Down, down, down….

There just isn’t much to add to the graph shown above. People the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as employed make up 58.45 percent of the civilian noninstitutionalized population aged 16 or older. That’s still higher than the 57.88 percent level for 1983.

By the way, Shadow Government Statistics estimates unemployment now exceeds 22 percent. Oh, and as for that claim we keep hearing about how the rate of job loss keeps decreasing? The truth is a little more mixed but on the whole, the situation this year is worse than last year:

Ignoring who votes when and why

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the results of yesterday’s election are being interpreted in a variety of ways and that there’s a fair amount of posturing over the significance of off-year election results. But hardly any notice is being given to a referendum victory repealing a right to same sex marriage in Maine, while lots of people are fascinated by a Republican failure in an election which became a clash between conservative and “moderate” factions in New York’s 23rd District for an apparently not so “safe seat” in the House of Representatives vacated when President Obama appointed Republican John McHugh as Army Secretary.

Many are also taking notice of Democrat losses in Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. One thing that appears clear here is that voters under age 30 didn’t show up in the proportion they had for the presidential election last year. That’s buried pretty deep in Dan Balz’s article but E. J. Dionne figures it prominently, noting that “Democrats are more dependent on young voters than ever before.”

Same sex marriage advocates are also dependent upon younger voters. It’s hard to expect under-30s (or many other people, for that matter) to get terribly excited about off-year elections. That’s why I think the Maine results might be more significant than these other races; if the turnout in the under-30 age group was subpar, the outcome might also augur poorly for another attempt to repeal the same-sex marriage ban in California in 2010, where a rift has opened up between smaller grassroots groups who are unwilling to wait and the largest advocacy group, Equality California, over delaying to campaign to 2012. So while Ruth Marcus warns against reading much (see the Center for American Progress for more) into these results, all these groups and President Obama as well would be mistaken to overlook who votes for what reasons and when they do so.

Waiting til 2012 means tying a campaign’s fortunes to a presidential campaign. If multiple campaigns are seeking to energize a particular demographic, the synergy should benefit both. That wasn’t enough to defeat California’s Proposition 8 in 2008. I haven’t found a breakdown by age of Maine voter turnout, but the results might well show it doesn’t work to ignore demographics either. And this is where Progressive voters’ disappointments might prove costly. Obama will need to earn the Progressive vote in 2012 that provided a margin of victory in 2008; right-wing bleating notwithstanding, he hasn’t been doing that.

But while Progressives may celebrate a fission between “moderates” and conservatives among Republicans, they have long justified support for Democrats on the ill-founded assumption that Democrats are better than Republicans. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton–both leading contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2008–have now convincingly demonstrated the futility of that assumption.

Electoral prospects are already dim for same sex marriage rights advocates. Writing for the Des Moines Register, Reid Forgrave points out that they have lost contests in 31 of 31 states.

It isn’t just gays whose human rights are on the line. Mine (along with those of all the unemployed and underemployed) are. Guantanamo detainee‘s are. With the Obama administration’s perpetuation of post-9/11 security provisions, nearly everyone’s are.

So rather than focusing on the minutae of off-year electoral results, we ought to be asking whose rights the U.S. political system is capable of guaranteeing. Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, argues that “Never before has a majority voted on a minority’s right. It’s time for that to end.” But what we’re seeing is a system which performs just as James Madison intended in Federalist No. 10, protecting the minority rights not of any disadvantaged or stigmatized group, but of white, wealthy males.

That makes these results much more important than any of these pundits suggest.

No change in US ‘Mafia principle’, says Noam Chomsky

From, by Mamoon Alabbasi, edited by David Benfell:

Top American intellectual sees no significant change of US foreign policy under Obama.

As civilised people across the world breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of former US president George W. Bush, top American intellectual Noam Chomsky warned against assuming or expecting significant changes in the basis of Washington’s foreign policy under President Barack Obama.

During two lectures organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, Chomsky cited numerous examples of the driving doctrines behind US foreign policy since the end of World War II.

“As Obama came into office, Condoleezza Rice predicted that he would follow the policies of Bush’s second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style,” said Chomsky.

“But it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric. Deeds commonly tell a different story,” he added.

“There is basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional conception that we if can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world,” explained Chomsky.

Chomsky said that a leading doctrine of US foreign policy during the period of its global dominance is what he termed as “the Mafia principle.”

“The Godfather does not tolerate ‘successful defiance’. It is too dangerous. It must therefore be stamped out so that others understand that disobedience is not an option,” said Chomsky.

Because the US sees “successful defiance” of Washington as a “virus” that will “spread contagion,” he explained.


The US had feared this “virus” of independent thought from Washington by Tehran and therefore acted to overthrow the Iranian parliamentary democracy in 1953.

“The goal in 1953 was to retain control of Iranian resources,” said Chomsky.

However, “in 1979 the (Iranian) virus emerged again. The US at first sought to sponsor a military coup; when that failed, it turned to support Saddam Hussein’s merciless invasion (of Iran).”

“The torture of Iran continued without a break and still does, with sanctions and other means,” said Chomsky.

“The US continued, without a break, its torture of Iranians,” he stressed.

Nuclear attack

Chomsky mocked the idea presented by mainstream media that a future-nuclear-armed Iran may attack already-nuclear-armed Israel.

“The chance of Iran launching a missile attack, nuclear or not, is about at the level of an asteroid hitting the earth — unless, of course, the ruling clerics have a fanatic death wish and want to see Iran instantly incinerated along with them,” said Chomsky, stressing that this is not the case.

Chomsky further explained that the presence of US anti-missile weapons in Israel are really meant for preparing a possible attack on Iran, and not for self-defence, as it is often presented.

“The systems are advertised as defense against an Iranian attack. But . . . the purpose of the US interception systems, if they ever work, is to prevent any retaliation to a US or Israeli attack on Iran — that is, to eliminate any Iranian deterrent,” said Chomsky.


Chomsky reminded the audience of America’s backing of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during and even after Iraq’s war with Iran.

“The Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the (Iran-Iraq) war. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, then under Gorge Bush I, to receive advanced weapons’ training,” said Chomsky.

This support continued while Saddam was committing atrocities against his own people, until he fell out of US favour when in 1990 he invaded Kuwait, an even closer alley of Washington.

“In 1990, Saddam defied, or more likely misunderstood orders, and he quickly shifted from favourite friend to the reincarnation of Hitler,” Chomsky added.

Then the people of Iraq were subjected to “genocidal” US-backed sanctions.

Chomsky explained that although the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was launched under many false pretexts and lies, was a ” major crime”, many critics of the invasion – including Obama – viewed it as merely as “a mistake” or a “strategic blunder.”

“It’s probably what the German general staff was telling Hitler after Stalingrad,” he said.

“There’s nothing principled about it. It wasn’t a strategic blunder: it was a major crime,” he added.

Chomsky credited the holding of elections in Iraq in 2005 to popular Iraqi demand, despite initial US objection.

The US military, he argued, could kill as many Iraqi insurgents as it wished, but it was more difficult to shoot at non-violent protesters in the streets out on the open, which meant Washington at times had to give in to public Iraqi pressure.

But despite being pressured to announce a withdrawal from Iraq, the US continues to seek a long term presence in the country.

The US mega-embassy in Baghdad is to be expanded under Obama, noted Chomsky.


Chomsky stressed that public pressure in the ‘West’ can make a positive difference for people suffering from the aggression of ‘Western’ governments.

“There is a lot of comparison between opposition to the Iraq war with opposition to the Vietnam war, but people tend to forget that at first there was almost no opposition to the Vietnam war,” said Chomsky.

“In the Iraq war, there were massive international protests before it officially stated… and it had an effect. The United States could not use the tactics used in Vietnam: there was no saturation bombing by B52s, so there was no chemical warfare – (the Iraq war was) horrible enough, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

“And furthermore, the Bush administration had to back down on its war aims, step by step,” he added.

“It had to allow elections, which it did not want to do: mainly a victory for non-Iraqi protests. They could kill insurgents; they couldn’t deal hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Their hands were tied by the domestic constraints. They finally had to abandon – officially at least – virtually all the war aims,” said Chomsky.

“As late as November 2007, the US was still insisting that the ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ allow for an indefinite US military presence and privileged access to Iraq’s resources by US investors – well they didn’t get that on paper at least. They had to back down. OK, Iraq is a horror story but it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

“So yes, protests can do something. When there is no protest and no attention, a power just goes wild, just like in Cambodia and northern Laos,” he added.


Chomsky said that Turkey could become a “significant independent actor” in the region, if it chooses to.

“Turkey has to make some internal decisions: is it going to face west and try to get accepted by the European Union or is it going to face reality and recognise that Europeans are so racist that they are never going to allow it in?” said Chomsky.

The Europeans “keep raising the barrier on Turkish entry to the EU,” he explained.

But Chomsky said Turkey did become an independent actor in March 2003 when it followed its public opinion and did not take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Turkey took notice of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its population, which opposed the invasion.

But ‘New Europe’ was led by Berlusconi of Italy and Aznar of Spain, who rejected the views of their populations – which strongly objected to the Iraq war – and preferred to follow Bush, noted Chomsky.

So, in that sense Turkey was more democratic than states that took part in the war, which in turn infuriated the US.

Today, Chomsky added, Turkey is also acting independently by refusing to take part in the US-Israeli military exercises.

Fear factor

Chomsky explained that although ‘Western’ government use “the maxim of Thucydides” (‘the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must’), their peoples are hurled via the “fear factor.”

Via cooperative media and complicit intellectuals, the public is led to believe that all the crimes and atrocities committed by their governments is either “self defence” or “humanitarian intervention”.


Chomsky noted that Obama has escalated Bush’s war in Afghanistan, using NATO.

NATO is also seen as reinforcing US control over energy supplies.

But the US also used NATO to keep Europe under control.

“From the earliest post-World War days, it was understood that Western Europe might choose to follow an independent course,” said Chomsky.”NATO was partially intended to counter this serious threat,” he added.

Middle East oil

Chomsky explained that Middle East oil reserves were understood to be “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” the most “strategically important area in the world,” in Eisenhower’s words.

Control of Middle East oil would provide the United States with “substantial control of the world.”

This meant that the US “must support harsh and brutal regimes and block democracy and development” in the Middle East.


Chomsky tackled the origins of the Somali piracy issue.

“Piracy is not nice, but where did it come from?”

Chomsky explained that one of the immediate reasons for piracy is European counties and others are simply “destroying Somalia’s territorial waters by dumping toxic waste – probably nuclear waste – and also by overfishing.”

“What happens to the fishermen in Somalia? They become pirates. And then we’re all upset about the piracy, not about having created the situation,” said Chomsky.

Chomsky went on to cite another example of harming Somalia.

“One of the great achievements of the war on terror, which was greatly hailed in the press when it was announced, was closing down an Islamic charity – Barakat – which was identified as supporting terrorists.

“A couple of months later . . . the (US) government quietly recognised that they were wrong, and the press may have had a couple of lines about it – but meanwhile, it was a major blow against Somalia. Somalia doesn’t have much of an economy but a lot of it was supported by this charity: not just giving money but running banks and businesses, and so on.

“It was a significant part of the economy of Somalia . . . closing it down… was another contributing factor to the breaking down of a very weak society . . . and there are other examples.”


Chomsky also touched on Sudan’s Darfur region.

“There are terrible things going on in Darfur, but in comparison with the region they don’t amount to a lot unfortunately – like what’s going on in eastern Congo is incomparably worse than in Darfur.

“But Darfur is a very popular topic for Western humanists because you can blame it on an enemy – you have to distort a lot but you can blame it on ‘Arabs’, ‘bad guys’,” he explained.

“What about saving eastern Congo where maybe 20 times as many people have been killed? Well, that gets kind of tricky . . . for people who . . . are using minerals from eastern Congo that obtained by multinationals sponsoring militias which slaughter and kill and get the minerals,” he said.

Or the fact that Rwanda is simply the worst of the many agents and it is a US alley, he added.

Goldstone’s Gaza report

Chomsky appeared to have agreed with Israel that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war was biased, only he saw it as biased in favour of Israel.

The Goldstone report had acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defence, although it denounced the method this was conducted.

Chomsky stressed that the right to self-defence does not mean resorting to military force before “exhausting peaceful means”, something Israel did not even contemplate doing.

In fact, Chomsky points out, it was Israel who broke the ceasefire with Hamas and refused to extend it, as continuing the siege of Gaza itself is an act of war.

As for the current stalled Mideast peace process, Chomsky said that despite adopting a tougher tone towards Israel than that of Bush, Obama made no real effort to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations.

In the absence of the threat of cutting US aid for Israel, there is no compelling reason why Tel Aviv should listen to Washington.

What can be done?

Chomsky stressed that despite all the obstacles, public pressure can and does make a difference for the better, urging people to continue activism and spreading knowledge.

“There is no reason to be pessimistic, just realistic.”

Chomsky noted that public opinion in the US and Britain is increasingly becoming more aware of the crimes committed by Israel.

“Public opinion is shifting substantially.”

And this is where a difference can be made, because Israel will not change its policies without pressure from the ‘West’.

“There is a lot to do in Western countries . . . primarily in the US.”

Chomsky also stressed the importance of taking legal action in ‘Western’ countries against companies breaking international law via illegitimate dealings with Israel, citing the possible involvement of British Gas in Israeli theft of natural gas off the coast of Gaza, as one example that should be investigated.

In conclusion of one of the lectures, Chomsky quoted Antonio Gramsci who famously called for “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

Losing touch

It is bad enough that the Obama administration does little more than pay lip service to the economic suffering in this country. People in the United States probably will suffer the ill effects of poverty, including reduced life spans and reduced access to economic, health, education, and developmental opportunities as a result.

And it is deplorable that Obama has opted to support renewal of onerous Patriot act provisions even after previously supporting reform.

But overseas, people are dying at an accelerated pace. Hillary Clinton, whom some are wishing were president instead, has been grabbing attention on an overseas trip. Calling Israeli settlement so-called concessions that consolidate their illegal holdings “unprecedented,” she continues a sell-out of the Palestinians that Obama began soon after his widely-praised call for a halt to settlement expansion including the “natural” growth that Israelis have now “agreed” to continue. The Palestinians, unsurprisingly, are less than impressed; Arab criticism compelled Clinton to rephrase.

This in the wake of Operation Cast Lead which devastated the Gaza Strip. The U.S. and Israel have sought to obstruct any serious investigation of the operation.

Despite previous pledges, the US and EU governments refused to endorse the conclusions of the independent fact-finding mission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The Report found that the entire population of Gaza was still being subjected to collective punishment. Goldstone himself insisted that it was “time for action” when presenting his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence,” he warned.

But, on to Afghanistan, where a run-off for the presidency will no longer be needed, because, as Juan Cole wrote, “Abdullah Abdullah announced . . . that he has withdrawn from the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election on the grounds that the same local officials, appointed by his rival, incumbent Hamid Karzai, will supervise the runoff as winked at massive fraud in the first round. He said that the election cannot be transparent or honest.” The Associated Press reports, “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says Abdullah Abdullah’s call for a boycott of next weekend’s runoff election in Afghanistan will not affect the legitimacy of that runoff.”

Cole writes:

The debate in Washington has been over a counter-insurgency campaign versus a limited counter-terrorism campaign. Counter-insurgency implies a certain amount of state-building. Counter-terrorism implies that state-building is impossible or very, very difficult. Clinton backs counter-insurgency, while Vice President Joe Biden supports counter-terrorism.

The reason Clinton is so eager to insist that Karzai’s election is legitimate despite its obvious illegitimacy is that Abdullah’s withdrawal puts paid to the idea that there is a plausible Afghan government partner for US counter-insurgency. There is not.

Counter-insurgency requires a lot more troops. Counter-terrorism would return the focus of this ill-advised war to where it always should have been (as if war were advisable in the first place): al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, in the same war, but across the border, in Pakistan:

“What is actually terrorism in U.S. eyes?” [a student from a university in Peshawar] asked. “Is it the killing of innocent people in, let’s say, drone attacks? Or is it the killing of innocent people in different parts of Pakistan, like the bomb blast in Peshawar two days ago? Which one is terrorism, do you think?”

Something similar has happened in Honduras, where an agreement to end a coup against President Manuel Zelaya does not guarantee his return to power but does reaffirm a “constitution [which] was imposed upon the Honduran people in 1982 by the outgoing military dictatorship in consultation with the US embassy and was crafted to uphold the interests of the oligarchy that monopolizes the wealth of the country.” The agreement also legitimizes forthcoming elections. The World Socialist Web Site explains:

If the Obama administration did not intervene for four months, it was because it silently backed the aims of the coup regime, while publicly proclaiming its support for constitutional order and democracy. It pursued the same delaying tactics as the Micheletti [coup] regime, seeking to run out the clock on the Zelaya presidency.

It viewed the ouster of Zelaya as a means of countering the influence of Venezuela’s Chávez in the region and securing the interests of US corporations seeking cheap labor in Honduras. Given the close relation between the Honduran military and the Pentagon, which maintains its largest Latin American base in Honduras, it is difficult to believe that the coup itself was carried out without the foreknowledge and approval of Washington.

With barely two months remaining in Zelaya’s presidential term, the Obama administration sees an agreement that may bring Zelaya briefly back as a powerless figurehead as a small price to pay for legitimizing both the coup and the coming election.

It’s a pattern. Obama, when he sees an advantage in doing so, will poignantly highlight grievances, whether on the economy, civil liberties, the occupied territories, making war, or imperialism. As with his visit to Dover Air Force Base on the return of yet more war dead, he makes certain he draws attention. He hears us, we are to understand. And his apologists will insist that he means well.

But Obama’s delivery does not merely fall short. If we omit his fine-sounding words, his actions amount to an often-fatal slap in the face for the oppressed.