Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Interview - Standing Up to the Madness

Interview with David Goodman co-author of the book "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times"

Mosaic News - 5/19/08: World News from the Middle East

Mosaic News - 5/16/08: World News from the Middle East

Mosaic News - 5/15/08: World News from the Middle East

House Passes Bill to Sue OPEC Over Oil Prices

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Washington - The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices, but the White House threatened to veto the measure.

The bill would subject OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, to the same antitrust laws that U.S. companies must follow.

The measure passed in a 324-84 vote, a big enough margin to override a presidential veto.

The legislation also creates a Justice Department task force to aggressively investigate gasoline price gouging and energy market manipulation.

"This bill guarantees that oil prices will reflect supply and demand economic rules, instead of wildly speculative and perhaps illegal activities," said Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who sponsored the legislation.

The lawmaker said Americans "are at the mercy" of OPEC for how much they pay for gasoline, which this week hit a record average of $3.79 a gallon.

The White House opposes the bill, saying that targeting OPEC investment in the United States as a source for damage awards "would likely spur retaliatory action against American interests in those countries and lead to a reduction in oil available to U.S. refiners."

The administration said less oil going to refineries would limit available gasoline supplies and raise fuel prices.

Foreign investment in U.S. oil infrastructure has declined in the last decade. But the state-owned oil companies of several OPEC nations are owners of U.S. refineries, and those investments could be affected if the legislation becomes law, said Arlington, Virginia-based FBR Capital Markets Corp.

The bill also requires the Government Accountability Office to carryout a study on the effects of prior oil company mergers on energy prices.

The Senate would still have to approve the House measure.

The Senate previously approved similar legislation as part of a broad energy bill. However, the OPEC-suing provision was removed after White House opposition in order to get the underlying energy legislation signed into law.

Bush's Endless Hypocrisy on Terror

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By Robert Parry

Is a government guilty of terrorism if it harbors known terrorists? What should one say about a country that permits open fund-raising on behalf of a terrorist implicated in the mass killing of civilians?

What about a government that secretly arms a guerrilla army that wantonly kills and abuses civilians while seeking to overthrow an elected government?

If your answer to those questions is to recite George W. Bush’s dictum that a government that harbors or helps terrorists should be punished just like the terrorists, then you must turn your wrath on the U.S. government and the Bush family -- guilty on all the above points.

But the U.S. political/media system continues to view the world through a cracked lens that focuses outrage on “enemy” regimes while refracting away a comparable fury from similar actions by U.S. officials.

So, while President Bush ponders whether to add Venezuela to the terrorist list – because of a captured Colombian guerrilla computer that appears to implicate Hugo Chavez’s government in weapons smuggling – Bush would broach no criticism of Ronald Reagan who armed Nicaraguan contra guerrillas in the 1980s.

Reagan continued that covert war even after the ruling Sandinistas won an election in 1984 that most outside observers praised as free and fair and even after the facts of the contras’ human rights abuses – kidnapping, torturing and murdering civilians – became widely known and were acknowledged by some senior contra leaders.

Though Reagan was well aware of the contras’ cruelty (he privately called them “vandals”), he hailed them publicly as “freedom fighters” and equated them with America’s “Founding Fathers.”

Reagan kept arming the contras even after Congress ordered him to stop and the World Court ruled against the CIA’s secret mining of Nicaragua’s harbors.

Reagan also backed vicious rebel forces in Angola and Afghanistan (including foreign Islamic fundamentalists who later coalesced into al-Qaeda) and supported state terror against civilian populations in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands.

By any stretch of the imagination – if any other country had so brazenly violated international law and human rights standards – that government would be condemned by civilized nations and would be treated as a terrorist pariah.

However, the vast majority of Republicans and many Democrats view Reagan as a political icon deserving of honors, such as having Washington’s National Airport renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport.

To suggest that the late President was a war criminal or a sponsor of terrorism is unthinkable within the U.S. political mainstream. [For details on Reagan’s war crimes, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Bush Family Terrorism

Similarly, it is unacceptable to note how the Bush family has protected Cuban-American terrorists – from 1976 when George H.W. Bush ran the CIA to the present when George W. Bush balks at an extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles, wanted on Venezuelan terrorism charges for blowing up a Cubana airliner and killing 73 people in 1976.

On May 2, 2008, more than six years into President Bush’s “global war on terror,” there was a remarkable scene in Miami as Posada, now 80, was feted at a gala fundraising dinner. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund as he remains free facing half-hearted U.S. government litigation on a minor immigration charge.

Posada, who has had plastic surgery to repair damage to his face from a shooting in the late 1980s, arrived to thundering applause. Then, in a bristling speech against the Castro regime in Cuba, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”

Venezuela’s Ambassador the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” the ambassador said.

Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen who worked for Venezuela’s intelligence agency in the 1970s, masterminded the 1976 Cubana airline bombing, according to evidence compiled by the U.S. government and in South America.

Despite Posada’s record – and despite the strong evidence against him in U.S. government files – Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture Posada when he sneaked into Miami in 2005. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference.

Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela, the Bush administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported for lying on an immigration form.

During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.

After that ruling, Ambassador Alvarez accused the Bush administration of applying “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”

Different Standards

The kid-glove treatment of Posada and other right-wing Cubans stands in marked contrast to President Bush’s tough handling of Islamic militants. While Posada is afforded all U.S. legal protections and then some, suspected Islamic terrorists are locked away without trial at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and face “alternative interrogation techniques.”

On May 15 in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, Bush even denounced Western political leaders who advocate negotiations with “terrorists and radicals,” likening the idea to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler.

But Bush’s hard-line stance doesn’t apply to terrorism that’s in line with U.S. foreign policy or that connects to Bush’s family. In those cases, opposite standards apply.

For instance, even as Posada’s record for terrorism was relevant to his immigration case, the Bush administration sat on evidence implicating him in a series of 1997 hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist.

The Associated Press reported that an FBI document, belatedly filed with the court, revealed that a confidential source had planted a listening device in a Guatemalan utility company office, picking up conversations about smuggling a “putty-like explosive” into Cuba in the shoes of operatives posing as tourists.

The source added that another employee of the utility company found 22 plastic tubes in a closet in August 1997 labeled "high-powered explosives, extremely dangerous." The explosives were being mixed into shampoo bottles, the employee said.

According to the AP, the confidential source provided the FBI with a fax about wire transfers from individuals in New Jersey that was signed Solo, one of Posada’s aliases.

The FBI concluded that at least $19,000 in wire transfers connected to the hotel bombings were sent from the United States to El Salvador and Guatemala to a "Ramon Medina," the code name used by Posada in the 1980s when he worked on Oliver North’s operations. [AP, May 4, 2007]

In 1998, in interviews with a New York Times reporter, Posada admitted a role in the Havana bombings, citing a goal of frightening tourists away from Cuba.

But Posada later denied making the admissions. He also has denied masterminding the 1976 airliner bombing in collusion with another notorious Cuban exile, Orlando Bosch, who moved to Miami, too, with the help and protection of the Bush family.

Not only did the Bush administration take a dive during Posada’s deportation hearing by letting the Venezuela torture claim go unchallenged, but also it ignored Bosch’s statement a year earlier, when he justified the 1976 mid-air bombing in a TV interview with reporter Manuel Cao on Miami’s Channel 41.

When Cao asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados, Bosch responded, "In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”

“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked.

“Who was on board that plane?” Bosch responded. “Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese.” [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]

Bosch added, “Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies…”

“And the fencers?” Cao asked about Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people on board?”

Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. … She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.

“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.” [The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA undercover asset.]

“If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult?” Cao asked.

“No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba,” Bosch answered.

Venezuela Case

Beyond Bosch’s incriminating statements about the Cubana Airlines bombing, other evidence of his and Posada’s guilt is overwhelming.

Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana Airlines plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.

But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in anti-communist Cuban extremists Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP.

The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”

On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.

“Following the 6 October Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”

In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.

A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.

Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.

After President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. The Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.

Iran-Contra Role

In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison, reportedly with the help of Cuban exiles. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for providing the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.

Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to Vice President Bush. Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.

After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run contra-supply operation.

When one of the contra-supply planes was shot down inside Nicaragua in October 1986, Posada alerted U.S. officials and shut down the operation’s safe houses in El Salvador. Even after the exposure of Posada’s role in the contra-supply operation, the U.S. government made no effort to bring the accused terrorist to justice.

By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.

But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb’s dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.

In 1992, also during the first Bush presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret contra operation. According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.

“Posada … recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy to freedom. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]

More Plotting

Posada soon returned to his anti-Castro plotting.

In 1994, Posada set out to kill Fidel Castro during a trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Posada and five cohorts reached Cartagena, but the plan flopped when security cordons prevented the would-be assassins from getting a clean shot, according to a Miami Herald account. [Miami Herald, June 7, 1998]

The Herald also described Posada’s role in a lethal 1997 bombing campaign against popular hotels and restaurants inside Cuba. The story cited documentary evidence that Posada arranged payments to conspirators from accounts in the United States.

“This afternoon you will receive via Western Union four transfers of $800 each … from New Jersey,” said one fax signed by SOLO, a Posada alias.

Posada landed back in jail in 2000 after Cuban intelligence uncovered a plot to assassinate Castro by planting a bomb at a meeting the Cuban leader planned with university students in Panama.

Panamanian authorities arrested Posada and other alleged co-conspirators in November 2000. In April 2004, they were sentenced to eight or nine years in prison for endangering public safety.

Four months after the sentencing, however, lame-duck Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso – who had a home in Key Biscayne, Florida, and had close ties to President George W. Bush’s administration – pardoned the convicts.

Just two months before Election 2004, three of Posada’s co-conspirators – Guillermo Novo Sampol, Pedro Remon and Gaspar Jimenez – arrived in Miami to a hero’s welcome, flashing victory signs at their supporters.

While the terrorists celebrated, U.S. authorities watched the men – also implicated in bombings in New York, New Jersey and Florida – alight on U.S. soil.

Washington Post writer Marcela Sanchez noted in a September 2004 article about the Panamanian pardons that “there is something terribly wrong when the United States, after Sept. 11 (2001), fails to condemn the pardoning of terrorists and instead allows them to walk free on U.S. streets.” [Washington Post, Sept. 3, 2004]

Posada reportedly sneaked into the United States in early 2005 and his presence was an open secret in Miami for weeks before U.S. authorities did anything. The New York Times summed up Bush’s dilemma if Posada decided to seek U.S. asylum.

“A grant of asylum could invite charges that the Bush administration is compromising its principle that no nation should harbor suspected terrorists,” the Times wrote. “But to turn Mr. Posada away could provoke political wrath in the conservative Cuban-American communities of South Florida, deep sources of support and campaign money for President Bush and his brother, Jeb.” [NYT, May 9, 2005]

Only after Posada called a news conference to announce his presence was the Bush administration shamed into arresting him. But even then, the administration balked at sending Posada back to Venezuela where the Chavez government – unlike some of its predecessors – was eager to prosecute.

The next Bush move was to bungle the immigration case and thus let Posada live out his golden years as a hero in Miami.

The handling of the Posada-Bosch cases – when they are put next to Bush’s tough-guy attitude toward Islamic terrorism – point to one unavoidable and unpleasant conclusion: that the Bush family regards terrorism – defined as killing civilians for a political reason – as justified or at least tolerable in cases when their interests match those of the terrorists.

A principled rejection of terrorism only applies to the other guys.

[For more on how the senior George Bush looked the other way on Chile’s international terrorism, see Consortiumnews.com’s “When the Terrorists Were Our Guys.”]

Torturing Iron Man

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By Nick Turse

The Strange Reversals of a Pentagon Blockbuster

"Liberal Hollywood" is a favorite whipping-boy of right-wingers who suppose the town and its signature industry are ever-at-work undermining the U.S. military. In reality, the military has been deeply involved with the film industry since the Silent Era. Today, however, the ad hoc arrangements of the past have been replaced by a full-scale one-stop shop, occupying a floor of a Los Angeles office building. There, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense itself have established entertainment liaison offices to help ensure that Hollywood makes movies the military way.

What they have to trade, especially when it comes to blockbuster films, is access to high-tech, tax-payer funded, otherwise unavailable gear. What they get in return is usually the right to alter or shape scripts to suit their needs. If you want to see the fruits of this relationship in action, all you need to do is head down to your local multiplex. Chances are that Iron Man -- the latest military-entertainment masterpiece -- is playing on a couple of screens.

For the past three weeks, Iron Man --a film produced by its comic-book parent Marvel and distributed by Paramount Pictures -- has cleaned up at the box office, taking in a staggering $222.5 million in the U.S. and $428.5 million worldwide. The movie, which opened with "the tenth biggest weekend box office performance of all time" and the second biggest for a non-sequel, has the added distinction of being the "best-reviewed movie of 2008 so far." For instance, in the New York Times, movie reviewer A.O. Scott called Iron Man "an unusually good superhero picture," while Roger Ebert wrote: "The world needs another comic book movie like it needs another Bush administration… [but] if we must have one more… ‘Iron Man’ is a swell one to have." There has even been nascent Oscar buzz.

Robert Downey Jr. has been nearly universally praised for a winning performance as playboy-billionaire-merchant-of-death-genius-inventor Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, a fictional version of Lockheed or Boeing. In the film, Stark travels to Afghanistan to showcase a new weapon of massive destruction to American military commanders occupying that country. On a Humvee journey through the Afghan backlands, his military convoy is caught up in a deadly ambush by al-Qaeda stand-ins, who capture him and promptly subject him to what Vice President Dick Cheney once dubbed "a dunk in the water," but used to be known as "the Water Torture." The object is to force him to build his Jericho weapons system, one of his "masterpieces of death," in their Tora Bora-like mountain cave complex.

As practically everyone in the world already knows, Stark instead builds a prototype metal super-suit and busts out of his cave of confinement, slaughtering his terrorist captors as he goes. Back in the U.S., a born-again Stark announces that his company needs to get out of the weapons game, claiming he has "more to offer the world than making things blow up." Yet, what he proceeds to build is, of course, a souped-up model of the suit he designed in the Afghan cave. Back inside it, as Iron Man, he then uses it to "blow up" bad guys in Afghanistan, taking on the role of a kind of (super-)human-rights vigilante. He even tangles with U.S. forces in the skies over that occupied land, but when the Air Force’s sleek, ultra high-tech, F-22A Raptors try to shoot him down, he refrains from using his awesome powers of invention to blow them away. This isn’t the only free pass doled out to the U.S. military in the film.

Just as America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to bring various Vietnam analogies to mind, Iron Man has its own Vietnam pedigree. Before Tony Stark landed in Afghanistan in 2008, he first lumbered forth in Vietnam in the 1960s. That was, of course, when he was still just the clunky hero of the comic book series on which the film is based. Marvel’s metal man then battled that era’s American enemies of choice: not al-Qaedan-style terrorists, but communists in Southeast Asia.

Versions of the stereotypical evil Asians of Iron Man’s comic book world would appear almost unaltered on the big screen in 1978 in another movie punctuated by gunfire and explosions that also garnered great reviews. The Deer Hunter, an epic of loss and horror in Vietnam, eventually took home four Academy Awards, including Best Picture honors. Then, and since, however, the movie has been excoriated by antiwar critics for the way it turned history on its head in its use of reversed iconic images that seemingly placed all guilt for death and destruction in Vietnam on America’s enemies.

Most famously, it appropriated a then-unforgettable Pulitzer prize-winning photo of Lt. Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s national police chief, executing an unarmed, bound prisoner during the Tet Offensive with a point blank pistol shot to the head. In the film, however, it was the evil enemy which made American prisoners do the same to themselves as they were forced to play Russian Roulette for the amusement of their sadistic Vietnamese captors (something that had no basis in reality).

The film Iron Man is replete with such reversals, starting with the obvious fact that, in Afghanistan, it is Americans who have imprisoned captured members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban (as well as untold innocents) in exceedingly grim conditions, not vice-versa. It is they who, like Tony Stark, have been subjected to the Bush administration’s signature "harsh interrogation technique." While a few reviewers have offhandedly alluded to the eeriness of this screen choice, Iron Man has suffered no serious criticism for taking the imprisonment practices, and most infamous torture, of the Bush years and superimposing it onto America’s favorite evil-doers. Nor have critics generally thought to point out that, while, in the film, the nefarious Obadiah Stane, Stark’s right hand man, is a double-dealing arms dealer who is selling high-tech weapons systems to the terrorists in Afghanistan (and trying to kill Stark as well), two decades ago the U.S. government played just that role. For years, it sent advanced weapons systems -- including Stinger missiles, one of the most high-tech weapons of that moment -- to jihadis in Afghanistan so they could make war on one infidel superpower (the Soviet Union), before setting their sights on another (the United States). And while this took place way back in the 1980s, it shouldn’t be too hard for film critics to recall – since it was lionized in last year’s celebrated Tom Hanks film Charlie Wilson’s War.

In the cinematic Marvel Universe, however, the U.S. military, which runs the notorious prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where so many have been imprisoned, abused, and, in some cases, have even died, receives a veritable get out of jail free card. And you don’t need to look very closely to understand why -- or why the sleek U.S. aircraft in the film get a similar free pass from Iron Man, even when they attack him, or why terrorists and arms dealers take the fall for what the U.S. has done in the real world.

If they didn’t, you can be sure that Iron Man wouldn’t be involved in a blue-skies ballet with F-22A Raptors in the movie’s signature scene and that the filmmakers would never have been able to shoot at Edwards Air Force base -- a prospect which could have all but grounded Iron Man, since, as director Jon Favreau put it, Edwards was "the best back lot you could ever have." Favreau, in fact, minced no words in his ardent praise for the way working with the Air Force gave him access to the "best stuff" and how filming on the base brought "a certain prestige to the film." Perhaps in exchange for the U.S. Air Force’s collaboration, there was an additional small return favor: Iron Man’s confidant, sidekick, and military liaison, Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes -- another hero of the film -- is now an Air Force man, not the Marine he was in the comic.

With the box office numbers still pouring in and the announcement of sequels to come, the arrangement has obviously worked out well for Favreau, Marvel, Paramount -- and the U.S. Air Force. Before the movie was released, Master Sergeant Larry Belen, the superintendent of technical support for the Air Force Test Pilot School and one of many airmen who auditioned for a spot in the movie, outlined his motivation to aid the film: "I want people to walk away from this movie with a really good impression of the Air Force, like they got about the Navy seeing Top Gun."

Air Force captain Christian Hodge, the Defense Department’s project officer for Iron Man, may have put it best, however, when he predicted that, once the film appeared, the "Air Force is going to come off looking like rock stars." Maybe the Air Force hasn’t hit the Top Gun-style jackpot with Iron Man, but there can be no question that, in an American world in which war-fighting doesn’t exactly have the glitz of yesteryear, Iron Man is certainly a military triumph. As Chuck Vinch noted in a review published in the Air Force Times, "The script… will surely have the flyboy brass back at the Pentagon trading high fives -- especially the scene in which Iron Man dogfights in the high clouds with two F-22 Raptors."

Coming on the heels of last year’s military-aided mega-spectacular Transformers, the Pentagon is managing to keep a steady stream of pro-military blockbusters in front of young eyes during two dismally unsuccessful foreign occupations that grind on without end. In his Iron Man review, Roger Ebert called the pre-transformation Tony Stark, "the embodiment of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against in 1961 -- a financial superhero for whom war is good business, and whose business interests guarantee there will always be a market for war."

Here’s the irony that Ebert missed: What the film Iron Man actually catches is the spirit of the successor "complex," which has leapt not only into the cinematic world of superheroes, but also into the civilian sphere of our world in a huge way. Today, almost everywhere you look, whether at the latest blockbuster on the big screen or what’s on much smaller screens in your own home -- likely made by a defense contractor like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic or Toshiba -- you’ll find the Pentagon or its corporate partners. In fact, from the companies that make your computer to those that produce your favorite soft drink, many of the products in your home are made by Defense Department contractors -- and, if you look carefully, you don’t even need the glowing eyes of an advanced "cybernetic helmet," like Iron Man’s, to see them.

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Adbusters, the Nation, and regularly for Tomdispatch.com. His first book, The Complex, an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, was recently published in the American Empire Project series by Metropolitan Books.

The Old Titans All Collapsed. Is the U.S. Next?

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By Kevin Phillips

Back in August, during the panic over mortgages, Alan Greenspan offered reassurance to an anxious public. The current turmoil, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman said, strongly resembled brief financial scares such as the Russian debt crisis of 1998 or the U.S. stock market crash of 1987. Not to worry.

But in the background, one could hear the groans and feel the tremors as larger political and economic tectonic plates collided. Nine months later, Greenspan's soothing analogies no longer wash. The U.S. economy faces unprecedented debt levels, soaring commodity prices and sliding home prices, to say nothing of a weak dollar. Despite the recent stabilization of the economy, some economists fear that the world will soon face the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s.

That analogy is hardly a perfect fit; there's almost no chance of another sequence like the Great Depression, where the stock market dove 80 percent, joblessness reached 25 percent, and the Great Plains became a dustbowl that forced hundreds of thousands of "Okies" to flee to California. But Americans should worry that the current unrest betokens the sort of global upheaval that upended previous leading world economic powers, most notably Britain.

More than 80 percent of Americans now say that we are on the wrong track, but many if not most still believe that the history of other nations is irrelevant -- that the United States is unique, chosen by God. So did all the previous world economic powers: Rome, Spain, the Netherlands (in the maritime glory days of the 17th century, when New York was New Amsterdam) and 19th-century Britain. Their early strength was also their later weakness, not unlike the United States since the 1980s.

There is a considerable literature on these earlier illusions and declines. Reading it, one can argue that imperial Spain, maritime Holland and industrial Britain shared a half-dozen vulnerabilities as they peaked and declined: a sense of things no longer being on the right track, intolerant or missionary religion, military or imperial overreach, economic polarization, the rise of finance (displacing industry) and excessive debt. So too for today's United States.

Before we amplify the contemporary U.S. parallels, the skeptic can point out how doomsayers in each nation, while eventually correct, were also premature. In Britain, for example, doubters fretted about becoming another Holland as early as the 1860s, and apprehension surged again in the 1890s, based on the industrial muscle of such rivals as Germany and the United States. By the 1940s, those predictions had come true, but in practical terms, the critics of the 1860s and 1890s were too early.

Premature fears have also dogged the United States. The decades after the 1968 election were marked by waves of a new national apprehension: that U.S. post-World War II global hegemony was in danger. The first, in 1968-72, involved a toxic mix of global trade and currency crises and the breakdown of the U.S. foreign policy consensus over Southeast Asia. Books emerged with titles such as "Retreat From Empire?" and "The End of the American Era." More national malaise followed Watergate and the fall of Saigon. Stage three came in the late 1980s, when a resurgent Japan seemed to be challenging U.S. preeminence in manufacturing and possibly even finance. In 1991, Democratic presidential aspirant Paul Tsongas observed that "the Cold War is over. . . . Germany and Japan won." Well, not quite.

In 2008, we can mark another perilous decade: the tech mania of 1997-2000, morphing into a bubble and market crash; the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; imperial hubris and the Bush administration's bungled 2003 invasion of Iraq. These were followed by OPEC's abandoning its $22-$28 price range for oil, with the cost per barrel rising over five years to more than $100; the collapse of global respect for the United States over the Iraq war; the imploding U.S. housing market and debt bubble; and the almost 50 percent decline of the U.S. dollar against the euro since 2002. Small wonder a global financial crisis is in the air.

Here, then, is the unnerving possibility: that another, imminent global crisis could make the half-century between the 1970s and the 2020s the equivalent for the United States of what the half-century before 1950 was for Britain. This may well be the Big One: the multi-decade endgame of U.S. ascendancy. The chronology makes historical sense -- four decades of premature jitters segueing into unhappy reality.

The most chilling parallel with the failures of the old powers is the United States' unhealthy reliance on the financial sector as the engine of its growth. In the 18th century, the Dutch thought they could replace their declining industry and physical commerce with grand money-lending schemes to foreign nations and princes. But a series of crashes and bankruptcies in the 1760s and 1770s crippled Holland's economy. In the early 1900s, one apprehensive minister argued that Britain could not thrive as a "hoarder of invested securities" because "banking is not the creator of our prosperity but the creation of it." By the late 1940s, the debt loads of two world wars proved the point, and British global economic leadership became history.

In the United States, the financial services sector passed manufacturing as a component of the GDP in the mid-1990s. But market enthusiasm seems to have blocked any debate over this worrying change: In the 1970s, manufacturing occupied 25 percent of GDP and financial services just 12 percent, but by 2003-06, finance enjoyed 20-21 percent, and manufacturing had shriveled to 12 percent.

The downside is that the final four or five percentage points of financial-sector GDP expansion in the 1990s and 2000s involved mischief and self-dealing: the exotic mortgage boom, the reckless bundling of loans into securities and other innovations better left to casinos. Run-amok credit was the lubricant. Between 1987 and 2007, total debt in the United States jumped from $11 trillion to $48 trillion, and private financial-sector debt led the great binge.

Washington looked kindly on the financial sector throughout the 1980s and 1990s, providing it with endless liquidity flows and bailouts. Inexcusably, movers and shakers such as Greenspan, former treasury secretary Robert Rubin and the current secretary, Henry Paulson, refused to regulate the industry. All seemed to welcome asset bubbles; they may have figured the finance industry to be the new dominant sector of economic evolution, much as industry had replaced agriculture in the late 19th century. But who seriously expects the next great economic power -- China, India, Brazil -- to have a GDP dominated by finance?

With the help of the overgrown U.S. financial sector, the United States of 2008 is the world's leading debtor, has by far the largest current-account deficit and is the leading importer, at great expense, of both manufactured goods and oil. The potential damage if the world soon undergoes the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s is incalculable. The loss of global economic leadership that overtook Britain and Holland seems to be looming on our own horizon.

The Incredible Shrinking Superpower

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Worried about the high cost of filling up? President Bush is on the case. Last Friday he arrived in Riyadh to urge King Abdullah, the leader of the world's largest petroleum producer, Saudi Arabia, to put more oil on the market.
At the sun-bleached airport, Bush was greeted with the Gulf's signature mix of garish oil wealth and tinpot amateurism. A large retinue of royalty watched as a band played an off-key version of the U.S. national anthem. Bush walked through the cavernous air terminal to his motorcade and drove to the monarch's "farm" at al Janadriyah. Through the enormous gates and along alleys of dying shrubs and trees fed by miles of futile drip hoses, he made his way to the King's "villa," a marble-clad, poured concrete palace. Through a foyer with a statue of a cheetah felling an antelope and anterooms full of attendants, Bush strolled deep into Abdullah's inner sanctum, past the portly King's private exercise pool, his Stair-Master and his "Vibromass" anti-cellulite belt-massager, to his personal study, where a console of 24 small TVs filled one wall and two overstuffed chairs coddled the leaders.

It was there, after much pomp and circumstance, that Bush made his request. And it was there that the King still said no.

That was the sum result, anyway, of Bush's efforts to ease your gas bills on his visit to Saudi Arabia. In fact, Bush didn't do much better on the rest of his five-day trip to the region. Oil prices aren't the only issue America faces in the Middle East; they may not even be the most important. The Iranian regime is busy gaining the ability to build a nuclear weapon. Bush made no progress convincing allies to pressure it to change course. Iran is also arming and training anti-Israeli forces in Gaza and Lebanon. Instead of backing down, those groups stepped up attacks on America's allies before and during Bush's trip. Even the nominal purpose of the trip, bolstering Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, produced no progress, unless progress includes the inauguration of a general election battle between Bush and Barack Obama over national security.

But if a record number of Americans disapprove of Bush's performance as President, the issues he spent five days not fixing in the Middle East may not be ones he — or anyone else in America — can do much about. Bush is a lame duck, and foreigners know it. But his successor, Republican or Democrat, will find that America's influence in the world is at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War. The question these days isn't "how weak is Bush?", it's "how weak is America?"

Bush's trip offered a sobering answer. After the President's meetings with the Saudis, his National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, came to the "villa" where the traveling press corps was working and made a prolonged effort to explain why, even if the Saudis did boost oil production, it wouldn't reduce the cost of gas in the U.S. "The bottom line is," said Hadley, "the problem of high gas prices is more than just about oil, it's more than just about Saudi, and it's more than just about short-term production." All of which is true. Unsaid was the fact that even if the Saudis could reduce gas and oil prices, why would they? They're making a lot of money and the U.S. doesn't have much leverage to convince them they ought to make less.

The Arab-Israeli peace process is no one's idea of an easy fix, but it's failing now, in part, because of American weakness. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to work on a framework for an eventual settlement that could be signed by the end of the year, even if the two sides couldn't make peace on the ground while they are negotiating. But the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, opposes a peace deal and is gaining power from Abbas and launching attacks on Israel with greater frequency, taking advantage of public skepticism there for any kind of peace agreement. The U.S. has tried to rally Arab pressure on Hamas, only to see it grow stronger.

The most important of the tough issues Bush's successor will inherit in the region is the confrontation with Iran. In Israel and the Arab states there is mounting unease, in some cases outright fear, at the idea of a nuclear Iran. But Iran is shrugging off U.N. sanctions that Russia and China are ensuring remain half-hearted. And with the U.S. pinned down in Iraq and Afghanistan there's little Washington can do to scare Iran into changing its ambitions. On Sunday, on the flight back to Washington, when Condoleezza Rice was asked if there was any progress on pressuring Iran, she said, "The important thing is that the President significantly advanced the discussion about really using the strengths that this community of states [in the region] has." Translation: no.

Americans tend to think of the presidency as all-powerful, but much of its authority comes from the ability to convince the public to follow, and the same is sometimes true in diplomacy. The time when George W. Bush could perform that trick has long passed. But if Americans are adjusting to the idea of a weak Bush, an even tougher mental leap awaits them once he leaves office: accepting that the U.S. isn't the force abroad it was just a few years ago. The next President's hardest job may be getting the country used to that.

I Declared My Independence

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By Cynthia McKinney's

Cynthia McKinney's Speech - Al Nakba Rally, NYC May 16, 2008

On my birthday last year, I declared my independence from a national leadership that, through its votes in support of the war machine, is now complicit in war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the peace.I declared my independence from every bomb dropped, every veteran maimed, and every child killed. I noted that the Democratic leadership in Congress had failed to restore this country to Constitutional rule by repealing the Patriot Acts, the Secret Evidence Act, and the Military Commissions Act. That it had aided and abetted illegal spying against the American people. And that it took impeachment off the table.

In addition, the Democratic Congressional leadership failed to promote the economic integrity of this country by not repealing the Bush tax cuts. They failed to institute a livable wage, Medicare-for- all health care, and gave even more money to the Pentagon as it misuses our hard-earned dollars.
We can add to that list, too, an abject failure to stand up for human rights and dignity.

If the Democratic and Republican leadership won't respect the right of return for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors, how can we expect them to champion the right of return for Palestinians?

If this country's leadership tolerates the wanton murder of unarmed black and Latino men by law enforcement officials—extra-judicial killings—how can we expect them to stop or even speak out against targeted assassinations in the Middle East?

If the Democratic and Republican leadership accept ethnic cleansing in this country by way of gentrification and predatory lending, why should we expect them to put an end to it in Palestine?

If the leadership of this country impedes self-determination for native peoples in this country, why should we expect them to support indigenous rights for anyone abroad?

And sadly, the sensationalist corporate media would rather trick us into thinking that reporting on a pastor, a former Vice Presidential nominee, and a former cable TV magnate constitutes this country's much-needed discussion of its own apartheid past and present, so why should we expect an honest discussion of apartheid and Zionism?

I hope by now it is clear. Our values will never be reflected in public policy as long as our political parties and our country remain hijacked. Hijacked by false patriots who usurp the applause of the people and all the while betray our values.

I've decided that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will operate any longer as business as usual—not in my name. That Democrats and Republicans will use my tax dollars and betray my values, not one day longer—not in my name. That neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have earned my most precious political asset—my vote. And that now is the time to do some things I've never done before in order to have some things I've never had before. And so here today, I declare my independence from weapons transfers: including Apache Helicopters; F'16s; sidewinder, hellfire, and Stinger missiles.

I declare my independence from occupation, demolished homes, political prisoners, and babies dying at checkpoints.

I declare my independence from UN vetoes, expropriated land, stolen resources, and the installation of puppet regimes.

I declare my independence from all forms of dehumanization and am not afraid to speak truth to power. And I am happy to join with peace-loving people around the world who know that there can be no peace without justice.

Let us never tire in our work for justice. Thank you.

Trash the Constitution

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By Ray McGovern

Attack Iran

I have not been able to find out how to reach you directly, so I drafted this letter in the hope it will be brought to your attention.

First, thank you for honoring the oath we commissioned officers take to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. At the same time, you have let it be known that you do not intend to speak, on or off the record, about Iran.

But our oath has no expiration date. While you are acutely aware of the dangers of attacking Iran, you seem to be allowing an inbred reluctance to challenge the commander in chief to trump that oath, and to prevent you from letting the American people know of the catastrophe about to befall us if, as seems likely, our country attacks Iran.

Two years ago I lectured at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I found it highly disturbing that, when asked about the oath they took upon entering the academy, several of the "Mids" thought it was to the commander in chief.

This brought to my mind the photos of German generals and admirals (as well as top church leaders and jurists) swearing personal oaths to Hitler. Not our tradition, and yet…

I was aghast that only the third Mid I called on got it right – that the oath is to protect and defend the Constitution, not the president.

Attack Iran and Trash the Constitution

No doubt you are very clear that an attack on Iran would be a flagrant violation of our Constitution, which stipulates that treaties ratified by the Senate become the supreme law of the land; that the United Nations Charter – which the Senate ratified on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89 to 2 – expressly forbids attacks on other countries unless they pose an imminent danger; that there is no provision allowing some other kind of "preemptive" or "preventive" attack against a nation that poses no imminent danger; and that Iran poses no such danger to the United States or its allies.

You may be forgiven for thinking: Isn't 41 years of service enough; isn't resigning in order to remove myself from a chain of command that threatened to make me a war criminal for attacking Iran; isn't making my active opposition known by talking to journalists – isn't all that enough?

With respect, sir, no, that's not enough.

The stakes here are extremely high, and with the integrity you have shown goes still further responsibility. Sadly, the vast majority of your general officer colleagues have, for whatever reason, ducked that responsibility. You are pretty much it.

In their lust for attacking Iran, administration officials will do their best to marginalize you. And, as prominent a person as you are, the corporate media will do the same.

Indeed, there are clear signs the media have been given their marching orders to support attacking Iran.

At CIA I used to analyze the Soviet press, so you will understand when I refer to the Washington Post and the New York Times as the White House's Pravda and Izvestiya.

Sadly, it is as easy as during the days of the controlled Soviet press to follow the U.S. government's evolving line with a daily reading. In a word, our newspapers are revving up for war on Iran, and have been for some time.

In some respects the manipulation and suppression of information in the present lead-up to an attack on Iran is even more flagrant and all encompassing than in early 2003 before the invasion of Iraq.

It seems entirely possible that you are unaware of this, precisely because the media has put the wraps on it, so let me adduce a striking example of what is afoot here.

The example has to do with the studied, if disingenuous, effort over recent months to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the "malignant" influence of Iran.

But Not for Fiasco

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters on April 25 that Gen. David Petraeus would be giving a briefing "in the next couple of weeks" that would provide detailed evidence of "just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability."

Petraeus' staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

Small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

News to you? That's because this highly embarrassing episode went virtually unreported in the media – like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no corporate media to hear it crash.

So Mullen and Petraeus live, uninhibited and unembarrassed, to keep searching for Iranian weapons so the media can then tell a story more supportive to efforts to blacken Iran. A fiasco is only a fiasco if folks know about it.

The suppression of this episode is the most significant aspect, in my view, and a telling indicator of how difficult it is to get honest reporting on these subjects.

Meanwhile, it was announced that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate U.S. claims and attempt to "find tangible information and not information based on speculation."

Dissing the Intelligence Estimate

Top officials from the president on down have been dismissing the dramatically new conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate released on Dec. 3, 2007, a judgment concurred in by the 16 intelligence units of our government, that Iran had stopped the weapons-related part of its nuclear program in mid-2003.

Always willing to do his part, the malleable CIA chief, Michael Hayden, on April 30 publicly offered his "personal opinion" that Iran is building a nuclear weapon – the National Intelligence Estimate notwithstanding.

For good measure, Hayden added: "It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to the highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq. … Just make sure there's clarity on that."

I don't need to tell you about the Haydens and other smartly saluting generals in Washington.

Let me suggest that you have a serious conversation with Gen. Anthony Zinni, one of your predecessor Centcom commanders (1997 to 2000).

As you know better than I, this Marine general is also an officer with unusual integrity. But placed into circumstances virtually identical to those you now face, he could not find his voice.

He missed his chance to interrupt the juggernaut to war in Iraq; you might ask him how he feels about that now, and what he would advise in current circumstances.

Zinni happened to be one of the honorees at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Aug. 26, 2002, at which Vice President Dick Cheney delivered the exceedingly alarmist speech, unsupported by our best intelligence, about the nuclear threat and other perils awaiting us at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

That speech not only launched the seven-month public campaign against Iraq leading up to the war, but set the terms of reference for the Oct. 1, 2002, National Intelligence Estimate fabricated – yes, fabricated – to convince Congress to approve war on Iraq.

Gen. Zinni later shared publicly that, as he listened to Cheney, he was shocked to hear a depiction of intelligence that did not square with what he knew. Although Zinni had retired two years earlier, his role as consultant had required him to stay up to date on intelligence relating to the Middle East.

One Sunday morning three and a half years after Cheney's speech, Zinni told Meet the Press: "There was no solid proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. … I heard a case being made to go to war."

Gen. Zinni had as good a chance as anyone to stop an unnecessary war – not a "preemptive war," since there was nothing to preempt – and Zinni knew it. No, what he and any likeminded officials could have stopped was a war of aggression, defined at the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as the "supreme international crime."

Sure, Zinni would have had to stick his neck out. He may have had to speak out alone, since most senior officials, like then-CIA Director George Tenet, lacked courage and integrity.

In his memoir published a year ago, Tenet says Cheney did not follow the usual practice of clearing his Aug. 26, 2002, speech with the CIA; that much of what Cheney said took him completely by surprise; and that Tenet "had the impression that the president wasn't any more aware of what his number-two was going to say to the VFW until he said it."

It is a bit difficult to believe that Cheney's shameless speech took Tenet completely by surprise.

We know from the Downing Street Minutes, vouched for by the UK as authentic, that Tenet told his British counterpart on July 20, 2002, that the president had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"

Encore: Iran

Admiral Fallon, you know that to be the case also with respect to the "intelligence" being conjured up to "justify" war with Iran. And no one knows better than you that your departure from the chain of command has turned it over completely to the smartly saluting sycophants.

No doubt you have long since taken the measure, for example, of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So have I.

I was one of his first branch chiefs when he was a young, disruptively ambitious CIA analyst. When Ronald Reagan's CIA Director William Casey sought someone to shape CIA analysis to accord with his own conviction that the Soviet Union would never change, Gates leaped at the chance.

After Casey died, Gates admitted to the Washington Post's Walter Pincus that he (Gates) watched Casey on "issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued." Gates' entire subsequent career showed that he learned well at Casey's knee.

So it should come as no surprise that, despite the unanimous judgment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran stopped the weapons related aspects of its nuclear program, Gates is now saying that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Some of his earlier statements were more ambiguous, but Gates recently took advantage of the opportunity to bend with the prevailing winds and leave no doubt as to his loyalty.

In an interview on events in the Middle East with a New York Times reporter on April 11, Gates was asked whether he was on the same page as the president. Gates replied, "Same line, same word."

I imagine you are no more surprised than I. Bottom line: Gates will salute smartly if Cheney persuades the president to let the Air Force and Navy loose on Iran.

You know the probable consequences; you need to let the rest of the American people know.

A Gutsy Precedent

Can you, Admiral Fallon, be completely alone? Can it be that you are the only general officer to resign on principle?

And, of equal importance, is there no other general officer, active or retired, who has taken the risk of speaking out in an attempt to inform Americans about President George W. Bush's bellicose fixation with Iran? Thankfully, there is.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, took the prestigious job of chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board when asked to by the younger Bush.

From that catbird seat, Scowcroft could watch the unfolding of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Over decades dealing with the press, Scowcroft had honed a reputation of quintessential discretion. All the more striking what he decided he had to do.

In an interview with London's Financial Times in mid-October 2004 Scowcroft was harshly critical of the president, charging that Bush had been "mesmerized" by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Scowcroft said. "He has been nothing but trouble."

Needless to say, Scowcroft was given his walking papers and told never to darken the White House doorstep again.

There is ample evidence that Sharon's successors believe they have a commitment from President Bush to "take care of Iran" before he leaves office, and that the president has done nothing to disabuse them of that notion – no matter the consequences.

On May 18, speaking at the World Economic Forum at Sharm el-Sheikh, Bush threw in a gratuitous reference to "Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions." He said:

"To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

Pre-briefing the press, Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley identified Iran as one of the dominant themes of the trip, adding repeatedly that Iran "is very much behind" all the woes afflicting the Middle East, from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq to Afghanistan.

The Rhetoric Is Ripening

In the coming weeks, at least until U.S. forces can find some real Iranian weapons in Iraq, the rhetoric is likely to focus on what I call the Big Lie – the claim that Iran's president has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map."

In that controversial speech in 2005, Ahmadinejad was actually quoting from something the Ayatollah Khomeini had said in the early 1980s. Khomeini was expressing a hope that a regime treating the Palestinians so unjustly would be replaced by another more equitable one.

A distinction without a difference? I think not. Words matter.

As you may already know (but the American people don't), the literal translation from Farsi of what Ahmadinejad said is, "The regime occupying Jerusalem much vanish from the pages of time."

Contrary to what the administration would have us all believe, the Iranian president was not threatening to nuke Israel, push it into the sea, or wipe it off the map.

President Bush is way out in front on this issue, and this comes through with particular clarity when he ad-libs answers to questions.

On Oct. 17, 2007, long after he had been briefed on the key intelligence finding that Iran had stopped the nuclear weapons-related part of its nuclear development program, the president spoke as though, well, "mesmerized." He said:

"But this – we got a leader in Iran who has announced he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems you ought to be interested in preventing them from have [sic] the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously."

Some contend that Bush does not really believe his rhetoric. I rather think he does, for the Israelis seem to have his good ear, with the tin one aimed at U.S. intelligence he has repeatedly disparaged.

But, frankly, which would be worse: that Bush believes Iran to be an existential threat to Israel and thus requires U.S. military action? Or that it's just rhetoric to "justify" U.S. action to "take care of" Iran for Israel?

What you can do, Admiral Fallon, is speak authoritatively about what is likely to happen – to U.S. forces in Iraq, for example – if Bush orders your successors to begin bombing and missile attacks on Iran.

And you could readily update Scowcroft's remarks, by drawing on what you observed of the Keystone Cops efforts of White House ideologues, like Iran-Contra convict Elliot Abrams, to overturn by force the ascendancy of Hamas in 2006-07 and Hezbollah more recently. (Abrams pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of misleading Congress, but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 24, 1992.)

It is easy to understand why no professional military officer would wish to be in the position of taking orders originating from the likes of Abrams.

If you weigh in as your (non-expiring) oath to protect and defend the Constitution dictates, you might conceivably prompt other sober heads to speak out.

And, in the end, if profound ignorance and ideology – supported by the corporate press and by both political parties intimidated by the Israel lobby – lead to an attack on Iran, and the Iranians enter southern Iraq and take thousands of our troops hostage, you will be able to look in the mirror and say at least you tried.

You will not have to live with the remorse of not knowing what might have been, had you been able to shake your reluctance to speak out.

There is a large Tar Baby out there – Iran. You may remember that as Brer Rabbit got more and more stuck, Brer Fox, he lay low.

A "Fox" Fallon, still pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States, cannot lie low – not now.

Fuel-Cost Worries Extend to Pentagon

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By William H. McMichael and Rick Maze

The skyrocketing cost of fuel isn't just hitting U.S. drivers in the pocketbook - it's blowing a bit of a hole in the Pentagon budget as well.

In a revised request for supplemental war funding for fiscal 2009, submitted May 2, defense officials have asked Congress to appropriate $3.69 billion for all fuels, a $2.2 billion increase over their initial request.

That, of course, looks far ahead and could still prove to be inadequate. According to Pentagon budget documents, the request would support a crude oil price of $97.19 per barrel - and also assumes that the military's overall fuel costs will drop by 4.8 percent.

The current world price, however, has climbed to and is hovering around $120 per barrel, and many analysts think rising global demand and other factors will keep prices high.

And 2009 isn't the only concern; the Pentagon needs more money for fuel to cover the remaining five months of this fiscal year.

This would come by way of the $108 billion war supplemental appropriation request, which has yet to be approved. The Pentagon has asked for a total of $1.9 billion for fuel, an increase of $281.4 million over its original supplemental request.

All told, that's an additional $2.48 billion on top of the amounts included in the Pentagon's 2008 and 2009 base budgets - and defense officials already acknowledge that the 2009 supplemental request won't cover that entire fiscal year.

That would buy another 19 F-22 fighters for the Air Force, or 36 MV-22 Ospreys for the Marine Corps.

In the seven months ending in March, the Pentagon's average monthly cost for its most-used jet fuel, JP-8, rose 34 percent, from $2.34 to $3.13 per gallon, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. The cost of JP-5, used primarily by Navy jets operating at sea, increased from $2.22 to $2.94 per gallon.

Regular gasoline jumped from $2 to $2.79 per gallon, or 40 percent, over the same period.

Only diesel fuel's rise was negligible, increasing just 5 cents per gallon.

The Pentagon's prices normally do not fluctuate much because DLA's Defense Energy Support Center buys in bulk and sells fuel to the individual services at a "standard price" based on market projections for the ensuing year, according to DLA spokesman Jack Hooper.

In September 2007, for example, DESC set the standard price of JP-8 at $2.31 per gallon.

In a less volatile market, that price might have been good for the next 12 months. But the market forced a change and in December, DESC raised its price for JP-8 to $3.04 per gallon.

Other current standard prices: JP-5 is $3.06 per gallon; regular gasoline is $2.97 per gallon; and diesel stands at $3.04 per gallon.

Other than going back to Congress to ask for more money, the Pentagon's options are limited. The Air Force is exploring synthetic fuels and "biofuels," and has requested $26.9 million for fiscal 2009 to fund that effort. The Air Force would like to certify its entire fleet to run on synthetics by 2011.

But the testing is an extensive process that must explore not only whether a jet will operate with alternatives, but whether such fuels cause greater wear on engines or create a need for more maintenance than standard fuels.

"Just because it'll burn this stuff doesn't mean it's the best stuff to put in it," Hooper said.

Meanwhile, Congress wants the Pentagon - whose Abrams tanks use six gallons of fuel to travel one mile - to make fuel efficiency a part of its future planning.

And the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee approved legislation May 8 that would require the secretary of defense "to consider the full burdened cost of fuel and energy efficiency in the requirements development and acquisition process," said Rep. J. Randy Forbes of Virginia, the panel's ranking Republican.

Forbes said the panel's portion of the 2008 defense authorization bill also includes language demanding a report from the Pentagon on ways to improve energy efficiency as part of the process of bringing a war-depleted force back to a full state of readiness.

"These provisions are terrific first steps in reducing operating costs and reducing the logistics burden of fuel supply," he said.

Forbes indicated that his worry is more than just the cost of fuel.

Being less dependent on fuel delivery would "reduce risk and enable our military forces to be more agile and more efficient on the battlefield," he said.

CIA death squads killing with “impunity” in Afghanistan

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By Joe Kay

A United Nations investigator released a preliminary report last week citing widespread civilian deaths in Afghanistan, often at the hands of unaccountable units led by the CIA or other foreign intelligence agencies.

The investigator is Philip Alston, a New York University professor serving as the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution. His report provides a partial glimpse into the illegal actions of intelligence agencies, occupying forces, and Afghan police, as they seek to repress opposition to the US-led occupation and US-backed government.

A more detailed final report will be released later this year.

Alston focused on civilian killings by US and other international military forces, citing 200 reported deaths in the first four months of 2008. This figure, however, was based on tabulations by the United Nations and other international organizations, and is undoubtedly a serious underestimation.

In addition to civilians killed in air raids—often targeted indiscriminately at civilian dwellings—Alston reported on “a number of raids for which no state or military command appears ready to acknowledge responsibility.”

In a press conference on Thursday, Alston elaborated, saying, “I have spoken with a large number of people in relation to the operation of foreign intelligence units. I don’t want to name them but they are the most senior level of the relevant places. These forces operate with what appears to be impunity.” The location of the incidents cited in the report indicate that the intelligence agencies in question include the CIA or US Special Operations Forces.

The report cited a few incidents as examples of extra-judicial killings. In January 2008, two brothers were killed in Kandahar province in a raid led by “international personnel.” Alston found that the victims “are widely acknowledged, even by well-informed Government officials, to have had no connection to the Taliban, and the circumstances of their deaths are suspicious. However, not only was I unable to get any international military commander to provide their version of what took place, but I was unable to get any international military commander to even admit that their soldiers were involved.”

Other incidents involved raids by Afghans led by unnamed “international intelligence services” out of bases in both Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily-armed internationals accompanied by heavily-armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” the report stated.

The British Independent newspaper provided some additional information. It noted, “A Western official close to the investigation said the secret units are still known as Campaign Forces, from the time when American Special Forces and CIA spies recruited Afghan troops to help overthrow the Taliban during the US-led invasion in 2001. ‘The brightest, smartest guys in these militias were kept on,’ the official said. ‘They were trained and rearmed and they are still being used.’”

The Independent went on to cite one incident involving British forces. “In Helmand, where most of Britain’s 7,800 troops are based, Special Forces were accused of slitting a man’s throat in a botched night raid last year. Security sources now claim the operation was mounted by a secret spy unit.”

Alston also reported on the actions of Afghan police. “They function not as enforcers of law and order, but as promoters of the interests of a specific tribe or commander,” he reported. He cited one incident in which Afghan police massacred a group from a rival tribe. There was no investigation by the government or the occupying forces. In another incident, police killed nine and wounded 42 unarmed protestors in Sheberghan in May 2007.

In general, he found little to no interest among US or Afghan officials in monitoring or following up on civilian deaths. “The level of complacency in response to these killings is staggeringly high,” he said.

At the press conference, he noted, “When I asked for the number of reported civilian casualties over the past year or so, I was told that those figures are either not available in Afghanistan—which I was told by several senior military people—or that they are secret and cannot be provided to me. When I asked for the results of certain cases, to ascertain whether those involved have been punished, I was told that no such information is available here in Afghanistan and that perhaps I should read the newspapers of the countries concerned.”

The fact that the CIA is involved in covert operations in Afghanistan is neither new nor surprising. Already by the 1970s, the CIA had developed ties to sections of the Afghan population, and in particular Islamic fundamentalist elements, in an effort to undermine the Soviet-backed government. Later, the CIA was heavily involved in developing ties to anti-Taliban warlords prior to the US invasion and occupation in 2001.

Following the invasion, Afghanistan—and in particular the Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul—became a transit point for prisoners captured by the United States and destined for Guantánamo Bay, secret CIA prisons, or US-allied countries that practice torture. US intelligence agencies were reportedly also involved in the interrogation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In 2005, US media reported on the operations of US-backed deaths squads in Iraq, deployed to kill suspected opponents of the US occupation. Yasser Salihee, a special correspondent for news agency Knight Ridder who was investigating the death squads, was killed with a bullet to the head in June of that year. Separate reports related how the US military had modeled Iraqi units on the death squads deployed in Central America during the 1980s to eliminate left-wing opposition to US policies.

While most of the CIA’s actions remain shrouded in secrecy, one CIA contractor was prosecuted for torturing an Afghan prisoner to death in 2003. The contractor, David Passaro, interrogated and beat the prisoner, Abdul Wali, for two days, injuring him so severely that he died two days later.

In a separate development, the New York Times reported on Saturday that the Pentagon is moving forward with the construction of a 40-acre prison complex at the Bagram military base. The current prison, as well as separate prisons run by the Afghans and by the US, are reportedly insufficient to hold the massive number of individuals swept up by the occupying forces.

The facility may also be used for prisoners currently detained in Guantánamo Bay. It will be designed to hold as many as 1,100 people.

Deal for Newsday reflects concentration of ownership in US newspaper industry

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By Peter Daniels

After several weeks of uncertainty, the Cablevision media, sports and entertainment company has apparently won the bidding for Newsday, the daily newspaper based in suburban New York City that is the 11th-largest circulation paper in the US. The outcome reflects the accelerating trend of concentration of ownership in the crisis-ridden newspaper industry.

There were three bids for the newspaper, which was recently put on the block by the Tribune Company. The Tribune went private last year in a massive $8.2 billion deal organized by Samuel Zell, a Chicago-based real estate billionaire. Zell’s deal left the Tribune—which owns a number of major television stations, the Los Angeles Times and Newsday in addition to the Chicago Tribune and other papers, and the Chicago Cubs baseball team—with a massive $12.8 billion in debt. The debt burden, added to by the downturn in the economy, is forcing Zell to sell a number of properties, including the Cubs and their stadium, Wrigley Field. Difficulty in arranging a sale of the Cubs led Zell to put Newsday up for sale.

The first bidder was Rupert Murdoch, multibillionaire owner of News Corporation, which includes the New York Post, Fox television and, since last December, the Dow Jones Company and its flagship Wall Street Journal. Murdoch offered $580 million for Newsday. If this bid had gone through, it would have given the Australian-born media tycoon three daily papers based in New York, in addition to two television stations. Zell was reportedly friendly to Murdoch’s bid, which was announced in late April as a tentative deal for the newspaper. Murdoch’s rivals complained, however, and his offer was also complicated by the need for a regulatory waiver from the Federal Communications Commission, even though the FCC last December adopted looser standards on media cross-ownership of television and newspapers in the same city.

The two other bids soon followed. Murdoch’s offer was matched by Mortimer Zuckerman, his longtime tabloid rival as the owner of the New York Daily News. Cablevision then offered $650 million. Murdoch declined to match the higher bid, and Zuckerman, whose main aim appears to have been to keep Newsday out of Murdoch’s control, likewise did not increase his offer.

Cablevision, controlled by the Dolan family, is the largest cable television provider on Long Island. It also owns Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall in New York, and the New York professional basketball and hockey teams. It has never been in the newspaper business, but could use the newspaper and its cable television service to promote each other, as well as to bring in increased advertising revenue. It owns the only Long Island television news station, and will become the main source of information for a population of several million people.

The last word has not necessarily been heard from Murdoch on Newsday. The News Corporation owner is known for his persistence and high-risk maneuvers. Cablevision could still make a deal with either Murdoch or Zuckerman to combine production, distribution or ad sales in some fashion. The tabloid war between the News and the Post is likely to continue. The News has been marginally profitable, but Murdoch has been absorbing $40 or $50 million in losses annually at the Post for years. The paper is presently being sold for 25 cents on newsstands, but News Corp. has said that the price will soon be raised to 50 cents.

Murdoch has been more than willing to absorb big losses in order to obtain a tabloid media mass circulation platform for his ultra-reactionary views. He has shifted much of his attention to the Wall Street Journal, however, which may mean he is less willing to subsidize the Post as heavily as he has been. Murdoch’s aim is to use the Wall Street Journal to challenge the New York Times, not in circulation terms, where it already dominates, but in setting the political agenda and supplanting the “liberal” Times as the “newspaper of record.”

The competition for Newsday takes place amidst sharply falling circulation, advertising revenue and profits among major US newspapers. In the last six-month period, only USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, both with readership of more than 2 million, increased average daily circulation, and only by less than one percent each. USA Today, which is not read widely for its editorial pages within the US economic and political elite, has a current readership of 2,284,219. The Journal is second in circulation, with 2,069,463.

The New York Times, in contrast, lost 3.9 percent of its readership from one year earlier, reporting daily circulation of 1,077,256. Other major papers, including the Dallas Morning News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, reported even bigger percentage declines. Newsday also lost readers. Its reported circulation of 379,613 was down 4.7 percent, but the paper has remained profitable. Murdoch’s Post lost 3.1 percent of its circulation, to 702,488.

The relentless trend toward greater and greater concentration of ownership means that the big business press has less motivation or ability than ever to offer even the slightest variety of views or serious challenges to the status quo in its pages. The news coverage of the current Democratic presidential nomination contest shows how this state of affairs leads to the elimination of any serious discussion of political issues.

As the Bush administration’s standing in opinion polls falls to record lows, the crude dumbing down of the press and the continued domination of ultra-right wing media figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity is provoking growing anger among broad layers of the population. In an effort to appease this anger, the Democratic-controlled Congress is in the process of passing a “resolution of disapproval” which would have the effect of reversing the FCC’s most recent loosening of regulations last December. The resolution passed by a wide margin in the Senate last Thursday and is expected to win approval in the House.

Bush has threatened to veto the legislation. Even if it passes over his veto, however, it will at most only slow down the relentless media consolidation. The concentration of ownership is not the outcome of any organized conspiracy or even of regulatory misconduct. It is the inevitable product of the private ownership of the mass media and their operation in the interests of profit. As the journalist A. J. Liebling wrote more than 50 years ago, under capitalism “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Globalizers, Neocons, or ...?

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By Mark Engler

The world after Bush.

Picture January 20, 2009, the day George W. Bush has to vacate the Oval Office.

It’s easy enough to imagine a party marking this fine occasion, with antiwar protestors, civil libertarians, community leaders, environmentalists, health-care advocates, and trade unionists clinking glasses to toast the end of an unfortunate era. Even Americans not normally inclined to political life might be tempted to join the festivities, bringing their own bottles of bubbly to the party. Given that presidential job approval ratings have rarely broken 40% for two years and now remain obdurately around or below 30% - historic lows - it would not surprising if this were a sizeable celebration.

More surprising, however, might be the number of people in the crowd drinking finer brands of champagne. Amid the populist gala, one might well spot figures of high standing in the corporate world, individuals who once would have looked forward to the reign of an MBA president but now believe that neocon bravado is no way to run an empire.

One of the more curious aspects of the Bush years is that the self-proclaimed "uniter" polarized not only American society, but also its business and political elites. These are the types who gather at the annual, ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and have their assistants trade business cards for them. Yet, despite their sometime chumminess, these powerful few are now in disagreement over how American power should be shaped in the post-Bush era and increasing numbers of them are jumping ship when it comes to the course the Republicans have chosen to advance these last years. They are now engaged in a debate about how to rule the world.

Don’t think of this as some conspiratorial plot, but as a perfectly commonsensical debate over what policies are in the best interests of those who hire phalanxes of Washington lobbyists and fill the coffers of presidential and congressional campaigns. Many business leaders have fond memories of the "free trade" years of the Clinton administration, when CEO salaries soared and the global influence of multinational corporations surged. Rejecting neoconservative unilateralism, they want to see a renewed focus on American "soft power" and its instruments of economic control, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO) - the multilateral institutions that formed what was known in international policy circles as "the Washington Consensus." These corporate globalists are making a bid to control the direction of economic policy under a new Democratic administration.

There is little question that the majority of people on the planet - those who suffered under both the corporate globalization of the Clinton years and the imperial globalization of George W. Bush - deserve something better. However, it is far from certain that social justice advocates who want to encourage a more democratic approach to world affairs and global economic well-being will be able to sway a new administration. On the other hand, the damage inflicted by eight years of neocon rule and the challenges of an increasingly daunting geopolitical scene present a conundrum to the corporate globalizers: Is it even possible to go back to the way things were?

The Revolt of the Corporatists

Throughout their time in office, despite fulsome evidence of failure, George Bush and Dick Cheney have maintained a blithe self-confidence about their ability to successfully promote the interests of the United States, or at least those of their high-rolling "Pioneer"-class donors. Every so often, though, the public receives notice that loyalists are indeed scurrying to abandon the administration’s sinking ship of state. In October 2007, for instance, in a front-page story entitled "GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote," the Wall Street Journal reported that the party could be facing a brand crisis as "[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share."

When it comes to corporate responses to the President’s Global War on Terror, we mostly hear about the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater - companies directly implicated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and with the mentality of looters. Such firms have done their best to score quick profits from the military machine. However, there was always a faction of realist, business-oriented Republicans who opposed the invasion from the start, in part because they believed it would negatively impact the U.S. economy. As the administration adventure in Iraq has descended into the morass, the ranks of corporate complainers have only grown.

The "free trade" elite have become particularly upset about the administration’s focus on go-it-alone nationalism and its disregard for multilateral means of securing influence. This belligerent approach to foreign affairs, they believe, has thwarted the advance of corporate globalization. In an April 2006 column in the Washington Post, globalist cheerleader Sebastian Mallaby laid blame for "why globalization has stalled" at the feet of the Bush administration. The White House, Mallaby charged, was unwilling to invest any political capital in the IMF, the World Bank, or the WTO. He wrote:

"Fifteen years ago, there were hopes that the end of Cold War splits would allow international institutions to acquire a new cohesion. But the great powers of today are simply not interested in creating a resilient multilateral system.... The United States remains the only plausible quarterback for the multilateral system. But the Bush administration has alienated too many players to lead the team effectively. Its strident foreign policy started out as an understandable response to the fecklessness of other powers. But unilateralism has tragically backfired, destroying whatever slim chance there might have been of a workable multilateral alternative."

Frustrated by Bush’s failures, many in the business elite want to return to the softer empire of corporate globalization and, increasingly, they are looking to the Democrats to navigate this return. As a measure of this - the capitalist equivalent of voting with their feet - political analyst Kevin Phillips notes in his new book, Bad Money, that, in 2007, "[h]edge fund employees’ contributions to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee outnumbered those to its Republican rival by roughly nine to one."

This quiet revolt of the corporatists is already causing interesting reverberations on the campaign trail. The base of the Democratic Party has clearly rejected the "free trade" version of trickle-down economics, which has done far more to help those hedge-fund managers and private-jet-hopping executives than anyone further down the economic ladder. As a result, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are running as opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and of a newer bilateral trade deal with Colombia, a country in which organizing a union or vocally advocating for human rights can easily cost you your life. The tenor of the current campaign represents a significant shift from the 1990s, when top Democrats were constantly trying to establish their corporate bona fides and "triangulate" their way into conservative economic policy.

Still, both candidates are surrounded by business-friendly advisors whose views fit nicely within an older, pre-Bush administration paradigm of corporate globalization. The tension between the anti-NAFTA activists at the base of the Party and those in the campaign war rooms has resulted in some embarrassing gaffes during the primary contest.

For Hillary Clinton, the most notable involved one of her chief strategists, Mark Penn, a man with a long, nefarious record defending corporate abuses as a Washington lobbyist. As it turned out, Penn’s consulting firm received $300,000 in 2007 to support the "free trade" agreement with Colombia. Even as Clinton was proclaiming her heartfelt opposition to the deal and highlighting the "history of suppression and targeted killings of labor organizers" in that country, a key player in her campaign was charting strategy with Colombian government officials in order to get the pact passed.

The Obama campaign found itself in similar discomfort in February. While the candidate was running in the Ohio primary as an opponent of NAFTA, calling that trade deal a "mistake" that has harmed working people, his senior economic policy adviser, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, was meeting with Canadian government officials to explain, as a memo by the Canadians reported, that Obama’s charges were merely "political positioning." Goolsbee quickly claimed that his position had been mischaracterized, but the incident naturally raised questions. Why, for example, had Goolsbee, senior economist to the Democratic Leadership Council, the leading organization on the corporate-friendly rightwing of the party, and a person praised as "a valuable source of free-trade advice over almost a decade," been positioned to mold Obama’s economic stances in the first place?

If pressure from the base of the party lets up after the elections, it would hardly be surprising to see a victorious candidate revert to Bill Clinton’s corporate model for how to rule the world. However, a return to a pre-Bush-style of international politics may be easier dreamed than done.

The Neocon Paradox

To the chagrin of the "free trade" elite, the market fundamentalist ideas that have dominated international development thinking for at least the last 25 years are now under attack globally. This is largely because the economic prescriptions of deregulation, privitization, open markets, and cuts to social services so often made (and enforced) by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have proven catastrophic.

In 2003, the United Nations’ Human Development Report (UNHDP) explained that 54 already poor countries had actually grown even poorer during the "free trade" era of the 1990s. The British Guardian summarized well the essence of this report:

"Taking issue with those who have argued that the ’tough love’ policies of the past two decades have spawned the growth of a new global middle class, the report says the world became ever more divided between the super-rich and the desperately poor. The richest 1% of the world’s population (around 60 million) now receives as much income as the poorest 57%, while the income of the richest 25 million Americans is the equivalent of that of almost 2 billion of the world’s poorest people."

Such findings led UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown, in a remarkably blunt statement, to call for a "guerilla assault on the Washington Consensus."

In fact, in 2008, such an assault is already well under way - and Washington is in a far weaker position economically to deal with it. The countries burned by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, for instance, are now building up huge currency reserves so they never again have to come begging to the International Monetary Fund (and so suffer diktats from Washington) in times of crisis. Moreover, virtually the whole of Latin America is in revolt. Over 500 million people reside in that region, and over two-thirds of them now live under governments elected since 2000 on mandates to split with "free trade" economics, declare independence from Washington, and pursue policies that actually benefit the poor.

In late April, economist Mark Weisbrot noted that, with so many countries breaking free of its grasp, the IMF, which once dictated economic policy to strapped governments around the world, is now but a shadow of its former self. In the past four years, its loan portfolio has plummeted from $105 billion to less than $10 billion, the bulk of which now goes to just two countries, Turkey and Pakistan. This leaves the U.S. Treasury, which used the body to control foreign economies, with far less power than in past decades. "The IMF’s loss of influence," Weisbrot writes, "is probably the most important change in the international financial system in more than half a century."

It is a historic irony that Bush administration neocons, smitten with U.S. military power, itching to launch their wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, and eschewing multinational institutions, actually helped to foster a global situation in which U.S. influence is waning and countries are increasingly seeking independent paths. Back in 2005, British journalist George Monbiot dubbed this "the unacknowledged paradox in neocon thinking." He wrote:

"They want to drag down the old, multilateral order and replace it with a new, U.S. one. What they fail to understand is that the ’multilateral’ system is in fact a projection of U.S. unilateralism, cleverly packaged to grant other nations just enough slack to prevent them from fighting it. Like their opponents, the neocons fail to understand how well [Presidents] Roosevelt and Truman stitched up the international order. They are seeking to replace a hegemonic system that is enduring and effective with one that is untested and (because other nations must fight it) unstable."

Battered by losing wars and economic crisis, the United States is now a superpower visibly on the skids. And yet, there is no guarantee that the coming era will produce a change for the better. In a world in which the value of the dollar is plummeting, oil is growing ever more scarce relative to demand, and foreign states are rising as rivals to American power, the possibility of either going ahead with the Bush/Cheney style of unilateralism or successfully returning to the "enduring and effective" multilateral corporatism of the 1990s may no longer exist. But the failure of these options will undoubtedly not be for lack of trying. Even with corporate globalization on the decline, multinational businesses will attempt to consolidate or expand their power. And even with the imperial model of globalization discredited, an overextended U.S. military may still try to hold on with violence.

The true Bush administration legacy may be to leave us in a world that is at once far more open to change and also far more dangerous. Such prospects should hardly discourage the long-awaited celebration in January. But they suggest that a new era of globalization battles - struggles to build a world order based neither on corporate influence, nor imperial might - will have only just begun.