Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cheney colleague admits bribery in Halliburton oil deals

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By Stephen Foley

A former colleague of the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has pleaded guilty to funnelling millions of dollars in bribes to win lucrative contracts in Nigeria for Halliburton, during the period in the Nineties when Mr Cheney ran the giant oil and gas services company.

Albert Stanley, who was appointed by Mr Cheney as chief executive of Halliburton's subsidiary KBR, admitted using a north London lawyer to channel payments to Nigerian officials as part of a bribery scheme that landed some $6bn of work in the country over a decade.

The guilty plea, announced yesterday, came after a four-year investigation by US attorneys and threatens to stir up old controversies just as eyes are trained on the Republican party convention. Mr Cheney, who pulled out of an address to the convention because of Hurricane Gustav earlier this week, led Halliburton from 1995 until returning to government in 2000. He had previously been Defence Secretary under the first President George Bush, and the links with Halliburton have been a constant thorn in the side of the current administration as the company has gone on to win billions of dollars of contracts in Iraq and other US military spheres.

The corruption scandal which exploded back into life yesterday centres on more than $180m channelled into Nigeria via intermediaries between 1994 – before Mr Stanley's employer was acquired by Halliburton – and 2004. Prosecutors allege that the payments were vital to a KBR-led consortium securing a succession of construction projects related to a liquefied natural gas plant at Bonny Island, on the Atlantic coast of Nigeria.

KBR suspended Stanley in 2004 after $5m was found in his Swiss bank account.

The investigation – which began in 2004 and has involved investigators in Nigeria, Switzerland, France and the UK, as well as the US – has turned up handwritten notes by a former KBR executive that bribes may have reached the former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, whose regime was accused of human rights abuses.

Bringing its legal action yesterday, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission – America's corporate watchdog – said Stanley and others met high-ranking Nigerian government officials and their representatives on at least four occasions to arrange the bribe payments. To conceal the illicit payments, Stanley and others approved entering into sham contracts with two "agents" to funnel money to the Nigerian officials.

Investigations by French officials several years ago revealed that one of the agents was Jeffrey Tesler, a small-time solicitor based on a run-down high street in Tottenham, north London. Mr Tesler has long-standing ties in Nigeria, and worked as consultant to KBR's Nigerian joint venture. Mr Tesler was identified in yesterday's legal actions only as "the UK agent", and has not been charged with any crime. Attempts to contact Mr Tesler last night were unsuccessful.

Stanley admitted one count under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – which outlaws bribery by executives and companies operating in the US, regardless of where in the world the corruption is taking place – and a further count of fraud. He faces 10 years in jail, and has agreed to pay $10.8m in restitution. He has also agreed to co-operate with the authorities as they continue their investigation into the bribery scandal.

Mr Cheney appointed Stanley to run KBR in 1999, when the subsidiary was created after Halliburton's acquisition of UK-controlled MW Kellogg, where Stanley had been an executive. There is no suggestion that Mr Cheney knew at the time of the acquisition, or subsequently, that bribery was involved in the Nigerian contracts.

"The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act," said acting assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich.

Obama might pursue criminal charges against Bush administration

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By Elana Schor

Biden says criminal violations will be pursued
· Democrats have issued subpoenas to Bush aides
· 3 staffers have been held in contempt of Congress

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden said earlier this week that he and running mate Barack Obama could pursue criminal charges against the Bush administration if they are elected in November.

Biden's comments, first reported by ABC news, attracted little notice on a day dominated by the drama surrounding his Republican counterpart, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

But his statements represent the Democrats' strongest vow so far this year to investigate alleged misdeeds committed during the Bush years.

When asked during a campaign event in Deerfield Beach, Florida, whether he would "pursue the violations that have been made against our Constitution by the present administration", Biden answered in the affirmative.

"We will not be stopped from pursuing any criminal offence that's occurred," he continued, going on to praise congressional committees for the deliberate pace of their inquiries into alleged Bush administration misdeeds.

Members of Congress are "doing the right thing, they're not making false accusations about anything … they're collecting data, subpoenaing records, they're building a file", Biden said.

"If there has been a basis upon which you can pursue someone for a criminal violation, they will be pursued – not out of vengeance, not out of retribution, out of the need to preserve the notion that no one, no attorney general, no president -- no one is above the law."

Obama sounded a similar note in April, vowing that if elected, he would ask his attorney general to initiate a prompt review of Bush-era actions to distinguish between possible "genuine crimes" and "really bad policies".

"[I]f crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," Obama told the Philadelphia Daily News. "You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."

When asked about his comments by Fox news today, Biden said he has no evidence that criminal charges would be warranted and no intention of pursuing action against the current president.

"What is true is the United States Congress is trying to preserve records on questions that relate to whether or not the law has been violated by anyone," Biden said, adding: "But, you know, there's been an awful lot of unsavoury stuff that's gone on. And the mere fact … that it occurred in a previous administration doesn't mean [a subsequent] Justice Department, if, in fact, there's evidence, shouldn't pursue them. "But I have no evidence of any of that. No one's talking about pursuing President Bush criminally."

Congressional Democrats have issued a flurry of subpoenas this year to senior Bush administration aides as part of a broad inquiry into the authorisation of torturous interrogation tactics used at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Three Bush White House veterans have been held in criminal contempt of congressional committees for refusing to respond to subpoenas in an inquiry on the firing of federal prosecutors: former counsel Harriet Miers, former political adviser Karl Rove, and current chief of staff Josh Bolten. The battle over Miers's and Bolten's testimony is currently before a federal court.

Abramoff Gets Reduced Sentence of Four Years in Prison

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By Del Quentin Wilber and Carrie Johnson

Judge Cites Assistance Ex-Lobbyist Provided In Corruption Probe

Jack Abramoff, the powerhouse Washington lobbyist who admitted running a wide-ranging corruption scheme that ensnared lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and government officials, yesterday received a reduced sentence of four years in prison because of his cooperation with federal investigators.

Abramoff, 49, already has served nearly two years for his conviction in a related Florida fraud case. The sentence yesterday by U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle means that the former Republican lobbyist will likely remain in prison until 2012.

More than a dozen people, including an Ohio congressman and a deputy secretary of the interior, have been convicted in the Abramoff lobbying scandal, and Justice Department officials said the investigation is continuing. Still under scrutiny are former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and retiring Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.).

With his wife and children sitting just a few feet away in a packed courtroom, Abramoff choked back tears yesterday as he watched lawyers argue over his sentence. He then told Huvelle that he was sorry for his crimes, adding that he was no longer the person "who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political corruption and business corruption."

"I am sorry, so sorry that I have put everyone through this," Abramoff said.

Under federal guidelines, Huvelle could have sentenced Abramoff to as much as 12 1/2 years. She said she had to weigh the former lobbyist's help against what she described as offenses that seriously affected "the public's confidence in the integrity of the government."

"This is a very challenging case," Huvelle said, adding that "there was a consistent course of corrupt conduct and, in a sense, it got much worse over time."

Prosecutors had asked for a lesser sentence because of Abramoff's cooperation -- three years and three months. In court papers, the prosecutors wrote that Abramoff has described in detail how he and other lobbyists supplied meals, gifts, trips and "a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a stream of official action."

"He has helped us enormously in ferreting out from a huge database of allegations what really is criminal," Mary K. Butler, a Justice prosecutor, told Huvelle. "That help alone saved the government countless resources."

Abramoff's attorneys sought an even more lenient sentence that could have allowed their client to be released as early as 2010. His lead lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell, told Huvelle that such a sentence was appropriate because Abramoff was a devoted family man and donated much of his income and time to charity work. "The myth of Jack Abramoff can overtake the actual man," Lowell said.

Huvelle received more than 350 letters in Abramoff's behalf.

The Justice Department said it has garnered 13 guilty pleas from public officials and lobbyists in the Abramoff case. The conviction of David H. Safavian, a former top official at the General Services Administration, was overturned in June by an appeals court; a retrial is scheduled for December.

Among those who have pleaded guilty are former congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who was released from federal prison last month; Tony Rudy, a former deputy chief of staff to DeLay; and J. Steven Griles, former deputy secretary at the Interior Department.

In April, a former high-ranking official at the Justice Department, Robert E. Coughlin II, pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in meals and sports tickets from Abramoff and his lobbyists in exchange for helping their clients.

At the height of his influence, Abramoff moved easily in the corridors of Washington power, from Capitol Hill to the White House, where he was photographed with President Bush. The lobbyist joined the Republican Party in college and campaigned hard for Ronald Reagan in 1980. He later became the national chairman of the College Republicans.

Abramoff eventually joined the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where he established a group of lobbyists who pushed aggressively for their clients, many of whom were casino-rich Indian tribes. Abramoff and his colleagues dished out campaign donations, luxury boxes, and tickets to sporting events and concerts, and paid for lavish golf trips to buy influence with public officials. His D.C. restaurant, Signatures, "hemorrhaged money, in part because Abramoff regularly provided free or discounted meals and drinks to public officials," prosecutors wrote in court filings.

He also hired the spouses of public officials and the companies they operated, including a consulting firm owned by Rudy's wife.

In exchange, public officials helped Abramoff's clients win millions of dollars in federal grants and funding. They also tipped the lobbyists off to internal government deliberations and inserted helpful language into bills.

Abramoff admitted that he and a former associate, Michael Scanlon, a onetime press aide to DeLay, concocted a kickback scheme that defrauded the Indian tribes of millions of dollars. Abramoff directed the tribes to hire Scanlon's public relations firm at hugely inflated prices. The men then split the profits. Scanlon has pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced.

The judge yesterday also ordered Abramoff to pay $23 million in restitution to the tribes and other victims. About $8 million has already been paid back, Huvelle said.

Bernie Sprague of the Saginaw Chippewa in Michigan told Huvelle yesterday that Abramoff's actions cost his tribe millions of dollars and emotional heartache. "It totally destroyed our tribe," Sprague said. "All he was worried about was Jack. Jack has to get his next big check. . . . That was the only thing on his mind."

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January 2006 to charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. The next day, he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Miami to fraud and conspiracy charges tied to his purchase of a fleet of SunCruz casino boats.

He was sentenced in the Florida case to five years and 10 months in prison and began serving his time in November of that year. Last week, prosecutors asked the judge to reduce his sentence in that case to three years and nine months because the former lobbyist has been so helpful. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for next week.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that although Abramoff expressed remorse in court, he has spent his time in prison cooperating with a book that portrays him as an innocent man targeted by biased prosecutors, reporters and political enemies.

The AP said it had obtained an advance copy of "The Perfect Villain: John McCain and the Demonization of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff," by Gary Chafetz, which blames The Washington Post and Republican presidential nominee John McCain, whose Senate committee investigated Abramoff. "I never expected that I would have to go to prison," Abramoff says in the book, "until it became clear that the media could not allow this play to close without the hanging of the villain."

Going on an Imperial Bender

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By Tom Engelhardt

How the U.S. Garrisons the Planet and Doesn't Even Notice

Here it is, as simply as I can put it: In the course of any year, there must be relatively few countries on this planet on which U.S. soldiers do not set foot, whether with guns blazing, humanitarian aid in hand, or just for a friendly visit. In startling numbers of countries, our soldiers not only arrive, but stay interminably, if not indefinitely. Sometimes they live on military bases built to the tune of billions of dollars that amount to sizeable American towns (with accompanying amenities), sometimes on stripped down forward operating bases that may not even have showers. When those troops don’t stay, often American equipment does -- carefully stored for further use at tiny "cooperative security locations," known informally as "lily pads" (from which U.S. troops, like so many frogs, could assumedly leap quickly into a region in crisis).

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military "sites" abroad.

The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard -- that is, the population of an American town -- are functionally floating bases.

And here’s the other half of that simple truth: We don’t care to know about it. We, the American people, aided and abetted by our politicians, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media, are knee-deep in base denial.

Now, that’s the gist of it. If, like most Americans, that’s more than you care to know, stop here.

Where the Sun Never Sets

Let’s face it, we’re on an imperial bender and it’s been a long, long night. Even now, in the wee hours, the Pentagon continues its massive expansion of recent years; we spend militarily as if there were no tomorrow; we’re still building bases as if the world were our oyster; and we’re still in denial. Someone should phone the imperial equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But let’s start in a sunnier time, less than two decades ago, when it seemed that there would be many tomorrows, all painted red, white, and blue. Remember the 1990s when the U.S. was hailed -- or perhaps more accurately, Washington hailed itself -- not just as the planet’s "sole superpower" or even its unique "hyperpower," but as its "global policeman," the only cop on the block? As it happened, our leaders took that label seriously and our central police headquarters, that famed five-sided building in Washington D.C, promptly began dropping police stations -- aka military bases -- in or near the oil heartlands of the planet (Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait) after successful wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf.

As those bases multiplied, it seemed that we were embarking on a new, post-Soviet version of "containment." With the USSR gone, however, what we were containing grew a lot vaguer and, before 9/11, no one spoke its name. Nonetheless, it was, in essence, Muslims who happened to live on so many of the key oil lands of the planet.

Yes, for a while we also kept intact our old bases from our triumphant mega-war against Japan and Germany, and then the stalemated "police action" in South Korea (1950-1953) -- vast structures which added up to something like an all-military American version of the old British Raj. According to the Pentagon, we still have a total of 124 bases in Japan, up to 38 on the small island of Okinawa, and 87 in South Korea. (Of course, there were setbacks. The giant bases we built in South Vietnam were lost in 1975, and we were peaceably ejected from our major bases in the Philippines in 1992.)

But imagine the hubris involved in the idea of being "global policeman" or "sheriff" and marching into a Dodge City that was nothing less than Planet Earth itself. Naturally, with a whole passel of bad guys out there, a global "swamp" to be "drained," as key Bush administration officials loved to describe it post-9/11, we armed ourselves to kill, not stun. And the police stations… Well, they were often something to behold -- and they still are.

Let’s start with the basics: Almost 70 years after World War II, the sun is still incapable of setting on the American "empire of bases" -- in Chalmers Johnson’s phrase -- which at this moment stretches from Australia to Italy, Japan to Qatar, Iraq to Colombia, Greenland to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, Rumania to Okinawa. And new bases of various kinds are going up all the time (always with rumors of more to come). For instance, an American missile system is slated to go into Poland and a radar system into Israel. That will mean Americans stationed in both countries and, undoubtedly, modest bases of one sort or another to go with them. (The Israeli one -- "the first American base on Israeli territory" -- reports Aluf Benn of Haaretz, will be in the Negev desert.)

There are 194 countries on the planet (more or less), and officially 39 of them have American "facilities," large and/or small. But those are only the bases the Pentagon officially acknowledges. Others simply aren’t counted, either because, as in the case of Jordan, a country finds it politically preferable not to acknowledge such bases; because, as in the case of Pakistan, the American military shares bases that are officially Pakistani; or because bases in war zones, no matter how elaborate, somehow don’t count. In other words, that 39 figure doesn’t even include Iraq or Afghanistan. By 2005, according to the Washington Post, there were 106 American bases in Iraq, ranging from tiny outposts to mega-bases like Balad Air Base and the ill-named Camp Victory that house tens of thousands of troops, private contractors, Defense Department civilians, have bus routes, traffic lights, PXes, big name fast-food restaurants, and so on.

Some of these bases are, in effect, "American towns" on foreign soil. In Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base, previously used by the Soviets in their occupation of the country, is the largest and best known. There are, however, many more, large and small, including Kandahar Air Base, located in what was once the unofficial capital of the Taliban, which even has a full-scale hockey rink (evidently for its Canadian contingent of troops).

You would think that all of this would be genuine news, that the establishment of new bases would regularly generate significant news stories, that books by the score would pour out on America’s version of imperial control. But here’s the strange thing: We garrison the globe in ways that really are -- not to put too fine a point on it -- unprecedented, and yet, if you happen to live in the United States, you basically wouldn’t know it; or, thought about another way, you wouldn’t have to know it.

In Washington, our garrisoning of the world is so taken for granted that no one seems to blink when billions go into a new base in some exotic, embattled, war-torn land. There’s no discussion, no debate at all. News about bases abroad, and Pentagon basing strategy, is, at best, inside-the-fold stuff, meant for policy wonks and news jockeys. There may be no subject more taken for granted in Washington, less seriously attended to, or more deserving of coverage.

Missing Bases

Americans have, of course, always prided themselves on exporting "democracy," not empire. So empire-talk hasn’t generally been an American staple and, perhaps for that reason, all those bases prove an awkward subject to bring up or focus too closely on. When it came to empire-talk in general, there was a brief period after 9/11 when the neoconservatives, in full-throated triumph, began to compare us to Rome and Britain at their imperial height (though we were believed to be incomparably, uniquely more powerful). It was, in the phrase of the time, a "unipolar moment." Even liberal war hawks started talking about taking up "the burden" of empire or, in the phrase of Michael Ignatieff, now a Canadian politician but, in that period, still at Harvard and considered a significant American intellectual, "empire lite."

On the whole, however, those in Washington and in the media haven’t considered it germane to remind Americans of just exactly how we have attempted to "police" and control the world these last years. I’ve had two modest encounters with base denial myself:

In the spring of 2004, a journalism student I was working with emailed me a clip, dated October 20, 2003 -- less than seven months after American troops entered Baghdad -- from a prestigious engineering magazine. It quoted Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, speaking proudly of the several billion dollars ("the numbers are staggering") that had already been sunk into base construction in that country. Well, I was staggered anyway. American journalists, however, hardly noticed, even though significant sums were already pouring into a series of mega-bases that were clearly meant to be permanent fixtures on the Iraqi landscape. (The Bush administration carefully avoided using the word "permanent" in any context whatsoever, and these bases were first dubbed "enduring camps.")

Within two years, according to the Washington Post (in a piece that, typically, appeared on page A27 of the paper), the U.S. had those 106 bases in Iraq at a cost that, while unknown, must have been staggering indeed. Just stop for a moment and consider that number: 106. It boggles the mind, but not, it seems, American newspaper or TV journalism. has covered this subject regularly ever since, in part because these massive "facts on the ground," these modern Ziggurats, were clearly evidence of the Bush administration’s long-term plans and intentions in that country. Not surprisingly, this year, U.S. negotiators finally offered the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki its terms for a so-called status of forces agreement, evidently initially demanding the right to occupy into the distant future 58 of the bases it has built.

It has always been obvious -- to me, at least -- that any discussion of Iraq policy in this country, of timelines or "time horizons," drawdowns or withdrawals, made little sense if those giant facts on the ground weren’t taken into account. And yet you have to search the U.S. press carefully to find any reporting on the subject, nor have bases played any real role in debates in Washington or the nation over Iraq policy.

I could go further: I can think of two intrepid American journalists, Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post and Guy Raz of NPR, who actually visited a single U.S. mega-base, Balad Air Base, which reputedly has a level of air traffic similar to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow, and offered substantial reports on it. But, as far as I know, they, like the cheese of children’s song, stand alone. I doubt that in the last five years Americans tuning in to their television news have ever been able to see a single report from Iraq that gave a view of what the bases we have built there look like or cost. Although reporters visit them often enough and, for instance, have regularly offered reports from Camp Victory in Baghdad on what’s going on in the rest of Iraq, the cameras never pan away from the reporters to show us the gigantic base itself.

More than five years after ground was broken for the first major American base in Iraq, this is, it seems to me, a remarkable record of media denial. American bases in Afghanistan have generally experienced a similar fate.

My second encounter with base denial came in my other life. When not running, I’m a book editor; to be more specific, I’m Chalmers Johnson’s editor. I worked on the prophetic Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which was published back in 2000 to a singular lack of attention -- until, of course, the attacks of 9/11, after which it became a bestseller, adding both "blowback" and the phrase "unintended consequences" to the American lexicon.

By the time The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, the second volume in his Blowback Trilogy, came out in 2004, reviewers, critics, and commentators were all paying attention. The heart of that book focused on how the U.S. garrisons the planet, laying out Pentagon basing policies and discussing specific bases in remarkable detail. This represented serious research and breakthrough work, and the book indeed received much attention here, including major, generally positive reviews. Startlingly, however, not a single mainstream review, no matter how positive, paid any attention, or even really acknowledged, his chapters on the bases, or bothered to discuss the U.S. as a global garrison state. Only three years later did a major reviewer pay the subject serious attention. When Jonathan Freedland reviewed Nemesis, the final book in the Trilogy, in the New York Review of Books, he noticed the obvious and, in a discussion of U.S. basing policy, wrote, for instance:

"Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it’s just that Americans are blind to them. America is an ’empire of bases,’ he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost."

Not surprisingly, Freedland is not an American journalist, but a British one who works for the Guardian.

In the U.S., military bases really only matter, and so make headlines, when the Pentagon attempts to close some of the vast numbers of them scattered across this country. Then, the fear of lost jobs and lost income in local communities leads to headlines and hubbub.

Of course, millions of Americans know about our bases abroad firsthand. In this sense, they may be the least well kept secrets on the planet. American troops, private contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees all have spent extended periods of time on at least one U.S. base abroad. And yet no one seems to notice the near news blackout on our global bases or consider it the least bit strange.

The Foreshortened American Century

In a nutshell, occupying the planet, base by base, normally simply isn’t news. Americans may pay no attention and yet, of course, they do pay. It turns out to be a staggeringly expensive process for U.S. taxpayers. Writing of a major 2004 Pentagon global base overhaul (largely aimed at relocating many of them closer to the oil heartlands of the planet), Mike Mechanic of Mother Jones magazine online points out the following: "An expert panel convened by Congress to assess the overseas basing realignment put the cost at $20 billion, counting indirect expenses overlooked by the Pentagon, which had initially budgeted one-fifth that amount."

And that’s only the most obvious way Americans pay. It’s hard for us even to begin to grasp just how military (and punitive) is the face that the U.S. has presented to the world, especially during George W. Bush’s two terms in office. (Increasingly, that same face is also presented to Americans. For instance, as Paul Krugman indicated recently, the civilian Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] has been so thoroughly wrecked these last years that significant planning for the response to Hurricane Gustav fell on the shoulders of the military’s Bush-created U.S. Northern Command.)

In purely practical terms, though, Americans are unlikely to be able to shoulder forever the massive global role the Pentagon and successive administrations have laid out for us. Sooner or later, cutbacks will come and the sun will slowly begin to set on our base-world abroad.

In the Cold War era, there were, of course, two "superpowers," the lesser of which disappeared in 1991 after a lifespan of 74 years. Looking at what seemed to be a power vacuum across the Bering Straits, the leaders of the other power prematurely declared themselves triumphant in what had been an epic struggle for global hegemony. It now seems that, rather than victory, the second superpower was just heading for the exit far more slowly.

As of now, "the American Century," birthed by Time/Life publisher Henry Luce in 1941, has lasted but 67 years. Today, you have to be in full-scale denial not to know that the twenty-first century -- whether it proves to be the Century of Multipolarity, the Century of China, the Century of Energy, or the Century of Chaos -- will not be an American one. The unipolar moment is already so over and, sooner or later, those mega-bases and lily pads alike will wash up on the shores of history, evidence of a remarkable fantasy of a global Pax Americana.

Not that you’re likely to hear much about this in the run-up to November 4th in the U.S. Here, fantasy reigns in both parties where a relatively upbeat view of our globally dominant future is a given, and will remain so, no matter who enters the White House in January 2009. After all, who’s going to run for president not on the idea that "it’s morning again in America," but on the recognition that it’s the wee small hours of the morning, the bender is ending, and the hangover… Well, it’s going to be a doozy.

Better take some B vitamins and get a little sleep. The world’s probably not going to look so great by the dawn’s early light.

Why We Were Falsely Arrested

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By Amy Goodman

Government crackdowns on journalists are a true threat to democracy. As the Republican National Convention meets in St. Paul, Minn., this week, police are systematically targeting journalists. I was arrested with my two colleagues, “Democracy Now!” producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, while reporting on the first day of the RNC. I have been wrongly charged with a misdemeanor. My co-workers, who were simply reporting, may be charged with felony riot.

The Democratic and Republican national conventions have become very expensive and protracted acts of political theater, essentially four-day-long advertisements for the major presidential candidates. Outside the fences, they have become major gatherings for grass-roots movements—for people to come, amidst the banners, bunting, flags and confetti, to express the rights enumerated in the Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Behind all the patriotic hyperbole that accompanies the conventions, and the thousands of journalists and media workers who arrive to cover the staged events, there are serious violations of the basic right of freedom of the press. Here on the streets of St. Paul, the press is free to report on the official proceedings of the RNC, but not to report on the police violence and mass arrests directed at those who have come to petition their government, to protest.

It was Labor Day, and there was an anti-war march, with a huge turnout, with local families, students, veterans and people from around the country gathered to oppose the war. The protesters greatly outnumbered the Republican delegates.

There was a positive, festive feeling, coupled with a growing anxiety about the course that Hurricane Gustav was taking, and whether New Orleans would be devastated anew. Later in the day, there was a splinter march. The police—clad in full body armor, with helmets, face shields, batons and canisters of pepper spray—charged. They forced marchers, onlookers and working journalists into a nearby parking lot, then surrounded the people and began handcuffing them.

Nicole was videotaping. Her tape of her own violent arrest is chilling. Police in riot gear charged her, yelling, “Get down on your face.” You hear her voice, clearly and repeatedly announcing “Press! Press! Where are we supposed to go?” She was trapped between parked cars. The camera drops to the pavement amidst Nicole’s screams of pain. Her face was smashed into the pavement, and she was bleeding from the nose, with the heavy officer with a boot or knee on her back. Another officer was pulling on her leg. Sharif was thrown up against the wall and kicked in the chest, and he was bleeding from his arm.

I was at the Xcel Center on the convention floor, interviewing delegates. I had just made it to the Minnesota delegation when I got a call on my cell phone with news that Sharif and Nicole were being bloody arrested, in every sense. Filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films and I raced on foot to the scene. Out of breath, we arrived at the parking lot. I went up to the line of riot police and asked to speak to a commanding officer, saying that they had arrested accredited journalists.

Within seconds, they grabbed me, pulled me behind the police line and forcibly twisted my arms behind my back and handcuffed me, the rigid plastic cuffs digging into my wrists. I saw Sharif, his arm bloody, his credentials hanging from his neck. I repeated we were accredited journalists, whereupon a Secret Service agent came over and ripped my convention credential from my neck. I was taken to the St. Paul police garage where cages were set up for protesters. I was charged with obstruction of a peace officer. Nicole and Sharif were taken to jail, facing riot charges.

The attack on and arrest of me and the “Democracy Now!” producers was not an isolated event. A video group called I-Witness Video was raided two days earlier. Another video documentary group, the Glass Bead Collective, was detained, with its computers and video cameras confiscated. On Wednesday, I-Witness Video was again raided, forced out of its office location. When I asked St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington how reporters are to operate in this atmosphere, he suggested, “By embedding reporters in our mobile field force.”

On Monday night, hours after we were arrested, after much public outcry, Nicole, Sharif and I were released. That was our Labor Day. It’s all in a day’s work.

The Real McCain

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Meet the Senator Most Likely to Start a Nuclear War

It's November 19, 2004, a mere two weeks after the election that returned George W. Bush to power, and Senator John McCain has traipsed off to New Hampshire to give a speech calling for 50,000 more troops to be sent into the quagmire of Iraq, press flesh and raise money for an expected run at the presidency in 2008. John Sununu, former New Hampshire governor and Bush family consigliere, wryly quipped about McCain's junket to the Granite State, "What took him so long?"

The press corps, already bored with Bush and election post-mortems, tags along. McCain's the darling of the moment, the opinion press's favorite senator, a media-made maverick, who was sedulously courted by both John Kerry and George Bush. McCain, true to form, flirted with them both and sniped at them both, but in the end remained wedded to the GOP, even as the party fell further under the sway of neo-cons and Christian fundamentalists that McCain publicly claims to abhor.

But that's all part of the McCain profile. He is the senator of the hollow protest. McCain is nothing if not a political stunt man. His chief stunt is the evocation of political piety. From his pulpit in the well of the senate, McCain gestures and fumes about the evils of Pentagon porkbarrel. He rails about useless and expensive weapons systems, contractor malfeasance, and bloated R&B budgets.

But he does nothing about them. McCain pontificates, but never obstructs. Few senators have his political capital. But he does nothing with it. Under the arcane rules of the senate, one senator can gum up the works, derail a bad (or good, though those are increasingly rare in this environment) bill, dislodge non-germane riders, usually loaded with pork, from big appropriations bills. McCain is never that senator. He is content to let ride that which he claims to detest in press releases and senate speeches.

A recent example. In late October, McCain went on 60 Minutes to decry a footnote in the Defense Appropriations Bill of 2004 that transferred billions of dollars from so-called Operations and Maintenance accounts for US troops in Iraq to porkbarrel projects, such as gold mines and museums, in the states of powerful senators. In his stern voice before the cameras, McCain made congressional looting sound like a treasonable offense. But what he failed to disclose is the fact that he actually voted for the bill. Not only that, he was personally approached by each senator who wanted just such a transfer of funds and gave it his seal of approval.

McCain the Maverick is a merely a fine-honed act, underscored by these kinds of casual hypocrisies.

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In the past few years, McCain has been portrayed as one of the doves the senate. It's a stunning transformation and a phony one. Instead, throughout his career in Congress McCain has often been one of the hottest hawks around. During the war on Serbia in 1999, in one rhetorical bombing run after another, McCain bellowed for "lights out in Belgrade" and for NATO to "cream" the Serbs. At the start of May of that year he began declaiming in the US senate for NATO forces to use "any means necessary" to destroy Serbia.

McCain is often called a "war hero", a title adorning an unlovely resume starting with a father who was an admiral and graduation fifth from the bottom at the US Naval Academy, where he earned the nickname "McNasty". McCain flew 23 bombing missions over North Vietnam, each averaging about half an hour, total time ten hours and thirty minutes. For these brief excursions the admiral's son was awarded two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Bronze Stars, the Vietnamese Legion of Honor and three Purple Hearts. US Veteran Dispatch calculates our hero earned a medal an hour, which is pretty good going. McCain was shot down over Hanoi on October 26, 1967 and parachuted into Truc Boch Lake, whence he was hauled by Vietnamese, and put in prison.

A couple of years later he was interviewed in prison camp by Fernando Barral, a Spanish psychiatrist living in Cuba. The interview appeared in Granma on January 24, 1970.

McCain's fragile psyche runs on what Barral described "the personality of the prisoner who is responsible for many criminal bombings of the people." Barral went on, "He (McCain) showed himself to be intellectually alert during the interview. From a morale point of view he is not in traumatic shock. He was able to be sarcastic, and even humorous, indicative of psychic equilibrium. From the moral and ideological point of view he showed us he is an insensitive individual without human depth, who does not show the slightest concern, who does not appear to have thought about the criminal acts he committed against a population from the absolute impunity of his airplane, and that nevertheless those people saved his life, fed him, and looked after his health and he is now healthy and strong. I believe that he has bombed densely populated places for sport. I noted that he was hardened, that he spoke of banal things as if her were at a cocktail party.

McCain is deeply loved by the liberal press. As Amy Silverman, a reporter at the Phoenix weekly New Times who has followed the senator for years, puts it, "As long as he's the noble outsider, McCain can get away with anything it seems -- the Keating Five, a drug stealing wife, nasty jokes about Chelsea Clinton -- and the pundits will gurgle and coo."

Indeed they will. William Safire, Maureen Down, Russell Baker, the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, have all slobbered over McCain in empurpled prose. The culmination was a love poem from Mike Wallace in 60 Minutes, who managed to avoid any inconvenient mention of McCain's close relationship with S & L fraudster Charles Keating, with whom the indulgent senator romped on Bahamian beaches. McCain was similarly spared scrutiny for his astonishing claim that he knew nothing of his wife's scandalous dealings.

McCain's escape from the Keating debacle is nothing short of miraculous and it's probably the activity for which he most deserves a medal. After all, he took more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the swindler Keating between 1982 and 1988, while simultaneously logrolling for Keating on Capitol Hill. In the same period McCain took nine trips to Keating's place in the Bahamas.

When the muck began to rise, McCain threw Keating over the side, hastily reimbursed Keating for the trips and suddenly developed a profound interest in campaign finance and reform.

Yet McCain is legendary among those who have worked with him for a pathologically vicious temper, also for his skill in adopting apparently principled stands which are never exposed to any rigorous test.

The pundits love McCain because of his grandstanding on soft money's baneful role in politics, thus garnering for himself a reputation for willingness to court the enmity of his colleagues.

In fact, colleagues in the Senate accurately regard McCain as a mere grandstander. They know that he already has a big war chest left over from the corporations that crave his indulgence, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Communications companies (US West, Bell South, ATT, Bell Atlantic have been particularly effusive in McCain's treasury, as have banks, military contractors and UPS. They also know he has a rich wife and the certain knowledge that his supposed hopes for an end to soft money spending will never receive any practical legislative application.

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John McCain says he models himself after TR. "I'm a Teddy Roosevelt kind of Republican", McCain told a crowd of about 1,000 people in East Lansing, Michigan. "I believe America needs a strong leader. And most Republicans take in pride in identifying with TR, who believed that second only to the national defense, one of our most important public duties is to wisely husband the country's natural resources. Like TR I'll be the kind of president who will have the courage stand up to the special interests and no. There are some things they just can't have." The crowd of students plus those elusive Reagan Democrats cheered lustily as McCain raised his arms in his now customary crimped victory salute.

Two days later McCain was in Spokane, capital of Washington's Inland Empire, where the Republican Party is dominated by big timber, big agriculture and the hydro-power conglomerate that includes the aluminum factories, the barge fleets and the pulp mills. Over his 18-year career in the House and Senate John McCain has rarely let them down. He has supported property rights legislation, backed the salvage logging rider, fought measures for stricter control over pesticides and harshly denounced proposals to breach dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to save endangered salmon.

Even in that crowd, McCain claimed to be a conservationist: "It's possible for a conservative president to be an environmentalist." So the question is what kind of environmentalist is John McCain?

McCain has confused many observers. Even staunchly Democratic organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters, can't seem to find it in themselves to pin him down on the environment. The League's profile of McCain notes that "on most issues dealing with Arizona, National Park protection and auto-efficiency standards, his record ranges from good to excellent". But the group's own annual ranking (heavily prejudiced against Republicans, it must be admitted) gives the Arizona senator a lifetime rating of only 20 per cent. Several years he rated a zero.

When he's out West, McCain is fond of saying that his political mentor was Barry Goldwater. But McCain is no Goldwater. And that's not a compliment. Goldwater was, essentially, a western populist, a Libertarian version of Mike Mansfield, Lee Metcalf and Frank Church. Goldwater always had a passion for the outdoors and in the end singled out as his greatest political regret his vote to authorize the construction of Glen Canyon dam. McCain is not one for searing self-scrutiny. As with the rest of his political agenda, McCain's environmentalism has always been pointedly opportunistic. Voting for a popular Arizona wilderness bill when he faced a tough election. Introducing legislation at the behest of local businesses to limit overflights of planes and helicopters at Grand Canyon National Park. Perhaps, this is a sign for optimism. After all, he isn't a Wise-Use ideologue.

McCain tends to analyze the polls with an obsessiveness comparable to the Clintons. Of particular interest has been Republican pollster Frank Luntz's work, which shows that upwards of 70 per cent of Republicans favor strong environmental laws and increased funding for national parks. The environment, in other words, might be a wedge issue, one that can win over independents, Reagan Democrats, Republican moderates and women. Hence, a recent McCain speech on the environment in San Diego, where he thundered, "Republicans have to do a lot more than they are doing today on the environment." Aside from generic calls to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which gets its money from royalties from offshore oil drilling), McCain tends to leave the particulars fuzzy.

Of course, McCain is hardly alone in this regard, of course. Indeed, on a bad day he can even sound a bit like Hillary Clinton. "One area I believe we must focus upon is to ensure that our laws and rules are more performance-based and that we focus better on outcomes rather than means," McCain writes on his webpage. "To that end we should work to instill greater flexibility to employ new approaches to meeting our standards and environmental goals."

His votes in the Senate have gone somewhat beyond "greater flexibility", embracing takings legislation, opening of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and Bob Dole's regulatory reform bill.

When the interests of the military and the environment come into conflict, as often happens in the Western states, there's no question where John McCain stands. In 1993, McCain placed a hold on the nomination of Mollie Beatie, Clinton's choice to head the Fish and Wildlife Service. McCain had been told by his buddies in the Marine Air Corps that the Fish and Wildlife Service planned to halt low-level flights above the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Reserve, near Yuma, Arizona. McCain's strong-arm tactics worked. Bruce Babbitt sent the senator a letter pledging that the military fly-bys would not be impeded. With this easy victory conquest of Babbitt under his belt, McCain struck again the following year, when he placed a rider onto the California Desert Preservation Act, allowing military flights over the wilderness areas and national preserves created by the act. Now, McCain shouldn't be forced to shoulder all the blame for that one. His amendment was fondly received by the bill's author, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had already perverted the bill by permitting mining claims inside in the so-called national preserve.

In 1999 McCain attached a rider to the Defense Appropriations bill that would have permanently transferred to the Pentagon 7.2 million acres of federal wildlife refuge land managed by the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service, where they would become used as a bombing range and a testing ground for a new generation of missiles. McCain's rider exempted the military from conducting any environmental review of its programs.

One of the issues that divides the often united Western delegation is the Department of Energy's plan to bury the nation's commercial nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain, an earthquake prone region on Shoshone lands in western Nevada. The plan, dubbed "mobile Chernobyl", sets up an MX missile system for nuclear waste, with trains shipping the radioactive materials from across the country on a maze of rail routes. McCain, happy to keep the waste out of Arizona, enthusiastically supports the scheme. And he backs the creation of even more nuclear waste by standing forth as one of the nuclear power industry's most reliable allies. "While waste and proliferation issues present unique challenges, nuclear energy can play a key role in reducing pollution emissions and controlling releases of carbon dioxide."

"If there's one thing we know about McCain, it's that he can't be trusted", says Roger Featherstone, director of the GREEN, an Albuqueque, New Mexico environmental group. "Anybody who promotes McCain is environmentalist is either an idiot or a liar." Much of the blame for McCain's reputation can be laid to our gullible press. Living on Earth, the NPR environmental show, recently produced a puff piece touting McCain as the Senate's most environmentally conscious Republican. Of course, most of McCain's act is scripted for the photo op. When the chips are on the table, McCain can be counted on to do the bidding of industry. Take the issue of subsidies. In 1996, McCain introduced a bill that would have slashed corporate welfare, including millions in subsidies to big timber in form of federally funded logging roads. The measure was enthusiastically received by liberals and the Washington press corps, which wasted no time hailing McCain as a "maverick" and a "renegade Republican". But a few months later McCain had the opportunity to make part of his plan reality, but he defected, voting against a measure offered by then-Senator Richard Bryant, the Nevada Democrat, that would have eliminated the very same timber road subsidies. McCain didn't explain his flip-flop.

McCain played a malign role in one of Arizona's most controversial issues, the mad scheme by the University of Arizona to erect seven deep space telescopes on national forest lands at the summit of Mt. Graham. Mt. Graham is known as a sky island, a lush montane oasis rising out of the Sonoran desert. In its upper reaches, Mt. Graham is cloaked in a dense alpine spruce-fir forest unique in the world. It is home to more than 18 endangered plants and animals, the most famous of which is the Mt. Graham red squirrel, found nowhere else. Mt. Graham is not only an ecological marvel, it is also a sacred mountain to the San Carlos Apache.

Neither of these factors carried weight with McCain, who was hell-bent on doing favors for the University. He duly introduced legislation exempting the $520 million project from compliance with the Endangered Species Act, Antiquities Act and the Native American Religious Freedom Act.

In the spring of 1989, the Forest Service began to raise questions about the project. Worried about the impacts on the endangered Mt. Graham red squirrel, Jim Abbott, the supervisor of the Coronado National Forest, ordered a halt to road construction at the site. The delay infuriated McCain. On May 17, 1989, Abbott got a call from Mike Jimenez, McCain's chief of staff. Jimenez told Abbot that McCain was angry and wanted to meet with him the next day. He told Abbott to expect "some ass-chewing". At the meeting, McCain raged, threatening Abbott that "if you do not cooperate on this project [bypassing the Endangered Species Act], you'll be the shortest tenured forest supervisor in the history of the Forest Service." Unfortunately for McCain, there was a witness to this encounter, a ranking Forest Service employee named Richard Flannelly, who recorded the encounter in his notebook. This notebook was later turned over to investigators at the GAO.

A few days later, McCain called Abbott to apologize. But the call sounded more like an attempt to bribe the Forest Supervisor to go along with the project. According to a 1990 GAO report on the affair, McCain "held out a carrot that with better cooperation, he would see about getting funding for Mr. Abbott's desired recreation projects". Environmentalists attempted to bring an ethics complaint against McCain, citing a federal law that prohibits anyone (including members of Congress) from browbeating federal agency personnel. The Senate ethics committee never pursued the matter. When the GAO report, condemning McCain, surfaced publicly, McCain lied about the encounter, calling the allegations "groundless" and "silly"

In 1992, Robin Silver and Bob Witzeman went to meet with McCain at his office in Phoenix to discuss Mt. Graham. Silver and Witzeman are both physicians. Witzeman is now retired and Silver works in the emergency room at Phoenix hospital. The doctors say that at the mention of the words Mount Graham McCain erupted into a violent fit. "He slammed his fists on his desk, scattering papers across the room", Silver tells us. "He jumped up and down, screaming obscenities at us for at least 10 minutes. He shook his fists as if he was going to slug us. It was as violent as almost any domestic abuse altercation."

Witzeman left the meeting stunned: "I'm a lifelong environmentalist, but what really scares me about McCain is not his environmental policies, which are horrid, but his violent, irrational temper. I think McCain is so unbalanced that if Vladimir Putin told him something he didn't like he'd lose it, start beating his chest about having his finger on the nuclear trigger. Who knows where it would stop. To my mind, McCain's the most likely senator to start a nuclear war."