Mark Engler

The Maximum Wage: Coming Soon To A CEO Near You?

Should our societies have a “maximum wage”? Would the world be better off if the United States had one?

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Student Debt Crisis: It's Time for a Jubilee

Organizations that usually demand cancellation of the crippling debts owed by impoverished countries in the global South are now calling for debt forgiveness for a different group of borrowers: U.S. students.

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How Student DREAMers Won A Step in Immigration Reform

You can say that Obama was pandering for election-year purposes with his announcement last week that the government will no longer deport undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. You can say that the new policy does not go far enough in securing thoroughgoing immigration reform. So be it. The change is nevertheless a tremendous advance that will affect some 800,000 young people who have been living in fear and uncertainty about their ability to stay in the country. And it is worth spending a moment to pay homage to the DREAM Act students whose extraordinary activism made it possible.

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Occupiers from Around the Country Descend on Iowa Caucuses

As caucus craziness reaches its peak here in Iowa, the Occupy movement has not been left out. As the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday in a notably favorable top-of-the-front-page story:

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Immigrant Labor Improves Job Prospects For the Native Born

Facts or no facts, many people simply do not want to believe that undocumented immigrants coming to this country don’t steal jobs and undermine the American economy. When economic studies come along that challenge their preconceptions, they don’t take kindly to the troublesome conclusions.

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Should Democrats Use the Tea Party to Split the Right?

Are you a Democratic congressional candidate in a tight electoral contest? Here’s an idea: Help to recruit a Tea Party candidate to enter the general election and siphon off voters from your Republican opponent. Sure, you might be forced to debate a reactionary nut job. But this only makes you look more reasonable. More importantly, the new entrant splits the right-wing vote. You waltz to victory.

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Pentagon Tries to Lock Obama Into an Outrageously Bloated Budget

At the end of a long electoral season marked by bipartisan vows to bring "change," America’s massive military budget remains a hulking and seemingly immutable fact of national life. Given the financial crisis and the promise of President Bush’s departure from office, many have hoped that overheated defense spending might give way to the need to addressing domestic problems.

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There Is an Alternative to Corporate Rule

Editor's Note: This article is adapted from Mark Engler's new book How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008).

One of the remarkable features of modern political life is how consistently global elites deny that viable alternatives to the current global order exist, even as the terrain of international politics rapidly shifts. The "imperial globalists" that rose to power in the Bush years contend that without U.S. military strength decisively projected abroad, the forces of evil will sweep the globe. Meanwhile, "corporate globalists" of Wall Street persist in their belief that, in the post-Cold War world, we have no choice but to embrace the continual advance of the "free" market.

Neither idea is credible. The disastrous war in Iraq has firmly contradicted the neocons' argument that preemptive war can create security. Meanwhile, mainstream pundits continue to proclaim neoliberalism -- the radical free market doctrine that has defined the "Washington Consensus" in international economics in recent decades -- to be inevitable and irreplaceable. Yet as that ideology falls into disrepute across the globe, their contention is revealed as ever more deeply disingenuous. Today, there exist scores of books and hundreds of reports that offer new directions for the global order -- plus innumerable initiatives at local, national, and international levels to create political and economic systems that uphold human rights and defend the environment.

In truth, a lack of viable ideas is hardly the problem for those who reject both corporate and imperial models of globalization. Whether they are part of boisterous national uprisings or quiet, persistent community efforts to fuel a truly democratic globalization -- a globalization from below -- members of grassroots networks are now engaged in a debate about the proper balance of vision, program, political strategy, and tactics needed to move forward.

Changes in the Global Justice Movement

Part of what has fueled public confusion about alternatives was specific to the political moment when globalization protests captured the attention of the mainstream media. During the period around the year 2000, global justice organizing was being covered only in contexts where participants were providing a voice of opposition -- at the summit meetings of institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF). These events became flash points of resistance for a reason: the summit meetings were remarkably effective at drawing together a tremendously diverse body of global citizen activists.

Yet the globalization scene began to shift early in the Bush years, with the attacks of 9/11 playing an important role in the change. Just as abruptly as the major news outlets had announced the arrival of a "new" global movement after the Seattle protests against the WTO, challenges to the Washington Consensus became virtually invisible to their reporters once again after 9/11. This only partially reflected what was happening on the ground. In the months following the attacks, some protests -- notably a major mobilization against World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington, DC -- were cancelled as the world rose to express sympathy for the victims. However, the Bush administration's reckless response wiped out global good will and ultimately widened the scope of protests.

As strategies to impose elite visions of globalization continued, global justice protests throughout the world resumed. Many people, particularly in Southern countries, combined outrage at U.S. militarism with a repudiation of corporate globalization. When Bush traveled abroad, he was met with huge protests, many of which raised economic issues as well as anti-war concerns. Yet media outlets mostly reported these demonstrations as incoherent anti-American riots when they covered them at all. Beltway pundits rushed to declare the global justice movement dead. Leading the pack was Edward Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think-tank of the pro-"free trade" Democratic Leadership Council, who pronounced the movement "destined for irrelevance" in a realigned world.

Millions of people had reason to protest. These activists were about to redraw the political map of Latin America, preside over the collapse of neoliberalism's legitimacy, lead a worldwide rebellion against preemptive war, and push issues of economic justice to ever more prominent places in the global development debate. Their efforts for a democratic globalization, they would assert, were very much alive.

The View From Porto Alegre

As it turned out, a most visible manifestation of the next stage of global justice movement would come from a modest city of 1.5 million people deep in the south of Brazil, a place whose name has become synonymous with the pursuit of a more just and democratic global order. Today, mention of Porto Alegre, the original home of the World Social Forum, should be sufficient to forever put to rest the knee-jerk contention that there is no alternative to dominant visions of globalization.

Even as progressives within the U.S. turned to resisting Bush administration policies of preemptive war and its reactionary assaults on Constitutional rights, international movements have not waited for regime change in the U.S. to further the decline of the Washington Consensus. Massive crowds have joined Americans in rallying against the war in Iraq, as on February 15, 2003, when upwards of ten million people in over 500 cities took to the streets, constituting the largest coordinated global day of action in history. But, at the same time, local communities have waged battles to reverse privatization of public utilities and transnational campaigns have fought for reforms like debt cancellation. In countries throughout Latin America, they have successfully overthrown neoliberal governments, elected leaders who oppose the Washington Consensus, and they have pressured those officials to enact social policies that serve working people.

Reflecting this sustained torrent of global activity, the World Social Forum has grown and matured. While the first global forum in 2001 hosted 12,000 participants, subsequent events have grown larger and larger, drawing crowds of up to 150,000 people. In addition to returning to Porto Alegre for three additional years after the initial summit, the global event has also convened in Mumbai, India and Nairobi, Kenya, with smaller forums taking place at the regional level. At World Social Forum, community leaders, nonprofit representatives, scholars, organizers, and progressive lawmakers have presented, debated, and refined ideas that collectively represent as comprehensive a set of policies for the global economy as any wonky campaign office could ever hope to devise. These spaces have served as physical embodiments of the proposals for a democratic globalization.

Groups meeting in tents designated for discussion of energy and the environment have strategized about ways to break our dependence on the oil economy. They have proposed investment in mass public transportation, high mileage standards for cars, and shifting government subsidies for hydrocarbon exploitation to alternative energy. Other environmentalists have worked to promote an international carbon tax to penalize polluters -- something undoubtedly in the public interest, especially given mounting evidence about the perils of global warming. All these represent perfectly viable public policies, but have been vehemently opposed by the oil industry.

In other tents, family farmers and food safety advocates from throughout the world have gathered to promote models for redistributive land reform. Even the international financial institutions acknowledge that land reform would be beneficial for the poor, but it has been pushed off the political map by national elites and agribusiness conglomerates. Other advocates explained how current government subsidies for exports and for pesticides boost large-scale "mono-cropping" over organic agriculture; in response, they argued for a shift in public funds to support sustainable farming. Indigenous communities further asserted their right to self-determination, particularly with regard to maintaining traditional systems of land ownership and food production.

Tents holding discussions on the need to curb corporate power have advanced a slate of innovative proposals. These include public financing of elections to end what U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has called "a system of legalized bribery and legalized extortion." They include laws that allow victims of corporate abuses in the developing world to sue in U.S. or European courts. And they include detailed proposals for strengthening anti-trust law in order to break up business monopolies -- among them the massive media empires that do much to set the limits of public debate.

A group called ATTAC, one of the organizations that founded the World Social Forum, has set up tents promoting campaigning for the Tobin Tax. First proposed by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin in the 1970s, the initiative would impose a low percentage tax on the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of international financial transactions that take place each day. This would provide a disincentive for short-term gambling on currencies, and it would encourage longer-term and more productive investment. Moreover, even a miniscule levy could create an annual fund of upwards of $100 billion that could be used to stop the spread of disease and alleviate global poverty.

Warehouse workspaces hosting labor organizations have offered myriad methods for protecting workers' rights and ending sweatshop conditions. Over seventy cities and localities in the United States have passed Living Wage laws since the early 1990s. These go beyond paltry minimum wage requirements and mandate that businesses pay employees at least enough to keep their families out of poverty. At the social forums, U.S. advocates discussed how to spread these campaigns. Meanwhile, representatives from the estimated 180 worker-run factories that formed after capital fled Argentina's collapsing neoliberal economy in 2001 spoke about their experiences in self-management. And groups like the Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice have stressed that U.N.-backed summits and other international efforts to advance women's rights must not be subordinated to multilateral trade agreements.

Finally, workshops organized by representatives from the fair trade movement profiled endeavors to build direct ties between producers in the global South and Northern consumers. The fair trade model aims to eliminate exploitative middlemen, ensure that workers get a living wage for their labor, and give local collectives a greater say in the determining the conditions under which international economic exchanges take place. Like organic food, fair trade remains a niche market, and it cannot substitute for wider structural changes in global economy. But it provides both a living alternative to exploitative trade and a hopeful model for future change.

Even this wide range of activity hardly constitutes an exhaustive survey. Unlike the corporate and imperial models, a globalization from below does not take the form of one-size-fits-all prescription for the global economy. With regard to alternative policies, the model of participatory democracy produces, in the words of another slogan, "One No, Many Yeses." It generates a strong challenge to structures of neoliberalism and empire, but allows for a wider sense of what might replace them.

Contrary to individual manifestos that presume that a lack of ideas is the problem for progressives, the advocates at Porto Alegre have presented an agenda for change rooted in local struggles and campaigns that have long been underway. Excellent volumes such as Alternatives to Economic Globalization, a book compiled by the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization, have profiled other aspects of this agenda. The Human Development Reports produced annually by the United Nations Development Program have backed many of these same initiatives. A number of progressive proposals have even been introduced as legislation in the U.S. Congress in such measures as the recent TRADE Act, advanced by fair trade advocates this summer. Needless to say, the elite beneficiaries of corporate and imperial rule, still steadfast in their contention that no alternatives exist, would prefer that the public not take notice of any of these developments.

Just Saying No, or First Do No Harm

The ideas, experiences, and proposals of the World Social Forum provide a trove of information for all those who want to construct a new agenda for the global economy. At the same time, as long as democratic movements do not have the power to overrule political and economic elites, there exists an important case for just saying "no" -- for first insisting that those now in power stop doing harm.

When Wall Street neoliberals and Washington militarists ask, "What is the alternative?" they base the question on faulty assumptions. Their question serves to naturalize very radical agendas of empire and corporate rule, suggesting that these are normal and acceptable states of affairs. They are not. In a situation where power is grossly imbalanced, where crimes are being perpetuated in the name of democracy, and where ever larger sections of public life are being handed over to the market, saying "no" to these radical agendas can be a perfectly worthy task in itself.

In an important respect, the alternative to invading Iraq is not invading Iraq. The alternative to NAFTA is no NAFTA. The neocons' invasion of Iraq has cost thousands of American lives, taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, produced some two million refugees, and is set to squander over a trillion dollars of public funds. It has generated heightened regional tensions, greater instability, and more terrorism. Given the disastrous history of U.S. interventions -- not just in Iraq, but also, to mention some particularly ignoble examples of the past 60 years, in Vietnam, Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Iran, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua -- calling for a moratorium on such military actions, official and covert, is a first step in stemming the damage of imperial globalization.

The agenda of corporate globalization, which unfortunately thrived during the Clinton presidency and is still popular within the right wing of the Democratic Party, is subtler. But this, too, has relied on forceful maneuvering to come into existence. Neoliberalism involves aggressively opening markets, clearing the way for a previously unheard of level of speculative capital transfer, and dictating the restructuring of local economies. None of these things occur naturally, and they deserve opposition. A moratorium on harmful "free trade" deals and on further expansion of the WTO, especially into areas beyond the traditional realm of trade, is a vital immediate demand.

Simply refusing each of the mandates of the Washington Consensus -- or at least rejecting the idea that they should be imposed world as a one-size-fits-all uniform for development -- would itself allow for a substantial restructuring of globalization politics. The true utopians in the global economy are people who embraced the market fundamentalist fantasy that unchecked capital would serve the common good. Refuting this idea can be fairly straightforward.

Neoliberal corporate globalization prescribes the elimination of tariffs and other protections for local enterprises. An alternative would be to allow poorer countries to keep these intact, reviving what is known in trade agreements as "special and differential treatment." This model would give developing countries more flexibility in choosing to nurture infant industries and to protect agricultural commodities that are important to traditional cultures and to the security of their food supply. When the Washington Consensus demands the privatization of public industry and the division of the commons into private property, an alternative is to keep these things in the hands of the public, defending the provision of public goods as a way of ensuring economic human rights -- including guaranteed public access to water, electricity, and health care. If it calls for cuts in social services, an alternative is to reject the cuts, maintaining or bolstering these services and instead pushing for a redistributive tax system that makes the wealthy pay their fair share.

When Washington mandates a more "flexible" labor market -- one without unions or worker protections -- an alternative is to defend living wages, collective bargaining, and the right to associate. And when IMF bailouts for wealthy investors create a situation in which, to paraphrase author Eduardo Galeano, "risk is socialized while profit is privatized," an alternative is simply to end these bailouts, making speculators bear the cost of their gambles.

The demand to reverse neoliberal structural adjustment policies proposes a fundamentally different relationship between wealthy nations and the global South than currently exists. It would grant countries the freedom to determine their own economic policies, priorities for government spending, and rules for controlling foreign investment. Instead of imposing a single hegemonic model on the entire world, this new relationship would allow for broader diversity and experimentation in international development. While this does not by itself constitute a vision for ensuring human rights or protecting the environment, it nevertheless represents an important strategic gain. It alone would likely bring change of great enough magnitude to make the politics of the global economy look virtually unrecognizable to those who have grown accustomed to Washington-dictated corporate globalization.

Those who reject corporate and imperial models of globalization have a wealth of ideas at their disposal, a healthy internal debate to refine their strategies, and a vibrant, growing international network of citizens that see their efforts as part an interconnected whole. They also have very powerful enemies. Fortunately, as we enter the post-Bush era, the international community has voiced a firm rejection of unilateralism and preemptive war. Likewise, ever-larger swaths of the globe view the neoliberal doctrine of corporate expansion as a failed and discredited vision. This creates unique opportunities for citizens to fight to bring a democratic globalization into existence. More exciting still is that many people are already doing so, and, on key issues like debt relief and across entire regions like the Latin America, they are winning. The punditry is increasingly taking notice. For there is nothing so dangerous to those who insist that the world must remain as it is as the simple, stubbornly defiant doctrine of hope.

The Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

[Note: This essay was drawn from FPIF analyst Mark Engler’s new book, How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy, published by Nation Books.]

“Free trade” has produced some of the most contentious political debates of our times. In a famous April 2000 article in the New Republic, economist Joseph Stiglitz argued, “Economic policy is today perhaps the most important part of America's interaction with the rest of the world. And yet the culture of international economic policy in the world's most powerful democracy is not democratic.” During the Bush years, economic policy received far less attention in political discussion than before; the use of military force took center stage. However, the trade and development debate went on, and it continues to affect fundamental questions of global poverty, inequality, and opportunity. Under a new Democratic administration -- or under a Republican administration that demotes the neocons in favor of the more traditional, realist foreign policy establishment -- it is likely that economic policy will again become the most important part of America’s interaction with the world. And it is likely that it will remain profoundly undemocratic.

The injustices of neoliberal trade policy and the hypocrisy of U.S. stances in international negotiations have produced an upheaval in multilateral institutions like the WTO, and this has helped to transform the debate about the global economy. But trade is also an important domestic issue. Today, trade policy plays an important role in the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.

One of the major accomplishments of the Clinton administration was to move to the fore of the Party a faction led by the centrist, corporate-friendly Democratic Leadership Council. Working with pro-“free trade” Republicans, Clinton and the DLC made passing the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and approving U.S. entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994 into bipartisan crusades. The coalition in favor of corporate globalization was always tenuous, however. In recent years, especially as the Bush administration implemented an increasing belligerent foreign policy, the “free trade” coalition has frayed.
Shifting Center of Gravity

The center of gravity around trade issues has been slowly shifting in the Democratic Party throughout the Bush years, as candidates have found that popular disaffection with “free trade” deals can be a potent political force. As a result, trade debates have grown increasingly contentious. The Bush administration’s need to resort to desperate measures in order to pass CAFTA in 2005 -- and the fact that it squeaked through Congress with the smallest possible, 217-to-215 majority -- reflected the conflict.

When the Democrats swept the November 2006 elections and regained control of Congress, many of the victorious campaigns featured prominent pledges to oppose pro-corporate trade policy. In an excellent post-election analysis, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch documented a major defeat for the “free trade” coalition. Its report tracked seven senate races and 28 House contests in which “fair trade” advocates ousted "free trade" incumbents or won open seats previously held by advocates of neoliberal deals. In contrast, no fair trade incumbents were unseated.

Whether the wave of revulsion against corporation globalization will propel a lasting change in Democratic policy-making will depend largely on figures like Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who became chair of the Senate Finance Committee. These political chiefs certainly do not represent the fair trade activists at the base of their party. In late 2006, President Bush visited Vietnam the week before Thanksgiving, and he hoped to bring with him news of Congressional approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with that country. This measure that would have served as a stepping stone to a free trade deal and an endorsement of Vietnam's entry into the WTO. It didn't happen. The bill failed to secure the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, with many emboldened Democrats rallying to defeat it. The New York Timesdeclared that the vote, which was supposed to be an easy victory, instead signaled "a deep disappointment and embarrassment for the White House."

It may prove a temporary setback, however. Both Pelosi and Rangel voted in favor of the Vietnam trade legislation, and promoters of the measure would like to see it resurrected. In May 2007, Democratic leaders announced that they had brokered a deal with the White House to resume the bipartisan push for “free trade” agreements, ostensibly with stronger labor and environmental provisions attached. True to form, the deal was negotiated in secret, without input from environmental, labor, or public interest groups -- or even participation from the majority of Democratic lawmakers who view the “free trade” agenda with suspicion. What the agreement will mean in practice, and whether opposition lawmakers and the citizens who put them into office will accept the Bush-Rangel deal, is still being determined.

Congress passed a trade deal with Peru in late 2007 over the opposition of labor and environmental groups, and discord has flared up once again over a possible agreement with Colombia, although election year politics make its passage unlikely.

The Costs of ‘Free Trade’ At Home
Debates over international trade and development policy can often seem distant to most people. Yet the battle within the Democratic Party shows that these issues matter a great deal to Americans as well as citizens overseas. Under the market fundamentalist policies of neoliberalism, the international economy has been managed for the benefit of a very narrow slice of the population. It has placed the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund in positions as economic overseers on a global plantation. This type of domination goes against the values of all those who decry sweatshop economics abroad.

It also has costs at home. The interests of Wall Street are not the same as our national interests or the interests of working people. As successive administrations in Washington have enforced a type of market fundamentalism in foreign affairs, they have too often pursued a parallel set of policies domestically. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Americans, too, have been locked into the trickle-down economics of the “golden straightjacket,” which has been a lot more golden for billionaire families like Thomas Friedman’s than it has for typical citizens. For some, like those left behind after Hurricane Katrina--when a stripped-down government did little to help those in New Orleans who could not afford to evacuate themselves -- the results have been tragic.

Sadly, neoliberal economics are not the exclusive purview of Republicans. Indeed, given the Bush administration’s international recklessness, an increasing number of corporate elites are turning to the Democrats to implement their economic agenda. In a front-page story entitled, “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote,” The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2007 that the party could be facing a brand crisis as “[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share.” Their defections will only increase tensions within the Democratic Party.

The ongoing battle in Washington has made clear that many centrist Democrats who denounce Bush’s imperial globalization would be all too eager to return to Clinton’s pro-corporate vision for the global economy if given the chance. But it also indicates that their position may not be as politically viable as it once was. A decade and a half after NAFTA moved the trade debate to the fore of political discussion, the broken promises of “free trade” agreements are making neoliberalism’s “clouds of gold” ever harder to sell.

The majority of Americans have reason to cry foul at such deals and to pressure their leaders to enact a truly democratic economic agenda. Citizen demands for good jobs, for full employment, and for investment in the public good go hand in hand with the call for fair trade and economic human rights throughout the world.

Hopeful Signs For Global Justice

To read the headlines in the morning papers during these Bush years is too often an exercise in exasperation, as each day's new outrages seem to top the last. But hidden quietly on the inside pages, and rumbling through alternative news sources, there is also a more encouraging story: Despite the challenges presented by the current administration, the global justice movement has made impressive strides in recent years.

Arguments for trade and development policies that truly address poverty and serve working people have moved from the left margins into the mainstream of international debate. The paradigm of "neoliberalism" that dominated world development for two decades has been steadily losing legitimacy. And, in its wake, some important spaces for building alternatives have appeared.

Whether in the Democratic sweep of the midterm elections, in the eruption of domestic protests supporting immigrant rights, in the leftward realignment of Latin American politics, in the collapse of the Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organization, or in extended victories in issues like debt relief, these trends continued in exciting ways in 2006.

Given that Bill Clinton's Democrats were the party of NAFTA, and that the Dems continue to rely on big money from corporate America, many global justice activists have long grown skeptical that a push for real change can be led from Capitol Hill. While this view has merit, the Democratic landslide nevertheless represented a serious blow to the reactionary Bush administration, and you would have to be unusually jaded not to see any bright spots in the electoral sweep. In fact, in terms of trade and development issues, the midterm elections helped foster a major realignment within the Democratic Party away from a corporate globalization agenda.

As the watchdogs at Public Citizen have documented, seven seats in the Senate and 28 in the House changed hands from "free trade" to "fair trade" advocates, who support using international agreements to promote stronger labor and environmental protections. Important wins include those of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a steadfast critic of neoliberalism, and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, long-time activist and author of Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. November 7 also produced numerous state- and community-level victories, bringing into office grassroots leaders who see their local work in an internationalist context. As just one example, longtime global justice champion Mark Ritchie, founder and former executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, was elected as Secretary of State in Minnesota, and will be leading the effort to make the state a model for conducting clean and fair elections.

Another type of democracy -- more colorful and direct -- was on display in the streets this year. Most notably, 2006 witnessed a wave of massive demonstrations in favor of immigrant rights. In March, a 750,000-person mobilization in Los Angeles staked a claim as an historic event, only to be topped by a march of over a million people in that city on May 1. Such demonstrations were mirrored throughout the country, and coordinated actions were held in over 100 cities nationwide in a matter of weeks. The demonstrations gave voice to some of the most marginalized members of our society: immigrants who help prepare our food, clean our hotels and homes, and care for our children. While it is not yet possible to discern the full political significance of the immigrant rights movement, the inspiring actions challenged us to see the connections between hardship abroad and the struggle for justice at home. And they suggested that a not-so-sleepy giant awaits politicians who promote exclusion and xenophobia.

It was also an election year throughout Latin America, and citizens in many parts of the region continued to reject pro-corporate models of economic "progress." Chileans elected their first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, a left-leaning doctor whose family was imprisoned by the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s. Voters in Brazil reelected former union leader Lula da Silva. And Hugo Chávez also won a decisive reelection in Venezuela, garnering broad support for his New Deal-style social programs. In Ecuador, voters chose economist Rafael Correa, an ardent opponent of the Washington Consensus, over a banana magnate who happened to be the wealthiest man in the country.

Perhaps the most impressive of the leaders has been Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia. Morales, who took office in January, has since shocked the international business press by actually delivering on his campaign promises. Bolstered by well-organized social movements, the Morales government initiated the nationalization of Bolivia's oil and gas assets on May 1. The process culminated in early December, when the government signed agreements with foreign energy companies giving it majority control over oil and gas extraction and directing over half the profits toward the public good. Given that the majority of the country's population lives in poverty and has benefited little from living in a resource-rich nation, these efforts are both overdue and welcomed. In late November, Morales' party went further by passing an ambitious land reform bill that seeks to right an historic injustice by breaking up some of the enormous estates left over from colonial times and redistributing as many as 20 million hectares to campesinos who work the land.

Political realignment in Latin America, coupled with years of popular pressure elsewhere in the developing world, has dramatically changed the tenor of international trade discussions. During July negotiations in Geneva, the Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organization collapsed as developing countries stood up to U.S. and European double standards on agricultural subsidies. While the Bush administration regularly sings the praises of unfettered "free trade," it in fact supports lavish subsidies for domestic agribusiness -- to the tune of $23 billion dollars a year, the great majority of which goes to our country's largest mega-farms. Delegates from poorer nations demanded significant cuts to these subsidies before they would agree to further liberalize their economies. Needless to say, the rich countries were resistant, and amidst this hypocritical display the talks fell apart.

While deadlock at the WTO does not guarantee a fairer system of global trade, Doha's demise stopped a bad WTO deal from going forward, at least for the time being. If world leaders take the hint, discussion should turn toward creating a system of trade that values grassroots self-determination and more justly distributes the benefits of international commerce.

Other advances suggest that such an agenda might not be far out of reach. On the issue of debt cancellation, the globalization movement has already succeeded in reshaping policy. Advocates effectively publicized the injustice of forcing nations with sick and malnourished populations to send large portions of their national budgets to rich countries in the form of payments on unsustainable foreign debts, many of which were accumulated by past dictators. In 2005, after a decade of pressure from grassroots groups, world leaders agreed to cancel debts of 18 impoverished nations to the IMF and World Bank. Debt cancellation has often proven to be one of the most effective forms of aid, allowing countries to use their own resources to meet social needs. But the 2005 agreement did not go far enough: it left out major regional banks like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the leading multilateral lender in Latin America.

Members of the Jubilee debt coalition continued to push to cancel debts from the IDB, and this November they made another breakthrough. The IDB agreed to a deal canceling debts of five of the poorest countries in the Americas. If properly implemented, the agreement will eliminate obligations of up to $768 million for Bolivia, $365 million for Guyana, $1.1 billion for Honduras, $808 million for Nicaragua, and $468 million for Haiti. No doubt, there's more to be done to ensure that cancellation comes in full, without delays and without strings attached. Yet efforts to push for greater progress should be propelled by the recent string of wins.

Thousands of similar campaigns stood up to local injustices, challenged corporate power, and provided the energy that ultimately unseated presidents. As we are reminded daily of the hard realities that persist in an era of executive excess and superpower militarism, their victories might seem disparate and few. But they have shown that they can accrete and build, gradually bridging the divide that separates us from once-distant possibilities: the death of neoliberalism, the political re-creation of the Americas, the end of extreme poverty, a democratic globalization. The quiet wins of 2006 together remind us that change is more possible than we might sometimes despair -- and that it is not entirely naive to invest hope in the promise of a new year.

The Overwhelming Costs of the Iraq War

In the center of the home page, an upward-racing ticker, presented in a large, red font, keeps a steady tally of the money spent for the U.S. war in Iraq. Every time I visit, it takes a moment to sort through the counter's decimal places and make sense of it. The hundreds of dollars fly by too quickly to track. The thousands change a little faster than once a second. As I write, the ticker reads $239,302,273,144.

It is worth staring at the site for a while to see the vast sums accumulate. Yet this exercise in wartime accounting quickly becomes unsatisfying. First of all, few Americans have any frame of reference for evaluating a number like $239 billion. The National Priorities Project, the organization hosting the counter, attempts to remedy this by allowing visitors to compare war costs with expenditures on pre-school, health care, and public housing, noting, for example, that this much money could provide basic immunizations for every child born worldwide in the next 79 years.

Even then, the incomprehensibly large number ticking away on screen turns out to be no measure at all of what we will eventually pay for the war. Depending on what estimate you use, it could be off by almost a factor of 10. After all, it lacks a place for the trillions.

So how much will the war cost? The question occasionally appears in the media, never a new issue, never a settled one either. Still, there are some certainties about the costs of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. One is that it keeps going up. The President has now submitted a "guns over butter" budget to Congress that increases Pentagon spending to $440 billion, while taking away funds from social services at home and development assistance abroad. One of the great curiosities of this huge sum is that it does not include funding for the wars we are actually fighting. Those are appropriated separately -- this year, the White House will reportedly be asking for another $120 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly equal to what it spent in 2005.

Another certainty of wartime accounting is that the cost of the war in Iraq will remain far higher than the Bush administration wants anyone to think. It's already stratospherically beyond the initial estimate of $50-60 billion used to sell its war to the public. That number was meant to conjure memories of the previous Gulf War -- Operation Desert Storm -- an engagement Americans recall as swift and relatively painless, in part because an array of allies helped pay for it. The U.S. ponied up only $7 billion for that conflict. The administration's other magic trick was taking Larry Lindsey, the White House economic advisor who publicly suggested in late 2002 that a military return to Iraq would cost closer to $100-200 billion, and making him disappear

In the years since Baghdad fell, several analysts have sought better estimates for the war's true cost. In August 2005, Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver at the Institute for Policy Studies issued a paper predicting that the total cost could reach $700 billion at the then-current spending level of $5.6 billion per month. Like the tally, this figure included only direct expenditures.

Last month, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard's Linda Bilmes released a report that took a wider view. Hinting at the human cost of the occupation -- which, of course, requires its own ghastly page in the ledger of wartime accounting -- the report factored in the government-assigned "value of statistical life" for troops killed in combat. (It did not include the loss of Iraqi lives.) It tallied items such as the costs of health care for wounded veterans, increased recruitment spending for a hard-up Pentagon, and the opportunity costs of more productive public investments that might have been made if funds had not been diverted overseas. Following Congressional Budget Office predictions for troop deployment, the report considers the possibilities of full U.S. withdrawal by 2010 to 2015. All told, the two economists put the cost to the U.S. at between $1 trillion (their most "conservative" estimate) and $2.2 trillion (their "moderate" one).

Sixty billion, 239 billion, 2.2 trillion dollars. The more such figures swirl, the more necessary it is to change the question. The real matter at hand is not, "How much will it cost?" but, "When does it start to matter?"

Vietnam tipping points

The answers provided by past experience are imperfect. The Oxford Companion to American Military History places the direct costs of the Vietnam War at $173 billion (equal to $770 billion in 2003 dollars). Veterans benefits and interest payments add another trillion to Vietnam's costs, calculated in 2003 dollars. Thus, the estimates for the cost of the Iraq war already place the two conflicts at similar levels, although Vietnam expenditures represented a larger percentage of the Gross Domestic Product.

There seems to be no single point at which costs become too great. Different parties reach their moment of decision at different times, independently determining that "victory" is not worth the price being paid. Disaffection builds as financial and human costs rise. And so looking at turning points, in Vietnam or in Iraq, involves twisting the question once again. We must ask not only, "How costly is too costly?" But also, "Too costly for whom?"

For many who opposed the war on moral terms, the conflict was too costly from the start. The lives and money sacrificed since then merely serve as tragic affirmations of a conviction already reached. Others more traditionally supportive of presidential decisions to take the U.S. to war can, however, be swayed by mounting costs, once victory doesn't come.

One Vietnam tipping point came in late 1967 when, for the first time, opinion polls showed that a bare majority of Americans considered the conflict a "mistake." The size of this majority surged after the start of the Tet Offensive in January 1968. In a watershed moment in the wake of that onslaught, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite both echoed and solidified public sentiment by famously indicating that U.S. could not win the war. "To say we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past," he told his television audience. "To say that we are mired in a stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion."

Bad news from the war front helped to turn the public, but domestic dissent went far in shaping public reactions to developments abroad. The same 1967 polls that registered the first antiwar majority also showed that most Americans deplored the growing antiwar movement. Nevertheless, antiwar protesters had a critical (and sometimes unexpected) impact. Historian Melvin Small offers one example of when "the antiwar movement dramatically affected policy": After mass protests at the Pentagon in October 1967, "Lyndon Johnson launched a public relations campaign that emphasized how well the war was going. When the Communists [then] launched their seemingly successful nationwide Tet Offensive most Americans felt that they had been deceived by their own government."

A turn in elite opinion followed on the heels of public disaffection. Although rarely remembered, the defection of a previously supportive business community formed an important part of this shift. A lack of business enthusiasm for the war sprang from military developments in Vietnam, but was also spurred by war-related economic doldrums (which have resonance today). As Small explains, "For many economists, the last truly good years for the economy were 1962-65 with almost full employment, very low inflation and a favorable balance of trade." As the war escalated, "an increasingly unfavorable balance of trade, related in part to spending for the war abroad, contributed to an international monetary crisis involving a threat to U.S. gold reserves in 1967-68. That threat helped convince some administration officials and Wall Street analysts that the United States could no longer afford the war."

In March 1968, Clark Clifford played a vital role in convincing a doggedly hawkish Lyndon Johnson that a seismic shift had, in fact, occurred among influential patrons. Clifford was a prototypical Washington insider, a polished and well-connected lawyer who for decades served as a counsel to the president and maintained close ties with the giants of corporate America. He felt comfortable speaking truth to power, and power listened, knowing Clifford had its best interests at heart.

In January 1968, Clifford replaced Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense. Although recruited as a hawk, he formed a new assessment of the war after examining the military realities and polling his well-heeled contacts to gauge the domestic outlook. Historian Gabriel Kolko cites Clifford's recollections from March 1968, when he told several White House aides, "I make it a practice to keep in touch with friends in business and the law across the land… Until a few months ago, they were generally supportive of the war… Now all that has changed. These men now feel we are in a hopeless bog." He went on to say, "It would be very difficult -- I believe it would be impossible -- for the President to maintain public support for the war without the support of these men."

That same month, Clifford helped organize a two-day meeting between President Johnson and his Senior Advisory Group on Vietnam -- nicknamed the "Wise Men." These were veteran operatives and diplomats with powerful connections to the business and financial communities. As David Halberstam relates in The Best and the Brightest, they "quietly let [Johnson] know that the Establishment -- yes, Wall Street -- had turned on the war… It was hurting the economy, dividing the country, turning the youth against the country's best traditions." As libertarian economist Murray Rothbard notes, just a few days later Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection and started the U.S. on its long exit from Vietnam.

Iraq: The politics of withdrawal

Though the obvious "Wise Men" figures of this moment, like the elder Bush's confidant Brent Scowcroft, remain out in the cold when it comes to the younger Bush's Iraq policies, business leaders are one group that might yet be turned by a cost-benefit analysis of the Iraq War.

In their report, Stiglitz and Bilmes consider, among other factors, how the war has hurt the economy by increasing global and domestic insecurity while contributing to a boost in oil prices. Outside of a few energy companies and defense contractors that continue to directly benefit, America's corporations have generally been adversely affected by these costs. A significant number of corporate leaders have begun complaining about a damaged Brand America and a chilled climate for doing business abroad. Certainly, business leaders have reason to doubt that a neoconservative foreign policy works in their favor, and they may yet decide to cut their losses.

If some CEOs and other executives reevaluate their allegiance to the White House -- becoming more vocal supporters of realism in Republican foreign policy or even of the Democratic Leadership Council's multilateral brand of corporate globalization -- the turn could make the discussion about the war in upcoming electoral contests significantly more contentious.

As for the public at large, polls on Iraq started showing majority disapproval as early as the summer of 2004. Antiwar opinion now regularly registers as high as 60 percent. John Mueller, Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University and an expert on wartime public opinion, has argued that eroding support for Iraq matches patterns for wars in Korea and Vietnam. "The most striking thing about the comparison among the three wars is how much more quickly support has eroded in the case of Iraq," he writes in Foreign Affairs. By the start of last year, with just 1,500 American troops dead, public opinion on Iraq had dropped to depths only reached in the Vietnam War after Tet, when some 20,000 Americans had been killed.

Mueller concludes, "If history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline."

That might be cause for celebration, if only it were the end of the story. Mueller's formulation may sound simple, even deterministic, but the reality of withdrawal is not. True, public support for the Vietnam War never rebounded after March 1968. Yet the conflict dragged on for another five years. The ticker for that intervention kept racing higher because President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger were willing to take the tragedy Johnson made and adopt it as their own. A lesson for us now is that no set pattern will guarantee a satisfying end to the situation we face, a situation in which another unpopular war threatens to stretch on for years.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of the country has already decided that the war in Iraq has become too costly. Americans have rejected the prospect of funding a massive and prolonged occupation. In that sense, we have already tipped.

Questions about the price of war keep resurfacing not because there's a credible argument for most Americans that the price is reasonable, but because our elected officials thus far have only pushed those costs ever higher. What remains, then, is for the public to hold accountable those who would carry forward the neoconservative crusade -- to make their stance a costly one in public life. What remains is for us bring the political price of war into line with the human and financial costs that we will continue to bear.

When Lost Is Found

On the surface, it would seem that getting lost requires little instruction, and that few of us would want to improve whatever talent for it we might possess. But in her new book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit offers a compelling case for a state more commonly avoided than aspired to. Early on she quotes theorist Walter Benjamin: "Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance -- nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city -- as one loses oneself in a forest -- that calls for quite a different schooling."

Through a series of loosely intertwined personal essays, Field Guide aims both to give us the necessary education in existential abandon, and to explain the merits of this state of mind. Solnit writes, "To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. In Benjamin's terms, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery."

Solnit's concern with consciousness and identity opens a broad terrain. A writer could go in many different directions in describing the processes of losing the self and then finding it again. That's precisely what Solnit does. Her style is tangential, associative. She jumps from analyzing the movie Vertigo and its love affair with the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives, to discussing a love affair of her own in the Mojave desert, to recounting the story of the Spanish conquistador Cabeza de Vaca. This explorer, after being hopelessly lost in the American interior, spent years wandering in search of his countrymen, only to discover, once he found them, that he had more in common with the native peoples he had come to admire than with their colonizers.

Solnit is idiosyncratic and learned. Of her young adulthood, she writes, "Punk rock had burst into my life with the force of revelation, though I cannot now call the revelation much more than a tempo and an insurrectionary intensity that matched the explosive pressure in my psyche," and then she unexpectedly draws into her punk world Keats, Nabokov, Borges and the Road Warrior. You can only guess whether she will next plumb meaning from a friend's off-handed remark or a passage out of Thoreau.

Amid her free-form meandering, you quickly detect a sense of control. The guiding intelligence of Solnit's personal essays recalls Annie Dillard, while her naturalist's affection for the Southwestern desert and the Great Salt Lake are reminiscent of Terry Tempest Williams. Then again, Solnit herself is no neophyte. Prior to Field Guide, she published eight books, including Savage Dreams, a work rooted in her anti-nuclear activism at the Nevada Test Site, and River of Shadows, a book about photographer Eadweard Muybridge that won the Nation Book Critics Circle Award.

Solnit's profile as a political writer has risen considerably over the past couple years, in part due to Tom Engelhardt, whose distributes not only his own essays focusing on the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but also work by authors he has befriended, Solnit prominent among them. Out of her essays for TomDispatch came her eighth book, Hope in the Dark, a primer on activism in foreboding times.

"I'm concerned she can get away with saying things that aren't true because they're pretty," a friend said to me of that earlier book. This seems like a genuine risk. Those of us who have grown weary of less-than-critical celebrations of "Internet organizing" and the revolutionary power of anarchist-inspired Temporary Autonomous Zones will find a few sources of complaint in Solnit's treatise on hope. Yet there are many more things in that slim volume that are as truthful as they are poetic: "Causes and effects assume history marches forward," she writes, "but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away a stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension."

With her new Field Guide, Solnit earns our confidence with the strength of her personal reflections and cultural insights. She reminds us that our word "lost" comes from the Old Norse los, "meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world." She adds: "I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know." It is, no doubt, a warranted fear. And it should make us hope that Solnit finds many pupils for her tutelage in the unknown, which proves both beautiful and true.

Republicans Among Us

It was the largest demonstration in American history ever to greet a national political convention. On Sunday, as the Republicans prepared to launch a week-long media extravaganza in Madison Square Garden, over 400,000 protesters, blanketing two miles of Manhattan's avenues, stole the Party's spotlight. It was a quake whose aftershocks were felt in dozens of smaller actions throughout the following days. As an opening reception it announced that there would be two beats during the week of convention, one covering the speeches made inside the auditorium and one covering the outraged New York that lay beyond.

I had worried in the weeks before, as the police stoked fear and the mayor denied permits, that turnout for Sunday's demonstration would be low. New York residents and visiting counter-delegations alike put my worries at ease. The march's banner, "The World Says No to the Bush Agenda," was broad enough to unite a wide array of anti-Bush voters and activists opposing the continued occupation of Iraq. Walking on that sunny afternoon, I saw marchers' emotions range from angry to hopeful and resolute. I saw demeanors span from irreverent to solemn. "Yee-Haw is not a Foreign Policy," said one sign. "Victims of Terror Are Not Campaign Props," said another. One man carried an "Electoral Map of the World" with a few places like Texas, Saudi Arabia and Australia marked as red states; the remaining globe was covered in a sea of blue.

To my mind, a procession of 1,000 coffins formed the most impressive part of the assembly. Nine hundred and sixty symbolic caskets draped with American flags represented U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and 40 more in simple black remembered all the others who have died in the occupation. At the end of the march, I sat on a curb and watched for twenty minutes as the pallbearers slowly paced by.

That evening, I flipped through the television news coverage. Stories of the protest led on all of the major networks. NBC's top feature showed the march of coffins and profiled anti-war military families in the demonstration who had lost sons and daughters in Iraq. Following that story, the images in the program's remaining segments seemed to carry new meaning: a shot of Dick Cheney inspecting the staging at Madison Square Garden; scenes of delegates on their way to a Broadway show. Before the march, some had predicted that Republicans would use footage of protests, rarely popular with the electorate, to advance their own agenda. If this was the case, one thousand coffins was clearly not what Karl Rove had in mind.

* * * * *

On Monday, I went as a journalist to the Garden to interview delegates. The Republicans were generally warm and enthusiastic about speaking with me, even though I forthrightly indicated I was writing for a leftist audience. Butch Davis, a delegate from Houston, Texas, offered this message for progressives: "Reexamine what you believe." He said, "If you do believe in socialism, if you believe in gay marriage, if you believe in higher taxes, then stay a Democrat. If you don't believe in those, you're welcome to come on over."

He then explained to me Hillary Clinton's socialist politics: "She wrote the book, It Takes A Village. So her concept is that mother and father don't raise the child, government raises the child, society raises the child. She's socialistic from the word 'go.'"

He showed such high spirits; I felt sorry to inform Butch Davis that, as much as I might wish otherwise, Hillary Clinton is not a socialist.

I have heard many stories of progressives, even longtime critics of the Democratic Party, being thoroughly charmed upon meeting Bill Clinton. I had never heard a parallel story about George W. Bush's interpersonal powers until Hershelle Kann, an ex-Democrat from Bay Shore, Long Island, told me about meeting the president at a Washington gala. Ms. Kann described the encounter:

"I said, 'It is a pleasure shaking your hand, Mr. Bush. And I want you to know that I am a Democrat who is voting for you this year.'

"He said to me, 'You're an American. You're an American.'"

She continued, "There's a warmth, caring, and respect that he has for Americans... all of us. He's a deeply religious man who loves his family. He loves this country. He's one of the people."

Hershelle Kann disagreed with the president on gay rights, on gun control, and on stem cell research. She was in the minority. Those I spoke with inside the convention represented a corps of militantly conservative foot soldiers, steadfast in their belief that tax cuts were equitable and that weapons of mass destruction will yet be found, in Syria if not in Iraq. This divide was replicated in the convention as a whole. While moderates like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudolph Giuliani spoke in prime time, the likes of Rick Santorum and Trent Lott spent days shaping one of their Party's most conservative platforms ever. A headline in The New York Times read, "Party Centrists Find Places on Stage, but not on Agenda."

To be fair, the Democrats also play to the center. Facing an Electoral College in which the representatives of swing states are the only ones left who matter, the Kerry campaign has put on its most moderate face. The language used at the two party conventions was often identical. As I was talking with delegates, a speaker on the podium, a Republican Congressional hopeful, railed against the "politics of fear," presumably pursued by the Democrats. "We believe in the politics of hope," he said.

Whatever the similarity in rhetoric, however, there is a difference in the parties' posturing. An anti-war plank did not make it onto the Democrat's platform. Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe took pains to disavow the convention protesters. The opposition party has largely internalized its centrism. The Republicans have not. Their world view constricts even the possibility of resistance. Hillary Clinton (Yale Law) and John Kerry (Skull and Bones) embody socialism, while George W. Bush (Skull and Bones) stands as a patriotic man of the people. The only direction to go is right.

* * * * *

Outrage at the Bush administration in New York ran not only deep, but wide. For every cocktail party, pro-life breakfast, or black-tie fundraiser that the Republican delegates soaked up during the week, there was a march, a poetry reading, or a civil disobedience somewhere in the city challenging their agenda. This year, New York's Central Labor Council cancelled its Labor Day parade and opted instead for an anti-Bush rally on Wednesday. Union members filled seven blocks of Eighth Avenue – the same ground where there was a spirited march of 20,000 two days before, organized by community-based organizations including the New York City AIDS Housing Network, Make the Road by Walking, and Mothers on the Move.

At the labor rally, among the teachers, health care attendants, hotel workers, janitors, and ironworkers was actor James Gandolfini – better known as Tony Soprano. His address to the crowd suggested that he will not be voting Republican this year: "I just wanted to say, I can't tell you how mad I am at these people who are in our city. I can't tell you how mad I am that I have to walk around like a rat in a little maze to get somewhere."

The caging of dissent – the NYPD's infamous, and ubiquitous, protest pens – formed only part of the problem. As much as the pundits tried to make the week a re-staging of 1968, it was not. Even Tuesday, "A31," a day reserved for more radical direct action, organizers overwhelmingly announced their intention to adhere to nonviolent civil disobedience. As it turned out, police would not allow them the opportunity to act at all. The New York Times described "a near-zero tolerance policy for activities that even suggest the prospect of disorder."

Mere suggestion became a crime. The police arrested nearly 1,000 people on Tuesday alone, a large number of them "preemptively." On 42nd Street, three people told by the police that they could hold a banner on the steps of the public library (but not hang it on one of the library's famous stone lions) were quickly arrested for holding a banner on the steps of the public library. A half dozen scruffy-looking bystanders were grabbed as well. Leaving from Ground Zero, some three hundred people in a march led by the War Resisters League and School of the Americas Watch – having been told that they could march on the sidewalk, two by two, in remembrance of victims of war and terror – were promptly arrested for walking down the sidewalk, two by two.

My own group, which included the two-year-old daughter of a friend, would have been rounded up and arrested in the procession from Ground Zero had we been just a few places further up in line. Instead, we were pushed back with the rest of the crowd. As we watched the arrests, I spoke with Don Peterson, a Republican conventioneer at the site. He took the position that, if the police are arresting them, the demonstrators must have done something wrong. This is American justice. "If you don't like it," he told me, "then sue them."

* * * * *

I went back to the convention on Wednesday and Thursday night to listen to the speeches. Being present in those stands was a profoundly alienating experience. More than hearing distortions presented as fact, it was watching first hand the dancing on the convention floor and sitting through the standing ovations that brought home for me a sense that the pageant could have dire consequences. The veneer of friendly disagreement that characterized my personal interactions with the delegates had evaporated. As the speakers talked about the people whom they were "empowering," I could no longer accept that they acted on noble intentions. I knew I was surrounded by adversaries, and I sat uneasily among them.

At their convention, the Democrats largely refrained from attacking the president, lest they be labeled hateful Bush-bashers. The Republicans pulled no such punches. Speakers invoked his name with revulsion, enumerating his failings without fear of ever being held to account. ("He voted for tax hikes 98 times," said the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, while his lieutenant governor, deploying a new set of implausible numbers, charged that Kerry "voted against tax cuts for American families 121 times.")

Earlier in the week, President Bush caused a wave of media fanfare by indicating that he did not think the war on terror could be won. Within a day, he flipped back on the question. But in that revealing moment, as well as in some subsequent "clarifications," Bush and his handlers confirmed an unsettling truth: That, if given the opportunity, the hawks will pursue a perpetual war, a war spanning generations. "The president was not signaling a change in policy," White House officials assure us.

On Thursday night, I listened to President Bush invoke his "compassionate conservatism." He promised to transform "our most fundamental systems – the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training." And he vowed to stay "on the offensive" militarily. The audience roared.

After the speech, I walked out onto 32nd street. There was a protest a few blocks away and a candlelight vigil in Union Square. I remembered the electoral map of the world. If it was dispiriting to feel small and isolated among the Republicans, it is heartening to remember that, in a larger sense, it is the Republicans who sit isolated among us. The majority of humanity opposes George W. Bush, just as the majority of this nation voted against him. The thought made me feel better for a while. Then I remembered the coffins, and I thought of the work that we have before us.

Revenge of the Combat Cartoonist

A man crawls through the burning sands of Arizona's Sonoran Desert. He is scorched and famished. But he's not the kind of guy who will accept a glass of water. He wants a Pepsi.

Meet Charro Machorro, the hero of "How to Succeed at Globalization: A Primer for the Roadside Vendor," a cartoon history of capitalism by Mexican satirist Rafael Barajas, better known as El Fisgón ("the busybody" in Mark Fried's translation). As the book opens Charro has braved a dangerous border crossing. But he won't let anyone confuse him with an undocumented immigrant. He is a taxpaying entrepreneur, he insists, a dedicated capitalist. Back home he works as a roadside windshield-washer who sells snacks to motorists caught in traffic – or, as he prefers to describe it, "a small businessman in the automotive maintenance sector with a subsidiary operation in the peanut industry."

Despite having read all of the top self-help books, from "How to Succeed, by Dale" to "Better Loopholes," Charro can't seem to get ahead in business. Thus, he has ventured into the desert to seek career advice from the famous Cassandra Carrera, a soothsayer and faith healer who specializes in voodoo economics. After he finds her Carrera Clinica, Cassandra shows Charro her crystal ball, which allows them to peer straight into the mind of Alan Greenspan. From there the adventure begins. The two go on a whirlwind trip through economic history, looking for the secrets to how industrious citizens of the developing world can strike it rich in the age of globalization.

It soon becomes evident to the reader that the mind these characters are surveying is less Greenspan than Trotsky. Loyal to the framework of socialist political economy, El Fisgón provides an accessible and entertaining overview of the end of feudalism, the industrial revolution, the rise and fall of colonialism, the Cold War, and present-day globalization. It's plenty heavy handed, but you can't say the author doesn't warn you. In his prologue, El Fisgón writes, "I have allowed myself the use of certain terms no longer in vogue, such as capitalism [and] imperialism ... because, vogue or no vogue, they're still the best labels around."

"There are other words," he adds, "that more than adequately describe ... modern-day multinational corporations. But overuse has dulled their edge. Rarely, then, does this book employ such terms as corporate assholes, greedy bastards or plutocratic sons of bitches."

Of course, Charro will not sit quietly through this pinko chatter. "I come all this way to get a little advice and all you do is badmouth people who try to make a few bucks," he says to Cassandra. "You know, I think you're jealous." She calms him by offering him more services from her spa, a Swedish massage or a high-tech vibration treatment to reduce stress. Then she continues her lessons in market exploitation.

Throughout the tale, El Fisgón proves a tremendously versatile illustrator. His images range from big-nosed cartoon caricatures of public officials, to darkly inked photographic renderings of indigenous Mexicans, to smudged charcoal sketches of gun-toting skeletons. At times, he resorts to cliched conventions: El Fisgón's bosses are invariably rotund, while his workers tend to be emaciated. But more often he creates a gripping agitprop iconography.

After discussing U.S. reliance in the '70s on Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to put into practice the neoliberal free-market theories that, until then, had only been a twinkle in Milton Friedman's eye, El Fisgón provides an image of Pinochet kneeling and praying before a cross inside his home. Meanwhile, through an open doorway, the reader can see hundreds of crosses lining the general's backyard in neat rows.

Extending his story through today's war on terrorism, El Fisgón shows the U.N. logo, a globe surrounded by laurels. In the next panel, a cowboy boot kicks the globe clear of the frame. George W. Bush, dressed in a Roman toga, then places the laurels above his ears.

In addition to serving as one of the in-house editorial cartoonists at Mexico City's prominent La Jornada newspaper, Rafael Barajas has illustrated popular children's books and published a history of Mexican cartooning in the 19th Century, an era when radical "combat cartoonists" rebelled against colonialism and government censorship. Barajas puts his command of art history to work in How to Succeed at Globalization . He visually alludes to period styles in his romp through past centuries and he includes arresting, macabre historical illustrations by Albrecht Dürer, George Cruikshank, and Gustave Doré.

Barajas clearly identifies with his 19th Century predecessors. "I takes sides on everything, even if I see two dogs fighting on the street," he joked in a 2002 interview with The New York Times . "If a big dog attacks a small dog, then I am outraged. If a small dog attacks a big dog, I figure justice has been done."

Barajas stands in good company in Mexico City. There, elder statesman Eduardo del Rio (pen name Rius) works alongside a generation of cartoonists that came of age politically in the shadow of the government's 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of student demonstrators. Along with illustrations by El Fisgón, "How to Succeed at Globalization" includes drawings by Rius, Antonio Helguera and José Hernández, making it a small treasury of activist Mexican cartooning.

Of course, admirers of right-wing President Vicente Fox have their own satirists. Barajas has publicly complained about pro-government cartoonists who seem to make a far easier living than his leftist colleagues. Yet the fact that El Fisgón has gained considerable notoriety at one of his country's most prominent newspapers points to a spectrum of acceptable political opinion in Mexico that is considerably wider than in our domestic media. It is as if Al Franken were cracking jokes in celebration of the Zapatistas rather than the bygone Clinton administration.

Indeed, the drawings in "How to Succeed at Globalization" are not tailored to U.S. sensibilities. El Fisgón's cartoons on 9/11 and on Afghanistan, although ultimately emphasizing the message that "horror does not justify horror" and that "a world of social injustice is a world where terrorism can thrive," would have quickly earned him a place of scorn alongside Susan Sontag in the eyes of most U.S. pundits. At the same time, the artist shows that you can get away with a lot more with picture book humor than text-heavy treatise – that taking cartoons into combat remains a vibrant activist endeavor.

At the end of his visit to Carrera Clinica, Charro is shocked to receive a bill for $20,000 itemizing the relaxing care and fine food he inadvertently indulged while hearing of free-market evils. "This is a scam," he protests.

"All business is a scam," Cassandra replies with a wink, "but it sure took you a while to figure it out, didn't it?"

The Momentum of the Movement

One year after the start of war in Iraq, the peace movement in the United States faces an unusual predicament. Critics of the invasion had many of their key arguments vindicated in the past year, as President Bush's case for war has collapsed. Likewise, activists can take substantial credit for emboldening Democratic criticisms of the Bush administration and for keeping war-related scandals in the spotlight. Yet, even as we sense that greater space for progressive activism in the country is opening, it has been hard to maintain a sense of unity and purpose within the peace movement itself.

On March 20, the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, opponents of the war and the on-going occupation will stage protests and memorials in countries across the globe. The actions will recall the massive demonstrations that took place before the war. However, they will be far smaller than the protests of early 2003.

This set of circumstances raises two key questions: What has the peace movement accomplished? And where do we go from here?

Last year, the Bush Administration's push for war with Iraq faced a huge wave of international dissent, culminating in the coordinated worldwide demonstrations of February 15, 2003. As part of the "Cities for Peace" campaign, some 140 U.S. communities passed antiwar resolutions, including large cities like Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, as well as small ones like Telluride, Colorado, and Salisbury, Connecticut and Des Moines, Iowa. Immediately after the bombing began, direct actions in San Francisco produced a remarkable 2,300 arrests.

However, the movement's momentum slowed in the weeks following the first mass arrests. The shift was compounded by a dramatic change in mood nationally as the invasion of Iraq swiftly came to an end and the regime change was heralded as a success.

After the invasion, a perception emerged that the movement was a failure because the Bush administration went forward with its plans. It is true that peace activists could not stop the start of war. But there is no doubt that, in more general terms, the visible, outspoken, and sometimes disruptive global protests significantly shaped public understanding of the war.

In the wake of the protests on February 15, 2003, The New York Times famously labeled "world public opinion" as the second of "two superpowers on the planet." In several countries, most notably Spain (where the anti-war left just succeeded in ousting a pro-war government) forces standing in opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq have significantly altered the balance of power within their governments. It is possible that international outrage stopped the administration from fulfilling neoconservative desires to follow-up on the invasion of Iraq with assaults on Syria and Iran.

Domestically, protesters can also point to specific effects of their actions. Due to strong expressions of dissent, the war in Iraq was framed as a fiercely disputed affair. The taint of controversy limited the surge of support that any U.S. president can expect to receive when commanding troops overseas. The relentless scrutiny and criticism by the peace movement of the faulty case for invasion would ultimately gain mainstream traction and leave the President flailing to defend his wartime lies and deceptions.

The peace movement also helped to empower a mainstream Democratic critique of Bush's war. Activists soon found many of their arguments voiced in the presidential primaries. This came to fruition most visibly in the Dean campaign, which in turn helped to push the entire Democratic field in an anti-war direction.

While peace activists seemed demoralized by a triumphal Bush administration throughout much of Spring 2003, antiwar sentiment began to rebound by Autumn. The sustained hostilities and attacks on U.S. servicemen in Iraq disproved the neo-conservative vision of an easy reconstruction, suggesting grim and difficult times ahead. Increasing U.S. casualties fermented growing discontent among military families about the war's necessity.

Movement critiques helped to discredit the popular myth of a link between Hussein and Al Qaeda, disrupting contentions that the Iraq war was an effective way to fight terrorism. Denunciations of the administration's corporate pandering appeared especially trenchant following a series of no-bid contracts offered to well-connected U.S. businesses, as well as after persistent scandals about Halliburton profiteering. Finally, the administration's misuse of police powers to target opponents of the war helped to feed a backlash of civil libertarians calling for the repeal of the Patriot Act.

So where does the peace movement go from here?

Since the end of combat operations, peace activists have struggled to present a unified message, structured campaign goals or a plan for escalating dissent. The call to "Bring the Troops Home Now" is not universally accepted even amongst those who oppose the U.S. occupation, and it often muddies the waters by focusing discussion on technical plans for how the international community can play a greater role in furthering Iraqi sovereignty. The slogan for the March 20 protests, "The World Still Says No to War," is not fashioned to provide a new alternative or to convey a sense of fresh demands.

In terms of critical mass, unified message and clear goals, the push to "Beat Bush" is likely the only thing on the map of the U.S. peace movement that qualifies as a true strategy. This is by no means uncontroversial amongst activists, and many leading peace movement organizations have refrained from explicitly endorsing an anti-Bush electoral effort. Yet in contrast to four years ago, when many progressives supported the Nader campaign and felt that a ripe moment for third party insurgency had arrived, a wide range of left-of-center citizens are now unrepentantly joining forces to oust the current administration.

It hardly needs to be argued that there are many good reasons for this. However, a "Beat Bush" strategy also has its limits. The first, and most obvious, is that John Kerry's "anti-war" position is barely passable --something he belatedly adopted after initially voting to authorize an invasion.

The newspaper War Times, while celebrating Bush's poor showing in the polls, argues for the need "to continue to push our peace demand ourselves -- and push Democrats to follow." Many activists would take from this sentiment a plan for "critical support" of John Kerry. Of course, when it comes to mainstream presidential candidates, the U.S. left has proven itself better at the "critical" part of things than at "support." Along similar lines, United for Peace and Justice's 12-month strategy paper speaks of "shaping the debate." This is an admirable goal, but probably is too ambitious and diffuse to plan around effectively.

Looking at what unique strengths the peace movement brings to a larger "Beat Bush" coalition, a more specific job emerges for anti-war activists to tackle: Namely, the job of taking the war away from President Bush as a campaign asset. When the White House tries to portray its Iraq conquest as a victory for freedom and justice in the world, peace activists have a clear mandate to challenge the rosy story line, to expose the lies, and to highlight the true costs of neo-conservatism. Already, we have made considerable strides in this direction, forcing the administration into what The New York Times describes as a "slow retreat... a day-by-day, fact-by-fact backing away from assertions they made with such confidence nine months ago."

Writer Naomi Klein, among others, is now forcefully arguing that the privatization of Iraq's economy will be a vital front in this effort. As each of the leading justifications for war -- first the weapons of mass destruction, then the links with al Qaeda -- has fallen away, Bush has increasingly been forced to fall back on humanitarian reasoning. His apologists now frame the war as an effort to promote democracy. It will be incumbent upon peace activists, drawing on a wider analysis of global injustices, to raise questions about what version of "freedom" the White House is actually offering.

After all, what kind of democracy is the Bush administration promoting when the occupying authority has already sold away the Iraqi economy -- where virtually everything is newly privatized, where there are no limits on the controlling interests of foreign corporations, where profits are expatriated, and where pre-arranged Structural Adjustment programs put handcuffs on national policymakers? Freedom for a well-connected corps of multinational profiteers and true self-determination for the Iraqi people are two very distinct things. It's the job of the peace movement to publicize the difference in a way that can resonate with a large portion of the American electorate.

A modest start to our renewed efforts to make the costs of war an election issue will be participating in protests on March 20. This means joining vigils taking place throughout the world. Or, better yet, marching with military families to the White House from the Dover, Delaware Air Force Base, a site where the media is banned and the Iraq war dead arrive. Pictures of the families, the marchers and the mourners are images of dissent that the President would rather not see in advance of the November elections. But for a movement rebuilding momentum, they would be only the beginning.

Mark Engler is a writer based in New York City and is a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus. He can be reached via Research assistance provided by Jason Rowe.

The WMD Blame Game

In the face of growing public and Congressional pressure, President Bush has reversed his opposition to an independent investigation of flawed U.S. intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Will Americans finally get the critical examination they deserve into the fraudulent claims used by the administration to justify its "preemptive" war?

Don't count on it. Early indications suggest that the commission is being crafted by the White House primarily to deflect blame for its deceptions about the threat posed by Iraq.

On Saturday the Washington Post reported, "Bush's shift in position represents an effort to get out in front of a potentially dangerous issue that threatens to cloud his reelection bid." As more information about the President's plans hit the press on Sunday, some of the bipartisan commission's politically fortuitous aspects became clear. The investigation will get off to a slow start and won't report back until well after the November elections.

Moreover, it appears that the commission's mandate will be structured to help the Bush administration avoid responsibility for its distortions. Furthering former chief weapons inspector David Kay's controversial assertion that the faulty allegations about Saddam's arsenal had nothing to do with the political pressures of an impending invasion, the commission will go beyond Iraq to investigate intelligence about Iran, Libya, India, and Pakistan.

This move to lessen the focus on Iraq and paint the CIA as broadly dysfunctional serves the President well. Already some White House officials are suggesting that, in the build-up to war, they were simply making prudent estimates about Saddam's arsenal based on the best intelligence available, which, they say, admittedly looks poor in hindsight.

A real investigation would not let them off that easy. An independent commission should have the power to look beyond technical intelligence-gathering processes and examine questions about how the administration used and misused intelligence findings in its push for war.

As the White House tries to shift blame to bodies like the CIA, it is important to remember that its doomsday estimates about Iraqi chemical weapons were part of a larger series of deceptions. Bush officials pushed the idea that Saddam Hussein had connections to Al Qaeda and a menacing nuclear weapons program well after the intelligence community had debunked such claims. The President pretends that the empty-handed search for WMDs has actually been a success, using amorphous but frightening descriptions of "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." Other senior spokespeople have similarly stayed on the attack. A New York Times article from last Friday reported that Dick Cheney "was on the air again, talking about Mr. Hussein's mobile biological weapons units, which now appear, Dr. Kay says, to have had no such purpose."

The paper added an aside from one of the Vice President's staffers, who said, "We'll have to get Cheney the new memo... as soon as we write it."

David Kay and Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, each deny claims that the Bush administration pressured intelligence analysts to produce exaggerated reports about Iraq's weapons. However, a Times article from Sunday shows this remains a live debate. Even while citing the denials, it quotes intelligence officials, some still in the administration, who make clear that the Bush administration was looking for intelligence that would support its push for an invasion of Iraq, rather than making a tough decision to go to war after a sober review of the facts.

"They took every piece of information that proved their point and listed it," said an unnamed intelligence officer quoted in the article, specifically referring to the presentation Colin Powell made one year ago at the United Nations. "They would disregard or make fun of any contrary evidence. They forgot they were making mere guesses, and even guesses have to be taken with caution. They didn't hedge or caveat. Instead they would say we're right and you're wrong and it's a matter of national security."

More disturbing still is Seymour Hersh's October 27 article in The New Yorker. It describes in devastating detail how neoconservative hawks working under Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld demanded that incriminating, but unverified, reports about Saddam's weapons be sent directly to highly placed Bush administration personnel. A select team of loyalists could then decide for themselves what they would present to the public.

Hersh writes that "Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book The Threatening Storm generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was 'dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.'"

"They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information," Pollack continued. "They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn't have the time or the energy to go after the bad information."

"Pretty soon you say 'Fuck it,'" a senior Bush administration official told Hersh, who writes that CIA senior analysts then "began to provide the intelligence that was wanted."

It may well be true, as David Kay and others argue, that intelligence officers since the Clinton era viewed Saddam Hussein with more trepidation than was actually warranted, and that our nation's wider methods for gathering and evaluating information deserve scrutiny. The government should address these concerns. But the fact that distressing charges about the Bush administration's uniquely politicized use of intelligence about Iraq continue to surface on a regular basis points to the need for something more. An independent inquiry must place intelligence failures in the context of a war effort whose central justifications have consistently proven unfounded.

President Bush's commission, fashioned as political damage control, isn't likely to do the job. That is, unless pressure for a real investigation continues to grow.

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus. Research assistance for this article provided by Jason Rowe.

Who Pays For Poverty?

The success of welfare reform is a faith-based proposition in Washington, D.C. This month, as lawmakers debate the reauthorization of welfare legislation, the conservatives on Capital Hill will offer their regular sermon on the virtues of "personal responsibility," ignoring the steady hemorrhage of jobs from the economy. And since welfare reform was a major legislative focus of President Clinton's "New Democrats," the other side of the aisle is unlikely to question the underlying belief that "ending welfare as we knew it" represented a triumph in social policy.

Out in the real world, however, the jobless recovery and enfeebled social protections are increasingly set on a collision course. Local legislators must confront an ugly truth about their "reformed" welfare systems: If critics charged that cutting welfare rolls had harmful impacts during the prosperous 1990s, the true extent of the damage is only emerging in the wake of the Bush recession.

"Yeah, there are lots of jobs available," went a joke about the workforce in the Clinton era: "I've got three of them." Since then, real wages haven't improved noticeably and extra work is harder to come by. Nonfarm payroll employment has dropped steadily since November 2001, shedding 579,000 jobs so far this year. Clinton's 1996 welfare reform replaced the cash entitlement-based Aid for Families with Dependent Children with the new Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). Research suggests that in the context of the faltering economy, people who might have once received AFDC are far more likely to find entrenched poverty than living-wage work. Single mothers are in truly desperate straits according to a new report released by the Children's Defense Fund. "The number of jobless women with children not receiving welfare rose by 188,000 in one year, leaving a record three quarters of all single mothers without public assistance and causing a sudden surge in extreme child poverty," the report states. "Single parents entered the 2001 recession with less protection from a failing economy than in any recession in the last 20 years."

The details of this debacle get complicated. Under TANF, individual states receive block grants that allow them to customize their welfare systems. (As the late social theorist Teresa Brennan put it, there are now "50 Ways to Leave Your Welfare Benefits.") But Wisconsin's flagship W-2 program provides a revealing example. The program, which helped former Governor Tommy Thompson land a job as Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services, is generally lauded as a success for cutting the number of families receiving cash assistance in half. The real results have been mixed at best.

A largely unnoticed AP story in May showed that W-2 was considerably more expensive for Wisconsin than the old welfare program. Although the state served fewer people, the welfare system cost $276.9 million more in the most recent budget period than during the last year of AFDC.

So what ever happened to "the end of big government"? Wisconsin realized that if you're going to force mothers to enter the job market rather than stay home to take care of their kids, you have to make provisions for child care. Under TANF in Wisconsin, the demand for child care has grown by 160 percent. (Ironically, many women entering the low-wage workforce end up stuck in jobs taking care of other peoples' kids, which, at hourly pay rates that make McDonald's look generous, isn't lifting anyone up by their boot straps.) Nor does job training come cheap. As Tommy Thompson himself has noted, if you want to create a "welfare-to-work" program that amounts to more than rhetoric, you have to be willing to pay for it.

Even with the extra expenditures, Thompson's brainchild is nothing to cheer about. Food pantries, emergency homeless shelters, and charitable hospitals all saw demand for their services shoot skyward between 1997 and 2000, according to groups like the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the Institute for Wisconsin's Future. In the same period, forcible evictions in Milwaukee increased by more than 200 percent. And when the state's Department of Workforce Development surveyed former AFDC recipients, they found 68 percent of those who had "successfully" found work said they were "just barely getting by day to day."

So much for the boom years of the Clinton administration.

The real problem is that most states are not even doing as well as Wisconsin, having failed to make the same investments. Instead of receiving cash assistance, many families are simply getting no help at all. In fact, the percentage of eligible families who actually receive welfare benefits plunged from 84 percent in 1995 to 52 percent in 1999, according to the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Michael New at the Cato Institute writes that "states with the strongest sanctions and the lowest benefit levels had the most success in reducing their caseloads." He's right. But slashing welfare rolls and reducing poverty are not the same thing. The current system is all too ready to reward states for the former. Welfare reform in practice means that in tough economic times -- the very times welfare is needed most -- the government has little to offer the poor and the jobless. Those wealthy enough to walk away with one of President Bush's huge tax cuts aren't complaining. Nor are corporations who can hire from an expanding pool of low-wage workers. But the rest of us, who find our jobs ever less secure and our community resources strained, are left to pay for poverty.

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, can be reached via This article first appeared on Research assistance provided by Katie Griffiths.

Whether to Be Loved or Feared

On this Fourth of July the news, simply put, is that the world hates us. Less than two years ago, following the attacks of 9/11, outpourings of sympathy for the Untied States flowed from around the globe. Yet those in power in Washington have swiftly converted that goodwill into distrust and contempt.

Poll results released by the Pew Research Center in the first week of June verified the fears that critics of President Bush's military adventurism voiced all along. "Anti-Americanism has deepened, but it has also widened," said Pew director Andrew Kohut. Not only has negative sentiment about our country intensified in places like Turkey, Indonesia, and the Middle East, "you now find it in the far reaches of Africa ... People see America as a real threat."

Among our traditional allies, 85 percent of the French and 70 percent of Germans, Spanish, Australians, South Koreans and Canadians feel that the U.S. does not take the interests of other countries into consideration.

That this qualifies as a new low for American diplomacy is hard to dispute. But another question remains: Does it really matter? Given the United States' overwhelming military might, what difference do opinion polls make?

Global power is not premised on a taste test, nor, as Bush himself put it, a "focus group." Some nationalists may feel content with the idea that, confronted with Machiavelli's famous question concerning "whether it is better to be loved than feared or feared than loved," our President simply opted for the latter.

There are reasons why this view is short-sighted, however, and why patriotism must be founded on different premises.

At a minimum, most people recognize that global resentment threatens our safety. Looking at the world and asking, "Why do they hate us?" does little good if the next question is "Who cares what they think?" Alienating our allies precludes the type of cooperative police work needed to track down terrorists. And while our investments in tanks and missiles may intimidate rival states, they do little to quell fanaticism.

Yet this self-interested concern for our own security produces only the most limited, the most fearful reason for why the people of the United States should pay attention to world opinion. It should not be too much to hope that a regard for the views of others can grow from a sense of fellowship and solidarity, more than our fear of attack from abroad.

Aren't we against terrorism everywhere? Isn't the peace that we seek a global one? If the events of 9/11 do not inspire a sense of sympathy for those in the world who are regularly confronted with their vulnerability, then we have failed to absorb a vital lesson.

Maybe it is moralistic to hope for this type of solidarity. Maybe such sentiments have no place in diplomatic affairs. But this is not the point of contention in current U. S. foreign policy. The peculiar fact is that on today's world stage, everyone claims to stand in the interest of the world community, to act on behalf of the poor.

President Bush, for example, despite protestations to the contrary, seems to want to be loved. The White House's vision of the world is highly moralistic. Most fundamentally, it invokes the idea of freedom to justify its actions. In a New York Times op-ed written for the anniversary of September 11th, the President announced that "securing freedom's triumph" is "America's great mission." Freedom is what separates us from the "evil-doers." It demands that we "liberate" foreign nations.

There is no need to speculate about what this freedom will entail. A very particular view of the concept resides openly within the rhetoric. There is "a single sustainable model for national success," announced the Bush Administration's National Security Strategy. It requires "free enterprise" and "free trade" in "every corner of the world."

"If you can make something that others value," the White House says, "you should be able to sell it to them. If others make something that you value, you should be able to buy it. This is real freedom."

Autonomy and self-determination -- or the freedom to dissent that is protected by our first Amendment -- appear to lie outside this "single model," outside of "real freedom." European peoples are not free to decide, as a precautionary measure, to instate a ban on genetically modified foods. Rather, the U.S. upholds the freedom of agribusiness to access foreign markets. (In this case, another of Bush's moral arguments contends that Europe stands guilty of "hinder[ing] the great cause of ending hunger in Africa," a cause that CEOs apparently hold dear.)

The type of freedom offered by military "liberation" can also prove circumscribed. The media watchdogs at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted a March 19 slip by Tom Brokaw, in which the NBC anchor voiced a sentiment that lies only slightly beneath the surface of Washington's neoconservative foreign policy: "We don't want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq," he said, "because in a few days we're gonna own that country."

International public opinion puts the lie to our President's do-good crusade. Those who make up the majority of the world say, �No, we don�t want that.� They tell the White House to stop doing them any favors. They assert that real freedom does not permit imperial ambition.

There is also a hopeful message, though; it suggests that perhaps they do not hate us after all. When asked to distinguish between the American people and the government, large majorities in France, Germany, Britain and Italy held a favorable view of the American people. Elsewhere, too -- in Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Nigeria -- those who spoke negatively of our country referred to the government holding power in Washington, rather than its citizens.

Rejecting the "liberation" of pre-emptive strike and the "freedom" of corporate expansion should not mean shrinking into isolationism. Americans are inextricably linked to those who speak through opinion polls and international protest. Their distinction, between our people and our government, should guide a moral vision for the world. And it should form the basis of our patriotism.

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a former analyst with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San José, Costa Rica. He can be reached via the website Research assistance for this article provided by Katie Griffiths.

A Prize-Winning Rebuke For Bush

Earlier this month, President Bush welcomed this year's American winners of the Nobel Prize to the White House. The event featured considerable pomp and hearty congratulations, with the President declaring that he is "proud for what [the winners have] done not only for America, but for the world." The visit, however, concealed one critical and inconvenient fact. Namely, that Nobel Peace laureates throughout the world have come forward in the past year to condemn Bush's unilateralist leanings in foreign policy, and to warn against a rush to war with Iraq.

In addition to prize-winners in science and economists, the dignitaries present at the White House visit included President Jimmy Carter, whose 2002 Peace Prize came with a firm rebuke for the current administration's policies. In their October citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee highlighted Carter's persistent efforts to peacefully resolve conflicts through "mediation," "cooperation," "international law," and "respect for human rights." These terms have never quite taken hold in our current president's vocabulary, his recent maneuvering at the U.N. notwithstanding. Certainly, such internationalist ideas take a back seat in the Administration's recently-released defense doctrine, which vows to indefinitely defend American supremacy in the world.

It was with this strong-arm outlook on foreign affairs in mind that Nobel Committee chairman Gunnar Berge stated flat out that President Bush should understand Carter's citation as "a kick in the leg."

The Committee's rebukes reflect a larger series of criticisms that have come from the Nobel community in the past year. In large part, it was outrage from America's allies abroad that forced Bush to take his war plans to the U.N. Security Council. Like Carter, many felt that this action was a positive step. However, even after the Security Council's endorsement of Resolution 1441, the potential for a destructive unilateralism persists. As President Bush interprets the measure as a justification for U.S. attack, rather than a means of preventing war, the opposition of some of the world's most respected leaders grows ever more relevant.

Indeed, the statements of Nobel Peace Prize-winners provide an unusually clear indication of how far the White House had gone in alienating the U.S. from the rest of the world.

After he won the Nobel Prize in 2001, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that attacking Iraq would "be unwise in that it can lead to a major escalation in the region." Since then, he has persisted in working to craft alternatives. In a meeting with Bush last week, Annan urged "patience" in assessing and addressing the threat of any weapons Iraq may have. Rejecting the search for a "flimsy or hasty excuse to go to war," he insisted that "the issue is disarmament. Regime change is not on the agenda."

The dispute highlights a key conflict. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter points out that "The last thing Bush wants is a weapons inspection regime that works. That would mean lifting economic sanctions and Iraq coming back into the fold with Saddam Hussein still at the helm." That's why President Bush has reserved the right to launch his own attack, even though Resolution 1441 explicitly requires that he go back through the Security Council before meting out retribution for any Iraqi non-compliance with inspections.

It was Bush's ongoing insistence on acting as judge, jury, and executioner that earned him a stern reproach from 1993 Nobel Peace Laureate Nelson Mandela. In an interview with Newsweek in September, Mandela railed against the White House's implication that "if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries."

"That must be condemned in the strongest terms," Mandela said. He concluded in no uncertain terms: "The attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace."

Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 after brokering a peace plan for Central America. This plan helped to end the blood bath in the region that had been fueled by the reckless foreign policy decisions of President Reagan and his Vice President -- George H. W. Bush. On November 9, Arias told an audience of American high school students that "The world is tired ... of the arrogance and unilateralism in Washington." Arias added: "I believe that if you keep acting unilaterally, you will become more isolated every single day."

For his own part, Jimmy Carter used a September Op-Ed in the Washington Post to denounce "a core group of conservatives who are trying to realize long pent-up ambitions under the cover of the proclaimed war against terrorism." As recently as November 16, he lambasted the White House for impeding multilateral agreements that would help create long-term safeguards against terrorism. "One of the things that the United States government has not done," Carter said, "is to try to comply with and enforce international efforts targeted to prohibit the arsenals of biological weapons that we ourselves have."

With war becoming an ever more immediate possibility, intervention from world leaders may yet prove necessary. Of course, diplomats will need more than peace prizes if they want to intervene successfully to halt the White House's invasion. They will need a strong mandate.

It took popular outrage and organized action to free Nelson Mandela from prison and to build peace accords in Central America. Since the voices of international opinion have not been enough to stop Bush's march to war, it appears that a new wave of public pressure will also have to come from home.

Mark Engler, a writer based in Brooklyn, New York, has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San José, Costa Rica. This article first appeared on A Globe of Witnesses.

Doing Right By Immigrants on Labor Day

In the year that has passed since Sept. 11, immigrant workers mattered to the labor movement more than ever.

"We're a city of immigrants unlike any other city, within a nation of immigrants," New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said shortly after the terrorist attacks. "It's the thing that renews us and revives us in every generation."

Labor has been the first to agree. Recognizing the "increased fear and scapegoating of immigrants and the great burden imposed on immigrants by the recession," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney argued that we must stand firmly on the side of immigrant workers and their families.

The labor movement's renewed embrace of immigrant workers constitutes a historic shift. Only in the past two years has the AFL-CIO reversed its support for the 1986 federal law requiring that companies verify their employees' immigration status when hiring.

By changing its stance, the labor federation acknowledged what many of its members knew long ago: that the verification laws don't create safe workplace conditions or maintain decent-paying jobs. In practice, these measures benefit employers who use the specter of an INS inspection to quiet troublemakers -- workers who blow the whistle on safety violations, or who speak up for their legal right to organize.

Even without the help of immigration officials, anti-union companies prove all too willing to act on threats against employees. As Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner showed in a study of 400 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections, employers illegally fire workers for union activity in one of every three organizing campaigns.

Responding to these abuses, and acknowledging the crucial contributions of the estimated eight million undocumented workers to our economy, the AFL-CIO now supports a broad amnesty for these immigrants and their families.

All workers would benefit from changes in government policy that allow immigrant families to gain legal citizenship status, and that create real penalties for employers who break the law.

Labor wins when it welcomes new workers into its ranks -- infusing new energy into the movement for living wages and dignity on the job. And America wins when we maintain high standards for safety and respect in every workplace.

That's why the Supreme Court decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. the NLRB represents a tragic setback for the country. Last April, the Court ruled that undocumented workers do not have the same rights as other employees to receive back pay if fired illegally. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the Court's minority opinion, this removes a key financial incentive for employers to respect the both labor and immigration law. In effect, the decision encourages union busters to hire more immigrant workers, because employers now have little to lose in firing those who try to organize in places like hazardous packinghouses or garment sweatshops.

Already employers guilty of targeting pro-union workers for pay cuts, surveillance, and intimidation have taken advantage of this decision. In one example, the owners of the Tuv Taam food plant in New York City immediately used the Hoffman Plastics precedent to deny that they owed lost wages to locked-out workers, even though the immigration status of Tuv Taam's abused employees had never been questioned.

These injustices have only strengthened the labor movement's resolve to pass strong immigration reforms. The AFL-CIO and some of its member unions who have been most shaped by the recent waves of immigration recently announced that they will sponsor "Freedom Rides" in 2003 to highlight the plight of undocumented immigrants. Civil Rights leaders like Reverend James Lawson and Congressman John Lewis, who participated in the original Freedom Rides through the South more than forty years ago, will join with people experiencing discrimination on the job today.

With workers busing into New York from cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Houston and Minneapolis, the labor movement will send a powerful message to Congress and to President Bush: That immigrant rights are workers' rights. And that only by standing behind immigrant workers in a time of national crisis do we uphold Mayor Giuliani's statement that "diversity has been our greatest source of strength."

Mark Engler, a writer based in Brooklyn, has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San José, Costa Rica, as well as the Public Intellectuals Program at Florida Atlantic University.

Marching for a Global Peace

Many people ask me to explain why we were marching in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. In response I describe the largest-ever U.S. demonstration in support of Palestinian self-determination, the protest calling for an end to destructive World Bank/IMF projects in the developing world, the lobbying efforts to close the nefarious U.S. Army School of the Americas, and a festival of music to stop military aid to Colombia.

"Wasn't it a bit unfocused?" they say.

It is true that the protests took on many issues, and struggled to draw connections between them. But that's exactly the point: War-planners may be content to answer challenges from abroad by invoking simplistic dualisms of good versus evil. In contrast, the diverse issues addressed in the protests reflect the complexity of the questions we face in the world today.

No doubt, "dead or alive" militarism has the advantage of being simple, but it has the notable downside of making the world a more dangerous place. President Bush rarely lacks zeal in expanding his "Axis of Evil" headhunting. And his administration's refusal to submit evidence for international review, their flimsy coalition-building, and their macho swagger alienate citizens throughout the international community. Already the arrogant rhetoric of "infinite justice" has perpetuated a "Screw You" foreign policy: Tough luck for those millions abroad who criticize U.S. military interventions; they are left to stew in their resentment.

The various protests in Washington, D.C. together reflected an international perspective that is admittedly more challenging than the Bush Administration's cowboy diplomacy.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Arab-Americans and their supporters rallied in solidarity with Palestinians under attack. These protesters argued that the U.S. should end its support -- and funding -- for Israel's bloody violations of international law. One protest display, a plywood shantytown near the White House, depicted the human rights catastrophe with a symbolic model of the bulldozed, smoldering homes of occupied cities like Jenin, Ramallah, and Nablus. Marchers carried gruesome photos of children maimed and killed in past attacks.

At other points during the weekend of protest, demonstrators likened this destruction to the situation in Colombia. There, a flood of U.S. military aid has been used to strengthen paramilitary assassins and deepen the country's civil war. On Sunday, musicians performed for a poncho-covered crowd that braved the drizzle to show their concern. The following day, police arrested approximately forty Colombia Mobilization activists who staged sit-ins near the Capitol.

Addressing economic policy, speakers at a rally outside the headquarters of the World Bank described how "structural adjustment" has worsened poverty and inequality in a long list of developing countries. Throughout protesters sought to make connections between recent military aggression and the profit-driven interests of multinational elites. Signs reading "More World, Less Bank!" accompanied calls of "No Blood for Oil."

Progressives are not the only people who see a link between military and economic objectives. At the meetings of the World Trade Organization in Doha, Qatar, American Trade Representatives argued that "free trade" stands with national security at the fore of national concerns in foreign relations. The need to satisfy the United States' insatiable thirst for oil indeed remains a key unspoken motivation behind Bush's drive to launch a new crusade in the Middle East. And domestically, many conservative observers draw links as they describe both anti-corporate and anti-war demonstrations as unpatriotic and even treasonous.

Pointing to such examples, protesters show how the War Against Terrorism grows increasingly synonymous with the War For Corporate Globalization.

The fact that Bush Administration has been able to use the specter of terrorism to advance its trade agenda presents an important challenge to globalization activism. In a political climate adverse to criticism of U.S. foreign policy, we must renew efforts to expand our base of support. The labor movement, one constituency that has allowed past globalization protests to engage a wide spectrum of Americans, did not mobilize substantial numbers for the weekend's activity. Deep divisions about the war within unions make it an issue that few want to address publicly. One global justice group, United for a Fair Economy, cites polls consistently indicating that over two thirds of the country opposes new trade agreements that do not include safeguards for workers' rights and the environment. In contrast, as Russ Davis of Massachusetts Jobs With Justice recently explained, taking anti-war stances constitutes "political suicide at this point for elected labor leaders in the U.S."

Just because it's less popular, though, doesn't mean it's not right. The effort to build strong progressive coalitions at home will continue. In the meantime, the weekend marches in Washington, D.C. advanced an important mission: They showed that even within America's borders, a destructive unilateralism will be met with resistance from those who believe that another world is possible, and needed.

Mark Engler is a writer and activist based in Brooklyn, New York. He has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San Jose, Costa Rica, as well as the Public Intellectuals Program at Florida Atlantic University.

Brewing Poverty And Violence In El Salvador

In advance of his visits to several Latin American countries, President Bush has focused public attention on U.S. aid to developing countries. As a result, the real purpose of his tour has gone unnoticed. Bush is using his time in Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador to promote neoliberal economic policies that actually serve to exacerbate inequality and undermine democratic institutions in countries throughout the region.

El Salvador, in particular, provides a case study in how Bush's version of economic "modernization" has failed the poor.

Geography has never been George W.'s strong suit, but one might expect him to try being sensitive to El Salvador's human rights concerns, given that a U.N. Truth Commission blamed the right-wing governments supported by his father for 90 percent of the approximately 80,000 murders committed through the country's civil war. Instead, President Bush's visit falls on the day normally reserved for commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination. The army's death squads gunned down Romero, a stalwart defender of the country's poorest citizens, during a mass on March 24, 1980.

Ten years after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords ended more than a decade of bloody conflict, U.S.-supported policies continue to impede progress toward human rights. Rather than atoning for its sponsorship of Cold War crimes, the United States has overseen a type of economic transformation that punishes the same communities most victimized during El Salvador's time of violence. Under the supervision of the IMF and World Bank in Washington, DC, the conservative Salvadoran governments of the 1990s hacked social services and sold off state enterprises in telecommunications and utilities to private interests.

Businesses dramatically raised costs to consumers. At the same time, the government led drives to bust the unions that fight to keep wages in the "modernizing" economy from falling to sweatshop levels. Over the past months it announced the firing of 10,000 workers in the public sector -- a dramatic loss of jobs in El Salvador's small labor economy.

Contrary to the objectives of the U.N.'s International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, the forum which prompted Bush to increase foreign aid, these economic policies worsen living conditions for the majority of Salvadorans. The United Nations Development Program reports that El Salvador's increasing levels of income inequality rank among the highest in the world. Even the official government measures show that half of the country lives in poverty. Many Salvadorans can provide for their basic needs only because of money sent back from relatives who have emigrated to the United States. Indeed, with a regressive tax structure and a lack of public assets creating huge debts for the government, the economy as a whole depends on the $1.9 billion a year in remittances for its survival.

Democracy is also a casualty in the neoliberal regime. Members of the Bush administration have embraced the conservative ARENA party as their ideological brethren. Bush himself praises his Salvadoran counterpart, Francisco "Paco" Flores, as a "brilliant young leader" and a "breath of fresh air." But ARENA frequently shows contempt for free speech and the rights of opposition parties. When the rival FMLN gained a plurality in the Legislative Assembly in 2000, ARENA led right-wing parties in refusing to let them assume the presidency of that body. More recently, after a prominent health-care union led several days of street marches protesting the January cutbacks, they found their offices occupied by police. These are exactly the type of abuses that Bush would need to remedy if he were serious about his proclaimed desire to "strengthen democratic institutions" in El Salvador.

In the context of economic turmoil and political abuses, human rights have again become endangered. Due to an epidemic of street crime, which has given the country one of the highest per capita murder rates in the hemisphere, life for most citizens is as dangerous now as during the war. ARENA persistently attempts to undermine the Human Rights Ombudsman, an office created by the Peace Accords as a major institutional safeguard against future abuses. And the process of reckoning with past trauma has been difficult. Against the advice of organizations such as Amnesty International, the right rushed an amnesty law through the Assembly in the wake of the U.N. Truth Commission report detailing many of the war's horrors. With few exceptions, those responsible for atrocities never faced justice.

For its part, the Bush administration harbors figures like Elliott Abrams, who, as a chief Reagan spin-doctor on Central American affairs, steadfastly denied that horrific abuses ever happened. Mentioning one notorious site of terror, The New York Times noted in January that the families of those villagers massacred at El Mozote have long been denied the "foundations of healing" -- the prosecution of criminals, the official naming of victims, and appreciation of the urgent need for relatives "to possess a shard of bone to bury."

As neoliberals rush to forget the past, they may yet provoke its repetition. Francisco Flores has advocated that U.N. to return to conduct a "closing ceremony" for the Peace Accords, asserting that "the agreement to fortify democracy in the country has been completed." Furthermore, he has explained that with this matter settled, he will have nothing further to discuss with the leading opposition party.

Neither Flores nor Bush seem to understand that the pursuit of democracy and human rights must always be an on-going process.

In January, Hector Dada Hirezi, a leading commentator and past member of a transitional national government, argued that Salvadorans are finding the Peace Accords, based on the premise of ending war without producing winners and losers, being supplanted by an economic system in which the poor lose and economic elites win. More ominously, a major human rights institute at the University of Central America in San Salvador has warned that the government, in charting its present course, is "cooking a broth of violence." The rhetoric of poverty reduction has long been a part of U.S. policy in Latin America. While foreign aid can be used to good ends, allowing humanitarian gestures to disguise the policies that continue to brew poverty and injustice constitutes a recipe for crisis. Bush need only consider Argentina, a past neoliberal poster child whose dollarized currency and foreign debt spiraled into economic meltdown. Or go no further than El Salvador itself, where the issues that provoked the country's long civil war look all too similar to the poverty, inequality, and corruption that persist today.

Mark Engler is an independent writer and activist from Des Moines, Iowa. He has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San Jose, Costa Rica, as well as the Public Intellectuals Program at Florida Atlantic University.

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