Bob Burnett

'Their coverup was so brazen': Quaker activist explains the most surprising aspect of Republicans' impeachment antics

When I learned that Senate Republicans had blocked witness testimony for the Impeachment Trial, I was reminded of the concluding line from T.S. Eliot's 1925 poem, "The Hollow Men:" "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." I wasn't surprised that Republicans voted to let Trump off the hook; I was surprised that their coverup was so brazen.

Keep reading...Show less

6 Big Lessons Learned from Our First Taste of the Trump Presidency

After six months of the Donald Trump presidency, we know what to expect going forward. We’ve learned six lessons.

Keep reading...Show less

Trump’s Top 10 Tax Tricks

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, saying “It’s none of your business” and “there’s nothing to learn.” Of course, there is something to learn from the recent tax returns of a supposed billionaire who seeks to gain the trust of American voters. If we had access to Trump’s returns we’d learn Donald’s top 10 tax tricks.

Keep reading...Show less

Top Ten Reasons Trump Wins the GOP Nomination

New York real-estate mogul and media personality, Donald Trump, is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination. Here are the top ten reasons why Trump will prevail.

Keep reading...Show less

Pope Francis: 2013 Politician of the Year

With the exception of Senator Elizabeth Warren, American politicians had a terrible year. President Obama's approval ratings plummeted along with those of Congress. Indeed, the most popular "politician" in the United States was a non-American, the new head of the Catholic Church, 77-year-old Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis.

Keep reading...Show less

Hypnotized by Ayn Rand and Reaganomics, Republicans Have Completely Lost Touch with Economic Reality

On September 9th, when Congress returns from its summer vacation, negotiations will begin on a new Federal budget and a U.S. debt limit increase. As a quid pro quo Republicans will demand restrictions on Obamacare. Once again, this raises the specter of the GOP pushing the government into default. Why don't Republicans understand that's a terrible idea that would crater the economy?

Keep reading...Show less

Is America Turning into Texas?

On April 17 there was a horrific explosion at the West Chemical and Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 200, destroyed or damaged 150 homes and caused at least $100 million in losses. Five days later, Texas Governor Rick Perry was in Illinois trying to lure business to Texas, praising his state's limited regulations. Is Texas America's future?

Keep reading...Show less

5 Basics for Defending Obamacare

The June 28th Supreme Court decision that let Obamacare stand gives the president, and all Democrats, an opportunity to remake the case that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a good thing. That's a blessing because many American voters do not understand Obamacare.

Keep reading...Show less

5 Reasons Capitalism Has Failed

We live in interesting times. The global economy is splintering. U.S. voters hate all politicians and there's political unrest throughout the world. The root cause of this turmoil is the failure of the dominant economic paradigm -- global corporate capitalism.

Keep reading...Show less

How Obama Squandered the High Hopes of Those Who Elected Him

As he heads for the debt-limit showdown with Republicans, President Obama cannot be comforted by the latest Gallup Poll that shows him trailing the generic Republican presidential candidate by five percentage points. Republicans won't vote for him; Obama has lost support among Independents and has alienated many Democrats. What happened?

Keep reading...Show less

Who Are the Real Terrorists?

President Bush's Monday press conference made two things clear: He's not about to withdraw troops from Iraq, and he's locked into a definition of "terrorist" so general that it's meaningless and, therefore, dangerous. It's time to reconsider: Who are the terrorists: Why are we fighting them? How can we defeat them?

Bush began his "war on terror" with a deliberately vague definition of America's new enemy: a "terrorist" was any group the Administration attached that label to. On 9/20/01 the President said, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

Bush's "war" initially centered on Al Qaeda. The U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan. In the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly James Fallows persuasively argues that Al Qaeda has, for the most part, been defeated. He suggests that it's time to declare "victory" in the war on terror, because the U.S. has diminished the effectiveness of Al Qaeda: "Their command structure is gone, their Afghan sanctuary is gone, their financial and communications networks have been hit hard." He notes there has been "a shift from a coherent Al-Qaeda Central to a global proliferation of 'self-starter' terrorist groups."

Rather than stay focused on Al Qaeda, and their malignant offspring, Bush expanded the scope of his "war." In the 2002 State-of-the-Union address, he denounced Iraq and Syria as state "sponsors" of terrorism. Implied there could be terrorist states.

Subsequently, the Administration convinced Congress and much of the American public that his war on terror necessitated an invasion of Iraq. Bush conflated Al-Qaeda-trained Iraq-based terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, members of Iraq's Baath party, any Iraqi who resisted the occupation, "insurgents", and, ultimately, Sunni Muslims. Bush confused those who fight the U.S. because we are occupying their country -- "resistance" fighters -- with those who are operatives of Al Qaeda and have pledged to destroy America. In his press conference, Bush referred to them all as "terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy." Anyone who opposes the occupation is a "terrorist."

Fallows' Atlantic Monthly article argues that the war in Iraq has greatly hampered Bush's war on terror: "The war in Iraq advanced the jihadist cause because it generates a steady supply of Islamic victims, or martyrs; because it seems to prove Osama bin Laden's contention that America lusts to occupy Islam's sacred sites, abuse Muslim people, and steal Muslim resources; and because it raises the tantalizing possibility that humble Muslim insurgents, with cheap, primitive weapons, can once more hobble and ultimately destroy a superpower..." Nonetheless, Bush stubbornly defends the occupation: "We leave before the mission is done, the terrorists will follow us here."

In his 2002 speech, Bush defined "Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-i-Mohammed" as terrorist organizations. Of these, only "Jaish-i-Mohammed" has direct links to Al Qaeda. "Islamic Jihad" is an umbrella term used by groups in Egypt, Iran, and Syria among others. Hamas and Hezbollah are resistance groups in Palestine and Lebanon, respectively. Whether they deserve the label "terrorist" is debatable.

In 1988, the U.S. deemed Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Nonetheless, the group has little in common with Al Qaeda. Professor Stephen Zunes argues that Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite socio-political organization. Where Al Qaeda is Sunni and stateless, Hezbollah is part of Lebanese society -- holding fourteen seats in Lebanon's National Assembly. Where Al Qaeda has repeatedly threatened the United States, Hezbollah has not. Where Al Qaeda has a long history of terrorist attacks, Hezbollah does not -- Zunes notes that the U.S. accuses Hezbollah of two bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina, attacks most independent experts do not attribute to Hezbollah. Nonetheless, in his news conference Bush referred to Hezbollah as "terrorists." Blamed them for the recent war in Lebanon.

Bush's muddled definition of "terrorist" has had four chilling consequences: It's shifted attention away the eradication of Al Qaeda. It's largely ignored the threat posed by a secondary wave of 'self-starter' terrorist groups; those spawned by the ideology of Al Qaeda. Bush's sloppy thinking produced the debacle in Iraq and led to a mindset where the Administration labels any Middle Eastern "resistance fighter" as a terrorist. Finally, the White House's sweeping, ideological driven definition of terrorist led the Administration to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah, lump them with Al Qaeda; an action that contributed to Israel's decision to invade Palestine and South Lebanon.

American foreign policy needs a fresh start. Rather than continue the Bush approach -- define a terrorist group as anyone we don't like -- it makes more sense to be pragmatic. Let's begin with a more focused definition: A "terrorist" organization is Al Qaeda, or any group that adopts Al Qaeda' objectives and advocates attacks on the U.S. mainland or U.S. citizens. The first step towards real security is for America to be clear about who our enemies are.

That Other America

1962 saw the publication of Michael Harrington's insightful study, The Other America, which vividly described the harried lives of America's poor. This week two polls were released that portrayed another vision of desperation in America, one that progressives are still struggling to understand. Both surveys focused on the voting group termed "faith voters," roughly one-third of the electorate. Faith voters believe that "moral values" is a big issue, in many instances the one issue that decides their vote.

When Democrats gathered in Washington to hear Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair, Howard Dean, give a status report on his first two months in office, they were shown the results of a new poll conducted by Cornell Belcher. This, and a similar Mellman Group survey funded by the powerful EMILY's List political action committee, indicated that the class distinctions that historically distinguished Republicans from Democrats are being replaced by cultural differences. Once it was accurate to characterize the GOP as the party of the upper class and the bourgeoisie, and Democrats as the party of the lower class and the struggling middle class. The two polls indicate that now it is more precise to describe Republican voters as those who care a lot about moral values and go to church often; in contrast, Democratic voters aren't as concerned about moral values and attend church infrequently, if ever.

Taken in conjunction with the results of the 2004 presidential election, these polls clarify the nature of the Democrats' numbers problem. Historically, no matter how good the economy might be, there were always more American poor than rich, and therefore, Democrats always had a numerical superiority over Republicans; in any given election, if Democrats could manage to get out the vote, they would win. Now that familiar formula has changed. Many poor voters are faith voters and the issue of moral values trumps their economic concerns.

According to the Belcher survey, faith voters are worried about issues such as the economy and the deteriorating situation in Iraq, but their number one anxiety is moral values. In the last election, they believed George W. Bush shared their concern, and this proved to be a decisive factor in determining their vote.

Most progressives regard this behavior as perplexing, if not self-destructive. In his recent best-seller, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Thomas Frank depicted faith voters as rubes who foolishly vote against their own self interest because they are, in effect, blinded by the light of their Christian practice.

DNC chair Howard Dean appeared to have a deeper understanding of this cultural divide. He pointed out that while the American economy is struggling, many Democratic partisans are not unduly anxious about economic issues. In contrast, faith voters -- Dean characterized them as "backlash Republicans" or "Reagan Democrats" -- are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Typically both the husband and wife work to make ends meet; often they have more than one job. The family is under extreme economic pressure. They see themselves on the edge of homelessness, a couple of missed paychecks or one serious illness away from losing everything they have. But what the parents are most worried about are their kids.

Dean continued that faith voters typically spend so much time at work that they don't have the opportunity, or the money, to provide their children with adequate supervision. As a result, the parents are obsessed with the notion that television, other kids, or lefty teachers will corrupt their sons and daughters. Driving to and from work faith voters constantly hear conservative commentators rail against the liberal "media elite," whom they accuse of advocating various forms of immorality: drug use, free love, abortion on demand, and so forth. Because they live in this environment of fear, faith voters accept wild accusations as the gospel; for example, that the National Educational Association has an agenda to teach homosexuality as a lifestyle "choice."

Howard Dean observed that many Democrats are too quick to dismiss the behavior of faith voters. He noted that this group truly believes that a liberal Democratic elite is corrupting America. Dean's analysis was that in the last election, faith voters trusted George W. Bush to do the right thing to stem the tide of immorality; they accepted Bush's campaign rhetoric, "The Democrats don't respect you. They don't understand your problems because they are the elite. But I do respect you. ... I'm just a regular guy."

The DNC chair commented that the typical Democratic response to the fears of faith voters has been to offer them programs: health care, child care, and the like. For various reasons this hasn't worked. Dean remarked that the Belcher poll showed that 54 percent of the voter sample believed that "a decline in our moral values" was a bigger obstacle to raising strong families than were jobs, health care, and quality education.

Howard Dean concluded by arguing that if Democrats are to regain preeminence in American politics, they must understand the desperation that is an everyday burden of that other America.

A Progressive 12-step Program

Since the presidential election, many activists have lapsed into depression, believing that they are powerless to stop the wholesale destruction of the American dream by the Bush administration.

We find ourselves stuck in an abusive relationship with George Bush and his cronies. This abuse is clearly evident in Iraq with its horrendous images of prisoner torture and daily TV feeds of civilian casualties. It is also shown in the administration's disdain for the American needy, as well as in its gleeful willingness to pillage our natural resources. Like all chronic abusers, Bush and company are obsessed with power, willing to do anything to retain it, even if this means running roughshod over human rights.

As progressives struggle to regain their footing and mount an effective defense of democracy, we must recognize that Americans are trapped in this abusive relationship. To escape it we will need our own version of a 12-step program, beginning with the recognition that we feel powerless in the face of the Bush aggression, and that this has profoundly impacted our lives, made them to some extent, unmanageable.

In Alcoholics Anonymous the classic formulation of the second step is, "[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Many progressives are spiritual and accept the concept of a higher power, but others are secular and reluctant to embrace this notion. What most of us can agree with, however, is that real democracy has a higher power, an overarching set of values that embrace all the people in a social fabric of liberty and equality. Reframing this as the second step leads to a similar reformulation of the third, "[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of true democratic values." Progressives may feel powerless as individuals, but it helps to recognize that we are part of an epic struggle to defend democracy and that millions of Americans – as well as kindred spirits through out the world – stand shoulder to shoulder with us at the barricades.

The AA fourth step is, "[We] Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." Progressives have been so focused on the evils of the Bush Administration that we often fail to acknowledge our share of the blame for the situation we are in.

There is a political aspect of this inventory: Democratic presidential candidates lost in the last couple of elections because the public didn't know who they were; they made the mistake of running as "Republican Lite." In the process, the Democrat Party lost its bearings, lost contact with the great populist message that had sustained it for one hundred years. In addition, Democrats bought into the notion that the electorate believed that Republicans were innately better at national defense; as a result, many Democrats became obsessed with demonstrating how tough they were and supported the Bush Administration's feckless invasion of Iraq.

There is also an important psychological side of the inventory: Progressives must recognize our responsibility for the abusive relationship we find ourselves in. In a recent edition of The New York Review of Books, UC Professor Mark Danner observed that in the election Bush voters, "faced a stark choice: either discard the facts, or give up the clear and comforting worldview that they contradicted. They chose to disregard the facts." They made this choice because it is hard to see the truth, painful to pry open our eyes and take in how screwed up the world actually is. This is a heavy psychological burden, one that many Americans opt out of, choosing instead to escape into apocalyptic religion, reality television, or their neighborhood saloon.

If progressives are serious about recovery, then we will have to help each other face the truth: Americans are becoming the people our parents warned us about. Where we were once envied, now we are feared. Instead of the USA being a shining light, now we are viewed as bullies – an abusive power.

To see ourselves as we really are, to acknowledge the dreadful state we have fallen into, requires that we, indeed, conduct a fearless moral inventory. To escape from our abusive relationship with the Bushies, progressives will have to engage in all the classic steps of recovery: admitting our wrongs, seeking the aid of our higher power in overcoming these, reclaiming true democratic values, and making amends.

A famous Buddhist prayer is known as the three gems: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha." Meaning: "I take refuge in the spirit of the Buddha, in his teachings, and in the Buddhist community." As we seek recovery from our abusive relationship with the Bush Administration, perhaps we can find strength in our own version of this wisdom, "I take refuge in democracy; in the spirit and teachings of the founders of our country, and the patriots that followed them. I take refuge in the community of those who struggled to preserved this democracy."

What Is the War Going to Cost Us?

Before launching the war in Iraq the Bush Administration was, to say the least, circumspect about the projected cost. After the bombs began to fall they announced that our initial tab would be $75 billion. But these expenditures are just the first installment; they do not include reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure or that illusory concept, nation-building. Thus the billion-dollar question remains how much will George and Donald's big adventure cost us?

In December, Yale economist William Nordhaus, writing in The New York Review of Books, described an analytical framework for calculating the cost of this war. Nordhaus considered two general categories of costs: direct military spending such as the salaries of troops and the costs of their weapons, and follow-on costs. In the latter category he included "occupation and peacekeeping", "reconstruction and nation-building", "humanitarian assistance", "impact on the oil markets", and a catch all category "macroeconomic impact" -- that is, what impact a scenario would have on the U.S. economy in general (for example, a protracted war could possibly trigger a recession).

The Yale economist used his framework to prepare a low-end war-cost estimate of $121 billion and a high-end estimate of $1.595 trillion. Each extreme was the result of a specific scenario: the low estimate assumed a short war with no complications, whereas $1.6 trillion would be the result of a protracted war with many complications.

Mercifully, it appears that major combat in Iraq has ended after roughly six weeks. Thus, the Nordhaus' more favorable estimates are the ones that should be considered first -- those that put the cost of the war in the $121 billion range. Nordhaus comes up with an estimate of $50 billion for the direct military expenditures associated with a short war, which should be accurate if there are no unanticipated military "problems" -- such as an invasion of Syria or an extended Intifada-type campaign which ties of tens of thousands of troops.

Nordhaus estimates the total cost of the occupation as $75 to $500 billion over ten years. Since it appears only United States and British forces will be involved in peacekeeping, the true cost to the United States is likely to be in the mid-range -- $30 billion per year. He estimates that reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure will cost from $25 to $100 billion and the Council on Foreign Relations predicts that this will cost $20 billion per year.

As the Iraqi petroleum industry comes to life, some of the funds generated from petroleum exports could go towards reconstruction; the yearly value of these exports will be in the $15-20 billion range but it will be several years before they reach that level. Thus, in the first five years, the U.S. yearly cost for reconstruction will likely be at least $20 billion per year. (This, of course, assumes that the U.S. will actually pay for this; so far the Bush administration indicates that American taxpayers will foot his bill, as they regard Iraqi reconstruction as an opportunity to funnel money to some of their largest contributors, such as the Bechtel Corporation.)

The United Nations and international relief agencies will probably provide humanitarian assistance, so our costs here may be as low as $1 billion. Because most of Iraq's oil infrastructure is intact, Nordhaus predicts a reduction in world oil prices and, thereby, a positive benefit to the U.S. economy of $3 billion per year. With regard to "macroeconomic" effects, since this has been a short war there is unlikely to be any disruption of the economy.

The combination of all these factors results in a projected cost of $286 billion over five years (with roughly $100 billion expended in the first twelve months). These figures are consistent with other estimates. In April, UC Berkeley economics professor, and former chair of the president's council of Economic Advisors, Janet Yellen estimated that the direct costs of the war were likely to be in the "$100-150 billion range" and the total cost approximately "$500 billion over the next decade."

The Bush Administration would have us believe that $100 billion in the first year, and $286 billion over five years, is a small price to pay for the liberation of Iraq, and an indeterminate modicum of safety from terrorism. But, even for those of us jaded by annual budget deficits in the $300 billion range, these are big numbers.

For example, $100 billion is the funding required to bail out the states this year, to cover their combined revenue shortfall. $100 billion would provide health care for all the uninsured children in the United States for at least five years. President Bush has been touting his tax cut plan as a jobs program, claiming that it will create 1.4 million jobs; at $50,000 per job, $100 billion would create 2 million jobs in the first year.

The total cost of the war amounts to, in effect, an extra year of budget deficits - the 2003 deficit is expected to be $304 billion, and the shortfalls for 2004 and 2005 are projected as $307 and $208 billion respectively. $286 billion will raise the five-year cumulative deficit to approximately $1.5 trillion -- a 26% increase. This is a huge debt, one that will inevitably worsen the living conditions for the average U.S. citizen.

This deterioration will have two faces. The first is an increase in interest rates. The United States is a debtor nation -- dependent upon outsiders to support our economy. The ugly reality is that we consume more than we produce and this means that we are highly dependent upon the largesse of overseas investors.

As our national debt increases, our creditors will not be as willing to finance our debt by investing in our securities and, instead, will begin to eye competitive investments such as Euro bonds. This change will inevitably cause the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates -- in an effort to make our bonds more attractive. This action will further stifle the economy by making it more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow money.

The second ugly face of our growing national debt will be to provide the Bush administration -- compassionate conservatism and all -- with a justification for a decrease in the amount of Federal expenditures on social programs such as education and health. Reduction of entitlement programs was one of the planks in Bush's platform for campaign 2000.

As the Federal debt increases, progressively larger amounts of the Federal budget will have to be devoted to interest payments, which will rise to more than $40 billion annually by 2008. Republicans will seize on this as an excuse to reduce Federal spending. But, of course, they won't cut the military -- which already amounts to half the discretionary spending -- they will cut the programs that serve the neediest among us.

What's the cost of the war in Iraq? In dollars it will be at least $286 billion. In terms of our economy and the welfare of our citizens it will feed the recession and will have prolonged negative impacts that all of us will feel. The Bush administration made a choice between "guns and butter;" the military got the guns and, as a result, the average citizen will have to give up "butter" for years to come.

Bob Burnett is a journalist in Berkeley. He is the former publisher of In These Times magazine.

@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by