Tomgram: Aziz Huq, Imperial Pretensions and the Financial Crunch

October 17, 2008

Don’t trust me as a gambler. You’d probably make more by putting your money into credit-default swaps. Nonetheless, I’d like to make a small wager on who the single significant holdover from the Bush administration might be should an Obama presidency actually happen. Keep a close eye on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He was clearly sent into the Rumsfeld breach back at the end of 2006 to begin the clean-up of the Bush administration’s foreign policy mess and — my guess — to prevent Dick Cheney and pals from attacking Iran. And this, with a little help from onrushing reality, he seems to have accomplished. He remains the singular adult in the Bush foreign policy playpen, a skilled bureaucratic maneuverer from his CIA days, who claims he plans to leave Washington in January but would never say “never” to an offer ahead of time.

Like Obama, he’s plunked for an intensified Afghan War and, just last week, a key national security advisor to the candidate, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, praised Gates, suggesting he had been a splendid secretary of defense and adding that “he’d be an even better one in an Obama administration.”

So, when Gates gives a speech aimed at the Pentagon’s future, it’s worth listening carefully. On September 29th, he went to the National Defense University and offered a peek into that future as he imagines it. Now remember, the U.S. financial meltdown was already underway and, after seven unbelievably fat years, Pentagon weapons contractors were starting to express worries about possible future cutbacks. Nonetheless, Gates offered a vision of a U.S. military-plus. There was the usual support for a range of conventional weapons systems for wars that will never be fought and their futuristic equivalents, as well as for a larger Army, a larger Marine Corps, and a larger Navy. (The Air Force, except for unmanned aerial vehicles, looks to be in trouble in Gatesworld.) But above all, the once and (possibly) future secretary of defense wants to invest in “institutionalizing counterinsurgency skills, and our ability to conduct stability and support operations.” Backed by a growing lobby eager to put ever more warm bodies in the military, he’s opting for a major build-up to deal with future insurgencies out there in the global badlands. Think… gulp… “nation building.” Think, as well, future Afghanistans and Iraqs.

Though Gates has also claimed of late that the Pentagon’s gargantuan budget will no longer outpace inflation, that growth in military spending is “probably a thing of the past,” this is still a recipe for a relatively unrestrained imperial future that, as Aziz Huq, author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, points out below is a disaster waiting to happen. It is, in fact, a potential recipe for American bankruptcy. Tom

Use It or Lose It?

How to Manage an Imperial Decline

By Aziz Huq

Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation?

We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it’s been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets — given the present liquidity crunch — have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence.

Click here to read more of this dispatch


Tomgram: Mike Davis, Casino Capitalism, Obama, and Us

October 17, 2008

October 15, 2008

Recently, while traveling in the West, I had lunch at a modest-sized casino set in a wild, barren-looking, craggy landscape. On the hills above it spun giant, ivory white, modernistic windmills, looking for all the world like Martian invaders from War of the Worlds. I hadn’t been inside a casino since the 1970s — my mistake — and the experience was eye-poppingly wild. Venturing into its vast room of one-armed bandits and other games was like suddenly finding oneself inside a giant pinball machine for the digital age, everything gaudily lit, blinking, pinging, flashing, accompanied, of course, by a soundscape to match.

It was (as it was undoubtedly meant to be) strangely exhilarating, riveting, totally distracting, and a curious reminder right now of just how distracting “casino capitalism” — as Mike Davis calls it in today’s post — really has been. For years, with all the economic bells and whistles, all the mansions and yachts, all those arcane derivatives, all the high-tech glamour and glory, with Americans pouring into the stock market (or at least their pension plans and mutual funds doing it for them), you could almost not notice the increasingly barren, rocky world outside the American casino. You could almost not notice the shrinking of real value, of actual productivity in this country. These last weeks, Americans — those who weren’t already outside, at least — have been rudely shoved into the real world to assess what their value (personal, national, global) actually is.

The next president will look out over a new, far less dazzling, far more forbidding landscape. Mike Davis, author most recently of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire, who is little short of a national treasure, offers his own incandescent view of the landscape, presidential, economic, and otherwise, from the ledge at the edge of the canyon. (While you’re at it, check out a podcast of Davis discussing why the New Deal isn’t relevant as a solution today by clicking here.) Tom

Can Obama See the Grand Canyon?

On Presidential Blindness and Economic Catastrophe

By Mike Davis

Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.

The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an “awe that was almost painful to behold.” Ives’s expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.

Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

The Star: Top climate scientists urge Canadians to vote strategically

October 9, 2008

From the Toronto Star, with a hat tip to The Stop Stephen Harper Blog and another excellent blog, Thoughts on Climate Change:

VANCOUVER–More than 120 of Canada’s top climate scientists have signed an open letter criticizing Conservative government policy and urging Canadians to vote “strategically” for the environment in next week’s federal election.”Global warming is the defining issue of our time,” said Andrew Weaver, a lead author with last year’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But Weaver said Tuesday that Stephen Harper’s government “has yet to get engaged in the innovative and urgent policies that we need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.”

This is shaping up to be “the rare election in which the environment is the issue,” said the group’s John Stone.

Read the entire article here.

VIDEO: Watch Palin-Biden VP debate on SNL, hilarious!!!

October 9, 2008

For some really funny comic relief, watch SNL’s version of the Sarah Palin – Joe Biden VP debate here, courtesy of The Huffington Post (linked from  Tina Fey is at her best as a Palin look-talk-act-alike and Queen Latifah is wonderful as debate moderator Gwen Ifill.  Hilarious!!!!


Watch 5 more video’s from last night’s SNL here, including a Bailout sketch and an SNL digital short. Hosted by Ann Hathaway with musical guest The Killers.

Vandalism against Liberals

October 8, 2008

The following letter was sent to me by a friend who is outraged at the dangerous vandalism targeted against people displaying Liberal candidates’ signs on their properties in some GTA ridings and the lack of action by police to catch the perpetrators.  I would like to add that on a less dangerous level, I have noticed numerous Liberal signs broken and trashed in my riding and around the rest of Brampton.  This is turning out to be a very nasty campaign!


The cons are getting desperate. The evidence comes from the targeted vandalism of people’s property for supporting the Liberal Party. Our present government treats this as slightly unfortunate and nothing much to worry about. But think about it my fellow Canadians. If you cut someone’s break line it should be a criminal matter. IN FACT IT IS A CRIMINAL MATTER, OUTSIDE OF THE ELECTION PERIOD, YOU WOULD BE CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED MURDER. Why is it that there is no media blitz to stop this? How is it possible that we allow the innocent public to be intimidated for exercising their democratic right to vote? This is what freedom is all about, this is why we hold elections to control our government to keep us safe and have it work for our welfare and not against us. With this current government the only reason for calling this election is to gain a majority to allow them to wreck our country and blend us seamlessly into the US. Every day we see Harper controlling the media, the environment groups and all organizations in need of federal funds and muzzling the voices of concern and reason. Like in Nazi Germany the end justifies the means. The whole propaganda blitz here as in the US was the original brainchild of Goebbels in Germany, happily copied by the Bush administration and now by Harper. The Fuehrer principle is alive and well. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that we have a Parliamentary system not a Presidency. All of Harper’s plans point to his dictatorial tendencies and he wants power no matter what else is there. Intimidation and vandalism belong in totalitarian countries and so far Canada is not one of them. But the danger is very grave. We are being taken over by stealth and our last chance is this election to stop this travesty from occurring. Naomi Klein wrote a book a couple of years ago, called the Shock Doctrine. The premise of the book is that the Bush Administration and before the ultra right wing neo-con movement created artificial and premeditated chaos to demoralize a population and destroy its civil society. (Iraq and New Orleans come to mind). In its place they aim to put a marginalized poor and voiceless population to be totally dependent on government largesse. Big business prefers a population working for slave wages so they can make obscene profits without having to share the bounty. In the last depression in the 30s, 85% of the people owned land and were mostly farmers. That scenario has been destroyed and replaced by city folk who are unable to fend for themselves in an atmosphere of great upheaval. The coming depression will be worse than the last because people were self-sufficient then, now they are at the mercy of fate. In this election, which is downplayed by the media as having no real issues, the real threat is the collapse of the global system of finance and the accompanying chaos that will follow. We need a government that will help us weather this storm and not allow us to become destitute. The Con plan is the mantra that we are on our own, they only help their rich friends and the small elite that rules the banking system. Even the corporations are a part of the financial scam that is inundating the world. All the countries in Europe and Asia are bailing out their failing banks courtesy of the gift from the US initiated massive financial fraud of unprecedented proportions. What is coming may not be preventable anymore but a benevolent government, personified in Dion will do its level best to protect us from the coming calamity. Please consider voting for any one but Harper and vote strategically for whichever candidate is ahead in your ridings. Without exaggeration this is our last chance. I come from Europe and seen this movie before. Do not let it happen here because of ignorance and apathy. Vote because your future well-being depends on it.

Janet Smithe

Why does style matter more than substance?

October 8, 2008

This is the letter I wrote to The Star on Sunday afternoon in response to an excellent commentary by Haroon Siddiqui. It was published on Monday, October 6th.  The short line underneath my letter was written by a good friend and fellow activist Gary Markle and published on the same day: – Federal Election –

Why does style matter more than substance?

October 06, 2008

Re:No charisma, not an orator, but a decent man of substance, Comment Oct. 5

Thanks, Haroon Siddiqui, for being the only mainstream columnist to voice the opinions of most of the people in my community who are outraged by the media’s blatant bias against Stéphane Dion. No matter what he does, says, or wears, it is derided, ridiculed and considered wrong by pundits, TV/radio hosts, newspaper commentators.

I am a member of a party other than the Liberals, yet I find these actions nauseating. They assume Canadians are so shallow and ignorant that we cannot see beyond Stephen Harper’s gimmicks, the out-of-context sound bites in his party’s attack ads and the media’s complicity in this campaign.

Stéphane Dion is a good, honourable man genuinely wanting what is best for his country. That he is not a member of the corrupt, scandalous Old Boys’ Club shows the obvious strength of his character; it is the reason why his party elected him.

Annamarie Bohus, Brampton

A true leader stands on integrity, not other people.

G. W. Markle, Brampton

Watch John McCain’s Rage

October 8, 2008

The piece below was sent to me by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films.  The video is very worthwhile to watch.

“I have a temper, to state the obvious, which I have tried to control with varying degrees of success because it does not always serve my interest or the public’s.” – John McCain

Dear Annamarie,

During last night’s debate, John McCain said we need “a cool hand at the tiller,” but McCain has proven to be a loose cannon. He has accosted his Congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle on everything from the federal budget to diplomatic relations. He is known for hurling profanities rather than settling disagreements calmly. His belligerence is legendary. Even conservative Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi has said, “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

When someone earns the nickname “Senator Hothead,” the public ought to call his character into question. McCain’s propensity to explode undermines his abilities as a rational decision maker, particularly on national security issues — which could prove disastrous considering our country is already involved in two wars.

Watch the video and send it to friends:

With the election less than four weeks away, here’s a chance for you to take concrete action:

  1. Alert your friends to McCain’s rage. Send them this video and ask them to pass it on.
  2. Post this video on all your blogs and networking sites like Digg — critical tools for reaching those outside the choir. Make sure it gets viewed so many times it ends up on YouTube’s homepage, so undecided swing state voters can see it easily.
  3. Get the latest on McCain with a free video subscription from Brave New PAC, and encourage others to sign up too.

McCain’s temper is critical to his decision-making abilities, and his character must be discussed. As Drew Westen writes, “The political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures and policies to make a reasoned decision.” That why it’s so crucial people know the real Senator Hothead.

Robert Greenwald
and the Brave New PAC team

Watch the video