Monday, March 30, 2015

The New American Order

The New American Order

Reposted from TomDispatch
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of "We the People" 

By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries -- this year mainly a Republican affair -- are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.
In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below -- and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.
However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which -- even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred -- should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.
Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and -- to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden -- intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

 All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.
Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president's Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party -- its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats -- seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon -- the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government -- gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that "mimics a cellphone tower." This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to "the homeland," is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it's doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of -- to use Fraser’s word -- “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

[Note: My special thanks go to my friend John Cobb, who talked me through this one.  Doing it would have been inconceivable without him.  Tom]

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The self-licking ice cream cone

Much as witch-hunts were about perpetuating threats so is our war on terror. We've know for some time that drone strikes create more terrorists than it kills. A recently leaked document by Wikileaks show that the CIA knew that Drone strikes are 'counter-productive' and increase support for insurgents. Didn't we already know that? Come on!

War is a racket, we know that already too. But this passage from Operation Rent Seeking is priceless:
"The syndrome the Bush administration created in Iraq was what former Pentagon critic Chuck Spinney has called a “self-licking ice cream cone”: the measures to fight the war on terrorism guaranteed more terrorists, which in turn guaranteed the agencies more money to fight the war on terrorism. The same process was at work with respect to torture and drone strikes. It is a great business model for contractors and bureaucratic empire builders, but far less favorable as a national survival strategy."
Chuck Spinney interviewed by Bill Moyers: here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The disillusionment of "democratic" corporate fascism

Some articles that crossed my path this week:

The Rise Of A ‘Democratic’ Fascism

The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazi iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism. "To initiate a war of aggression...," said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, "is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened.  -more-

Stop The Fast Track To A Future Of Global Corporate Rule

Several major international agreements are under negotiation which would greatly empower multinational corporations and the World Economic Forum is promoting a new model of global governance that creates a hybrid government-corporate structure. Humankind is proceeding on a path to global corporate rule where transnational corporations would not just influence public policy, they would write the policies and vote on them. The power of nation-states and people to determine their futures would be weakened in a system of corporate rule. The Obama administration has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) over the past five years, is currently pushing Congress to pass trade promotion authority (known as fast track) which would allow him to sign these agreements before they go to Congress. Then Congress would have a limited time to read thousands of pages of technical legal language, debate the contents and be banned from making amendments. -more-

The Illusion Of Democracy

It is ironic, considering democracy's pitiful state worldwide that, in accordance to its etymology, it literally means "common people's rule" or, more simply, "people's power." The English term democracy and the 14th-century French word democratie come from the Greek demokratia via the Latin democratia. The Greek radical demos means "common people," and kratos means "rule, or power." How did we manage to pervert such a laudable notion of power to the people and diametrically turn it into a global system of rule at large under the principles of oligarchy and plutocracy? Everywhere we look, from east to west and north to south, plutocrats and oligarchs are firmly in charge: puppet masters of the political class. They have transformed democracy into a parody of itself and a toxic form of government. The social contract implied in a democratic form of governance is broken. -more-

Rahm Emanuel, Face Of Democratic Fascism, Deserves To Lose

Chicago's mayoral election may look like a local event, and the media mostly cover it as a local event, but the presence of a large, diverse, and energized opposition demanding change on basic issues of fairness and justice gives the city's local result a potentially important, totemic meaning for the country. The outcome of the April 7 runoff election, which includes 40% of the city council as well, may signify whether peaceful change is possible, or whether the suffocating status quo will grow more stifling. There is another way of gauging the April vote: is Chicago yet ready to reject the police state practices of its local government? Is Chicago ready to reject a mayor who seems content to allow police state behavior to go unexamined and unpunished? -more-

How the Public Are Deceived by the ‘News’

If the public is systematically lied-to by the Government and by a virtually uniformly cooperative press suppressing key facts in order to pump that lie, such as was the case during 2002 and 2003 in the lead-up to America’s invasion of Iraq, then there can’t possibly be an authentic democracy, because democracy is founded upon a truthfully informed public, and so any ‘news’ institution that violates its solemn public trust of reporting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is traitorous to democracy itself. That’s why the press has been called “the fourth estate” of government. The first three “estates” are the aristocracy, the clergy, and the public. If the press represent not the public, but instead one of the two other classes — the aristocracy and/or the clergy — then what exists is a dictatorship by that actually ruling class against the public, not a democracy by the public. The public cannot rule in such a country. They instead are manipulated in it. -more-

For a Crime He Didn't Commit

This nightmare is an example of our criminal justice system that is typical of a totalitarian bureaucratic state. A man was coerced into a false confession for a crime he didn't commit. He was convicted and went to jail. He couldn't prove his innocence until he got out of jail but he couldn't get out of jail until he confessed his "crime" and showed remorse. The ultimate catch 22! Listen to the story here or read the story here. More from the Innocence Project: here

American democracy is doomed

America's constitutional democracy is going to collapse. Some day — not tomorrow, not next year, but probably sometime before runaway climate change forces us to seek a new life in outer-space colonies — there is going to be a collapse of the legal and political order and its replacement by something else. If we're lucky, it won't be violent. If we're very lucky, it will lead us to tackle the underlying problems and result in a better, more robust, political system. If we're less lucky, well, then, something worse will happen. Very few people agree with me about this, of course. When I say it, people generally think that I'm kidding. America is the richest, most successful country on earth. The basic structure of its government has survived contested elections and Great Depressions and civil rights movements and world wars and terrorist attacks and global pandemics. People figure that whatever political problems it might have will prove transient — just as happened before. -more-


The PTB (Powers That Be) want you to feel afraid, powerless, desperate and apathetic. Don't fall for that. Stay positive! These systems of power were built by humans and they can be dismantled by humans.

What we can do:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sheriffs from Colorado, elsewhere sue state over legal pot

Sheriffs, lawyers from 3 states sue Colorado over marijuana legalization
DENVER (AP) -- Ten sheriffs from three different states sued Colorado Thursday for legalizing marijuana.

The sheriffs from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska say that Colorado's 2012 marijuana legalization vote violates federal law and shouldn't be permitted.

"A state may not establish its own policy that is directly counter to federal policy against trafficking in controlled substance," the sheriffs argue in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to legal weed. Separately, Nebraska and Oklahoma have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down marijuana legalization in Colorado. The Supreme Court hasn't said yet whether it will hear that case.

And a group of Colorado residents has filed its own federal challenge, saying marijuana reduces property values.
The sheriffs note that more than half of Colorado's recreational pot sales last year were sold to out-of-state visitors, according to data from Colorado's marijuana regulators. The sheriffs say the weed is spilling across state lines. Even in Colorado, the sheriffs say, legal weed forces police officers to violate federal drug law.

"The scheme enacted by Colorado for retail marijuana is contrary and obstructive" to federal drug laws, the sheriffs argue.

Marijuana legalization opponents joined a news conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday and praised the legal challenges.

"Although states should be able to determine appropriate penalties, we need uniform federal drug laws regarding legalization," Kevin Sabet, head of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a statement.
But the lawsuit was brushed off by others, including U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who supports legal marijuana.

"This lawsuit is a silly attempt to circumvent the will of Colorado voters and is a waste of time," Polis said in a statement.

The Colorado plaintiffs are Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day, Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Herp, Hinsdale County Sheriff Ronald Bruce, Kiowa County Sheriff Casey Sheridan and Delta County sheriff Frederick McKee.

The Nebraska plaintiffs are Deuel County Sheriff Adam Hayward, Deuel County Attorney Paul Shaub, Cheyenne County Sheriff John Jenson and Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman.

The Kansas plaintiffs are Sherman County Sheriff Burton Pianalto and Charles Moser, attorney for Sherman, Wallace and Greeley counties.

Colorado's attorney general, which will defend the state pot law in all three lawsuits, did not immediately respond to the sheriffs' filing Thursday.

Colorado has until March 27 to respond to the lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Kristen Wyatt can be reached at

Sheriffs lawsuit:

'I agree with Polis, this is indeed a waste of time!!!'

Time for a REVEL-ution!

From ROAR Magazine:

Bookchin: living legacy of an American revolutionary

by Federico Venturini on February 28, 2015

An interview with Debbie Bookchin on her father’s contributions to revolutionary theory and the adoption of his ideas by the Kurdish liberation movement.

How did Bookchin arrive at the concept of decentralized democracy?

Murray had spent a lifetime studying revolutionary movements and in fact wrote an entire history of those movements in his four-volume work, The Third Revolution. This study reaffirmed his belief that revolutionary change could not be achieved through activities that remained within the margins of a society – for example, building alternative organizations like food co-ops and free schools, as Critichley proposes – or by creating a massive socialist state, an idea which has been completely discredited and could never gain any kind of widespread appeal. 

Instead, he felt that we had to employ modes of organization that built on the best traditions of revolutionary movements – such as the Paris commune of 1871 and the collectives formed in 1936 revolutionary Spain – an overlooked tradition that enshrines decision-making at the municipal level in neighborhood assemblies that increasingly challenge the hegemony of the nation-state. And because he was an American, he was also looking for a way to build upon traditions that would appeal to an American public, such as the committees of the American Revolution or the New England town meeting style democracy that is still active in places like Vermont today. These are the ideas he discusses in the essays in this book.

Bookchin is known for his writings on ecology, hierarchy and capitalism — collected under the umbrella of what he called ‘social ecology’. How do the ideas in this book emerge from the concept of social ecology? 

One of Murray’s central contributions to Left thought was his insistence, back in the early 1960s, that all ecological problems are social problems. Social ecology starts from this premise: that we will never properly address climate change, the poisoning of the earth with pesticides and the myriad of other ecological problems that are increasingly undermining the ecological stability of the planet, until we address underlying issues of domination and hierarchy. This includes domination based on gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation, as well as class distinctions. 

Eradicating those forms of oppression immediately raises the question of how to organize society in a fashion that maximizes freedom. So the ideas about popular assemblies presented in this book grow naturally out of the philosophy of social ecology. They address the question of how to advance revolutionary change that will achieve true freedom for individuals while still allowing for the social organization necessary to live harmoniously with each other and the natural world.

Popular assemblies are part of the renewed importance that Bookchin gives to municipal organization. When and why did Bookchin begin to focus on these issues?

Murray had begun thinking about these issues early on, in the 1960s. He addresses them even in 1968, in his essay, “The Forms of Freedom.” But this question, of political and social organization, especially consumed Murray in the last two decades of his life, when the essays we’ve collected here were written. When Murray saw the predicament of the alter-globalization movement and similar movements, he asserted that simply engaging in “festivals of the oppressed” failed to offer a structural framework within which to address deep-seated social and economic inequities. 

He had spent more than three decades working within the anarchist tradition but had come to feel that anarchism didn’t deal adequately with the question of power and political organization. Instead, he advocated a localized, grassroots democratic social philosophy, which he called Communalism. He called the political expression of that idea Libertarian Municipalism. He believed that by developing and institutionalizing general assemblies on the local level we could re-empower ourselves as active citizens, charting the course of our communities and economies and confederating with other local assemblies. 

He envisioned this self-government as becoming increasingly strong as it solidified into a “dual power,” that would challenge, and ultimately dismantle, the power of the nation-state. Murray occasionally used the term Communalism interchangeably with Libertarian Municipalism but generally he thought of Communalism as the umbrella political philosophy and Libertarian Municipalism as its political practice, which entails the running of candidates on the municipal level, municipalizing the economy and the like.

Read the entire article here.



Tariq Ali: The Time Is Right for a Palace Revolution

By Chris Hedges on March 1, 2015

PRINCETON, N.J.—Tariq Ali is part of the royalty of the left. His more than 20 books on politics and history, his seven novels, his screenplays and plays and his journalism in the Black Dwarf newspaper, the New Left Review and other publications have made him one of the most trenchant critics of corporate capitalism. He hurls rhetorical thunderbolts and searing critiques at the oily speculators and corporate oligarchs who manipulate global finance and the useful idiots in the press, the political system and the academy who support them. The history of the late part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century has proved Ali, an Oxford-educated intellectual and longtime gadfly who once stood as a Trotskyist candidate for Parliament in Britain, to be stunningly prophetic.

For information about Tariq Ali’s new book, “The Extreme Centre: A Warning,” click here.
The Pakistani-born Ali, who holds Pakistani and British citizenships, was already an icon of the left during the convulsions of the 1960s. Mick Jagger is said to have written “Street Fighting Man” after he attended an anti-war rally in Grosvenor Square on March 17, 1968, led by Ali, Vanessa Redgrave and others outside the U.S. Embassy in London. Some 8,000 protesters hurled mud, stones and smoke bombs at riot police. Mounted police charged the crowd. Over 200 people were arrested.
Ali, when we met last week shortly before he delivered the Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture at Princeton University, praised the street clashes and open, sustained protests against the state that erupted during the Vietnam War. He lamented the loss of the radicalism that was nurtured by the 1960s counterculture, saying it was “unprecedented in imperial history” and produced the “most hopeful period” in the United States, “intellectually, culturally and politically.”

“I cannot think of an example of any other imperial war in history, and not just in the history of the American empire but in the history of the British and French empires, where you had tens of thousands of former GIs and sometimes serving GIs marching outside the Pentagon and saying they wanted the Vietnamese to win,” he said. “That is a unique event in the annals of empire. That is what frightened and scared the living daylights out of them [those in power]. If the heart of our apparatus is becoming infected, [they asked] what the hell are we going to do?”

This defiance found expression even within the halls of the Establishment. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings about the Vietnam War openly challenged and defied those who were orchestrating the bloodshed. “The way that questioning was conducted educated a large segment of the population,” Ali said of the hearings, led by liberals such as J. William Fulbright. Ali then added sadly that “such hearings could never happen again.”

“That [spirit is what the ruling elite] had to roll back, and that they did quite successfully,” he said. “That rollback was completed by the implosion of the Soviet Union. They sat down and said, ‘Great, now we can do whatever we want. There is nothing abroad, and what we have at home—kids protesting about South America and Nicaragua and the contras—is peanuts. Gradually the dissent decreased.” By the start of the Iraq War, demonstrations, although large, were usually “one-day affairs.”

“It was an attempt to stop a war. Once they couldn’t stop it, that was the end,” he said about the marches opposing the Iraq War. “It was a spasm. They [authorities] made people feel there was nothing they could do; that whatever people did, those in power would do what they wanted. It was the first realization that democracy itself had been weakened and was under threat.”
The devolution of the political system through the infusion of corporate money, the rewriting of laws and regulations to remove checks on corporate power, the seizure of the press, especially the electronic press, by a handful of corporations to silence dissent, and the rise of the wholesale security and surveillance state have led to “the death of the party system” and the emergence of what Ali called “an extreme center.” Working people are being ruthlessly sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit—a scenario dramatically on display in Greece. And there is no mechanism or institution left within the structures of the capitalist system to halt or mitigate the reconfiguration of the global economy into merciless neofeudalism, a world of masters and serfs.

“This extreme center, it does not matter which party it is, effectively acts in collusion with the giant corporations, sorts out their interests and makes wars all over the world,” Ali said. “This extreme center extends throughout the Western world. This is why more and more young people are washing their hands of the democratic system as it exists. All this is a direct result of saying to people after the collapse of the Soviet Union, ‘There is no alternative.’ ”

The battle between popular will and the demands of corporate oligarchs, as they plunge greater and greater numbers of people around the globe into poverty and despair, is becoming increasingly volatile. Ali noted that even those leaders with an understanding of the destructive force of unfettered capitalism—such as the new, left-wing prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras—remain intimidated by the economic and military power at the disposal of the corporate elites. This is largely why Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, bowed to the demands of European banks for a four-month extension of the current $272 billion bailout for Greece. The Greek leaders were forced to promise to commit to more punishing economic reforms and to walk back from the pre-election promise of Tsipras’ ruling Syriza party to write off a large part of Greece’s sovereign debt. Greece’s debt is 175 percent of its GDP. This four-month deal, as Ali pointed out, is a delaying tactic, one that threatens to weaken widespread Greek support for Syriza. Greece cannot sustain its debt obligations. Greece and European authorities will have to collide. And this collision could trigger a financial meltdown in Greece, see it break free from the eurozone, and spawn popular upheavals in Spain, Portugal and Italy.

 Read page 2 here and page 3 here.

From Popular Resistance:
We The People Have A Few New Ideas About Governance

by Kosmos Staff on February 26, 2015

It might surprise you to know that most states do not emphasize civic education, which includes learning about citizenship, law, and governance. So it is not surprising many US citizens believe government is something far removed from ‘real life’. Even some of the Founding Fathers said ‘common man’ couldn’t be trusted to run the country. Somewhere along the line, the governance of We the People became the domain of They the Few. We the People are not satisfied. Many have lost confidence in the national political process and are appalled at the wars waged in our names, at the broken justice system, our horrendous record on the environment, the lack of respect for teachers, and so on. That does not mean we have lost our faith in governance. That is why  a range of emerging practical solutions being proposed to make governance more participatory are so intriguing, so that ‘common people’ might play a more meaningful role. Here are a few of them. Tom Atlee, author and co-director of the Co-Intelligence Institute, has proposed ‘deliberative councils’ in which a small group of people randomly selected come together as a microcosm of the larger population. These councils study the public issue at hand and make recommendations to their communities and elected officials. Afterward, they part ways and new councils are formed when the next issue arises. Atlee says that this process takes us beyond partisanship to a place of collective responsibility for our shared destiny. At the website for his book, Empowering Public Wisdom, he has developed a manifesto. Here is an excerpt:
Without a collective voice of the whole citizenry to speak wisely and powerfully in our public life, we have become impoverished and imperiled. We need to change that—soon.
Our children—and their children’s children—need us to create this powerful collective voice, because it is their voice too. They need us to ensure that it is wise and heeded, because we and they urgently need our politics and our governance to become sensible, sustainable, creative, and just. Our times are perilous. Nearly everything we love is at stake.
Thomas Paine once said, in his revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, “We have it in our power to begin the world again.” It is so, even now.
We have it in our power to call forth a voice that speaks our best collective wisdom. We have it in our power to cease collectively degrading our lives and destroying our world. We have it in our power to create a new world together—a world that is a true joy for our children—and their children—to live in. We can and must create a voice that can speak this urgent truth for all of us. FULL MANIFESTO
Dr. Steven Kull, Founder and President of Voice of the People has a similar idea, (with a few important distinctions) – Citizen Cabinets. “The national Citizen Cabinet will consist of a base national sample of at least 800 citizens, plus state Citizen Cabinets of at least 400 citizens and district Citizen Cabinets of at least 300—a total of several thousand in the early stages, rising to 120,000 when it is fully built out. These citizens will be scientifically selected to be representative of each jurisdiction and will be connected through an online interface. Each Citizen Cabinet member will serve for 9-12 months, and Internet access will be provided to those who do not already have it. On a regular basis, members of the Citizen Cabinet will go through an online public consultation exercise – called a ‘policymaking simulation’ because it simulates the process elected officials go through — on a pressing issue facing the federal government. For each issue, Citizen Cabinet members will:
  • Get unbiased background information reviewed by experts and congressional staff from both parties
  • Hear competing policy options that are actually on the table and evaluate the strongest pro and con arguments
  • Choose from a menu of policy options or go through an in-depth prioritization process that requires making trade-offs, such as creating a budget
  • Finally, the Citizen Cabinets’ recommendations will be reported to their corresponding Members of Congress, the President, the news media and the public.”
It is worth noting that Voice of the People’s Advisory Board includes twelve former Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, as well as other former federal and state government officials. It also includes leading public opinion researchers, business leaders, academics and scholars, including a Nobel laureate. The Center for Deliberative Democracy, housed in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, is devoted to research about democracy and public opinion obtained through Deliberative Polling®. Deliberative Polling®, developed by Professor James S. Fishkin, is a technique which combines deliberation in small group discussions with scientific random sampling to provide public consultation for public policy and for electoral issues. A number of Deliberative Polls have been conducted in various countries around the world, including China, Japan, Britain, Italy, Bulgaria, Brazil and in the United States – some national and some local.


P. S. REVEL-ution comes from my friend and revolutionary Jon:

Let me tell you what keeps me optimistic, though cautiously so, and I wish others can join me in this. Is here any doubt that this system is brittle--hard but fragile? Look at how terrified they were of Occupy, enough to come down hard on predominantly white young people with force because it was POLITICALLY threatening, like the sixties mass mobilizations against the war which deeply affected the guys and women in uniform to the point of ineffectiveness.

Long ago I adopted a dialectical way of looking at history--long period of quantitative change that suddenly, like a breaking wave that has traveled maybe thousands of miles across open ocean, becomes a qualitative change that leads a disintegration of the existing order. That happened in a positive way (from my perspective) in 1917, 1949, 1959, 1970, 1990, 1998. These were the years of victorious revolutions, either by force of electoral process. However, these gains have in many cases been sabotaged and reversed. But the "game" is still on. The empire is literally UNSUSTAINABLE. It will come to an end, but how and when are the big questions. That is up to us, the people of the world. Now is not the time to allow despair to win.

I have a name for the process we must embrace: REVEL-ution--the conscious and exuberant dismantling of the structures of oppression. It was happening in Egypt, in Wisconsin, in Occupy, and is continuing in Venezuela and Cuba. Join it! Did you know that currently there is in Hawai'i a genuine national liberation struggle for full sovereign independence? Did you know that the US claim to its sovereignty is BOGUS, even today, "statehood" notwithstanding? See for more information.

This is the "dark hour before dawn." As we used to say in the sixties, "Can you dig it?" REVEL-ution is groovy!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The long war of foreverness

by Mark Fiore

Peter Z. Scheer leaves Truthdig

Closing statement by Peter Z. Scheer on leaving

That's All Folks
by Peter Z. Scheer

Luke Bowerman
Lest some colleague accuse me of burying the lede, here it is up front: I’m leaving Truthdig. In case you don’t know me, I’m the managing editor, which means I more or less run the show. (Truth is, our talented staff does most of the hard work.) I feel strange about leaving. Roll with me—I have some things to get off my chest.

When I started this job nine or so years ago, George W. Bush was in his second term and the U.S. was plainly stuck in two costly, deadly, seemingly endless wars. America was torturing people. Our government routinely lied about pretty much everything. Bush’s attorney general, who tried to eliminate all traces of marijuana and boobies from the national landscape, was replaced by a guy who was somehow worse. The people of New Orleans were drowning and waiting to be saved by the horse enthusiast who was in charge of FEMA. In those times, running Truthdig was a lot easier. The targets were clearly marked.

In a period when the press at large had mostly failed in its duty, Truthdig would avoid quibbling about the obvious and dig for lesser-known truths about the day’s events. We would mine these truths from experts, on-the-ground reports and the small crevices of the Internet and broadcast them as far as our readers, friends and online allies would carry them.

Now, as I write this, an original print of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster sits behind me, Barack Obama’s eyes overseeing everything I type. How appropriate given what we now know about the NSA. I cannot think of a greater disappointment than President Obama—like so many millions of other Americans, I completely fell for it. I remember sitting in a Nevada home surrounded by volunteers from California, Chicago and elsewhere. Among those migrants were disaffected Republicans who may have more clearly recognized a fellow traveler in the candidate. I thought then that they were the dupes. I was wrong. Regardless, we were united by a common desire for profound change, and we seemed to have found a vehicle for it in Obama. Of course he would go on to squander it all. Truthdig covered the hell out of Obama’s fall from grace. It wasn’t easy, or popular.

Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—these had been natural villains for us to pick on. Obama turned out to be an American tragedy. I think of all the young Obama volunteers sleeping in their cars and on couches, sacrificing their time, comfort, energy and zeal for the man. He marched them from a mountaintop of idealism into a cynical swamp. In doing so, he destroyed my generation’s faith in the political process. It won’t come back. I keep the poster of the young, idealized Obama to remind me not of the man but of the hope—raw and addictive and now gone.

As the Obama years were getting underway, terror raged—not in the form of a missile, bomb or hijacked airplane but of a financial system that apparently still gets to do whatever the fuck it wants. I remember Paul Krugman saying that if the stimulus package was not twice the size of what was being offered, America would end up with a slow, Japanese-style recovery that would take a decade or more. He was right, obviously. Through its timidity, the government crushed my generation’s belief in the economy: Jobless and with few prospects, we were forced to go back to live with our parents ... unless their homes had been foreclosed.

The Occupy movement restored, for a wonderful moment, the flicker of hope, until some mostly Democratic mayors helped snuff it out. That was a great story to cover. Less so drones, extrajudicial assassinations and mass deportations, including those of refugee children. Obama’s legacy, as he so often reminds us, is that Detroit—the city bankrupt and the U.S. auto industry now owned in part by Fiat—still kind of makes cars, albeit in Mexico. Also, we have a somewhat reformed health care system, of which I am admittedly a beneficiary.

Don’t get me started on the national security state. It is baffling to me to think that Richard Nixon’s presidency was brought down by a burglary, while the NSA and other intelligence agencies continue to stampede the Constitution without repercussion. They want to know who you are, what you do, what you say and what you think, and will put you in prison if you dare let anyone know the full extent of what they’re up to. That’s America now, and the collective reaction is “Meh.”

Where does that apathy come from? Some people blame America’s young, but these kids live on a planet that is melting and they exist under a government whose only accountability is to billionaires. Is it apathy, or resignation?

A woman I met while I was at KPFK in Los Angeles one day to broadcast the “Truthdig Radio” show turned to me in tears. She had done the math and figured out she would never be able to pay off her student loans. She begged me to do something about it. Me? Me. The exaggerated power of the blog had become her last, best hope. I promised to try, but never really did. So before I go, let me venture into the area that so worried her.

Allen Ginsberg wrote in the 1950s, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked. ...” I, too, have seen the best minds of my generation go to waste, but not all of these people are starving. On the contrary, many are doing very well by suckling at the teat of corporate America as they tithe to the student-loan sharks, hoping to hold on to some security in an increasingly frightening world. People in their 20s and 30s no longer have the luxury of “finding themselves,” as their parents used to call it.

The late billionaire Steve Jobs told the assembled graduating students of Stanford University just two years before the nation’s economic collapse, “You’ve got to find what you love.” Because, he elaborated, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

I have two friends who would like to be artists. Instead, one is now a graphic designer, the other makes Internet ads. I have a friend who loves to act; he’s a lawyer. Journalism is now a training camp for PR. The best mathematicians go to work for Wall Street investment firms. Many of these people are shackled to what is estimated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. By law, they are not allowed to default. In 1972, the year Jobs dropped out of college, the average annual cost for a four-year education, including fees, room and board, was $2,031, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. In 2013 it was $23,872. That’s an increase of more than 1,100 percent. Reed College, which Jobs attended for six months, now costs $59,960 a year for tuition, room and board, a figure greater than the net worth of the typical American household. Not including books, transportation and other expenses, that’s $239,840 for a bachelor’s degree, which is significantly less valuable in the marketplace now than it was in 1972.

And so artists become decorators, anthropologists join global marketing firms and documentarians make crap about Hitler and interplanetary aliens for the History Channel.

These are the lucky ones, the ones who have good jobs and can live well as they lose their creative ambition. There are millions more who must choose between rent and food, who are forced to toil more for fewer dollars and less opportunity.

Let’s think about the long-term consequences of a culture’s failure to value historians, philosophers, artists, musicians, writers and teachers. This attitude and the burden imposed by the student loan system ensure our social slide from passionate to pacified. We’re taking a generation of educated, potentially independent thinkers and turning it into an organ of multinational corpulence. One day we’ll all wake up to our morning news sponsored by Chevron, eat our sodium flakes and have Siri walk the dog, and no one will remember the name Allen Ginsberg.

When the best and brightest are chained to a monthly loan payment that leaves them just enough for food, housing and some minor consumer distraction to get them back on the hamster wheel, they’re never really going to do anything about global warming, or Ebola, or Syria, or poverty, or hunger, or the war in the Congo that killed 5.4 million people while no one was paying attention. Those things will exist on Twitter, where great ideas, thought up in stolen moments at work, go to shrink and die.
And that’s where the news business seems to be headed. Readers often ask me what happened to Mr. Fish. I’ll tell you. The Truthdig contributor, who has been called an artistic genius by some, used to make a living selling his prize-winning cartoons to news outlets and other buyers. The author of multiple books and curator of an exhibition on the subject, he is possibly one of the nation’s leading experts on editorial cartooning. He also works for Whole Foods. Je suis Charlie.

I do not know what can save journalism, but I can tell you flat out that there is no other site like Truthdig on the Internet. It is, despite many challenges, a unique platform for smart, irked, independent people who still care about important things. If the world is to stand any chance of penetrating the dense smog of stupidity and nonsense that has come to dominate journalism, it needs this website, and others like it, to thrive.

My favorite article that I wrote for Truthdig is a remembrance of Gore Vidal. I got to meet the famed author, wit and public character only because he was a contributor. He once used the phrase “Ave atque vale.” It’s a Latin line from Catullus, meaning “Hail and farewell.” With a nod to Gore, I say hail and farewell to my Truthdig readers, colleagues and friends. I’m leaving because I have the itch to try something new. I’ll visit from time to time and contribute an article on occasion.

I’m sorry if I brought you down with this little essay. After all, there is some cause for optimism. My generation’s chances for greatness have not withered entirely. There are brave spirits, champions who have fought the machine and continue to endure its wrath, ones who have been celebrated in the pages of Truthdig. They, and those who came before them, give me tremendous confidence in the American experiment. I speak of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and his colleague Barrett Brown, Jose Antonio Vargas, Tim DeChristopher, Lynne Stewart, Jeremy Hammond and members of the Anonymous collective. The list could go on for pages, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? These people are heroes not only for their actions but for giving us faith that not everyone’s reaction to tyranny, social injustice and corporate rule is a collective sigh of resignation. And they number in the thousands.

I leave Truthdig strong. It is a beacon of principle and hope. Thomas Paine wrote, “An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot; it will succeed where diplomatic management would fall: it is neither the Rhine, the Channel, nor the ocean that can arrest its progress: it will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer.”

I believe that. I leave it to whoever succeeds me at Truthdig, and to the excellent editors and contributors already here, to make it so.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

John Boehner: White House “has attacked” Netanyahu

| House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says Congress has "every right" to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Dianne Feinstein "very concerned" about Netanyahu speech


| Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, discusses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech before Congress.

New tensions erupt between the White House and Netanyahu


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a news conference near Jerusalem Wednesday. (Nir Elias/Reuters)



February 25
Tensions between the White House and Benjamin Netanyahu escalated Wednesday as top administration officials condemned the Israeli prime minister’s plan to address Congress next week and Netanyahu accused six world powers, including the United States, of “giving up on their commitment” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The unusually public spat marked one of the lowest points in a relationship that has long bonded the two countries. Although the new round of recriminations reflected the frosty personal relations between President Obama and Netanyahu, it came at a critical juncture in multilateral talks designed to prevent Iran from using a civilian program to develop a nuclear weapon.
The prime minister has said the unfolding deal — to which Iran has not yet agreed — could pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. Obama, however, considers a deal a potential legacy that could ease nuclear tensions, lift trade restrictions on Iran and alter the region’s strategic calculus.

Congressional Democrats have been caught in the middle of the dispute. On Wednesday, Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) became the fourth senator to say he would skip Netanyahu’s speech, calling its timing “highly inappropriate.” Several members of the House also have said they will boycott the speech.

The latest volley of high-level criticism began when national security adviser Susan E. Rice, appearing Tuesday night on “Charlie Rose,” condemned Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to appear at a joint meeting of Congress shortly before Israel’s elections.

At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry took a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over sanctions with Iran. (AP)
By bypassing the White House, dealing only with GOP leaders and scheduling the speech just before Israelis vote, Netanyahu had “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate,” Rice said, “I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.”

At a Likud political convention in the Maale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem, Netanyahu fired back. “I respect the White House and the president of the United States, but on such a critical topic that could determine whether we exist or not, it is my duty to do everything to prevent this great danger to the state of Israel,” he said.

Congress could play a critical role in the Iran talks. It is weighing whether to add new sanctions to the current ones.

The existing sanctions, and those adopted by the European Union, are widely viewed as having helped push Iran to the bargaining table.

But Obama has vowed to veto any new sanctions and has urged Congress to wait at least a month for the outcome of the negotiations. Obama has said that if the talks fail, he will move to tighten economic restrictions.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry defended the administration’s negotiations in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee — and took a swipe at Netanyahu.

“I’ll tell you, Israel is safer today with the added time we have given and the stoppage of the advances of the Iranian nuclear program than before,” Kerry said. Referring to the accord that eased sanctions slightly while negotiations took place, he said: “We got that agreement — which, by the way, the prime minister opposed. He was wrong. And today he’s saying we should be extending that interim agreement.”

President Obama says not meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March is standard protocol for foreign leaders running in an election. (Reuters)

No love has been lost between Obama and Netanyahu.
“This is clearly the most dysfunctional relationship between an American and Israeli leader,” said Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center and a former U.S. negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations. Moreover, he said, “the durability is troubling.”

He said that earlier tensions preceded incremental peace accords but that Obama and Netanyahu remain far apart on basic issues and that Kerry’s efforts to bring Israel and Palestinians together failed.

Now their personal tensions have put Democratic lawmakers in awkward positions that threaten bipartisanship when it comes to Israel.
Democrats have been wrestling over whether to boycott the speech, as senior Obama administration officials plan to do. This will be the third time Netanyahu has addressed the full Congress, tying Winston Churchill’s record.
Because Netanyahu did not arrange his visit through the White House, Obama has said that he will not meet with him, and Vice President Biden has made plans to travel abroad.

“This puts Democrats in a position where they have to choose between their support for Israel and their Democratic president — and do it in a very visible way,” said Martin Indyk, a vice president at the Brookings Institution and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“There is no reason to schedule this speech before Israeli voters go to the polls on March 17 and choose their own leadership,” Kaine said in a statement Wednesday. “I am disappointed that, as of now, the speech has not been postponed. For this reason, I will not attend the speech.”

Kaine will join Senate colleagues Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in skipping the address.

According to an unofficial estimate by one Senate Democrat, about 30 members of that caucus are expected to attend the speech and nearly 15 others are still deciding whether to boycott. One such Democrat is Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a freshman who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“It’s really offensive, but I think it’s a protocol breach, not a policy break,” he said.

Generally an ally of Israel, Murphy said his biggest concern was the spectacle occurring so close to the Israeli elections. “I don’t want to be part of a campaign speech,” he said. “It makes the whole thing look more politics-based.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which said it didn’t know about Netanyahu’s plans ahead of time, said lawmakers should put aside the protocol issues and listen to the prime minister’s message on the Iran talks.

Netanyahu was invited by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) to attend a separate event with Democratic lawmakers, but he declined. In a letter, he said that it “could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said: “It’s unseemly what the Democrats have done to try and make this a political issue. I think the president has acted like an oaf, an oaf. O-a-f. . . . I don’t even want to get into it. I’m just mad.”

Meanwhile, leaked details about Iran nuclear negotiations have made many lawmakers more interested in what Netanyahu has to say.

“I think his voice will resonate more credibly if that’s the deal that’s in the making,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Both the president and prime minister share the goal of preventing Iran from going nuclear. How to get there is what separates them.” Foxman initially called Netanyahu’s speech “ill-advised” but now says he will attend.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of Obama’s strongest allies on the Hill, plans to attend Netanyahu’s speech. “I’m interested in what the prime minister is going to say,” Reed said. “I think it’s already been made an unnecessarily complicated political issue, but there is still this need to learn as much as we can about the situation.”

Many will hear Netanyahu on Monday, when he addresses the annual AIPAC convention. AIPAC expects 16,000 people to attend, including about 50 lawmakers.

Katie Zezima and Mike DeBonis in Washington and William Booth in Israel contributed to this report.

'Ok, so I caught the interviews with both Boehner and Feinstein this morning, and my reaction is that Boehner is a Bozo and Feinstein should have taken the time to share her views!!!'