Five Fold Today

Anti-Democratic Nature of US Capitalism is Being Exposed - Seeking the Heart of God - Everyone Is Called to Serve - Repackaging America - Don't Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart - War is From Mars, Love is From Venus - Progressives Have A Mandate To Govern - The Prophets: A Terrible Company

November 19, 2008

Anti-Democratic Nature of US Capitalism is Being Exposed

Noam Chomsky

The simultaneous unfolding of the US presidential campaign and unraveling of the financial markets presents one of those occasions where the political and economic systems starkly reveal their nature.

Passion about the campaign may not be universally shared but almost everybody can feel the anxiety from the foreclosure of a million homes, and concerns about jobs, savings and healthcare at risk.

The initial Bush proposals to deal with the crisis so reeked of totalitarianism that they were quickly modified. Under intense lobbyist pressure, they were reshaped as "a clear win for the largest institutions in the system . . . a way of dumping assets without having to fail or close", as described by James Rickards, who negotiated the federal bailout for the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in 1998, reminding us that we are treading familiar turf. The immediate origins of the current meltdown lie in the collapse of the housing bubble supervised by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, which sustained the struggling economy through the Bush years by debt-based consumer spending along with borrowing from abroad. But the roots are deeper. In part they lie in the triumph of financial liberalisation in the past 30 years - that is, freeing the markets as much as possible from government regulation.

These steps predictably increased the frequency and depth of severe reversals, which now threaten to bring about the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Also predictably, the narrow sectors that reaped enormous profits from liberalisation are calling for massive state intervention to rescue collapsing financial institutions.

Such interventionism is a regular feature of state capitalism, though the scale today is unusual. A study by international economists Winfried Ruigrok and Rob van Tulder 15 years ago found that at least 20 companies in the Fortune 100 would not have survived if they had not been saved by their respective governments, and that many of the rest gained substantially by demanding that governments "socialise their losses," as in today's taxpayer-financed bailout. Such government intervention "has been the rule rather than the exception over the past two centuries", they conclude.

In a functioning democratic society, a political campaign would address such fundamental issues, looking into root causes and cures, and proposing the means by which people suffering the consequences can take effective control.

The financial market "underprices risk" and is "systematically inefficient", as economists John Eatwell and Lance Taylor wrote a decade ago, warning of the extreme dangers of financial liberalisation and reviewing the substantial costs already incurred - and proposing solutions, which have been ignored. One factor is failure to calculate the costs to those who do not participate in transactions. These "externalities" can be huge. Ignoring systemic risk leads to more risk-taking than would take place in an efficient economy, even by the narrowest measures.

The task of financial institutions is to take risks and, if well-managed, to ensure that potential losses to themselves will be covered. The emphasis is on "to themselves". Under state capitalist rules, it is not their business to consider the cost to others - the "externalities" of decent survival - if their practices lead to financial crisis, as they regularly do.

Financial liberalisation has effects well beyond the economy. It has long been understood that it is a powerful weapon against democracy. Free capital movement creates what some have called a "virtual parliament" of investors and lenders, who closely monitor government programmes and "vote" against them if they are considered irrational: for the benefit of people, rather than concentrated private power.

Investors and lenders can "vote" by capital flight, attacks on currencies and other devices offered by financial liberalisation. That is one reason why the Bretton Woods system established by the United States and Britain after the second World War instituted capital controls and regulated currencies.*

The Great Depression and the war had aroused powerful radical democratic currents, ranging from the anti-fascist resistance to working class organisation. These pressures made it necessary to permit social democratic policies. The Bretton Woods system was designed in part to create a space for government action responding to public will - for some measure of democracy.

John Maynard Keynes, the British negotiator, considered the most important achievement of Bretton Woods to be the establishment of the right of governments to restrict capital movement.

In dramatic contrast, in the neoliberal phase after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in the 1970s, the US treasury now regards free capital mobility as a "fundamental right", unlike such alleged "rights" as those guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: health, education, decent employment, security and other rights that the Reagan and Bush administrations have dismissed as "letters to Santa Claus", "preposterous", mere "myths".

In earlier years, the public had not been much of a problem. The reasons are reviewed by Barry Eichengreen in his standard scholarly history of the international monetary system. He explains that in the 19th century, governments had not yet been "politicised by universal male suffrage and the rise of trade unionism and parliamentary labour parties". Therefore, the severe costs imposed by the virtual parliament could be transferred to the general population.

But with the radicalisation of the general public during the Great Depression and the anti-fascist war, that luxury was no longer available to private power and wealth. Hence in the Bretton Woods system, "limits on capital mobility substituted for limits on democracy as a source of insulation from market pressures".

The obvious corollary is that after the dismantling of the postwar system, democracy is restricted. It has therefore become necessary to control and marginalise the public in some fashion, processes particularly evident in the more business-run societies like the United States. The management of electoral extravaganzas by the public relations industry is one illustration.

"Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business," concluded America's leading 20th century social philosopher John Dewey, and will remain so as long as power resides in "business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda".

The United States effectively has a one-party system, the business party, with two factions, Republicans and Democrats. There are differences between them. In his study Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, Larry Bartels shows that during the past six decades "real incomes of middle-class families have grown twice as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans, while the real incomes of working-poor families have grown six times as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans".

Differences can be detected in the current election as well. Voters should consider them, but without illusions about the political parties, and with the recognition that consistently over the centuries, progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above.

Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace.

* The Bretton Woods system of global financial management was created by 730 delegates from all 44 Allied second World War nations who attended a UN-hosted Monetary and Financial Conference at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods in New Hampshire in 1944.

Bretton Woods, which collapsed in 1971, was the system of rules, institutions, and procedures that regulated the international monetary system, under which were set up the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) (now one of five institutions in the World Bank Group) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which came into effect in 1945.

The chief feature of Bretton Woods was an obligation for each country to adopt a monetary policy that maintained the exchange rate of its currency within a fixed value.

The system collapsed when the US suspended convertibility from dollars to gold. This created the unique situation whereby the US dollar became the "reserve currency" for the other countries within Bretton Woods.

Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His writings on linguistics and politics have just been collected in The Essential Chomsky, edited by Anthony Arnove, from the New Press.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Seeking the Heart of God

Jim Wallis

I have had a simple prayer on my heart of late — “God, break my heart for the things that break yours.’  This past Saturday and Sunday I spent the weekend with Pastor Mike Slaughter at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church outside of Dayton, Ohio.  I spoke four times to his congregation and the “Change the World’ conference their church hosted.

After the final session of the conference, I got to see a little bit of Mike´s heart for the church.  We were about to walk out of the sanctuary when he stopped me.  Their worship hall was filling with homeless folks, former prostitutes, alcoholics, and drug users.  It was their Saturday night recovery service.  Each week hundreds of people in recovery, who would never think to darken the door of most churches, gather to worship, pray, and support one another.  Mike grinned a big midwestern pastor grin and said, “Man, if this just ain´t the heart of God, I don´t know what is.’

Over the course of the weekend, almost 1,000 conference attendees and regular church goers made decisions to let their hearts be broken by the things that break God´s heart—in response to an “altar call’ after every service.  Commitments ranged from getting involved with advocacy for the homeless to a change in career.  Here are a few that stuck out:

    “I will become a nurse and serve underprivileged kids.’

    “I will pray more and teach my kids the power of prayer.’

    “Mentor single moms.’

    “Participate in home restoration for the poor.’

    “Begin a center for women victims of domestic violence, including legal, medical, and employment assistance.’

    “I want to do photography for the poor and show what is happening in the world.’

    “Give hope to my students who have been homeless and support those students whose families will be without income when GM closes.’

    “Contributing to help the situation in Darfur and against the sex slave trade.’

    “I will consider adoption.’

    “I will meet with the leader of my church to unite a group of committed Christians.’

    “I will participate in homelessness awareness on my college campus.’

Seeing commitments like these are a powerful illustration of God´s people seeking to change their hearts, lives, churches, neighborhoods, cities, and the world to reflect God´s own heart.  Within three years Katrina hitting New Orleans, this church had sent 42 teams to work and to serve in that city. We serve a God who cares about the sex slave trade, the GM plant that is closing, the orphans waiting to be adopted, and the poor that are among us.  We serve a God whose cares, concerns, and vision are broader than any of us can imagine.

What else struck me from so many of the responses was that their roots were all in faith, in hope, and in love.  In sharp contrast, the world teaches and marketing firms have capitalized on the fact that in our broken human nature, we often make decisions and priorities based in fear.  And it is these decisions based in fear that actively tear apart our churches and rip them from their roots in Christ.

When false prophets proclaim apocalypse and ask us to live by fear and not by faith, we can rest assured knowing that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.’

As we consider priorities for our nation and approach a critical election, I pray that this will be a time of reflection for us all — a time to allow God´s “perfect love to cast out all fear.’ I pray that all of our prayers will be to seek the heart of God and that, in turn, our hearts will be changed.

Everyone Is Called to Serve

by Mimi Haddad

How many of you love listening to people who are retired discuss their life achievements? If you have a family member who lived through the Great Depression, or World War II, or some other devastating event, you often hear them celebrate the sacrifices and achievements of others whom they worked beside. In fact, they seem to delight in remembering the contributions of family and friends who made their work possible. When you consider your own achievements, how many people come to mind whom you might acknowledge as integral to the success of your own work? Few of us accomplish any worthwhile goal without the sacrificial work of others. While the church today (and the world as a whole) seems preoccupied with leadership and the achievements of leaders (with endless books and seminars on how to become a better leader), it leaves me wondering whether anyone might purchase a book or attend a conference on “Becoming a Servant.’ Yet, when we consider the work of the early church, leadership and sacrificial service were inseparable.

Perhaps this is one reason why the apostle Paul addressed most of his letters to whole churches rather than individuals. In correcting error, in offering encouragement, or sending praise, Paul rarely writes directly to leaders. Likewise, he rarely singles out individuals as leaders. What does that tell us about authority and gender in the early church? Turning to Paul as an example, we notice that though he referred to himself as an apostle, most often he called himself a servant or slave to Christ. Just as Christ came to serve and to give his life for many, Paul recognized that leadership and authority are rooted in service. In contrast to the Gentiles whose leaders lord authority over others, the followers of Jesus were to be ready to sacrifice their lives for others. Paul equates his authority as a leader with his commission to build up and encourage the church, a commission we all share (Acts 7:49, 20:32, Rom. 15:2, 1 Cor. 14:12, 1 Thess. 5:11,  Jude 1:20).

While our world seems eager to grasp positions of authority and leadership, scripture makes it clear that hard work, sacrifice, and service are integral to one´s calling as a leader, guide, shepherd, overseer, deacon, and elder. Biblically, a case can be made that one´s reach as a leader stretches only as far as one´s willingness to stoop and serve others.

While we debate whether women might serve as elders, deacons, pastors, or overseers, perhaps we should also consider who among us is consistently working hard, serving, and sacrificing for others. Whoever is most prepared to put aside their personal wishes and ambition in order to build others up is most ready for leadership. In selecting leaders, perhaps we should see who is first to sign up for a “Servants Seminar.’ Yes, there are specific gifts of leadership. But accompanying them is a readiness to serve, and this may be one reason why Paul sent his letters to the whole church, and why he rarely referred to specific individuals as leader, deacon, shepherd, elder, or overseer. Everyone is called to serve!

Mimi Haddad

Mimi Haddad is the president of Christians for Biblical Equality.

Repackaging America

By Gideon Levy

This is the moment to let emotion speak and cynicism fall silent. This is the time to let go for a moment of all the anti-American feelings that have spread among many of us throughout the world for the past 10 years. A moment before the United States itself became the axis of evil - it was already very close - a moment before it became a hated and ostracized power, the American people proved to the whole world on Tuesday that there is another America.

A moment before we were completely fed up with American hegemony, and the expression "leader of the free world" became no more than a tasteless joke, when the whole world saw America as aggressive, destructive, war-mongering, arrogant and racist, this marvelous power shook itself and showed the world a different face. For a moment, for just a moment, something else is in the air: "Change, yes we can."

Of course, Barack Obama's landslide election might still lead to a major disappointment; the huge hopes he aroused might turn out to be mirages - tricks of charisma and sophisticated political consultants. But the moment Obama stood on stage in Chicago and gave his victory speech in the middle of the night, one of the greatest speeches ever by one of the greatest speakers, the tears on the faces of many people in the audience - black and white, old and young, men and women, rich and poor - seemed about to flood the whole world.

It was a seminal moment for America. But the moment can also be missed. In conservative and partially racist Israel, quite a few people are already looking sour. Yet it is also possible that this moment will translate into change, to a new world and a new America. The man who stood on the blue stage in Chicago could bring glad tidings; the masses who cheered him and chose him might be harbingers of real change.

After almost a decade, few asked why their country is so hated - a decade in which America spoke only the language of force, sent its army off to two losing wars and did not prevent other countries, including Israel, from going out to other useless wars; tortured prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere like the darkest of countries; executed hundreds of its citizens like the darkest of regimes; and failed to use its influence and power to make peace, neither here nor anywhere. In the meantime, religion threatened to take it over until it became the most fundamentalist country in the West, tens of millions of its citizens were doomed to live without health insurance or a social safety net, and quite a few of its people remained illiterate. After all these dark years, suddenly a new day dawns: The man who stood on the stage in Chicago promised us that all this will change, and we so wanted to believe him.

If he succeeds, we will have a different world. If he really does substitute the threat of arms with diplomacy and economic aggressiveness with social welfare, Americans can once again go around their country and the world with a feeling of pride after years in which American tourists normally encountered animosity and resentment. It is important to America and it is important to the world.

Obama brought dignity back not only to his country, but also to the profession of politics. After years of seeing no inspiring leaders, neither in Israel nor elsewhere, but only drab or duplicitous politicians; after we had eulogized the possibility that one person could capture the masses, Obama stood on that stage in Chicago and did it.

After history had come to an end, Obama proclaimed it born again. With his election he also announced the rebirth of the expression "the land of opportunity" - for blacks as well, only in America, for the moment.

The test is still ahead of him, of course. His impressive and exciting ability to get elected is not a guarantee of his ability to lead and make the right decisions. He faces a discouraging situation, on the edge of the abyss, with the world's economy threatening to crash and American soldiers bogged down in blood for nothing. In addition, the Middle East is still as far from peace as ever, and some nations and evil groups threaten to destroy it. And there is a hate-filled and dangerous Islam and a hungry Africa, sick and bleeding. But Obama comes to all these armed with credit around the world that probably no one before him had. Not only the United States, but the world voted for Obama; there is no country where the masses did not root for his victory, including even some Israelis.

From here on, there can be success or disappointment. But at this moment, writing these lines a few hours after the victory speech, when the tears refuse to dry, the heart says: Something happened. America is not the same as America before; the world is not the same as the world before. Thank you, Obama, and thank you, Americans. Good morning, America, good morning, world. A better morning than we have had in a long time.

Don't Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart

Why Americans Shouldn't Go Home

By Tom Engelhardt

On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, a record was set halfway around the world. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force strike wiped out about 40 people in a wedding party. This represented at least the sixth wedding party eradicated by American air power in Afghanistan and Iraq since December 2001.

American planes have, in fact, taken out two brides in the last seven months. And don't try to bury your dead or mark their deaths ceremonially either, because funerals have been hit as well. Mind you, those planes, which have conducted 31% more air strikes in Afghanistan in support of U.S. troops this year, and the missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) now making almost daily strikes across the border in Pakistan, remain part of George W. Bush's Air Force, but only until January 21, 2009. Then, they -- and all the brides and grooms of Afghanistan and in the Pakistani borderlands who care to have something more than the smallest of private weddings -- officially become the property of President Barack Obama.

That's a sobering thought. He is, in fact, inheriting from the Bush administration a widening war in the region, as well as an exceedingly tenuous situation in devastated, still thoroughly factionalized, sectarian, and increasingly Iranian-influenced Iraq. There, the U.S. is, in actuality, increasingly friendless and ever less powerful. The last allies from the infamous "coalition of the willing" are now rushing for the door. The South Koreans, Hungarians, and Bulgarians -- I'll bet you didn't even know the latter two had a few troops left in Iraq -- are going home this year; the rump British force in the south will probably be out by next summer.

The Iraqis are beginning to truly go their own way (or, more accurately, ways); and yet, in January, when Barack Obama enters office, there will still be more American troops in Iraq than there were in April 2003 when Baghdad fell. Winning an election with an antiwar label, Obama has promised -- kinda -- to end the American war there and bring the troops -- sorta, mostly -- home. But even after his planned 16-month withdrawal of U.S. "combat brigades," which may not be welcomed by his commanders in the field, including former Iraq commander, now Centcom Commander David Petraeus, there are still plenty of combative non-combat forces, which will be labeled "residual" and left behind to fight "al-Qaeda." Then, there are all those "advisors" still there to train Iraqi forces, the guards for the giant bases the Bush administration built in the country, the many thousands of armed private security contractors from companies like Blackwater, and of course, the 1,000 "diplomats" who are to staff the newly opened U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone, possibly the largest embassy on the planet. Hmmmm.

And while the new president turns to domestic matters, it's quite possible that significant parts of his foreign policy could be left to the oversight of Vice President Joe Biden who, in case anyone has forgotten, proposed a plan for Iraq back in 2007 so filled with imperial hubris that it still startles. In a Caesarian moment, he recommended that the U.S. -- not Iraqis -- functionally divide the country into three parts. Although he preferred to call it a "federal system," it was, for all intents and purposes, a de facto partition plan.

If Iraq remains a sorry tale of American destruction and dysfunction without, as yet, a discernable end in sight, Afghanistan may prove Iraq squared. And there, candidate Obama expressed no desire to wind the war down and withdraw American troops. Quite the opposite, during the election campaign he plunked hard for escalation, something our NATO allies are sure not to be too enthusiastic about. According to the Obama plan, many more American troops (if available, itself an open question) are to be poured into the country in what would essentially be a massive "surge strategy" by yet another occupant of the Oval Office. Assumedly, the new Afghan policy would be aided and abetted by those CIA-run UAVs directed toward Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and pals, while undoubtedly further destabilizing a shaky ally.

When it comes to rising civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes in their countries, both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari have already used their congratulatory phone calls to President-elect Obama to plead for an end to the attacks, which produce both a profusion of dead bodies and a profusion of live, vengeful enemies. Both have done the same with the Bush administration, Karzai to the point of tears.

The U.S. military argues that the use of air power is necessary in the face of a spreading, ever more dangerous, Taliban insurgency largely because there are too few boots on the ground. ("If we got more boots on the ground, we would not have to rely as much on airstrikes" was the way Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, put it.) But rest assured, as the boots multiply on increasingly hostile ground, the military will discover it needs more, not less, air power to back more troops in more trouble.

So, after January 20th, expect Obama to take possession of George Bush's disastrous Afghan War; and unless he is far more skilled than Alexander the Great, British empire builders, and the Russians, his war, too, will continue to rage without ever becoming a raging success.

Finally, President-elect Obama accepted the overall framework of a "Global War on Terror" during his presidential campaign. This "war" lies at the heart of the Bush administration's fantasy world of war that has set all-too-real expanses of the planet aflame. Its dangers were further highlighted this week by the New York Times, which revealed that secret orders in the spring of 2004 gave the U.S. military "new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."

At least twelve such attacks have been carried out since then by Special Operations forces on Pakistan, Somalia, most recently Syria, and other unnamed countries. Signed by Donald Rumsfeld, signed off on by President Bush, built-upon recently by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, these secret orders enshrine the Pentagon's right to ignore international boundaries, or the sovereignty of nations, in an endless global "war" of choice against small, scattered bands of terrorists.

As reporter Jim Lobe pointed out recently, a "series of interlocking grand bargains" in what the neoconservatives used to call "the Greater Middle East" or the "arc of instability" might be available to an Obama administration capable of genuinely new thinking. These, he wrote, would be "backed by the relevant regional players as well as major global powers -- aimed at pacifying Afghanistan; integrating Iran into a new regional security structure; promoting reconciliation in Iraq; and launching a credible process to negotiate a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world."

If, however, Obama accepts a War on Terror framework, as he already seems to have, as well as those "residual" forces in Iraq, while pumping up the war in Afghanistan, he may quickly find himself playing by Rumsfeld rules, whether or not he revokes those specific orders. In fact, left alone in Washington, backed by the normal national security types, he may soon find himself locked into all sorts of unpalatable situations, as once happened to another Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who opted to escalate an inherited war when what he most wanted to do was focus on domestic policy.

Previews for a Political Zombie Movie

Domestically, it's clear enough that we are about to leave the age of Bush -- in tone and policy -- but what that leave-taking will consist of is still an open question. This is especially so given a cratering economy and the pot-holed road ahead. It is a moment when Obama has, not surprisingly, begun to emphasize continuity and reassurance alongside his campaign theme of "change we can believe in."

All you had to do was look at that array of Clinton-era economic types and CEOs behind Obama at his first news conference to think: been there, done that. The full photo of his economic team that day offered a striking profile of pre-Bush era Washington and the Washington Consensus, and so a hint of the Democratic world the new president will walk into on January 20, 2009.

How about former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, those kings of 1990s globalization, or even the towering former Fed chief from the first Bush era, Paul Volcker? Didn't that have the look of previews for a political zombie movie, a line-up of the undead? As head of the New America Foundation Steve Clemons has been writing recently, the economic team looks suspiciously as if it were preparing for a "Clinton 3.0" moment.

You could scan that gathering and not see a genuine rogue thinker in sight; no off-the-reservation figures who might represent a breath of fresh air and fresh thinking (other than, being hopeful, the president-elect himself). Clemons offers an interesting list of just some obvious names left off stage: "Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, James Galbraith, Leo Hindery, Clyde Prestowitz, Charlene Barshefsky, C. Fred Bergsten, Adam Posen, Robert Kuttner, Robert Samuelson, Alan Murray, William Bonvillian, Doug & Heidi Rediker, Bernard Schwartz, Tom Gallagher, Sheila Bair, Sherle Schwenninger, and Kevin Phillips."

Mobilizing a largely Clintonista brain trust may look reassuring to some -- an in-gathering of all the Washington wisdom available before Hurricane Bush/Cheney hit town, but unfortunately, we don't happen to be entering a Clinton 3.0 moment. What's globalizing now is American disaster, which threatens to level a vulnerable world.

In a sense, though, domestic policy may, relatively speaking, represent the good news of the coming Obama era. We know, for instance, that those preparing the way for the new president's arrival are thinking hard about how to roll back the worst of Bush cronyism, enrich-yourself-at-the-public-troughism, general lawlessness, and unconstitutionality. As a start, according to Ceci Connolly and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post, Obama advisers have already been compiling "a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues," including oil drilling in pristine wild lands. In addition, Obama's people are evidently at work on ways to close Guantanamo and try some of its prisoners in U.S. courts.

However, if continuity domestically means rollback to the Clinton era, continuity in the foreign policy sphere -- Guantanamo aside -- may be a somewhat different matter. We won't know the full cast of characters to come until the president-elect makes the necessary announcements or has a national security press conference with a similar line-up behind him. But it's certainly rumored that Robert Gates, a symbol of continuity from both Bush eras, might be kept on as secretary of defense, or a Republican senator like Richard Lugar of Indiana or, more interestingly, retiring Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel might be appointed to the post. Of course, many Clintonistas are sure to be in this line-up, too.

In addition, among the essential cast of characters will be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Michael Mullen, and Centcom Commander David Petraeus, both late Bush appointees, both seemingly flexible military men, both interested in a military-plus approach to the Afghan and Iraq wars. Petraeus, for instance, reportedly recently asked for, and was denied, permission to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

All these figures will represent a turn away from the particular madness of the early Bush years abroad, one that actually began in the final years of his second term. But such a national security line-up is unlikely to include fresh thinkers, who might truly reimagine an imperial world, or anyone who might genuinely buck the power of the Pentagon. What Obama looks to have are custodians and bureaucrats of empire, far more cautious, far more sane, and certainly far more grown-up than the first-term Bush appointees, but not a cast of characters fit for reshaping American policy in a new world of disorder and unraveling economies, not a crew ready to break new ground and cede much old ground on this still American-garrisoned planet of ours.

Breathless in Washington

Let's assume the best: that Barack Obama truly means to bring some form of the people's will, as he imagines it, to Washington after eight years of unconstitutional "commander-in-chief" governance. That -- take my word for it -- he can't do without the people themselves expressing that will.

Of course, even in the Bush era, Americans didn't simply cede the public commons. They turned out, for instance, in staggering numbers to protest the President's invasion of Iraq before it ever happened, and again more recently to work tirelessly to elect Obama president. But -- so it seems to me -- when immediate goals are either disappointingly not achieved, or achieved relatively quickly, most Americans tend to pack their bags and head for home, as so many did in despair after the invasion was launched in 2003, as so many reportedly are doing again, in a far more celebratory mood, now that Obama is elected.

But hard as his election may have been, that was surely the easy part. He is now about to enter the hornet's nest. Entrenched interests. Entrenched ideas. Entrenched ideology. Entrenched profits. Entrenched lobbyists. Entrenched bureaucrats. Entrenched think tanks. An entrenched Pentagon and allied military-industrial complex, both bloated beyond imagining and virtually untouchable, along with a labyrinthine intelligence system of more than 18 agencies, departments, and offices.

Washington remains an imperial capital. How in the world will Barack Obama truly begin to change that without you?

In the Bush years, the special interests, lobbyists, pillagers, and crony corporations not only pitched their tents on the public commons, but with the help of the President's men and women, simply took possession of large hunks of it. That was called "privatization." Now, as Bush & Co. prepare to leave town in a cloud of catastrophe, the feeding frenzy at the public trough only seems to grow.

It's a natural reaction -- and certainly a commonplace media reaction at the moment -- to want to give Barack Obama a "chance." Back off those critical comments, people now say. Fair's fair. Give the President-elect a little "breathing space." After all, the election is barely over, he's not even in office, he hasn't had his first 100 days, and already the criticism has begun.

But those who say this don't understand Washington -- or, in the case of various media figures and pundits, perhaps understand it all too well.

Political Washington is a conspiracy -- in the original sense of the word: "to breathe the same air." In that sense, there is no air in Washington that isn't stale enough to choke a president. Send Obama there alone, give him that "breathing space," don't start demanding the quick ending of wars or anything else, and you're not doing him, or the American people, any favors. Quite the opposite, you're consigning him to suffocation.

Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for "change we can believe in," which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years, has recently been published.

[Note for TomDispatch readers: For those who want to follow issues of war and peace, especially in the "arc of instability," I want to recommend four sites that are sure to prove as invaluable in the Obama era as they have been (to me at least) during the Bush years: Juan Cole's never miss-able Informed Comment blog, (which has recently added Jason Ditz's useful daily summaries of the latest news developments like this Iraqi one), Paul Woodward's sharp-eyed site The War in Context, and the always fascinating and provocative online newspaper, Asia Times. I check in with all of them daily.]

Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt

War is From Mars, Love is From Venus

By Timothy Snyder

Is the United States an empire of war or an empire of love? In the early days of the Iraq war, journalists and scholars wrote of our empire of war, comparing the United States to grand historical realms of the past supposedly built on the battlefield. As our occupation of Iraq began, Robert Kagan mocked European pacifists as being from loving Venus, while manly Americans were from warlike Mars. But in Greek myth bellicose Mars played the fool, while beautiful Venus got her way.

War breaks rather than makes empires. The 1914 invasion of Serbia doomed the Habsburgs and began the First World War; the 1941 war against the Soviet Union brought down Nazi Germany; the 1979 occupation of Afghanistan fatally wounded the Soviet Union, and now the war in Iraq bleeds the United States dry. Although Europe has its share of problems, it is Venus rather than Mars that carries the laurels of victory. The European Union has expanded twice since the United States invaded Iraq, adding 12 countries to the ranks of its members. It is now more populous than the United States, and has a much larger economy.

Why not be an empire of love? Of all of these empires of the past, the most durable was that of the Habsburgs. For half a millennium they ruled much of Europe from their Austrian capital Vienna. It was their global empire, stretching from Latin America to East Asia, upon which the "sun never set." Though they fought their share of battles, they were known for clever diplomacy and wedding pacts. As a king of Hungary put it before the Habsburgs incorporated his own country: "Let others fight wars! Thou Happy Austria marry. What Mars gives to others, Venus bestows on thee." In the 19th century, the Habsburgs managed, though a series of compromises, to govern a dozen nationalities, not to mention Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews. The high culture of their empire left us the literature of Kafka, the psychology of Freud, and the painting of Klimt.

Where did that empire of love of go wrong? In the fateful summer of 1914, the Habsburgs overreacted to an act of terrorism. After an assassin killed their crown prince, the Habsburgs invaded neighboring Serbia, provoking the First World War. Four years later the monarchy was brought down. We might find a lesson about the rise and fall of empires there, if we wished to seek it. Empires that ascend in a spirit of accord and compromise can last; empires that seek pretexts for war will not.

Can the United States recreate itself as an empire of love? We would have to admit our mistakes, and learn from the past. We would have to relearn manners and graciousness. We would have to announce a withdrawal from Iraq, and renounce the doctrine of preemptive war. We would have to be consistent in our support of democracy throughout the world, supporting the process even when it leads to the victory of parties we dislike. According to opinion polls, Muslims favor democracy, but do not believe that American policy supports it. We would also have to learn to be less stingy. No developed country in the world gives less foreign aid, as a percentage of gross domestic product, than the United States. France gives twice as much, Britain three times as much, Sweden five times as much.

An empire of love would make virtue from necessity. We are not the military power we thought we were, and we are not the economic power we might have been. We need partners and friends. Europe is a natural partner in a future empire of love. If the United States accepted multilateralism and international law, and raised its foreign aid to European levels, there is no reason why we could not enjoy the kind of respect in the world that Europe does today. Indeed, in this sort of friendly competition, Europe would be our only rival. We still speak the language of the world, we still write the best novels, we still make the best films and television programs. The world needs leadership, now more than ever. It is time for the first gentle steps.

Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University. His most recent book is "The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke."

Progressives Have A Mandate To Govern

By Isaiah J. Poole

IIn hotly contested 2008 congressional races on November 4, 2008, the Democratic winners were -- overwhelmingly -- real progressives who campaigned and won on progressive platforms. Voters didn't just elect Democrats, they elected progressives. The Campaign for America's Future report on the 2008 election predicts at least a 36-vote swing to the left in the House and at least a 10-vote swing to the left in the Senate. Meanwhile, the House Progressive Caucus says it expects to add at least 11 new members to its ranks, increasing its size to at least 84 of the House's 254 Democrats. Those numbers are a strong argument against the majority of voters wanting the new administration and Congress to govern more conservatively.

The Prophets -- A Terrible Company

Wendy Alec

Ha! says the Lord. For surely in this age and in this season, My prophets are about to do some strange and some extraordinary things.

Yes, prepare. Prepare yourselves for the extraordinary for I am raising up a people, I am raising up a company of prophets who will act as an abrasion to the body of Christ, for surely there are many of My servants who will even question and wonder at the manner in which My prophets have been called to walk in these days.

For I am raising My prophets from the East and from the West, from the South and from the North. And not many are known and not many are well versed. But they are well versed in Me, says the Lord.

For these ones, yes these ones, yes, their faces are set like flint. They will not heed the voice or the system or the politics and manipulations of man or minister; They shall one by one come forth in this time.

And they shall not need or require man's favour or reward, for they are a stange and wonderful breed dedicated and holy unto the Lord. For they are neither bribable nor corruptible.

For their master is neither mammon nor fame, nor favour; But their master is the mighty Holy One of Israel.

And so these ones shall arise, and many many of My ministers shall watch and stand ambivalent.

And they shall come forth with a fierce countenance for they do not listen to the voice of man.

For they have been trained in the desert place and the wilderness.

For they have been raised on misunderstanding and rejections.

For they have walked being despised and passed over and have been measured by the judgements of man.

And so it is that they now come forth and shine like gold. They can be bought by no man, no ministry, no pastor nor elder.

For they are Mine, says the Lord.

As refined by fire, they hold only to Me.

They speak only My words.

They do only Me deeds.

And so it is that first one shall rise, and I shall confirm his words with My hand.

And then ten shall arise close behind. And then twenty, and then a hundred, and then a thousand, like fire spreading across My Church.

And they shall raise their voices in judgement against the false systems of My Church.

And they shall raise their hand even as Elijah and My signs and My judgement shall come forth.

And so it is that even My leading ministers shall stand back in wonder and receive these as My prophets for surely the fear and conviction of My Father shall fall upon them and they shall know that these are His, His alone.

And so My ministers shall take heed. They shall take account of their ways and so it shall be that because of the fierceness of their rising, so My servants shall fall and shall repent. And so My Church shall return.

And so because of these mighty unseen ones, I shall stay My judgement.

And even as Jonah stayed My hand at Nineveh, so shall My hand be stayed against this disobedient generation of My Church.

And so a great outpouring of My mercy shall come forth.

Watch well and see this terrible company, for I tell you that even at this hour they rise in your midst.

Take care and discern correctly that you may not be found having despised these strange and terrible ones, the prophets of the Most High.

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