June 17, 2008

Which America will it Be?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 12:09 pm

John McCain’s comments that what mattered in Iraq was not when the troops come home but reducing casualties was dismissed as at worst an insensitive slip. In fact it was a profound statement about what kind of America we might have in the future. He does not see Iraq as a mistaken war that having gotten into we should  get out of as rapidly as possible. He sees it as justified unilateral aggression and an opportunity to add that country permanently to the American empire. An American military presence (preferably without US casualties) would, far from promoting democracy, insure there was always a puppet government in Iraq compliant with US government interests. It would allow US corporations to exploit its oil and other resources and military bases from which a McCain administration could, at a minimum, threaten to attack Iraq’s neighbors. Under the ‘status of forces agreement’ the Bush administration is seeking to impose on the Iraqis, 58 permanent bases would be established and US military personnel would be exempt from Iraqi law. Under the Bush/McCain plan America would never withdraw from Iraq. 

                       The US has around 1,000 military bases around the world (the Pentagon admits to 725, the others are secret). These military garrisons, often in impoverished nations, are in many instances massive settlements, complete with air conditioning, quality health care, supermarkets, bowling alleys, golf courses (the military has 234) and various recreational facilities including a ski and resort center in the Bavarian alps and a resort hotel in the center of Tokyo. A fleet of one hundred and one Learjets, Gulfstream IIIs, and Cessna Citations (averaging $50 million a piece) are available to ferry admirals and generals around the empire. The purpose is in part to insure that GIs can enjoy a standard of living as good as and usually much better that they can enjoy in the US. It is also calculated to remind the local population of American superiority. In most places the reaction is similar to that Americans would feel if there were Iraqi or Ecuadorean military bases in New Jersey or Kansas. 

                            While billions are spent to support these luxury outposts around the world, America domestically is in many respects a failed state. It ranks, despite its immense wealth, at the bottom or close to the bottom among developed nations when it comes to the generally accepted measures of quality of life-infant mortality, life expectancy, children in poverty, access to affordable health care, literacy, educational levels in science and technology, high school graduations rates, high school math, access to in-house water supply, teenage pregnancy, public transportation and decent housing. At the same time the US leads the world in the percentage of its population that it has in prison. The US also has the largest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.

                            McCain comes from three generations of existence in the military bubble. His world view is that of the US imperialist state in which support of a miltary juggernaut intent on world domination trumps investment in the quality of life for ordinary Americans. Casting the US military shadow over the poorer nations of the world is immensely expensive and prevents us from dealing with the problems at home. Recent polls show that 84% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. They are aware there is something desperately wrong. We do not know if Obama’s commitment to change is on the scale that would be necessary to solve the country’s domestic problems or whether he would be willing to end America’s imperial role. Even if he is, will he have the power, even as president, to overcome the entrenched forces that benefit from the status quo? What we do know is that as time runs out for the country McCain has no intention of threatening the power of the military industrial complex of which he is an integral part. We are being offered a vision of two Americas, one with hope and a chance that the country can be saved from  military over-reach and domestic collapse, the other in which we continue a delusion that military triumphalism can be a substitute for facing America’s domestic failures.

Peter Bourne


June 10, 2008

Beware of Hillary

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:37 pm

After Hillary’s speech this weekend I was sitting in a sushi bar in Manhattan (Hatsuhana at 48th and Madison, which I highly recommend) reflecting, with the help of excellent saki, on her failed campaign. I had misgivings about her from the start, because I believed her main problem was not misogyny, although there was some of that, but rather a more a serious character flaw. Soon after Obama announced his candidacy he passed her on the Senate floor and gently touched her arm, an act, if not of friendship, at least of courtesy. She ignored him, cutting him dead and walking away. To me it showed her sense of anger contempt towards him for having the temerity to run against her when she considered herself the pre-ordained Democratic nominee.

                     To me it was nothing new for Hillary and Bill. On the night of the first Clinton inaugural they held an event at the White House attended by President and Mrs Carter. The senior statesman of the Democratic Party and its only living former president was deliberately seated by the Clintons six rows back in the audience. Despite acknowledging many of those attending, Clinton failed to mention Carter’s presence, ignored him for the entire evening and in his remarks talked about how much he admired Ronald Reagan who had defeated Carter. Subsequently Clinton, with the exception of Warren Christopher who was more a foreign policy bureacrat than a Carter supporter, failed to a appoint to his administration anyone who had served in a senior position under President Carter. Republicans continuously enhanced the strength of their party maintaining continuity from one Republican administration to the next by rewarding life-time party loyalists with new appointments. The Clintons set out to destroy everything that had preceded them. The new Democratic Party would begin with the Clintons alone as though nothing had existed before them.

                              Hillary took on healthcare not withstanding the fact that she had little knowledge of the field.  She put together a sizable committee to work with her which included not a single physician ( can you imagine a committee to deal with legal reform that included no lawyers). She also failed to consult with the many people, myself included, who had worked on national health care issues under Carter. Admittedly we failed, but we had a great deal of knowledge about how to avoid the pitfalls that had tripped us up which we were happy to pass on. In 1992 there were a number of distinguished people still in Washington who had secured the passage of MEDICARE and MEDICAID under President Johnson and they were similarly ignored. At that time I attributed these shortcomings to ignorance and inexperience.  I later came to realize that the Hillary was determined to see she received  exclusive credit for her health plan and to insure that no one else would share the limelight. The poorly conceived hodge podge she ended up with went nowhere. The bottom line is that because of Hillary’s ineptitude and narcissism the opportunity was blown and American’s have now gone another fifteen years without adequate health insurance.

                          The nature and style of campaigns very much reflect the personality of the candidate they are serving. Like Obama his campaign seems to be smooth, and well-organized, with deep loyalty to the common cause.  By contrast the Clinton campaign has been characterized by destructive in-fighting, self-indulgent opportunism, poor strategy and worse management. The arrogance of Hillary set the tone for her campiagn. In the Sunday, June 8th, New York Times, Peter Baker and Jim Rutenberg wrote:

                          “As she flew from town halls to rallies on the road, she did little to stop the infighting back home among the advisers who nursed grudges from their White House days. The aids grew distracted from battling Senator Barack Obama while they hurled expletives at one another, stormed out of meetings and schemed to get one another fired.”

                          All politicians are by nature egotistical but the better ones see running for elective office as an opportunity to acquire enough power to make a lasting difference in society and in people’s lives. Although both Clintons are not without significant altrusitic accomplishment they are both to a large extent arrested in the first stage of the process. Excessive ego-gratification, holding on to power, the accumulation of finacial wealth, adulation and swimming in the limelight are seen as ends in themselves.

                         After Hillary finally conceded defeat and urged, with all the right words, her followers to work for Obama. The latter had little choice but to show gracious appreciation and express his eagerness to involve both Clintons in the general election campaign. But he would be mad to take her on the ticket. I believe she (and Bill) do not want him to win and will use the general election campaign to advance her own interests not Obama’s. They will make a sufficient show of support to insure that she is not accused of contributing to his loss if he were to lose. I was struck that in her concession speech while urging support for Obama she did not mention the name of McCain and the dire prospects for the country if he were to be elected. Does she not want to antagonize someone that she will have to work with in the future in the Senate or was she just going through the motions but at the same time not willing to lend the clout of her position against McCain leaving the door open for a segment of her supporters to defect to him?

                          The bottom line is that the Clintons are for themselves, not the party, not any other candidate and by implication not much for the longterm welfare of the country. Barack Obama should beware of Hillary Clinton.


Peter Bourne

June 3, 2008

Carter Visit

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:36 am

          Mary and I spent the last two weeks in Wales. When I arrived I found a new baby llama (female that is largely white with a brown tail) born since while I was away. This time of year is always physically demanding. The grass and hedges are growing at a ferocious rate, weeds have come up all over the farm yard and the drive way, and the general detritus of winter needs to be cleaned away. This spring matters were made worse by the additional need to clean and rehabilitate the house after a construction project during the last year involving the wood panelling of our main living room. The project included the installation of a large screen high definition television giving us an even bigger selection of television channels than we have in Washington. 

                            It is also a beautiful time in Wales. Pink and red rhododendrons were in full bloom. Around the lake yellow irises and blue bells were in flower. Birds were nesting everywhere and a pair of Canada geese had flown in and produced five goslings. The man came from the trout hatchery to restock the lake with 300 rainbow trout.

                            After a week of intense activity President Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn and daughter Amy came for a twenty-four hour stay. He had spent the previous two days at the annual Hay-on-Wye book festival (which I am told is the largest such event in the world). He had spoken to capacity audiences and had been very warmly received. He is deeply admired in the UK as one American leader who is profoundly committed to peace and resolving international conflict. This was widely reflected in both the very positive newspaper articles and the TV interviews during his visit.

                           Sadly after a week of magnificent sunshine it rained during much of the time they were with us. But, after an hour sitting by a warm fire, we made the most of the situation going on a long tour of the farm clad in rain gear and wellington boots trailed by the secret service who seemed much less prepared for the weather. In the afternoon we went into the little town of Tregaron (population 3,000) to visit the local church where there was a floral exhibit honoring different female figures in the Bible. We went from there to the local pub to drink cider. President Carter was approached by a woman who had heard him speak to a packed football stadium in Newcastle in 1977. Carter had been advised to open his speech with a boisterous “Away the lads!!” a chant for the local team. He received thunderous applause. Thirty years on this was the only thing from the speech that either of them could recall.

                         In the evening we had dinner at the Harbormaster Hotel in Aberaeron, a picturesque fishing village on the sea. Another diner passed a message through the secret service to President Carter saying that he desperately needed to speak to him. It turned out that what he really wanted was just to shake his hand and get him to sign his menu. The man turned out to be Elfyn Llwyd the leader of the Welsh Nationalist Party (Plaid Cwmru) in the parliament in Westminster, so the conversation with him was of some interest to Carter.

                       Unlike the two previous occasions when the Carters visited us in Wales we had structured things this time to be purely relaxation. We did, however, have time to talk to him about the highly successful role he had played in the Nepalese elections, his visits to Gaza and Syria, and Egypt, and his role with the group of so-called “Elders,” the sad death of Hamilton Jordan, and his view of the US presidential elections (as of this writing he had not formally indicated his vote as a superdelegate, but his optimism about the possibility of an Obama presidency was clear.) Because of their mutual interest in the Palestinian situation he and Mary talked about this topic at length.

                                   What impressed me most as he heads towards his 84th birthday was his continuing energy and mental acuity, his deep dedication to the causes in which he believes was, and the vigor with which he clearly intends to continue pursuing them. 


Peter Bourne


Powered by WordPress

© Peter G. Bourne - 2008