The Best Government the 1% Can Buy: Is Reversing Citizens United or Corporate Personhood Enough?

Which president told Congress: “I recommend a law prohibiting all corporations from contributing to the campaign expenses of any party…let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly?”

If you recognize this Presidential quote, it probably means you’re a history buff (or you watch too much Jeopardy). The correct answer: Who was Theodore Roosevelt?

While the speech has become a notable quotable, it’s often forgotten that it followed public outrage surrounding Roosevelt’s acceptance of huge corporate contributions that locked-in his election in 1904.  This popular clamor for accountability (the Progressive Era; maybe they were the Occupiers of their times) was enough to move Teddy and Congress to pass the first ever Federal legislation prohibiting corporations from making monetary contributions to national political campaigns, called the Tillman Act.

Now for extra points: What happened to the Tillman Act?

Like so many other attempts over the last 100+ years to restrict, reform, reign in, eliminate and otherwise account for Big Money in politics, the Tillman Act didn’t even need to be overturned for the corporate elite to get around it. It was simply whittled away. How is this done?  In the same way Congress later banned unions from making political contributions in the 1940’s, only to see Big Labor skirt the restrictions by forming the first-ever PAC, and collecting campaign donations (sometimes coercively) outside of regular worker’s dues.

OK, now for a Civics question: What is the source of power for the corporate elite?

Throughout our history as a nation, the wealthy elite have always held power, and its not an accident, or the result of a few bad decisions, or even corruption (though those all exist), its far more structural and insidious than that.  The Constitution itself provided—from the beginning—for a government by and for the 1%. The Founding Fathers truly believed that the best form of government was one in which wealth made the rules. At the time the Constitution was being debated, the majority of people were against it, despite how our folklore has remembered it.

Turns out the 99% of yesteryear were quite prescient indeed.

Fast-forward to the present day, the ways money has seeped through the cracks of our political system and pooled into the pockets of our elected officials has only grown despite generations upon generations of ever-ongoing reform efforts.

* Dozens of Acts of Congress have been passed attempting to address corruption in government and our elections yet for every reform our system has enabled bigger, better ways for wealth to hold the reigns.

* Lobbyists. They walk right into lawmaking areas and help write bills and buy votes. They present politicians with corporate-friendly Bills already drafted. They are well paid to successfully influence, chop and change legislation, and work deals with our elected officials and even with Supreme Court Justices. Under our Constitution this is protected as free speech and despite the numerous laws to regulate lobbyists, the practice is only on the rise.

Constitutional laws.  Many states—not only Montana— wrote their Constitutions to include the subordination of corporations to the will of the people, and banned corporate political expenditures in state elections.  Over the years, most of those Constitutional provisions have been amended to pave the way for more corporate-friendly laws. (Montana, of course still has this language in their Constitution, and has used it to challenge Citizen’s United)

The Supreme Court. We ended the plantation system and slavery with the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments.  Yet it was the unelected lifers of the USSC that added corporate monsterhood to the 14th Amendment, providing the new vehicle for wealth to continue to rule after slavery was abolished. They also made sure that our labor and environmental laws are placed under the Commerce Clause, so that our worker and environmental laws have the seal of approval from business.

(Fun fact: did you know that the Constitution didn’t specify how many Justices there could be? It could have been just one!). Find out more here.

* The Commerce Clause – it looks so benign in the Constitution—15 little words that empowers Congress to regulate commerce—but it is one of the most powerful weapons in corporate arsenal. Anything defined as commerce (and everything is defined as commerce, including toxic waste) has been used by corporations and the courts to strip state and municipal governments of lawmaking designed to protect communities and ecosystems from harm. It has been exported around the world to do the same  (see NAFTA). Its powers have quietly grown over the last 100 years. For a great history of the Clause, click here (pages 18-37).

The list goes on and on. But the point is, there isn’t just ONE tool, or two, or even three. The system is designed to be an underground burrow for a never-ending game of Corporate-Whack-A-Mole. You know, the arcade game where you take a big mallet and smack the “mole” when it pops up from its hidey-hole…only to find that once you whack it down, it comes up in another place, faster and faster until you can’t keep up? We can’t stop the moles from popping up; it’s the function of the game.

The point is, if we think the system is broken,  then we could fix it, we could reform it. We could ask our elected leaders to work with us to amend or otherwise throw in some new rules to work out the bugs, and strike down laws that are inconsistent with a functioning democracy.  That makes sense—if it’s merely broken.

But if we find that its not broken at all—but rather working perfectly as the manufacturers designed it— a Constitutional structure that is designed around Property and Commerce (rather than Rights and Democracy) then the time has come to stop playing corporate whack-a-mole, and start taking a step toward something more revolutionary.

We could begin to ask new questions like: what if corporations aren’t the problem at all? Or: If the Supreme Court had never granted “personhood” rights to corporations, would they still be trammeling the rights of citizens and riding roughshod over communities and nature—Would we have democracy?

The revolution for new rules is already here. Its happening at the grassroots. 150+ communities have already begun to challenge the system by writing new laws that place community and ecosystems above corporate profits and they’ve challenged the entire structure of law—right from Main Street, where they  live. These brave communities want real democracy and government in the hands of the people, and they are not afraid to challenge unjust laws that deny their rights and place corporate harms in their midst.

Revolutionaries who fought for Independence from Britain wanted nothing so much as the right to govern themselves locally. They trusted themselves to make critical decisions at the local level on issues that directly affected them.  We could learn a lot from our real founding brothers and sisters. We could join today’s Community Rights rebels across the country, make a nationwide movement that asserts (rather than asks for) our rights.  After all, upholding the rights of the people is the real job of government and just law.

So. Final Jeopardy question:  What are we truly prepared to do to put government in the hands of the people?

For more information on Community Rights visit us here, or call Shannon at 415.575.5540.

Detroit: Green Economy Leadership Training in action

Signs of hope continue to sprout in Detroit. For many of us working on the revitalization of Detroit, 2012 may prove to be the year when the tide finally shifts towards a rebirth of our great city.  Some consider this a bottoming out after over a decade of massive manufacturing job losses to the tune of 200,000 jobs lost since the year 2000 and eye-opening population loss.

For many in Detroit, it doesn’t seem like the situation can get much worse.  We are far removed from Detroit’s heyday when it was considered a bustling leader in organized labor and fair wages for workers.

Those of us still in Detroit have become a battle-tested and resilient bunch, and the skills that we have acquired through so much chaos and uncertainty could prove useful to the rest of the country, a country entrenched in a long-term recession and high unemployment rates.

Consciousness of large scale economic and environmental problems came to national attention last year as the Occupy Wall Street movement swept the nation. Time magazine even named The Protestor the 2011 Person of the Year.

Those same problems are under a microscope here in Detroit, where we started feeling the financial fallout many years before other parts of the country.  In Detroit, it has been the norm to have corporations turn their backs on the people and the government ill-equipped and unwilling to respond to the massive problems plaguing the area.

2012 shouldn’t just be the year of large protests. We need a system change. As we’ve been saying here at Global Exchange, “Our 2012 resolution is global revolution!” We need new rules, skills and frameworks to take our movement to the next level.  Together, 2012 can be the year that we truly change the rules to create a world that champions people power not corporate power.  What better place to put these words into action than in Detroit?  This is where the economic fallout started, and this will be the place where the strategies for a new world can be tested.

Detroit: Green Economy Leadership Training activities. Photo courtesy of Samantha Frick

At Global Exchange we’re helping to transition Detroit into a beacon of community organizing power. Over the past two years our summer Green Economy Leadership Training program has been working in the Highland Park community and has trained over 50 people in intensive skills trainings and projects that are helping move a new vision of Detroit’s economy forward.

We have worked side by side with community members to assemble urban farms and 4-seasons greenhouses, weatherize homes and develop community solar projects and create K-12 education programs that are transitioning Detroit to a self-reliant, post-industrial future.  In 2012, we are continuing to build a new economy in Detroit, reaching one person at a time and working deeply within our community.

As we develop the skills for the new economy we also need to look towards putting the political power truly back in the hands of the people.  Detroit has been the victim of corporate greed for too long.  Communities like Detroit can benefit in a huge way by establishing community rights of their own. Our Community Rights Program is organizing across the country and around the world to pass revolutionary laws that strip corporate protections and assert the rights of communities to decide for themselves what happens where they live, and at the same time to recognize the rights of nature.

TAKE ACTION!

Apply to Green Economy Leadership Training: Be on the look out for an announcement to apply to our Green Economy Leadership Training in the next month. The application will be online, along with program information;

Attend Speaking Event: If you are in Michigan, I’ll be speaking this Thursday, 1/19, at Michigan State University in the Erikson Kiva @ 7:30 p.m.  The topic is Urban Green Strategies – How Detroit is Leading the 21st Century Sustainability Revolution?Rsvp here.

In ‘Republic, Lost’ academic and lawyer Lawrence Lessig writes:

…The problem with Congress is not just in appearance. It is real. It is the product of an economy of influence that we have allowed to evolve within our government … That economy systematically draws members away from the focus, or dependance, they were intended to have. That dependance … is corruption. It is the corruption that is our government.

The Occupiers have, and continue to, expose corporate greed and demand an end to the overwhelming influence that money has in our systems – economic, political and even social. On January 17, hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill to welcome members back to Congress after the winter break and decry corporate influence in the government.

On January 20, a mass day of direct action will shut down so-called Wall Street West – the financial core of San Francisco. Over 50 organizations have plans for actions throughout the day to “crack the corporate piggy bank” and target corporate power.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Global Exchange, Fellowship of Reconciliation, New Priorities Campaign and others will be present outside the Bechtel headquarters all day, protesting Bechtel’s practice of greed and destruction. Bechtel spends millions on campaign contributions and lobbyists who secure war contracts, undermining democratic process, while directing billions of public dollars to build nuclear weapons and make its CEO a billionaire. Follow the action on twitter at @BechtelAction.

On January 21, the Nationwide Day of Action to “overturn the devastating FEC vs. Citizens United ruling and end corporate rule” – Occupy the Corporations – will call on elected officials to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the two year-old ruling – the impacts of which we have yet to experience in this 2012 election cycle. On this day, across the US, people will stand up and say enough is enough to corporate influence in elections.

But this will not be enough, we’re calling for deep structural changes to our governing systems, including passing laws that place the rights of communities and nature above the claimed “rights” of corporations. Over 150 US communities have already written new rules, refusing to be divided by partisan politics and to staying focused on dismantling corporate rule by taking control of our own structures of government. Rule by the people.

If we can remain united (truly citizens united) in this global revolution it is we — the 99% — that are too big to fail.

A little inspiration? Lessig further states, “…anyone who would resist this system would be a pariah on the Hill. You can just head the dialogue from any number of Hollywood films: ‘We’ve got a good thing going here, Jimmy. Why would you want to go and mess things up?'”

I’ve always thought a little mess made things better.


Just moments ago, the Obama administration delivered the announcement we’ve all been waiting for, “The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline [has been] denied.”

Following months of activism and pressure – from both advocates and opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry heavy crude 1,700 miles from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico – President Obama made the right decision to deny the permit application from TransCanada.

After announcing a delay to the permit approval process in November, Congress approved legislation in late December forcing the President to fast track a decision by February 21. Eager Republicans from the House Energy and Commerce Committee even posted a countdown clock in an attempt to force Obama into approval.

Even before the formal announcement from the State Department today, advocates of Keystone XL were vowing, “This is not the end of this fight,” (spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner). It’s true, they have the backing and support and money of Big Oil to fight back, draft new legislation and push for a new route for this pipeline and others. Today’s news does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.

We were there to oppose this pipeline proposal and we’ll continue to be there to oppose any alternative routes. The State Department stated that the proposed KeystoneXL Pipeline does not serve the national interest, but we are here to insist that this pipeline — and any tar sands pipeline — is not in the interest of our planet’s future.

Thanks for all your hard work around this. Stay updated on the latest news around the KeystoneXL Pipeline on our People-to-People blog.

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples performed Sunday night at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA for the 10th Annual Martin Luther King  Tribute. She rules in my book, seeing her in person did not disappoint. Seeing her on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a moment I won’t soon forget.

MLK tribute performers singing "We Shall Overcome" Photo Credit: Laird Nolan

The historic Paramount Theater was the perfect setting for an event such as this. After opening performers Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Youth Speaks Oakland Children’s Community Choir and Pop Lyfe took the stage, Mavis shared with the crowd some of her memories of Dr. King, then delivered an uplifting set of exquisite vocals. The show culminated with most of the evening’s performers taking to the stage to sing We Shall Overcome along with the crowd.

What better time to re-visit some memorable quotes from the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

“The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

“Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man.

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

Here’s to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wait a minute! Hang on! Didn’t we celebrate that Obama announced that the Keystone XL permit decision (whether or not approve TransCanada’s application to build a mega pipeline to transport dirty tar sands oil from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico) was off the agenda until 2013? Yes, we did. BUT then the payroll tax cut extension came up for consideration in Congress and outraged Republicans decided to attach legislation forcing President Obama to approve or deny Keystone XL in sixty days. This happened on December 23. Happy Holidays climate change, environmental destruction and indigenous rights.

Since then advocates for Keystone XL have put the full court press on President Obama –  pressuring, lobbying, tweeting, blogging, placing ads and demanding Obama’s approval:

TransCanada can’t stop talking about all the jobs they want to create if Keystone XL is approved. (The Center for Economic and Policy Research‘s economist Dean Baker debunked these numbers on Jan 2.)

On Jan 4, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched a ‘countdown clock’ asking, “Will President Obama choose jobs and energy security for America?” If you are not great at math, like me, the clock is kind of handy.

Lobbyists for the oil industry – The American Petroleum Institute – launched ads on Jan 11. Ah, lobbyists.

Speaker John Boehner blogged on Jan 13 asking what you’d decide if you were President, and is asking for feedback: “Let Speaker Boehner know in the comments section … on Google+, on Twitter using the #KXL hash tag, and on Facebook by answering our Question here.” Take action, friends!

So, while all this is going on the count down to a thumbs down is on. Obama’s spent twenty-one days, seventeen hours and two minutes (of his sixty days) from the time this blog is posted. In December White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted that the countdown “simply shortens  the review process in a way that virtually guarantees that the pipeline will NOT be approved.” Today Business Week quoted Mike McKenna, an oil-industry lobbyist and president of MWR Strategies Inc. in Washington, saying, “The president is going to say no. The only recourse the Republicans have is to make it painful, politically, for him.”

Months ago Maude Barlow recounted a conversation that she had with a taxi driver in DC on her way to participate in the days of protest to stop Keystone XL this summer. She asked the man what Obama should decide on the pipeline. He said that Obama is in a tough place, if he approves the project he’ll anger his supporters who elected him but if he denies it, he’ll anger the big corporations pressuring for approval. Maude agreed and then asked him again what he though that Obama should do. The driver responded, ‘If Obama can’t please everyone, then he should do the right thing and deny the pipeline’.

Below is a short film about tar sands extraction – beyond Keystone XL, other oil giants are working to increase extraction in other directions, from northern Alberta to the west coast through a project called the Northern Gateway. This short film was ranked as one of the Top Ten Revolutionary Videos of 2011.

Happy New Year!


It’s a new year and with the advent of the cold weather, police raids, and a media that has effectively painted the Occupy movement as dirty and dangerous—many people are beginning to wonder if we’ve seen the last of the movement.

Has there really been a sea-change in consciousness or was the tremendous swelling of potential so place-based that it can’t survive?  What is direct democracy when it is spread out across a continent, indeed a globe with demands for fairness, equality and community?

It’s time to take a look and get the facts straight. Over 2779 Occupy Groups around the country are listed on Occupy Together. And they don’t seem to be fading away.

In New York’s Zucotti Park, the barriers have come down and though there is no camping, the square is active every day with teach-ins, meetings and action planning.

More and more, the Occupy movement is linking its critique of corporate greed and corruption to issues of fairness, democracy and national priorities.
Many communities have Occupy Our Homes which work in neighborhoods and small towns to stop, delay or disrupt home foreclosures; meeting their neighbors to map out threatened homes, going in groups to renegotiate loans and in some cases setting up camp in homes that are about to be evicted.

In Washington DC, plans are in place to Occupy Congress on January 17th to draw attention to the fact that Congress is not serving the people who elected them but chooses to serve a corporate master instead. Occupiers from around the country will converge on the U.S. Capitol for teach-ins, visits to their representatives and a march and rally.


In San Francisco, Jan 20th, the last business day before the one-year anniversary of the “Citizens United” ruling, which treats corporations as people for free speech purposes, was the day picked to take over and disrupt business as usual in the Financial District; the Wall Street of the West. It is to be one of the largest self-organized actions including labor unions, environmental groups, peace groups, housing activists, churches, veterans and unaffiliated people staking out a claim to the city, an end to corporate greed and power while building a broad and inclusive network for social justice. Get more information and get involved.

All around the country people are recognizing that both Republicans and Democrats are complicit in a sold out system where political contributions from large corporations are labeled free speech and drown out the voices of average Americans.

But we, the 99%, know that Corporations are not people and Money is not speech!

We may be tired of the word ”occupy,” tired of camping and fighting with police but, as we enter this weekend of remembrance for Martin Luther King Jr. and honor his enduring spirit of service and justice, we are more clear than ever that we are present – we are people and our speech is real.

Show your support and say I AM the 99%. Click here to order stickers.

Priceless Peace by Bikram Singh, California

It’s the beginning of a new year, the perfect time to contemplate peace and the environment. With 2012 in full swing, the deadlines for two youth-focused events, an art contest and eco-awards, are fast approaching. Here’s more about them, and how you can get involved:

1) What About Peace? is a Global Exchange international arts contest for youth ages 14 – 20 to express ideas and thoughts about peace by responding to the question, “What About Peace?” through artistic expression.

What about Peace Hands Can Help by Michelle Cupp, Missouri

Are you finishing up your painting, choosing between photographs or assembling a collage?  Does your poem, short story or essay say everything you want it to convey about peace?  Because on February 15th we hope that your ideas for peace will be in our office and ready for the jurying process!

If you are a teacher, counselor or youth worker, please encourage your students to apply. Here’s a downloadable flyer you can print and share.

The Grand prize is $1000! Check out www.whataboutpeace.org for all the entry details.

To get your brain pumpin, here’s some unique painting style ideas:) Just remember to stick to the contest size rule (up to 18” x 24”).

2) Eco-Hero Awards recognizes accomplishments of young people ages 8 – 16 whose personal projects have significantly improved the environment. The awards are sponsored by Action For Nature.

The young people who contribute their stories, pictures, insights, and achievements are at the heart of what Action For Nature stands for. The Eco-Hero Awards gives young people both the motivation and the means to continue creating positive change for the natural world.

Award recipients receive up to $500 cash, an award certificate, and other forms of recognition. The application deadline is January 15, 2012. Visit the Action for Nature website for application requirements or email ian@actionfornature.org for more info.

An easy way to spread the word about both of these exciting events is Share and Tweet this post (buttons on top right of post.) Here’s to the next generation leading by example!

John Lindsay-Poland, Senator De León and Kirsten Moller at California capitol building in Sacramento

On January 10, 2012  on behalf of Global Exchange I joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Brady campaign in the California Capitol building in Sacramento to provide a support testimony for Senator De León’s Senate Joint Resolution No. 10 that calls for a comprehensive approach to stop the trafficking of illegal weapons and ammunition across the border into Mexico.

The resolution which passed the committee by a majority will be submitted to the full legislature later this spring.

It urges the President and Congress to pursue a comprehensive approach to stem the trafficking of illicit United States firearms and ammunition into Mexico enhancing collaboration among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies by:

  • the allocation of a permanent source of federal funding to sustain local and state law enforcement operations to combat firearms trafficking and other border-related crimes,
  • the redirection of federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and United States Customs and Border Protection resources towards this effort,
  • reenactment of a strong federal assault weapons ban, along with a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines,
  • stronger federal authority to crack down on corrupt gun dealers,
  • extending Brady criminal background checks to all gun sales, including all sales at gun shows to prevent firearms trafficking, and the maintenance of firearm purchase records to help law enforcement track down armed criminals and solve gun crimes.

Here is the statement we made yesterday:

We’ve travelled here today to testify on this measure to control firearms trafficking because we’ve been convinced by our Mexican friends and colleagues that loose regulation of firearms in the U.S. facilitates a massive illegal weapons flow to the South that, in turn, helps fuel a bloody conflict that has resulted in the murder of at least 45,000 Mexicans since the end of 2006.  Sen. DeLeón’s SJR 10 resolution brings needed attention to this too often ignored issue while suggesting practical measures to reduce weapons smuggling.

As SJR 10 documents, Mexico has experienced a terrifying spiral of violence following an escalation of the war for drug prohibition by President Felipe Calderón at the end 2006.  The underlying causes of the war and for the spiking body count are complex and controversial, but there is broad consensus across most sectors in Mexico that easy access to weaponry smuggled from the United States is a major contributing factor to the growing mayhem.

SJR 10 correctly identifies the urgent need for action at the Federal level –by Congress and the President to cooperate in developing comprehensive limits on the trafficking of weapons and ammunition into Mexico.

In 2012 Alianza Civica (Civic Alliance), – traditionally Mexico’s premier election observation and electoral watchdog organization asked Global Exchange and other US human rights organizations to join them in a Mexican led petition campaign that echoes the concerns voiced in SJR 10 in terms of limiting the import of assault weapons to the United States and providing far stricter enforcement powers to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

This campaign against weapons smuggling has been given full and explicit support by Javier Sicilia, the renowned Mexican poet who, along with other victims of Mexico’s violence, is leading a massive peace movement he helped found after his son was murdered — along with six young friends — in March last year.

In recent months, even leaders of this peace movement have been targeted. On November 28th, Nepomuceno Moreno Núñez, a prominent movement activist, was gunned down in his home town of Hermosillo, Sonora in northwestern Mexico.
His offense? Being persistent in seeking justice in the case of his 18 year old son Jorge Mario Moreno León, who was kidnapped and disappeared in July, 2010.

California can send an important message to Washington with the passage of SJR 10.  Please support this important Resolution.

The following was written by Charles Davis and Medea Benjamin. Charles Davis has as covered Capitol Hill for public radio and the international news wire Inter Press Service. Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange.

In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer – and poor foreigners abroad – will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

Speaking January 5 alongside his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president announced a shift in strategy for the American military, one that emphasizes aerial campaigns and proxy wars as opposed to “long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” This, to some pundits and politicians, is considered a tectonic shift.

Indeed, the way some on the left tell it, the strategy marks a radical departure from the imperial status quo. “Obama just repudiated the past decade of forever war policy,” gushed Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, calling the new strategy a “[s]lap in the face to the generals.”

Conservative hawks, meanwhile, predictably declared that the sky is falling. “This is a lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America,” cried hyperventilating California Republican Buck McKeon, chairman the House Armed Services Committee. “This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs.” In McKeon’s world, feeding the war machine is preferable to feeding poor people.

Unfortunately, though, rather than renouncing empire and endless war, Obama’s stated strategy for the military going forward just reaffirms the U.S. commitment to both. Rather than renouncing the last decade of war, it states that the bloody and disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan – gently termed “extended operations” – were pursued “to bring stability to those countries.”

And Leon Panetta assured the American public that even with the changes, the U.S. would still be able to fight two major wars at the same time—and win. And Obama assured America’s military contractors and coffin makers that their lifeline – U.S. taxpayers’ money – would still be funneled their way in obscene bucket loads.

“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow,” the president told reporters, “but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow.” In fact, he added with a touch of pride, it “will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration,” totaling more than $700 billion a year and accounting for about half of the average American’s incometax. So much for the Pentagon’s budget being slashed – like we were promised – the way lawmakers are trying to cut those “failed domestic programs.”

The U.S. could cut its military spending in half tomorrow and still spend more than three times as much as its next nearest rival, China. That’s because China, instead of waging wars of choice around the world, prefers projecting its might by investing in its own country. On the other hand, the U.S. under the leadership of Obama is beefing up its military presence in China’s backyard, more interested in projecting its dwindling power than rebuilding its economy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once noted that every dollar going to the military is a dollar that can’t be used to provide food and shelter for those in need. Today’s obscene amount of military spending isn’t necessary if the administration wished to pursue the quaint goal of simply defending the country from invasion. Maintaining “the best-trained, best-equipped military in history,” as Obama says is his goal? That’s a different story – for a different purpose. Indeed, as Madeline Albright observed, possessing that kind of military might is no fun if you don’t get to use it, as Obama has with gusto in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Uganda.

The truth is that the Obama administration’s “new” strategy is more of the same—a reaffirmation of the U.S. government’s commitment to militarism for the all the usual reasons: to promote American hegemony and, by extension, the interests of politically connected capital. And U.S. officials aren’t shy about that.

Indeed, throughout the strategy document the ostensible purpose for having a military — to provide national security — repeatedly takes a backseat to promoting the economic interests of the U.S. elite that profits from empire. Repositioning U.S. forces “toward the Asia-Pacific region,” for instance – including the stationing of American soldiers in that hotbed of violent extremism, Australia – is cast not just as a means of ensuring peace and stability, but guaranteeing “the free flow of commerce.” Maintaining a global empire of bases from Europe to Okinawa isn’t necessary for self-defense, but according to Obama, ensuring – with guns – “the prosperity that flows from an open and free international economic system.”

Of course, that economic considerations shape U.S. foreign policy is nothing new. More than 25 years ago, President Jimmy Carter – that Jimmy Carter – declared in a State of the Union address that U.S. military force would be employed in the Persian Gulf, not for the cause of peace, freedom and apple pie, but to ensure “the free movement of Middle East oil.” And so it goes.

Far from affecting change, Obama is ensuring continuity. “U.S. policy will emphasize Gulf security,” states his new military strategy, in order to “prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon capability and counter its destabilizing policies” — as if it’s Iran that has been destabilizing the region. And as Obama publicly proclaims his support for “political and economic reform” in the Middle East, just like every other U.S. president he not-so-privately backs their oppressors from Bahrain to Yemen and signs off on the biggest weapons deal in history to that bastion of democracy, Saudi Arabia.

Obama can talk all he wants about turning the page on a decade of war and occupation, but so long as he continues to fight wars and military occupy countries on the other side of the globe, talk is all it is. The facts, sadly, are this: since taking office Obama doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan; he fought to extend the U.S. occupation in Iraq– and partially succeeded; he dramatically expanded the use of killer drones from Pakistan to Somalia; and he requested military budgets that would make George W. Bush blush. If you want to see what his military strategy really is, forget what’s said at press conferences and in turgidly written Pentagon press releases. Just look at the record.