Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The lessons of 2006 (that our president is too much of a dolt to learn)

1. Let’s Toast to Ten Good Things About 2006 -- by Medea Benjamin

As we close this year on the low of a devastating conflict in Iraq and a President contemplating sending yet more troops to fight and die in an unwinnable war, let us not forget that it was a year of many positive gains for the progressive movement. Here are just ten.

1. First, of course, is the November elections, when voters gave Repubicans an “electoral thumpin’”. From California’s Jerry McNerney to Ohio’s Sherrod Brown to Minnesota’s Keith Ellison—Democrats all over the country won elections by slamming Bush’s war. The collapse of one-party rule in Washington reflected a spectacular repudiation of George Bush and handed Congress a mandate to get out of Iraq.

2. Latino communities throughout the United States took center stage in the spring of 2006, putting May Day back on the map as a day of grassroots mobilizing. From high school students to union members to community organizers, the spirit and energy of millions of immigrants demanding to be treated with dignity and respect took the nation by surprise. Immigrants not only carved out new political space, but in the age of e-activism, they breathed new life into the importance of “street heat.”

3. After decades of dictating the rules of the global economy, World Trade Organization talks fell flat on their face in 2006. Activists the world over celebrated its collapse after years of work to sink this titanic tool of empire. The work to derail corporate-dominated trade policies is far from over, with bilateral free trade agreements taking the place of the WTO. But the WTO and its model of globalization have been exposed as a dismal failure and opposition continues to grow worldwide.

4. George Bush opened 2006 with a State of the Union Address bemoaning our “addiction to oil”; 86 prominent Evangelicals called global warming a moral issue; Al Gore educated millions with his film, An Inconvenient Truth; and Time magazine declared the Earth is at a tipping point with melting ice, drought, wind, disease, and fires raging out of control. Historians may one day look back on 2006 as the “tipping-point” year when human societies—including the United States as the major superpower and the major polluter—woke up to the precarious state of our world and decided it was time to find solutions.

5. As a clear indicator of the shift from debating global warming to doing something about it, this year California passed the nation’s toughest legislation to curb greenhouse gases. The groundbreaking bill would require the state to cut back its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020—a reduction of approximately 25 percent. A smart politico, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger saw the green writing on the wall and joined the state’s Democrats in setting a new environmental standard for the rest of the nation to follow.

6. In a year when Enron executives were found guilty of cooking the books, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for proving that poor people can be more reliable money managers than rich ones. Yunus’ “microcredit movement” that started out giving small loans to poor Bangladeshis, mostly women, mushroomed into a worldwide movement that has extended small loans to millions of the world’s poor. By awarding Yunus the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee not only recognized the credit-worthiness of the poor but acknowledged that poverty is a threat to peace. As Yunus said in his acceptance speech, “I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy [for combating terrorism] than spending it on guns.”

7. While the fighting between Israel and Lebanon left over 1,000 dead, mostly Lebanese, a ceasefire was achieved after only 34 days. When the violence threatened to spiral out of control, the United Nations, the Arab League and individual governments stepped forward to insist on negotiations, to hammer out a ceasefire agreement and to provide international peacekeeping forces to serve as monitors. What could have been a prolonged conflict with devastating consequences for the entire region was halted. The lessons that SHOULD have been learned when the powerful Israeli military was unable to “win” the conflict through force are that military aggression will not solve the deep-seated problems in the region, and that negotiations and peace processes can work.

8. Speaking of dialogue, Jimmy Carter, with his new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid , took on the greatest taboo in US politics: the gross violation of Palestinian rights and the unqualified US government support for the Israeli government. Likening Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories to the racist white rule in South Africa, Carter has raised a firestorm of controversy. But finally, FINALLY, someone with the credentials of a statesman, a peacemaker and a friend of Israel is crying out against Israel’s hellish treatment of Palestinians. The public is embracing his views: his book quickly became a bestseller and he has been greeted by enthusiastic crowds at appearances around the country. Hopefully, our elected officials will start listening as well.

9. In 2006 we managed to stop the next war from starting! With the US bogged down in Iraq and the public sick of war, it has been impossible for the Bush administration to launch an attack against another country like Iran or North Korea. The army doesn’t have enough recruits to fight a new war and the politicians know it would be political suicide to reinstate the draft. Two major warmongers—Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton—were forced out of power. And with Bush obligated to appoint a new ambassador to the United Nations, perhaps diplomacy will come back into fashion.

10. Across Latin America, elections have continued to bring a wave of progressive leadership to power. With the victories of Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa, Nicaragua and Ecuador join Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil as governments committed to improving the lives of the majority. As a sign of the radical changes in the region, Bolivia’s Evo Morales marked May 1 by nationalizing the country’s oil and gas resources. “After today,” he declared, “the hydrocarbons will belong to all Bolivians. Never again will they be in the hands of transnational corporations. Today the country--la patria--stands up.”

So here’s a toast to nations standing up to greedy transnationals, to people standing up to leaders who abuse their power, to humanity standing up to save the planet we inhabit—and to bringing our troops home in 2007!

(Medea Benjamin -- -- is cofounder of CODEPINK -- -- and Global Exchange --

2. Reality Strikes Back, but Let's Not Have too Much Realism
In the coming year, we should not abandon all idealism along with the dangerous illusions of the Bush era.
By Timothy Garton Ash/The Guardian UK

In world politics, 2007 may be the year of realism. If that means getting rid of dangerous illusions, it's a good thing. If it means abandoning idealism, it's a bad thing. In the way of things, it will probably mean some of both. Back in 2002, a senior adviser to President Bush told the journalist Ron Suskind that people in "the reality-based community" - journalists, for example - had got it seriously wrong. "That's not the way the world really works any more," the adviser said. "We're an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality." So, while ignoring the reality-based evidence for global warming, and relying on what wits described as "faith-based intelligence" for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Bushies set about transforming the world through a democratic revolution kickstarted by the use of force. The empire struck.

Five years on, the reality has struck back. As we move into 2007, all the talk is of sobering realities - Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change and global economics. This is a positive development. At least we have got our feet back on the ground, even if the ground is hotter than it used to be. On climate change, I see the beginning of a big shift. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, writing in the Economist's World in 2007, puts climate change top of his list of global challenges. "Global warming is a reality and portends a dire future for us all, should insufficient action be taken," says John McCain, the leading Republican contender to succeed Bush as president. Insufficient action will be taken in 2007, you can be sure of that, but at least the reality is no longer denied.

A similar realism can be seen in relation to the Middle East. Even Bush is no longer pretending that "we're winning" in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group (ISG) has reaffirmed the centrality of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement to the future of the west's relations with the Arab and Muslim world. Even if the Bush administration is not prepared to talk directly to Iran and Syria, the idea of crusading against an ostracised "axis of evil" is comprehensively discredited. Of the three alleged members of that axis, Iraq is now more of a recruiting ground for terrorists than it was five years ago, North Korea has nuclear weapons and Iran is stronger than ever. So much for a faith-based foreign-policy.

Unfortunately, this new realism comes packaged with an older realism, or realpolitik - an approach, last seen in the administration of Bush Sr, which insists you must take your allies where you find them and not worry too much about the way they treat their subjects. The national interest, and the west's economic and security interests, justify good relations with friendly autocracies such as Saudi Arabia. James Baker, co-chair of the ISG, and Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Bush Sr, are leading representatives of this approach. Although Bush Jr is resisting this return of the father, the trend in Washington is clearly from Bush II back towards Bush I.

A country to watch in tracking this trend is Iran. Before the invasion of Iraq, we wanted two things from Iran. First, to slow down, and preferably halt, its nuclear programme. And, second, to speed up the process of domestic political change, leading to more respect for human rights, pluralism and, eventually, democracy. Now we want three things from Tehran: those two plus its help in stabilising Iraq, through its influence with the Shia majority there. Iran is stronger and more hostile, yet we want more from it. There is no way we will get all three at once. So which area will the west go soft on in 2007? I bet it will be human rights and democratisation.

Signs of the new old realism are also to be found in the policy of the west's most articulate serving exponent of idealistic liberal internationalism, Tony Blair. Recently, London rolled out the red carpet for the friendly dictator of Kazakhstan. In southern Iraq, British troops are preparing their withdrawal, leaving something well short of democracy. In Dubai before Christmas, Blair said that in the struggle against terrorism, and facing the threat from Iran, we must strengthen our ties with "moderate", albeit authoritarian, Arab states. Challenged about the authoritarian character of the United Arab Emirates - where, in recent elections to an advisory council, just 1% of citizens were allowed to vote - Blair told the Financial Times: "It's got to move at its own pace, but the direction is very clear."

I'm waiting for someone to pen a new version of the late Jeane Kirkpatrick's famous article of 1979, "Dictatorships and double standards", in which she argued that friendly, anti-Soviet, rightwing autocracies should be treated differently from pro-Soviet, leftwing totalitarian regimes. Double standards? Yes, please. Today, a friendly autocracy will be defined partly by its positioning in the struggle with jihadist terrorism and partly by its readiness to sell its energy and natural resources to the west. Since China is competing for those resources and does not give a damn about the human rights records of its suppliers, our capacity to impose political conditions on our suppliers is correspondingly reduced.

What should this policy be called? Most people have forgotten that Bush Jr came to power in 2001 preaching a "new realism", in contrast to what he pilloried as the unfocused, liberal idealist interventionism of the Clinton years. However, after the 9/11 attacks and especially in his second term, he came to advocate a breathtakingly idealist policy of global democratisation. The American political writer Robert Kagan described Bush's new approach as a "highe? realism". So that was the new new realism. Now we have the new new new realism, or new3 realism. If new2 realism had an unrealistically large admixture of idealism, believing that democracy would spread across the Middle East as it had across eastern Europe after 1989, new3 realism risks swinging back to the opposite extreme, making the old mistake of believing that a durable order can be built on friendly autocracies. So let us indeed have a reality-based international community in 2007, but let's not have too much realism. In the long run, nothing could be less realistic.

3. A Sentinel in Time -- by William Rivers Pitt

The calendar pages of our collective history are dotted with a gloomy constellation of days marked in blood, in woe, and in regret. The assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy; that last, hurried helicopter flight from that last rooftop on that last day of our time in Vietnam; the day four lifeless little bodies were pulled from the rubble of a bombed church in Birmingham; the December morning when Pearl Harbor was transformed into a graveyard etched in infamy, the September morning when we all watched those proud Towers in Manhattan crumble and fall - these moments, and the others of like kind too vast in number to name, defined us and transformed us even as they left their scars.

Sometimes, when such a grim milestone passes, we can say to ourselves, yes, it was this terrible day that revealed and released the strength, courage and perseverance which came, in time, to define that moment. We can, with deserved pride, glory in the memory of our passage through those crucibles, confident in the hard-won knowledge that we all have the capacity to overcome any trial, and that surpassing good can be forged in the fires of sorrow and pain.

Too often, however, we come to remember a day of darkness as bereft, with empty hands and hollowed hearts, deprived of the chance or ability to do more than bow our heads and wish it could have been, somehow, different. It requires a long passage of time, in most instances, to allow the cold realities of such days to sink in, and to absorb the brutal totality of consequences we have been burdened to endure in the aftermath. Some moments linger, haunting us, seemingly beyond redemption or solace.

Worst of all, such days breed more days to match or surpass them. The wretched offspring of one malignant moment are birthed into our future, where they wait like deep chasms in a darkened road. Like Booth's bullet, they cut a swath through time itself, and no matter our efforts or exertions, we never seem quite able to reach a place where we are free from their damned and damnable power to do us harm.

On the twentieth day of this coming new year, we will mark the sixth anniversary of the moment George W. Bush stood before Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, raised his right hand into a bitter wind, and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

This, in the fullness of time, may well stand as such a day. Everything we have endured these last six years - the death, the horror, the fear, the anger - was born that afternoon in Washington, DC. We have already suffered myriad consequences because of it - the shame of Abu Ghraib; the lingering fear of blue skies and airplanes; the ebb tide of freedom as rights become privileges too easily withheld, the bottomless sorrow stitched into nearly three thousand folded American flags while taps played to the wind - and it is a bleak certainty that further suffering born on that day lies in wait.

Consider some other anniversaries we will mark in this new year.

February 5th will be the fourth anniversary of Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations, in which he stated without equivocation that Saddam Hussein possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that could easily be delivered to terrorists for use against us. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, and all the bloody calamities to follow, became an inevitability on this day. It was not so much the presentation itself that sealed the deal - much of which was and remains laughably transparent - but Powell himself. Wreathed in the fawning adulation of the media establishment, the myth of his rectitude carried the day, thus damning untold thousands to death, suffering, and pain.

March 19th will likewise be the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, of "Shock and Awe," and of the moment a match was put to the fuse. Beyond the blood already spilled because of this day - blood like an ocean - is the carnage yet to come. Before much of this new year is gone, the only people still talking about "winning" in Iraq will be that small cadre of wretches who created this anniversary in the first place, whose monochromatic ideologies exploded an inescapable quagmire that will be generational in its impact upon us all.

May 1st will be the fourth anniversary of the day President Bush stood before an assembled gathering of servicemen and women on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to gleefully declare, under a bright banner reading "Mission Accomplished," that victory in Iraq had been achieved. Little needs to be said here, because the obvious grossness of some moments requires no further elaboration, except this: Of the nearly three thousand soldiers killed in Iraq, and the nearly 47,000 soldiers wounded in Iraq, only the barest fraction fell before the first of May 2003. All the rest have come in the long days, weeks, months, and years since that bright banner was unfurled.

December 17th will be the second anniversary of Bush's public confirmation that he had indeed authorized the National Security Agency to tap the telephones of countless American citizens - said taps having been undertaken without warrants. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a law requiring these warrants to protect citizens against undue governmental intrusion, was discarded out of hand through these actions. Despite the fact that almost no requests for FISA warrants have ever been denied, and that the parameters for obtaining these warrants are so broad that they can be obtained even after the surveillance is underway, Bush and his people deemed the FISA requirements too restrictive. On this anniversary, we mark the moment when a president placed himself above the law by fiat and suffered no consequences - the moment when each and every one of us stepped deeper into the doomed, imprisoned shadow of Winston Smith.

These are but a small sampling of the moments, days, decisions, and consequences unleashed on January 20, 2001. Freighted with deadly potential, each of these was born that day, and each has itself become a singularity, a creator of mayhem and strife in its own right. As that first moment poisoned the potential of so many tomorrows, so now do these. The bomb that kills a child in Baghdad creates the father whose revenge will be gained by another's senseless death. The official lie that goes unchallenged clears a path for the deadlier lies to follow. A deliberate chip in the walls defending our rights is the perfect spot to lay in the pry bar, until the chip becomes a hole through which tyranny may pass with stunning ease.

Thus, the anniversaries of woe are compounded; consequences spawned by consequences, and a future once defined by hope is transformed into a territory of dread.

Yet, in spite of all the horrors arrayed before us, even as our uncertain future whispers its omens of grief from an unfathomable darkness, there is a simple and unassailable truth standing sentinel against despair. We are that truth - all of us, every one. We are a defiant counterweight that can tip the scales of history. The wellspring of limitless possibility and potential that is humanity's astonishing birthright bestows upon each of us the means to be the alchemists of o?r own fate.

You are the bulwark, as this new year approaches: a defining line between the possible and the inevitable. The terrible moments of our past reach out to define our future, to create new anniversaries of mourning from the old. Only your will can keep this beast at bay. If you choose to, if you summon the courage and strength and perseverance that have served us well so many times before, the momentum of that cold January day and all the days that followed will be checked.

You are stronger than history, if you choose to be so. The future is yours to create, if you choose to do so. The moments to come are yours. Let nothing and no one steal them from you. Guard them with your life, because that is exactly what they are.

(William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence .His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation , will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.)

4. Ike Was Right -- by Robert Scheer/

The public, seeing through the tissue of Bush administration lies told to justify an invasion that never had anything to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 or weapons of mass destruction, now has begun a national questioning: Why are we still in Iraq? The answers posted most widely on the Internet by critics of the war suggest its continuation as a naked imperial grab for the world's second-largest petroleum source, but that is wrong.

It's not primarily about the oil; it's much more about the military-industrial complex, the label employed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower 45 years ago when he warned of the dangers of "a permanent arms industry of vast proportions."

The Cold War had provided the rationale for the first peacetime creation of a militarized economy. While the former general, Eisenhower, was well aware of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union, he chose in his farewell presidential address to the nation to warn that the war profiteers had an agenda of their own, one that was inimical to the survival of American democracy:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Ponder those words as you consider the predominant presence of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in the councils of this White House, and how his old company has profiteered more than any other from the disaster that is Iraq. Despite having been found to have overcharged some $60 million to the U.S. military for fuel deliveries, the formerly bankrupt Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in lucrative contracts.

There is more. Military spending has skyrocketed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, returning to Cold War levels. A devastating report by the Center for Defense Information, founded by former top-ranking admirals and generals, reveals that in the most recent federal budget overall defense spending will rise to more than $550 billion. Compare that to the $20 billion that the United Nations and all of its agencies and funds spend each year on all of its programs to make this a safer and more livable world.

That U.S. military budget exceeds what the rest of the world's nations combined spend on defense. Nor can it be justified as militarily necessary to counter terrorists, who used primitive $10 box cutters to commandeer civilian aircraft on 9/11. It only makes sense as a field of dreams for defense contractors and their allies in Washington who seized upon the 9/11 tragedy to invent a new Cold War. Imagine their panic at the end of the old one and their glee at this newfound opportunity.

Yes, some in those circles were also eager to exploit Iraq's oil wealth, which does explain the abysmal indifference to the deteriorating situation in resource-poor Afghanistan, birthplace of the Sept. 11 plot, while our nation's resources are squandered in occupying Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.

Yes, some, like Paul Wolfowitz, the genius who was the No. 2 in the U.S. Defense Department and has been rewarded for his leadership with appointment as head of the World Bank, did argue that Iraq's oil revenue would pay for our imperial adventure. A recent study by Nobel Prize-wining economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard University's Linda Bilmes marked that absurdity by estimating the true cost of the Iraq adventure to U.S taxpayers at a whopping $2.267 trillion, in excess of any cost borne by the Iraqis themselves.

The big prize here for Bush's foreign policy is not the acquisition of natural resources or the enhancement of U.S. security, but rather the lining of the pockets of the defense contractors, the merchants of death who mine our treasury. But because the arms industry is coddled by political parties and the mass media, their antics go largely unnoticed. Our politicians and pundits argue endlessly about a couple of billion dollars that may be spent on improving education or ending poverty, but they casually waste that amount in a few days in Iraq.

As Eisenhower warned: "We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.... We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

Too bad we no longer have leading Republicans, or Democrats, warning of that danger.


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