Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jim Hightower at the 2008 Texas Book Festival,...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 by
Walmart: The Inhuman Essence of a Corporate 'Person'

by Jim Hightower

I'm curious about those five Supreme Court justices who recently decreed that a corporation is a "person" with human rights: Do you think they ever met Mr. Walmart?

If they had, they'd be forced to concede that corporate personhood is a sheer fantasy, for there is nothing even remotely human about the bloodless and brainless thing that is Walmart. For conclusive evidence of this entity's total lack of humanity, the learned judges should climb down from their high bench and visit with Joseph Casias, a 29-year-old former employee of a Walmart storein Battle Creek, Mich.

In fact, Casias was an excellent employee throughout his five-year tenure within the corporate person, even earning "Associate of the Year" honors in 2008.

"I always tried my best," he says. "I gave them everything. One hundred ten percent every day. Anything they asked me to do, I did. More than they asked me to do. Twelve to 14 hours a day. I thought I was part of the Walmart family."

Five months ago, however, he was coldly cast out of the family. What happened? It started with cancer - a rare form invaded his sinuses and brain. He's getting treatment to control it, but he still suffers a severe level of chronic pain. Yet, Casias was able to keep doing his usual good job every day by using a controlled dose of marijuana that his doctor prescribed to alleviate pain - a prescription that is perfectly legal under Michigan's medical marijuana law.

By carefully scheduling his daily dosage, Casias never came to work under the influence, and he never took the medicine on the job, so Walmart saw nothing but an employee performing well.

Until last November. In a routine drug screening by the company, Casias tested positive for pot. He showed his state medical marijuana permit to the corporate cogs, but instead of using common sense or showing a smidgeon of human compassion, the managers mindlessly clicked into Program 420g, Section 21-mj (or some such) of corporate-code - and summarily cashiered Casias.

Oh, come on, he's no druggie - he has a painful cancer and is using legal medicine! If he were taking Oxycontin or other harsh drugs, you wouldn't think of terminating your associate of the year.

But there is no "you" there.
Walmart is a machine, a fabrication, not a sentient, reasoning person. So the machine responded to public outrage over Casias' firing by issuing an insensate legal statement: "In states, such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen. We believe our policy complies with the law, and we support decisions based on the policy."

Cancer is enough of a burden on a person without corporate callousness adding to the pain, but Walmart just kept piling on this employee. He's got no job, is facing $10,000 in unpaid medical bills and can no longer afford his cancer treatment, so what does the corporation do? It challenged Casias' eligibility for unemployment compensation.

Not that Mr. Walmart hates the guy. It's just the corporate way. For Casias, however, it's a disaster. "It's not fair," he says.

Fair? To a corporation, "fair" is a place to take your pig to try to win a blue ribbon. Corporations are literally inhuman, possessing no sense of moral responsibility or human decency.

The good news is that real people are rallying against the faux person's outrageous officiousness, and they've formed a Facebook page: "Let Joseph Casias Talk." With the corporate image taking a beating and some customers organizing a boycott, the machinery for damage control kicked in at headquarters, prompting the company to drop its ugly effort to deny unemployment payments to Casias. It adamantly refuses, however, to take the one step he most needs: rehiring. And how about apologizing?

To convey your own thoughts directly to Citizen Walmart, call (800) 963-8442. And to help reform the law to stop such corporate attacks on medical marijuana patients, contact the Marijuana Policy Project:
© 2010

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields by Charles Bowden

Coat of arms of Mexico.Image via Wikipedia


“Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields” by Charles Bowden. (Nation Books, $27.50)

Usually, non-fiction books cover a time that has already past, with the author having had the luxury of standing back and examining his or her facts before assembling them into a final narrative. This book, however, addresses a situation that is continuing to this very day. Some of the worst aspects of life in “Murder City” – Ciudad Juarez, Mexico – have developed since the book was published.
Don’t read this book for amusement or relaxation. This beautifully constructed – it’s almost poetic at times -- tale will horrify you while forcing you to expand your thinking about an extremely timely topic and causing you to fret about the darker side of human nature.
In 2008, 1,607 people – men, women and children—were murdered in Ciudad Juarez, which is right across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The following year, the total rose to 2,660. This year, the total may be higher. Many of the victims are raped and murdered women. And torture is commonplace.
“Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness,” the author, a journalist, writes. “But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community and has no single cause and no singe motive and no on-off button. Violence is not a part of life, now it is life.”
Bowden found that while there’s no denying the ruthless role played by the drug lords in illicit drugs, some issues are rarely cited, including how the North American Free Trade Agreement obeyed the law of unintended consequences by diminishing Juarez’s economy and leaving thousands working for wages even lower than before NAFTA or simply unemployed. But there’s easy money to be made in drugs.
Another aspect seldom reported in the United States (and not in the Mexican press, from fear or as a result of bribery) is the role of the nation’s military as well as federal, state and local police units. To one degree or another, they are all corruptly involved in the drug trade. (more)
Murder City review, Page 2
Bowden’s depressing summary: “In over half a century of fighting drugs, Mexico has never created a police unit that did not join the traffickers. Or die.” He offers another compelling observation: “ … there are two Mexicos. There is the one reported by the U. S. press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war against the evil forces of the drug world and using the incorruptible Mexican army as his warriors. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, and laws and is seen by the U. S. government as a sister republic. It does not exist.
“There is a second Mexico, where the war is for drugs, for the enormous money to be made in drugs, where the police and military fight for their share, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes …”
There’s corruption on the American side too. One border guard is serving a lengthy prison sentence after being paid $5 million to turn a blind eye to drug shipments crossing the border. And there’s the role played by American drug users who comprise a rich market for the cartels and a are critical contributor to the climate of crime.
The politicians talk of optimism, but Bowden shows us the ugly totality. After the deaths of two Americans in Ciudad Juarez recently, the Obama administration sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico to show Washington’s support for the Mexican government’s attempts to deal with the ongoing violence. It made for good television, but the deaths continue.
Americans who buy and sell illicit drugs are complicit in this slaughter, but so are the Mexican authorities and their subjects who are raking in huge profits from this sordid business. If you doubt this, then read this book.
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Call It Sludge, or Biosolids: It's Poison

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.Image via Wikipedia

Published on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 by
Toxic Sludge Taints the White House

by Jill Richardson

When First Lady Michelle Obama decided to plant a vegetable garden at the White House, she faced a problem that many new homeowners in America run into. Previous residents of her house had applied sewage sludge to her lawn, but left no warnings to alert the her about the potential toxicity of her soil as a result of the sludge application. When the Obamas tested the soil in preparation for planting their garden, they found some lead in the soil. At 93 parts per million (ppm), the lead showed that the soil was probably contaminated by something, even though at 93 ppm the lead itself was not necessarily a danger. Still, the Obamas took precautions to further lower the lead level to 14ppm, and make the lead unavailable to plants by adding soil amendments that diluted the lead and increased the acidity of the soil.

Sludge Politicized

Unfortunately for the Obamas, and for the entire nation, once the story hit the news, it became politicized. While the issue was initially raised as a comment on the safety of using sewage sludge as fertilizer - an issue that has no political party - the right soon grabbed a hold of the story as a way to make fun of the Obamas. Some on the left fiercely defended the Obamas in return. But the Obamas are not the villains in this story; they are the victims. They are among many other Americans whose yards and gardens are contaminated with sewage sludge without their knowledge and who, as a result, are exposed to toxic contaminants in the soil. And lead is just a fraction of the overall problem.

When it was conceived, the White House garden was intended as a symbol of support for home gardening and fresh, organic food. In fact, famed chef and visionary Alice Waters lobbied for the White House garden for more than a decade. When it finally became a reality last year, she said, "Fresh, wholesome food is the right of every American. This garden symbolizes the Obamas' commitment to that belief." But in planting her garden, Michelle Obama not only set the example she intended for home gardening, she also illustrated why using sewage sludge as fertilizer is so harmful.

How the White House Got Sludged

To the best of anyone's knowledge, the White House garden was first sludged in the Reagan years. During the 1980's, the nation was experiencing the aftermath of the Clean Water Act, which required wastewater treatment plants to remove toxins from wastewater before releasing the water into the environment as effluent. As a result, wastewater treatment plants across the country were left with sewage sludge, a grey jelly comprised of everything they removed from the water. Some cities -- most notably New York City -- dealt with sludge by dumping it in the ocean, a practice that environmental groups were working to end. As this played out in court in the 1980's, New York searched for a new way to dispose of sludge. Ocean dumping was finally banned by the Ocean Dumping Reform Act of 1988, a law that fully took effect in 1991.

There is no really "good way" to dispose of sludge. Recent EPA data shows that the majority of sludge samples tested contained a list from A to Z of toxins including metals, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, semivolatile organics, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and steroids. Sludge may also include other substances (or organisms) that the EPA did not test for, including parasites, bacteria, viruses, dioxins, and pesticides. Yet today, wastewater treatment plants and even the EPA talk about "beneficial uses" for sludge: converting it to energy (while releasing pollutants into the air), using it as alternate daily cover in landfills, or spreading it on farmland, gardens and lawns as fertilizer.

Sludge PR

The language around sludge (and even the name of sludge itself) changed as wastewater treatment plants across the country looked for ways to dispose of sludge when ocean dumping was no longer an option. New York City shopped their sludge around, looking for a community that would welcome it as fertilizer. Understandably, nobody wanted it. For obvious reasons, sludge is a public relations nightmare, even before people understand the volume and variety of toxins it contains. It was in this environment, as the issue played out during the Reagan and Bush years, that the National Park Service began applying sludge at the White House.

Sludging the White House was but one part of the campaign to clean up sludge's public image. In the waning days of the first Bush administration, the sewage industry trade, lobby, and public relations group, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), held a contest among its members to rename sludge. The EPA liked the new name they selected - "biosolids" - so much, they gave WEF a $300,000 grant to promote the "beneficial use" of sludge. The EPA also modified its rules governing the application of sludge on America's farmland, which previously classified sludge as hazardous waste. With its nifty new name, "biosolids" now qualified as fertilizer - so long as it met some minimal requirements. Specifically, the EPA regulates the amounts of only nine heavy metals and fecal coliform bacteria that are permitted in sludge that is applied to land as fertilizer. And, while keeping high levels of lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals out of sludge is a nice gesture, compare that to the long list of chemicals and organisms that sludge may actually still contain.

What's In That Stuff, Anyway?

Sewage sludge is not only a mix of everything that goes down household drains, it also contains industrial and hospital waste. The root of the problem is our sewer system, which uses water as a means to transport waste and does not separate what goes down toilets or kitchen sinks from what goes down the drain at oil refineries, factories, or other industrial sites. Instead of forcing industry to bear the cost of disposing of its waste products responsibly, we let them send it to our wastewater treatment plants, mixed in with water, and taxpayers bear the cost of separating that waste out from the water and then dealing with it as sludge. Therefore, the contents of sludge are determined by the materials disposed of by nearby industrial sites (although some chemicals are more or less universal in all sludge, based on the EPA's tests).

It's Not Sludge, It's "Biosolids"!

Despite this, the EPA continued promoting the "beneficial use" of biosolids and the National Park Service continued applying it at the White House until as late as 2004. In the rest of the country, home gardeners could buy sludge for their own lawns or gardens in commercially marketed fertilizers like Milorganite (sludge from Milwaukee, marketed using the slogan "For Better Results. Naturally."), Hou-Actinite (sludge from Houston, marketed as "a naturally nutrient rich slow release organic fertilizer"), Allgro (which promises to help you "fertilize organically - while promoting environmental sustainability among American businesses"), and Vital Cycle (marketed as "a concentrated natural organic fertilizer"). Companies marketing sludge as fertilizer frame their products as natural, sustainable, and even organic, terms that are misleading and and dangerous. In fact, the USDA's organic standards specifically forbids applying sewage sludge to land that is farmed organically, and making any claim that sludge is organic is just plain wrong.

What's In Your Soil?

If, like Michelle Obama, a gardener moves to a new house that was previously owned by someone else, or builds a new house on land that was previously farmland, the gardener will have no way of knowing what contaminants are in the soil if the previous owner has applied sludge. Garden stores sell soil test kits, but those only test for pH and a few key nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). University labs often offer more extensive soil testing for a low price ($10-$30 or so), and those can include tests for lead, cadmium, nickel, chromium, and a few other heavy metals. However, it is impossible for the average gardener to find an inexpensive soil test kit that could even begin to identify the long list of contaminants that may be in soil "fertilized" with sludge. Also, commonly-available tests may not be sensitive enough to detect small amounts of contaminants that may only be present in parts per million or parts per billion. (Depending on the substance, a tiny concentration may be enough to harm one's health.)

Sludge Isn't Harmless

Despite the EPA's claims of safety, sludge has not been used as fertilizer for decades without incident. People and animals have become ill or died, and farms have gone out of business due to land application of sludge. Harry Dobin, who ran a coffee truck one thousand feet from a sludge composting site, was one such casualty. He began experiencing health problems in 1991, when he was 25 years old. After months of worsening symptoms and a number of wrong diagnoses, doctors discovered Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungus common in composting sludge, in his lungs. By the time he was diagnosed, the disease was too advanced to treat. Dobin died nine months after he was diagnosed, on September 23, 1992.

In a more recent example, Andy McElmurray spread sludge on his Georgia dairy farm for more than a decade. The sludge fertilized crops fed to his cattle. All went well until he switched the crop he was growing and added lime to raise the pH of his soil in order to do so. The higher pH caused a toxic metal - molybdenum - to become bioavailable to the plants. The cows were poisoned by molybdenum, and many died. Ultimately, McElmurray went out of business. Even consumers are at risk, so long as farms use sludge as fertilizer. In McElmurray's case, a nearby NutraSweet factory had been sending thallium (used in rat poison) down its drains and it wound up in the sludge he applied to his land. When milk from a local grocery store was tested, it contained thallium at 11 times the legal limit for thallium in drinking water.

Michelle's Opportunity

It is truly a shame that Michelle Obama's vegetable garden is marred by past use of sewage sludge on the White House grounds. The historic garden has inspired many, both at home and abroad, and the First Lady is credited as one reason for a national surge in home gardening. It is not her fault that previous administrations were dishonest about the safety of sewage sludge as fertilizer, but now that she has uncovered the problem, she has the power and high-profile to do something about it to help other Americans. We hope she does.

The article originally appeared on PR

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Punks Vs Plutocrats Re Financial Reform

Meeting of the House Financial Services CommitteeImage via Wikipedia

Published on Monday, March 29, 2010 by The New York Times
Punks and Plutocrats

by Paul Krugman

Health reform is the law of the land. Next up: financial reform. But will it happen? The White House is optimistic, because it believes that Republicans won't want to be cast as allies of Wall Street. I'm not so sure. The key question is how many senators believe that they can get away with claiming that war is peace, slavery is freedom, and regulating big banks is doing those big banks a favor.

Some background: we used to have a workable system for avoiding financial crises, resting on a combination of government guarantees and regulation. On one side, bank deposits were insured, preventing a recurrence of the immense bank runs that were a central cause of the Great Depression. On the other side, banks were tightly regulated, so that they didn't take advantage of government guarantees by running excessive risks.

From 1980 or so onward, however, that system gradually broke down, partly because of bank deregulation, but mainly because of the rise of "shadow banking": institutions and practices - like financing long-term investments with overnight borrowing - that recreated the risks of old-fashioned banking but weren't covered either by guarantees or by regulation. The result, by 2007, was a financial system as vulnerable to severe crisis as the system of 1930. And the crisis came.

Now what? We have already, in effect, recreated New Deal-type guarantees: as the financial system plunged into crisis, the government stepped in to rescue troubled financial companies, so as to avoid a complete collapse. And you should bear in mind that the biggest bailouts took place under a conservative Republican administration, which claimed to believe deeply in free markets. There's every reason to believe that this will be the rule from now on: when push comes to shove, no matter who is in power, the financial sector will be bailed out. In effect, debts of shadow banks, like deposits at conventional banks, now have a government guarantee.

The only question now is whether the financial industry will pay a price for this privilege, whether Wall Street will be obliged to behave responsibly in return for government backing. And who could be against that?

Well, how about John Boehner, the House minority leader? Recently Mr. Boehner gave a talk to bankers in which he encouraged them to balk efforts by Congress to impose stricter regulation. "Don't let those little punk staffers take advantage of you, and stand up for yourselves," he urged - where by "taking advantage" he meant imposing some conditions on the industry in return for government backing.

Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, promptly had "Little Punk Staffer" buttons made up and distributed to Congressional aides.

But Mr. Boehner isn't the problem: Mr. Frank has already shepherded fairly strong financial reform through the House. Instead, the question is what will happen in the Senate.

In the Senate, the legislation on the table was crafted by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. It's significantly weaker than the Frank bill, and needs to be made stronger, a topic I'll discuss in future columns. But no bill will become law if Senate Republicans stand in the way of reform.

But won't opponents of reform fear being cast as allies of the bad guys (which they are)? Maybe not. Back in January, Frank Luntz, the G.O.P. strategist, circulated a memo on how to oppose financial reform. His key idea was that Republicans should claim that up is down - that reform legislation is a "big bank bailout bill," rather than a set of restrictions on the banks.

Sure enough, a few days ago Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, in a letter attacking the Dodd bill, claimed that an essential part of reform - tougher oversight of large, systemically important financial companies - is actually a bailout, because "The market will view these firms as being ‘too big to fail' and implicitly backed by the government." Um, senator, the market already views those firms as having implicit government backing, because they do: whatever people like Mr. Shelby may say now, in any future crisis those firms will be rescued, whichever party is in power.

The only question is whether we're going to regulate bankers so that they don't abuse the privilege of government backing. And it's that regulation - not future bailouts - that reform opponents are trying to block.

So it's the punks versus the plutocrats - those who want to rein in runaway banks, and bankers who want the freedom to put the economy at risk, freedom enhanced by the knowledge that taxpayers will bail them out in a crisis. Whatever they say, the fact is that people like Mr. Shelby are on the side of the plutocrats; the American people should be on the side of the punks, who are trying to protect their interests.
© 2010 The New York Times

Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Taxpayers Fund Nuclear Industry Folly

Color photograph of the Three Mile Island nucl...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Saturday, March 27, 2010 by
You Are Now Paying for the Next 3 Mile Island

by Harvey Wasserman

As radiation poured from 3 Mile Island 31 years ago this weekend, utility executives rested easy.

They knew that no matter how many people their errant nuke killed, and no matter how much property it destroyed, they would not be held liable.

Today this same class of executives demands untold taxpayer billions to build still more TMIs. No matter how many meltdowns they cause, and how much havoc they visit down on the public, they still believe they're above the law.

Fueled with more than $600 million public relations slush money, they demand a risk-free "renaissance" financed by you and yours.

As if!

In 1980 I reported from central Pennsylvania on the dead and dying one year after.

Dozens of interviews documented a horrifying range of radiation-related diseases including cancer, leukemia, birth defects, still births, malformations, sterility, heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, skin lesions, hair loss, a metallic taste and much more. As reported by the Baltimore News-American among others, such ailments also ripped through the animal population.

To this day no one knows how much radiation was released at the 1979 TMI accident, where it went or whom it harmed. The official line that "no one was killed" is arguably the biggest lie ever told in US industrial history.

It parallels Soviet lies about the 1986 catastrophe at Chernobyl, whose health effects continue to skyrocket. A devastating summary report issued by the New York Academy of Sciences (Yablokov, Nesterenko & Nesterenko: Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People & the Environment) says at least 980,000 people are likely to die from the fallout.

That would be a small fraction of the casualties had 9/11 terrorists dived into the two reactors at New York's Indian Point instead of hitting the World Trade Center.

In a time of deep financial stress, it also counts that the TMI accident turned a $900 million asset into a $2 billion liability in a matter of minutes. Chernobyl has cost Belarus and Ukraine at least $500 billion and counting. And the price tag on a major meltdown anywhere in the US is virtually beyond calculation.

Thus those who think a flood of new nukes will flow unimpeded into the American pocketbook haven't been paying attention:

1) Four northeastern nukes---in Vermont, New Jersey and the two at Indian Point--- are under intense public pressure to shut within the next two years. Numerous other elderly reactors are likely to go down long before any new nukes could come on line.

2) French President Sarkozy is demanding that world financial institutions buy a bevy of new French-built reactors. But huge delays and cost-overruns at French projects in Finland and France itself have made the investment community wary to say the least, thus prompting his foot-stomping.

3) Documents leaked from inside France's national utility EDF indicate cost-cutting has made the new French reactor design exceedingly prone to explosion, further unsettling potential investors.

4) The future of new US reactor construction hinges on massive loan guarantees and handouts. The public number is $54 billion, but the Nuclear Information & Resource Service says the real bill could top a trillion.

5) In the polarized, cost-conscious wake of the health care bill, and the apparent demise of cap and trade as a centerpiece of climate legislation, the idea of such huge sums flowing to a deeply polarizing energy source has become increasingly problematic. Without a clear trade-off for fossil/nuclear giveaways, and with stiffening resistance from the rightist National Taxpayers Union, Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, the nuke bonanza is anything but certain.

6) An attempt by Entergy to shift six reactors into an asset-free corporate shell has been nixed by New York authorities, leaving liability for Vermont Yankee, Indian Point and other northeastern nukes in limbo.

7) As elderly nukes stumble toward oblivion, various funds allegedly set aside for decommissioning may be significantly under-funded, deeply exacerbating the financial battles that now the industry.

8) As a lame duck, George W. Bush signed agreements apparently obligating the feds to assume responsibility for enough radioactive waste to fill two of the cancelled Yuccas. The complete lack of even one such facility means the potential taxpayer bill is beyond meaningful calculation.

9) Above all the exemption from liability for a major accident fed the industry by federal law in the case of terror or error remains the largest potential cost to us all. Renewed in 2005, some believe the statute is clearly unconstitutional.

To this day the families of those harmed by radiation at Three Mile Island have been denied the right to make their case in federal court.

But now the shoe is on the other foot.

Desperate for cash, the nuclear industry wants us all to pay hundreds of billions for the joy of living downwind from still more 3 Mile Islands for which they intend to assume NO liability.

They want our money and our lives.

From central Pennsylvania after 31 years, the message is clear: Just Say NO!

Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for, where this article first appeared.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obama Uses Tortured Logic

Published on Thursday, March 25, 2010 by
When Presidential Sermons Collide

by Glenn Greenwald

President Obama gave an interview earlier this week to an Indonesian television station in lieu of the scheduled trip to that country which was canceled due to the health care vote. In 2008, Indonesia empowered a national commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by its own government under the U.S.-backed Suharto regime "in an attempt to finally bring the perpetrators to justice," and Obama was asked in this interview: "Is your administration satisfied with the resolution of the past human rights abuses in Indonesia?" He replied:

We have to acknowledge that those past human rights abuses existed. We can't go forward without looking backwards . . . .

When asked last year about whether the United States should use similar tribunals to investigate its own human rights abuses, as well his view of other countries' efforts (such as Spain) to investigate those abuses, Obama said:

I'm a strong believer that it's important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.

That "Look-Forward/Not-Backward" formulation is one which Obama and his top aides have frequently repeated to argue against any investigations in the U.S. Why, as Obama sermonized, must Indonesians first look backward before being able to move forward, whereas exactly the opposite is true of Americans? If a leader is going to demand that other countries adhere to the very "principles" which he insists on violating himself, it's probably best not to use antithetical clichés when issuing decrees, for the sake of appearances if nothing else.

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer -- in the last paragraph of her new article documenting the multiple lies told by former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Marc Theissen in his pro-torture book -- offered the best summary yet as to why Obama's "Look Forward/Not Backward" mentality is so destructive:

The publication of "Courting Disaster" suggests that Obama's avowed determination "to look forward, not back" has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn't protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Nothing enables the glorification of crimes, and nothing ensures their future re-occurrence, more than shielding the criminals from all accountability. It's nice that Barack Obama is willing to dispense that lecture to other countries, but it's not so nice that he does exactly the opposite in his own.
© 2010

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Texas Board of Education Full of Nuts

Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.Image via Wikipedia

Published on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 by
Turning 'Texas Education' Into an Oxymoron

by Jim Hightower

In the good-and-good-for-you department, food scientists are now touting the health benefits of enjoying a handful of nuts every day.

I, for one, am glad, because I love nuts - pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, you-name-'em. But my favorite nuts, by far, are the homegrown natives that have taken root in one particularly fertile area of my state: the Texas Board of Education. You just can't get any nuttier than this bunch!

This board, little-known even to us Texans, has lately risen to national notoriety, making our state's educational system a punch line for comedians everywhere. That's because a handful of ultra-right-wing nutcases have taken over this elected overseer of Texas educational policy, and they're hell-bent to supplant classroom education with their own brand of ideological indoctrination.

Their way of achieving this political goal is to rewrite the state standards that textbook publishers must follow to get the lucrative contracts for providing teaching materials for every student in the state, from first grade through high school.

Their latest exercise in ideological correctness comes at the expense of the social studies curriculum. They spent last week going through guidelines for history, government, economics and sociology textbooks, purging references that offend their doctrinaire sensibilities and substituting their own nutty biases and ignorance.

How nutty? Take Thomas Jefferson. They did! They literally did take Jefferson off a list of revolutionary political thinkers from the Enlightenment period, replacing him with a favorite of Christian fundamentalists, John Calvin. Thus, the prime author of our Declaration of Independence - poof - disappeared! Jefferson's unpardonable transgression? He coined the term "separation between church and state."

Any concepts that might spur progressive thoughts in young minds were also expunged. "Justice," for example, was stripped from a list of virtues meant to teach grade-schoolers the characteristics of good citizenship. No doubt the board majority would love to get its hands on the Pledge of Allegiance's assertion of "justice for all," but luckily, the pledge doesn't come under the members' purview.


The nuts were able to strike "responsibility for the common good" from the citizenship characteristics list, however, and they just missed deleting the American ideal of "equality." They also narrowly lost on a vote to impose a new requirement that students be taught that the civil rights movement created "unreasonable expectations," but they did manage to balance the positive impact of Martin Luther King Jr. with an insistence that the "positives" of Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt for commies and of Jefferson Davis' secessionist government also be taught.

Likewise, the full-tilt rightists expelled Delores Huerta, the much-admired farm worker leader, from a list of "good citizenship" models, airily dismissing this courageous champion of justice as a socialist. On the other hand, they mandated that Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich's Contract With America be taught as historic icons of a "conservative resurgence" in America.

One especially delicious moment came when the board considered a listing of world leaders who fought political repression. On the list was Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who led an indigenous poor people's movement in the 1980s before the country's right-wing death squads assassinated him as he was celebrating mass.

The board cut Romero from the list, declaring that he lacked the stature of such other repression fighters as Gandhi. After all, one board member explained, unlike Gandhi, Romero had not had a movie made about his life, so how important could he've been? But - oops! - there was a popular 1989 feature film called "Romero" about the archbishop's exemplary life. The board was embarrassed, but it axed him anyway.

Words were banned, too. The phrase "democratic societies," for example was replaced by the cumbersome "societies with representative government." And even the term "capitalism" was censored for having a negative connotation. Instead, the board decreed that "free enterprise" be used throughout all social studies courses. In addition, all references to the Age of Enlightenment were dropped, because ... well, because these full-fledged political purists don't want any concept based on reason getting into the heads of our school kids.

Texas education wasn't that great before all this folderal, but these doctrinaire morons are turning "Texas education" into an oxymoron.
© 2010

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Socialism by Any Other Name

Former British Prime Minister Margaret ThatcherImage via Wikipedia

Some Thoughts on Health Care by Scott Johnston

Well here I am at seventy seven, a British citizen, trained in his youth to fight in Korea, but sent instead to do his bit as a NATO soldier in Germany to defend us from the Red Army menacing us all these decades from no great distance,just across the Iron Curtain, who paid his taxes, brought up his family, stayed in work, and who, to end a working life of honest if undistinguished effort, got involved in re-establishing democratic institutions in Eastern Europe after the Commies fell from power.

Anyway, it pleases me to think I generally did my bit - nothing special, but not too much, I hope, to be ashamed of either

But it takes the debate on Obama’s health care bill to open my eyes to how I’ve been taken for a sucker all these years. I read, according to Republican dogma, that I am the victim of a tyrannical socialist system with the government dominating my life, the slave of a “European Nanny State”.

I’d never have thought it.

Here was me thinking I lived in a good and civilised sort of country, a , country which refused to let my first son die of acute asthma in his teens, a country that picked my wife up after tripping last year in the streets of Edinburgh, and gave her a new hip within twenty four hours with full after-care back up – and never asked for a credit card or enquired about her bank balance.

Free? Of course not. You can’t get this for nothing, and I’ve been paying for it all my life through my taxes. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I can’t be alone in this either. It would be suicide for any political party in Britain to advocate any weakening of the National Health Service – to want to interfere with the principle of a state funded service free at the point of delivery for those in need.

Plenty of debate – of course –about the organisation and efficiency of the NHS. Plenty of horror stories of human error and neglect. That makes news. But plenty of praise for it too. My experience has been wholly good. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

But no-one I have ever met would want to contemplate any interference with the principle fought for and established in 1948 with the Utopian but reasonable vision of creating after World War 2 a better society than it had been the lot of most people in the twenties and thirties to experience when governments and the way the economy had been organised manifestly failed to meet their reasonable expectations.

Socialism – or the sort of Christian Socialist thinking that dominated Western European in the early post war years - seemed eminently preferable to the shambles that the unrestricted play of market forces had made of so many people’s lives, denying them the means to provide themselves with the basic things needed to lead the good life.

So, socialism? Really? Depends on what you imagine socialism is. I don’t back away from it. But it’s just a simple term of abuse, it seems, in the USA, needing no explanation

But hang on! Margaret Thatcher must have been a socialist too. Maybe her good buddy Reagan just never noticed. Certainly the Iron Lady smashed down many of the works of previous Labour governments, and the two of them let the financial services markets rip, both sides of the Atlantic.

But she would never, ever, have dared to dismantle the NHS.

Odd that the ideological debates – socialism against capitalism (though the choices in main stream British politics were never presented so starkly) have given way in the UK to a broad measure of consensus about the role of the state in the economy, in particular with regard to health. Now politics is about management and personalities. And to some extent about whether the UK (not all that much older than the USA) can hang together for all that much longer.

But opposite trends seem to be emerging in America. Ideological divisions have emerged between Democrats and Republicans where they were scarcely visible before to the foreign observer. And the tone of political discourse in the States seems to have grown ugly, and threatening, and (to this observer anyway), troubling to those who care about the future of democratic institutions.

OK, I am by conviction a woolly sort of liberal. But I kind of think that a lot of people died to defend the sort of tolerant, easy going, kind of society that liberals like to believe in. It’s the only one I’d die for, anyway – and might just think the sacrifice to be worthwhile.

So, back to health, where all this chain of thought began.

To us – victims of socialist tyranny - it is beyond all comprehension why there is any debate, at all, in the richest country in the world, about organising matters to ensure that health care is available to all, as of right.

It is something that seems as self evident as the other sacred truths which Americans are taught to hold so dear.

But the USA is not my country, and my understanding of it is very partial indeed. I just wanted to say, though, that if this is victim hood that I’m suffering where I am right now, then give me more of it, please.

And by the way, nothing to stop me buying health in Britain too, if I want it. I’ve done that too.
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

He's Not the Messiah

Cover of "The Value of Nothing: How to Re...Cover via Amazon

Published on Saturday, March 20, 2010 by the Guardian/UK
I'm Not the Messiah, Says Food Activist... but His Many Worshippers Do Not Believe Him
Members of religious group believe London-born author has come to save the world

by Bobbie Johnson in San Francisco
The trouble started when Raj Patel appeared on American TV to plug his latest book, an analysis of the financial crisis called The Value of Nothing.

The London-born author, 37, thought his slot on comedy talkshow The Colbert Report went well enough: the host made a few jokes, Patel talked a little about his work and then, job done, he went back to his home in San Francisco.

[Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing. (Photo/Eliot Khuner)]Shortly afterwards, however, things took a strange turn. Over the course of a couple of days, cryptic messages started filling his inbox.

"I started getting emails saying 'have you heard of Benjamin Creme?' and 'are you the world teacher?'" he said. "Then all of a sudden it wasn't just random internet folk, but also friends saying, 'Have you seen this?'"

What he had written off as gobbledygook suddenly turned into something altogether more bizarre: he was being lauded by members of an obscure religious group who had decided that Patel - a food activist who grew up in a corner shop in Golders Green in north-west London - was, in fact, the messiah.

Their reasoning? Patel's background and work coincidentally matched a series of prophecies made by an 87-year-old Scottish mystic called Benjamin Creme, the leader of a little-known religious group known as Share International. Because he matched the profile, hundreds of people around the world believed that Patel was the living embodiment of a figure they called Maitreya, the Christ or "the world teacher".

His job? To save the world, and everyone on it.

"It was just really weird," he said. "Clearly a case of mistaken identity and clearly a case of people on the internet getting things wrong."

What started as an oddity kept snowballing until suddenly, in the middle of his book tour and awaiting the arrival of his first child, Patel was inundated by questions, messages of support and even threats. The influx was so heavy, in fact, that he put up a statement on his website referencing Monty Python's Life of Brian and categorically stating that he was not Maitreya.

Instead of settling the issue, however, his denial merely fanned the flames for some believers. In a twist ripped straight from the script of the comedy classic, they said that this disavowal, too, had been prophesied. It seemed like there was nothing to convince them.

"It's the kind of paradox that's inescapable," he said, with a grim humour. "There's very little chance or point trying to dig out of it."

There are many elements of his life that tick the prophetic checklist of his worshippers: a flight from India to the UK as a child, growing up in London, a slight stutter, and appearances on TV. But it is his work that puts him most directly in the frame and causes him the most anguish - the very things the followers of Share believe will indicate that their new messiah has arrived.

Patel's career - spent at Oxford, LSE, the World Bank and with thinktank Food First - has been spent trying to understand the inequalities and problems caused by free market economics, particularly as it relates to the developing world.

His first book, Stuffed and Starved, rips through the problems in global food production and examines how the free market has worked to keep millions hungry (Naomi Klein called it dazzling, while the Guardian's Felicity Lawrence said it was "an impassioned call to action"). The Value of Nothing, meanwhile, draws on the economic collapse to look at how we might fix the system and improve life for billions of people around the globe.

While his goal appears to match Share's vision of worldwide harmony, he says the underlying assumptions it makes are wrong - and possibly even dangerous.

"What I'm arguing in the book is precisely the opposite of the Maitreya: what we need is various kinds of rebellion and transformations about how private property works," he said.

"I don't think a messiah figure is going to be a terribly good launching point for the kinds of politics I'm talking about - for someone who has very strong anarchist sympathies, this has some fairly deep contradictions in it."

To say Patel - with his academic air, stammer and grey-flecked hair - is a reluctant saviour is an understatement. In fact, he rejects the entire notion of saviours. If there is one thing he has learned from his work as an activist in countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is that there are no easy answers.

"People are very ready to abdicate responsibility and have it shovelled on to someone else's shoulders," he said. "You saw that with Obama most spectacularly, but whenever there's going to be someone who's just going to fix it for you, it's a very attractive story. It's in every mythological structure."

Unravelling exactly what it is that Share International's followers believe, however, is tricky.

The group is an offshoot of the Victorian Theosophy movement founded by Madame Blavatsky that developed a belief system out of an amalgam of various religions, spiritualism and metaphysics.

Creme - who joined a UFO cult in the 1950s before starting Share - has added a cosmic take to the whole concept: he says that Maitreya represents a group of beings from Venus called the Space Brothers.

This 18m-year-old saviour, he says, has been resting somewhere in the Himalayas for 2,000 years and - as a figure who combines messianism for Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims alike - is due to return any time now, uniting humanity and making life better for everybody on earth.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Creme refuses to categorically state whether or not he believes that Patel and Maitreya are one and the same. He suggests that it is not up to him to rule either way, instead blaming media coverage, rather than his own mystical predictions, for making people "hysterical".

"It is not my place," Creme told the writer Scott James, a friend of Patel, recently. "People are looking to Mr Patel because they are looking for the fulfilment of a story which I've been making around the world for the last 35 years."

It is not the first time that Creme, an inscrutable guru with a mop of curly white hair, has courted publicity with his wild pronouncements of a messiah. In 1985 he made another prophecy: that Maitreya would reveal himself to the press in London.

A gaggle of journalists gathered in a Brick Lane curry house for the main event. In the end, the promised saviour failed to materialise. (One candidate, "a man in old robes and a faraway look in his eye", turned out to be a tramp begging for cigarettes, our correspondent wrote at the time).

Patel's rejection of his status as a deity does not seem to have killed off interest from Share's members. Indeed, the situation has invaded his everyday life, such as when two devotees travelled from Detroit - some 2,400 miles away - just to hear him give a short public talk.

"They were really nice people, not in your face, really straightforward - these people do not look like fanatics," he says. "I gave the talk, and they hung around at the end and we had a chat."

It was only then that the pair revealed that they were followers of Creme's teachings.

Patel said: "They said they thought I was the Maitreya ... they also said I had appeared in their dreams. I said: 'I'm really flattered that you came all the way here, but it breaks my heart that you came all this way and spent all this money to meet someone who isn't who you think he is.'

"It made me really depressed, actually. That evening I was really down."

While he struggles to cope with this unwanted anointment, his friends and family are more tickled by the situation.

"They think it's hilarious," he said. "My parents came to visit recently, and they brought clothes that said 'he's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy'. To them, it's just amusing."

There have been similar cases in the past, including Steve Cooper, an unemployed man from Tooting, south London, who was identified by a Hindu sect as the reincarnation of a goddess and now lives in a temple in Gujurat with scores of followers.

Unlike some who have the greatness thrust upon them, though, Patel's greatest hope is that Share will leave him alone so that he can get back to normal life.
© 2010 Guardian/UK

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Pentagon Costs Strangle Budget

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, marked AA-1, lan...Image via Wikipedia

Tomgram: William Astore, You Have No Say About Your Military
Posted by William Astore at 10:50am, March 18, 2010.

When was the last time you saw the headline, “Cost of [Pentagon-weapons-system-of-your-choice] halved”? Probably never. Still, the thought came to mind when this recent Associated Press headline caught my eye: “Pentagon: F-35 fighter jet cost doubles.”

Here’s the story behind it: Since 2001, when an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was expected to cost an already hefty $50 million, the plane’s cost has soared into the stratosphere (despite the fact that the aircraft itself has barely left the ground). The estimated cost today is $113 million per plane. Yes, that’s per plane. This supposed future workhorse of the U.S. military is now priced like the planet’s most precious gem. It’s also 2 ½ years behind schedule. Keep in mind that the Marines, the Air Force, and the Navy are planning to buy a combined 2,450 of them for what’s now an eye-popping $323 billion. And if you think the costs are likely to stay in the $113 million range, given the history of Pentagon cost overruns, then I have a nice little national security bridge to Brooklyn I think the U.S. public might love.

In other words, if all goes well from here (an unlikely possibility), a single future weapons system is now estimated to cost the American taxpayer almost one-third of what the Obama administration’s health-care plan is expected to cost over a decade. You could even think of the Pentagon’s weapons procurement process as the health-care system of the national security state. Its costs just never stop rising. In fact, the Government Accountability Office pegs major weapons systems cost overruns since 2001 at $295 billion, another near third of the cost of the health-care bill supposedly coming to a vote this week.

And here’s what’s remarkable: You barely hear about such overruns. They’re almost never front-page headline news, even though the money’s being taken from not-so-deep taxpayer pockets. And when truly terrible news, as with the F-35, comes in, all that happens in Washington is that a few politicians mutter a little. John McCain, for example, offered this less than stirring quote on the F-35: “The taxpayers are a little tired of this. I can’t say that I can blame them”; and an irritated Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: “We cannot sacrifice other important acquisitions in the DOD [Department of Defense] investment portfolio to pay for this capability.” (Bet you didn’t even know that future weapons were part of a Pentagon “investment portfolio.”) In the case of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, he’s planning to hold back $614 million in “performance bonuses” from the plane’s lead contractor Lockheed Martin. (And you thought only bankers and financial wheeler-dealers got performance bonuses!) But it’s striking that there are no tea party movements out in the streets of America demanding our money back or claiming that we’re going to be broken by this.

Here’s an American reality: the Pentagon is our true welfare state, the weapons makers our real “welfare queens,” and we never stop shoveling money their way. Somebody should raise a few tough questions about the Pentagonization of our country and its finances. Fortunately, TomDispatch has retired Lt. Col. William Astore, historian and regular contributor to this site, to take on the task. Tom

The Pentagon Church Militant and Us
The Top Five Questions We Should Ask the Pentagon
By William J. Astore

When it comes to our nation’s military affairs, ignorance is not bliss. What’s remarkable then, given the permanent state of war in which we find ourselves, is how many Americans seem content not to know.

There are many reasons for this state of affairs. Our civilian leaders encourage us to be deferential toward our latest commander/savior, whether Tommy Franks in 2003, David Petraeus in 2007, or Stanley McChrystal in 2010. Our media employs retired officers, most of them multi-starred generals, in a search for expertise that ends in an unconditional surrender to military agendas. A cloud of secrecy and “black budgets” combine to obscure military matters, ranging from global strategy to war goals to weapons procurement. The taxpayer, forced to pony up about one trillion dollars yearly to fund our military, national security infrastructure, and wars, is sent a simple message: stay clear and leave it to the experts in uniform.

The powerlessness of ordinary Americans in military matters is no accident. Recall the one-word reply -- “So?” -- Dick Cheney offered in March 2008, when asked to comment on popular opposition to the war in Iraq. The former vice president was certainly far blunter than Washington usually is, and for that we may owe him a measure of thanks. By highlighting the arrogant dismissiveness of Washington’s warrior-elite when it comes to American public opinion, he revealed more than he intended.

Time for Vatican II at the Pentagon

If military power is the church at which we worship and the Pentagon is our American Vatican, then it is desperately in need of the equivalent of Vatican II which, in the early 1960s, opened the Catholic Church to greater participation by the laity, a vitally important change in ethos. Instead of continuing to pray at the altar of their particular services, we need our Pentagon “priests” to turn to the laity -- us -- and seek our input and sanction. Instead of preaching in unintelligible Pentagonese, with its indecipherable acronyms, secret doctrines, and spidery codenames, it’s long past time for them to talk to us in a language that reasonably informed adults can understand.

Think about this: last year, our country held innumerable public hearings on health-care reform. Congress continues to fight about it. It’s constant news. There’s a debate alive in the land. All this for a program that, in ten years, will cost the American people as much as defense and homeland security cost in a single year.

Yet runaway defense budgets get passed each year without a single “town hall” meeting, next to no media coverage, and virtually no debate in Congress. Indeed, you’d think each Pentagon budget was an ex cathedra pronouncement, given the way Congress genuflects before them and Americans accept them without so much as a peep of protest.

Those “Crazy” Kiwis

Imagine, for a moment, if Pentagon officials, supposedly toiling in our name, actually condescended to ask us for our thoughts. What do we think about global military strategy, garrisoning the planet, the ways in which our forces are structured, and how, where, and for what they should be deployed abroad?

Sound crazy? Here in the U.S.A. it most distinctly does, but not to the citizens of New Zealand. A Kiwi friend of mine recently sent me “Defence Review 2009,” a publication of New Zealand’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). And catch this: it includes a survey soliciting the advice of ordinary New Zealanders with respect to military affairs. It actually asks for the counsel of civilians on a “top ten” list of questions whose topics are remarkably comprehensive, including what the priorities of the country’s Defence Force should be, both now and in the future. Citizens can even present their views on military matters at a public hearing attended by MoD representatives, all in the name of public consultation. And the Defence Minister responds to the people in clear English sans the cobwebs of jargon that typically entangle our military pronouncements.

In case you haven’t noticed, here in the U.S.A., requests from the Pentagon for citizen feedback aren’t flooding our email boxes. So I thought -- since no one in that five-sided fortress on the Potomac has asked a thing of me -- the least I could do was ask a few questions on my own. Here, then, is my own top-five list of questions that we, the American people, should ask the Pentagon, even if none of its officials want to hear from us. Maybe they’re a tad more pointed than those in the Kiwi survey, but that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, they’ve been a long time in coming.

1. Our military is supposed to be a means to an end: national security. Due to its immense size and colossal budget, has our military not become an end as well as means?

2. In World War II, Americans could explain “Why We Fight” in part because the government provided a clear and compelling rationale for war. Why are the goals of today’s wars so opaque to most Americans?

3. If our military provides us with our way of “nation building” abroad, won’t countries and peoples be more likely to copy our military ways and weaponry than our democratic teachings?

4. America is facing painful budgetary belt tightening. Why is the military immune?

5. Why does “support our troops” seemingly end when they leave the service, leading us to tolerate such inequities as an unemployment rate of 21% for young veterans?

Keep in mind that there are 10, 20, 30 more questions where those five came from -- and our military badly needs to hear and respond to them all.

Every recruit is taught to stretch, to go the extra mile, to push until you can go no further. Our military needs some stretching and push-back: this time, from us. Unfortunately, most of us don’t think our opinions matter when it comes to our military -- unless, that is, they consist solely of slavish adoration. The fact is most of us are detached from military affairs precisely because we know in our hearts that the Pentagon serves its own needs, that it may be interested in listening in on us, but certainly not in listening to us.

Challenge the Pentagon Church Militant

Kiwis have the reputation of being practical types with an admirable dash of humility, and I like to think that their Ministry of Defence solicits the views of its citizenry not just because it’s required by statute, but because their officials don’t believe they have a monopoly on good ideas.

Perhaps the MoD recognizes as well the difficulty military professionals have in thinking outside the box. Despite its gargantuan size and its endless advisory committees and boards, our Department of Defense is, in essence, a well-insulated church of likeminded believers, administered by tightly-wound power-brokers. It sees the world only as an arena of, and for, conflict. Wherever it looks, even within its own ranks, it sees rivals and enemies. It cannot help dividing the world into believers and heretics, friends and foes.

And it’s true that the world is a dangerous place. The problem is: the Pentagon is part of that danger. Our military has grown so strong and so dominates our government, including its foreign policy and even aspects of our culture, that there’s no effective counterweight to its closeted, conflict-centered style of thinking.

In fact, the Pentagon’s heft gives new meaning to the term “full spectrum dominance” and helps explain the lack of change in war policy since the 2008 elections. A vote that constituted an unmistakable call to end our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and so lessen the military’s influence -- has led only to fresh war “surges” and mushrooming Pentagon budgets. And yet, as the Pentagon charges forward, debate is nearly nonexistent and Congress can muster just 65 votes for a resolution to curtail the endless conflict in Afghanistan.

It’s shameful that only a so-called far left congressman like Dennis Kucinich has enough sense (and guts) to insist on Congressional debate about our forever-war in Afghanistan. Equally shameful: that Congress allotted only three hours to that debate on matters of life, death, and even financial well-being. Do we really need reminding that debate makes democracy stronger? Evidently so. Take it from me as a retired Air Force officer: our troops won’t be demoralized by more debate and greater citizen participation.

Let’s face it, all of this represents a long-term sea change in American consciousness. Sadly, the old idea of the citizen army is dead, and because of this, most of us lack any direct connection to the military (and seemingly could care less). In the name of safety, security, and solidarity, we’ve buttoned our lips. We worship, but don’t partake.

Centuries from now, historians will look back on American history and wonder how so many gave away so much to so few. It should be our right to have a say in what defines the “defense” of our country. That right has been surrendered to the few. Our future may depend on genuine input from the many.

How about it? Are you ready to challenge the Pentagon church militant? Or are you content to mouth the usual catechism, while continuing to dump billions each week into the collection basket?

Citizens of courage will surely choose the path of challenge.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular. He currently teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and may be reached at

Copyright 2010 William J. Astore

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