrutable and biased. Yet he supported new legislation directly targeted at improving the state’s score in the current round.

The law is based on the same reactionary premise upheld by President Obama and his education secretary Arne Duncan: that teachers, not cash-strapped and overcrowded facilities or impoverished conditions facing working class children, are responsible for “failing schools.” Thus only punitive measures—like the firing of the entire teaching staff in Central Falls, Rhode Island—can assure “accountability” from teachers.

Under Colorado’s new law, fifty percent of teachers’ annual evaluation will be based on the “the academic growth of the teacher’s students.” Teachers would need three consecutive years of positive evaluations to earn tenure, and educators rated “ineffective” two years in a row would be stripped of tenure protection and revert to probationary status.

In effect, the jobs of educators at already low-performing schools would be most in jeopardy, increasing turnover at the schools that can least afford it. Veteran teachers displaced from jobs have two years to find a position before being fired, but teachers and schools must approve their placement under a “mutual consent” system.

What is involved here is an attempt to replace higher paid teachers with lower-paid, less experienced teachers. There is a nationwide attack on tenure for teachers, to make it much easier for teachers to be fired at will. This will make it much easier for districts to lower wages. Moreover, the threats against more experienced teachers are aimed at breaking the resistance of teachers to the assault on public education, the introduction of ever-greater levels of inequality and the increasing privatization of schooling.

The bill originally designated that growth would be measured by state standardized achievement testing. Supposedly as a concession to teacher’s unions, that language was changed to allow any standards that are “rigorous, comparable across classrooms and aligned with state model content standards and performance standards”. However, the effort and expense of creating alternative standards that “align with the state model” means that, in practice, virtually every teacher will be measured by state tests.

In a move with national repercussions, the Colorado branch of the American Federation of Teachers supported the bill. While the AFT represents few teachers in the state, it is the nation’s second largest educators union. It is working closely with the Obama administration in supporting his “reform” measures against teachers.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan publicly praised the Colorado branch’s support of the bill. “I want to commend the Colorado Federation of Teachers for showing courage and leadership and putting children first,” Duncan said. “We all know that teacher evaluation systems around the country aren’t working. They’re not working for adults. They are not working for children. We have to be willing to think differently. I commend them for having the courage to work on this.”

Duncan and the Obama administration are promoting the lie that attacking teachers and teacher pay somehow benefits children. Duncan’s support for the Colorado bill echoes nearly word for word his support for the mass firing of Rhode Island teachers. In that case, too, he thanked local officials for “showing courage” for indiscriminately firing unionized workers who were then only rehired when their union agreed to impose longer working hours with less job security. These direct legislative attacks are coming at a time when 100,000-300,000 teachers may be laid off this year as a result of state and local budget deficits around the country.

The larger Colorado Education Association officially opposed the legislation. However, after the bill passed, the CEA sent out a news release saying it was “pleased with a number of the amendments that were added.” Furthermore, the CEA worked closely with Governor Ritter and other Democrats in Colorado’s first round application for Race to the Top, and supported the creation of Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness in January, the body responsible for creating and overseeing the new teacher evaluation systems. The CEA also supported Democrats voting for a recent bill to increase employee contributions and cut benefits from the teacher pension fund.

In all these cases, the CEA sought to channel mass opposition among teachers behind the Democrats. It then presented the passage of the bills as evidence of the success of this strategy, based on minor concessions and the fact that some Democrats voted against it. In fact the opposite is the case. The Colorado bills all passed with the support of key Democrats in the state legislature and were all signed by the Democratic governor. The author of the most recent bill was Democrat State Senator Mike Johnston, cited by the New York Times as “an alumnus of Teach for America who worked on the Obama campaign, rallied support from business executives, civil rights leaders and many school groups.”

The Democratic Party administration at the federal level is spearheading all these attacks, targeting teachers far more ruthlessly than the previous Republican administrations, in large part because of the collaboration of the national union leadership. Under these conditions, the CEA, like its counterpart, works to prevent any independent political mobilization of the working class.

Other states passed similar bills to aid their Race to the Top applications: Louisiana passed legislation removing a cap on the total number of charter schools in the state, which had been set at seventy.

Maryland passed a similar bill to Colorado, designating half of a teachers’ evaluation on standardized tests. Again, the AFT affiliate, Baltimore Teachers Union, supported the state’s plan, while the statewide NEA affiliate opposes it.

In Oklahoma, Senate Bill 509 takes effect immediately and gives school administrators much greater authority to restructure or fully reconstitute chronically low-performing schools, permitting more mass firings of the kind seen in Rhode Island. A second bill would base teacher evaluation in part on student achievement gains. Earlier this year, the state removed caps on charter schools.

Israel steps up repression against its Arab citizens

Israel steps up repression against its Arab citizens

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Alongside its May 31 assault on a convoy bringing aid to Gaza, Israel has stepped up its repression of domestic political opponents.

In recent weeks, the security authorities have detained two prominent figures within the Israeli Arab community, accusing them of acting as spies for the Lebanese organisation, Hezbollah.

Ameer Makhoul, who heads an umbrella group of Arab human rights organisations in Israel and has backed an international campaign for boycott, sanctions and divestment against Israel, was detained on May 6 by Shin Bet, Israel’s security forces. Two weeks earlier, on April 24, leading scientist Omar Said was taken into custody. Both were accused of having developed contacts with Hezbollah in order to pass secret information to them about political and military matters in Israel.

Having obtained a gagging order on the reporting of the arrests, the full details did not emerge until several days later. Makhoul was held for at least 12 days without any access to his lawyers and with no opportunity to appear in court. He was interrogated by the security forces, which subjected him to torture in order to extract a confession.

At the beginning of his trial last week, Makhoul’s lawyers stated he had been deprived of sleep for 36 hours and had been tied to a small chair for several days without being allowed to move. Interrogators threatened Makhoul, stating that he would be “left disabled” after the ordeal. His family has claimed that he suffered a severe deterioration in his eyesight during his captivity, as well as sharp pains in his back.

The day before his trial began, Makhoul’s family released a statement denouncing the methods of Shin Bet and calling for the security force to be prosecuted. The statement, signed by Makhoul’s wife and brother, a former member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), read, “We urge the international and local community to continue to pressure the Israeli government and the justice system and force it to open an independent investigation against the Shin Bet detectives, publish a detailed report about the investigation, and prosecute those behind the systematic torture that he has suffered and have them punished.”

The statement added, “Any indictment based on information collected by the Shin Bet using torture should be declared null and illegitimate.”

It drew attention to the importance of the case for the wider population, noting that “defending Ameer’s liberties as a prisoner is not a private matter, but is a general national and democratic affair.”

Makhoul and Said have not been charged with public order offences or visiting neighbouring Arab states but with the much more serious charge of espionage, which carries a long sentence. Shin Bet alleges the pair made “contact with a foreign agent” and several meetings were held with this contact abroad in order to pass on sensitive information about Israeli military operations. Under the draconian emergency regulations being used in this case, the police need only the flimsiest circumstantial evidence to bring a prosecution and are allowed to keep their evidence secret.

Shin Bet has shown its willingness over recent years to flout legal procedure, having detained a number of prominent figures within the Arab community. In 2003 Sheikh Raed Salah, who leads the Popular Islamic Movement, was jailed for two years while he awaited trial on charges of supporting a terrorist group. The charge was eventually dropped without any evidence being produced, when Salah accepted a plea bargain in which he claimed to have committed only financial offences.

In 2007, Balad party leader Azmi Bishara was forced into exile after being accused of espionage while he was out of the country. Balad, an Arab political party, has come under particular scrutiny since Israel’s month-long conflict with Hezbollah in 2006, with claims being made that the party was assisting the Lebanese movement. Said, the second man in the latest espionage charges, is a senior member of Balad.

Even Israel’s military correspondents, who can generally be relied upon to back the security services, have not been able to accept the claim that Makhoul and Said are spies. Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, defence correspondents for Ha’aretz, pointed out that neither Israeli Arab citizen would have had access to secrets that would interest Hezbollah. Instead, they suggested that any contacts between Hezbollah and Hamas and Arab human rights activists in Israel should be seen as a threat because Arab leaders in Israel might offer assistance in “coordinating political positions” or initiate “protests and riots during sensitive periods.”

What this amounts to is the claim that any kind of political support given to Israel’s alleged enemies can be termed “spying”. Moreover, given the family and cultural links between the Arab population in Israel and neighbouring states it opens the way for the criminalisation of the whole Israeli Arab community.

This was the clear implication of a comment from a senior Shin Bet official to Ha’aretz, stating, “Part of the information that Makhoul transferred could be delivered by anyone with a pair of eyes and Google Earth [a computer programme that provides satellite photographs]. But Makhoul, as an Israeli Arab, has freedom of movement and access across Israel."

Sections of the Israeli political establishment have been advocating stricter controls on the Arab population for some time. In 2007, Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet’s chief, introduced a new policy targeting the whole Arab community as a security risk. Since then repression has increased dramatically. More than 1,000 Arab youths in Israel were interrogated by the Shin Bet after the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, and Arab Israeli leaders are under constant attack.

That is why Makhoul and Said have been targeted. During Operation Cast Lead at the beginning of 2009, when Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians over the course of several weeks of intense bombing of the Gaza Strip, Makhoul spoke out and led protests against this. He was told in January 2009 by a Shin Bet interrogator that he was “a rebel” who was supporting Israel’s enemies during a time of war, which could lead to him being sent to Gaza.

Mohammed Zeidan, head of the Human Rights Association in Nazareth, confirmed that Shin Bet had targeted Makhoul for some time and recent events had left him “afraid”. “The Shin Bet wanted to take him out of the game and they have succeeded. Ameer has been disappeared,” he stated.

A further warning of what is being prepared for opponents of the current regime came on the very day Makhoul’s trial commenced. Israel’s parliament introduced a bill to revoke the citizenship and permanent residency status of Israeli Arabs should they be deemed a security risk. There are 1.4 million Israeli Arabs, 20 percent of the population, including those living in East Jerusalem who have permanent residency rather than the citizenship status to which they are entitled.

The measure has been promoted by the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, one of the coalition partners in the Likud-led coalition government. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign secretary and the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, has advocated the re-drawing of the border between Israel and the West Bank to include large Jewish settlement blocks and transfer northern Israel’s predominantly Arab town and villages to the West Bank. His party has also called for the exclusion from citizenship of Arab Israelis who refuse to sign an oath of loyalty to the state.

The bill’s provisions state that any Israeli Arab charged with “spying for a terrorist organisation” would have their citizenship revoked immediately. Given that Israel designates many of its political adversaries as “terrorists”, the scope of this law, in the event it passes its remaining three readings, would pave the way for Israel to revoke the citizenship or permanent residency of any Arabs within Israel that oppose its policies.

Increasingly, the Israeli political establishment views Israel’s Arab minority as a fifth column that poses a political threat to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state.

Yisrael Beiteinu has already called Hanin Zuabi, a Knesset member who was on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of the aid flotilla, a traitor and demanded that her citizenship be revoked. Eli Yishai, the interior minister, has petitioned Yehuda Weinstein, the attorney general, to help him revoke her citizenship in order to deter other Israeli Arabs from joining future aid convoys to Gaza.

This new legislation is being implemented at a time of growing tension in the region, with Israel engaging in provocative actions against the Palestinians in Gaza on a daily basis. On Monday, Israeli naval forces killed at least four divers from the Al Aqsa Brigade in Gaza’s coastal waters. It follows the murderous raid on the aid convoy bound for Gaza and the illegal interception of the Rachel Corrie, and bellicose threats against Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

In this environment, Israel refuses to tolerate any political opposition to its policies. It is therefore preparing the means to enable it to outlaw any form of protest or dissention that emerges against its ever more aggressive policies in the region.

Spill rate far worse than latest estimate, scientist says

Spill rate far worse than latest estimate, scientist says

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Scientists continue to raise doubts about a new government estimate of the rate of the BP spill.

Ira Leifer, who serves on the government-sponsored committee of scientists tasked with estimating the size of the spill, said that he believes that BP’s latest effort to stem the rate of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico has likely made the situation far worse than the latest official estimate, which placed the spill at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day. That estimate, it has been revealed, was actually the absolute low-end range determined by Leifer and other scientists on the committee, the Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG). No high-end range has yet been released.

Leifer, an expert on fluid dynamics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the New York Times that cutting the riser pipe may have worsened the spill many times over. “The well pipe clearly is fluxing way more than it did before.” Leifer said. “I don’t mean by 20 percent. I mean multiple factors.”

If Leifer is correct, then BP’s claims that it is syphoning off nearly 15,000 barrels a day—three times the 5,000 barrels-per-day rate put forth for months—would then only represent a fraction of the spill. This would vindicate an early estimate by Stephen Wereley of Purdue University, a highly-respected expert in particle analysis, who estimated a spill rate of about 80,000 barrels daily, before the riser pipe was cut.

The much higher rate would also appear to be supported by the live video feed of the spill site one mile beneath the ocean’s surface. This shows a massive billowing cloud of oil and natural gas apparently much larger than earlier footage had indicated.

On Tuesday, Wereley told the Associated Press that the flow rate from the well was significantly higher than what BP and the government are stating.

“BP is claiming they’re capturing the majority of the flow, which I think is going to be proven wrong in short order,” Wereley said. “Why don’t they show the American public the before-and after shots?” He added that BP’s claims are “strictly an estimation, and they’re portraying it as fact.”

The World Socialist Web Site spoke with two scientists who have served on the committee. One of the two, Peter Cornillon, said that he had raised concerns over the public use of the low-end 12,000-19,000 barrel estimate, which he correctly predicted would be seized on by the media.

Another scientist on the FRTG, Alberto Aliseda of the University of Washington, confirmed that the estimate represented the low-end range consensus among scientists. He said that the high-end estimate would be released within days.

The current rate of extraction, 15,000 barrels a day, has exhausted the receiving capacity of the ship collecting the oil on the surface of the ocean. A second system could expand collection by another 5,000 barrels a day.

White House clears way for more offshore drilling

White House clears way for more offshore drilling

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The Obama administration on Monday said that it would quickly issue new safety guidelines in order to expedite exploration for oil in shallow waters—even with the BP oil eruption still gushing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The new rules, to be issued by the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), could be put in effect today, clearing the way for dozens of new drilling operations.

The pronouncement makes clear the total subservience of the US political system to the oil industry. Since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers, little has changed in the Gulf’s oil industry. Deep-sea oil rigs continue to operate, some in waters deeper than the Deepwater Horizon site—and under the same worker safety and environmental regulatory conditions that created the disaster. A moratorium on new permits for deep-sea drilling had not been applied to shallow-water rigs, although some applications had evidently been held up.

The administration’s decision Monday to speed up new drilling permits came only hours after the oil industry demanded it. The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), a lobbying group of 23 offshore drilling concerns, issued a letter earlier in the day asking Obama to “provide immediate interim guidance that would allow exploration and production during the rulemaking process.” NOIA is headed up by Randall Luthi, formerly director of the MMS late in the administration of George W. Bush.

The moratorium on new permits for deep-sea drill sites will also likely be lifted once a new White House panel concludes a six-month investigation. The commission’s central task, Obama made clear last week, is to give deep-sea oil drilling a clean bill of health. Heading the committee is former Democratic senator Bob Graham, a long-time advocate of deregulation, and former Environmental Protection agency head—and current ConocoPhillips director—William K. Reilly.

The regulatory changes for shallow-water drilling are likely to be cosmetic. One measure, already announced, would separate the part of the MMS that collects oil company royalties from that which monitors safety and environmental regulation.

It is not clear how other new guidelines will affect the many facets of exploration, well capping, and equipment maintenance exposed as dangerous by the BP disaster. A Wall Street Journal report, based on White House sources, indicates that oil rigs’ blowout preventers and drilling plans will have to be approved by “independent operators.” The Journal did not explain this term, but the formulation suggests that health and environmental regulation will be left to private interests.

Biologist Rick Steiner, a scientist and expert on oil spills, told the World Socialist Web Site that he has seen no evidence of a change in regulatory conditions affecting the oil industry. “Little has changed,” Steiner said. “As far as I know there have been no changes to the procedural failures that led to the disaster, or the mechanical and technical failures. To take one example, the blowout preventer that failed for the Deepwater Horizon is the same as the blowout preventers used in the shallow water rigs.”

None of the regulatory changes under consideration address the central issues revealed by the disaster—the subordination of energy production to the profit drive of big business, and the role of the federal government in enforcing this set-up at the expense of oil industry workers, the environment, and society as a whole.

The media has presented the administration’s move to speed up shallow water drilling as an effort to preserve oil industry jobs in the face of overly-cautious regulation. In fact the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates that workers and the ecology face a common threat in the big oil firms, whose blind drive for profit imperils both the safety of oil workers and the region’s environment—upon which tens of thousands of fishermen and tourism industry workers depend.

Indeed, the major loss of jobs has not come from the estimated 33 drilling applications delayed as a result of the explosion and spill. Thousands of fishing boats have been idled, while coastal cities from Louisiana to Florida that depend upon beach-goers and sport fishermen have reported major losses. These industries may never recover.

A massive jobs and cleanup program for the Gulf Coast could easily provide good paying jobs for all. Tens of thousands of oil industry workers, fishermen, and others could be given training and hired at high wages to participate in the cleanup of the Gulf Coast. But this would require the seizure of assets and resources from BP, Transocean, and other corporate criminals.

The entire political establishment is bitterly opposed to such an outcome. Though there is a mass of evidence demonstrating criminal negligence in BP’s drilling operations, there has been no formal declaration of a criminal investigation. On the contrary, the debate in Washington is over how BP should best protect its revenue from cleanup costs and lawsuits, with a recent column by the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin pondering, in a worst-case-scenario, whether a “bad BP” might be created to absorb lawsuits, or if the company should be absorbed by rivals Exxon or Shell in such a way that spill liabilities can be offloaded.

BP is now profiting from the share of oil it is able to syphon from the spill, and debating how many billions to distribute to its shareholders over the summer.

US consolidates occupation of Iraq

US consolidates occupation of Iraq

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As the Obama administration escalates its war in Afghanistan, Iraq is cautiously being declared a success. The top American commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, declared last Friday that the country had held “a legitimate and credible election”, its security forces had improved and plans were “on track” for the withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq by September 1.

Speaking at the West Point military academy late last month, President Obama was even more upbeat, declaring that as US troops depart, “a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress” towards establishing “a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant”.

The reality is entirely different. Even after the September deadline, the US military will maintain a huge military presence of 50,000 troops, ostensibly in “non-combat” and “training” roles, to prop up a puppet regime in Baghdad, which, three months after the national election, is yet to be formed. While the character of the American occupation of Iraq is changing, its underlying purpose—to maintain the country firmly under US domination—remains the same.

In his comments last Friday, General Odierno declared that the “drawdown” was ahead of schedule—600,000 containers of gear and 18,000 vehicles moved out; and the number of bases down from 500 last year to 126 and set to decline to 94 by September 1. What is actually underway, however, is not a withdrawal, but a vast consolidation in preparation for the long-term occupation of the country by US forces.

The Stars and Stripes newspaper noted in an article on June 1 that the ratification of the US-Iraq security agreement in November 2008 governing the drawdown was followed by a massive expansion of base construction work. “In all, the military finished $496 million in base construction projects during 2009, the highest annual figure since the war began and nearly a quarter of the $2.1 billion spent on American bases in Iraq since 2004. An additional $323 million worth of projects are set to be completed this year.”

While the number of US bases may be declining, the Pentagon is establishing what are known as “enduring presence posts”—including four major bases: Joint Base Balad in the north, Camp Adder in southern Iraq, Al-Asad Air Base in the west and the Victory Base Complex around Baghdad International Airport. These are sprawling fortified facilities—Balad alone currently houses more than 20,000 troops. In addition to the 50,000 troops that will remain, there will be up to 65,000 contractors after September 1.

Under the 2008 agreement, the US military handed over internal security functions to Iraqi forces last year, but, under the guise of “training” and “support”, retains tighter supervision of the army and police. Moreover the Iraqi government can always “request” US troop assistance in mounting operations. As Odierno explained in a letter to US personnel on June 1, even after all US combat troops leave, “we will continue to conduct partnered counter-terrorism operations and provide combat enablers to help the Iraqi Security Forces maintain pressure on the extremist networks.”

The 2008 agreement sets December 31, 2011 as the deadline for all US troops to quit Iraq, but the construction of huge new US bases indicates a long-term US military presence under a Strategic Framework Agreement that is yet to be negotiated. As Stars and Stripes pointed out, “the nascent condition of the Iraqi Air Force… could lead the Iraqi government to request that a US training force remain in the country beyond 2011, most likely at Balad.”

Accompanying the troop drawdown is a buildup of civilian operations centred on the US embassy in Baghdad. The new embassy, situated in the fortified Green Zone, is the largest and most expensive in the world. Opened in January 2009, the complex includes 21 buildings, occupies 0.4 square kilometres and houses 1,000 regular employees as well as up to 3,000 additional staff. The embassy’s No 2 diplomat Cameron Munter told the Washington Post last month: “Our commitment will not be on the scale of numbers and money that the military has. But it will be extraordinarily substantial.”

The Post also touched on certain sensitive projects that would not be handed over to embassy staff, including “the collection of intelligence, initiatives to counter what the military calls ‘malign Iranian influence’, and the integration of tens of thousands of former insurgents the military turned into Sunni paramilitary groups.” In other words, the US military will remain actively involved in monitoring and manipulating the sectarian divisions that Washington has exploited since the 2003 invasion to assert its control.

The “ending” of the insurgency, trumpeted by the Pentagon and White House, has involved the ruthless suppression of opposition to the US occupation, resulting in the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, another two million driven into exile, and tens of thousands detained and tortured. Iraqi “democracy” rests on a police state apparatus developed and honed by the US military. The “legitimate and credible” election in March was only open to those parties and politicians that accepted the occupation.

Seven years of war has had a devastating impact on the Iraqi people. Unemployment and underemployment remain high. According to last month’s Brookings Iraq Index, as of last year, only 20 percent of the population had access to proper sanitation, 45 percent to clean water, 50 percent to more than 12 hours a day of electricity, 50 percent to adequate housing and 30 percent to health services. A 2007 World Bank survey found that 23 percent of people were living in poverty on less than $US2.20 a day.

The criminal US invasion of Iraq was not aimed at helping the Iraqi people. Rather, its purpose was to subjugate the country in order to establish control over its vast energy reserves and to transform it into a base for wider American strategic objectives in the Middle East and Central Asia. Having bloodily suppressed resistance in Iraq, the Obama administration is pulling its troops out in order to expand its neo-colonial war in Afghanistan and for new military aggression in other parts of the globe.

Being left behind is an extensive American civilian and military apparatus that will continue to control the levers of power in Baghdad, bully the Iraqi government into line on matters concerning US interests, keep a watchful eye on the country’s festering sectarian tensions and leave the door open to a rapid return of US troops.

Congress Ignores Nation's Job Crisis

Congress Ignores Nation's Job Crisis

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Some 300,000 teachers face layoffs this coming year. Congress hasn't even had a vote on legislation that would keep them employed. Teenage employment was at record lows last year -- when the stimulus bill funded some summer jobs. It is June, the school year is ending, and a $1.4 billion bill to provide 500,000 jobs for the summer hasn't gotten a vote. More than 24 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and the economy barely produced any private-sector jobs last month. And yet, the bill by California Democrat George Miller to put people to work can't get a vote in the House.

What is Washington thinking? Losing a job is a human calamity. Families buckle under the pressure. Divorce, spousal abuse, child neglect soar. Homelessness increases along with malnutrition. Crime, drug addiction, depression, rising rates of suicide follow. Skilled workers lose their skills. Our society becomes more unequal, and far more brittle, as middle-class families descend into destitution. Our 10 percent unemployment is a national emergency, not an acceptable condition.

The situation is dire. Youth unemployment is at its highest levels since the Labor Department started tracking figures in 1948. One in six blue-collar workers has lost his or her job in the downturn. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. And 120,000 are filing for bankruptcy every month.

Yet Congress doesn't act. Republicans, with virtual unanimity, oppose jobs programs as part of an ''out-of-control spending spree.'' But they also oppose paying for jobs by ending the tax break for hedge-fund millionaires that has them paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. They oppose allowing Medicare to save hundreds of billions by negotiating bulk discounts on prescription drugs.

Blue-dog Democrats don't want to do anything without ''paying for it.'' This didn't seem to be a factor when they voted to bail out the banks, or when they voted another $60 billion for the war in Afghanistan. It doesn't restrain the Federal Reserve from transferring trillions to private financial institutions without even a vote of Congress. The pledge to make jobs ''issue No. 1'' this year has yet to translate into action.

Pundits warn that our deficits, slated to be more than $1 trillion this year, will turn us into Greece and move us to the edge of default. But the reality is that America is still the safe harbor. The euro is sinking as worried investors take their money to the U.S. Our deficits are high, but the demand for our bonds is higher.

It is time to put people to work. States and localities are cutting teachers and police and firefighters in the face of $360 billion in projected deficits in 2010 and 2011. Sending money to the states to forestall those layoffs will sustain good jobs and vital services. Spending money on summer jobs for teenagers is a no-brainer. Creating urban and rural corps -- or green corps to clean our cities or to clean the oil off the Gulf Coast -- simply makes sense.

And at the same time, we should push hard now to finance work that must be done. Our roads, bridges, mass transit, sewers and clean-water facilities are literally falling apart.

Instead, we seem to be lurching back to the same trickle-down economics that has proved so disastrous in the past. Bail out the banks and watch them capture 30 percent of all corporate profits and rising. Slash vital services from schoolteachers to public health facilities. Sit back as jobs are shipped abroad, and our trade deficit is back to more than $1 billion a day and rising. Let bankers pay themselves million-dollar bonuses, and do little as another 3 million families lose their homes to foreclosure this year.

Thirty years of trickle-down economics led this economy over the cliff. It left this country more unequal, with working Americans less secure and more indebted. We can't go back to that old economy. Nor can we accept a new economy in which the inequalities are worse, the unemployment and poverty greater, the misery wider. We're still a staggering 7.8 million jobs short of where we were when the Great Recession began. It is time for action on jobs.

Pentagon Tightens Grip on the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Community

Pentagon Tightens Grip on the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Community

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President Barack Obama's appointment of retired Gen. James Clapper as the director of national intelligence (DNI) demonstrates the Pentagon's enormous influence over the president and indicates that there is little likelihood of genuine reform of the hidebound intelligence community. Once again, the president has appointed a general officer to an important strategic position that should be in the hands of an experienced civilian who understands the need for change. President Obama has given retired generals the key positions of national security adviser, ambassadors to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and DNI (on two occasions in a 17-month period) to career military officers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is about to name a retired general who was responsible for special operations in Afghanistan as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism. These career military officers are not known for strategic thinking, having been trained to focus on worst-case assessments of geopolitical problems. It is no wonder that there have few diplomatic successes during the Obama administration, that the State Department remains underused and without influence and that the humongous Pentagon budget remains largely untouchable.

In the political panic that followed the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration permitted the creation of two large bureaucratic entities - the Department of Homeland Security and the office of national intelligence - that have been largely sclerotic and demonstrated genuine incompetence during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the attempted suicide bombing of a commercial airliner in 2009, respectively. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has convinced the mainstream media that Clapper's predecessor, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, was forced to resign because of the pathetic performance of the intelligence community in December 2009 when the young Nigerian bomber was permitted to board a commercial airline and the Central Intelligence Agency demonstrated incredible incompetence in a series of events that led to the successful bombing of its most important operational base in Afghanistan.

In fact, Blair cannot be blamed for these intelligence failures. The CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the State Department were all at fault for the attempted suicide bombing. The State Department ignored the Nigerian's multiple-entry visa for the United States, the State Department and the CIA ignored warnings from the Nigerian's father; the NSA didn't exploit collection opportunities that would have provided significant information and NCTC failed to pursue information that would have placed the Nigerian on a no-fly list. The NCTC should have had operational control of counterterrorism operations, but the 2004 statute that created Blair's position specifically states that the NCTC director "may not direct the execution of counterterrorism operations." President Obama's principal adviser on counterterrorism, John Brennan, should have taken this problem to Congress, where it needs to be corrected; he still hasn't done so. None of the numerous human errors that were made could be placed at Blair's door; no one has been held accountable or even responsible.

Blair's major problem was one he shares with many general and flag officers who lack experience in Washington but are placed in sensitive political positions for which they are not prepared. As a result, Blair created unnecessary battles within the intelligence community that he was destined to lose, particularly the effort to control the appointment of chiefs in CIA stations that are located in US embassies around the world. Station chiefs have always been CIA operations officers and it simply made no sense to raise the possibility of placing NSA officers or Defense Intelligence Agency officers as station chiefs. Blair lost that battle, but that did not stop him from trying to halt all clandestine operations in France, which would have weakened the CIA's counterterrorism mission and placed the CIA too close to a French intelligence operation that has been penetrated by foreign intelligence over the years. Blair also never established a personal rapport with President Obama, despite his regular visits to the White House to conduct intelligence briefings. Military officers typically lack the background and experience to provide these largely geopolitical briefings, which should be given by intelligence professionals.

If President Obama were truly interested in intelligence reform, he would have abolished the office of national intelligence and the position of intelligence czar or at least placed the DNI in civilian hands to counter the Pentagon's control of intelligence personnel and intelligence spending. The Pentagon already controls nearly 85 percent of the $70 billion intelligence budget and nearly 90 percent of the 100,000 intelligence personnel. Active duty and retired general officers now command nearly all of the major institutions of the intelligence community, although my 18 years on the faculty of the National War College confirmed my impression that military officers are not distinguished in the fields of strategic intelligence or geopolitical problem solving.

Strategic management of the 16 agencies of the intelligence community is the DNI's major challenge, but the last three intelligence czars have been unqualified general and flag officers. The absence of an independent civilian to counter the power of military intelligence threatens civilian control of the decision to use military power and makes it more likely that intelligence will be tailored to suit the purposes of the Pentagon. The president's erratic decision making on Afghanistan over the past year points to military domination of the decision making process.

Finally, the mainstream media, particularly The New York Times, has demonstrated an ability to accept briefing guidance from the White House on the Clapper appointment and an inability to scrutinize Obama's actions. Saturday's New York Times, for example, cited Clapper's "decades of experience" without mentioning that his experience in communications intelligence and military spy operations is not relevant to his major missions as intelligence czar. The Times credited the president with "pushing the reset button" in order to "recalibrate the intelligence structure," when Clapper's appointment really amounts to new wine in old bottles. The Times also discussed Clapper's ability to refashion and reorganize the intelligence community, without noting that the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for intelligence has veto power over the ability of the DNI to transfer personnel or budgetary authority from individual intelligence agencies into joint centers or other agencies in order to integrate strategic intelligence.

Clapper is familiar with this problem even if the mainstream media isn't; he served as undersecretary for intelligence for both Secretaries of Defense Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. At that time, moreover, he was responsible for managing the Counterintelligence Field Activities Office, which managed an illegal database that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls. Perhaps, some of these issues will be raised at his Senate confirmation hearings.

A Guide Through Israel's No-One Land

A Guide Through Israel's No-One Land

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"Where is the balance between wisdom and force?"

I've thought of that question several times over the last few days, as accusations and counteraccusations fly over Israel's May 31 fatal commando operation against the flotilla of humanitarian aid ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza. Nine civilians were killed, including a 19-year-old American citizen of Turkish descent.

On Monday, four others died, Palestinian divers shot by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) off the Gaza coast. Israel says the divers were preparing a terrorist attack; the commander of Palestine's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade says it was just a training exercise.

That oh-so-relevant question of wisdom and force is posed in one of a series of essays written by Henry Ralph Carse, a theologian and scholar living in Jerusalem during the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. They've just been published by Ziggurat Books in a collection titled "No-One Land: Israel/Palestine 2000-2002" (e-mail: A copy was waiting on my doorstep when I got home from the Memorial Day weekend, just as news broke of the Israeli raid on the aid ships.

"Nothing adds up," he writes in the preface. "There is a deep flaw here, a wound in human nature through which the fear and killing flow unstaunched. This should not happen, not for the sake of liberty or security or revenge or guilt or sovereignty. The whole thing is wrong."

The words are as true today. "A decade has passed since the opening throes of the Second Intifada brought 'the situation' to fever pitch," Henry continues. "But it has been a decade of awakening for no one. We have been sobered by what we learned, but this is 'newsworthy' to no one ... No one is wiser, no one is free."

Henry is from Vermont and we have known each other for many years. A graduate of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, the University of Kent at Canterbury in the UK and The General Theological Seminary here in Manhattan, he has lived in the Middle East for four decades, drawn there at the age of 18. "With my guitar and long hair and idealism, I was running away from many shadows, the least subtle of which was called Vietnam," he recalls. "Israel was the place I chose. I found it more interesting than Canada, so here is where I ended up."

Henry married and divorced in Israel, had four children, became an Israeli citizen and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, as were his kids. When I visited him and my friend Anne almost exactly six years ago, he was teaching at St. George's College, an Anglican-Episcopalian school for continuing education in East Jerusalem in the West Bank.

An experienced and knowledgeable guide, he took me around the still magnificent Old City and to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis to see the 28-foot-high Israeli security wall, covered in Hebrew, Arabic and English graffiti: "Wall = War," "Yes to love, no to wall."

We gave a Palestinian hitchhiker a ride to an Israeli checkpoint; he was trying to get to his mother in the hospital. We traveled to the ancient desert fortress Masada and floated in the viscous waters of the Dead Sea. And through it all, Henry expressed a deep love for this place often tinged with despair and a sense of futility, just as it flows through "No-One Land."

"I believe, even now, that the nonviolent option is the only way for Israel and Palestine," he writes. "Whatever the caliber of my weapon, if I am shooting the 'other,' I am forced to deny that the 'other' is like myself. I can only kill from a desperate position, a position behind a veil, from which I cannot afford to see the human beauty and uniqueness I am destroying. This is true whether I am detonating a powerful explosive from 100 meters away to rip through a busload of children, or launching the missile that shatters the body of the doctor on his way to care for a neighbor. The rock in the hand and the high-velocity projectile in the gunbarrel are unalike in strategic weight, but they are identical in the fear and desperation, the bluster and the numbness they represent. It's all bad magic, bad medicine, and it is turning us to stone."

And, yet, despite the violent, mad intransigence of both sides present and past, Henry remains hopeful that "the political aspects of this ugly struggle will be resolved, and that two nations will dwell side by side." Hopeful enough that a few years ago he founded Kids4Peace, a program that brings Israeli, Palestinian and American children of the three Abrahamic faiths to summer camps in the United States and Canada, places where they can talk and play and learn to be friends.

That may be the only hope, to catch potential antagonists when they're young and pray they learn to outgrow the bitterness and revenge.

"What is the balance between wisdom and force?" Henry asks. "... As our power to be compassionate falters, the Occupation and its consequences continue killing us all. Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, have swallowed enough evil tidings to destroy the souls of both nations, and still neither has the courage to loosen the deadly grip. Silenced by dishonesty, we send more kids with guns to spread the rule of state terror and the rule of partisan terror - all for nothing but to defend the Occupation - or to destroy it. Then, silenced by grief, we bury the dead. If another more honest witness does not step in, the lines of battle will soon pass through every classroom and bedroom in this land. Someone must redraw the border between sanity and cruelty; already we have forgotten where that boundary once stood."

Real peace, Henry writes, "can only be realized between two very real enemies who are ready to compromise. We need Israeli peacemakers, and we need Palestinian peacemakers, too. Where are they?"

Another good question.

Dispersant Disaster: A Closer Look at BP's Toxic Solution

Dispersant Disaster: A Closer Look at BP's Toxic Solution

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Kristian Gustavson found "all sorts" of dead dolphins and sea turtles on Ship Island in past weeks. Dead marine life is a common sight in the Gulf of Mexico these days, but Gustavson said the water was clear. The beaches on the Mississippi barrier island were white and clean. Oil from the British Petroleum's underwater catastrophe had not reached the sprawling marine graveyard.

Gustavson, co-founder of conservation group Below the Surface, believes these animals may not have simply fallen victim to the oil that has been gushing from BP's deepwater well since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster. He said the controversial oil dispersant BP is spraying across the slick could be the culprit.

Dispersants break up the oil slick into smaller, more biodegradable droplets. Gustavson said the process is good for aesthetics, but huge plumes of dispersed oil are now clouding the deep sea with toxins and moving inland.

Corexit, the main line of dispersants used by BP, came under public scrutiny last week after a Congressman informed The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it is all but banned in the United Kingdom. The EPA told BP to use less Corexit and invest in chemicals proven to be less toxic and more effective. BP issued a response defending their decision to use Corexit, and soon the amount of dispersants dumped in the Gulf neared an unprecedented one million gallons.

Dozens of residents along the Gulf Coast have reported headaches, nausea and trouble breathing after coming in contact with oil and dispersant fumes, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. But Corexit producer Nalco claims the newest version, Corexit 9500, is "more than 27 times safer than dish soap," according to a web release.

Nalco is an international chemical company directed by board members who cut their petrochemical teeth with companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Exxon and - you guessed it - BP. When the media discovered the EPA had rated 12 dispersants as more effective than Corexit, all eyes turned to Nalco board member Rodney Chase, who spent 38 years with BP and left as an executive.

A million gallons of any chemical, including dish soap, could certainly harm people and wildlife, and Corexit is no exception. Nalco's own safety data sheet identifies three hazardous chemicals in Corexit 9500, and lists symptoms of exposure as "acute" and consistent with reports from the poison control centers.

Corexit 9500 predecessor Corexit 9527 contained the notorious chemical 2-butoxyethanol that allegedly poisoned cleanup workers during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster. The Corexit 9500 data sheet does not include the chemical in its list of hazards, but a 1996 University of California study on invertebrates concluded that there was no "significant difference" in toxicity between Corexit 9500 and the older formula.

In 2005, researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK reported that Corexit's ability to kill invertebrates constituting the base of the underwater food chain increases substantially at a certain concentration level. The report concluded that Corexit poses a threat to shallow water ecosystems like wetlands, estuaries and coral reefs.

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This threat is a reality for conservationist Casi Callaway, director of the Mobile Baykeeper group. Oil had yet to officially reach Alabama's Mobile Bay when Callaway spoke with Truthout on last Thursday, but she said the devastation had already begun.

"We've had massive fish kills," said Callaway. "The first fish kill we had was two weeks ago ... it was everything, thousands of dead fish."

Callaway said locals have observed BP contract workers filling trash bags with "brown goop" and requesting observers stop taking pictures. She believes the microbes and invertebrates consuming the vast underwater plumes of dispersed oil are depleting the oxygen in the Gulf and choking out other species. She also said it is a "very strong possibility" that dispersants are moving into Mobile Bay ahead of the oil.

Like many researchers and conservationists, Callaway knows that some ecological sacrifices must be made to save the Gulf from destruction. But both Callaway and Gustavson say the dispersants are just a dirty way for the giant corporation to save face.

"The chemical dispersant to us is a PR mechanism," Callaway said. "Get it out of sight, get it out of mind. What we don't know about the chemical dispersant is every reason not to use it."

She insists options like siphoning and burning the oil are not perfect, but they are safer than filling the water with chemicals and expanding clouds of sinking oil droplets. Gustavson, who insists that "fighting pollution with pollution" can never work, said he is researching ways to use the Mississippi River and the natural filtration power of the wetlands to address the disaster.

For conservationists like Callaway and Gustavson, the fight to restore the Gulf Coast will continue for years. They don't have billions of dollars to throw around like BP and corporate disaster profiteers, but they know environmental stewardship does more than scratch the surface. It goes much deeper than that.

Deficit Reduction = Selling Out to Wall Street

Deficit Reduction = Selling Out to Wall Street

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In the fall of 2008, decades of finance-first, bankers-know-best economic policies coalesced to create one of the worst economic crises in history, one that the banks themselves could not survive without staggering levels of government support.

Yet astonishingly, nearly two years after the crash, Wall Street is still setting the economic agenda in Washington. As Congress begins to examine broader economic policy, lawmakers are under heavy Wall Street pressure to reduce the federal budget deficit—even though that could mean deepening the jobs crisis without any substantive economic benefits.

Small-Bore Reforms

At the same time, the financial reform bill that Congress is on the verge of passing leaves quite a bit to be desired. As the editors of The Nation emphasize, that legislation includes several small-bore fixes to ease the damage caused by Wall Street excess, but almost nothing to actually curb the excesses themselves. The capital markets casinos will largely be left untouched. Congress still has time to improve the bill over the next month as the House and Senate iron out their differences, and many useful reforms remain in play.

Nevertheless, Wall Street’s lobbyists have succeeded in taking the most important reforms off the table. We will not break up the biggest banks this year, nor will we tax reckless financial speculation. We aren’t even banning economically essential banks from participating in risky securities businesses.

Et tu, Buffet?

As Annie Lowrey notes for The Washington Independent, the crisis has even discredited Warren Buffett, one the few financial superstars who previously had a reputation as a “straight-shooter” that invested in responsible enterprises.

Buffett was once a harsh critic of credit rating agencies, the firms who slapped top ratings on toxic mortgage-backed securities and derivatives. But Buffett himself is also a top shareholder in Moody’s, one of the worst ratings agencies. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission had to compel Buffett’s testimony at a recent hearing via subpoena after Buffett turned down multiple requests to appear. At the hearing itself, Buffett did everything he could to pass the buck from himself and Moody’s to any other possible target.

Slashing the Deficit

Wall Street’s ugly influence on economic policy extends far beyond the realm of bank regulation itself. Right now, financial elites are pushing hard on a right-wing plan to slash the federal budget deficit, and even many moderate Democrats are coming out in support of reduced government spending.

This strategy is a tremendous political blunder, as Steve Benen emphasizes for The Washington Monthly. It’s true that the deficit does not poll very well—but the deficit is only one side of the issue. Cutting the deficit means slashing federal support for jobs—we can help the economy or we can slash the deficit, but we cannot do both at the same time.

Nearly everyone believes that creating jobs should be a top priority for the government, but if politicians only ask questions about the deficit, they won’t hear answers about the economy. The political imperative is clear, as Benen notes:

This really shouldn’t be complicated: invest in more job creation, help struggling states as they keep laying off workers, and make clear to voters that the economy is more important than the deficit. Do this immediately, without apology.

Replacing Social Security with Credit Cards?

Wall Street loves cutting social services in the name of deficit reduction. Every public good that can be efficiently provided for by the government can also be inefficiently provided by the private sector—replacing public benefits with corporate profits. The bank lobby would like nothing more than to replace Social Security with credit cards for senior citizens. Wall Street doesn’t make a dime on the government’s Social Security payments—but they can make a killing on a privatized market.

Weak Job Growth=Weak Private Sector

Lest there be any question about whether or not the government needs to take strong action to strengthen the labor market, take a look at Friday’s jobs report. As Tim Fernholz notes for The American Prospect, this report was the most disappointing piece of economic news in months. While the economy gained 431,000 new jobs during the month, 411,000 of them were temporary hires by the U.S. Census, meaning the private sector is not able to support much new hiring.

There’s a critical lesson there: The only serious engine of job growth in the month of May was the federal government. Absent government hiring, the economy is not improving at all. There is an almost bottomless supply of critical social needs that require work right now, but no private-sector momentum to meet those needs.

The BP oil catastrophe should underscore how important new, green energy is to the U.S. economy—yet U.S. efforts to develop green energy solutions have fallen far behind those of China and other industrial powerhouse nations. Major federal investment into the research and implementation of green energy would be good for our environment and good for our economy.

Don’t Let Social Services Suffer

But astoundingly, the advice on the world economy currently coming from top policymakers at the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and European central banks is echoing the bank lobby line: Slash social programs now, and let the job market fend for itself. As Dean Baker emphasizes for AlterNet, these are the exact same policymakers who missed the housing bubble, made the wrong calls on bank regulation and sent the global economy into freefall.

There has been little change in personnel and no acknowledgment of error at the central banks whose incompetence was responsible for the crisis . . . . their agenda seems to be the same everywhere, cut back retirement benefits, reduce public support for health care, weaken unions and make ordinary workers take pay cuts.

In short, Wall Street and the Wall Street policy agenda remain ascendant, despite economic catastrophe. In the Great Depression, the government actually learned its lesson—we regulated the banks, created Social Security and put millions to work through government hiring programs. That same basic agenda is needed today. Failing to meet it could well mean decades of economic decline.

BP Mole Spills Secrets of Oil Cleanup Ops

My BP Mole Spills the Secrets of BP's Cleanup Ops

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BP's got a mole working on its cleanup team. The company might be able to keep the press from getting to oiled-up Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge, but as long as people have cell phones, it's going to have a hell of a time keeping Elmer's Island from getting to the press.

Late Wednesday night I talked to a spill worker involved in the efforts to clean up South Louisiana's barrier islands. Let's call him Elmer, because we spoke under condition of strict anonymity. Though he hasn't signed one of the BP contracts that bars workers from communicating with reporters, he has been told "500 times" that if he talks, he's fired. He certainly didn't contact me because his politics are similar to mine. "George Bush was too liberal for me," he explained. But: "I like the media. The country couldn't run without it, and it's important to have media from both the left and right."

He also called because on Tuesday BP told me (again) that I couldn't go to Elmer's Island with a producer from PBS's Need to Know because the road to it "needed more gravel." This was a lie: "Everyone else," Elmer said, "is driving on that road"—about 20 cars and vans going up and down a day, and the re-graveling had happened the day before we arrived. Since BP was making my job so much harder, Elmer wanted to make it a little easier.

BP's got good reason for wanting to keep insiders like Elmer away from reporters. Elmer says that last Thursday, when the Coast Guard was announcing that the top kill seemed to be working, the cleanup supervisors on Grand Isle had already been informed it was a failure—which, of course, was not publicly announced until several days later.

And as more and more oil continues to deluge Louisiana shores, the cleanup efforts are slowing down. Workers have spent inordinate amounts of time sitting around waiting to be utilized, a frustration echoed by other workers who talked to friends of mine who were on a day trip to the beach. The workers are also upset because last Friday, many of them weren't paid as scheduled. According to Elmer, the mostly white foremen (whom he welcomed me to picture as stereotypical gristly union-boss types) told their mostly black subordinates that they didn't want to hear any bitching about it and that if they had a problem they could go home. Such unpleasant work in such an unpleasant environment and for such low pay (as little as $10 an hour) is, not surprisingly, leading to superhigh attrition. Last week, there were 110 workers on Elmer's Island. Right now, there are only 60 cleaning up the 1,700-acre home to fish, shrimp, and crab nurseries. (I called ES&H, the subcontractor running the cleanup show, for comment, but it only has one person who talks to the media, and that person was not available today.)

Elmer's Island was already in bad shape when I was there two weeks ago, but the fire chief of nearby Grand Isle told me yesterday that a massive slick of concentrated oil had been seen just offshore. This morning, Elmer emailed me an update about the forbidden island. "I thought you might be interested to know," he wrote, "there's a LOT more oil out on the beach now."

A Warning From Noam Chomsky on the Threat Posed By Elites

A Warning From Noam Chomsky on the Threat Posed By Elites

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Noam Chomsky’s description of the dangers posed by U.S. elites’ “Imperial Mentality” was recently given a boost in credibility by a surprising source—Bill Clinton. As America’s economy, foreign policy and politics continue to unravel, it is clear that this mentality and the system it has created will produce an increasing number of victims in the years to come. Clinton startlingly testified to that effect on March 10 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Since 1981 the United States has followed a policy until the last year or so, when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food so thank goodness they can lead directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did, nobody else.

Clinton is to be praised for being the first U.S. president to take personal responsibility for impoverishing an entire nation rather than ignoring his misdeeds or falsely blaming local U.S.-imposed regimes. But his confession also means that his embrace of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and NAFTA “neo-liberalization” destroyed the lives of many more millions well beyond Haiti, as U.S. support for heavily subsidized U.S. agribusiness damaged local agricultural economies throughout Latin America and beyond. This led to mass migration into urban slums and destitution, as well as increased emigration to the U.S.—which then led Clinton to militarize the border in 1994—and thus accelerated the “illegal immigration” issue that so poisons U.S. politics today.

Clinton might also have added that he and other U.S. leaders imposed such policies by force, installing military dictators and vicious police and paramilitary forces. Chomsky reports in “Hopes and Prospects” that in Haiti, semiofficial thugs empowered by a U.S.-supported coup murdered 8,000 people and raped 35,000 women in 2004 and 2005 alone, while a tiny local elite reaps most of the benefits from U.S. policies.

Clinton’s testimony reminded me of one of my visits with Chomsky, back in 1988, when, after talking for an hour or so, he smiled and said he had to stop to get back to writing about the children of Haiti.

I was struck both by his concern for forgotten Haitians and because his comment so recalled my experience with him in 1970 as he spent a week researching U.S. war-making in Laos. I had taken dozens of journalists, peace activists, diplomats, experts and others out to camps of refugees who had fled U.S. saturation bombing. Chomsky was one of only two who wept openly upon learning how these innocent villagers had seen their beloved grandmothers burned alive, their children slowly suffocated, their spouses cut to ribbons, during five years of merciless, pitiless and illegal U.S. bombing for which U.S. leaders would have been executed had international law protecting civilians in wartime been applied to their actions. It was obvious that he was above all driven by a deep feeling for the world’s victims, those he calls the “unpeople” in his new book. No U.S. policymakers I knew in Laos, nor the many I have met since, have shared such concerns.

Bill Clinton’s testimony also reminded me of the accuracy of Chomsky writings on Haiti—before, during and after Clinton’s reign—as summed up in “Hopes and Prospects”:

The Clinton doctrine, presented to Congress, was that the US is entitled to resort to “unilateral use of military power” to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.” In Haiti, Clinton [imposed] harsh neoliberal rules that were guaranteed to crush what remained of the economy, as they did.

Clinton would have a cleaner conscience today had he listened to Chomsky then. Many more Americans may also benefit by heeding Chomsky today, as U.S. elites’ callousness toward unpeople abroad is now affecting increasing numbers of their fellow citizens back home. Nothing symbolizes this more than investment bankers tricking countless Americans out of their life savings by luring them into buying homes they could not afford that were then foreclosed on.

In doing so, Wall Streeters exhibited what Chomsky describes as a Western elite imperial mentality, dating back to 1491 (his first chapter is entitled “Year 514: Globalization for Whom?”). Only this time instead of impoverishing Haitians or Chileans, it was Americans who were afflicted by a “system” of “fuck the poor” (in the words of successful Wall Street trader Steve Eisman). [See Branfman’s review of “The Big Short” in Truthdig.]

The many Americans whose lives have been damaged by financiers’ single-minded focus on short-term profits at the expense of everyone else are only a harbinger of what is to come. Financial elites remain in charge, as evidenced by recent “financial reform” legislation that does not even reinstate the Glass-Steagall law separating investment and commercial banking. New York magazine has described how Obama officials blocked even inadequate reforms, let alone the stronger proposals from Nouriel Roubini, one of the few major economists to foresee the economic crash. Former International Monetary Fund chief economist Simon Johnson tells us “our banking structure remains—and the incentive and belief system that lies behind reckless risk-taking has only become more dangerous,” thus setting the stage for an even worse crash than that of 2008. And, as U.S. competitiveness continues to decline and it cannot afford its endless wars without drastically cutting social spending, countless more Americans will find themselves paying the price for U.S. elites’ imperial mentality.

This mentality described by Chomsky includes the following elements: (1) a single-minded focus on maximizing short-term elite economic and military interests; (2) a refusal to let other societies follow their own paths if perceived to conflict with these interests; (3) continual and massive violations of international law; (4) indifference to human life, particularly in the Third World; (5) massive violation of the U.S. Constitution, especially through the executive branch’s seizure of the power to wage unilateral and unaccountable war in every corner of the globe; (6) indifference to U.S. and international public opinion, which is often more progressive and humane than that of the elites; (7) a remarkable ability to “manufacture consent,” aided by the mass media and intellectuals, that has blinded most Americans to the truth of what their leaders actually do in their names.

To pick but one example of the dozens Chomsky provides: U.S. elite opinion unanimously celebrated the 1990 Nicaraguan election defeating the Sandinistas as a “victory for fair play,” to quote a March 10 New York Times Op-Ed article. But Chomsky reminds us of Time Magazine’s March 12 report on just what this “fair play” meant:

In Nicaragua, Washington stumbled on an arm’s-length policy: wreck the economy and prosecute a long and deadly proxy war until the exhausted natives overthrow the unwanted government themselves. The past ten years have savaged the country’s civilians, not its comandantes. The impoverishment of the people of Nicaragua was a harrowing way to give the National Opposition Union (U.N.O.) a winning issue.

Wrecking a Third World country’s economy and savaging its civilians are such standard U.S. elite behavior that it is barely noticed, let alone criticized in the mass media or halls of Congress. Perhaps the most dramatic example of America’s imperial mentality, however, is the answer to the following question: Which nation’s leaders since 1945 have murdered, maimed, made homeless, tortured, assassinated and impoverished the largest number of civilians who were not its own citizens?

I have asked this question of Americans in every walk of life since I discovered the bombing of Laos in 1969. It’s a simple matter of fact, not involving judgments of right and wrong, and I remain astonished at how most answer “the Russians,” “the Chinese,” or just have no idea that their leaders have killed more noncitizen civilians than the rest of the world’s leaders combined since 1945.

The bodies of Indochinese and Iraqi civilians for which U.S. leaders bear responsibility would, if laid end to end, stretch from New York to California. These would include the huge proportion of civilians among the 3.4 million Vietnamese that Robert McNamara estimated were killed in Vietnam (over 90 percent by U.S. firepower), Laotian and Cambodian civilians felled by the largest per capita and most indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in history, the 1 million to 1.5 million Iraqis estimated by the U.N.‘s Denis Halliday to have died from Clinton’s sanctions “designed,” in Halliday’s words, “to kill civilians, particularly children,” and the hundreds of thousands killed as a result of the Bush invasion. The total number of civilians killed, wounded, made homeless and impoverished by U.S. leaders or local regimes owing their power to U.S. guns and aid—in not only Indochina and Iraq but Mexico, El Salvador, Israel/Palestine, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Chile, East Timor, Haiti, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Jamaica, the Philippines and Indonesia—is in the tens of millions.

One can debate whether U.S. military action against Vietnamese communists, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Saddam Hussein or the Taliban were or are warranted. But there can be no possible justification for waging war that winds up killing and impoverishing much of the civilian population, on whose behalf U.S. leaders claim to fight, in violation of the laws of war and elemental human decency. Nor can anyone who truly believes in democracy support allowing a handful of U.S. leaders to savage civilians abroad without even informing, let alone seeking permission of, Congress and the American people.

The incredible fact that U.S. leaders could inflict such carnage without their citizenry knowing is the single most dramatic example of another of Chomsky’s major themes: “manufactured consent,” produced by (1) constant iterations of U.S leaders’ idealism and desire to promote freedom, supported by the mass media (e.g. when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius called Paul Wolfowitz Bush’s “idealist-in-chief,” even as their invasion was laying waste to Iraq), (2) massive media coverage of the misdeeds of the latest U.S. opponents, and (3) ignoring our own, often far greater, crimes.

Most Americans were fully and appropriately made aware of Taliban assassinations of their opponents, for example. But there was no public discussion of guilt, let alone punishment for those responsible, when Gen. Stanley McChrystal implicitly admitted in the summer of 2009 that the U.S. military had been killing countless Afghan civilians for the previous eight years as a result of air and artillery fire aimed at population centers. Nor are most Americans aware that McChrystal was rewarded with his present post, being in charge of the Afghanistan war, for conducting five years of assassination and torture as head of the top-secret Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq.

Chomsky is especially concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, and U.S.-Israel treatment of the people of Gaza in particular. He notes that Hamas is regularly attacked in the U.S. press, but there has not been comparable attention given to the U.S./Israeli decision to inflict daily collective punishment on the people of Gaza since they democratically elected Hamas in January 2006. He quotes Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1950, which states that “no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she had not personally committed” and reports how Israel, fully supported by U.S. leaders, continues to inflict precisely such punishment on the people of Gaza by destroying their economy, limiting their access to food and water, denying them health care, restricting their movement, and engaging in kidnapping, assassination and bombing—a program he calls “imposing massive suffering on the animals in the Gaza prison.”

Perhaps the most basic reason Americans should read Chomsky’s work today, therefore, is simply to understand the real world in which they live, that which is obscured by their leaders and the U.S. mass media. The purpose of “Newspeak” in the novel “1984” was to eliminate whole categories of thought. In our time, one such category is the fact that “U.S. leaders regularly and illegally kill enormous numbers of foreign innocent civilians.” The elimination of this thought-category in our cognitive framework understandably led President George W. Bush to explain 9/11 by saying “they hate our freedom”—a logical conclusion to someone ignorant of the trail of blood left by his predecessors. As Chomsky notes, however, “historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon ... because it lays the groundwork for crimes ahead” and, it should be noted, increased dangers of terrorism against Americans.

This increased threat of terrorism, which, Chomsky reports, citing the New American Foundation, has increased sevenfold because of the invasion of Iraq, is a second area in which Americans are today increasingly threatened by their leaders’ imperial mentality. As many experts noted in the wake of the Times Square bombing attempt, Barack Obama’s vast increase in drone strikes in Pakistan—and relaxing targeting rules to include “low-level fighters whose identities may not be known”—has further increased the danger of terrorist attacks in the U.S.

As the elites’ imperial mentality comes home, Americans are also increasingly threatened by climate change—produced by a system that statutorily requires elites to pursue short-term profit for their firms, even at the cost of destroying the biosphere their own children and grandchildren will depend on for life itself.

In today’s system, Chomsky explains, to “stay in the game,” CEOs must maximize their own short-term profits while treating the costs of doing so as “externalities” to be paid by the taxpayer. In the case of climate change, however, “externalities happen to be the fate of the species.” An imperial mentality which has primarily threatened the Third World in the past, in other words, has now become a threat to the survival of not only America but all civilization as we know it.

Chomsky thus argues that human survival requires changing the system, not merely periodically replacing those running it. His “Hopes and Prospects” covers President Obama’s first year in office and the many “hopes” that he has so profoundly disappointed because of a system that virtually requires “doublethink” of its leaders. Obama was undoubtedly as sincere when he spoke of “our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution” at West Point on May 22 as he was six months earlier when he secretly approved Gen. David Petraeus’ proposal for a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” worldwide that “does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress.”

Obama also presumably holds two contradictory opinions when, as Chomsky reports, he continues Bush policies he so recently criticized and promised to change: extending executive power to indefinitely imprison people without trial, torture (though by allied rather than U.S. torturers), indiscriminate killing (particularly by escalating in northern Pakistan, as described in Truthdig, “Unintended Consequences in Nuclear Pakistan”), and supporting Israeli policies precluding a two-state solution. Chomsky also observes that Obama could not have been elected in the first place, given his greater need for campaign funds from above than fidelity to his voters below, had he not been prepared to continue these imperial policies.

Chomsky’s explanation of the American system’s imperial mentality also illuminates a seeming mystery: How could decent people like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama commit so much evil? Our concept of evil is shaped by such paranoid psychotics as Hitler, Stalin and Mao, who all hated their victims and openly lusted for power. We do not yet understand that in today’s American system the problem we face is not so much inhumanity from the mad and evil as “ahumanity” from the sane and decent.

U.S. leaders have nothing against those they regularly kill and impoverish. On the contrary, they often exhibit compassion for them, as when Jimmy Carter supported human rights. But they are products of a system that is indifferent to the fate of the unpeople, whether in the shah’s Iran, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Suharto’s Indonesia or the many other dictatorial regimes that enjoyed President Carter’s support.

Chomsky denies the oft-heard charge that he is “anti-American,” noting his criticism of the crimes of many other nations’ leaders, and saying he focuses on U.S. leaders because, as a U.S. citizen, it is the government he can most affect; because it is the government that has done more harm than any other since 1945; and because the United States’ behavior today poses so much danger to human survival. He might also add that there are so many others eager to catalog the crimes of America’s enemies, yet relatively few Americans willing to document their own leaders’ misdeeds.

At the moment, Chomsky’s proposed solutions are politically unthinkable. As the American economy and polity continues to unravel and suffering mounts at home and abroad, however, a mass movement may arise that is capable of saving America and the world. If so, such a movement is likely to attempt solutions of the sort Chomsky proposes. Here are two out of a far larger number:

State capitalism for the many: The American Enterprise Institute’s chief declared in a May 23 Washington Post Op-Ed that “America faces a new culture war,” between “free enterprise” offering “rewards determined by market forces” and “European-style statism.” “Hopes and Prospects” explains at some length, however, why this formulation is absurd. America’s “free enterprise” system has always been based on massive government aid, from the Army building 19th century railroads, to the Pentagon’s post-World War II role in building the Internet and Silicon Valley, to today’s “rewards” to Wall Street and oil companies determined not by market forces, but those companies’ political clout. America has been practicing “state capitalism” since the founding of the Republic, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future no matter which party is in office.

The real choice, Chomsky makes clear, is not free enterprise versus statism, but state capitalism for (A) the few or (B) the many. The latter would include breaking up the banks, a focus on job creation and safety net expansion where needed, single-payer health insurance, higher taxes on the wealthy, far lower military spending, public members on corporate boards, greater employee workplace control and, above all, a new public-private partnership to see America become a leader in a clean energy economic revolution.

A Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone and Two-State Solution in the Middle East: Chomsky proposes that rather than continuing to engage in senseless fighting and confronting Iran over nuclear weapons, U.S., Israeli, Arab and Iranian interests would be far better served by the U.S. using its enormous military and economic clout to create a Mideast nuclear weapons-free zone that Iran says it is willing to accept, and a comprehensive and fair Israeli-Palestinian settlement including Hamas’ promised recognition of Israel and cessation of rocket attacks. A major benefit to the U.S. would be to reduce the threat of domestic terrorism. For only a comprehensive new policy that addresses the source of anti-U.S. hatred—U.S. war-making on civilians and support of corrupt and vicious local regimes—can reduce it.

Fifty years ago, Americans were told that the North Vietnamese communists were so evil that 55,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese had to die, and much of Vietnam had to be destroyed, in order to keep it “free.” But for 20 years now, despite the triumph of the communists, Vietnam has been a normal trading partner of the United States and poses no threat to its neighbors. Could the Middle East also be normalized were U.S. leaders to use their enormous power to promote peace rather than war? Maybe, maybe not. But it is obvious that the risks of trying to do so are far less than the present dangers of nuclear proliferation, chaos in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Israel-Iran military confrontation and increasing support for anti-American terrorism within the 1.2 billion-strong Muslim world.

That Chomsky’s sensible proposals are not seriously discussed is a measure of the ubiquity of U.S. elites’ imperial mentality in mid-2010. Chomsky suggests that John Quincy Adams’ fear of divine retribution to America for its cruelty to Native Americans is unfounded, and that “earthly judgment is nowhere in sight.” Much of his work, however, suggests otherwise. A U.S. elite imperial mentality that once threatened mainly unpeople is today threatening America itself.

The fundamental tension throughout Chomsky’s work is between his belief that organizing and popular movements offer hope of change and the overwhelming evidence he presents of elite power precluding such change. On the one hand, he writes that “Latin America, today, is the scene of some of the most exciting developments in the endless struggle for freedom and justice” as its nations improve their citizens’ lives by extricating themselves from the neoliberal regime and elect leaders responsible to mass movements from below rather than financing from wealthy minorities above.

But on the other hand, his description of the stranglehold elites hold over both domestic and foreign policy offers little near-term hope for the kind of systemic changes he believes are needed to save the species. It is true that postwar America has not before faced the kind of economic and imperial decline that now awaits it, and this may produce possibilities for systemic change. But they are nowhere yet in sight.

I recently sat with Chomsky, an intellectually uncompromising but personally kind, gentle and mild-mannered man, in his kitchen discussing such new U.S. elite horrors as the trend toward “1984”-like automated warfare, when it suddenly hit me.

What is it like, I found myself thinking, to know more than any other human being on Earth about the state-sponsored lies to which Americans are so constantly subjected? What is it like to so feel in your bones, hour after hour, day after day, the pain of millions of “unpeople” suffering hunger, poverty and death caused by U.S. elites who today also threaten both their own nation and all humanity? And what is it like, even though your writings are published, to have their lessons ignored by society at large, as the killing continues and U.S. war-making “on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at” has now become permanent?

“Noam,” I said, “I’ve just realized who you really represent to me. Do you remember how Winston Smith [the “1984” character] realized that his highest obligation to humanity and himself was just to try and remain sane, to somehow commit the truth to paper, and to hope against rational hope that somewhere, some time, future humans might come to understand and act on it? To me, at this point in time, you’re Winston Smith.”

I will never forget his reaction.

He just looked back at me.

And smiled sadly.