Weekend Reading List

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on contraception and gender equality, how the safety net helps those in need, the lessons we can learn from the success of schools in Finland, the dangers of fracking, and what needs to occur in Afghanistan as our troops start coming home next year.

If you have comments on any of these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next weekend’s reading list, please let us know below or at the Winning Progressive Facebook page.

 

10 Facts About Contraception (and How It Changed the World) – a good overview of how contraception has helped increase gender equality throughout the world

Contrary to ‘Entitlement Society’ Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households – deconstructing the conservative myth that social safety net programs are somehow destroying the work ethic in the US

Schools We Can Envy – an overview of education success in Finland, and how it contradicts the testing and anti-teacher union agenda of education “reform” advocates here in the US

Why Not Frack? – a review of two books and a movie about the dangers of fracking and the impacts that the natural gas industry is having on local communities

Beginning of the End – a good overview of things that need to occur in Afghanistan as we prepare to begin bringing our troops home.

 

A Tale of Two SOTU Speeches – Obama 2012 and Clinton 1996

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Suppose you are a Democratic President of the United States.  The voters sent you to the White House with a large electoral college victory and large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.  Two years later, the voters rebuked your party in mid-term Congressional elections, creating a divided government in which Republicans control at least one house of Congress.  As President, you are now gearing up for your re-election campaign and are preparing to offer your State of the Union speech that is perhaps the best opportunity to frame the debate in re-election battle.   What would you do – triangulate or offer a progressive vision?

If you were President Clinton, the answer was to triangulate between the conservative Republicans and more progressive Democrats in Congress by offering a State of the Union speech filled with mostly conservative themes and small bore ideas.  President Clinton offered a few progressive proposals, such as raising the minimum wage, ratifying the START II anti-nuclear proliferation treaty, and protecting Medicare and Medicaid.  But the overarching theme of the speech was that “the era of big government is over,” which Clinton said three times during the speech.  The three biggest proposals in the speech were balancing the budget, welfare reform, and cracking down on illegal immigration.  And the rest of the speech was filled with minor ideas like requiring V-chips in TV sets, school uniforms, and voucherizing job training programs.

President Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union speech was not horrible. But at a time of strong economic growth and low deficits, President Clinton had the opportunity to set forth a strongly progressive vision for reducing poverty, making health care more affordable, rebuilding our cities, improving the environment, and shoring up Medicare and Medicaid.  Instead, he decided to tack to the center, criticize government, and offer small bore proposals like V-chips and school uniforms. Some of the individual ideas may have been worthwhile, but President Clinton certainly did not offer the type of strong defense of progressive governance that we should expect by a Democratic President.

By contrast, President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech offered a far more progressive vision to launch his re-election campaign.  Sounding some of the same themes that were in his December 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, President Obama focused largely on economic fairness and how it can be achieved, starting by posing the following choice:

We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by.  Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

After outlining how financial shenanigans and deregulation caused the economic collapse of 2008, President Obama noted that he would not go back to those failed policies:

But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.  No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.

Next, President Obama proposed to help stop jobs and tax revenues from going overseas by, among other things, proposing a basic minimum tax for multinational corporations:

First, if you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it.  That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home. Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas.  From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax.  And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here.

Our President also reiterated his call for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform that helps law-abiding immigrants get on a path to citizenship:

Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge:  The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens.  Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.

That doesn’t make sense.. . . . We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.   But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country.  Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship.  I will sign it right away.

Pushing back on the largely baseless conservative attacks about government loans for the Solyndra solar company, Obama next offered a defense of renewable energy investments and called for paying them by eliminating tax breaks for the oil industry:

I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.  We have subsidized oil companies for a century.  That’s long enough.  It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.   Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.

Noting the significant amount of spending we are avoiding by ending the war in Iraq and gradually winding down the war in Afghanistan, the President proposed to use half of that money to invest in infrastructure here in the US:

Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.

President Obama then offered a lengthy defense of smart federal regulations and calling for an increased enforcement effort against abusive financial practices:

We’ve all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them.  That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.  Rules to prevent financial fraud, or toxic dumping, or faulty medical devices, don’t destroy the free market.  They make the free market work better.

There is no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly.  In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.  I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.  We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years.  We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill – because milk was somehow classified as an oil.  With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.

I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder.  But I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago.  I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.  I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men.

And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.  The new rules we passed restore what should be any financial system’s core purpose:  Getting funding to entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and getting loans to responsible families who want to buy a home, start a business, or send a kid to college.

So if you’re a big bank or financial institution, you are no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits.  You’re required to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail – because the rest of us aren’t bailing you out ever again.  And if you’re a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices are over.  Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray with one job: To look out for them.

We will also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments.  Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender.  That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing.  So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count.

And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

Finally, President Obama called for the wealthy to begin paying their fair share again by ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and instituting a Buffett Rule that ensures that millionaires pay a tax rate of at least 30%.  While Obama’s accompanying proposal to rein in the long term costs of Medicare and Medicaid could create some peril, it is important to keep in mind that we can and should rein in such costs by rationalizing health care spending rather than by cutting benefits:

I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.  Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule:  If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.  And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right:  Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.  In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions.  On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.  You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages.  You’re the ones who need relief.

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want.  But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes?  Most Americans would call that common sense.

President Obama’s speech did include a few conservative ideas that we aren’t excited by such as opening up more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas areas to drilling.  But the clear focus of President Obama’s speech was an aggressive presentation of a progressive vision of economic fairness, smart regulations, the wealthy paying their fair share, clean energy development, immigration, and infrastructure investment.  The contrast with President Clinton’s 1996 triangulation could hardly be clearer.

While President Obama’s speech provides us progressives with an opportunity, it also presents a risk.  Clinton’s triangulation was harmful to the progressive cause as a matter of policy, but it succeeded in what it was intended to do – get President Clinton re-elected. With President Obama taking a far more progressive approach in a fairly similar political situation, we progressives must do what we can to make sure that Obama is re-elected with a Democratic Congress (and then hold their feet to the fire in 2013) so that we can show that the progressive vision is a better approach not only as a matter of policy but also as a matter of politics.

To do your part, write a letter to your local newspaper editor in support of the proposed Buffett Rule and sign up to volunteer for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Weekend Reading List

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have a collection of documents by and about Dr. King, an evaluation of coming demographic and economic changes in the US, and reports on why Finland’s schools are successful, US schools are increasingly criminalizing childhood behavior, and why we ignore the civilian victims of American wars.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next weekend’s reading list, please let us know at Winning Progressive’s Facebook page.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute – the Institute, based at Stanford University, has a comprehensive online collection of speeches, papers, and research by and about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority - United for a Fair Economy’s 2012 report on Dr. King’s legacy focuses on demographic shifts that are projected to make people of color the majority of the US population by 2042, but how corresponding changes in policy are needed to ensure that current economic disparities between whites and people of color are not further exacerbated.

Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? – an examination of  how Finland’s public education system has become the envy of the world without following the marketplace competition and standardized testing approach that is so much in vogue about education “reform’ advocates in the US.

The US Schools With Their Own Police – a report on how school districts in the US are increasingly criminalizing what we previously considered to be just typical behavior from school children.

Why Do We Ignore the Civilians Killed in American Wars? - a look at the reasons why we tend to ignore the approximately six million largely innocent civilians killed in the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

A Budget War on War Budgets

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer envisions great possibilities for building stronger local communities if we stop the insane levels of military spending at the national level (58% of all discretionary federal spending is on the military). Read more about the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MN ASAP) and how you can get involved

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

It’s always refreshing to talk with an eternal optimist when times seem topsy-turvy, full of turmoil and a bit unprecedented.  Instead of being gripped by fear and trepidation, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer sees the future as one with endless possibilities for hope in solving the economic and social problems that dominate us today.

“If you take an honest look at the world, you could easily say, ‘we’re doomed; we have climate change; we have this economy that’s crumbling; we have endless war.’ Or you can look at it as a hopeful time,” said Nelson Pallmeyer, an assistant professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a founding member of Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MN ASAP). 

“Let me give you two examples of why I’m hopeful,” he said recently.  “First, we now have very commanding examples in the world of the power of non-violence (Egypt, Tunisia). We have many peoples embracing non-violent tactics and having those tactics be overall remarkably successful. 

“Second, I think we’re seeing a growing awareness of the failure of a foreign policy that’s based on increased militarization and military spending.  Polls are now calling in larger numbers for us to get out of Afghanistan.  Many people are saying we’re squandering enormous amounts of wealth and wasted resources (in the military sector).  You’re hearing more and more ‘don’t cut Social Security, cut military spending.’ ”

In addition to his teaching duties at St. Thomas, Nelson-Pallmeyer is a nationally recognized writer, public speaker, and activist committed to nonviolent social change. He has focused his life and work on showing linkages between faith and critical political, economic and social issues. He has written extensively on issues of hunger, poverty, U.S. foreign policy, the historical Jesus, and problems of God and violence. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

He ran unsuccessful campaigns to garner the Minnesota Democratic nomination for the 6th Congressional District seat (2006, now held by Keith Ellison) and the Minnesota Senate nomination (2008, now held by Al Franken).  It was the grass-roots enthusiasm for change that he found through those election ventures that has catapulted him to the MN ASAP initiative.

“When I entered the political arena, it was a dismal arena in many ways.  You saw ugly things such as the influence of money and a lot of cynicism.  But my campaigns had so many signs for hope.  There were many people around the state who were just longing for an honest assessment of where we are as long as those discussions included a sense of possibilities and an invitation for them to be part of the solution.

“It really is the grass roots groups who are doing the effective and creative work to move us into a different future.  That’s where hope really lies.  Hope isn’t rooted in the notion that we’ll elect a politician who will bring about the solution. What we need to do is activate our own potential and stop being the consumers of politics and be more the protagonists for change in what has become a really ugly system.”

The Advent of MN ASAP

After his unsuccessful political bids, Jack struggled with how best to proceed with keeping alive the positive aspects he had uncovered during those campaigns.  That led him to work to found MN ASAP, a non-partisan citizen-based initiative that uses a simple resolution process to build political support to shift federal spending priorities from war to meeting essential needs. MN ASAP’s goal is to build sufficient political power and influence statewide from representatives at all levels of government and from non-governmental organizations and civic groups to effectively demand a shift in priorities from war spending to meeting essential needs.

“I began to think of the situation of our state and its $5 billion (two year) shortfall and it became clear to me, that the response from politicians was going to be predictable:  to adopt a program of austerity and to essentially reduce government to those who can slash and burn the programs that are so essential to serving the common good. 

“We’ve allowed governance (at the state and federal levels) to be one where monied interests get what they want and that forces cutbacks in all other areas, be it education, health care, all the things that impact quality of life. We needed to call attention to the nature of our debate, the nature of our politics, and the nature of our lives.

“No one was talking about the relationship of federal spending priorities and how it impacts local and state budgets.  And when we did, we found the figures were so alarming.  Yet, we also looked at it as hopeful in the sense of what we could be doing with that money.” 

As just one example, Nelson-Pallmeyer pointed out Minnesota taxpayers will be responsible for paying $8.4 billion to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next two years in which the state faces a $5 billion budget shortfall. 

“Imagine what we could do in this state with that $8.4 billion, Nelson-Pallmeyer said.  “That’s enough money, if used here, that Minnesotans could be producing all the energy in this state from renewable resources, which in turn would save Minnesota $20 billion a year, which we spend on imported oil.  Unleash your imagination (when you think of cutting military spending) and think of the expanded library hours…the community centers and community programs we could fund…the class sizes we could have.

“We’re laying out some those figures in simple resolution (hot link to the resolution) format and we encourage individuals to do more, because it’s their communities that are being impacted.  We want this to be passed by library boards and city councils and county commissioners and mayors and civic organization, education, labor…everything in our state and county is being impacted in a negative way because of our budget priorities.  The great news here is that arguably if we make these changes, it will enhance the security of this country. Changing our military spending does not make us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  The argument remains that the trajectory of our present foreign policy creates anti-American sentiment.

“A lot of good things are happening at the grass roots level, but we have a big wall separating people over here who are doing all that good work in their local communities and then an entrenched system in Washington that is dominated so much by money.

“It’s an illusion to think that we’re going to elect a couple of people and they’re going to fix all of that.  My reading is we have to elect better people, but we need a much stronger social movement that goes beyond the typical ingroup/outgroup.  We need one that crosses different barriers and breaks those down.  As those voices gets stronger, those will be the community voices, the civic voices, the populist voice, that’s when we have the prospect of influencing politics.”

If you want to learn more about MN ASAP or support their efforts to reduce war spending, then check out their website and Facebook page.

Progressives Support Our Troops. Republicans Use Them.

Monday, May 30th, 2011

This Memorial Day, as we honor the service of our nation’s brave service members and veterans, is also a good time to examine what it means to “support our troops.”  Too often in today’s political discourse, it is assumed that Republicans and conservatives support our troops while  Democrats and progressives somehow don’t.   This canard appears to be based on little more than the fact that conservatives engage in far more hawkish saber rattling than progressives do.  Much more, however, is required to truly support our troops.

Here at Winning Progressive, we believe that supporting our troops requires recognizing and honoring the sacrifice that our brave men and women in uniform make for our country.  Such recognition and honor requires four things:

* only putting our troops in harms way when compelling circumstances require it

* providing our troops with the resources they need to do their jobs

* making sure our troops and their families are provided for financially, medically, and psychologically when at war and when they come home

* making sure our veterans are well taken care of

On each of these points, while Republicans like to talk the talk about supporting our troops, it is more often progressives who walk the walk.  Examples include:

* Iraq and Afghanistan: The Bush Administration and his conservative cheerleaders sent our troops into an unnecessary invasion of Iraq, while failing to provide adequate resources for our military to get the job done in Afghanistan.  By contrast, the Obama Administration has kept its promise to end combat operations in Iraq, provided additional resources for our efforts in Afghanistan, and is now expecting to keep its promise to begin withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.

* 21st Century G.I. Bill: In 2008 Democrats, led by Sen. Jim Webb, passed the 21st Century G.I. Bill, which provided comprehensive educational benefits to soldiers who served our country in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.   Under the bill, anyone who served at least three months in those military theaters is entitled to some assistance for college that they can use within the next 15 years.  The level of benefits depends on how long you were in Iraq or Afghanistan, with soldiers serving three more years receiving the equivalent of four years’ tuition at a public university.  While the bill ended up with bipartisan support, it was Democrats who insisted in including it in the 2008 bill for funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the 22 Senators (including John McCain) who voted against the proposal were all Republicans.

* Strengthening Our Military Families Initiative: As we’ve explained here previously, the Obama Administration has launched the first ever comprehensive effort to get all government agencies working together to help our troops and their families.  This Strengthening Our Military Families Initiative is focused on, among other things, improving mental health services, preventing predatory lending practices targeting our troops and their families, and increasing education opportunities available to military children.

* Standing Up on Veterans’ Issues: On issue after issue of importance to supporting our veterans, Democrats lead while most Republicans are nowhere to be found.  For example, the 2010 Congressional Report Card from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ranked the voting records of members of the U.S. House and Senate on issues such as full and advanced funding for the Veterans Administration health care system (so that the VA does not always have to stand by nervously to see if they are going to get enough funding), supporting improvements to the post-9/11 GI Bill, modernizing the VA claims system, and providing unemployment benefits to combat veterans just returning from war.   All of the Senators earning an A+ or A ranking are Democrats, while almost all of the Senators who earned a D or lower grade are Republicans.  On the House side, most of the representatives earning an A+ or A are Democrats, while most of the D or lower grades went to Republicans.   Similar results can be seen in IAVA’s 2008 report, IAVA’s 2006 report, and a recent ranking from the Disabled American Veterans.

In short, time after time Democrats have taken action to support our troops, while Republicans have offered little more than empty rhetoric.

If you’d like to help show your support for our troops, please write a letter to your local newspaper editor thanking our brave men and women in uniform for their service, and urging Congress and our President to only use our troops when necessary, to make sure our troops and their families are well taken care of financially, medically, and psychologically, and to continue to take care of our nation’s veterans.

On the Death of bin Laden

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

(By Mark Bridger, cross-posted at That Mans Scope blog)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Osama bin Laden in the past few days. I wanted to write something about the celebrations of his death, since I felt much of it was unseemly. Yet, I myself am glad that he is no more, as his life was one of violence and murder directed at not only his enemies but at many innocents who happened to surround his enemies. His claim that his faith justified this bloodshed was, of course, directly in the mainstream of religiously inspired violence that has flowed down through recorded history.

At the same time, he and his major enemies, the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R., are bound together in a kind of triangle of dualities whose pairings raise some of the most fundamental questions of morality: ends and means, evil and innocence, faith and cynicism.

It all starts with the cold war, the political and military division of the world into “East” and “West”, and the Manichean division of the world into “Good” and “Evil”. There is no doubt of the cruelty of Stalin and his successors, but the U.S. side also installed and supported numerous bloody dictators in South and Central America. And of course the nuclear and thermonuclear arsenals of both sides made “Mutual Assured Destruction” a very real possibility for decades.

In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, shortly after the Islamic revolution in Iran deposed the Shah (a U.S. puppet himself) and installed Ayatollah Khomeini, a theocratic tyrant.

At this point Osama bin Laden, who had been studying radical Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia, moved to Pakistan and started to assemble the jihadists who would become the anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan and later al-Qaeda. As the scion of a Saudi family made wealthy through its construction company, he was able to use his business connections and organizational skills to create an effective military force to attack the Soviets across the border.

Also around this time the U.S., through the CIA, made contact with the mujahideen. Steve Coll, reporting in the Washington Post, writes:

“In March 1985, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166,…[which] authorize[d] stepped-up covert military aid to the mujahideen, and it made clear that the secret Afghan war had a new goal: to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan through covert action and encourage a Soviet withdrawal. The new covert U.S. assistance began with a dramatic increase in arms supplies — a steady rise to 65,000 tons annually by 1987, … as well as a “ceaseless stream” of CIA and Pentagon specialists who traveled to the secret headquarters of Pakistan’s ISI on the main road near Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There the CIA specialists met with Pakistani intelligence officers to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels.

These supplies were merged with those provided by Osama and others, and used by the mujahideen to kill Soviet troops. Money to buy more arms was also provided by the drug (heroin) trade. Charles Cogan, former CIA director in Afhanistan, writes:

“Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,’… `I don’t think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout…. There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.

Basically, over the next few decades, and especially after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the mujahideen moved on to other countries including Macedonia, Chechnya and the Balkans. In Afghanistan they morphed into the Taliban and, still using support supplied covertly by the CIA, established a severe and brutal rule — one that the U.S. publicly denounced only years later.

Thus, when it suited the needs of the U.S., Osama bin Laden and his jihadists received cash and arms to wage terror on the Soviets. The Chechen rebels, among others, are actively terrorizing Russians through bombings in major cities. It is likely that they are still using some equipment and arms provided by the CIA.

Thus, in the 1980s Osama bin Laden was being supported by the CIA to do to the Soviets what he would later do to us.

Meanwhile, the U.S. was sending more and more technical and military support to prop up the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia, which had (and maybe still has) the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The presence of “infidel” troops in the holy cities of Medina and Mecca caused Osama to transfer his attention from the departed Soviets to his previous benefactors: the U.S. His strict Wahabi version of Islam caused him to redirect his jihadi efforts against American troops and Americans in general. This led to a series of terrorist attacks against U.S. troops and civilians throughout the world: in Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Yemen (U.S.S. Cole). He formed al-Qaeda and set up its training camps in Afghanistan, then under Taliban control.

These efforts culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

At this time the Bush administration was already looking for a pretense to attack the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq: the timing couldn’t have been better for them. (A good account of this can be found in Against All Enemies, a best-selling book by Richard Clark, national security adviser to Reagan, Bush senior, Clinton and the junior Bush).

Of course, the U.S. had not been sitting idly by. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, with little initial discouragement from Bush Sr., the U.S. launched an attack on Iraq, sometimes referred to as the “First Gulf War.” This was all about oil. The result was a massive defeat for Saddam and the slaughter of perhaps 100,000 poorly trained and conscripted or reluctant Iraqi troops at the hands of the very hi-tech U.S. army. No American had been threatened by Saddam previous to this undeclared war, and American casualties were very light. The American invasion stopped short of Baghdad. Many felt that Bush Sr. didn’t want a populist government to arise if Saddam were toppled at that time; the U.S. had been playing off Iraq against Iran ever since the Shah was deposed.

In any case, the pretext of 9/11 enabled G.W. Bush, in the face of massive domestic and international popular opposition, to invade Iraq and overthrow America’s sometime ally Saddam Hussein. Heavy U.S. bombing destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure (water, power, transportation) and opened a hornet’s nest of partisan and religious violence. This has resulted in at least 100,000 civilian (non-combatant) documented deaths. Most of these were from terrorist activity, but many resulted from errant U.S. ordinance — the so-called “collateral damage”.

Thus, two needless wars produced over 200,000 unnecessary deaths in Iraq alone; thousands more have died in Afghanistan: most also from terrorist activity, but also thousands from collateral damage from American bombs and drones.

By contrast, about 3000 died in NY on 9/11. Several thousand American soldiers have been killed and many more thousands wounded. The late Osama bin Laden had a lot of blood on his hands, but so do we and the Soviets and the various murderous despots that we, the Russians, and the terrorists supported and opposed at various times.

So, while it is good that Osama has been “neutralized”, it is hardly a cause for much self-congratulatory celebration. There has been too much killing and enough blame to go around.

(Our President seems to be a generally peace-loving person, who favors humanistic government policies; so, if anything else is good about Osama bin Laden’s death, it is that it strengthens Obama’s political standing.)

In balance, then, quiet reflection seems to me to be the best stance at this time.

(Most information about Osama bin Laden’s history was gleaned from articles in The Boston Globe and CRG (Centre for Research on Globalisation).