The Shock and Awe of U.S. domestic economic policy

15 04 2011

     The political right is currently in the midst of an all-out assault on the democratic Idea.  Conservative ideology has been able to exploit yet another crisis in American history and utilize the powerful force of fear to drive the citizenry in a direction that will inevitably only serve the interests of the prosperous few, rather than the many who will suffer its side-effects.  In a recent article entitled “Shock Doctrine USA,” New York Times’ columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman aptly draws a connection between the current condition of political discourse in the U.S. (particularly with regard to the battle being waged in Wisconsin) and the 2003 invasion of Baghdad, Iraq by the United States military.  In both cases, “instead of focusing on the urgent problems of a shattered economy and society,” the powers-that-be are and were, “obsessed with imposing a conservative ideological vision” (Feb. 25, 2011).  In other words, Mr. Bremer, the then leader of American forces in Iraq, plainly stated that the plan was to “’corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises,’” and to “‘wean people from the idea that the state supports everything.’”  Such ‘visions’ are achieved, as many have argued, in a state in which the economic and social climate is such that completely reactionary and opportunistic strategies are actually entertained as feasible solutions.  This logic, and Krugman’s article’s namesake, is drawn from Naomi Klein’s 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, in which she argues that “America’s ‘free market’ policies have come to dominate the world- through exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries,” (naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine) as she explores major historic events of recent decades including the Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship of Chile in the 1970s as well as the occupation of Iraq by the United States beginning in 2003.  Such was the case in 2001, 2003, and such is the current state of affairs at home.

     Going further, one could draw another parallel between the conservative attack on a multitude of social and economic issues in America and the military tactics used in the early days of the occupation of Afghanistan. Particularly, the use of cluster bombs.  The immediate effects of cluster bombs are devastating and the long-term effects can prove equally fatal and debilitating.  A tactic suitably labeled “fatally flawed” by a December 2008 report issued by Human Rights Watch on the use of cluster bombs between October 2001 and March 2002, cluster bombs carried with them a host of negative impacts.  These included the immediate deaths of civilian upon the release of these weapons onto their targets, the injuring and killing of civilians post-drop as a result of unexploded bomblets, or “live duds,” and even the increased economic stagnation that occurred as a result of farmers being unable to safely walk the land and shepherds being unable to allow their flocks to graze in territory that had yet to be demined.   Furthermore, the impetus behind the use of cluster bombs by American forces was to root out “terror” and defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, and to be successful in eliminating fear within the general populace by freeing the people from these oppressive groups.  However, this kind of fear remains, long after these tactics were carried out.  The occupation continues, and civilians remain fearful of land that may hide unexploded bombs as well as warplanes that remain overhead.  This is yet another example of the use of highly irrational, unsupported, and often illegal practices during times of economic, social, or political unrest.  This same logic that is used to justify and implement strategies such as the carpet bombing of villages in Afghanistan is by no means restricted to the battlefield.  As Krugman, Klein and others have noted, neoliberal and neoconservative alike have utilized the specter of crises and economic devastation to further strip the citizenry of its wealth and civil rights in favor of the rich and powerful.  In a sense, our own society has become a battlefield all the same, and the forces in control are determined to roll back any number of democratic institutions and policies that have been won over the course of decades, if not centuries.

     At a time when American hegemony in international and domestic markets is being challenged (predominantly as a result of its own poor decisions), we can see a new Congress engaged in an almost indiscriminate attack on any public institution or social program that provides assistance to millions of Americans on a daily basis in the name of budget balancing.  Idaho Representative Raul Labrador recently echoed the sentiments of many others on Capitol Hill when he exhorted that “everyone needs to share in the responsibility, and everybody needs to share in the sacrifice we need to make to make sure that the United States stands as the beacon to the world,” (Steinhauer, “House Freshmen Take Plans for Cuts Home to Voters, New York Times, 2/24/11).  The attacks on women, public sector workers, the environment and other state institutions’ ability to perform, are not sacrifices, but theft.  Theft, because this notion that all must and are making sacrifices is painfully skewed in favor of those who dominate the upper echelons of society and large corporations, who are given the tax breaks and exemptions reaching billions of dollars that are removed from society, rather than returned and utilized in progressive ways.   This kind of rhetoric that Labrador, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and plenty of others use to justify the reallocation of public money and the destruction of some core institutions have for years served to benefit the rich and punish the working and lower classes.  Much like the cluster bomb in Afghanistan, the effects of this kind of callous speech and action will have both short and long-term effects that will force this nation backward rather than forward, leaving the problems unsolved and hurting the innocent in the process.

     New Jersey Peace Action is dedicated to the struggle to affect positive social change in the United States and elsewhere by promoting peace and questioning the irrational logic of warfare and military oppression; a logic that has been making its way into every facet of society here at home with the same horrid effects.  Using periods of crisis to promote undemocratic and unsustainable practices rather than address the real underlying issues is an act of senselessness and irresponsibility.  Massive corporations like Bank of America and General Electric- to name just two- to pay no taxes at all.  In December, President Obama allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to continue for individuals making upwards of $200,000, as part of a package that will cost $900 billion.  The United States continues to fund a foreign policy agenda that has already spent over a trillion dollars on two wars and plans on spending another $125 billion this year alone.  Almost a trillion dollars was supplied to the big banks that occupy the market and companies on Wall Street in an effort to “save” our economy and indirectly stimulate job growth, while top executives continued to give themselves record bonuses and generate near-record profits in the midst of the Great Recession.  But Planned Parenthood is just one of the many reasons why we are in the mess that we are in now?  What kind of sacrifice are these larger entities making at present?

     What happened after the introduction of cluster bombs as a means to achieving the goals in the “War on Terror?”  What has been the result of U.S. warfare on foreign soil over the past decade?  What were the effects of the United States’ decision to replace Saddam Hussein’s regime with “officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence” (Krugman, 2/25/11)? What will be the result of the defunding of major public institutions and further repression of public workers here at home?  The result is devastating and offensive to the human condition.  All of these steps were and continue to be taken during times of crisis like the one we face today, and it is of the utmost importance to expose the lies and deception that are driving them.





Bombs over Tripoli

8 04 2011

The following is a reflection of the ongoing discussion and debate regarding New Jersey Peace Action’s position on the ongoing conflict in Libya, especially with regard to United States’ involvement.  With further discussion, commentary and clarification of ongoing events, a clearer picture will surface.  We invite your commentary and insight into this conflict. It will help us develop our official position.

 Please watch for New Jersey Peace Action’s official position on Libya and the United States in the near future.  For the moment, the following represents some of the ideas and questions we are grappling with.  In addition, there are concerns about whether or not the U.S. Congress should have been able to discuss/debate U.S. involvement in Libya, since by the U.S. Constitution, only the U.S. Congress has the power to declare war.

I must confess I was a little hesitant to take a certain position on the matter of military intervention/action in Libya by international forces.

Rebels had called for an international intervention, and had pleaded with the international community to come to its aid in battling Qaddafi’s forces.  Qaddafi’s time has certainly come- or it did a long time ago- to step down and relinquish power to the Libyan people.  There is no denying the cruelty and oppressive force with which he has ruled Libya for nearly forty years.

But the ensuing course of events which came as a supposed response to these pleas have convinced me to take a firm position in standing against these acts of military aggression, albeit purportedly spawned from a concerted desire to save civilian lives.

International consensus (as well as domestic consensus) has deteriorated rapidly, and the United States is now standing at odds with those who were originally in agreement with its agenda.  The Arab League has expressed displeasure.  The African Union has throughout expressed discontent.  The number of abstentions and votes against the UN resolution passed reflects the actual lack of consensus from the get-go.  However, these abstentions also reveal the amount of pressure that was exerted on member-states who were overtly against the ambitions of European and American delegates from the start, but failed to express their dissent by voting against the resolution.  It was also weeks ago that we first heard Defense Secretary Gates expressing his concern over the discussion of entering Libya, even if just to enforce a no-fly zone.  This kind of agreement, or lack thereof, is hardly grounds for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to insist on going ahead with pushing for the drafting and implementation of the proposal approved by the United Nations Security Council.

The original goal of enforcing a no-fly zone has morphed into an effort to combat Qaddafi’s forces directly in an act of war designed to help the rebel army win its battle.  The UN resolution passed authorizes the use of “all necessary measures” to ensure and maintain the security of the civilian population, welcoming efforts to carry out an operation that far exceeds the initial proposals to take out Qaddafi’s airpower.  This action begs for the answers to several questions.

How long will this continue?  We recently passed the eight-year mark in the nation of Iraq, and the tenth anniversary in Afghanistan is just around the corner.  Are these really the kind of statistics we would like to have when entering another country with military force?

Why has the United States decided to go ahead with military action in this conflict as opposed to a whole host of other international conflicts with similarly devastating effects?  Unfortunately for the United States’ reputation in the region, its decision to act militarily this time comes yet again in the region often referred to as the Middle East, with a heavily Islamic and Arab population, as well as in yet another country that sits atop large quantities of oil.  Neither of these facts do anything to help the United States maintain the moral high ground it desires during this conflict, but leave the matter of its true intentions subject to debate.  The question of what is really at stake here for the United States is a question that is in need of discussion and investigation.

How much has this cost the American taxpayers in addition to their contributions to the largest military budget in the history of the planet?  A current report out by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments reveals that enforcing a no-fly zone in the nation of Libya could cost between $100 to $300 million per week, with the possible additional cost of between $500 million and $1 billion to ensure the destruction of Qaddafi’s air defense systems (Cooper and Harrison, http://www.csbaonline.org/publications/2011/03/selected-options-and-costs-for-a-no-fly-zone-over-libya/).  How much of these costs will be doled out by the United States is unknown, but it is safe to say that given the United States leadership position in the early and present stages of the operation, it will certainly be a large contributor.  The F-15 fighter which recently went down inside the country will cost $30 million to replace.  Almost two hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles have been launched by U.S and U.K. warships into the country, each carrying a price tag of $1.2 million.  And it costs $80,000 per hour to operate one B-2 bomber; of which one had already made the twenty five hour trip to and from the United States.

All of these questions being even partially answered reveal the precarious situation in which the United States has been able to strong arm itself into, and the outcome will likely be less gratifying than the public hopes.  We all want Qaddafi and his cronies to end their rule and retreat into history, but only after they are held to account for the crimes committed during their reign.  We all want a better life for those suffering from oppression and mistreatment in the nation of Libya and elsewhere.  It is simply the means with which the United States is attempting to achieve such goals that leaves many feeling quite uneasy.  The appropriateness of these means must be drawn into question. And, whether or not this is indeed the end goal remains to be seen.





A Lesson in Liberation

14 02 2011

     The ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak after eighteen days of peaceful, determined protests across the country represents yet another moment in the continuum that is human progress.  However, what must be remembered, and what is so glaringly evident in Egypt at present, is that this continuum only exists as a result of the indefatigable efforts of regular people; those individuals who are willing to speak out and boldly defy existing norms and institutions in defense of freedom and social justice.

     Moments like these are peppered throughout the history of all nations, and the Egyptian people have taken their place on its stage.

     But change does not simply occur on its’ own.  The impetus for change begins and ends with the will of the people; their eagerness to get their hands dirty, to devote their efforts to a movement for positive change, and their willingness to do so en masse, alongside their fellow country men and women irrespective of their political persuasion.  We see this reality in Liberation Square as well as in the grassroots campaigns that helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the follow-up Voting Rights Act of ‘65 and a host of other political achievements throughout the history of this nation.

     Vigilance must be maintained, however, or Egypt will experience the near disillusionment we are experiencing currently as progressives in the U.S., whose president has failed to deliver on a multitude of promises, riding a wave of support and commitment that has certainly begun to falter.  Promises will only be followed up on provided we, the citizenry, continue to apply pressure.

     The Egyptian people must continue the struggle for progress; Tahrir square may be cleaned and slowly emptying, but its political and governmental condition is still bathed in the stench of dictatorship and years of criminal repression.  The struggle must continue.  President Mubarak has been ousted, but his cronies remain nearby and on the fringe and the role of governing must not remain in the hands of the military apparatus, no matter which army we are speaking of in whichever country.

     Those seeking progressive change in the United States must continue to struggle.  The election of an African American who professes to adhere to the liberal notions of democracy, human rights, progressive taxation, social justice and anti-war sentimentality, will not in itself bring about the legalization of gay marriage, the end to foreign occupation, nuclear disarmament, the creation of jobs on a scale necessary to put our entire nation back to work, or the abandonment of the desire to skirt international law in the fog of war.  Indeed, as we all have seen, such professions have fallen far short of actualizing themselves in practical terms.  After years of illegal warfare, unprecedented infringements in the sphere of civil rights and extreme mismanagement of public funds, the hunger for change was undeniable in the elections of 2008.  But this hunger still remains.

     Although these pronouncements are truly a welcome beginning in our nation’s political discourse, it is not the only necessary ingredient in the recipe for progressive action; it could even be determined a garnish and nothing more.  The incessant, determined and uncontainable pressure exerted by social movements, rather, provides the foundation for any such changes.

     Let the events in Egypt reignite the flame of activism and progressive, grassroots movements; the true seeds of revolution and progress all over the world.  Let us take some pointers from the people who have dedicated their safety, jobs, and even their lives to the struggle for human emancipation in Alexandria, Suez, Cairo, elsewhere in Egypt and across what we call the Middle East these past weeks.  Mass demonstrations, divestment campaigns, and other forms of public outcry are just a few of the tools at our disposal.  But it is the strength, solidarity and determination of the citizenry that is the crucial component.  This kind of spirit and commitment to achieving tangible results in the realm of social justice is something we could all use a little more of.





A Topsy-turvy World

14 02 2011

     In a 1970 visit to John’s Hopkins University to debate the notion of civil disobedience with philosopher Charles Frankel, Howard Zinn began by claiming, “I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong…”  I believe it necessary to reclaim this simple fact and to take a look at the world in which we live today upon the arrival of 2011. 

     News from the Pentagon provides us with a perfect starting point.  On December 22, 2010 Congress was able to pass a bill that provided the Pentagon with the largest budget for military spending initiatives since the end of World War II.  The bill, The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, allowed for the spending of $725 billion in the Defense Department’s budget in the next year alone.  This number includes the base sum of dollars needed to maintain our massive military machine, but also includes another $158.7 billion for endeavors within the presently occupied nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Adjusted for inflation, this is nearly $280 billion more than the largest budget approved during the Reagan administration, a presidency with a lasting reputation for increased and almost obsessive spending with regard to the military, and the military alone.  All this, as Rick Rozoff states in his article entitled Pentagon’s Christmas Present: Largest Military Budget Since World War II, without any “meaningful dissent in either house of Congress.” 

     All this in the middle of a presidency whose leader received the Nobel Peace Prize, as he entered office in 2009, for his efforts to reduce the global nuclear weapons arsenal.  The 2011 budget also shows a somewhat inverse relationship between President Obama’s commitments to nuclear non-proliferation and the commitment of more money to the development of nuclear technology for military purposes.  As a breakdown of the budget by the War Resister’s League shows, the budget includes “steady increases in nuclear weapons spending over the next 10 years, including a new plutonium facility for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (NM) and a uranium manufacturing plant at Oak Ridge (TN),” (www.warresisters.org).  Although significant and progressive in its own right for the moment, it is not simply the ratification of the New START Treaty that is going to mend this ugly conflict between spoken promises and actual commitments.

     The 2011 budget data now begs the question of whether or not such spending measures are necessary, helpful, or even feasible in today’s broken economic system.  Data compiled by the National Priorities Project (www.nationalpriorities.org) serves to clarify the realities of our government’s budgetary priorities.  For each dollar collected from the taxpayer in 2009, 26.5 cents was allotted for military expenditures.  When it came to directing money towards other aspects of the federal budget, the picture was not so bright.  1.3 cents went to transportation, 2 cents went to education, 2.5 to environmental energy and science, and 3.7 cents went to food.  In New Jersey, the median income family paid roughly $7,500 in federal income taxes in the same year.  Of that amount, $1,987 went to the military and $187 went to our schools. 

     Of course, there is much of the Federal budget that is deemed “mandatory” or “non-discretionary,” which is untouchable by Congress in the process of constructing a budget each year.  However, it is the “discretionary” portion of which we are speaking.  Of that, military expenditures comprise over 50% of the total.  So, in reality, military spending represents over half of the portion of the federal budget which Congress has direct control over.  

     Does Zinn’s simple exclamation hold as true today as it did in 1970?  Considering these figures against the backdrop of our nation’s current economic, social and political depression, I would argue that indeed it does.  Things certainly seem to be quite topsy-turvy.