For the third time in the last 20 years, establishment voices, with high-profile slots in traditional media, are trying to convince the public to accept cuts to Social Security by endlessly claiming such cuts are necessary without giving coherent evidence to justify the claim. Twice, under President Clinton and the second President Bush, these voices were defeated. But they didn't give up. And now they are in striking distance of their goal: the fact that Republicans have taken over the House, combined with the fact that the President appointed a deficit reduction commission which nearly recommended a cut in Social Security benefits, and might well have done so if Rep. Schakowsky hadn't worked to undermine the co-chairs' plan, means that one can't be complacent; some reports have suggested that the President may indicate support for cuts to Social Security in his State of the Union speech. Of the two principal Washington political actors who will shape the outcome - the Republican leadership and the President's team - one is a determined adversary of the public interest, the other a very uncertain ally. The most successful anti-poverty program in U.S. history is again in grave danger.
Twenty years ago, Social Security was called the "third rail" of U.S. politics. Touch it, you die. But it turned out that was not true. The Establishment greedheads were not, in fact, afraid to try to mess with this wildly popular program. Maybe Wall Street political power is the third rail.
In these two decades, Social Security hasn't been the third rail. Instead, it's been the Grey Goose of folk song legend. The knife couldn't cut him and the fork couldn't stick him. Try as they might, they couldn't kill him. Can the Grey Goose survive the next assault?
Everybody knows that the recent election was all about the economy, right?
Nobody would claim that American voters just gave Republicans a mandate for more war, would they?
Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday in the wake of big Republican victories in Congress that he hopes President Barack Obama will take a fresh look at U.S. war policy in Afghanistan. McCain won re-election to his Arizona Senate seat by a large margin, ensuring he will retain have a strong voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee as its ranking Republican member.
In an interview, McCain told Reuters he was looking forward to a December review the Obama administration is preparing to give an update on the U.S. troop increase Obama ordered a year ago to try to repulse a strengthened Taliban.
McCain, who is expected to visit Afghanistan soon, said he would like to see a change in Obama's decision to begin withdrawing some U.S. troops from Afghanistan next August.
The world would be a better place if one could just ignore things like this. But as Reuters points out, McCain is ranking member on Senate Armed Services, in addition to being the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Two axioms of politics in America are: 1) you can't ignore a dangerous political claim, just because it's nonsensical, and 2) you can't wait for a nonsensical and dangerous political claim to gain momentum before moving to quash it, because it's like a highly infectious disease: you have to stamp it out immediately before it takes root in the population.
As you may have noticed in 2007 - timetable for Iraq withdrawal, anyone? - in our system of government as it is presently constituted, the executive branch has a tiny modicum of autonomy from the legislative branch, particularly with respect to foreign policy.
On Wednesday - burying the news in the post-election media frenzy - the State Department gave us a little taste of what the executive branch can do without waiting for Congress to say, "Simon Says." At long last, the State Department formally designated the Iranian terrorist organization Jundallah as a "foreign terrorist organization."
The United States has officially designated Iranian extremist group Jundallah as a foreign terrorist organization, the State Department said Wednesday.
Jundallah, also known as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran, operates primarily in the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders Pakistan.
The State Department said Jundallah "has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials. Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations."
Most recently, the Sunni group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in July at the Zahedan Grand Mosque. The attacks targeting Shiite worshipers killed 27 people. Iranian leaders said the United States was behind the attacks.
In response to David Broder's op-ed in the Washington Post calling for
President Obama to orchestrate a war fever against Iran as a way of
stimulating the US economy, Just Foreign Policy formally announces its
"Fox on 15th" Campaign.
The purpose of the campaign is to delegitimize the Washington Post by
constantly reminding people how on a range of issues, from war to
torture to Social Security, the Washington Post, editorially, is
politically indistinguishable from Fox News.
How to participate: if you have a blog, anytime you take the
Washington Post to task for a pro-war editorial or op-ed, give it the
tag, "foxon15th," in addition to any other tags.
And when you post such a blog to twitter, or comment on such an
editorial or op-ed on twitter, use the hashtag #foxon15th, in addition
to any other hashtags.
Dean Baker responds to Washington Post columnist David Broder's op-ed calling for a drive towards military confrontation with Iran as a way to boost the economy:
On Wednesday, the Washington Post carried a remarkable article reporting that according to U.S. government assessments, the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan has failed.
The Post's Greg Miller reported that
An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency
Miller explains why this is so:
Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.
"The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience," said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to "reestablish and rejuvenate," often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, "I don't see it."
So, since the policy of military escalation has failed, according to the U.S. government's own assessments, we should expect that in December, when President Obama promised that the policy will be reviewed, we should see a fundamental change in policy. Right?
But, according to the same Washington Post report, "no major change in strategy is expected in December."
How could it be, that the policy has failed, according to official U.S. government assessments, and yet no change is expected when the promised review occurs?
For the Washington Post, there's no such thing as a war that America can't afford.
In an editorial today, the Washington Post takes President Obama to task for being concerned about the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the fact that it conflicts with domestic priorities. That the Washington Post, a knee-jerk supporter of war for empire, would slam President Obama for this is the opposite of surprising. Nonetheless, what the Washington Post actually said in its editorial is still breathtaking:
Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities -- though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
We have been led to believe that official Washington is seized with urgency about long-term projections of U.S. budget deficits. Yet here is the Washington Post, downplaying the cost of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is "well below 1 percent" of U.S. GDP.
Logically, there are two possibilities.
One possibility is that the Washington Post is saying that in the future, we can ignore any government expenditure or savings that amounts to less than 1% of U.S. GDP as being too small to bother about.
The other possibility is that according to the Washington Post there are two standards for judging costs. One standard is for war, in which an expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is too small to bother about. The other standard is for domestic spending that benefits the majority of Americans, in which a reduction of government expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is something that should be seriously considered.
Much ink has been spilled over the President's pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House insists that the date is firm. But the pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined, and the White House hasn't said a word about when - if ever - a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be complete.
There is a signed agreement that says U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But there is no such agreement for Afghanistan. Yet the majority of Americans have told pollsters that they think the U.S. should establish a timetable for military withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, the Pentagon is planning for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan:
"Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future."
Pincus noted that "…many of the installations being built…have extended time horizons. None of the three projects…is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts."
But Pincus also reported that while the House has approved the money for this "enduring base" construction, the Senate has yet to vote on it.
Should there not at least be a debate on this issue in the Senate?
Usually, when someone refers to a place as a "U.S. colony," they are making an analogy, suggesting that U.S. influence somewhere is so strong, and the indigenous residents of the place have so little effective say over key decisions, that it's as if the place were a formal U.S. colony.
But, remarkably, and perhaps predictably, for a country whose leaders, editorialists and pundits constantly pontificate about how we are an indispensable force for freedom in the world, we rarely discuss the fact that there are places in the world that are actual U.S. colonies. Still less do we consider whether we are complying with our international obligations to respect the right of self-determination for colonized peoples, and if we are not, what we could do to change that.
A small corrective is being offered as part of Asian Pacific Heritage Month by PBS, which is webcasting Vanessa Warheit's documentary, The Insular Empire: America in the Mariana Islands until next Sunday, June 20.
Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.
In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.