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14 November 2008

Mark Weisbrot on the Global Economic Crisis and the Washington Summit

13 November 2008

Bailout Lacks Oversight Despite Billions Pledged, WaPo

Oh, my god, I'm so shocked that nothing at all has been done. Aren't you?

Key quote:

In the six weeks since lawmakers approved the Treasury's massive bailout of financial firms, the government has poured money into the country's largest banks, recruited smaller banks into the program and repeatedly widened its scope to cover yet other types of businesses, from insurers to consumer lenders.

Along the way, the Bush administration has committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package.

Yet for all this activity, no formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed.

"It's a mess," said Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department's inspector general, who has been working to oversee the bailout program until the newly created position of special inspector general is filled. "I don't think anyone understands right now how we're going to do proper oversight of this thing."

In approving the rescue package, lawmakers trumpeted provisions in the legislation that established layers of independent scrutiny, including a special inspector general to be nominated by the White House and a congressional oversight panel to be named by lawmakers themselves.

Don't Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart: Why Americans Shouldn't Go Home, by Tom Engelhardt

On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, a record was set halfway around the world. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force strike wiped out about 40 people in a wedding party. This represented at least the sixth wedding party eradicated by American air power in Afghanistan and Iraq since December 2001.

American planes have, in fact, taken out two brides in the last seven months. And don't try to bury your dead or mark their deaths ceremonially either, because funerals have been hit as well. Mind you, those planes, which have conducted 31% more air strikes in Afghanistan in support of U.S. troops this year, and the missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) now making almost daily strikes across the border in Pakistan, remain part of George W. Bush's Air Force, but only until January 21, 2009. Then, they -- and all the brides and grooms of Afghanistan and in the Pakistani borderlands who care to have something more than the smallest of private weddings -- officially become the property of President Barack Obama.

That's a sobering thought. He is, in fact, inheriting from the Bush administration a widening war in the region, as well as an exceedingly tenuous situation in devastated, still thoroughly factionalized, sectarian, and increasingly Iranian-influenced Iraq. There, the U.S. is, in actuality, increasingly friendless and ever less powerful. The last allies from the infamous "coalition of the willing" are now rushing for the door. The South Koreans, Hungarians, and Bulgarians -- I'll bet you didn't even know the latter two had a few troops left in Iraq -- are going home this year; the rump British force in the south will probably be out by next summer.

The Iraqis are beginning to truly go their own way (or, more accurately, ways); and yet, in January, when Barack Obama enters office, there will still be more American troops in Iraq than there were in April 2003 when Baghdad fell. Winning an election with an antiwar label, Obama has promised -- kinda -- to end the American war there and bring the troops -- sorta, mostly -- home. But even after his planned 16-month withdrawal of U.S. "combat brigades," which may not be welcomed by his commanders in the field, including former Iraq commander, now Centcom Commander David Petraeus, there are still plenty of combative non-combat forces, which will be labeled "residual" and left behind to fight "al-Qaeda." Then, there are all those "advisors" still there to train Iraqi forces, the guards for the giant bases the Bush administration built in the country, the many thousands of armed private security contractors from companies like Blackwater, and of course, the 1,000 "diplomats" who are to staff the newly opened U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone, possibly the largest embassy on the planet. Hmmmm.

And while the new president turns to domestic matters, it's quite possible that significant parts of his foreign policy could be left to the oversight of Vice President Joe Biden who, in case anyone has forgotten, proposed a plan for Iraq back in 2007 so filled with imperial hubris that it still startles. In a Caesarian moment, he recommended that the U.S. -- not Iraqis -- functionally divide the country into three parts. Although he preferred to call it a "federal system," it was, for all intents and purposes, a de facto partition plan.

If Iraq remains a sorry tale of American destruction and dysfunction without, as yet, a discernable end in sight, Afghanistan may prove Iraq squared. And there, candidate Obama expressed no desire to wind the war down and withdraw American troops. Quite the opposite, during the election campaign he plunked hard for escalation, something our NATO allies are sure not to be too enthusiastic about. According to the Obama plan, many more American troops (if available, itself an open question) are to be poured into the country in what would essentially be a massive "surge strategy" by yet another occupant of the Oval Office. Assumedly, the new Afghan policy would be aided and abetted by those CIA-run UAVs directed toward Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and pals, while undoubtedly further destabilizing a shaky ally.

When it comes to rising civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes in their countries, both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari have already used their congratulatory phone calls to President-elect Obama to plead for an end to the attacks, which produce both a profusion of dead bodies and a profusion of live, vengeful enemies. Both have done the same with the Bush administration, Karzai to the point of tears.

The U.S. military argues that the use of air power is necessary in the face of a spreading, ever more dangerous, Taliban insurgency largely because there are too few boots on the ground. ("If we got more boots on the ground, we would not have to rely as much on airstrikes" was the way Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, put it.) But rest assured, as the boots multiply on increasingly hostile ground, the military will discover it needs more, not less, air power to back more troops in more trouble.

So, after January 20th, expect Obama to take possession of George Bush's disastrous Afghan War; and unless he is far more skilled than Alexander the Great, British empire builders, and the Russians, his war, too, will continue to rage without ever becoming a raging success.

Finally, President-elect Obama accepted the overall framework of a "Global War on Terror" during his presidential campaign. This "war" lies at the heart of the Bush administration's fantasy world of war that has set all-too-real expanses of the planet aflame. Its dangers were further highlighted this week by the New York Times, which revealed that secret orders in the spring of 2004 gave the U.S. military "new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."

At least twelve such attacks have been carried out since then by Special Operations forces on Pakistan, Somalia, most recently Syria, and other unnamed countries. Signed by Donald Rumsfeld, signed off on by President Bush, built-upon recently by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, these secret orders enshrine the Pentagon's right to ignore international boundaries, or the sovereignty of nations, in an endless global "war" of choice against small, scattered bands of terrorists.

As reporter Jim Lobe pointed out recently, a "series of interlocking grand bargains" in what the neoconservatives used to call "the Greater Middle East" or the "arc of instability" might be available to an Obama administration capable of genuinely new thinking. These, he wrote, would be "backed by the relevant regional players as well as major global powers -- aimed at pacifying Afghanistan; integrating Iran into a new regional security structure; promoting reconciliation in Iraq; and launching a credible process to negotiate a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world."

If, however, Obama accepts a War on Terror framework, as he already seems to have, as well as those "residual" forces in Iraq, while pumping up the war in Afghanistan, he may quickly find himself playing by Rumsfeld rules, whether or not he revokes those specific orders. In fact, left alone in Washington, backed by the normal national security types, he may soon find himself locked into all sorts of unpalatable situations, as once happened to another Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who opted to escalate an inherited war when what he most wanted to do was focus on domestic policy.

Previews for a Political Zombie Movie

Domestically, it's clear enough that we are about to leave the age of Bush -- in tone and policy -- but what that leave-taking will consist of is still an open question. This is especially so given a cratering economy and the pot-holed road ahead. It is a moment when Obama has, not surprisingly, begun to emphasize continuity and reassurance alongside his campaign theme of "change we can believe in."

All you had to do was look at that array of Clinton-era economic types and CEOs behind Obama at his first news conference to think: been there, done that. The full photo of his economic team that day offered a striking profile of pre-Bush era Washington and the Washington Consensus, and so a hint of the Democratic world the new president will walk into on January 20, 2009.

How about former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, those kings of 1990s globalization, or even the towering former Fed chief from the first Bush era, Paul Volcker? Didn't that have the look of previews for a political zombie movie, a line-up of the undead? As head of the New America Foundation Steve Clemons has been writing recently, the economic team looks suspiciously as if it were preparing for a "Clinton 3.0" moment.

You could scan that gathering and not see a genuine rogue thinker in sight; no off-the-reservation figures who might represent a breath of fresh air and fresh thinking (other than, being hopeful, the president-elect himself). Clemons offers an interesting list of just some obvious names left off stage: "Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, James Galbraith, Leo Hindery, Clyde Prestowitz, Charlene Barshefsky, C. Fred Bergsten, Adam Posen, Robert Kuttner, Robert Samuelson, Alan Murray, William Bonvillian, Doug & Heidi Rediker, Bernard Schwartz, Tom Gallagher, Sheila Bair, Sherle Schwenninger, and Kevin Phillips."

Mobilizing a largely Clintonista brain trust may look reassuring to some -- an in-gathering of all the Washington wisdom available before Hurricane Bush/Cheney hit town, but unfortunately, we don't happen to be entering a Clinton 3.0 moment. What's globalizing now is American disaster, which threatens to level a vulnerable world.

In a sense, though, domestic policy may, relatively speaking, represent the good news of the coming Obama era. We know, for instance, that those preparing the way for the new president's arrival are thinking hard about how to roll back the worst of Bush cronyism, enrich-yourself-at-the-public-troughism, general lawlessness, and unconstitutionality. As a start, according to Ceci Connolly and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post, Obama advisers have already been compiling "a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues," including oil drilling in pristine wild lands. In addition, Obama's people are evidently at work on ways to close Guantanamo and try some of its prisoners in U.S. courts.

However, if continuity domestically means rollback to the Clinton era, continuity in the foreign policy sphere -- Guantanamo aside -- may be a somewhat different matter. We won't know the full cast of characters to come until the president-elect makes the necessary announcements or has a national security press conference with a similar line-up behind him. But it's certainly rumored that Robert Gates, a symbol of continuity from both Bush eras, might be kept on as secretary of defense, or a Republican senator like Richard Lugar of Indiana or, more interestingly, retiring Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel might be appointed to the post. Of course, many Clintonistas are sure to be in this line-up, too.

In addition, among the essential cast of characters will be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Michael Mullen, and Centcom Commander David Petraeus, both late Bush appointees, both seemingly flexible military men, both interested in a military-plus approach to the Afghan and Iraq wars. Petraeus, for instance, reportedly recently asked for, and was denied, permission to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

All these figures will represent a turn away from the particular madness of the early Bush years abroad, one that actually began in the final years of his second term. But such a national security line-up is unlikely to include fresh thinkers, who might truly reimagine an imperial world, or anyone who might genuinely buck the power of the Pentagon. What Obama looks to have are custodians and bureaucrats of empire, far more cautious, far more sane, and certainly far more grown-up than the first-term Bush appointees, but not a cast of characters fit for reshaping American policy in a new world of disorder and unraveling economies, not a crew ready to break new ground and cede much old ground on this still American-garrisoned planet of ours.

Breathless in Washington

Let's assume the best: that Barack Obama truly means to bring some form of the people's will, as he imagines it, to Washington after eight years of unconstitutional "commander-in-chief" governance. That -- take my word for it -- he can't do without the people themselves expressing that will.

Of course, even in the Bush era, Americans didn't simply cede the public commons. They turned out, for instance, in staggering numbers to protest the President's invasion of Iraq before it ever happened, and again more recently to work tirelessly to elect Obama president. But -- so it seems to me -- when immediate goals are either disappointingly not achieved, or achieved relatively quickly, most Americans tend to pack their bags and head for home, as so many did in despair after the invasion was launched in 2003, as so many reportedly are doing again, in a far more celebratory mood, now that Obama is elected.

But hard as his election may have been, that was surely the easy part. He is now about to enter the hornet's nest. Entrenched interests. Entrenched ideas. Entrenched ideology. Entrenched profits. Entrenched lobbyists. Entrenched bureaucrats. Entrenched think tanks. An entrenched Pentagon and allied military-industrial complex, both bloated beyond imagining and virtually untouchable, along with a labyrinthine intelligence system of more than 18 agencies, departments, and offices.

Washington remains an imperial capital. How in the world will Barack Obama truly begin to change that without you?

In the Bush years, the special interests, lobbyists, pillagers, and crony corporations not only pitched their tents on the public commons, but with the help of the President's men and women, simply took possession of large hunks of it. That was called "privatization." Now, as Bush & Co. prepare to leave town in a cloud of catastrophe, the feeding frenzy at the public trough only seems to grow.

It's a natural reaction -- and certainly a commonplace media reaction at the moment -- to want to give Barack Obama a "chance." Back off those critical comments, people now say. Fair's fair. Give the President-elect a little "breathing space." After all, the election is barely over, he's not even in office, he hasn't had his first 100 days, and already the criticism has begun.

But those who say this don't understand Washington -- or, in the case of various media figures and pundits, perhaps understand it all too well.

Political Washington is a conspiracy -- in the original sense of the word: "to breathe the same air." In that sense, there is no air in Washington that isn't stale enough to choke a president. Send Obama there alone, give him that "breathing space," don't start demanding the quick ending of wars or anything else, and you're not doing him, or the American people, any favors. Quite the opposite, you're consigning him to suffocation.

Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for "change we can believe in," which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years, has recently been published.

Riz Khan - Gore Vidal - 12 Nov 08

Ralph Nader’s Statement on the Truncated Quotation Used by Shepard Smith on Fox News

Fox talk show host Shepard Smith repeated my question that was posed for Senator Barack Obama in an interview with Fox radio station KTRH Houston but deleted the last several words after giant corporations. The full question posed to Senator Obama that is his to answer in the coming months was as follows:

He is our first African American president; or he will be. And we wish him well. But his choice, basically, is whether he’s going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations who are running America into the ground.
Click this Hipcast link for audio of the entire interview:

Anyone who has worked in the areas of civil rights, economic justice, and health and safety over the decades knows that whenever minority candidates are elected to legislative offices, their minority constituents remain wary regarding whether the entrenched power structures are affecting these self-avowed representatives, or whether the reverse is occurring – that is, they are standing up to the corporate supremacists. All political pioneers have to answer this question as they move into these positions of trust. Unfortunately, as many people of color – struggling through the day in often desperate circumstances – know from the lessons of history, there are more than a few times when they are let down by a surrender to the rich and powerful – an obeisance that has its vernacular. Let us all hope that this will not happen. Tens of millions of Americans await what actually does happen. Everyone, as alert citizens, should strive to make sure that courses of action are taken that put people first and finally make corporations our servants and not our masters.

Obama: Wiping the Slate Clean, Medialens

Appearance And Reality In The Relaunch Of Brand America

In 1997, the British media filled with talk of “historic” change. Blair’s victory that year “bursts open the door to a British transformation,” the Independent declared. (Neal Ascherson, ‘Through the door he can begin to create a freer land,’ The Independent, May 4, 1997)

A Guardian leader saluted the nation: “Few now sang England Arise, but England had risen all the same.” (Leader, ‘A political earthquake,’ The Guardian, May 2, 1997)

The editors predicted that, by 2007, Blair’s triumph would be seen as “one of the great turning-points of British political history... the moment when Britain at last gave itself the chance to construct a modern liberal socialist order.” (Ibid)

The Observer assured readers that the Blair government would create "new worldwide rules on human rights" and implement "tough new limits on arms sales." (http://www.antiwar.com/orig/pilger.php?articleid=5063)

This, after all, was the dawn of Blair’s “ethical” foreign policy.

It was a dawn of the dead - Blair left behind him the almost unimaginable horror of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A rare poll conducted by Ipsos last January of 754 Iraqi refugees in Syria found that “every single person interviewed by Ipsos reported experiencing at least one traumatic event in Iraq prior to their arrival in Syria.” (http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/iraq?page=news&id=479616762)

UNHCR estimated that one in five of those registered with the agency in Syria over the previous year were classified as "victims of torture and/or violence." The survey showed that fully 89 per cent of those interviewed suffered depression and 82 per cent anxiety. This was linked to terrors endured before they fled Iraq – 77 per cent of those interviewed reported being affected by air bombardments, shelling or rocket attacks. Eighty per cent had witnessed a shooting... and so on. (Ibid)

John Pilger was a lonely voice in 1997 warning that Blair was a dangerous fraud, a neocon in sheep’s clothing. As Pilger later pointed out, the media could hardly plead ignorance:

“Blair's Vichy-like devotion to Washington was known: read his speeches about a new order led by America. His devotion to Rupert Murdoch, who flew him and Cherie Booth around the world first class, was known. His devotion to an extreme neoliberal Thatcherite economics was known...” (John Pilger, Blair’s bloody hands,’ March 4, 2005; http://www.antiwar.com/orig/pilger.php?articleid=5063)

Over the past two weeks - one decade and three wars later - the same media have been insisting, as one, that US president-elect Barrack Obama is another “new dawn”. A Guardian leader observed:

“They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world...

“Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America's hope and, in no small way, ours too.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/06/barackobama-uselections2008)

In the Guardian’s news section, Oliver Burkeman described the victory as “historic, epochal, path breaking”. But there was more:

“Just being alive at a time when it's so evident that history is being made was elating and exhausting.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama)

In 2003, the Guardian’s foreign editor, Ed Pilkington, told us:

“We are not in the business of editorialising our news reports." (Email, November 15, 2003)

Someone forgot to tell Burkeman, indeed the entire Guardian news team. At times like these, the media’s claims to balanced coverage seem to belong to a different universe. Over the last two weeks, the public has been subjected to a one-way delusional deluge by the media. The propaganda is such that comments made by independent US presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, appear simply shocking:

“What we’re seeing is the highest level of resignation and apathy and powerlessness I’ve ever seen. We’re not talking about hoopla. We’re not talking about ‘hope’. We’re not talking about rhetoric. We’re not talking about ‘rock star Obama’. We’re talking about the question that is asked everywhere I go: ‘What is left for the American people to decide other than their own personal lives under more restrictive circumstances year after year?’ And the answer is: almost nothing.” (Interview, RealNews.com, November 4; http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=2717)

Nader says of Obama: “This is show business what you’re seeing.” The crucial point: “Obama doesn’t like to take on power.” (Ibid)

But our media, passionately committed to ‘balance’ though they claim to be, are not interested. Their view (or so they claim): Obama’s victory is a wonderful, transformational moment for the world.

The message is enhanced by precisely the abandonment of any pretence of impartiality. This might be termed the ‘Get Real!’ stratagem of propaganda swamping. The suggestion is that the truth is so obvious, so marvellous, that it is churlish to be concerned with balance. When the whole media system is screaming at us to be overjoyed, something is wrong - life is just not that straightforward.

The same version of events has been repeated right across the media. The Times’s leading warmonger under Bush-Blair-Brown, Gerard Baker, commented: “there haven't been many days preceded by more energy and freighted with much greater historic significance than this one”. (Baker, ‘Amid the silence, citizens will make history with their sacred rite,’ The Times, November 4, 2008)

The BBC’s Justin Webb wrote:

"On every level America will be changed by this result - its impact will be so profound that the nation will never be the same." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/justinwebb/)

David Usborne gushed for the non-editorialising news pages of the Independent:

“As tears wetted a thousand cheeks in the Chicago crowd, it was clear that the significance of Mr Obama’s victory may take some while to sink in.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/barack-obama-wins-his-place-in-history-992750.html)

How to communicate the impact?

“Call it the demise of cynicism or the end of apathy. The country that pretends to be the standard-bearer of the democracy and presumes, indeed, to export it to the other countries around the world was living up to its own standards.”

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News did not disappoint:

“Hello history (to use the word of the times). What a staggering and indescribable moment this is. Barack Obama’s graceful acceptance of what had seemed both inevitable and impossible is up there equalling any political event since the downing of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela.” (Snowmail, November 5, 2008)

And the basis for this staggeringly important moment?

“Even after so many months of speech-making it’s still not clear what are the concrete changes that may now ensue and in particular, there are some big foreign policy areas where Obama is not promising a hugely different tack from Bush...” (Ibid)

As we will see below, the amazing fact is that this eruption of media hype is based on essentially nothing. Obama has had little to say about what he will do, and what he has said has been depressing for anyone hoping for genuine change. Matthew Parris summed it up in the Times:

“Here we have a handsome, dashing and intelligent man, a man with generous instincts and a silver tongue; but a man with no distinctive plan for government that he has seen fit to share with us; a daring opportunist; somebody we may one day judge as a sort of Tony Blair with brains. And here we go again, all over again, hook, line and sinker.” (Matthew Parris, ’Calm down! He's not President of the World,’ The Times, November 8, 2008)

The former Europe minister and arch-Blairite, Denis MacShane, also unwittingly supplied a note of caution:

"I shut my eyes when I listen to this guy [Obama] and it could be Tony. He is doing the same thing that we did in 1997." (Tom Baldwin, ‘Blair team look in mirror of history,’ The Times, November 8, 2008)

Obama And Iraq

As discussed above, the media’s propaganda swamping on Obama - of which we have sampled only a fraction - is based on almost nothing at all. Tariq Ali commented on Democracy Now:

“As for what the policies are going to be, the situation is pretty depressing. I mean, Obama, during his campaign, didn’t promise very much, basically talked in clichés and synthetic slogans like ‘change we can believe in.’ No one knows what that change is. In foreign policy terms, during the debates, what he said was basically a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. And in relation to Afghanistan, what he said was worse than McCain...” (http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/6/president_elect_obama_and_the_future)

Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer:

“Iraq and Afghanistan are the sharp end of the partnership between Britain and the United States. Senior members of the British government quite candidly confess: ‘We don’t have a particularly clear view about what they want to do.’“ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/09/obama-administration-brown-cameron-sarkozy)

And yet, in the face of Obama’s silence, and flat rejection of progressive policies, the media has sought to portray him as an all-new “dawn”. Thus, Jonathan Freedland wrote in his open letter to Obama:

“You have promised to... end the war in Iraq.” (Freedland, ‘A few thoughts on how to handle the world's most potent political weapon,’ The Guardian, November 5, 2008)

In the same newspaper, Julian Borger described Obama‘s goals: “US troops will be pulled out of Iraq in the next 16 months...” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama6)

A Times leader asked: “How quickly can the United States military withdraw from Iraq?” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article5084156.ece)

We doubt any journalist on the Times actually believes Obama is intending to withdraw US troops from Iraq (in the intended meaning of the term).

In the Guardian, Jonathan Steele supplied a more realistic appraisal:

“... his position contains massive inconsistencies... he has not repudiated the war on terror. Rather, he insists that by focusing excessively on Iraq, the Bush administration ‘took its eye off the ball‘. The real target must be Afghanistan and if Osama bin Laden is spotted in Pakistan, bombing must be used there too.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/06/barack-obama-war-on-terror)

Steele commented on the number of troops Obama is planning to keep in Iraq:

“Officials on his team say it could number as many as 50,000 troops. Even if much of this force remains on bases and is barely visible to Iraqi civilians (much as the 4,500 British at Basra airfield are), it cannot avoid symbolising the fact that the occupation continues.” (Ibid)

Obama - Hawk

John Pilger - who was right about Blair in 1997 and who is surely right about Obama now - also rejects the mainstream consensus:

“Like all serious presidential candidates, past and present, Obama is a hawk and an expansionist. He comes from an unbroken Democratic tradition, as the war-making of presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton demonstrates.” (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=492)

Obama, after all, has supported Colombia’s “right to strike terrorists who seek safe-havens across its borders.” (http://www.newstatesman.com/media/2008/06/pilger-obama-truly-bush) He has promised to continue America’s fierce economic strangulation of Cuba. He has promised to support an “undivided Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital.

In August, Obama said he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government:

“If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.” (http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0132206420070801)

He has also said: “We will kill Bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida.” (http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,24464976-912,00.html)

ZNet’s Michael Albert commented last week:

“My guess is, sadly, that within one week, literally one week, Obama's staff and cabinet choices will make decisively evident that without mass activism forcing new outcomes, change will stop at the surface. I fervently hope I am wrong.” (Albert, ‘Obama Mania?’, ZNet, November 7, 2008)

Albert appears to have been vindicated. Vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a pro-war Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, helped push through NAFTA and favoured the war on Iraq. Alexander Cockburn writes of him:

“He’s a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians.” (www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11072008.html)

In a co-authored book, Emanuel wrote:

"We need to fortify the military's ‘thin green line’ around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops.” (Ibid)

Nader comments on Obama:

“What he’s basically doing so far is giving the Clinton crowd a second chance. Rahm Emanuel? He’s the worst of Clinton. Spokesman for Wall Street, Israel, globalization.” (Ibid)

Conclusion - Relaunching The Brand

We are to believe that the US political system that Ralph Nader accurately describes as “a two-party dictatorship in thraldom to giant corporations,” has produced a staggeringly different, progressive individual. And yet Nader has described how he was himself locked out of the election. He was not allowed to participate in the televised debates and lack of media coverage consigned his campaign to oblivion. He wrote to Obama:

“Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys... Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?” (http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10809)

It is no accident that the entire media system is so fervently announcing “historic” change. The American and British political brands have been badly battered and bloodied by utter disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the fiscal chaos of the “credit crunch”. The insanity of greed-driven militarism enforcing catastrophic ‘solutions’ has become all too obvious, as has the provision of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us.

And so the American political brand must be rebirthed, resold, relaunched as a fresh start under new management.

We are being put through a crash-course in “Learning to love America again,” as the Telegraph put it. (Iain Martin, ‘The election of Barack Obama,’ Daily Telegraph, November 6, 2008)

A leader in the Times on November 5 could hardly have stated the message more clearly:

“The American nation will replenish the confidence that it has lately lost. In the eyes of the world, the slate will be clean and the pretext, always spurious, for anti-Americanism has been removed.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article5084156.ece)


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12 November 2008

Obama Foreign Policy May Not Require a Clean Break, Jim Lobe, IPS

Obama Pressured to Back Off Iraq Withdrawal, Gareth Porter, IPS

Harvesting Oranges, 2008, A-Films

This 17-minute film by the A-film collective is the result of a video workshop in Bourj Ash-Shamali camp. it deals with various aspects of the work and life of Palestinian day laborers in the plantations of south Lebanon.

Click the title to watch; unembeddable.

Nouriel Roubini: The Dismal Outlook for the US and Global Economy and the Financial Markets

Here is a below brief summary of many of the points that I have made for the last few months on the outlook for the U.S. and global economy and for financial markets:

John PIlger, Beware of the Obama hype. What 'change' in America really means

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger writes that the lauding of Barack Obama has a history and that 'historical moments' ought to be less about their symbolism and accompanying histrionics than what they really mean. The question is: what is Obama's true relation to unchanging American myths about the imposition of its notorious power?

My first visit to Texas was in 1968, on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of president John F Kennedy in Dallas. I drove south, following the line of telegraph poles to the small town of Midlothian, where I met Penn Jones Jr, editor of the Midlothian Mirror. Except for his drawl and fine boots, everything about Penn was the antithesis of the Texas stereotype. Having exposed the racists of the John Birch Society, his printing press had been repeatedly firebombed. Week after week, he painstakingly assembled evidence that all but demolished the official version of Kennedy’s murder.

This was journalism as it had been before corporate journalism was invented, before the first schools of journalism were set up and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around those whose “professionalism” and “objectivity” carried an unspoken obligation to ensure that news and opinion were in tune with an establishment consensus, regardless of the truth. Journalists such as Penn Jones, independent of vested power, indefatigable and principled, often reflect ordinary American attitudes, which have seldom conformed to the stereotypes promoted by the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic. Read American Dreams: Lost and Found by the masterly Studs Terkel, who died the other day, or scan the surveys that unerringly attribute enlightened views to a majority who believe that “government should care for those who cannot care for themselves” and are prepared to pay higher taxes for universal health care, who support nuclear disarmament and want their troops out of other people’s countries.

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the history of the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.

That is the subtext of Barack Obama’s “oratory”. He says he wants to build up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more brown-skinned people. That will bring tears, too. Unlike those on election night, these other tears will be unseen in Chicago and London. This is not to doubt the sincerity of much of the response to Obama’s election, which happened not because of the unction that has passed for news reporting from America since 4 November (e.g. "liberal Americans smiled and the world smiled with them") but for the same reasons that millions of angry emails were sent to the White House and Congress when the “bailout” of Wall Street was revealed, and because most Americans are fed up with war.

Two years ago, this anti-war vote installed a Democratic majority in Congress, only to watch the Democrats hand over more money to George W Bush to continue his blood fest. For his part, the "anti-war" Obama never said the illegal invasion of Iraq was wrong, merely that it was a “mistake”. Thereafter, he voted in to give Bush what he wanted. Yes, Obama’s election is historic, a symbol of great change to many. But it is equally true that the American elite has grown adept at using the black middle and management class. The courageous Martin Luther King recognised this when he linked the human rights of black Americans with the human rights of the Vietnamese, then being slaughtered by a liberal Democratic administration. And he was shot. In striking contrast, a young black major serving in Vietnam, Colin Powell, was used to “investigate” and whitewash the infamous My Lai massacre. As Bush’s secretary of state, Powell was often described as a “liberal” and was considered ideal to lie to the United Nations about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Condaleezza Rice, lauded as a successful black woman, has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice.

Obama’s first two crucial appointments represent a denial of the wishes of his supporters on the principal issues on which they voted. The vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a proud warmaker and Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a fervent “neoliberal” devoted to the doctrine that led to the present economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an “Israel-first” Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians – an injustice that is at the root of Muslim people’s loathing of the United States and the spawning of jihadism.

No serious scrutiny of this is permitted within the histrionics of Obamamania, just as no serious scrutiny of the betrayal of the majority of black South Africans was permitted within the “Mandela moment”. This is especially marked in Britain, where America’s divine right to “lead” is important to elite British interests. The once respected Observer newspaper, which supported Bush’s war in Iraq, echoing his fabricated evidence, now announces, without evidence, that “America has restored the world’s faith in its ideals”. These “ideals”, which Obama will swear to uphold, have overseen, since 1945, the destruction of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation movements, causing the deaths of countless men, women and children.

None of this was uttered during the election campaign. Had it been allowed, there might even have been recognition that liberalism as a narrow, supremely arrogant, war-making ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Prior to Blair’s criminal warmaking, ideology was denied by him and his media mystics. “Blair can be a beacon to the world,” declared the Guardian in 1997. “[He is] turning leadership into an art form.”

Today, merely insert “Obama”. As for historic moments, there is another that has gone unreported but is well under way – liberal democracy’s shift towards a corporate dictatorship, managed by people regardless of ethnicity, with the media as its clichéd façade. “True democracy,” wrote Penn Jones Jr, the Texas truth-teller, “is constant vigilance: not thinking the way you’re meant to think and keeping your eyes wide open at all times.”

The Yes Men Strike Again: Fake NYT Declares Iraq War Over

Their site's been down all day, but check the following:
  • To visit the site, click here.
  • For the full pdf version of the Edition, click here.

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo

"Thus Spoke The Spectacle" Sunday November 16, NYC

Hey all,

We hope this message finds everyone well. We'll be screening and discussing "Thus Spoke The Spectacle" this Sunday, November 16, at 1:30 as part of a symposium sponsored by the Institute of General Semantics. The symposium follows and relates to the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture this Friday night at the Princeton Club in New York City, given by renowned media scholar Douglas Rushkoff.

The symposium will take place on Saturday and Sunday at Fordham University, Lincoln Center campus, and is free and open to the public (with the exception of the dinner preceding Friday night's lecture). Our presentation on Sunday is in McMahon Hall, 60th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam. For more information on general semantics or the full list of speakers and locations for this weekend's lecture/symposium, see the institute's website at http://www.generalsemantics.org/.

Among other things, general semantics is concerned with the sanity of the human race. It was formulated by engineer/mathematician Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book Science and Sanity. One of its leading proponents, S.I. Hayakawa, once defined general semantics as "the science of how not to be a damn fool." It's all that, and more...

Eric and Mike

11 November 2008

Wars, Bailouts, and Elections: Barsamian interviews Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, internationally renowned MIT professor, practically invented modern linguistics. In addition to his pioneering work in that field he has been a leading voice for peace and social justice. Author of scores of books, his latest include Perilous Power, The Essential Chomsky, and What We Say Goes. I talked with him on September 10, 2008.

BARSAMIAN: Given the unpopularity of Bush, the wars, and the tumbling economy, why isn't Obama way ahead of McCain?

CHOMSKY: That's an interesting question. Most of the models that political scientists use predict that the Democrats should be way ahead. In fact, by and large they are way ahead, except on the presidential vote. So you have to look for other factors.

One is probably race. It's well known that when people are asked on polls whether they have questions about racial prejudice, they deny that they have it. But when you see their behavior, you see that they're underestimating their own racial prejudice. Another element is class. The Republican public relations propaganda system, which is quite a formidable apparatus, has succeeded, as they succeeded in 2004, in portraying the Democrats and Obama as the representative of the elitist liberals who run the world and have contempt for common folk like you and me. And their candidate is kind of like an ordinary guy. It happens he can't remember how many houses he owns, but let's forget about that. George Bush, a little spoiled brat who went to Yale, is the kind of guy you would like to meet in a bar and wants to go cut brush on his ranch, an ordinary, simple guy. I think they succeeded in doing that with Obama, in making him so he's presented as, first of all, black and, secondly, somehow strange, not like one of us—us meaning white, working-class American with blue eyes.

They haven't even gotten started revving up their slander and vilification machine, but it's an impressive apparatus. One good example, which has been studied in some detail by Ed Herman and David Peterson, is the way they've used the Jeremiah Wright case. They have a detailed article in the September Monthly Review.

Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor in Chicago.

This was the main story in the press for weeks, what Jeremiah Wright said. First of all, almost everything he said is entirely reasonable, even if it's unacceptable to mainstream ideology. But even the parts that merit criticism—like the U.S. organized AIDS to kill blacks or whatever it is—it's a marginal part of his message. The white preachers who support McCain have said similar or worse things. So, for example, Falwell and Robertson, I think, blamed 9/11 on the ACLU, gays, and so on. How could you get more outrageous than that?

Pat Robertson called openly for the assassination of Hugo Chavez.

See, that probably is considered acceptable. When Wright said the chickens are coming home to roost, incidentally—I think, quoting an American ambassador—that was considered horrendous. But when Falwell and Robertson say it's the ACLU and gays who are responsible, the press didn't make a fuss about that.

The other thing, which is sort of in the background, is that American elections systematically keep away from issues and focus on personality, character, and what are called values, whatever that means. They're pretty frank about it. McCain's campaign manager stated, this election is not about issues, it's about personality and character. And the press has always had a love affair with him. They portray him as a maverick, for which there is no evidence in his record. Also as a hero and an expert at national security. That part is interesting, too.

Let's imagine that, say, someone in Russia now running for office who was a pilot in the invasion of Afghanistan and was shot down while he was bombing heavily populated urban areas in Kabul, civilian areas, and was then tortured by Reagan's freedom fighters. We should sympathize with him for his fate at the hands of the people who tortured him. But how does that make you a hero and a specialist on national security? On the other hand, that's exactly what's being done with McCain. His expertise in national security is precisely that. But you can't raise that matter here because the jingoism and the commitment to the nobility of our military efforts is so high across the spectrum.

Just recently I read a column by James Carroll in the Boston Globe (September 8, 2008)—he's their kind of pacifist, former priest, moral, "left" critic about McCain—in which, among other things, he starts off by saying McCain is a man of honor with a heroic career. He made an interesting comment. He said that antiwar activists felt that they had to go to McCain to apologize and sort of beg forgiveness for their opposition to the war. Does some Russian who is opposed to the war in Afghanistan have to go to the pilot who was shot down bombing Kabul and apologize for his opposition to the war in Afghanistan?

Let's take the invasion of Iraq. Compare it to, say, Putin's invasion of Chechnya. There are a lot of differences, but let's compare it. The Russians invaded Chechnya, destroyed Grozny, carried out massacres, terror. They pacified it. C.J. Chivers of the New York Times was there a couple months ago to report that Grozny is now a booming city, there is building all over, everybody has electricity run by Chechens, you don't see Russian soldiers around. Do we praise Putin for his achievement? No. In fact, we condemn him for it. I suppose that if Petraeus could achieve even a fraction of what Putin achieved in Chechnya, he would be crowned king.

Surely Obama couldn't have any objection to it. His criticism of the war is completely unprincipled: it was strategic error; we should have put our resources elsewhere. Therefore, if the U.S. succeeds in achieving what Putin achieved in Chechnya, we should all be applauding. In fact, he's kind of silenced even at the limited achievement. It distinguishes him sharply from his base, a lot of which has principled objections to the war. He made sure to tell them that he didn't really mean it, for example, by picking Biden as his vice president. Biden was one of the strongest supporters of the war in the Senate.

I should say, incidentally, that I think picking Palin was a master stroke.

Why do you say that?

For one thing, she can't be criticized. If you criticize, it's sexist. Therefore, you have to kind of lay off. For another, she can effectively present herself, as she did, as a kind of hockey mom, five children, one of them is going to Iraq on September 11, her husband is a snowmobile champion, she hunts moose or whatever it is. So it kind of hits all the right bases for ordinary, hard-working, mainstream Americans as distinct from these "Cambridge elitists" on the other side.

One thing about McCain, the bombing campaign that he was participating in as a naval pilot was called Rolling Thunder. What was that exactly?

The U.S. basically attacked South Vietnam in 1962. But it was unable to crush the resistance in South Vietnam. The Johnson administration tried to put pressure on North Vietnam by bombing them. That's Rolling Thunder. So it started bombing North Vietnam to try to get them to compel the South Vietnamese guerillas to call off their resistance. It went up stage by stage. We know a lot about the planning because the Pentagon Papers and other documents have come out. I think McCain was shot down bombing Hanoi, so it's urban areas.

It's against this background that you have to look at the issue of war hero, national security expert, commentator on Iraq, and so on. The picture is so skewed in the direction of jingoist nationalism that elite, educated discussion, articulate discussion, can't even begin to be rational about the matter.

It's interesting that both candidates say the U.S. should lead the world.

Because we're so wonderful. They don't say we should lead the world by example, by doing good things. They mean run the world. And they're not inventing it. In some respects it traces back to the founding fathers. This is the only country in the world that was founded as, I think Washington's phrase was, a "nascent empire." By World War II and since, U.S. policy has been quite explicit—that the U.S. would emerge from the war as the world's dominant power. It should organize a world system that's conducive to U.S. interests and it should block sovereignty by others that interfere with U.S. interests. And the core of it should be military force. I can't quote the exact words, but that was the gist of it. That has been the doctrine of every president.

It became pretty dramatic in 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed. The pretext all those years was, well, we didn't want to do it, but we had to defend ourselves against this menace. Then it collapsed. How did the first Bush administration respond to the collapse of the Soviet Union?

It turns out that there was a national security strategy that was promulgated. There was a military spending program. What they said is almost ignored, probably because it's so interesting. What they said is that everything is going to go on exactly as before, with one change. Now it is not the Russian menace that we're defending against. We have to defend ourselves against what they call the technological sophistication of Third World powers. I don't know if they laughed hysterically when they wrote that, but that's what they said. What about the military system, what they call the defense industrial base? That's a euphemism for high-tech industry. It has to be exactly as before.

What about our intervention forces, primarily aimed toward the Middle East? They have to stay exactly the same. And they add an interesting phrase. They still have to be aimed toward the Middle East where the problems that might have called for military intervention "could not have been laid at the Kremlin's door." Nice phrase. That means, sorry, folks, we've been lying to you for 50 years, but now we can't lie anymore. The clouds have lifted so the problems could not have been laid at the Kremlin's door, but we still have to have those forces there because that's the world's major energy resource and we've got to control it.

It was around this time that Bush I uttered the words, "What we say goes."

That's right. It's interesting that all of this passed with almost no comment. Some did comment. For example, there was an interesting article by Dimitri Simes, a Russian specialist, in the New York Times (December 27, 1988) in which he said—this is right before the fall of the Berlin Wall—this is going to be great for the United States. We'll now be able to be much more free in our military actions everywhere. We'll be able to resist the pressure of the Third World countries that are oppressing us by all their demands for aid and so on.

Bush I's first action after the fall of the Berlin Wall, within weeks, was to invade Panama and probably kill a couple of thousand people. Nobody knows because we don't investigate our crimes. But the Costa Rican-based Central American Human Rights Agency investigated and I think they estimated 3,000 killed, mostly from bombing the El Chorrillo slums in Panama City. The Catholic bishops in Panama issued a pastoral letter condemning the bombing. Panama still observes a national day of mourning every December.

Elliott Abrams made an interesting comment about it. He said this is the first time that the United States has been able to—he probably didn't say invade—maybe liberate a country or something, without concern that the Russians might cause some trouble anywhere. Now, fortunately, the Russian deterrent is gone. It wasn't that we were deterring them. They were deterring us. Now the deterrent is gone, so we're much freer to act in accord with our long-standing commitments.

They had to reshape NATO. That was an interesting development, which is on the front pages today.

Because of Georgia and Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

What actually happened is that NATO had been presented as a U.S.-run military force that was going to defend the world against the terrible Russians. The Russians are gone. Now what's NATO? Gorbachev—I suspect naïvely, maybe he really believed it—suggested that the collapse of the Soviet Union should mean a period of partnership to seek peace. No victors, no vanquished. Let's just work together to set up a peaceful world. The Russians actually proposed a nuclear-weapons-free zone from the Arctic to the Black Sea as a step towards establishing peaceful relations.

Gorbachev made an astonishing concession. He agreed to let Germany be unified and to join NATO. He's allowing Germany to join a hostile military alliance. Look at the history of the century. Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia, killing tens of millions of people, twice, and he's saying, okay, a unified Germany can join a hostile military alliance. It's an incredible concession.

There was a quid pro quo. The Bush administration promised that NATO would not expand to the east. Jack Matlock, who was Reagan and Bush's ambassador to Russia, has just recently written about this. He said that Secretary of State Baker told Foreign Secretary Shevardnadze that NATO would not extend one inch further. He claims those are the words he used. That was the agreement, that we were going to have cooperation and peace. Clinton came in. One of his first acts was to renege on the promise. Of course, the U.S. completely rejected the idea of a nuclear-weapons-free zone. The reason, pointed out by a former NATO planner, British analyst Michael McGwire, is that that would have interfered with extending NATO to the east, in violation of the firm commitments. Clinton expanded it to the east. The Clinton programs were highly triumphalist: no cooperation among equals, just forced peace of the victors. The programs were designed to essentially destroy the Russian economy, which they did, with the cooperation of the Russian leaders, who were pleased to become the counterpart to the Third World gangsters who run their countries and enrich themselves.

Explain "programs were designed." Is this the IMF and World Bank?

Plus the standard neoliberal programs, which cut back the Russian economy by some huge amount, maybe 50 percent, led to millions of deaths—the number of deaths probably wasn't all that different from Stalin's purges, there are various estimates—devastated the country, and enriched the leadership, which is what they wanted. That was their goal. We'll become rich while increasing the security threats by expanding NATO to the east.

All of this is described as if it were benign. Strobe Talbott, who was the highest official in the Clinton administration responsible for Eastern Europe and an honest, authentic liberal, recently described this on NPR, in which he said that it was a difficult decision, but we concluded that it was a benign thing to do because NATO is not a military alliance, it's just a friendly alliance. So, for example, if the Warsaw Pact had survived and they were bringing in Canada and Mexico, we would think that it's just a Quaker meeting, so what do we care.

Bush II came along and extended it. The so-called missile defense systems, which have nothing to do with missile defense—they're understood on both sides to be essentially first-strike weapons, not as they now stand but as they potentially might develop. They're a strategic threat to Russia. Strategic analysts on the U.S. side recognize that and have written about it. Step after step was taken to show the Russians: We're just going to kick you in the face. We won. Your problem. Now we're going to kick you in the face and take everything.

Finally, as Matlock (Reagan's and Bush's ambassador) pointed out, the Russians just decided they're not going to take any more and they put their foot down. That's what happened in Georgia.

I think I was in India when Putin's comments in Munich at a G8 summit got a lot of coverage. This is over a year ago where he said a certain power was behaving in a way that is very reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Indians understand it. India is playing a mixed game. It's on the one hand trying to strengthen its relations with the United States, but on the other hand it's not England. It doesn't just follow blindly along like a camp follower. So it's also pursuing its own independent course. For example, India joined the nonaligned countries, of which it's a leading member, in endorsing Iran's right to enrich uranium to develop nuclear energy. That doesn't get reported here. But the majority of the countries of the world support Iran on this, not the United States. Here what you read is Iran is defying the world, the international community. But that's a funny definition of world.

To get back to U.S. domestic issues, you talk about institutional structures and how they frame and inhibit policies. So, realistically, whichever candidate is elected, can a president make a difference?

Oh, yes. Presidents make differences. In fact, over time there are systematic differences between Republicans and Democrats. So, for example, if you look over a long stretch, fairly consistently, when there is a Democratic president, there is a level of benefits for the majority of the population. Wages are a little better, benefits are a little better, for the large majority. When the Republicans are in office, it's the other way around. There are benefits, but for the super rich. The same is true of civil rights and other things. It's a consistent difference, even though they're within a narrow spectrum.

The same is true on international affairs. So for Reagan Russia was the evil empire, for Kennedy it was the monolithic and ruthless conspiracy, but the behavior was somewhat different—not necessarily in Kennedy's favor, I should say. I don't doubt that there would be some difference between an Obama and a McCain presidency. The McCain presidency you can't predict very well because he's a loose cannon. It could be pretty threatening.

What do you think of the lesser-of-two-evils argument?

It depends whether you care about human beings and their fate. If you care about human beings and their fate, you will support the lesser of the two evils, not mechanically, because there are other considerations. For example, there could be an argument for a protest vote if it were a step towards building a significant alternative to the choice between two factions of the business party, both of them to the right of the population on most issues. If there were such an alternative, there could be an argument either for not voting or for voting for the third alternative. But it's a delicate judgment. On the other hand, there is nothing immoral about voting for the lesser of two evils. In a powerful system like ours, small changes can lead to big consequences.

One of those institutional structures, particularly pertaining to elections, is the Electoral College, which seems by definition undemocratic. This is not talked about, which I find rather astonishing.

Basically, these technical changes wouldn't affect the core issue about American elections, which is that fundamentally they don't take place. The population is not misled about this. The press won't report it, but the polls these days show—and have for a long time—that about 80 percent of the population says the country is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, not for the benefit of the people. The latest polls I saw, by about 3 to 1, the population criticized the campaigns because they avoid issues and keep to personalities and marginal phenomena. The public is not misled, at least so the polls indicate.

Those are critical facts: that elections are extravaganzas, essentially run by the public relations industry with the goal of marginalizing issues and voters. As compared with that, the technical details, like do the voting machines work or the Electoral College, just don't amount to much. Even if you fixed up those technical details, the fundamental problem would remain.

Talk about the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The people who are going to pay for it are the American taxpayers. One of the major economic correspondents, Martin Wolf, who is a good economist, writes for the Financial Times and is a believer in markets, had a pretty strong column condemning it. He said, yes, it has to be done because of the disaster we're in, but it's outrageous. First the public is compelled to assume the risks of mortgage lending, then it's required to pay the costs when the whole system implodes. So probably there isn't any choice right now, given the nature of the disaster, but the whole system is an outrage. Why should the public have assumed the risks for financial managers, who are basically unregulated? Part of the dominant ideology of the last couple of decades is that you should dismantle government regulation. Fine. So you dismantle government regulation, you have catastrophe after catastrophe. Now the public is called in to pay the costs of that ideology.

Remember, the first of them, I think it was Fannie Mae, was established in the New Deal and it was a public entity, I think, until 1968. It was part of the government. It was regulated within the government. Then the other one, Freddie Mac, was set up and it became essentially privatized, but with a government guarantee, which simply tells the managers and investors and so on that they can play whatever game we want. The government is going to come in and save us, meaning the taxpayer will. That's pretty much what happened. That's Milton Friedman-style economics. It's called free market economics, with the nanny state there to make sure that the public takes the risks and pays the costs.

Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls it "socialized capitalism."

He does, but it's much too narrow, because that's true of just about all of capitalism. The whole high-tech economy runs that way. So, yes, this is an example. It's kind of interesting to watch the outrage about it, but the same outrage should be expressed about the rest of the advanced economy as well. The financialization is a particularly egregious case, but so are, say, the pharmaceutical industry or the electronics industry.

In the seven years since 2001 the United States has invaded and occupied two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, bombed Somalia, bombed and attacked Pakistan. Do you have any information on what the U.S. is doing militarily in Iran?

We have the information that's being leaked from government sources to very good journalists like Seymour Hersh and others at ABC News and elsewhere. The news that's being leaked or that some journalists in the field are picking up is that the United States is supporting or carrying out what we would call terrorist operations, if someone else were doing it, either in or against Iran.

Using proxies or U.S. forces directly?

Let me first say we don't know that this information is correct as it's coming from government sources. And anything that's coming from intelligence sources or unidentified diplomats and always should be taken with a grain of skepticism. They're not in the business of telling people the truth; they're in the business of telling people what they want them to believe. So it may be accurate or it may be psychological warfare against Iran. But I suspect it's accurate. There is good reason to suspect it on both the Iranian borders, Balochistan and the western borders. So it's very possible that the United States is indeed supporting terrorist groups, secessionist movements, trying to disrupt Iranian society. Maybe there are U.S. special forces or small groups inside, but mostly it appears, other anti-government factions.

Your estimate of the likelihood of a U.S. attack on Iran, before Bush leaves office or even after? Is Israel influencing U.S. policy on Iran and would Israel carry out a unilateral attack?

Israel has become a pretty crazy state, one which is hard to make judgments about. There was an incredible op-ed published in the New York Times by Benny Morris, one of Israel's leading historians, in which he said, essentially, that Iran should welcome an Israeli bombing because if Israel doesn't bomb them conventionally, it's going to wipe the country out with nuclear bombing. Therefore, if Israel bombs them, they should cheer. Try to translate that into an Iranian columnist talking about Israel. The world would be totally outraged. This passed quietly. He's making all kinds of claims. He says that we know Iran is producing nuclear weapons. Actually, you can read that in the Nation, too. We know that Iran is producing nuclear weapons.

This is established as a "fact."

That's just a fact. We refer to it. But in the Nation they still say we shouldn't bomb, we should talk. But are they developing nuclear weapons? Is the National Intelligence Estimate of the United States just a bunch of liars?

The December 2007 Intelligence estimate said that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

It said that they stopped it. In fact, it never showed that they had it. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. But the point is, it's become a "fact." And then the question is how to stop them. It couldn't be that they're trying to develop nuclear energy, even though there are good reasons why they should want to do so.

But would Israel bomb? I doubt that they would do it without U.S. authorization, but it's a little difficult to predict. There is a doctrine in Israel, which goes back to the 1950s, which is what they call the Samson complex. In the 1950s, very high-level officials were saying: If anyone crosses us, we will go crazy. We'll show 'em. We'll bring the temple walls down. So the idea of an Iranian threat against Israel is pretty fantastic, actually. If Iran were ever to seriously threaten Israel, the country would be wiped out.

Because of overwhelming Israeli military superiority?

The United States would wipe them out in five minutes. What they really mean by the Iranian threat is that Iran is supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. Hamas won a democratic election and the United States and Israel reacted instantly by crushing Palestinians for daring to vote the wrong way in a democratic election. Iran is undoubtedly supporting Hamas so that makes them "terrorists" that support a political organization that won a democratic election. Hezbollah is defending Lebanon from Israeli attack. That's considered a crime. How can you dare defend a country from a U.S.-backed Israeli attack? That's another terrorist act. It's not to say that Hezbollah and Hamas and Iran are nice guys. That's a separate question. But the idea of a threat has to be understood. The threat is that they are daring to stand up against the master and that is terrorism and cannot be tolerated. For that they might bomb.

As for the United States, I'm pretty skeptical, as I always have been, but it's conceivable. There are rumbles in the jingoist circles, neocon circles, that if Obama wins the election, the United States would have to bomb Iran during the lame-duck period because you couldn't trust Obama to be violent enough.

Even though he and McCain both say, when it comes to Iran, the proverbial "all options are on the table."

Yes, both of them insist on being in violation of international law and the UN Charter, which, if anybody cares, bars the threat or use of force. But both of them insist that they speak for an outlaw state, which is not bound by international law. Nevertheless, there is a difference. And it's possible that Cheney and some others might decide to go down in a blaze of glory. Let's bomb Iran and let the chips fall where they may.

I was interested in a letter that I saw in In These Times about the root cause of terrorism, kind of posing that question rhetorically. And the answer he gave was, "Terrorists are over here because we are over there."

Terrorists are here for one reason. Because we are carrying out terrorism over there. So John Negroponte, for example, is here. In fact, he was appointed anti-terrorism czar. He's one of the leading terrorists of the late 20th century. He was ambassador to Honduras in the late 1980s, coordinating Reagan's terrorist wars and also covering up for Honduran state terrorism, which was pretty atrocious, so that funds would keep flowing to maintain the terrorist wars that he was organizing. That's pretty serious terrorism. But that's not called terrorism, because we were doing it.

Juan Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles are happily dining right now in some restaurant in Miami, I suppose, two leading international terrorists. Not my judgment. It's the judgment of the FBI and the Justice Department, which accused Bosch of participation in 30 terrorist acts. George Bush I said: He's fine. We'll keep him here. Terrorists are here because we're protecting them while they carry out terrorist actions over there.

But what the letter writer was talking about is what you hear from people like Michael Scheuer, who was head of the CIA unit under Clinton that was tracking Osama bin Laden. No dove, incidentally. But what he points out, and it's accurate, is that the terrorists who we call terrorists, namely the ones attacking us, are essentially defending themselves from our actions.

You've cited Justice Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor of the Germans at Nuremberg. He said to the tribunal, "To pass these defendants," talking about the Nazis in the dock, "a poison chalice is to put it to our own lips as well." What was he talking about there?

He was saying, we have passed sentence on the Nazi war criminals, in fact, a death sentence, and there were principles that led us to do that. We are handing them a poison chalice in the sense that if we carry out similar acts, we must be subject to the same judgment. If not, the trial is a farce as it's just punishment by victors, not a step towards justice. Well, we can ask how have we dealt with that poison chalice? That's a question that can't be raised in the West because the answer is too incriminating.