Thursday, November 08, 2012 2:21 PM
The votes are in and President Obama has a second term with a virtual
guarantee that he will again face a gridlocked Congress. So what is a president
Those suggesting Obama reach out to Republicans forget
President Clinton’s second term, when his impeachment became the top priority
of congressional Republicans.
Governor Romney and a good many pundits are calling for him to reach out to
the same Republican opponents who made a pact after his first term election to
do everything in their power to assure the failure of his presidency—and
persistently voted as a solid block to fulfill that promise.
Some suggest it may be different in President Obama’s second term because he
will not be running again. They forget President Clinton’s second term, when
his impeachment on the flimsiest of grounds became the top priority of
When Senator Obama won the election that put him in the White House, I wrote
address I hoped he might deliver as president outlining policies for a new
economy equal to the challenges of the 21st century. Since he did not choose to
deliver it during his first term, I was thinking I might dust it off and put
forth a similar proposal for his second term.
Reading it now, I realize that most of what I proposed requires
congressional action that will never happen so long as congress remains captive
to my-way-or-the-highway extremists. President Obama will have his hands full
simply getting a budget bill through congress that is adequate to keep the
country running and avoid a financial default. If he succeeds in this, it will
be a heroic accomplishment.
That said, there is critical need to move the nation forward to address
critical questions mostly or totally absent from the political debates of this
now-past election cycle—including climate change, extreme inequality, and the
corruption of our political and electoral processes. Realistically, the next
congress is not going to move us forward on any of these issues, no matter how
what President Obama does.
Any progress on these matters at the federal level will depend on using the
considerable powers of the administrative branch of government—and President
Obama should give high priority to doing so. That said, I do believe that most
Americans are fed up with the scorched-Earth politics of ideological extremists
with deep-pocket sponsors.
There is a need and opportunity for President Obama to reach out across
political lines to launch a national conversation that involves all Americans,
irrespective of political affiliation, interested in addressing the three
defining challenges of a 21st-century world:
- Balancing human consumption
with the generative capacity of Earth’s biosphere while;
- Providing every person with
the opportunity for a healthy, secure, and meaningful life; and
- Achieving true democracy in
which every person’s voice counts.
This conversation has the potential to force a realignment of both of America’s major political parties and might well
lead, over time, to a significant restructuring of America’s political institutions to
create effective space for a far greater range of voices.
A second-term President Obama can afford to take the lead in engaging such a
conversation specifically because he will never again be campaigning for
re-election. It could be his most significant legacy for America and for the world.
Dr. David Korten (livingeconomiesforum.org)
is the author of
for a New Economy, The
Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international
best seller When
Corporations Rule the World.
He was recognized as an Utne Reader
Visionary in 2011.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published by
YES! Magazine, and is licensed under Creative Commons.To repost, follow these steps.
Image by Austen Hufford,
licensed under Creative
Friday, October 19, 2012 4:35 PM
One of the ironies of
American political culture is that in such an overwhelmingly urban and increasingly nonwhite society, issues of poverty, segregation, and race rarely figure
into presidential races in a meaningful way. Listening to campaign rhetoric,
it’s hard to find evidence that America
is becoming poorer, more divided, and less integrated than it was a generation
This was especially true
of Tuesday’s town
hall debate. Despite pointed questions about issues like crime and economic
growth, both candidates chose not to connect them with the persistent poverty
and racial division that increasingly define American cities. Instead, Obama
got into a lengthy joust with Romney over who supported natural gas drilling
more (and coal and fracking). Meanwhile, America’s racial and class makeup
continues to change in profound ways.
For one thing, we’re
becoming a more segregated society. A recent report by the Pew Research Center finds that income
segregation in American cities has increased dramatically since 1980,
especially in places like New York and Philadelphia. While
middle-income neighborhoods have shrunk over the past 30 years, low-income and
high-income areas are more concentrated than they have been in decades—problems
only intensified by the recession. Racial segregation is no less prominent. On
cities are more
racially segregated now than they were in 1940, says the Economic Policy Institute.
Divisions like these are
deeply felt in our public schools. A recent study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project finds that race
and income segregation have been rising quickly in American schools,
especially since 1991. Today, most students of color attend schools that are
overwhelmingly low-income and nonwhite, and one in seven attend what are called
apartheid schools, where whites make up less than 2 percent of the student
body. In some areas, like the Western U.S., a
full 43 percent of Latino student attend such hyper-segregated schools.
And while the Obama
administration has touted its support for underprivileged and underachieving
schools and students, they haven’t seen much success. In particular, Obama’s
support for charter schools, the UCLA report finds, has undermined modest
desegregation efforts, as charters remain by far the most segregated branch of
public schools. What’s more, issues like these don’t make it very far in the presidential
segregation is powerfully related to many dimensions of unequal education,” the
report concludes, “neither candidate has discussed it in the current
That issues of urban
segregation and unequal education are so absent from this year’s election cycle
is more than a little
ironic, says Richard Rothstein at the American
Prospect. When racial segregation became a visible political issue in the
late 1960s, even Republican leaders became active in fighting it. One
Republican in particular, George Romney, the head of the Department of Housing
and Urban Development under Nixon, supported a broad-based policy of
residential integration—of the kind unthinkable today.
Not content with
approaches like busing that attacked school segregation at the student level,
Romney saw integration as an expansive, holistic public issue, says Rothstein. A
student’s success in the classroom, he believed, had as much to do with their
access to health care, their parents’ employment situation, and the safety of
their neighborhood as it did with the racial makeup of their class. Following
advice from 1968’s Kerner
Commission (which President Johnson flatly ignored), Romney’s plan was to invest heavily in low-income and
subsidized housing mostly in white suburbs, and to force suburbanites to
reverse racist zoning practices. But the plan, despite having (conservative)
supporters in high places, did not see the light of day. Nixon, whose ideas on
school and residential integration might today be considered liberal, believed
that forcing communities to integrate was the wrong approach. As a result, the
principled Romney, who as a presidential candidate had strongly spoken out against
segregation in the tumultuous year of 1968, chose to resign.
Needless to say, Mitt
hasn’t followed in his father’s footsteps—but then, Obama hasn’t made much
noise on poverty or race either. In the first three debates this year, the GOP
team has actually mentioned poverty far more
than the Dems, says Seth Freed Wessler at Colorlines.
At the same time, Obama has spoken “less
about race than any other Democratic president since 1961,” writes Ta-Nehisi
Coates in The Atlantic.
That’s a shame, because
problems of inequality and segregation won’t go away without dialogue and serious
action. An Obama presidency may be somewhat
better overall than a Romney presidency in terms of race and poverty, but that
assumes structural solutions are impossible. To really tackle segregation and
inequality, we need a holistic approach—like the kind that might have worked in
Image of Milwaukee’s
racial makeup from 2000
U.S. Census (public domain). Milwaukee is famously the most
segregated city in the United
States; blue dots represent black residents.
Friday, September 07, 2012 2:14 PM
This post originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Barack Obama is
a smart guy. So why has he spent the last four years executing such a dumb
foreign policy? True, his reliance on “smart power” -- a euphemism for giving
the Pentagon a stake in all things global -- has been a smart move politically
at home. It has largely prevented the Republicans from playing the national
security card in this election year. But “smart power” has been a disaster for
the world at large and, ultimately, for the United States itself.
Power was not
always Obama’s strong suit. When he ran for president in 2008, he appeared to
friend and foe alike as Mr. Softy. He wanted out of the war in Iraq. He was no
fan of nuclear weapons. He favored carrots over sticks when approaching America’s
His opponent in the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton, tried to turn
this hesitation to use hard power into a sign of a man too inexperienced to be
entrusted with the presidency. In 2007, when Obama offered to meet without
preconditions with the leaders of Cuba,
North Korea, and Iran, Clinton
fired back that such a policy was “irresponsible and
frankly naïve.” In February 2008, she went further with a TV ad that asked
voters who should answer the White House phone at 3 a.m. Obama, she implied,
lacked the requisite body parts -- muscle, backbone, cojones-- to make
the hard presidential decisions in a crisis.
take the bait. “When that call gets answered, shouldn’t the president be the
one -- the only one -- who had judgment and courage to oppose the Iraq war from
the start,” his response ad intoned. “Who understood the real threat
to America was al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Who led the effort to secure
loose nuclear weapons around the globe.”
successful politicians, Barack Obama could be all things to all people. His
opposition to the Iraq War made him the darling of the peace movement. But he
was no peace candidate, for he always promised, as in his response to that
phone call ad, to shift U.S.
military power toward the “right war” in Afghanistan. As president, he
quickly and effectively drove a stake through the heart of Mr. Softy with his pro-military, pro-war speech at, of all places, the
ceremony awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize.
abilities have come to the fore in his approach to what once was called “soft
power,” a term Harvard professor Joseph Nye coined in his 1990 book Bound
to Lead. For more than 20 years, Nye has been urging U.S.
policymakers to find different ways of leading the world, exercising what he termed “power with others as much as
power over others.”
when “soft” became an increasingly suspect word, Washington policymakers began
to use “smart power” to denote a menu of expanded options that were to combine
the capabilities of both the State Department and the Pentagon. "We must
use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal
-- diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural -- picking
the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation," Hillary
Clinton said at
her confirmation hearing for her new role as secretary of state. "With
smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy."
has not been at the vanguard of Obama’s foreign policy. From drone attacks in Pakistan and cyber-warfare against Iran to the vaunted “Pacific pivot” and the expansion of U.S. military intervention in Africa, the Obama
administration has let the Pentagon and the CIA call the shots. The president’s
foreign policy has certainly been “smart” from a domestic political point of
view. With the ordering of the Seal Team Six raid
into Pakistan that led to
the assassination of Osama bin Laden and “leading from behind” in the Libya intervention, the president
has effectively removed foreign policy as a Republican talking point. He has
left the hawks of the other party with very little room for maneuver.
But in its
actual effects overseas, his version of “smart power” has been anything but
smart. It has maintained imperial overstretch at self-destructive expense, infuriated strategic competitors
like China, hardened the position of adversaries like Iran and North Korea, and
tried the patience of even long-time allies in Europe and Asia.
Only one thing
makes Obama’s policy look geopolitically smart -- and that’s Mitt Romney’s
prospective foreign policy. On global issues, then, the November elections will
offer voters a particularly unpalatable choice: between a Democratic militarist
and an even more over-the-top militaristic Republican, between Bush Lite all
over again and Bush heavy, between dumb and dumber.
Softy Goes to Washington
Mr. Softy went
in 2008 and discovered a backbone. That, at least, is how many foreign policy
analysts described the “maturation” process of the new president. “Barack Obama
is a soft power president,” wrote the Financial Times’s Gideon
Rachman in 2009. “But the world keeps asking him hard power questions.”
this scenario, Obama made quiet overtures to North
Korea, and Pyongyang
responded by testing a nuclear weapon. The president went to Cairo and made an impressive speech in which he
said, among other things, “we also know that military power alone is not going
to solve the problems in Afghanistan
But individuals and movements in the Muslim world -- al-Qaeda, the Taliban --
continued to challenge American power. The president made a bold move to throw
his support behind nuclear abolition, but the nuclear lobby in the United States forced
him to commit huge sums to modernizing the very nuclear complex he promised
to negotiate out of existence.
this scenario, Obama came to Washington
with a fistful of carrots to coax the world, nonviolently, in the direction of
peace and justice. The world was not cooperative, and so, in practice, those
carrots began to function more like orange-colored sticks.
This view of Obama is fundamentally mistaken. Mr. Softy was
a straw man created from the dreams of his dovish supporters and the nightmares
of his hawkish opponents. That Obama avatar was useful during the primary and
the general election campaign to appeal to a nation weary of eight years of
cowboy globalism. Like a campaign advisor ill-suited to the bruising policy
world of Washington,
Mr. Softy didn’t survive the transition.
example, Obama’s speech in Cairo
in June 2009. This inspiring speech should have signaled a profound shift in U.S. policy
toward the Muslim world. But what Obama didn’t mention in his speech was his
earlier conversation with outgoing president George W. Bush in which he’d
secretly agreed to continue two major Bush initiatives: the CIA’s
unmanned drone air war in Pakistan’s
tribal borderlands and the covert program to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program with
just continue these programs; he amplified them. The result has been an unprecedented expansion of U.S.
military power through unmanned drones in Pakistan
and neighboring Afghanistan
as well as Somalia and Yemen. The use
of drones, and the civilian casualties they’ve caused, has in turn enflamed
public opinion around the world, with the favorability rating of the United
States under Obama in majority Muslim countries falling to a new low of 15% in 2012, lower, that is, than the rock-bottom standard set by the Bush administration.
campaign has undermined other smart power approaches, including that old
standby diplomacy, not only by antagonizing potential interlocutors but also by
killing a good number of them. Along with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden,
often cited as one of Obama’s signal accomplishments, the drone war has by now
provoked a slow-motion rupture in relations between Washington and Islamabad.
cyber-war initiative against Iran’s
nuclear program, conducted with Israeli cooperation, produced both the Stuxnet
worm, which wreaked havoc on Iranian centrifuges, and the Flame virus, which
monitored its computer network. Instead of vigorously pursuing diplomatic
solutions -- such as the nuclear compromise that Brazil
cobbled togetherin 2010 that might have
defused the situation and guaranteed a world without an Iranian bomb -- the
Obama administration acted secretly and aggressively. If the United States had been the target of such a
cyber attack, Washington
would have considered it an act of war. Meanwhile, the United States has set a dangerous
precedent for future attacks in this newest theater of operations and unleashed
a weapon that could even be reverse-engineered and sent back in our direction.
diplomacy ever actually on the table with North Korea. The Obama team came in
with a less than half-hearted commitment to the Six Party process -- the
negotiations to address North Korea’s
nuclear program among the United States,
China, Russia, Japan,
and the two Koreas,
which had stalled in the final months of George W. Bush’s second term. In the
National Security Council, Asia point man Jeffrey Bader axed a State Department cable that would have reassured the
North Koreans that a U.S.
policy of engagement would continue. “Strategic patience” became the euphemism
for doing nothing and letting hawkish leaders in Tokyo
unravel the previous years of engagement. After some predictably belligerent
rhetoric from Pyongyang,
followed by a failed missile launch and a second nuclear test, Obama largely
dispensed with diplomacy altogether.
did indeed move quickly to increase the size of the State Department
budget to hire more people and implement more programs to beef up diplomacy.
That budget grew by more than 7% in 2009-2010. But that didn’t bring the
department of diplomacy up to even $50 billion. In fact, it is still plagued by
a serious shortage of diplomats and, as State Department
whistleblower Peter van Buren has written, “The whole of the Foreign Service is
smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier.” Meanwhile, despite a
persistent recession, the Pentagon budget continued to rise during the Obama
years -- a roughly 3% increase in 2010 to about $700 billion. (And Mitt Romney promises to hike it even more drastically.)
Democratic politicians, Obama has been acutely aware that hard power is a way
of establishing political invulnerability in the face of Republican attacks.
But the use of hard power to gain political points at home is a risky affair.
It is the nature of this "dumb power" to make the United States
into a bigger target, alienate allies, and jeopardize authentic efforts at
Kinder, Gentler Empire
rhetorical flexibility, “smart power” has several inherent flaws. First, it
focuses on the means of exercising power without questioning the ends toward
which power is deployed. The State Department and the Pentagon will tussle over
which agency can more effectively win the hearts and minds of Afghans. But
neither agency is willing to rethink the U.S. presence in the country or
acknowledge how few hearts and minds have been won.
As with Afghanistan, so
with the rest of the world. For all his talk of power “with” rather than “over,”
Joseph Nye has largely been concerned with different methods by which the United States
can maintain dominion. “Smart power” is not about the inherent value of
diplomacy, the virtues of collective decision-making, or the imperatives of
peace, justice, or environmental sustainability. Rather it is a way of
calculating how best to get others to do what America wants them to do, with
the threat of a drone strike or a Special Forces incursion always present in
at least, has been clear about this point. In 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates argued for “strengthening our capacity to use soft power
and for better integrating it with hard power.” The Pentagon has long realized
that a toolbox with only a single hammer in it handicaps the handyman, but it
still persists in seeing a world full of nails.
At a more
practical level, “smart power” encounters problems because in this
“integration,” the Pentagon always turns out to be the primary partner. As a
result, the work of diplomats, dispensers of humanitarian aid, and all the
other “do-gooders” who attempt to distinguish their work from soldiers is
compromised. After decades of trying to persuade their overseas partners that
they are not simply civilian adjuncts to the Pentagon, the staff of the State
Department has now jumped into bed with the military. They might as well put
big bull’s eyes on their backs, and there’s nothing smart about that.
also provides a lifeline for a military that might face significant cuts if Congress’s sequestration plan goes through. NATO has
already shown the way. Its embrace of “smart defense” is a direct response to military cutbacks
by European governments. The Pentagon is deeply worried that budget-cutters
will follow the European example, so it is doing what corporations everywhere
attempt during a crisis. It is trying to rebrand its services.
search of a mission, the Pentagon now has its fingers in just about every pie
in the bakery. The Marines are doing drug interdiction in Guatemala. Special Operations forces are constructing
cyclone shelters in Bangladesh.
The U.S. Navy provided post-disaster relief in Japan
after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, while the
U.S. Army did the same in Haiti. In 2011, the Africa Command budgeted $150 million for development and health care.
in other words, has turned itself into an all-purpose agency, even attempting “reconstruction” along with State and various
crony corporations in Iraq
It is preparing for the impact of climate change, pouring R & D dollars
into alternative energy, and running operations in cyberspace. The Pentagon has
been smart about its power by spreading it everywhere.
Obama has shown no hesitation to use force. But his use of military power has
not proven any “smarter” than that of his predecessor. Iran and North Korea pushed ahead with their
nuclear programs when diplomatic alternatives were not forthcoming. Nuclear
is closer to outright anarchy than four years ago. Afghanistan
is a mess, and an arms race is heating up in East Asia, fueled in part by the
efforts of the United States
and its allies to box in China with more air and sea power.
In one way,
however, Obama has been Mr. Softy. He has shown no backbone whatsoever in
confronting the bullies already in America’s corner. He has done
little to push back against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his
occupation policies. He hasn’t confronted Saudi
Arabia, the most autocratic of U.S. allies. In fact, he has
leveraged the power of both countries -- toward Iran,
Syria, Bahrain. A key
component of “smart power” is outsourcing the messy stuff to others.
mistake: Mitt Romney is worse. A Romney-Ryan administration would be a step
backward to the policies of the early Bush years. President Romney would
increase military spending, restart a cold war with Russia,
possibly undertake a hot war against Iran, deep-six as many multilateral
agreements as he could, and generally resurrect the Ugly American policies of
the recent past.
Romney wouldn’t fundamentally alter U.S. foreign policy. After all,
President Obama has largely preserved the post-9/11 fundamentals laid down by
George W. Bush, which in turn drew heavily on a unilateralist and militarist
recipe that top chefs from Bill Clinton on back merely tweaked.
mentioned, sotto voce, that Mr. Softy might resurface if the incumbent
is reelected. Off mic, as he mentioned in an aside to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
at a meeting in Seoul
last spring, he has promised to show more “flexibility” in his second term.
This might translate into more arms agreements with Russia,
more diplomatic overtures like the effort with Burma, and more spending of political capital
to address global warming, non-proliferation, global poverty, and health
But don’t count
on it. The smart money is not with Obama’s smart power. Mr. Softy has largely
been an electoral ploy. If he’s re-elected, Obama will undoubtedly continue to
act as Mr. Stick. Brace yourself for four more years of dumb power -- or, if he
loses, even dumber power.
, is an Open Society Fellow
for 2012-13 focusing on Eastern Europe. He is
the author of
Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam
Lights Books). His writings can be found on his website
To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which John Feffer
discusses power -- hard, soft, smart, and dumb -- click here or download it to your iPod here.
Image by the U.S. Army,
licensed under Creative
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 11:50 AM
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
If you’ve been fretting about faltering math education and falling test scores here in the United States, you should be worried based on this campaign season of Republican math. When it comes to the American military, the leading Republican presidential candidates evidently only learned to add and multiply, never subtract or divide.
Advocates of Pentagon reform have criticized President Obama for his timid approach to reducing military spending. Despite current Pentagon budgets that have hovered at the highest levels since World War II and 13 years of steady growth, the administration’s latest plans would only reduce spending at the Department of Defense by 1.6% in inflation-adjusted dollars over the next five years.
Still, compared to his main Republican opponents, Obama is a T. rex of budget slashers. After all, despite their stated commitment to reducing the deficit (while cutting taxes on the rich yet more), the Republican contenders are intent on raising Pentagon spending dramatically. Mitt Romney has staked out the “high ground” in the latest round of Republican math with a proposal to set Pentagon spending at 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That would, in fact add up to an astonishing $8.3 trillion dollars over the next decade, one-third more than current, already bloated Pentagon plans.
Nathan Hodge of the Wall Street Journalengaged in polite understatement when he described the Romney plan as “the most optimistic forecast U.S. defense manufacturers have heard in months.”
In fact, Romney’s proposal implies that the Pentagon is essentially an entitlement program that should receive a set share of our total economic resources regardless of what’s happening here at home or elsewhere on the planet. In Romney World, the Pentagon’s only role would be to engorge itself. If the GDP were to drop, it’s unlikely that, as president, he would reduce Pentagon spending accordingly.
Rick Santorum has spent far less time describing his military spending plans, but a remark at a Republican presidential debate in Arizona suggests that he is at least on the same page with Romney. In 1958, the year he was born, Santorum pointed out, Pentagon spending was 60% of the federal budget, and now it’s “only” 17%. In other words, why cut military spending when it’s so comparatively low?
Of course, this is a classic bait-and-switch case of cherry-picking numbers, since the federal budget of 1958 didn’t include Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The population was 100 million less than it is now, resulting in lower spending across the board, most notably for Social Security. In fact, Americans now pay out nearly twice as much for military purposes as in 1958, a sum well in excess of the combined military budgets of the next 10 largest spending nations.
Of course, in a field of innumerates, Santorum’s claim undoubtedly falls into the category of rhetorical flourish. It’s unlikely that even he was suggesting we more than triple Pentagon spending -- the only way to return it to the share of the budget it consumed in the halcyon days of his youth. (Keep in mind that profligate Pentagon spending in that era ultimately prompted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to coin the term “military-industrial complex.”) Still, Santorum clearly believes that there’s plenty of room to hike military spending, if we just slash genuine entitlement programs deeply enough. He would undoubtedly support a Pentagon budget at Romney-esque levels, as would Newt Gingrich based on his absurd claim that the Obama administration’s modest adjustments to the Pentagon’s record budgets would result in a “hollowing out” of the U.S. military.
Mitt Romney at Sea
But let’s stick with the Republican frontrunner (or stumbler). What exactly would Romney spend all this money on?
For starters, he’s a humongous fan of building big ships, generally the most expensive items in the Pentagon budget. He has pledged to up Navy ship purchases from 9 to 15 per year, a rise of 50%. These things add up. A new aircraft carrier costs more than $10 billion; a ballistic missile submarine weighs in at $7 billion or more; and a destroyer comes with a -- by comparison -- piddling price tag of $2 billion-plus. The rationale for such a naval spending spree is, of course, that all-purpose threat cited these days by builders of every sort of big-ticket military hardware: China.
As Romney put it late last year, if the U.S. doesn’t pump up its shipbuilding budget, China will soon be “brushing aside an inferior American Navy in the Pacific.” This must be news to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who noted in a May 2010 speech to the Navy League that the fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined -- 11 of which, by the way, belong to U.S. allies. As for the Chinese challenge, much has been made of China’s new aircraft carrier, which actually turns out to be a refurbished vessel purchased from Ukraine in 1998 and originally intended to be a floating casino. It would leave the U.S. with only an 11 to 1 advantage in this category.
It’s true that China is increasing the size of its navy in hopes of operating more freely in the waters off its coast and perhaps the contested South China Sea (with its energy reserves), but it is hardly engaged in a drive for global domination. It’s not as if Beijing is capable of deploying aircraft carriers off the coasts of California and Alaska. In the meantime, Romney’s shipbuilding fetish doesn’t add up. It’s as ludicrous as it is expensive.
Romney is also a major supporter of missile defense -- and not just the current $9-$10 billion a year enterprise being funded by the Obama administration, primarily designed to blunt an attack by long-range North Korean missiles that don’t exist. Romney wants a “full, multi-layered” system. That sounds suspiciously like the Ronald Reagan-style fantasy of an “impermeable shield” over the United States against massive nuclear attack that was abandoned in the late 1980s because of its staggering expense and essential impracticality.
If the development of Romney’s high-priced version of a missile shield were again on the American agenda, it would be a godsend for big weapons-makers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, but would add nothing to the defense of this country. In fact, it stands a reasonable chance of making things worse. Given the overkill represented by the thousands of nuclear warheads in the American arsenal, the prospect of a nuclear missile attack on the United States is essentially nil.
As arms experts like Dr. Theodore Postol of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have pointed out, in the utterly unlikely event of a massive nuclear missile attack, Romney’s plan would be virtually useless. There’s just no way to provide a near-perfect defense against thousands of warheads and decoys launched at 15,000 miles per hour. The only reasonable defense against nuclear weapons would be to get rid of them altogether, a course suggested by scores of retired military leaders, former defense officials, and heads of state. Even Henry Kissinger has joined the “go to zero” campaign, supporting a far more sensible approach to the nuclear dilemma than Romney’s fantasy technical fix.
The Romney anti-missile program would, however, do more than just waste money. It would restore the Bush administration’s plan to emplace a long-range anti-missile system in Europe officially aimed at Iran but assumedly capable of taking out Russian missiles as well. Given that the Obama administration’s far more limited plan for Europe has already caused consternation among Russia’s leaders, imagine the harsh reaction in Moscow to the over-the-top Romney version. It could put an end to any hopes of further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions -- a significant price to pay for a high-tech boondoggle with no prospect of success.
Ensuring a Cost-Overrun Presidency
If you were hoping that, with an eye to fighting yet more disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East like the $3 trillion fiasco in Iraq, the U.S. would raise ever larger armies, then Mitt’s your man. While Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s latest plan would reduce the Army and Marines by about 100,000 over the next five years -- essentially rolling back the increases that were part of the post-9/11 buildup -- the former Massachusetts governor would double down by adding 100,000 more troops to present force levels.
His rhetoric and the bona fides of his neoconservative advisors suggest that one place President Romney might send those bulked up forces would be to Iran as “boots on the ground.” He has repeatedly claimed that, if President Obama is re-elected, Iran will get a nuclear weapon, and has asserted that if he is elected it will not. He has mocked the president for not being “tough enough” on the Iranians and implied that a Romney administration would consider force a go-to option against that country, rather than a threat meant to back up a diplomatic strategy.
Keep in mind that if Romney were to follow through on these costly undertakings and others like them, it would only add to the good old-fashioned waste and fraud that’s the norm of Pentagon contracting these days. As former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen pointed out, the post-9/11 national security spending binge played havoc with any sense of fiscal discipline at the Pentagon, eliminating the need to make “hard choices” or “limit ourselves” in significant ways. In his former position as Pentagon procurement czar, Under Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter acknowledged that “in a decade of ever-increasing defense budgets... it was always possible for our managers... when they ran into a technical problem or a difficult choice to reach for more money.”
Romney’s Republican math would ensure that this will continue. Defense giants like Lockheed Martin, whose F-35 combat aircraft has more than doubled in price over original projections, must be salivating at the prospect of another cost-overrun presidency, which would result in soaring profits and few punishments.
And let’s not forget the “spend more” brigades in the Republican House, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA). Having received more than three quarters of a million dollars in campaign contributions from weapons contractors since 2009, he has never met a weapons system he didn’t like. Under a Republican administration, McKeon and his pork-barrel pals in Congress would have free rein to jack up spending on weapons and personnel with little concern for the impact on the deficit.
If a Republican president were to follow through on his campaign pledges, massive Pentagon increases and a dogged resistance to raising revenues would also result in major hits to every other item in the federal budget, from education to infrastructure. According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Romney budget plan could cut domestic discretionary programs by as much as 50% over the next 10 years.
In an April 1967 speech against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King assailed the buildup for that conflict as a “demonic destructive suction tube” that drew “men, money, and skills” away from solving urgent national problems. Romney’s military buildup would waste far more money than was expended during the Vietnam years. His presidency would exceed King’s worst nightmare. When will someone ask him to explain his fuzzy math?
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, a
, and the
Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex
. (To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Hartung discusses how to manipulate Pentagon budgets, click here, or download it to your iPod here.)
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 William D. Hartung
Wednesday, January 04, 2012 10:48 AM
Here’s a pretty distraction: a time-lapse video of Comet Lovejoy taken over South America’s Andes Mountains. As Kottke points out, it’s definitely worth watching through the last sequence.
“When the rallies happened in Tahrir Square,” wrote an Egyptian army officer in his personal journal, recently written about by The Guardian, “we would all receive a large bonus.”
Forget the Laundromat: these clothes need only sunshine to get clean.
Mario Kart can save your life.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the pointlessness of the Iowa caucus and its unsophisticated voters. One Iowa native blasts back. (Available in clean or saucy versions.)
Why are movie theaters losing their charm? Roger Ebert posits a few of their problems. Price is one issue, of which he says: “No matter what your opinion is about 3D, the charm of paying a hefty surcharge has worn off for the hypothetical family of four.”
A brief consideration of the meteoric rise of queer studies.
“When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type a half-millennium ago,” writes Nicholas Carr, “he also gave us immovable text.” According to him, e-books make literature both editable and collaborative—what amounts to the most drastic change to the book in centuries—for better or worse.
There is something intrinsically different between people who know one or a handful of languages and those that know eleven. Have you ever met a hyperpolyglot?
How a 1930s photographer turned writers into literary celebrities.
More red tape: As of the first of the year, New Hampshire girls under age 18 have to notify a parent or guardian at least 48 hours before they have an abortion.
Bellingham Review’s first online issue is now available.
Newt Gingrich’s mission is no longer seeking the Republican presidential nomination; it’s destroying Mitt Romney.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:21 PM
Some of the best stuff from the Twitter feeds we follow...
The Nation (@
Robert Reich eviscerates the Supercommittee's skewed priorities, draws a cartoon.
See more at The Nation
Mother Jones (@
Chart of the Day: How Not to Create Jobs mojo.ly/vy6C5e
Chuck Marr of CBPP notes that the CBO recently studied a laundry list of job creation proposals and concluded that higher unemployment benefits had the biggest bang for the buck. "That’s not surprising," he says, "given that jobless people are severely cash constrained and would quickly spend most of any incremental increase in cash and that, in turn, would lead to higher demand and job creation."
But which proposal came in last?
See Kevin Drum’s Chart of the Day at MoJo
The American Prospect (@
Despite what you've heard from many pundits, Mitt Romney isn't the kid who gets picked last in gym class. ampro.me/u6m2We
Mitt Romney is just as popular as Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, his problem—in part—is that he has too many competitors, and Republican voters are indulging the extent to which they have a fair amount of choice. When the field begins to winnow in January, odds are very good that Romney will pick up a lot more support from Republican voters.
Read more about a Gallup poll about the Republican presidential candidates at The American Prospect
In These Times (@
Library in the slammer, roughed up. Librarians surveying the damage. bit.ly/sxUK22 @melissagira livetweeting from the garage.
OWS librarians attempted to reclaim their collection and found it decimated, according to the Maddow Blog. The librarians told Maddow that they only found 25 boxes of books in storage, many of which were damaged or desroyed. Laptop computers were recovered, damanged beyond repair.
Read more at In These Times
Bill McKibben (@billmckibben)
If you want to see someone looking nervous on Colbert, tonite is your big chance
Oxford American (@
Musician Chris Isaak likes Oxford American
“I was reading the ‘Oxford American,’ a great, great music magazine,” he said. “It’s like getting four years of ‘Rolling Stone’ all in the same magazine.”
Read the rest of the article about Chris Isaak in The Kansas City Star
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 4:28 PM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.com
Conventional wisdom has it that the next election will be fought exclusively on the topic of jobs. But President Obama’s announcement last week that he would postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election, which may effectively kill the project, makes it clear that other issues will weigh in -- and that, oddly enough, one of them might even be climate change.
The pipeline decision was a true upset. Everyone -- and I mean everyone who "knew" how these things work -- seemed certain that the president would approve it. The National Journal runs a weekly poll of “energy insiders” -- that is, all the key players in Washington. A month to the day before the Keystone XL postponement, this large cast of characters was “virtually unanimous” in guaranteeing that it would be approved by year’s end.
Transcanada Pipeline, the company that was going to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from the tar-sands fields of Alberta, Canada, through a sensitive Midwestern aquifer to the Gulf of Mexico, certainly agreed. After all, they’d already mowed the strip and prepositioned hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pipe, just waiting for the permit they thought they’d bought with millions in lobbying giftsand other maneuvers. Happily, activists across the country weren’t smart enough to know they’d been beaten, and so they staged the largest civil disobedience action in 35 years, not to mention ringing the White House with people, invading Obama campaign offices, and generally proving that they were willing to fight.
No permanent victory was won. Indeed, just yesterday Transcanada agreed to reroute the pipeline in Nebraska in an effort to speed up the review, though that appears not to change the schedule. Still, we're waiting for the White House to clarify that they will continue to fully take climate change into account in their evaluation. But even that won't be final. Obama could just wait for an election victory and then approve the pipeline -- as any Republican victor certainly would. Chances are, nonetheless, that the process has now gotten so messy that Transcanada’s pipeline will die of its own weight, in turn starving the tar-sands oil industry and giving a boost to the global environment. Of course, killing the pipeline will hardly solve the problem of global warming (though heavily exploiting those tar sands would, in NASA scientist James Hansen’s words, mean “game over for the climate.”)
In this line of work, where victories of any kind are few and far between, this was a real win. It began with indigenous activists, spread to Nebraska ranchers, and eventually turned into the biggest environmental flashpoint in many years. And it owed no small debt to the Occupy Wall Street protesters shamefully evicted from Zuccotti Park last night, who helped everyone understand the power of corporate money in our daily lives. That these forces prevailed shocked most pundits precisely because it’s common wisdom that they’re not the sort of voters who count, certainly not in a year of economic trouble.
In fact, the biggest reason the realists had no doubts the pipeline would get its permit, via a State Department review and a presidential thumbs-up of that border-crossing pipeline, was because of the well-known political potency of the jobs argument in bad economic times. Despite endless lazy reporting on the theme of jobs versus the environment, there were actually no net jobs to be had from the pipeline. It was always a weak argument, since the whole point of a pipeline is that, once it's built, no one needs to work there. In addition, as the one study not paid for by Transcanada made clear, the project would kill as many jobs as it would create.
The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson finally demonstrated this late in the game with a fine report taking apart Transcanada’s job estimates. (The 20,000 jobs endlessly taken for granted assumed, among other stretches, that modern dance troupes would move to Nebraska, where part of the pipeline would be built, to entertain pipeline workers.) Still, the jobs trope remained, and you can be sure that the Chamber of Commerce will run 1,000 ads during the 2012 presidential campaign trying to hammer it home. And you can be sure the White House knew that, which was why it was such a tough call for them -- and why the pressure of a movement among people whose support matters to them made a difference.
Let’s assume the obvious then: that one part of their recent calculations that led to the postponement decision might just be the suspicion that they will actually win votes thanks to the global-warming question in the next election.
For one thing, global warming denial has seen its apogee. The concerted effort by the fossil-fuel industry to underwrite scientific revision met its match last month when a team headed by Berkeley skeptic and prominent physicist Richard Muller -- with funding from the Koch Brothers, of all people -- actually found that, what do you know, all the other teams of climate-change scientists were, um, right. The planet was indeed warming just as fast as they, and the insurance companies, and the melting ice had been insisting.
Still, scientific studies only reach a certain audience. Weird weather is a far more powerful messenger. It’s been hard to miss the record flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and across the Northeast; the record drought and fires across the Southwest; the record multi-billion dollar weather disasters across the country this year; the record pretty-much everything-you-don’t-want across the nation. Obama certainly noticed. He’s responsible for finding the cash every time some other state submerges.
As a result, after years of decline, the number of Americans who understand that the planet is indeed warming and that we’re to blame appears to be on the rise again. And ironically enough, one reason may be the spectacle of all the tea-partying GOP candidates for the presidency being forced to swear fealty to the notion that global warming is a hoax. Normal people find this odd: it’s one thing to promise Grover Norquist that you’ll never ever raise taxes; it’s another to promise that you’ll defeat chemistry and physics with the mighty power of the market.
Along these lines, Mitt Romney made an important unforced error last month. Earlier in the primaries, he and Jon Huntsman had been alone in the Republican field in being open to the idea that global warming might actually be real. Neither wanted to do anything about it, of course, but that stance itself was enough to mark them as realists. It was also a sign that Romney was thinking ahead to the election itself, and didn’t want to be pinned against this particular wall.
In late October, however, he evidently felt he had no choice but to pin himself to exactly that wall and so stated conclusively: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.” In other words, he not only flip-flopped to the side of climate denial, but did so less than six months after he had said no less definitively: “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer… And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.” Note as well that he did so, while all the evidence, even some recently funded by the deniers, pointed the other way.
If he becomes the Republican presidential candidate as expected, this may be the most powerful weathervane ad the White House will have in its arsenal. Even for people who don’t care about climate change, it makes him look like the spinally challenged fellow he seems to be. But it’s an ad that couldn’t be run if the president had okayed that pipeline.
Now that Obama has at least temporarily blocked Keystone XL, now that his team has promised to consider climate change as a factor in any final decision on the pipeline’s eventual fate, he can campaign on the issue. And in many ways, it may prove a surprise winner.
After all, only people who would never vote for him anyway deny global warming. It’s a redoubt for talk-show rightists. College kids, on the other hand, consistently rank it among the most important issues. And college kids, as Gerald Seib pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last week, are a key constituency for the president, who is expected to need something close to the two-thirds margin he won on campus in 2008 to win again in 2012.
Sure, those kids care about student loans, which threaten to take them under, and jobs, which are increasingly hard to come by, but the nature of young people is also to care about the world. In addition, independent voters, suburban moms -- these are the kinds of people who worry about the environment. Count on it: they’ll be key targets for Obama’s presidential campaign.
Given the economy, that campaign will have to make Mitt Romney look like something other than a middle-of-the-road businessman. If he’s a centrist, he probably wins. If he’s a flip-flopper with kooky tendencies, they’ve got a shot. And the kookiest thing he’s done yet is to deny climate science.
If I’m right, expect the White House to approve strong greenhouse gas regulations in the months ahead, and then talk explicitly about the threat of a warming world. In some ways it will still be a stretch. To put the matter politely, they’ve been far from perfect on the issue: the president didn’t bother to waste any of his vaunted “political capital” on a climate bill, and he’s opened huge swaths of territory to coal mining and offshore drilling.
But blocking the pipeline finally gave him some credibility here -- and it gave a lot more of the same to citizens' movements to change our world. Since a lot of folks suspect that the only way forward economically has something to do with a clean energy future, I’m guessing that the pipeline decision won’t be the only surprise. I bet Barack Obama talks on occasion about global warming next year, and I bet it helps him.
But don’t count on that, or on Keystone XL disappearing, and go home. If the pipeline story (so far) has one lesson, it’s this: you can’t expect anything to change if you don’t go out and change it yourself.
Bill McKibben is an
visionary and founder
, and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. His most recent book is
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben
Image by tarsandsaction, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 5:20 PM
Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which claims to have 14 million members, is one of the fastest growing religions in the world—reportedly converting over 200,000 souls in 2009 alone—the 182 year-old American-born sect has, until just recently, been largely ignored by pop culture’s cool kids.
In part, the recent emergence of shows such as HBO’s Big Love, TLC’s Sister Wives, and the Broadway smash, The Book of Mormon, is due to the rise of republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a member of the mainstream Mormon Church, which considers polygamy a violation of civil and religious law, and the fall of Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FDLS), a proponent of plural marriage and convicted sexual predator.
It also doesn’t hurt that the religion was founded by Joseph Smith, a larger-than-life, outlaw prophet with multiple wives. After all, society has an insatiable appetite for the sensational and taboo.
Given that Romney remains the odds on favorite to win his party’s nomination, it’s a good bet that both the LDS and FDLS will be increasingly scrutinized over the coming year. But according to Jennifer Sinor, a creative writing teacher at Utah State University, even this sort of intense media attention will only begin to scratch the surface of the faith’s social implications and deep allegiances, especially in her chosen home, where the Mormon Church is headquartered.
“Mormons themselves who come to live in Utah from other parts of the country make the distinction between Mormons and Utah Mormons. The climate is different here,” Sinor, who is a devote nonbeliever, writes in The American Scholar (Autumn 2011). “In this theocracy, in a place Mormons refer to as Zion, I will always be an outsider, but I have made a kind of peace with the state. You have to if you want to remain. The peace is both hard earned and uneasy, tested continually. And it has been the stance of the LDS Church on homosexuality that has most recently challenged any goodwill I have fostered over the years.”
Sinor’s incisive, first person essay—which includes a collection of expertly crafted, haunting scenes—begins and ends powerfully with anecdotes from her classroom, where gay Mormon students dare to write and talk about their homosexuality, despite the risk of banishment, ridicule, and memories of verbal and physical assault when others suspected they might be gay. She also revisits the LDS’s financial commitment to passing California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, which deems that only marriage between a man and woman will be recognized by the state; considers the sexual repression and prudishness inherent in Utah’s dominant culture (fashion magazine like Vogue are covered in opaque plastic in local supermarkets while the state has the highest Internet pornography subscription rate in the country); and honestly examines her rage regarding Mormonism’s anti-feminist doctrine and missionary zeal.
What makes the essay particularly salient is that it ultimately pivots on the power of fear and the importance of tolerance, subjects citizens must take more time to debate and consider this election season, no matter their religious heritage or political affiliation.
“It begins at the kitchen table where your father cracks gay jokes,” Sinor writes. “It is furthered at school where the teachers allow kids to call each other fag. It grows into a hot flame in the church pew on Sunday where you are told that the door to eternity is narrow and policed, where the lines between lost and saved are engraved into your skin. All of that fear must go somewhere. It cannot be contained. And so it erupts in ignorance and baseball bats.”
The American Scholar
, licensed under
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 10:02 AM
There’s a story behind every old band T-shirt. What’s yours?
Can’t drink your coffee fast enough? Now there’s an inhaler to administer caffeine.
A forgotten pre-pop masterpiece: Andy Warhol illustrates “The Little Red Hen.”
“Why,” asks Slate, “are our cars painted such boring colors?”
The perils of painting your toenails with your 3-year-old son.
Never stop rewriting! So says Maxine Hong Kingston, who gave a reading from her new memoir covered in post-its annotating changes for the paperback edition.
New Republican presidential campaign strategy: Trash talk even the good stuff that happened on your watch. Like this: “Romney attacks green jobs, ignoring the 64,000 created in his state.”
Lilith remembers the Jewish women who swam their way to independence and freedom during Hitler’s reign.
Has 2011 been the best-ever year for freedom of expression?
The Art of the Sentence: Douglas Bauer breaks down Willa Cather’s “He was an ugly fellow, Ivy Peters, and he liked being ugly” over at Tin House.
Two chefs, two cooking styles, and dinners that threatened to ruin a family.
The president's secret NYC train station.
Athletes and singers have coaches, but teachers and surgeons don’t. Should they? Atul Gawande investigates.
What passes for jaw-dropping beauty these days? We’d say you need not look further than Iceland’s midnight sun.
Image by bucklava, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 03, 2008 8:47 AM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 3
Mitt Romney’s campaign might hate the media. Or, more likely, they’re just stupid. When I called to ask the location of last night’s Mitt Romney campaign event, a staffer told me it was at Hivie Hall. I asked how to spell it, and he said “H-I-V-I-E, I don’t know, Hivie Hall… look it up on the internet.”
I looked it up on the internet. There is no Hivie Hall, but there is a HyVee Hall in downtown Des Moines. I showed up at HyVee Hall at the appropriate time, but the parking lot was nearly deserted. There was only one man from a local TV station, standing in the cold, plugging in his equipment. I asked him, “Is this where the Mitt Romney event is tonight?”
“Oh, you’re here for the Romney thing?” he asked. “Yeah, that’s over at the HyVee Conference Center.”
Some could accuse me of simply getting the information wrong. Seconds later, though, two cars filled with media correspondents drove into the parking lot, asking about the Romney event. I told them it was a few minutes away, and one of them responded, “Oh, that sucks!”
Not knowing where the event really was, I ended up driving around Iowa for a half hour, before giving up and going to the Hillary Clinton rally. I’ll bet Mitt wouldn’t be happy to hear that.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:23 PM
With Mitt Romney in the running for the Republican presidential nomination, a collective anxiety is bubbling up in the media about whether the United States could handle having a Mormon as a president. Stories about Mormons and Mormonism are popping up everywhere, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Salon, and the Washington Monthly.
But one of our favorites has to be “Moving for Mitt: Utah’s Dance Craze” from the Walrus, which reports that belly dancing has caught the imagination of Utahns, with more than 50 belly dancing troupes in the Salt Lake City area alone and one of the largest annual belly dancing festivals in North America. “Just as prophet Joseph Smith wove together scraps of folklore, history, and doctrine to make a uniquely American religion,” writes Mona Awad, “so locals have redefined the Middle Eastern art form to express the cultural, religious, and sexual tensions that pervade life here.” —Jason Ericson
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 12:00 AM
A few days ago, the American Prospect blog Tapped posted about Democratic candidates using their families as proxies to show support for gay rights. "In the last debate," said Dana Goldstein, "John Edwards said he was against gay marriage, but his wife Elizabeth supported it."
Now, Mitt Romney's campaign has unveiled a different take on family with AnnRomney.com. Instead of shouldering controversial policy stands, Mitt's wife, Ann, "places primary importance on her role as a wife, a mother, and a grandmother." She even includes a place for recipes on the site. -- Bennett Gordon
UPDATE: AnnRomney.com now simply redirects to MittRomney.com. Commentary withheld.
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