The Presidency of Bill Clinton
With the endless war and economic hardships of the arrogant, openly scandalous, and reactionary Bush administration of 2000-2008, the Clinton administration has mysteriously developed a positive legacy. It has become common for some people to think of the Clinton years as ones that were opposite in every possible way to the Bush years. People remember Clinton for fixing the budget, keeping employment up, prioritizing education, assisting African Americans – it seems the only flaw the media and the public pin on Clinton is his dishonesty during the scandal with his white house aide, Monica Lewinsky.
What the records show, however, is that the Clinton administration consistently carried out a pro-business economic agenda and an aggressive imperialist foreign policy, one in which corporate interests were at the top of the list. Rather than representing something new, Clinton was a continuation of the same effort to channel more wealth away from the working class and poor and into the pockets of corporations.
Bill Clinton was elected and re-elected with under 60 percent of the eligible voters participating – that’s over 40 percent deciding not to vote at all. In both elections, he was elected by less than 50 percent of those who voted. He too was hardly a popular president.
In his 1992 election campaign, he tried to appear as an outsider to Washington, someone who could bring a new perspective to old problems. He criticized other candidates for being indebted to corporate interests through campaign contributions. Attempting to maintain this outsider façade, he pledged not to take any Political Action Committee (PAC) money during the 1992 primaries. PACs are loosely defined, informal organizations set up to funnel money into individual campaigns – they can be directly linked to specific corporations, wealthy individuals, lobbying groups. Clinton’s decision to avoid PAC money in the primary was simply a campaign strategy to try to distance himself from the other Democratic nominees.
In fact, months before the first primary took place, Clinton had already raised more money than any of his Democratic rivals because early-on his campaign heavily solicited Wall Street, Hollywood, the high-tech companies, telephone companies, computer companies, media conglomerates, and many others. His outsider image was nothing more than an election strategy based on a lie, as most election strategies are.
Clinton wasn’t an outsider to Washington or big business. More than half of his campaign advisers were regulars in Washington, many of them with fulltime jobs working for foreign corporations and governments, the tobacco industry, insurance companies, oil and gas firms, investment banks and other corporate interests. As Governor of Arkansas, Clinton developed strong relationships with the elite clique of big businessmen and landlords ruling Arkansas. One other big supporter was Tyson Foods, the largest company in Arkansas, ranked 110 on the Fortune 500 list in 1995. During his 1992 presidential campaign, a spokesman for Martin Marietta Corporation (an enormous weapons manufacturing company) expressed Clinton’s relationship with corporations best: “I think the Democrats are moving more toward business and business is moving more toward the Democrats.” Clinton was no outsider to Washington or Big Business; he was in fact their tested and approved servant.
Balancing the Budget
When Clinton came to office there was already a four trillion dollar deficit racked up under the Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations primarily from massive increases in government spending. Clinton promised to eliminate this deficit. Two obvious solutions would be to either massively cut military spending, which caused the bulk of the deficit, or increase taxes to the super-rich, the top one percent, the only group whose wealth had been steadily rising while everyone else’s decreased. Instead, the Clinton administration decided to impose massive cuts in social services to the poorest and most vulnerable layers of the population, and impose no new taxes for the super-rich. The military budget was reduced, but it was a much smaller reduction than expected.
Before Clinton came into office, the Soviet Union had officially collapsed, ending the decades-long Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Thus, the pretext for maintaining such high levels of military spending no longer existed. In fact, the previous administration of George H.W. Bush, under what was called a “Peace Dividend,” had began to reduce military spending under the rationale that the Cold War was coming to an end. The Bush administration cut military spending by about 17 percent by the end of its term.
Under the Clinton administration, there was good reason to expect a significant reduction in military spending. At the time, there were projections of large increases to education, urban renewal, and the much needed social programs. Instead, by the end of Clinton’s second term, military spending was only reduced by seven percent. Most of the cuts came through closing obsolete military bases, retiring old Navy ships, and decreasing the overall number of active troops. Beyond these cuts, military spending stayed at Cold War levels. These reductions were a far cry from significantly reducing military spending. In fact, more of the military budget became concentrated in the corporate sector responsible for armaments production.
The flipside to this small “Peace Dividend” was what could be called a “War Dividend.” Under Clinton, the U.S. became the world’s unprecedented, biggest arms dealer, selling more weapons than the rest of the nations combined. This rapid increase came from the U.S. replacing the Soviet Union as an arms dealer to many nations. Under Clinton, a ban on sales of advanced weaponry to South America was lifted. For the first time, U.S. corporations were producing more arms for other countries than they were producing for the Pentagon. This was a clear handout to weapons manufacturers and a devastating blow to poor people around the world who had to live under the brutal dictatorships that received these weapons.
Another component of Clinton’s strategy for reducing the four trillion dollar deficit was to funnel money away from the poor. Clinton cut over five billion dollars to education in 1997. Health care was denied to ten and a half million uninsured children. Housing assistance programs, which were cut under Reagan and Bush, were eliminated under Clinton.
The biggest attack on the poor was Clinton’s virtual elimination of welfare. These cuts occurred on many levels. Clinton cut welfare benefits to illegal and legal immigrants. Over one million legal immigrants received letters explaining that their food stamps and financial assistance would be cut off in a few months unless they became citizens. The condition of becoming citizens was just a ruse because it took longer than a few months to become a citizen.
The bulk of the cuts to welfare came under the law with one of those all too familiar hypocritical titles: “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.” This bill cut off families’ benefits after two years, reduced lifetime benefits to only three years, and cut food stamps to people without children to only three total months in any three-year period. These cuts alone eliminated over ten billion dollars per year in social spending.
The official reasoning for pushing millions of the poorest of the population into further desperation was to provide them with employment, and eliminate their dependency on the government for assistance. The administration argued that once off welfare, people would be pushed to find jobs. This was commonly known as the “welfare to work” program: that is, get off of welfare and go to work. But this logic was completely backwards. People weren’t unemployed and underemployed because they were on welfare – they were on welfare because they were unemployed and underemployed. There weren’t enough jobs to employ all of the people who needed them, and the majority of those who did have jobs saw their incomes decrease every year since the 1970’s. Every time there were job openings more people applied than would be hired. In New York, over 100,000 people applied for 2000 job openings at the Sanitation Department. In Chicago, over 7,000 people showed up for 550 jobs at a restaurant chain. Overall, there was very little transition from welfare into employment. There was only a transition from poverty to even greater poverty.
Clinton did eventually balance the budget. But he did so by forcing millions of people into desperate poverty.
Send the Poor to Prison
Some may wonder what happened to the people who were eventually kicked off of welfare and couldn’t find jobs. Unable to find work, with no money to live, many turned to petty crime. And with increases in police forces and new harsh sentencing laws, many of the poor ended up in prison.
Under Clinton, the prison population skyrocketed, growing larger than the previous twelve years of Republican administrations combined. Clinton administered the largest increase in the prison population in U.S. history. Reagan ended his second term with approximately 49,000 federal prisoners. Clinton ended his second term with over 147,000 new federal prisoners, over 500,000 new state prisoners, about two million people behind bars, and over 4.5 million people in the parole system. Over 70 percent of these new prisoners came from extremely poor neighborhoods. Under Clinton, for the first time, more money was being spent for prison construction than education. In 1996, $2.6 billion was spent on prison construction and only $2.5 billion on the construction of universities. Under Clinton, for the first time, prison construction became a full-blown industry, with private companies responsible for construction, providing guards, food and clothing.
The rapid growth of prisons and the number of inmates are direct consequences of Clinton’s cuts to social services.
Prelude to the USA PATRIOT Act
Before the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, there was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This bill was signed into law by Clinton following the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. It eliminated habeas corpus for those suspected of being terrorists, which meant people could be arrested and imprisoned without any evidence being produced. Individuals could not challenge the accusation of being a terrorist because the law allowed the state to use secret evidence against the individual, evidence they would never have to produce or explain. The law also expanded the definition of terrorism to make it easier for the government to charge a person with being a terrorist. Together, these changes make it almost impossible to defend against the charges of being a terrorist.
The law also imposed new statutes of limitations for all inmates, regardless of their cries, on when they can appeal their convictions. It limited appeals on death penalty convictions to six months, and appeals to all other convictions to one year. This means that after this time, anyone convicted could no longer file an appeal. This was a huge blow to many prisoners on death row, who are wrongly convicted and need a lot more than six months to put together their appeal. At the same time, it also prevented appeals that were based on new evidence.
Even though only U.S. citizens were convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing, the law vastly expanded the ability of the state to deport immigrants. It allowed the deportation of any immigrant ever convicted of a crime, regardless of how long ago or how serious the crime was. Even legal permanent residents who had married U.S. citizens were not exempt from the deportation.
It was the Clinton administration that paved the way for the severe stripping away of civil liberties after 2001.
NAFTA and Corporate Plunder Around the World
One reason for the rising unemployment was because many industries in the U.S. were closing down factories, chasing larger profit margins through employing cheaper labor in poorer countries around the world. U.S. administrations have had a consistent policy of facilitating the entry of U.S. corporations into other countries, to both exploit the resources and wealth as well as expand export markets without restrictions. The Clinton administration’s NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) serves as an example of how these policies work.
NAFTA practically removed all restrictions for U.S. corporations and products to enter Canada and Mexico. Overall, NAFTA increased unemployment both in the U.S. and Mexico, and pushed millions more Mexicans into despair.
One goal of NAFTA was to crush Mexico’s agricultural market. This mechanism can be seen through the example of corn. Before NAFTA, corn (or maize) was the largest crop in Mexico and the corn industry was one of the biggest sources of Mexican employment. But when NAFTA eliminated trade restrictions and tariffs with Mexico, U.S. agribusinesses flooded Mexico with corn exports, sold at artificially low prices because U.S. agribusinesses receive farming subsidies from the U.S. government. This influx of artificially cheap corn wiped out most of Mexico’s small farmers because they couldn’t compete with such low prices. Mexico quickly turned from a country that produced its own corn into a country that imported corn. Over one million farmers and workers connected to agriculture soon lost their source of income.
The overall result of NAFTA was millions of poor farmers and workers leaving the land in search of a livelihood. Many farmers were forcibly kicked off by the Mexican Army. Many of these plots of land were eventually sold off to U.S. companies for further agricultural development. People who had farmed the lands for centuries were kicked off only to come back to work on the same land for a U.S. company, at poverty level wages.
As part of NAFTA, U.S. corporations set up factories throughout the country, and even created a new hub of factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, known as maquiladoras. These areas are like extensions of U.S. territory because they have no tariffs for products brought into the U.S. As millions were being kicked off of the land, the number of unemployed in Mexico skyrocketed, and the number of people desperately in need of wages increased. U.S. corporations profited from this desperation by hiring these workers for extremely low wages. The Mexican government enforces very minimal labor legislation, safety regulations, wage standards, and environmental restrictions. U.S. corporations took advantage of these policies, and they were backed by the Mexican state, with its army and police to impose harsh working conditions.
One obvious result of NAFTA was an increase in the emigration of Mexico’s population. With no land left to live on, no crops to sell, and intense competition for jobs in new U.S. factories in Mexico, many Mexicans fled the country looking for new work. Most of them, of course, headed to the U.S. The Clinton administration was well aware that this would happen as soon as NAFTA took shape. This is why, just a few months after the passage of NAFTA, Clinton passed the law called “Operation Gatekeeper.” This massively increased the militarization at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. It doubled the budget of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to $800 million, and also doubled the number of border agents, and the length of border fence, and tripled the number of underground sensors and surveillance equipment.
One year after NAFTA was passed, Clinton helped to establish the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO establishes various rules over the trade relations between countries. These rules, however, benefit the members of the WTO that hold the most sway. The U.S. uses the WTO as a way to enforce trade and economic policies that benefit U.S. corporations. This is a process whereby U.S. corporations take over the economies of foreign countries. The Clinton administration’s policy under NAFTA was just an example of U.S. international economic policy in general. Practically every part of the so-called developing world has been forced to surrender its economy to rules that benefit U.S. corporate interests. And the creation of the WTO made it even easier for U.S. corporations to carry out these policies.
Foreign Policy as Usual – Destruction, Devastation, Domination
Together we must also confront the new hazards of chemical and biological weapons, and the outlaw states, terrorists and organized criminals seeking to acquire them. Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade, and much of his nation’s wealth, not on providing for the Iraqi people, but on developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them…I know I speak for everyone in this chamber, Republicans and Democrats, when I say to Saddam Hussein, “You cannot defy the will of the world,” and when I say to him, “You have used weapons of mass destruction before; we are determined to deny you the capacity to use them again.”
This is not a quotation from George W. Bush before the U.S. waged war on Iraq a second time in March of 2003. This is from Bill Clinton’s State of the Union speech in 1998.
Clinton became president immediately following the first Gulf War in 1991. The invasion lasted six weeks; about two thousand tons of bombs were dropped per day, and over 250,000 people were killed – Iraq was left in ruins. Throughout its two terms, the Clinton administration maintained economic sanctions against the devastated country. It was clear early-on that the sanctions – which restricted trade with Iraq, banned many important chemicals used in basic medicines and water treatment – were making the lives of the majority of the deeply impoverished population even worse. After twelve years of sanctions, over 750,000 children died from starvation and disease. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, said in 1996, that even though 500,000 children had died from the sanctions, “the price is worth it.” The sanction’s also strengthened Saddam’s regime, uniting the people against this outside threat.
But imposing economic sanctions on Iraq was not the extent of Clinton’s policy towards Iraq. Under Clinton, Iraq underwent the longest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam. With opposition from the majority of the United Nations, the U.S. and British militaries bombed suspected targets in so-called “no-fly zones.” These were areas where the U.S. decided to forbid Iraqi’s military from flying and carrying out any military operations. Thousands of bombs kept dropping on Iraq throughout Clinton’s presidency, killing numerous civilians. In 1993, Clinton ordered U.S. warplanes to destroy Iraqi intelligence centers.
Another part of the sanctions policy required Iraq to be opened up to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors, to seek out and dismantle any facilities that could produce weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM was supposed to be used simply to dismantle Iraq’s weapons production facilities. But, instead, under Clinton, the CIA secretly used UNSCOM as a means to get access into Iraq and spy on Saddam’s regime. They set up secret operations inside UNSCOM facilities, wire-tapped their communications, and had CIA agents pose as UNSCOM inspectors. The information the CIA gathered throughout this process was used to identify the “no-fly zones”, the targets for continuous bombardment by the U.S. and British military.
In 1998, Clinton’s covert policy of “regime change” in Iraq, became overt. On October 31st, Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” which made it an official policy of the U.S. to bring about “regime change” in Iraq. Clinton ordered a massive four-day bombardment all over Iraq in December of 1998, once again aimed at weakening Saddam’s regime and possibly assassinating Saddam Hussein. Clinton claimed the reason for the bombing was because Saddam Hussein had kicked out the UNSCOM weapons inspectors and had refused to comply with the inspection teams when they were in the country, implying that his weapons production facilities still existed. But according to chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, inspection teams were able to identify and dismantle the majority of Iraq’s weapon facilities, eliminating any military threat from Iraq. They were kicked out only because of the CIA’s use of UNSCOM for spying. Ritter resigned in 1998, before the bombing, when he found out about the CIA’s infiltration and manipulation of UNSCOM.
Clinton’s policy towards Iraq laid the foundation for the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq in 2003. And once the 2003 invasion of Iraq was underway, Clinton was quick to appear on 60 Minutes and assure viewers he supported President Bush’s decision to go to war.
Kosovo: The So-Called Humanitarian War
With the obstacle of the Soviet Union removed in 1991, the U.S. quickly set its sights on setting up military bases and establishing new economic relationships in the former Soviet Bloc. Ongoing ethnic tensions in the area of former Yugoslavia were seen as an opening for U.S. intervention.
A major dispute flared up in Serbia, a part of former Yugoslavia. In the province of Kosovo, there was overwhelming support for independence from Serbia, based on ethnic tensions between the majority Albanian Kosovars and the Serbs. Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, ordered an attack on Kosovo and killed about 2000 people in 1999. Milosevic had already demonstrated his ruthlessness toward opposition movements in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, killing thousands.
Using NATO, the U.S. proposed to take over full control of Kosovo, and occupy all of Yugoslavia. This proposal was rejected by the Serbian government as an obvious attempt by the U.S. to occupy the country, and they issued a counterproposal, denying NATO occupation, but calling for negotiations. The counterproposal was rejected by the U.S. influence in NATO, and NATO forces, led by the U.S., were ordered to begin bombing the country.
The bombing was portrayed in the U.S. media as a means to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, the forced removal of the Albanians from the area. But by two months after the bombing, over 800,000 Albanians were forced to leave Kosovo anyway. In reality, the bombing campaign hastened and exaggerated the attacks on the Albanians and their removal from Kosovo. Thousands of civilians were killed by the NATO bombing.
The motives for the attack on Yugoslavia were revealed immediately after the bombing. The U.S. began to station thousands of troops all over former Yugoslavia. The U.S. military seized 1,000 acres of farmland in southeast Kosovo, and immediately began building Camp Bondsteel, the largest U.S. military base at that time. It stations nearly 7,000 troops – three quarters of all the U.S. troops in Kosovo. It has over 15 miles of roads and over 300 buildings. It is so big that it has three different downtowns, retail outlets, a bowling alley, a 24-hour gym, a church, a library and one of the best-equipped hospitals in Europe. Soon after the base was operational, the U.S.-owned, Albanian-Macedonia-Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) went ahead to finalize plans to build the major “trans-Balkan” pipeline from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea, passing through former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo.
What was sold to U.S. citizens as a bombing campaign of morality was nothing more than a move by the U.S. to establish a military and economic presence in the former Soviet Bloc.
Somalia In 1993, the Clinton administration used the U.S. military to lead a disastrous intervention in a civil conflict in Somalia for the benefit of U.S. oil corporations. By the end of 1990 nearly two thirds of the Somalia’s countryside had been allocated to U.S. corporations (Chevron, Amoco, Conoco, and Phillips) for oil exploration under Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre. In January of 1991, after years of drought and desperate poverty throughout Somalia, Barre was overthrown by one of several clan-based Somali rebel groups. At that point, the country descended into a chaotic battle between various factions of these rebels. So long as Somalia was being torn apart by internal warfare, all plans for U.S. oil exploration had to be halted. So, in 1993, the Clinton administration ordered the U.S. military to intervene in the conflict. The official reason for the U.S. mission in Somalia was to provide humanitarian assistance to the country’s impoverished population. But quickly the real purpose for the U.S. military’s presence in Somalia was clear: to overthrow some of the rebel groups, end the conflict, and reopen U.S. oil exploration.
The U.S. attacked a meeting of tribal elders on one side of the conflict, bombing the house and then shooting almost everyone inside. This only incensed the population against the U.S. Later the U.S. ordered an attack on one of the leading rebel groups in Somalia’s capitol and most populated city, Mogadishu. The attack was a disaster and led to the deaths of 19 U.S. soldiers and over 2,000 Somalis.
Haiti In 1991, Jean Bertrand Aristide was Haiti’s first democratically elected President, following decades of U.S. backed military dictatorships in the country. Aristide was a well-known minister with roots in the poor Haitian population. The U.S. was not sure they could trust him since he was elected on promises to divert some of Haiti’s wealth to pay for services to the poor. Immediately after his election as President, he was overthrown in a coup backed by the CIA. The coup installed an extremely brutal dictatorship for four years. During that time (1991-1994), the situation in Haiti went from bad to worse. The coup government began to pillage the economy and expand the production and trade of drugs. It was obvious their policies were destabilizing the country, pushing the population towards further social unrest.
When Clinton was in office, in 1994 he met with Aristide and negotiated a deal to re-install him as the President. Aristide had to agree to cooperate with the U.S. to control the Haitian economy, which meant diverting the wealth into the bank accounts of U.S corporations and away from the masses living in destitute poverty, in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
Palestine/Israel Clinton initiated a negotiation between Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman, Yasir Arafat. The myth is that Israel, once again, offered the Palestinians a generous peace agreement that would include over 90 percent of their original land. And for encouraging such a generous offer, Clinton was portrayed as a powerful leader, accomplishing what many thought was impossible. The reality, however, was the offer made to the Palestinians was nothing more than a Palestinian state in name. The offer would have carved up Palestine into four disconnected pieces, still separated by Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints. The major Israeli settlements, housing over 300,000 Israeli settlers on Palestinian land, were to remain in place. And the 300 miles of roads connecting the settlements would stay put as well. The Palestinians who were kicked out of their homes for the construction of these settlements still had no right to return. The so-called generous offer was, once again, nothing more than a way to get Palestine to formally accept being reduced to a permanent colony of Israel.
Rwanda Following decades of colonial occupation by Belgium, the population of Rwanda was forced to live in extreme poverty. Typical of colonial and imperialist occupation, various ethnic rivalries in Rwanda were pitted against each other as a means to keep the population divided. In the early 1990s, this conflict broke out into open civil war. In 1994, the civil war intensified and reached genocidal levels. Over the course of 100 days somewhere between 500,000 to over one million Rwandans were murdered by extremist militia groups. This massacre was far worse than the so-called “ethnic cleansing” going on in Yugoslavia or the warlord war in Somalia. The Clinton administration did nothing to defend against the genocidal slaughter, firmly showing their claims of humanitarian motives in foreign policy were based on U.S. economic interests and not concerns over human life.
Global Warming – Not a Severe Threat
It is no secret that the United States is the world’s largest emitter of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. When carbon is released into the atmosphere it bonds with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which is the most significant gas responsible for global warming.
Part of the false Clinton legacy is his administration’s supposedly pro-environment agenda. This myth has gained support ever since Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore, released a film called An Inconvenient Truth. In this film, Gore exposes some of the economic causes of Global Warming, and in the process paints himself as a committed environmentalist.
The actual record, however, of the Clinton administration on the environment is horrendous. First, one minor motivation behind the various trade agreements the Clinton administration supported was to allow U.S. corporations to avoid environmental restrictions. When U.S. corporations gained improved access to developing countries around the world, an additional benefit was the avoidance of environmental laws governing production. Once they established production in developing countries, most often U.S. corporations could operate with complete disregard for the environmental impact on those countries. Just some of the consequences of this freedom include polluted rivers, destroyed forests and grasslands, flooded cities, and the wiping out of endangered species.
The Clinton administration is also remembered as being a supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, which was an international agreement placing limited restrictions on pollution in countries around the world. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. did sign the agreement. But the Clinton administration never even submitted the protocol to the Senate to be ratified, so the signature was meaningless.
So, ultimately, Clinton’s policy towards the environment was one of environmental destruction not preservation.
In his two-terms as President, on all fronts – social services, foreign-policy, the environment and even civil liberties – Clinton ruthlessly defended the interests of the ruling elite of the U.S.
A Brief History of the Democratic Party Since Bill Clinton
For much of the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration, the Democrats have tried to distance themselves from the Bush administration, occasionally criticizing some its policies. But despite their criticisms, the Democrats have on the whole supported and helped approve many of the policies they pretend to oppose.
September 11th, 2001: The PATRIOT Act
Shortly after September 11th, the USA PATRIOT Act was introduced as a bill into Congress and passed by a nearly unanimous vote (only one Senator voted against it). Once it was signed into law, the Patriot Act laid the foundation for extending the powers of law enforcement and greatly restricting civil liberties. The Patriot Act was an extension of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act which was passed under Bill Clinton in 1996. The Patriot Act virtually eliminated habeas corpus for anyone the U.S. government deems a terrorist suspect. Habeas corpus is a person’s right to a trial with the evidence presented before a judge to defend their innocence. But under the Patriot Act, the government can hold people as terrorist suspects indefinitely without any trial, and often without any access to a lawyer, or even their families. It also allows for terrorist suspects to be deported, often to a country the U.S. chooses. The Patriot Act also makes it easier for law enforcement to place wiretaps, search houses, read emails, personal mail, banking records, and so on. Under the Patriot Act, law enforcement is granted permission to arrest, detain, interrogate, spy on, and search practically any person law enforcement deems a terrorist suspect, or any person who they think could be useful to a terrorist investigation.
The term “terrorist” is intentionally defined very loosely to include broad groups of people, allowing the U.S. government to pin the charge of terrorist suspect on nearly anyone they wish. The definition includes such vague statements as any person who “intends to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”; or “influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion”; or “the use of a dangerous device with the intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” These descriptions might just as easily apply to a well-organized strike of workers outside their workplace, or to a mass demonstration of people against a war.
Already in 2003, human rights groups estimated that approximately 15,000 people were arrested and detained by the U.S. government under the Patriot Act. And at least 3,208 of them were deported. Since then the numbers have approximately doubled. In a majority of these cases, evidence against the individuals was not presented. People were often detained for months while their families had no idea what happened to them. And those who were deported sometimes saw their families only hours before they were sent away on a plane.
The Patriot Act was initially passed in October 2001 and was supposed to expire in 2006. But Congress introduced a bill in March 2006 making the Patriot Act permanent. This passed with virtual unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans. And in 2007, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed HR 1955 (Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act) by a landslide. This bill extends the ability of the U.S. government to label groups of U.S. citizens as terrorists and imprison them.
The Invasion of Afghanistan: “Operation Enduring Freedom”
Less than a month after the September 11th attacks, the U.S. military began its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Both Democrats and Republicans unanimously supported the invasion from the beginning. The day the bombing began, Congress issued a bipartisan statement declaring that they “strongly support the operation President Bush ordered our military forces to carry out today.”
The pretext for the invasion was that the supposed mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, Osama Bin Laden, and his terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, were in Afghanistan. The brutal Taliban regime, which ruled Afghanistan at that time, was accused by the U.S. of protecting Al Qaeda. The U.S. military issued the Taliban an ultimatum that they either surrender Osama Bin Laden or face a U.S. attack. The Taliban responded to the ultimatum by requesting negotiations and actual evidence that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the attacks. The U.S. began the attacks anyway.
The impact of the bombing and the occupation that has followed has been horrendous. Within one year of the invasion, the estimated death toll of Afghan civilians was over 3,700 people. The U.S. repeatedly bombed villages, killing entire families. At least twice the U.S. bombed Red Cross food distribution centers.
Soon after the invasion, the Taliban lost power and retreated to Pakistan. The country was ruled by the U.S. military and a puppet government headed by Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal oil company consultant. Karzai was assisting the U.S. in its negotiation with the Taliban in 1999 to construct an oil pipeline to the Caspian Sea.
The alleged reasons for this war were to capture Osama Bin Laden, remove the Taliban regime, and build a better life for the people of Afghanistan. None of this has been accomplished, and life for most Afghanis has only gotten worse. Over 50,000 NATO troops (most from the U.S.) occupy the country. More civilians have been killed by U.S./NATO troops than were ever killed by the Taliban. So far the civilian death toll is close to 20,000. The U.S.-backed puppet government of Hamid Karzai has virtually broken down. Rival groups of brutal warlords, including the reorganized Taliban, control about 75 percent of the country. Women in Afghanistan live in constant fear of kidnapping and rape. Out of 177 countries surveyed (in the Human Poverty Index), Afghanistan came in second to last for standard of living. Over 6.5 million people risk starvation. At least 40 percent of the population is jobless and without an income. Life in Afghanistan is a disaster.
As of July 2008, Democrats and Republicans continue to give full support for war funding and troop increases for the occupation of Afghanistan because they claim it is a crucial battle in the so-called “war on terror.” But the real interests of the U.S. in Afghanistan have nothing to do with the war on terror. The occupation of Afghanistan, along with U.S. military bases in countries to the north, position the U.S. in a key region in Central Asia, which was formerly controlled by the Soviet Union and is expected to become the world’s third largest producer of oil and natural gas by 2010.
The Invasion of Iraq
The Bush administration tried to build support for a war against Iraq based on the three main ideas:
1) That Saddam Hussein was linked to the attacks of September 11th.
2) That Saddam Hussein must be removed from power because his regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, which posed a severe threat to the U.S.
3) To establish a democratic society in Iraq.
The connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks on September 11th proved to be ridiculous, now exposed as a fabricated lie. For decades, Saddam Hussein and his ruling secular Ba’ath party brutally repressed Islamic militants inside Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden’s only relationship was an antagonistic one.
The claims of weapons of mass destruction have subsequently been proven not only false but to be based on evidence fabricated by the Bush administration. No such weapons were ever found in Iraq. UN chief weapons inspectors testified that all of the weapons were destroyed during the 1990s. Many of the documents the Bush administration used to build its case for war have since been proven to be forgeries. Several Pentagon employees and Bush administration insiders have since spoken out about how the case for war was built upon fabricated evidence and outright lies.
And the claim about building democracy in Iraq, though it was a lie from the beginning, has been proved completely false since the day the occupation began.
Despite massive opposition around the world and in the U.S. to the war before it began, coupled with powerful arguments against the Bush administration’s case for going to war, Congress still voted to authorize President Bush to wage war on Iraq. Eighty six Democrats voted in favor of the resolution and 126 voted against it. Many of those who voted against the resolution were not against a military attack, but wanted to go through more diplomacy first. The Democrats strong support for the war was shown most clearly through their continual approval of funding for the war and for troop increases in Iraq ever since.
Today, over five years since the invasion began, daily life in Iraq remains unlivable for most people. Unemployment is as high as 70 percent. The average wage for those with jobs is $150 per month. Consumer goods have doubled in price since the occupation began. Only 37 percent of Iraqi homes are connected to sewer systems. One quarter of Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Seventy percent of all childhood deaths result from simple diarrhea and respiratory illness. Ninety percent of hospitals lack essential resources. Estimates of the death toll of Iraqis range as high as over one million. According to the U.N., 100,000 people are fleeing the country each month, with the number of Iraqis now living in other Arab countries estimated at over two million. An estimated 2.5 million are refugees displaced within Iraq. Death squads and militias carry out regular suicide-bombings, creating an estimated daily death toll of 100 Iraqis.
Despite discussions of troop withdrawal, the U.S. shows no intention to ever leave Iraq. Currently, the U.S. has over 15 massive military bases. It is finishing construction of an over 740 million dollar embassy. The embassy includes 21 buildings, its own water source and purification plant, a power plant, and its own bus system. In addition to these bases, the U.S. has been unsuccessfully trying to get the Iraqi parliament to pass a law to hand over Iraq’s oil to U.S. corporations for future decades.
2006 Midterm Congressional Elections
Voters did not elect a Democrat for President in the 2004 presidential election. John Kerry was the Democratic Party candidate. But the differences between him and Bush were difficult for people to identify. Kerry voted in favor of the PATRIOT Act and the invasion of Iraq. He was a firm supporter of the war in Afghanistan. Throughout Kerry’s campaign he made a point to appear to have an equally if not more aggressive foreign policy than George Bush’s.
However, for the election for Congress in 2006, the Democratic Party candidates tried a different strategy. Many candidates campaigned as being harshly anti-Bush and anti-war. Overwhelmingly the public voted in favor of electing Democrats to Congress. The Democrats took 29 seats in the House of Representatives, six seats in the Senate, and took away six governorships from the Republicans. The election gave the Democrats a majority in both houses of Congress, with 51 Democrats to 49 Republicans in the Senate, and 233 Democrats to 202 Republicans in the House. Many people voted for a Democrat because they viewed their vote as a way to stop the war and possibly impeach the Bush administration. Some important Democrats were arguing strongly for impeachment before the elections. Once the Democrats were seated as the majority in Congress, however, their aggressive anti-war rally calls disappeared. Very quickly, Nancy Pelosi, the newly-elected Speaker of the House, announced that impeachment was off the table. And every chance the Democrats got to vote, they actually voted to continue the war. Every war appropriations bill proposed by the Bush administration was passed by the Democratic controlled Congress. That means the majority of the Democrats voted in favor of it. Every new Bush administration appointment was approved by Congress. Just four months after the Democrats were elected to Congress, they voted for an additional $150 billion for war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Democratic Primaries and the 2008 Presidential Election
The Democratic primary started off with several candidates who had few differences between them. Taking their strategies from the Congressional elections two years earlier, the candidates all campaigned on anti-war and anti-Bush messages. After the first round of primaries the race narrowed down to two candidates, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.
Many people became swept up with their campaigns because both candidates offered something new on the surface: the potential of Barack Obama as the first African American President, and Hilary Clinton as the first woman President. But these candidates differed little from each other, and from the Bush administration.
When it comes to the so-called war on terror, both Obama and Clinton have been firm supporters of the Patriot Act, the occupation of Afghanistan, and the occupation of Iraq. They both voted to renew the Patriot Act. Obama and Clinton campaigned behind the idea of increasing the troops and the spending on the occupation of Afghanistan. Though Clinton voted in favor of the resolution that approved the invasion of Iraq, she campaigned on the claim that had she known then what she knows now, she would have never voted in favor of the resolution. Obama was not a Senator at the time of the vote and he campaigned on the claim that he was opposed to the war on Iraq from the beginning. Their voting records in Congress, however, don’t support their campaigns speeches. They both continually voted in favor of bills before Congress that increased the funding for the occupation and sent more troops to Iraq.
Both candidates promised strong support for the policies of the government of Israel, which has carried out a brutal occupation of Palestine for over 50 years.
Both candidates supported the charges of the Bush administration that Iran poses a serious threat to the U.S. They claimed that the threat was great enough to possibly require U.S. military strikes against Iran.
Obama and Clinton’s proposals around health care, have given many people some hope. Both of them campaigned on the promise to bring health care to every citizen in this country. But their health care plans, if enacted, would try to make health care similar to auto insurance. Purchasing health insurance would be required by law, and citizens could even receive fines for not purchasing it. Their plans don’t actually address the underlying problem behind health care, which is its enormous costs, making it unaffordable for millions of people. Requiring health care doesn’t mean that people will magically be able to pay for it. Their proposals offer vague recommendations for allocating some funds to assist those who have low-incomes but these details are not at all clear. Though they may provide small numbers of people with minor assistance in affording health care, their proposals do little more than funnel people’s money into the hands of super-rich insurance companies.
The campaigns of Obama and Clinton looked a lot like the campaigns of previous Democrats. Obama and Clinton tried very hard to appear to represent a real hope for change, but in reality they plan to carry out the same or very similar policies to those carried out by Democrats in the past. Their true colors show when we can see the confidence that the corporate elite have in them. Major contributors to their campaigns are weapons manufacturers, huge banks and financial institutions, media corporations, and other large corporations. The list includes Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Lockhead Martin, Boeing, Time Warner. To run a traditional campaign requires the backing of the big corporations and banks. Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner estimated that to be taken seriously, a candidate needed to raise at least $100 million by the end of 2007 and projected that the 2008 campaigns will spend at least one billion dollars.
A Closer Look at Barack Obama’s Campaign for President
It is no surprise that many workers are excited to vote for Barack Obama. For many, it is their way of expressing their outrage against the government’s policies for the last several years. Some see it as a way to vote against the Bush administration and the Republican Party, which Senator McCain represents. When racism remains a powerful division in the U.S., it is understandable why a large percentage of African Americans want to vote for Obama. An African American president is seen by many as the symbol of an end to the racist barriers that have limited opportunities of African Americans for so long. Many have also become attracted to Obama’s message of change. Obama often speaks about bringing change to Washington and about standing up to corporate fat cats. For most working people, struggling just to make ends meet, change is what we need. But as much as Obama may change the face of the President in Washington, he will not change the interests which Washington defends.
Obama’s record in politics shows his priorities far better than any of his campaign speeches. As mentioned, Obama has voted to support the Patriot Act at every opportunity. He has voted to approve hundreds of billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.
As Senator, Obama has voted for legislation which makes it more difficult for working people to file lawsuits against corporations. In 2005, he voted to pass the Class Action Fairness Act which took away the right to file class action lawsuits in state courts. Now, they can only be filed in federal courts, which hears far fewer of them, and rules in favor of corporations far more often. Obama voted against legislation that would have put a limit to the interest rates credit card companies can charge customers. He also voted in favor of legislation which allowed health care companies to issue apologies instead of payments in cases of malpractice. He supported legislation that allowed mining companies to buy up public land for extremely reduced rates and avoid paying back the cities and states they mine in. As Senator of Illinois, Obama passed legislation restricting pollution by large corporations, winning the support of environmentalists. Obama claims to support alternatives to oil, suggesting ethanol as a clean energy source, as it comes primarily from corn. A leader of the ethanol industry is Archer Daniels Midland, an Illinois based agriculture company, and a major contributor to Obama’s campaigns. The process of converting corn into ethanol, combined with the increased amounts of ethanol needed to fuel engines, makes ethanol a greater polluter than gasoline. The agriculture industry has contributed more than one million dollars to Obama’s campaign.
The largest contributors to Obama’s campaign come from multinational banks, powerful corporate law firms, polluting energy companies, and huge media conglomerates. At the top of this list is Goldman Sachs, which has provided over $500,000 to Obama’s campaigns. Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banks in the world. Its board of directors head up corporations such as: General Motors, Pfizer (the world’s largest pharmaceutical company), KB Home (one of the largest construction companies in the U.S.), United Health Group (one of the largest health insurance companies in the U.S.), Temple Inland (a gigantic lumber company and world leader in deforestation), BankOne Corp (a massive banking firm and leader in the credit industry). These firms are connected to corporations like McDonalds, General Electric, and other leading corporations in just about every major industry.
Obama has selected Joe Biden as his Vice Presidential running mate. Biden has been a longtime Washington insider, with over 35 years experience as a defender of the ruling elite of this country.
Biden, unlike Obama, was in the Senate when the vote to authorize the war on Iraq took place. He voted in favor of it. He argued at the time that a war on Iraq would be a “march to peace and security.” Biden has also voted to approve every bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden even outdid the Bush administration when he introduced legislation to increase the war appropriations by $13 billion, most of this money going to weapons manufacturers. Biden supports the plan of sending more soldiers to Afghanistan. Biden is also a strong supporter of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. He has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from various Israeli lobbying groups. Biden also voted to pass and renew the Patriot Act.
In 2005, Biden helped pass legislation that severely reduced the ability for workers to file for bankruptcy protection. It was a clear attack on workers and a gift to credit card companies. It makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant. It even allows creditors to take child-support payments away from parents to repay debts. It protects the rich by allowing them to safeguard an unlimited amount of funds as equity in their homes. It even allows creditors to give misleading information about credit card contracts. The credit card companies had been trying to pass this legislation for years. When it was finally passed in 2005, these companies had spent $34 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in the previous nine years. The credit company MBNA is from Biden’s congressional state of Delaware. They contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his senatorial campaign. They were even involved in a scandal in which an executive from MBNA paid top dollar to buy Biden’s house. To everyone, it looked like nothing more than a strategy to funnel more money into Biden’s pockets.
Biden also played a major role in attacking the poor and working class in the 90s. Biden helped pass legislation introduced by the Clinton administration to kick millions of people off of welfare. Obama supported the legislation as well. The legislation reduced food stamps, medical assistance and all around assistance to those most who needed it most.
Today, with wages down, prices up, corporations getting richer, and life for most working people seeming to only be getting more difficult, workers are right to want a change. But make no mistake about it – we need to see more than symbolic change. The change we want to see is not going to come from an Obama/Biden presidency, or the Democrat Party they represent.
At a time when the majority of the population is fed up with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; with an economic crisis threatening their lives and livelihood; with escalating gas and food prices; with rising unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, lack of health care and increasing crime, there is a great need and potential for new social struggles in the U.S. today.
When the approval ratings for both the Bush administration and the Democratic majority Congress are in the low twentieth percentiles, there is obviously great disillusionment and unhappiness with the current political situation and the two major parties who control the government. There is certainly every reason for people to be looking for a change coming from outside of the “politics as usual” of presidential elections and the selling of new presidential candidates.
This is not a time to repeat the mistakes of the past and put new hopes in the Democrats and elections. If people take the 15 minutes it takes to vote because they feel they have to simply register their disapproval of the policies of the last eight years of Bush, that is understandable. But there should be no illusions that anything of significance will come from the vote.
Much more important than this election is what people are prepared to do. Our future does not rest with electoral choices. As this pamphlet has attempted to show by examining the betrayals of the Democrats throughout the past, the Democrats are masters of trickery and deceit. Our hope for change cannot be placed in the passive act of voting for one of two major capitalist parties and their pre-approved and pre-selected candidates, packaged by the media for our consumption as if we were shopping at the mall.
The future will be determined by what the masses of people in the U.S. decide to do today and in the future. It will be decided in the workplaces, neighborhood and the streets of this country. It will depend on how strongly people mobilize themselves and depend on their own forces and their own struggles. It is a question of choosing our own leaders, based on seeing what they do, so that we know whom we can trust and who is not trustworthy.
The U.S. ruling class has the two main parties of this country at its complete disposal and service. To have a real alternative means to have organizations that really serve and represent the working class and the oppressed layers of the population, the vast majority.
To build a working class party is the objective of the RWG. We know, of course, we are not going to do it by ourselves. But we know also that it is in the interest of the majority of the population and there are many activists and groups who share this objective, and even more people who could support it. It’s why we invite all those interested in that goal to join us in order to help organize workers and youth, students and young workers, all who are ready to fight against capitalist society and turn their backs on all the capitalist parties and politicians, whether they present themselves as liberal or conservative, Republicans or Democrats
The Democratic Party is just recycling the same old strategy. We need a real alternative, an alternative based on our own interests, our own forces, our own energy and our own efforts.
Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. Those who study history at least have a chance to learn from the struggles and to see the traps that have been laid. This hopefully can help us to take a different path in the future.