Ahoy 2007! It Just Could Be Bobby Byrd’s Year

No task is more important for any newspaper than to impart the news convincingly to the people and their government that a war is lost or futile or wrong.. The failure of America’s major newspapers in 2005 and 2006 to disclose the U.S.’s defeat in Iraq has been as disastrous as the earlier failure to challenge the government on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

As for Saddam Hussein–some whiners complain he didn’t get a fair trial. What do they think these trials are for, for heaven’s sake? Here’s what I wrote when he was captured back in December 2003:

“All the U.S. wants is for the former Iraqi president to be hauled into some kangaroo court and, after a brisk procedure in which Saddam will not doubt be denied opportunities to interrogate old pals from happier days like Donald Rumsfeld, be dropped through a trap door with a rope tied around his neck, maybe with an Iraqi, or at least a son of the Prophet pulling the lever.”

Just one more reason why you need read nothing but CounterPunch.

Sixty-nine countries still retain the death penalty. The most recent to abandon it was the Philippines, in 2006. Mexico and Liberia in 2005. Greece and Turkey (along with Bhutan, Samoa and Senegal in 2004). There is some small progress in human affairs.

That said, let’s scroll quickly through the calendar, as it unfolded in a few of my bulletins on this site.

January 18

Three very senior leftists pass on. Sanora Babb died on December 31, aged 98. Harry Magdoff died on New Years Day, at 92. Frank Wilkinson died a day later, at 91.

My line has always been that to get really old it pays to have been a Commie or at least a fellow traveler. In younger years they tended to walk a lot, selling the party paper. They talked a lot and above all, they never stopped thinking. The quickest way to kill someone is to send them off to quasi-solitary, torn from their comfortable nest and thrown into a nursing home or into managed care, where people talk about them at the tops of their voices, referring to them in the third person. You can see them dying before your eyes, their brains turned to mush. It takes about a year to kill them off, unless a “surprise birthday party” wipes them out even earlier.

Trotskyists tend to be more feverish and stressed out, hence less likely to turn the bend into their Nineties. As for Maoists (over here) , I don’t know. As Chou En Lai answered, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, Too soon to tell. The ex-Maoists I know are mostly still in their mid-60s.

January 19

From the opening moments of the Judiciary Committee’s hearings it became instantly clear that Alito faced no serious opposition. On that first ludicrous morning Senator Pat Leahy sank his head into his hands, shaking in unbelieving despair as Senator Joe Biden of Delaware blathered out a self-serving and inane monologue lasting a full twenty minutes before he even asked Alito one question. In his allotted half hour Biden managed to pose only five questions, all of them ineptly phrased. He did ask two questions about CAP but had already undercut them in his monologue by calling Alito “a man of integrity”, not once but twice, and further trivialized the interrogation by reaching under the dais to pull out a Princeton cap and put it on.

In all, Biden rambled for 4,000 words, leaving Alito time only to put together less than 1,000. A Delaware newspaper made deadly fun of him for his awful performance, eliciting the revealing confession from Biden that “I made a mistake. I should have gone straight to my question. I was trying to put him at ease.”

The Democrats have forgotten how to ask tough questions. The last Democratic senator who knew how to do it was John Edwards.And even if the Democrats could remember how to put a nominee on the spot, their nerve has gone. They think any tough challenge to any nominee will come and haunt them.

Year after year the Democrats have called for loyalty from dubious liberals, crying that the bottom line is the Supreme Court. In January, the bottom line was right there in the nominee’s chair, in the form of Sam Alito and the Democrats ran away. Senator Diane Feinstein told the press, “I don’t see the likelihood of a filibuster. This might be a man I disagree with. But it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on the court. I was impressed with his ability to maintain a very even demeanor.”

January 24

I’d got so used to Nicholas Kristof’s January visits to prostitutes in Cambodia that it was a something of a shock to find him this January in Calcutta’s red light district instead.

As readers of his New York Times columns across the past three years will know, Kristof heads into south east Asia around this time–a smart choice, weatherwise–to write about the scourge of child prostitution. One can hardly fault him for that, even though Kristof’s bluff, busy-body prose is particularly irksome as he takes his pet peeve out for an annual saunter, the way A.M. Rosenthal did for years with female circumcision in Africa.

So far as I know, Rosenthal never actually bought a young African woman to save her from circumcision. Maybe they aren’t for sale. In 2004, Kristof did buy two young Cambodian women–Srey Neth for $150 and Srey Mom for $203–to get them out of the brothels in Poipet, and took them back to their villages.

There was something very nineteenth-century abut the whole thing, both in moral endeavor and journalistic boosterism, though presumably there was a twentieth-first century footnote as to whether Kristof billed the Times for the purchase money and transport expenses or listed the girls as a charitable deduction on his own tax return, which could have led to sharp interrogation by some cynical IRS auditor.

In January of 2005, Kristof was back in Cambodia to report that while Srey Neth was doing well, learning to be a hair stylist, Srey Mom was back in the brothel, probably because she needed the drugs. Even in 2005 some of us had our doubts, since Srey Mom wouldn’t leave the brothel until Kristof sprang not only the $203 but also some extra cash for her cell phone and some jewelry she’d hocked. Mind you, most girls would put cell phones ahead of moral renaissance.

February 14

Paranoid America–by which I mean its governors–has long dreamed of foolproof technology to guard the Homeland from subversion, or penetration by alien hostiles.

In its latest variant, the vaunted technology comes in the form of the sweeps by the computers of the National Security Agency, programmed to intercept hundreds of millions of phone, email and fax messages. These days, as much as a third of global communications are on fiber-optic cable routes that pass through the United States.

So, “data mining” by artificially programmed computers is a proceeding that is not only constitutionally illegal but a technological fantasy. The Post quotes Jeff Jonas, now chief scientist at IBM Entity Analytics, as saying pattern-matching techniques that “look at people’s behavior to predict terrorist intent are so far from reaching the level of accuracy that’s necessary that I see them as nothing but civil liberty infringement engines.”

March 9

Americans are in a fever about possible “Arab control” of mainland ports along both coasts of the United States. The whole storm is ludicrous. When it comes to America’s national security and penetration of the mainland by foreign capital, there are bigger worries. This very week, the week of the Chicago Auto Show, the widely read magazine Consumer Reports lists the ten safest cars sold in America this year. They are all Japanese, mostly Hondas, and mostly made in U.S.-based plants put up after Japanese and other foreign automakers were welcomed in by the U.S.A. thirty years ago, partly as a way of undercutting the Union of Autoworkers. This same month the headlines here have been full of stories about the collapse of the top two U.S. automakers–General Motors and Ford–in the face of foreign competition. Well over 100,000 American workers are to lose their jobs, thus vastly increasing U.S. insecurity. Hundreds of thousands more U.S. workers have already lost their jobs to India, China, Mexico, and other low-wage nations because that is the way American business, backed by the U.S. government, wants it.

March 15

Milosevic’s death in his cell from a heart attack spared Del Ponte and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ­ICTY — (itself a kangaroo tribunal set up by the United States with no proper foundation under international law or treaty) the ongoing embarrassment of a proceeding where Milosevic had made a very strong showing against the phalanx of prosecutors, hearsay witnesses and prejudiced judges marshaled against him.

There are now charges and countercharges about poisons and self-medications. Milosevic’s son says his father was murdered. The embarrassed Court has claimed Milosevic somehow did himself in by tampering with his medicines. But no one contests the fact that Milosevic asked for treatment in Moscow–the Russians promised to return him to the Hague–and the Court refused permission. As the tag from the poet A.H.Clough goes, “Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive Officiously to keep alive”.

The trial had been going badly from the point of view of the prosecution (which included the judges) for most of its incredible duration. Here is what Neil Clark, a Balkans specialist, wrote in the Guardian newspaper of London, in 2003,

” But not only has the prosecution signally failed to prove Milosevic’s personal responsibility for atrocities committed on the ground, the nature and extent of the atrocities themselves has also been called into question In the case of the worst massacre with which Milosevic has been accused of complicity-of between 2,000 and 4,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995-Del Ponte’s team have produced nothing to challenge the verdict of the five-year inquiry commissioned by the Dutch government-that there was ‘no proof that orders for the slaughter came from Serb political leaders in Belgrade.’

March 19

(This was a joint bulletin by Jeffrey St Clair and me.) Across the past year the peace movement didn’t do much, so far as we could tell. There are thousands of excellent local efforts, but no national agenda, no overall strategy for ending the war. As popular opposition to the war across the country has mounted, the demonstrations have got smaller! We ascribe this in large part to the disastrous fealty of the leadership of at least two of the big organizations to the Democratic National Committee. This explains why UPFJ, for example, was missing in action for most of 2004. The national leaderships of the peace movement have failed but were bailed out by two great champions who changed the political picture. The first was Cindy Sheehan.

The second champion was Jack Murtha, the 73-year-old former U.S. Marine and life-long hawk who turned on the war in a sensational press conference on the Hill in November, calling for “immediate withdrawal” and repeating that call in vigorous interviews and speeches.

Here was no peacenik turning against the war. But the day he did, the Democratic delegation in Congress fled him, almost to the last man and woman. In its present form the Democratic Party has ceased to be a credible opposition.

Is this too cruel? Surely the Democrats have some fight left in them. After all, the first edition of the Patriot Act in 2002 passed with only one No vote in the Senate. Russell Feingold’s. When the second edition of the Patriot Act passed in recent weeks, there were ten votes against, one from a former Republican, Jeffords of Vermont. The Democrats invented a new form of “safe opposition” here. When Russ Feingold tried to lead a filibuster against the Patriot Act, his Democratic colleagues conducted “test votes” where many of them puffed up their chests and boldly said they opposed the Patriot Act. Then they came to the real vote, chests subsided and the numbers dwindled to eight.

Feingold has now introduced into the Senate a censure motion of the President, charging him with violating the law in the NSA eavesdropping. Dana Milbanke in the Washington Post had an entertaining piece describing the panic of Feingold’s Democratic colleagues when asked for their views on his motion.

Barrack Obama of Illinois: “I haven’t read it.”

Ben Nelson of Nebraska: “I just don’t have enough information.”

John Kerry of Massachusetts: “I really can’t [comment] right now.”

Hillary Clinton of New York rushed past reporters shaking her head, then trying to hide behind the 4’11” Barbara Mikulski.

Charles Schumer of New York, who would normally run over his grandmother to get to a microphone: “I’m not going to comment.”

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana: “Senator Feingold has a point he wants to make. We have a point that we want to make, talking about the budget.”

Chris Dodd of Connecticut: “Most of us feel at best it’s premature. I don’t think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened [i.e., the NSA’s eavesdropping] is illegal.”

March 28

The weekend news shows were detailing the latest attack plan of the Congressional Democrats. It’s called “Real Security”. And no, “security” here doesn’t mean a living wage, a pension, a health plan, and no Stop Loss order for your kid to stay in Iraq. It means guns and cops and lots of flag-wagging.

“Real Security” calls for Democrats to hinge the 2006 fall campaign on how the Republicans have failed us on the issue of national security. Harry Reid says Democrats should wrap themselves in the flag, use tanks as backdrop and then try to outflank the Republicans from the right with demands for increased military funding, a better fought war, tighter borders, and ports run by white American-born Christians, preferably free of radical organizers from the ILWU.

As reported in the Washington Times, Reid’s strategy memo advises: “Ensure that you have the proper U.S. and state flags at the event, and consider finding someone to sing the national anthem and lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the event.” Next up was Joe Biden, standing between two gold-fringed flags, and probably with Old Glory underwear, telling the press that ” to the extent that Bush fails in Iraq, American interests are seriously damaged, and I’m rooting for his success, not his failure.” This is the man who explained his 30-minute opening speech at the Alito hearings by saying he wanted to put the nominee at his ease.

April 19

One would have thought that after the humiliating self-critiques of last 2005 the New York Times would have simply withdrawn its name from contention in the 2006 Pulitzers, but shame was short-lived and the assigned function of the Pulitzer Prize Committee was to winch the paper’s name out of the mud.

The Committee’s composition made this task easier. On the eighteen-member board sits Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia J-school and contributor to the New York Times magazine, and Paul Tash, boss of the St Petersburg Times, which has friendly ties to the New York Times.

So the Times duly reaped two Pulitzers, the first to a couple of journalists, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, who sat on an explosive story through the election of 2004, through most of 2005 before finally disclosing the NSA’s wiretaps in time to give a boost to Risen’s book on US intelligence.

Two prizes were not enough for full rehab so the Committee threw in another for two Times reporters for their China coverage.

May 8

For the past few weeks a sometimes comic debate has simmering in the American press, focused on the question of whether there is an Israeli lobby, and if so, just how powerful is it?

I would have thought that to ask whether there’s an Israeli lobby here is a bit like asking whether there’s a Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and a White House located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.

The paper by Mearsheimer and Walt is extremely dull. The long version runs to 81 pages, no less than 40 pages of which are footnotes. I settled down to read it with eager anticipation but soon found myself looking hopefully for the end. There’s nothing in the paper that any moderately well read student of the topic wouldn’t have known long ago, but the paper has the merit of stating rather blandly some home truths which are somehow still regarded as too dangerous to state publicly in respectable circles in the United States.

For example, on the topic of what is often called here ” America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East” Mearsheimer and Walt have this to say:

That Israel is a fellow democracy surrounded by hostile dictatorships cannot account for the current level of aid: there are many democracies around the world, but none receives the same lavish support. The US has overthrown democratic governments in the past and supported dictators when this was thought to advance its interests – it has good relations with a number of dictatorships today. Some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights.

May 7

Galbraith died on April 29, at the great aqe of 97. I once drove up to Vermont to interview him in his Vermont farm house. It was dark and I drove uncertainly along a dirt road and up a driveway and knocked on the door, shouting, “Is this the home of Professor Galbraith?” “No, ” came a testy cry from within. “It’s the home of Professor Hook.” Sidney Hook, the prototypical neo-con, lived on the opposite side of the hill from the Keynesian progressive, Galbraith. By no means for the last time, I reflected how easy it is in America to take a wrong turn , often without noticing, and end up 180 degrees from where you thought you were headed.

At the end of the Vietnam war There was talk of a “peace dividend”. Optimistic souls wrote about a shift in budgetary priorities from the military industrial to the social industrial complex, with money pouring into low income housing and mass transit. At this point, in the wake of the Watergate disclosures of slush funds run by Fortune 500 companies, the corporate sector stood as low in public esteem as the CIA. The energy sector and even the Federal Reserve seemed ripe for serious bids for public control.

The usefulness of talking to Galbraith was that his own career lent a cautionary perspective to such hopes. No decent agricultural economist (such as Galbraith had been) in the Depression could have anything other than radical expectations as regards the shackling of the predatory corporate impulse. It was men like Henry Wallace, from the farm belt, who urged whatever left contour the New Deal actually had.

But by 1938 the New Deal had run out of steam, the recovery turned sour and what actually bailed out America was the loom and then the reality of the Second World War. Galbraith, still in his thirties, became deputy administrator in charge of price controls for the office of Price Administration.

As far back as the German script for 1914, war planning has mostly been the pragmatic backbone of socialist blueprints and it was easy to imagine that minute supervision of the economy post Pearl Harbor could flower into large-scale economic planning in war’s aftermath. Meanwhile the reality was that the cost-plus ten percenters were cleaning up on war contracts and around the corner lay the corporate counter-attack of the postwar years that gutted the Wagner Act with Taft Hartley.

Although, as with his hero Veblen, his drollery could get tedious Galbraith had the virtue of irreverence, albeit within the stifling constraints of urbanity. At least Galbraith, in his 90s, could look back to a time when a reformer could not only body forth a social vision, but tentatively identify the agencies whereby that vision could be put into practice. As I read through the Nation’s recent special issue on reforming the world’s economic arrangements, with fine contributions by Stiglitz, d’Arista, Galbraith’s son James and others, not once, in all the essays, was the question of agency ever raised, or the Democratic Party even alluded to. If there’s going to be a fork in the road ahead, the question of agency had better be on the agenda. Galbraith certainly understood that, though he politely underestimated just how roughly capitalism could play to win.

July 15

So they finally killed Zarqawi. At the White House press conference Thursday morning there was gloating of course, just as there was when Saddam’s sons were killed. It takes an effort now to recall that, like the late Zarqawi, Uday and Qusay too were credited with inspiring a large part of the resistance, and then, as now, guarded hopes were expressed in Washington that maybe some sort of a corner had been turned.

By the very location of his final address, a lonely house in the back country east of Baghdad, we can surmise that Zarqawi’s glory days as a guerilla commander were behind him. Leaders of largely urban insurgencies don’t bunker in easily surrounded rural retreats, in areas where locals are liable to turn them in, as happened with Zarqawi. On the other hand, terrorists on the run, with a dwindling band of followers, opt for whatever bolt hole is available, however suicidal it may be.

In many ways Zarqawi was an American asset, discrediting the local nationalist resistance by dint of being a foreigner, from Jordan, a proclaimed follower of Osama bin Laden, a religious fanatic, given to sawing people’s heads off in front of a tv camera. It will be hard to find a symbol of the foe as nasty as he was.

In a month Zarqawi’s name will be barely remembered outside his home village in Jordan. Talk of tides turning, of tunnels getting lighter, of skies clearing will be seen as the self0-deluding babble that it is.

Veterans of Vietnam say that in Iraq the situation is analogous to that prevailing in Vietnam in 1968 when frightful atrocities like My Lai were perpetrated. The troops are over-extended, badly trained, demoralized and know that they are risking their lives in a war with no optimistic outcome.

The circumstances which produce soldiers and units capable of war crimes include the following, according to experts in analyzing the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder. The soldiers are involved in operations which inevitably involve attacks on, and slaughter of, civilians.

Many have seen comrades killed. In this war the platoon is the soldier’s sole life support and emotional and physical sanctuary. All officers are mistrusted and often despised. A death in the platoon engenders the frenzied bloodlust and cold blooded slaughters of incidents like that in Haditha.

Indeed the low quality of the officers in the US armed forces as it has developed across the past twenty years has not been sufficiently addressed by the press, and certainly not by the spineless Congress. On the private testimony of many veterans, it has declined steadily, up through the highest ranks, where there are endless examples of the failure of decent leadership.

So America will see, over the years to come, thousands of traumatized soldiers trying to reenter civil society and resume their peacetime lives. Many will never shake off the traumas instilled by months of service in Iraq, and thousands of families, and communities, not to mention the soldiers themselves will be paying the price while the supreme commanders who launched this war will be making money from lectures and memoirs.

And of course back in Iraq there are already thousands who will only remember America as the land that sent soldiers who shot their brothers or sisters or cousins, or tortured them in prison, or destroyed their homes, or leveled their neighborhoods with high explosive from an airplane.

It’s tragic to say it, but more and more Iraqis are: it was better for a large percentage of that country’s inhabitants under the dictator Saddam Hussein, horrible though he was. The Republicans are tub-thumping, as their best tactic for self-preservation in the fall elections. As a party, with a very few honorable exceptions, the Democrats are doing likewise. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.
.July 30

The frayed threads anchoring the American government to reality have finally snapped, just at the moment radiologists are reporting that Americans are getting too fat to be x-rayed or shoved into any existing MRI tube.

The gamma rays can’t get through the blubber, same way actual conditions in the outside world bounce off the impenetrable dome of imbecility sheltering America’s political leadership.

Twenty-three years after one of America’s stupidest Presidents announced Star Wars, Reagan’s dream has come true. Behind ramparts guarded by a coalition of liars extending from Rupert Murdoch to the New York Times, from Bill O’Reilly to PBS, America is totally shielded from truth.

Here we have a Congress which reacts with outrage when America’s picked man in Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki, states the obvious, which is that Israel’s attack is “dangerous” and that the world community is not doing enough to curb Israel’s destruction of Lebanon.

What we are now witnessing is the simultaneous collapse of two countries-Iraq and Lebanon-as sponsored or encouraged by America’s ruling bipartisan coalition and its ideological counselors-ranging from Christian nutballs like Falwell to secular nutballs like Hitchens. Wesley Clarke is now saying that back in late 2001 he visited the Pentagon and was told the planned hit list included Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan as part of a five-year campaign plan. Two down, five to go.

With Bush and Rice and the policy-makers and intellectual courtiers surrounding them, crackpot realism is the prevailing mode.

“Crackpot realism” was the concept defined by the great Texan sociologist, C. Wright Mills in 1958, when he published The Causes of World War Three, also the year that Dwight Eisenhower sent the Marines into Lebanon to bolster local US factotum, Lebanese President Camille Chamoun.

“In crackpot realism,” Mills wrote, ” a high-flying moral rhetoric is joined with an opportunist crawling among a great scatter of unfocused fears and demands. .. The expectation of war solves many problems of the crackpot realists; … instead of the unknown fear, the anxiety without end, some men of the higher circles prefer the simplification of known catastrophe….They know of no solutions to the paradoxes of the Middle East and Europe, the Far East and Africa except the landing of Marines. … they prefer the bright, clear problems of war-as they used to be. For they still believe that ‘winning’ means something, although they never tell us what…”
August 3

“Israel is doomed,” said a friend of mine some months ago, returning to the U.S. after a trip to Israel. I asked him why, and my friend, who spent twenty years working at a high level in the Pentagon, answered, “They’ve put in an Air Force man as chief of the General Staff.” He was talking g about Dan Halutz.

Halutz raised a storm when he was asked what feelings, what moral tremors he might have had about the dropping of a one-ton bomb in a house in Gaza. Halutz’s jaunty reply was to the effect that all he felt was “a slight tremor in the wing of the airplane.”

It was Halutz who sold Olmert and Peretz on the fantasy of swift and devastating air force raids finishing off Hezbollah.

Since then Halutz has efficiently united all Lebanese in loathing of Israel, while being an effective propagandist for Hezbollah.

Napoleon said he wanted lucky generals under his command. Hezbollah is lucky in the Israeli military commander it faces, even though Lebanon bleeds.
August 17

Quite often these days, here, at CounterPunch, we feel the sort of ecstatic incredulity that the Goths and the Vandals must have felt in the fifth century AD, rejoicing in the stupidity of the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, a fanatical Christian monophysite and book-burner who presided over the accelerating decline of the Empire, and who eventually died at the age of 49 by tumbling off his horse. The Vandals and Goths didn’t anxiously scan the news bulletins from Rome hoping for news of a “better” imperial candidate who would revive the Empire’s fortunes and consolidate the iron rule of Rome, under the slogan, Back to Augustus. Neither should we.
October 7

Sex scandals, at least in societies dominated by guilt-sodden Protestants, fulfill the therapeutic function usually attributed to pleasant or exciting sex: exploration of intimate areas of political life, surfacing “issues” normally repressed. America can’t talk about Iraq, where Americans boys are raping 14-year-old girls and shooting families at close range, can’t talk about torture, so instead we focus on what former Republican Representative Mark Foley wrote to a page about boxer shorts and their contents. I often tell people they shouldn’t worry too much about the evangelical Christians. People who spend so much time lecturing others about sin are likely to go sinning themselves, and in the end, like Jimmy Swaggart, they get caught heading into the whorehouse. Republicans are a repressed lot, unless they become libertarians like Justin Raimondo. He can flaunt his own trifecta: gay, antiwar and pro-capitalism. Back in Reagan time, when I was on the campaign trail, the motels were always filled with Republicans stitched into their squeaky-clean suits who were obvious closet cases.
November 1

Is the half-hidden message of the 2006 campaign season that in the presidential showdown in 2008 we’ll have Senator John McCain running as both a Republican and a Democrat? It would certainly sweep away any remaining doubts that there is any difference between the two major political parties. And maybe it would open up some space for outside challengers, assuming all vociferous opponents have not by that time been arrested and stuck behind barbed wire in an internment camp in the western deserts.

Pick a topic–the war, the economy, a two million-plus prison population, the environment, the condition of organized labor, the Bill of Rights–and can you recall any Democrat this fall having said anything suggesting that in the event Democrats recapture either the House or the Senate or both anything of consequence might occur?

The week before polling day the New York Times had a story about the Business Lobby’s plans to sweep away all irksome laws and regulations passed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Did anyone cry, “that’s just the kind of corporate villainy we need the Democrats to guard us from!” Of course not. It would be as unrealistic as to hope that a Congress controlled in both chambers by Democrats would simply vote to deny Bush the money for the war in Iraq.

As things stand in organized politics today a purely formal protest is the most we can hope for, and the significance of this fall’s campaign is that no one has pretended otherwise.
November 25

There are plenty of real conspiracies in America. Why make up fake ones? Every few years, property czars and city government in New York conspire to withhold fire company responses, so that enough of a neighborhood burns down for the poor to quit and for profitable gentrification to ensue. That’s a conspiracy to commit ethnic cleansing, also murder.

It’s happening today in Brooklyn, even as similar ethnic cleansing and gentrification is scheduled in San Francisco. Bayview Hunters Point is the last large black community in the Bay Area, sitting on beautiful bay front property. So now it’s the time to move the black folks out. As Willie Ratcliff, publisher of Bay View writes, “If the big developers and their puppets, the mayor [Democrat Gavin Newsom] and his minions win this war, they’ll have made what may be the largest urban renewal land grab in the nation’s history: some 2,200 acres of San Francisco, the city with the highest priced land on earth.”

That’s a real conspiracy, even as many in the Bay Area left meander through the blind alleys of 9/11 conspiracism.

Machiavelli points out that every conspirator you add to the plot has less chance of preserving secrecy than the previous one. The 9/11 group in fact did tell people about their plans in various ways but the prevailing belief that Arabs couldn’t do it prevented any of the revelations from being taken seriously. The view that a bunch of Arabs with box cutters couldn’t do it was precisely the cover they needed.

The conspiracy virus is an old strand: The Russians couldn’t possibly build an A bomb without Commie traitors. The Russians are too dumb. Hitler couldn’t have been defeated by the Red Army marching across Eastern Europe and half Germany. Traitors let it happen. JFK couldn’t have been shot by Oswald–it had to be the CIA. There are no end to examples seeking to prove that Russians, Arabs, Viet Cong, Japanese, etc etc couldn’t possibly match the brilliance and cunning of secret cabals of white Christians. It’s all pathetic but it does save the trouble of reading and thinking.

We’ve given over considerable space to scrutiny of the 9/11 conspiracy mongers, because the brew of misunderstood or willfully ignored physics and surreal political caricature has been having a toxic effect on the left. It’s easy enough to proclaim one’s readiness “to speak truth to power”, as the self-regarding tag line goes. As yet, that’s not a very perilous thing to do, here in America, at least on the part of the folks who like to use the phrase. But to speak truth to people overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness and hence ready to credit Bush and Cheney with supernatural powers of efficient evil–that’s one of our functions at CounterPunch. There’s no point in marching forward under the banner of illusions.
December 19

The US-India nuclear cooperation act, signed by President Bush in the White House December 18, was so greased with hypocrisy that it’s a miracle his pen didn’t skid off the edge of the parchment.

The deal, finally struck after months of haggling with India and then in the US Congress, ends the coolness that followed India’s tests in the 1970s and 1998, and allows US firms to start shipping nuclear fuel and equipment to India’s 14 civil nuclear plants. This could allow India to divert fuel to its 12 military nuclear sector and, presumptively, to produce at least 50 extra nuclear warheads a year. What India will actually do with all those warheads is a different matter. The U.S. has about 10,000, and is never entirely sure where they all are.

The act signed December 18 allows rich scope for satirical comment from Iran and North Korea, countries that have, these past six years, been on the receiving end of torrents of abuse from the U.S. government for their nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. has been fostering relations with India for well over the past decade and a half, a period in which, as any traveler in America can attest, Gujeratis have acquired control of about 72 per cent of all American motels. Twenty years ago Indian restaurants were rare in US cities. Now connoisseurs whine about the quality of their dhosas.

There are plenty of enormously rich Indians and émigré organizations with clout, whose money has political weight. Visas are swiftly forthcoming for Indian engineers and start-up entrepreneurs. The hi tech sector teems with Indians. Neoliberal columnists like the ineffable Tom Friedman sound weekly carillons in the New York Times to the Indian neoliberal miracle.

In military-diplomatic terms the geometry is simple enough. With the old Soviet-Indian entente no longer a factor the U.S. can nourish ties to India as a counter to China and Pakistan, and browbeat the latter by conspicuously favoring India in its nuclear trade.

The nuclear industry is ecstatic. Twenty years ago it seemed headed for the graveyard. But these days, by uncritical acceptance of all wild claims about human-generated CO2 the Greens have dealt the nuclear industry any number of high cards.

At his press conference in Washington, DC, Bush took pains to pointout that nuclear power is a renewable source and does not produce green house gases. “Nuclear power is going to be the essential source of future electricity in the US and places like India and China.”

A fierce opponent of the decision to okay nuclear trading with India is Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control: “If Washington does weaken export controls for everyone, which is bound to happen if it weakens them for India, it may hasten the day when a nuclear explosion destroys a US city. ”
China is now also working out deals with India to supply it with nuclear technology, also with Pakistan For Iran, Russia will be the supplier of choice.
Non-proliferation as a rallying cry has long seemed to me to be entirely hollow, particularly given the decades of tactful silence about Israel’s nuclear arsenal. My own view is that the NPT should be rewritten to allow each country in the U.N. at least one nuclear weapon. The cause of peace would be enhanced and hypocrisy much diminished.

December 28

Because of former New York Times reporter Judy Miller’s high profile in the WMD fabrications, the Times’ chief military correspondent, Michael Gordon, has garnered little of the criticism he richly deserves.

Having co-written with Miller the infamous aluminum tubes-for-nukes story of September 8, 2002, that mightily assisted the administration in its push to war, Gordon has, as a careful reading of his reports suggests,strongly pushed his own agenda in his recent reports on Iraq, so much so as to provide a significantly misleading picture of the situation on the ground there.

In the latter part of 2006 he became an influential journalistic agitator for a “surge” in troop strength. were necessary to stabilise Anbar.

Immediately after the November 7 mid-term elections, when Democrat John Murtha – an advocate of immediate withdrawal – was running for the post of House majority leader in the new Democrat-controlled Congress, Gordon rushed out two stories, which wereboth front-paged by the New York Times. In the first dispatch, November 14, headed “Get Out Now? Not So Fast, Some Experts Say” Gordon sought out the now-retired General Anthony Zinni (right) and others, who “say the situation in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq is too precarious to start thinning out the number of American troops”.

The next day, November 15, 2006, a second Gordon story was headlined, “General Warns of Risks in Iraq if GIs Are Cut”. Gordon cited General Abizaid’s warnings that phased withdrawal of troops would lead to an increase in sectarian violence, and that more troops might be necessary temporarily. These stories undoubtedly helped to doom Murtha’s bid.

By December 4, with the Iraq Study Group about to issue its report, Gordon returned to General Zinni, writing favourably of the latter’s plan for a temporary increase of troops to offset Iranian influence, suggesting that any precipitate would destabilize Middle East and leave Iraq in chaos.

On December 7, Gordon was at it again,flailing away at Baker and Hamilton’s report. Headline: “Will it Work on the Battlefield?” Lead: “The military recommendations issued yesterday by the Iraq Study Group are based more on hope than history and run counter to assessments made by some of its own military advisors.”

Precipitous withdrawal, Gordon charged, would leave Iraqi armed forces unprepared to take over security burden. Reporters with a propaganda mission can always find the mouthpieces to say what they want. Gordon’s “troop surge” campaign was particularly striking – and politically much more influential in Congress than the mad-dog ravings of the right-wing broadcasters.

Politicians will always be reluctant to accept the facts of life. They yearn for light at the end of the tunnel. The press’s duty is to tell them that there is no light amid the darkness, that quitting time has come. That takes courage and intelligence

December 23

A few days ago, Harry Reid, the incoming Democratic majority leader in the US Senate, went on ABC’s Sunday morning show and declared that a hike in U.S. troops in Iraq is okay with him.

Here’s the evolution of the Democrats’ war platform since November 7, 2006, the day the voters presented a clear mandate: “End the war! Get out of Iraq!” and took the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives away from the Republicans.

So somewhat to their surprise the Democrats recaptured both the Senate and the House. The first thing they did was vote down Murtha as House majority leader and pick the pro-war Steny Hoyer.

Then Nancy Pelosi, chose Silvestre Reyes as House Intelligence Committee chairman. Reyes promptly told Newsweek, “We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies. We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize IraqI would say 20,000 to 30,000-for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

Next, the Democrats in the Senate gave unanimous confirmation to Robert Gates as defense secretary. Gates has a career record as one who slants intelligence to suit his bosses’ political agenda. House Democrats welcomed the Iraq Study Group report of James Baker and Jim Hamilton by promptly reaffirming the Palestinian Terror Bill 2006″, written by AIPAC.
Then, on December 17 the Democrats’ Senate leader, Harry Reid, said it was okay with him to send more troops to Iraq.

[On the website of UPFJ–the prime antiwar coalition, I find the following, on December 30, “We did it! Reid Backed Down! Leading Democrats, including Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid, recently expressed support for the Bush Administration’s idea of a “troop surge” — sending as many as 30,000 more troops to Iraq. But you spoke up! And Reid backed down! He now says: “I believe we should start redeploying troops in 4 to 6 months (The Levin-Reed Plan) and complete the withdrawal of combat forces by the first quarter of 2008 (as laid out by the Iraq Study Group). The President must understand that there can only be a political solution in Iraq, and he must end our nation’s open-ended military commitment to that country. These priorities need to be coupled with a renewed diplomatic effort and regional strategy.” We thank you and our member groups, including CodePink, for taking action!”

Going to Harry Reid’s website, I find nothing of this. Indeed, when I typed the word Iraq into the new Senate Majority leader’s “issues” box, I received the 404 message, “Subject not found”. Experienced climbers say that from the top of Mount Reid, at least two or more positions adopted by the senator on Iraq can be espied at any one time. One can indeed favor redeployment of troops, prefaced by an exciting surge. ]

From the Republican defeats at the November 7 polls through to the publication of the Iraq Study Group report, there was a window for Washington to commence diplomatic operations to get out with all speed.That opportunity has almost gone. Now a decisive moment approaches. The Democratic leadership — Pelosi, Reid, Emanuel, Biden — are recommending that the Democrats in Congress vote to approve the supplemental budget appropriation early next year, probably $160 billion, which will give Bush enough money to keep the war going till he leaves town.

Years ago, my father used to tell me that when it came to assessing the likely policy of the British Labor Party, the best approach was to figure out the worst option available, and then proceed under the assumption that this was the course the Party would adopt. Here in the U.S. I’ve always applied this useful journalistic rule to the Democrats, with unfailing success. Never for a moment, after November 7, did I doubt that Reid and the others would do the wrong thing.

As we warned after the election, the role of the Democrats will be to ease through a troop increase This prediction has turned out to be 100 per cent accurate.

Now comes the chance to see whether the antiwar movement, the progressive Democrats, will meekly toe the line, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, joined by Veterans For Peace, have initiated the “Occupation Project” to occupy the hometown offices of Representatives and Senators who have voted money for the war.

So now let’s see how these Democrats, all with their eyes cocked towards 2008 and the need to hold the antiwar vote, react to the threat or the reality, of being occupied.

2007? This could be the year when Senator Bobby Byrd finally makes it into the White House. When the new Colngress assembles he will be president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and thus third in line of succession if President Bush, vice President Cheney and speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are felled by a sudden irruption of Ebola virus. No wonder Byrd favors mountain top removal.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.