Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sure he's a war criminal, but at least he didn't cheat on his wife!

In 2002, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards supported a preemptive war on Iraq that ended hundreds of thousands of lives and forced more than 4.5 million people to flee their homes. And according to his top political adviser at the time, he did so not because he thought the invasion was necessary to protect America – he was privately skeptical of that – but because he thought it would be good for his political career.

Edwards of course went on to be the 2004 Democratic candidate for vice president – because, not despite, of his support for the war. Even after it was exposed that he'd backed the bombing of poor brown people on the other side of the globe for purely selfish reasons, he made a serious run for the presidential nomination in 2008.

Only after it was revealed that Edwards porked someone who wasn't his wife did all good, patriotic Americans start hating on the sleazy bastard. That whole support for an unjust, immoral war he knew was wrong thing? Again: a feature, not a flaw.

Seriously, fuck you America.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I'm so bored with the USA

. . . but what can I do?

Oh yeah. Leave the United States.

I'd tell you where I'm going, but I think I'll leave it to the next batch of WikiLeaks documents.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Waiting by the phone

Matt Taibbi on the path to a prosperous career as a reasonable liberal:
First step: graduate Harvard or Columbia, buy some clothes at Urban Outfitters, shore up your socially liberal cred by marching in a gay rights rally or something, then get a job at some place like the American Prospect. Then once you're in, spend a few years writing wonky editorials gently chiding Jane Fonda liberals for failing to grasp the obvious wisdom of the WTC or whatever Bob Rubin/Pete Peterson Foundation deficit-reduction horseshit the Democratic Party chiefs happen to be pimping at the time. Once you've got that down, you just sit tight and wait for the New York Times or the Washington Post to call. It won't be long.
Read the rest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The New York Times and the undermining of America

Barrett Brown from the League of Ordinary Gentleman:
"I am constantly reminded that there remain a great number of people who still believe that the media in general and The New York Times in particular operate under a conscious and deliberate agenda by which to undermine America and its government. As someone whose entire life revolves around the undermining of America and its government, I would simply note that the NYT has not been particularly helpful."
Read the rest.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ah, liberalism

From the Media Consortium:
“Don’t touch my junk!” has become a rallying cry for passengers, particularly white men, who are not accustomed to being asked to give up any part of their body’s autonomy for the greater good.
Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald notes that The Nation has also taken to smearing those who object to the TSA's security theater as all just a bunch of loony libertarians (in the process illustrating that Charles Koch is now the liberal left's George Soros: an evil, shadowy figure behind all that is wrong with the world).

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Interview with Gloria Killian

After having to interview some asshole politician or spokesman from EDF day in and day out about why the latest monstrosity of a climate bill is absolutely vital, not to save the planet, but to transition us to a "21st century clean energy economy" (TM), it's so refreshing to talk to people actually doing something good for the world. On that note, check out my interview with Gloria Killian, a California woman who spent more than 16 years behind bars for a murder she didn't commit and who now works on behalf of those prisoners she left behind.

Friday, October 29, 2010

'Fuck Sanity'

The great Dennis Perrin on Jon Stewart's march of moderates for "sanity":
Fuck Sanity.

Maybe I'm missing the satirical angle here, if there is one. When Jon Stewart apologized for calling Harry Truman a war criminal, I initially thought, "Hey! Nice parody of the wimpy, obedient pundit!" Then I realized that Stewart was serious. Had any other global leader ordered nuclear strikes on civilians, I suspect that Stewart wouldn't be so understanding. But this was an American president -- a Democrat no less! How ugly and partisan it would be to question Truman's action, or worse, satirize it. That is something an insane person would do. And as we know, Jon Stewart is among The Sane.

Again, Stewart could be putting everyone on. I certainly hope so, yet doubt it. You don't achieve mainstream prominence by calling our terrorist culture by its right name. And you sure as fuck don't mock it. Stewart knows his place. Just the other night he sat across from a man who oversees a vast network of theft, torture and mass murder. And how did our most celebrated satirist since Mark Twain react? With deference. Respect. Sanity.
I previously took on Stewart myself for ludicrously claiming Obama had "given back so much executive power" since taking office. (Pathetically for Stewart, Bill O'Reilly had to correct him on that.) And earlier I addressed Stewart's remark that he didn't care if Obama smoked cigarettes, because "I prefer that to . . . bombing countries. I’ll take a smoker." (Congratulations, funny guy, we've now got a president who ends a rough day of cluster bombing Yemeni civilians with a Marlboro. And he's so smart!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yes on 19, please, but hold the politicians

IOZ, doing his thing:
Regarding the question of voting, I do not vote for the same reason that I do not pray five times a day facing toward Mecca. I do not believe in representative democracy. I think it is a fiction. That is not to say that I don't believe Americans exist anymore than calling Allah imaginery means I do not believe that Muslims exist; I believe in voting booths just as much as I believe in mosques. It is not the existence of the ritualized act that I call unreal; it is the deity at the other end of the prayer line.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Can we really blame Republicans for the wars?

Michael Moore has a list of five things he says Democrats should do to avoid a disaster at the polls in November. His first recommendation? That the Democratic Party run ads reminding voters "Who the Hell Put Us in the Misery We're In":
People need to be reminded over and over that it was the REPUBLICANS who concocted and led the unnecessary invasion of two countries, putting us in our longest war ever, wars that will eventually cost us over $3 trillion.
I know readers of this blog probably don't need me to detail all that is wrong with that sentence but, fuck it, I'll try to anyway. First, it was Democrat Bill Clinton who signed into law a bill that made regime change in Iraq official U.S. policy, and it was the Clinton administration, by continually bombing Iraq and maintaining a deadly sanctions regime throughout the 1990s ostensibly due to an ongoing, scary (and conveniently swarthy) threat of a madman with weapons of mass destruction, that helped make the 2003 invasion politically possible.

Second, Democrats were critical to selling the Iraq war in the wake of 9/11, with the likes of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry -- and the top candidates for the party's 2004 and 2008 presidential nomination -- taking to the Senate floor with tales of ties to al-Qaeda and WMDs to justify an aggressive war against a country that was not threatening the United States. And the authorization to use force in Iraq was approved by more than half the Democrats in the Senate and more than 80 of those in the House. Sure, more dissented than in the Republican ranks -- just not many in meaningful leadership positions and none with greater political ambitions.

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan was overwhelmingly supported by the Democratic Party; Congress authorized the use of force by a vote of 420-1 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. And during the 2008 election campaign, and before that in 2006, Democrats across the country campaigned on a platform that labeled Afghanistan the Good, Forgotten War, with Harry Reid, Barack Obama, et. al denouncing the Bush administration for not sending enough young Americans to kill and be killed there.

There's also this small quibble I have with the "blame REPUBLICANS for the wars" strategy: as "our longest war ever" drags on with no end in sight, draining taxpayers of tens of billions of dollars every year, the Democratic Party controls the House, the Senate and the presidency. The Democrats, it can be fairly said, control the government of the United States of America -- the same government that not only continues to occupy two Middle Eastern countries, but has further expanded the war on terror in Yemen and Pakistan, killing hundreds of civilians with Predator drones and cluster bombs.

Democrats can go ahead and blame the GOP all they want for starting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I suspect some voters will rightly respond: "well okay then, Bush should've been impeached and John Boehner is totally a dick, but who's dropping the bombs now?"

I am certain our cause is just

. . . now give me the god damn money!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ken Silverstein is leaving Harper's -- and Washington

Here's why:
"When you can read an entire column by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and never once feel the urge to cut out your own heart with a dull knife, you know that you no longer have the sense of outrage that is essential to reporting from our nation’s capital."
The rest is worth reading.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Still alive!

Dear readers: I'm still alive (sorry to disappoint)! In fact, I pretty much spend all day now blogging for, interviewing medical marijuana dispensary owners and writing about torture, police abuse and fun stuff like that.

Check out my work here and send me nasty (or nice!) comments based on what you think.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The siren call of electoral politics

It happens every November (and sometimes it never goes away): otherwise seemingly intelligent people get stupid and put their faith in politicians who without fail will, predictably, betray them -- cut the "betrayed" crap, please. Each corrupt incumbent is replaced with a do-gooding reformer who, in a few years time -- sometimes longer, usually sooner -- become a carbon copy of the corrupt bastard they replaced. Liberal disappointment in Obama was preceded by conservative disappointment in Bush, which was preceded by liberal disappointment in Clinton, which was preceded by conservative disappointment in Bush, etc., ad infinitum, QED. It happens every time: soaring rhetoric and high hopes dashed on the rocks of political reality. For sure, each party has its rogues, its "mavericks" who will carry the torch of Truth and Justice, at least for a time, but they are the one-in-a-hundred exceptions to the rule -- I'm being generous with that ratio, mind you -- and invariably have no real power over the functioning of the State. Sorry Dennis, it's sad but true.

But come election time, millions of nice, almost sickeningly earnest people -- appearing to forget all this -- will head out to their local polling station to eagerly vote for one of two ideologically indistinguishable corporate-sponsored candidates, convinced not only that it matters, but that they are fulfilling their greatest civic duty (as some even love to patronizingly lecture their peers -- yeah you). The one saving grace of the election season, at least in the United States, is that the majority of the public doesn't bother to participate. Most people it seems wisely prefer, to paraphrase George Carlin, the comfort of masturbating in their home to getting off the couch for the masturbatory ritual of casting a vote in a race to decide whether Kang or Kodos get to call the shots.

That's not to say the passivity demonstrated by the average American is something admire either, though. The problem with electoral politics isn't that it gets people engaged in their communities -- that's a good thing; it's that it diverts any enthusiasm there might be for affecting real social change into places like Congress and the White House, where good ideas and basic human decency go to die. The great Emma Goldman expounded on this theme in an essay she wrote back in 1917, a piece that is both comforting to my mind because it illustrates mindless subservience to politics and politicians isn't a maddening phenomenon unique to our times, but also -- and for the same reason -- incredibly, profoundly depressing.

Writes Goldman:
One has but to bear in mind the process of politics to realize that its path of good intentions is full of pitfalls: wire-​pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, cheating; in fact, chicanery of every description, whereby the political aspirant can achieve success. Added to that is a complete demoralization of character and conviction, until nothing is left that would make one hope for anything from such a human derelict. Time and time again the people were foolish enough to trust, believe, and support with their last farthing aspiring politicians, only to find themselves betrayed and cheated. 
It may be claimed that men of integrity would not become corrupt in the political grinding mill. Perhaps not; but such men would be absolutely helpless to exert the slightest influence in behalf of labor, as indeed has been shown in numerous instances. The State is the economic master of its servants. Good men, if such there be, would either remain true to their political faith and lose their economic support, or they would cling to their economic master and be utterly unable to do the slightest good. The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue.
Now if I had a chance to cast a ballot knowing my vote could defeat someone like Hitler, I wouldn't hesitate: I'd vote. And I don't see any problem voting on public referendums, like Proposition 19 in California to legalize marijuana, or even voting for congressional candidates, per se. Casting a vote can be a legitimate defense mechanism, and even a platform for spreading a movement's message. At the same time, though, it can also be a big 'ol waste of time and effort that'd be better spent organizing around issues and implementing change in your community independent of the state legislatures and city councils. And no, that doesn't mean Molotov cocktails. It means volunteering at your local soup kitchen instead of at the campaign headquarters for the latest charlatan begging for your vote, cleaning up your neighborhood yourself instead of complaining to some city bureaucrat about it. It could also mean, following the example of the employees at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, assuming worker control of a business whose owners have refused to pay wages owed.

What rejecting electoral politics doesn't mean, or at least doesn't have to mean, is embracing apathy or college sophomore nihilism, as some civic-duty (and simple) minded detractors might argue. No, if you want to peddle complacency, just tell people the problem is the politicians, not the governing institutions, and that everything can change! if you just get off your ass on November 2nd. Why? Because the unrelenting hype over elections pretty much guarantees the public will sit on its collective behind the other 364 days of the year, glued to the cable TV -- watching Tom DeLay go up against a five-year-old Border Collie in a surprisingly competitive battle of wits (the Border Collie only won by single digits) and some kids from Jersey exploring the many ways to kill a brain cell -- while waiting on some asshole congressman or president to change their world for the better.

And really, if you want an apathetic public you couldn't do much better than the system we have now.

Photo Credit: Aziez Ahmed

Monday, August 30, 2010

'If they're gonna use it, they're gonna use it.'

Colorado cop and DARE officer Vern Rucker probably didn't set out to undercut the stated purpose for the war on drugs when he spoke to the reporter for the Cortez Journal, a paper located in a small town in the southwestern part of the state. But that's just what Rucker did, thoroughly undermining one of the key rationales for the war when asked what effect the presence of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Cortez would have on rates of usage among Our Most Precious Natural Resource, the damned kids:
"I don't think (the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries) has anything to do with it," he said. "If they're gonna use it, they're gonna use it. They don't have to have a card. They just go get it."
Exactly. On behalf of drug legalization advocates the world over: thanks for making our case, Officer Rucker!  Now here's an organization you might be interested in.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New gig

Beginning September 7th, I'll be working full-time for, writing about issues like the war on drugs, police abuse and the evils of the U.S. prison system; that is, about everything I pretty much rant about in my free time, except now I'll actually get paid for it. I'm not quite sure what the jobs means for this here blog, as my desire to write about injustices in the world is very likely to be satiated by my day job for the first time in my life, but I'd expect a bit less posting over the coming months.

I'll still find the time to mock Tom Friedman, though -- of that I am a sure.

As for the new gig, I expect everyone reading this post to visit the site I'll soon be editing,, and send me any scathing (but constructive!) observations that cross your mind -- what's good, what sucks; could it use a blog? Should a certain issue be covered more? -- by emailing me. And don't let me down: I've got a lot riding on you all making me look smarter and better informed than I really am. I need this.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Because it's Friday . . .

. . . and life's too short to let Sarah Palin or Barack Obama ruin your weekend, I'm posting a music video from At the Drive-In, a band from El Paso that broke up almost immediately after I got into them*. Not that the subject matter covered in this one will cheer you up either.

At The Drive-In - Invalid Litter Dept
Uploaded by poum. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

*Still bitter about that. And yeah, I know all about Mars Volta (and Sparta), but it's not the same.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Petraeus declares Afghan war strategy 'fundamentally sound'

NATO troops and civilians, particularly women and children, are dying in ever-increasing numbers as a result of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, but General-Scholar-Saint David Petraeus -- doing what he does best: public relations -- is confident of Victory, according to a recent interview he gave to The Washington Post:
In his first six weeks as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus has seen insurgent attacks on coalition forces spike to record levels, violence metastasize to previously stable areas, and the country's president undercut anti-corruption units backed by Washington.
But after burrowing into operations here and traveling to the far reaches of this country, Petraeus has concluded that the U.S. strategy to win the nearly nine-year-old war is "fundamentally sound."
Petraeus' assessment might reassure the editors of the Post and other supporters of the war among the media elite, but it brings to mind a previous, equally bold profession of confidence that was almost immediately regretted: Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) assertion on the campaign trail in August 2008 that, despite all evidence to the contrary, "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

I get the feeling this will not end well.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In defense of Rand Paul (no, seriously)

Democratic candidate for Senate Jack Conway (right) draws a police officer's attention to a group of pot-smoking hippies in need of incarceration.

Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Kentucky, is a Very Reasonable Liberal running against the crazy, kooky Republican nominee Rand Paul. Being sensible and mainstream, Conway -- who as attorney general has overseen a state prison population that has grown 45 percent over the last decade, one of the fastest rate's in the nation -- believes the best solution to the "problem" of people who prefer smoking a joint to drinking Kentucky bourbon is imprisonment. As I said, he's a very reasonable man.

As the sensible one in the race -- did I mention Rand Paul once, OMG!#!EXTREMIST!!, smoked pot and engaged in stupid pranks while in college? -- Conway has gone on the attack against his opponent for outrageously suggesting that maybe, you know, the whole federal war on drugs thing has been a huge waste of money (editor's note: and lives).

"Rand will handcuff local sheriffs trying to combat the drug epidemic, and I will make sure Kentucky's law enforcement has the tools they need to protect our families," Conway said in response to Paul's proposal to cut federal aid to state drug enforcement programs, according to a humorously slanted, drug-traffickers-will-rape-your-blonde-haired-and-blue-eyed-children account from the AP. "That's my record as attorney general, and that's what I'll do in Washington."

Now, if Paul really was proposing to handcuff local sheriffs, I might actually consider breaking my whole no-voting thing and becoming a Kentucky Tea Party activist. What he is suggesting, though, is only that "issues like drug use and abuse are best dealt with at the local level." Scary.

Of course, Paul has plenty of actually silly and stupid ideas, having enjoyed The Fountainhead a bit too much as a young man, and has said a number of actually silly and stupid things -- like arguing oil giant and global asshole BP was somehow being unfairly treated in the wake of its destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. He also rather, uh, inarticulately defended his philosophical opposition to a piece of 1960s-era civil rights legislation, to put it mildly.

What's interesting, though, is that Paul has been called a no-good dirty racist for opposing a law that has absolutely no chance of going anywhere while his opponent, Jack Conway, has been lauded by all Right Thinking progressives even as he demagogically defends a federal war on drugs that has led the U.S. to have the largest prison population in the history of the world -- disproportionately affecting Hispanics and African-Americans, who are jailed at a rate roughly twice that of whites.

Rand Paul may be a racist, I don't really know, but it's his Democratic opponent who is grandstanding on behalf of a policy that is actually racist in its implementation. If only the professional left got as angry about that as they do about fucking Aqua Buddha.

Image courtesy of the Conway campaign.

UPDATE: Just to make this abundantly clear: Rand Paul is still a total prick, as evidenced by his recent statement that he opposes the legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes. My intention was merely to point out that his ostensibly more liberal opponent viciously attacked him over his opposition to federal funding for the drug war in the silliest fashion possible, and that Democratic partisans who had attacked Paul as a racist have said nothing about his opponent's outspoken support for -- and background enforcing as attorney general -- a policy that disproportionately impacts minorities.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yeah, told ya

Yesterday I pointed out that -- misleading spin dutifully regurgitated by The New York Times aside -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not proposing any actual cuts in total Pentagon spending, but is rather seeking to reshuffle funds so he can spend more money on killing poor foreigners Defending America and less on the military bureaucracy itself, with the military one of the few institutions immune from budget cutbacks amid the ongoing recession. Despite this, I noted it was readily apparent that the GOP (and more than a few Democrats) would blast the out-of-control-commies in the White House for risking the lives of good, god-fearing Americans by spending marginally less on some politician's pet weapons system.

From Businessweek, the oh-too-predictable fallout from Gates' announcement:
Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes was livid at the decision, calling it "further evidence of this administration allowing its budget for social change to determine defense spending."
"What we are witnessing is the piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known," he said.
[Virgina Republican Gov. Bob] McDonnell shared Forbes' sentiment, saying he sensed a fundamental reordering of priorities by the Obama administration.
"When I see the federal mandates being put on Virginia by various federal legislation, when I see spending growing at $1.16 trillion a year, it appears to me that there are being cuts in defense made to fund other programs that are, in my view, much less important," McDonnell said.
I know actual facts have no place in politics, but worth pointing out: President Obama is spending more on the U.S. military than George W. Bush ever did, with his administration seeking a record $708 billion in defense budget for 2011 -- excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because the godless Blue Team is in power, I understand that Republicans are legally bound to blast the administration for engaging in cr-a-zy liberal social engineering no matter what they do; they'd have a stronger case, though, if they noted that social engineering is primarily taking place in Kabul, not Kansas.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Who's cutting what now?

According to The New York Times, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has just announced a plan "to cut billions of dollars from the Pentagon budget." Great! With states running massive budget deficits and the official unemployment rate hovering around double-digits, what better time could there be to "trim back on unaffordable defense spending," as the Times puts it in its lede, right?

Except, of course, no one's talking about actually cutting the amount spent on the Defense Department. In fact, all Gates is proposing is basically reshuffling the money the Pentagon spends on its army of private contractors and retired advisers so it can spend more on its military occupations overseas. The Times, though, waits until the 12th paragraph to inform us of that:
The goal is to convert as much as 2 percent or 3 percent of spending from “tail” to “tooth” — military slang for support services and combat forces. Mr. Gates argued that if Congress guaranteed a 1 percent increase in real defense spending over years to come, the savings he seeks would be reinvested in the combat forces and would be sufficient to pay for national defense.

The budget measures go beyond what many previous defense secretaries have done to cut redundancies and inefficiencies.

But they do not represent an actual decline in year-to-year total spending.
So despite the fact Gates is not actually slashing spending -- the announced cuts merely intended to insulate his department from calls for real reductions at a time when cities are turning off their streetlights in a desperate attempt to save money -- the paper of record acts as if the big story is that a few DOD bureaucrats and contractors may lose their jobs rather than the offensive reality that the department is immune from budget cuts during the worst recession in decades, presenting the Defense Secretary as a stern, committed budget-cutter while neglecting the crucial detail that his vaunted cuts are simply part of an attempt to free up more tax dollars for killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan (and for not-so-covert ops in Iran, Yemen and Somalia).

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of it all? I fully expect to see a press release from the Republican National Committee tomorrow and impassioned speeches on the floor of Congress denouncing the Obama administration for "cutting defense spending" and putting us all at risk of Another 9/11 (TM); real men know that if you aren't going to increase war funding by at least 10 percent a year you might as well wave the white flag and surrender to the terrorists, after all. And so the charade continues.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Two completely, entirely unrelated stories

The United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) has determined that the Israeli, tree-trimming soldiers who were fired upon by the Lebanese army near the border fence between the two countries were in fact operating on Israeli soil, a development that appears to be a significant diplomatic victory for the Jewish state. Reacting to the news, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the findings proved that the "Lebanese attack on our forces was both unprovoked and unjustified."

Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated story, a "Palestinian militant" was killed and another wounded on Wednesday after being shelled by the IDF, according to Reuters. "The Israeli military said aircraft fired on a group of Palestinians who had approached the Gaza border fence, where army patrols sometimes come under gun or bomb ambushes." I wonder if the UN will weigh in?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Simon v. Simon

In a piece published this week in The Washington Post, Council on Foreign Relations fellows Steve Simon -- a former member of the National Security Council under President Clinton -- and Ray Takeyh lay out what has been derided as a "'how-to-bomb Iran' manual," detailing a scenario where "diplomacy has run its course" and "reliable intelligence" (ha!) indicates that Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program "is very close to reaching its goal."

"Facing such conditions, would Obama use force against Iran?" the authors write before, in typical establishment fashion, casually listing the factors the president should consider before launching another preemptive war over the purported threat of weapons of mass destruction (none of them having to do with dead Iranians, of course). "First, there is the United Nations to consider," Simon and Takeyh argue, suggesting the major European powers would likely balk at authorizing the conflict, preferring another round of sanctions to out-and-out war. "Domestic consensus would be critical as well," they add, as "[o]ne of the tragedies of American history is that presidents have too often entangled the country in conflicts without forthright conversation with the public." I would argue that too often presidents have entangled the country in conflicts that had absolutely no moral justification, but then I'm not employed by the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The views and reactions of the Arab world would also be relevant," they write -- how thoughtful! -- and as Obama "contemplated the use of force, the administration's decision-making would be further complicated by the need for a plan to unwind military hostilities and make sure a confrontation did not escalate out of control."

Though "the world imagined here may not constitute destiny," Simon and Takeyh conclude, "it will be hard to escape."

Now, there are several problems with the essay, despite the fact that it is not as outrageously blood-thirsty and ludicrous as, say, your typical Commentary magazine call for war. But as Inter Press Service's Ali Gharib notes, that might actually be one of the most troubling aspects of the piece, as it adds the appearance of a respectable, liberal veneer to the idea of attacking Iran over a nuclear weapons program even the U.S. intelligence community says doesn't exist. It suggests that reasonable, serious people consider preemptively attacking Iran to be a reasonable, serious policy option. But rather than engage in a long-winded debunking of the piece myself, I thought it might be useful to note an Op-Ed published in The New York Times, "Bombs That Would Backfire," that pretty much makes my case for me.

"We would like to believe that the administration is not intent on starting another war, because a conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been," the article begins. "A brief look at history shows why":
"Now, as in the mid-90's, any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers — as it did in the mid-1980's — which could cause oil prices to spike above $80 dollars a barrel.
Second and more likely, Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. . . .  
Third, Iran is in a position to make our situation in Iraq far more difficult than it already is. The Badr Brigade and other Shiite militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against . . . American troops. There is every reason to believe that Iran has such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready."
Further, "No matter how Iran responded, the question that would face American planners would be, 'What's our next move?' How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?"

Finally, "how would bombing Iran serve American interests?" the authors ask. "In over a decade of looking at the question, no one has ever been able to provide a persuasive answer."

The authors? The Council on Foreign Relation's Steve Simon and Richard Clarke, the former top counter-terrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, writing back in 2006 amid speculation the Bush administration was itching for another invasion. A year later, Simon echoed the same points in an interview with me that aired on Connecticut public radio station WSHU, criticizing as ludicrous the argument from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) at the time that the U.S. needed to take "military action to stop the Iranians from carrying out a deadly proxy war against American troops in Iraq." I liked that Steve Simon. Perhaps he and Steve Simon should have a chat?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Lack of self-awareness watch

Emboldened by the fact that U.S. troops have gone a whole four months without being caught digging bullets out of the bodies of Afghan women they murdered, Admiral Michael Mullen, the top ranking U.S. military official, took to the airwaves Sunday to denounce Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for releasing more than 90,000 documents chronicling the failing war effort in Afghanistan:
"Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
Worth noting: A little over a year after Mullen was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October 2007, U.S. warplanes "bombed a wedding party, killing 37 people, including 23 children and 10 women," as USA Today recounts. Meanwhile, more than 740 U.S. troops have died in that time. So who is it again that has the blood of some young solider or Afghan family on their hands?

(h/t John Caruso)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beware the 'progressive agenda'

Since taking office nearly 18 months ago, Barack Obama has failed to deliver on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, has expanded the war in Afghanistan, has dropped cluster bombs on civilians in Yemen, has intensified a proxy war in Somalia and is currently seeking the authority to search every Americans e-mail and web history without so much as a warrant from a rubber-stamping intelligence court. In other words, he's been successfully advancing the progressive agenda, or so liberal magazine The American Prospect tells me in a piece that notes the bulk of the professional bloggers and Democratic activists who attended the recent "Netroots Nation" conference in Las Vegas likewise believe our smooth-talking murderer-in-chief is a Pretty Swell Guy.

Take it away, Jamelle Bouie:
The Netroots Nation straw poll, conducted during the conference by Revolution Messaging, shows President Obama with an approval rating of 84 percent among the attending activists, journalists, and bloggers. Given the mostly somber mood of the conference, this is higher than I expected, but on reflection, I'm not too surprised. Among conference attendees, there didn't seem to be much disagreement with the idea that Obama has been pretty successful in advancing a progressive agenda. While I'm sure there was plenty of disappointment over the lack of a public option in the Affordable Care Act, for example, I don't think anyone challenged the notion that passing health care is a defining achievement for the administration.
I particularly like the last line: while sure the president didn't actually deliver on his promise to enact a public option, much less the single-payer system desired by much of the liberal left, passing something and calling it "health care reform" was certainly an achievement, and shouldn't we all be proud of that? Absent from the piece, you'll of course notice, is any mention of all those dead foreigners that liberal cosmopolitans purportedly care about, which I guess might just indicate that they never really cared about them. A civilian killed by a Democratic president in an unjust landwar in Asia just doesn't inflame a liberal's passions as much as when it's a nasty 'ol Republican dropping the bombs.

Beyond just the sickening partisan morality of these activists, the Netroots poll also shows that the liberal lore that the Democratic rank-and-file are more willing to stand up to their politicians than their mouth-breathing Republican counterparts -- carbon-copies, I say -- is just that: Lore. Fiction. Bullshit. The Netroots liberals are just as impressed by the pomp and prestige of the presidency, are just as worshipful of authority and liable to join a creepy cult of personality, as any conservative.

What, too much? A bit unfair? Yeah, well: 84 percent.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Beltway liberalism in 24 words

"From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it."
-- Matt Yglesias, Center for American Progress
The above excerpt comes from a post noting the inconsistency of self-styled deficit hawks complaining about the relative pittance spent on social programs and its contribution to the national debt even as they vote in lockstep to drop another $37 billion on a failing nation-building exercise in Afghanistan. And as far as the point goes, it's a good one: there has long been a glaringly obvious inconsistency in conservatives railing against totalitarian "Big Government" while pledging undying allegiance to growing a military-industrial complex that sucks away more and more of their tax money while helping chisel away at the remainder of their civil liberties.

But there's something wrong -- something sick, really -- with Ygelsias' war-as-stimulus argument that strikes me as far more offensive than the fact that some fiscal conservatives are hypocrites when it comes to the National Security State. If you believe the war in Afghanistan is vital to protecting America, well, go ahead and make your case. Explain why pushing the couple dozen or so members of al-Qaeda allegedly still in the country over to Pakistan, while creating new enemies with each errant air strike, actually makes us safer.

What you shouldn't do in a debate over war, at least if you want to maintain your status as a Non-Despicable Person, is argue that bombing and occupying a foreign nation makes good economic sense. Even if it were true as an academic point, it's grotesquely out of place in a discussion of matters of life and death. War, if it can ever be justified -- and I have my doubts -- can only be so on the grounds that it is absolutely necessary to protecting human life: there is no other choice, it's a last resort. Yet Yglesias discusses the continuation of a major, bloody armed conflict as if it were just another jobs program; perhaps not the most effective one to his mind, but hey, it's better that the federal government spend money on a pointless war than do nothing at all (like actually save money by ending said pointless war). Read the line again: "I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it." Sorry, but someone truly familiar with all the horrors of war, someone who could actually empathize with an Afghan mother or father losing their child to an American smart bomb -- or a child watching their parents die in a botched night raid by U.S. marines -- could never write that.

On Twitter I brashly argued that Yglesias' statement demonstrated that he was in fact a "truly awful human being" -- an assertion I regret because I don't actually think Matt Yglesias is"awful" in the sense that he would, say, shoot an Afghan child in the head if he thought it'd boost U.S. Treasury bonds. As I've argued before, Yglesias and other war supporters likely wouldn't dare countenance violence in their personal lives, and are probably perfectly nice people who spend their weekends doing perfectly normal, nice people things. And these very people who wouldn't think of kicking a dog much less killing a person are capable of cooly endorsing monstrously awful actions overseas, the distance -- and their safety behind a MacBook screen in a DC think tank -- removing them from the ugly reality of the killing be carried out in their name. War to the Beltway wonk essentially becomes just another intellectual exercise, something to be endlessly debated, a game of dueling white papers and comment threads, and not so much a matter of life and death, of newlyweds killed and children's limbs blown off by some guy pulling a 9-to-5 in a Nevada control room. No, wars and the merits of launching new ones become something you debate on BloggingHeads.TV before getting drunk at the local hipster bar's trivia night.

Yet despite the self-evident horribleness of defending war spending on the basis that not spending the money on a military occupation would harm your 401k, Yglesias acted surprised anyone could be offended by his post when challenged on it. "Is Paul Krugman also awful for raising this point," he asked me, "or is economic illiteracy necessary for goodness?"

But of course the issue isn't who knows more about economics. The issue is the fact that economics is irrelevant to the question of whether the U.S. ought to be in Afghanistan, and that it is deeply disturbing to frame a war supplemental as if it were a less-than-ideal second stimulus package -- and to bolster your argument by pointing to the fact that the illegal Iraq war, too, was ultimately good for your bank account. Invading Norway might stimulate certain sectors of the economy and perhaps even bring the unemployment rate comfortably below double-digits for a time, but does anyone outside of a Weekly Standard editorial meeting think that's a morally defensible argument for dropping some bombs?

In a back-and-forth debate on Twitter, though, Yglesias stuck to his argument. "I think you don't understand how stimulus works. See the Krugman item," he told me, adding that he didn't see why "a factual dispute make[s] me 'immoral.'"

The Krugman item, as it happens, doesn't really help Yglesias' case as much he thinks. Yes the esteemed Nobel Laureate argues that "war is, in general, expansionary for the economy," but he's not so cynical as to argue that countries should therefore prolong military quagmires to promote such an expansion, which is Yglesias' implicit argument. And there is still a major flaw in Krugman's analysis: he doesn't even begin to consider the potential downsides to creating entrenched economic interests whose well-being depends on there being a perpetual state of war, nor the economic impact on the people in Iraq and elsewhere who are being bombed. We are all cosmopolitans now, right? So if we're going to weigh the economic impacts of war, one would think a good liberal would not be so parochial as to focus just on one party -- their party -- in a conflict.

It's also unclear to me how spending loads of money on missiles and Predator drones actually benefits society as a whole, rather than just a select few politically connected military contractors; sure, it might boost GDP temporarily, but only because the government is borrowing money from China -- itself an act of dubious morality given the Chinese government's human rights record -- to build a bunch of weapons that serve no purpose other than killing people. So I sound like Cindy Sheehan: it's true.

As for the confusion as to how taking one side in a "factual dispute" could make someone "immoral", well, again: I don't consider it so much a dispute over facts because my fundamental criticism is not that Yglesias is wrong that spending another $37 billion on the war in Afghanistan will benefit the U.S. economy, but that it doesn't matter, and that by acting as if it does he is displaying a rather unfortunate and ugly nationalistic bias. True or not, I don't see why anyone with a functioning conscience should care if the Afghan war boosts consumer demand for iPhones and DVD players at home, and it's frankly a bit disconcerting that he can't understand why some would consider his an immoral (amoral?) line of argument. All this doesn't make Yglesias an awful person, per se, but it does certainly demonstrate an awful callousness on his part toward those who will undoubtedly die as a result of his and George Bush's brand of economic stimulus.

(h/t toombzie)

UPDATE: IOZ weighs in.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The United States of British Petroleum

If you're anything like me, or if you've spent more than five minutes over the last decade glancing at the headlines, you're probably suffering from some form of outrage fatigue. Well, make room for one more thing to get mad about.

From Reuters:
Fishermen in Mississippi say they are angry that under the terms of BP's $20 billion oil spill fund, money they earn doing clean-up will be subtracted from their claim against the company.
The fishermen reacted after Kenneth Feinberg, the federal official in charge of administering the compensation fund, announced the decision at a town hall meeting in Biloxi on Friday.
Cast as a great victory against the heartless oil giant that caused the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico it turns out -- surprise! -- that the Obama administration was basically working to help limit BP's financial liability. No other excuse flies when the White House's own head of the fund, Ken Feinberg, is pronouncing that all those fishermen who have been busy cleaning up the same mess that destroyed their livelihood have been working for the very corporation that caused it have been doing so for free.

It doesn't help that Feinberg was a patronizing ass when he announced the dick move:
"[W]orkers can file a claim, but we will subtract the amount they are paid from BP from their claim. That is how it has to work . . . . Of course you can file a claim. You must file a claim, but you cannot get paid twice," Feinberg told the meeting.
Right -- the U.S. government reserves paying people twice for corporate agriculture.

Of course, when it comes to the Gulf we're not talking about paying people twice for the same thing, but rather reimbursing them for the ruin by corporate malfeasance and compensating them for their efforts to try and fix the damage -- two separate, distinct things, as far as BP's financial responsibility is concerned.

But not only is the administration's move unjust, it's simply counterproductive and destined to slow recovery efforts -- why risk your health cleaning up the Gulf when you can get paid the same amount sitting at home watching Terminator? And in light of the public mood towards BP, it's also likely to provoke a good deal of grandstanding from across the political spectrum. If there's a significant outcry, I wouldn't be surprised if the White House somehow found a way to reverse its decision, or explain away Feinberg's comments as an unfortunate mix-up, a miscommunication. And it's not hard to see why: the administration's current stance is akin to letting an arsonist burn a house down and then charge the victim for the cost of rebuilding it -- except you'll never really be able to rebuild the Gulf.

Put another way: it's f*cked. It's also a great example of the State swooping in to protect an influential, major corporation under the auspices of punishing it -- great theater, really -- in this instance crafting a compromise settlement that appears aimed at being just enough to quell popular calls for tarring-and-feathering those British, yacht-racing bastards, without actually forcing Tony Hayward to give up any of his private floating islands.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yeah, and we don't invade countries either

From a story claiming the U.S. "came out ahead" with respect to that Iranian nuclear scientist who alleges he was abducted by the CIA:
A U.S. official, who is not authorized to talk to the media about such issues, told CNN last month that it would be "ludicrous, absurd and even preposterous" to claim an individual was kidnapped by the United States and held against his will.
To which I respond: uh, then what the hell has the U.S. been doing at Guantanamo Bay all these years?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We believe in nothing!

It would be incorrect and unfair to say that Washingtonians are all horrible, amoral, principle-less little pricks who live only for the thrill they get when some no-name congressman from wherever-the-hell Middle America remembers their name. However.

Being the preeminent power of our day, it should come as no surprise that the imperial capital on a swamp would attract an unusually large number of groveling, almost pitiable worshippers of power and authority; not the kids who used to suck up to the teacher and remind them when they forgot to assign the homework, but the kids who now fetch those other kids' coffee, always remembering to tell them how good they look on a Big Day. While those that argue there's a dime's worth of difference between the major political parties and that voting ain't worth a nickel are often cast as the cynics (*ahem*cough*clearing throat*), the real nihilists, I would argue, are the anonymous flacks and hacks of Washington who day in and day out serve whoever it is they think can provide them with the most power, money and, laughably, prestige -- people like Deryck Spooner, the likes of whom literally believe in nothing.

Who, you ask? According to a story in Greenwire about the American Petroleum Institute's many new hires, Spooner -- "who ran the Nature Conservancy's push to spur legislative action on climate change" -- was "nabbed" in something of a coup earlier this year by the well-funded trade group for U.S. oil and gas companies. "Spooner now heads API's grass-roots activism arm."

Putting aside the faults of The Nature Conservancy and the merits of the climate legislation it seeks, Spooner's move is still pretty jarring, even by a-flack-in-DC standards. Not only is he now spinning for one of the leading opponents of capping or taxing carbon emissions, a basic feature of most proposals to address global warming, but he heads the very "grass-roots activism arm" of API -- when's the last time you met a "grassroots" oil activist? -- that last year organized "citizen" rallies against the sort of climate legislation that he spent months, years, working to enact. It ain't pretty, and it's certainly not proud, but that's sorta kinda Washington.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

'Ok, so Paulson, Geithner and Summers walk into a bar . . .'

As Matt Yglesias himself admits, the regulatory reform bill currently making its way through the Senate won't actually do anything to prevent another major financial crisis or fundamentally alter the way Wall Street works, nor will it stave off the need for taxpayers to ultimately foot the bill for the mistakes of some asshole investment banker. Instead, certain provisions of the legislation dear to the Washington wonk's heart, Yglesias argues -- in this case "resolution authority,"granting the president greater power to seize control of firms in the name of economic stability -- hold out the "possibility of coping with the aftermath of such failures in a politically and economically viable way" (emphasis original).

For those that don't speak Washington: the State would still intervene to prevent major disruptions to the economic status quo under Financial Reform, still move to prop up failing financial firms whose executives would have no compunction pushing old ladies into oncoming traffic if they could somehow turn the practice into a CDO, but its efforts on the behalf of the financial establishment -- the ruling elite, if you prefer -- would be somewhat more deft, perhaps a little less ostentatious.

The selling point of this "reform" (scare quotes justified), other than the presumed diminishing number of pitchforks at lawmakers' constituent meetings?
"[T]he three people whose practical experience has positioned them to know what kind of authority the Treasury Department needs to deal with a financial crash are [Henry] Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers and they all think this will work. That’s something."
This is typical Yglesias. Rather than really argue for granting the president resolution authority on the merits, our progressive intellectual is more interested in impressing his readers will all the other Really Smart members of the political establishment who think just like him. That you wouldn't trust these people with the remote to the TV, much less the reins to the economy, is no matter -- they're powerful! And as Yglesias would say, "That's something."

And indeed, it is "something", isn't it? All of the "somethings" I can come up with, though, entail pointing out that all three -- Paulson, Geithner and Summers -- in their roles as top U.S. economic officials over the last two decades had a direct hand in fomenting the current, ongoing global financial catastrophe. That and a string of profanities.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Obama's 'number one foreign policy priority'

What would you imagine Barack Obama has focused on most when it comes to foreign affairs since taking office: The war in Afghanistan -- you know, the one he committed another 50,000 troops to fight? Or how about Iraq, where U.S. troops are supposed to withdraw next year (ha!) despite the fact the country's political parties can't manage to actually form a government?

According to a White House transcript of an interview the president gave this week to Israeli television, the answer's none of the above. Said Obama:
"The single most important threat to Israel -- Iran, and its potential possession of a nuclear weapon -- has been my number one foreign policy priority over the course of the last 18 months."
Obama also declared it "unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon," and that "we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening":
"What I’ve also tried to do is build an international consensus so that Iran can’t somehow play a victim, can’t suggest somehow that they’re being singled out by the West."
Barack Obama, one should remember, is speaking in the above excerpt as the political leader of the only country in the world to have ever used nuclear weapons, and as the head of a nation providing nuclear material to known proliferator India and billions of dollars to Pakistan, which likewise covertly developed nukes while allied to the US. Obama is also speaking to a television station based in a country, Israel, known to possess hundreds of nuclear weapons -- some no doubt aimed at Tehran -- which refuses to allow its facilites to be inspected by the United Nations' nuclear agency.

Leave it to those crazy drama queens in Iran to argue they're being singled out.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The neocon method

(Benjanmin Kerstein: "You can tell I'm a bad-ass because I'm sneering.")

One time-honored method for obscure writers to gain notoriety is to viciously attack a much more popular writer or public figure in the hopes said person will respond in kind -- witness my constant attacks on Barack Obama, who I thought by now would at least answer me during a weekend radio address or something. Anyway, it’s not surprising that Benajamin Kerstein (who?), a writer for The New Ledger (the what?), would choose to blast the much more popular and accomplished blogger Glenn Greenwald for being insufficiently “pro-Israel” given the latter’s blistering and effective attacks on the policies of the apartheid state. What is somewhat surprising, though -- besides the fact that Kerstein was able to compose an essay of nearly 3,000 words, a feat as stunningly impressive as a sea monkey learning sign language -- is the sheer tiredness of the article, which reads like poor imitation of a Michael Savage rant, relying as it does on hysterical psychological projection rather than anything approaching a well-considered, rational argument.

Take 2002-era lines like this one:
"Greenwald is such a quintessentially anti-American, pseudo-pacifist, pro-terrorist, self-hating Jewish liberal that that he essentially constitutes a living cliche."
It is remarkable, really, that in this day and age, two thousand and ten, writers like Kerstein can blithely accuse someone of being “self-hating” just because they happen to disagree with them on the policies of a modern nation-state called Israel. It's also remarkable that someone employing that cheap line of the attack should be so un-self-aware as to accuse someone else of being "a living cliche", just as it's stunning that a guy who himself left the United States to move to a foreign country he clearly much prefers -- "Bostonian by birth, Israeli by choice" -- should then imply he is somehow the more proud, real American.

We are then told Greenwald's arguments do not arise from genuine disagreements with the state of Israel, but from fear:
"He is terrified that if he defends Israel, or even fails to denounce it in the most hysterical terms possible, he will be seen by his fellow progressives not as one of them, but as a Jew. And, as a Jew, he will also be automatically seen as a heretic and a traitor. To give credit where credit is due, he is probably right."
Now say what you will about American progressives, and lord knows I've said it, but anti-semitic? Timid I can see. Naive and overly trusting of politicians with 'Ds' after their name? Absolutely. But the notion that Glenn Greenwald criticizes Israel because he fears getting lynched by Markos Moulitsas and his gang of online diarists -- are you fucking kidding me?

Predictably, though, the Kerstein piece and the tribalistic, medieval mode of thinking, so-called, it represents was immediately pronounced “Brilliant” by D-list neocon and noted illiterate Jamie Kirchick, a staff writer for the racist New Republic who found the article after it was approvingly passed on by pro-genocide Harvard scholar Martin Kramer. Their circulating of the piece is typical of the neoconservative approach to policy disputes: when confronted with an articulate, outspoken proponent of an alternate viewpoint, the reflexive response is to smear, smear, smear.

Take the case of Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council and a respected author who was targeted by the far right for the cardinal sin of advocating engagement with Iran, rather than calling for a crippling bombardment. Last November, Washington Times "journalist" Eli Lake -- specifically sought out by Parsi's detractors because of his willingness to publish anything that fits the anyone-who-opposes-war-is-treasonous narrative -- wrote a whole piece accusing Parsi of being a foreign agent working for the mullahs of Iran, which was then approvingly cited throughout the lunatic-right blogosphere, from David "moderate" Frum's self-aggrandizing "Frum Forum" to the long-ludicrous Commentary magazine. Of course, the claims were easily debunkable at the time, but that didn't matter: what was needed was the mere suggestion Parsi was in the pay of Tehran so as to discredit him in the eyes of respectable Washington.

That Parsi is a free man more than six months after the piece was published is all the evidence you need Lake's reporting was and is garbage. Facts, though, have nothing to do with the genre -- it's about silencing a voice, or at least sullying a reputation, in an effort to enforce the militaristic orthodoxy in Washington. That's what Greenwald's going through now, and it's what Parsi went through last year. Going out on a limb: I don't think it'll work.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

War by the numbers

I’m not a big math guy, having spent my college years interpreting 17th century sonnets and writing about radical left-wing, decentralist movements in Latin America -- you know, the kind of experience that has well prepared me for a career as a bookstore clerk and I can only hope, some (very hard) years down the line, street-corner preacher of conspiracy and prophesier of doom. When it comes to looking at U.S. foreign policy, though, numbers can be a very useful thing.

Consider the sheer enormity of the fact the the U.S. government this year "will spend more on Afghanistan than any other country in the world spends on defense, with the exception of China," according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Congress has already appropriated this year alone more than $100 billion for the war, a figure Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation notes is 10 times the size of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP). If divided on a per capita basis, each Afghan could receive $3,708 in U.S. taxpayer largesse -- equivalent to more than four years their average wages, and a damn sure better way to win Afghan loyalty than the General Petraeus-embraced, parachuting-sociologist effort to win hearts and minds by killing 2.5 percent less innocent men, women and children than under a killing-as-usual scenario.

More numbers: according to CIA Director Leon Panetta, there is in the area of 50 to 100 members of al-Qaeda. In neighboring Pakistan, there may be "more than 300" members, according to Michael Leiter, director of the U.S. government's National Counterterrorism Center. Yet nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are deployed in the region, along with another 20,000 NATO troops -- meaning their's 240 or so Western soldiers for every one alleged member of al-Qaeda.

The most important figure, though, and the most morally significant to my mind, has to do with the number of those killed in the name of terrorism versus those killed by the self-styled war on terrorism.

In the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, just under 3,000 people were murdered by members of al-Qaeda. The response to those attacks? Using an extremely conservative estimate, 100,000 Iraqi civilians died as a direct result of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, equivalent to nearly three dozen 9/11s. In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of civilians have died since 2002, many attributable to the Taliban/insurgency, yes, but all as a direct result of events set in motion by American intervention (from the late 1980s-onward), including more than 4,000 civilians killed -- that's another 9/11 -- from January 2009 to March 2010 alone.

It's understandable that one might have greater sentimental attachments to those one knows, or one's fellow countrymen; it's natural to mourn a close friend or family member who dies more than someone you didn't know who lived on the other side of the globe. But what about when it's your fellow countrymen -- your friends and family, perhaps -- killing those innocent but distant strangers? Even if the killing's ostensibly launched in response to a real evil -- the attacks on September 11, 2001 -- I'd suggest that when dozens of innocents must die for each precious life of an American you hope to safeguard, the moral righteousness of that response is fatally undermined. Forget nationality: none of us choose what country we are born in, so why should the conscientious, moral human being value one life more than another because of nothing more than the accident of birth? As I said, a sentimental attachment to one's countrymen is understandable, but that doesn't mean it's morally defensible.

The Obama administration, like its predecessors, does not value the life of an innocent foreigner to the extent they do that of a possible voting-and-donating U.S. citizen, not that it has much respect for the lives of the latter either. Indeed, if President Obama or his liberal cheerleaders in Washington actually cared a whit about the lives of those unfortunate enough to be born in not-America, if they really sought to "stop U.S.-caused civilian casualties" in Afghanistan, as liberal journalist Spencer Ackerman writes, then they would embrace that great peacenik refrain: "stop the war."

No need for any white papers or bipartisan, blue-ribbon commissions: just get the hell out.

But it can't be that simple, for what role would that leave for Serious Liberalism and all those catered roundtable discussions at Washington think tanks with panelists laying out high-minded plans for Saving Afghanistan From The Natives? Not much. Ackerman, who supports the Afghan war just as he did the invasion of Iraq, writes that if the goal is not to stop murdering people but to "erode the influence of al-Qaeda’s allies in Afghanistan while reducing civilian casualties to the 'absolute minimum'," quoting all-around awesome dude David Petraeus, then it's of the utmost importance not to immediately halt the evil that is bombing and shooting innocent people, but to get right "the balance between fighting insurgents and protecting civilians."

Now, most supporters of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in their personal lives, are probably no more violent than the most committed peace activist; they probably play with their dogs and go "aww" when they see cute little animals too. But when someone comes to think of war in the cost/benefit terms of the Pentagon bureaucracy, even the meekest among us can support great evil in the abstract, the killing taking place safely abroad and providing endless folly for quasi-intellectual debates about counter-insurgency strategies. Accepting the premise that the there can be an appropriate "balance" between killing civilians -- that is, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, newlyweds and schoolchildren -- and whoever it is we're defining as the "insurgents" these days, I'd argue reflects a pretty screwy moral philosophy, endorsing as it does the killing of poor foreigners now based on the possibility, the hypothetical, that some of those impoverished survivors, the families of the Afghans we kill, might some day seek vengeance and kill us; a dozen dead Afghan civilians now to stave off the possible death of one person with an American passport, not counting those foolish enough to oppose U.S. policy and board a peace flotilla.

Some would argue (ahem) that there can be no "balance" when it comes to protecting civilians; you don't kill them, and if you do, you should be considered a murderer and punished accordingly. It's an obvious crime only compounded by the fact the Afghan war is not in the least bit necessary to protect the national security of the United fucking States.

But then that's the difference between modern liberalism and radicalism: the former will rationalize murder if it's backed by the leading technocratic intellectuals of the day and carried out by the State under the auspices of some modern day White Man's Burden, while the latter, valuing human life equally regardless of nationality and not making moral distinctions based on a murderer's uniform, will condemn -- not condone -- violence whether it's perpetrated by governments or non-State actors. You can probably see why they're not part of the panel discussions.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gone fishing

Dear fans (the few of you), critics (the many of you) and Mom (I love you!): I'll be in Southern California over the next week in order to witness a couple I know make the greatest mistake of their young lives participate in a beautiful ceremony signifying their commitment to love each other until death do them part -- meaning I will be doing my best to take advantage of an open bar, not blogging about injustice in the world.

I may post inane observations about life and politics on Twitter, though, so feel free to follow me there. Alternatively, I recommend replaying the following music video continuously until I return, or at least until you have the dance moves down.

Monday, June 21, 2010

State Department warns Americans: Israel might kill you

Following weeks of conspicuous silence, the Obama administration is taking decisive action in response to the Israeli Defense Forces' killing of Furkan Dorgan, an unarmed U.S. citizen aboard one of the ships in the “Free Gaza” flotilla who was shot four times in the head by IDF commandos: it's telling Americans to stay the hell out of harm's way – that is, out of the range of the Israel's U.S. taxpayer-subsidized weaponry.

In a travel warning issued Sunday, the State Department “strongly urges that U.S. citizens” – including all those pesky “journalists and aid workers” who might be tempted to report on the Palestinians' plight – “refrain from all travel to the Gaza Strip”:
The security environment within Gaza and along its borders, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. 
In light of the warning, it's worth remembering what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared soon after news broke that an American was among the nine activists bringing aid to Gaza who were massacred by the IDF:
Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental responsibility of our government and one that we take very seriously. We are in constant contact with the Israeli Government, attempting to obtain more information about our citizens. We have made no decisions at this point on any additional specific actions that our government should take with respect to our own citizens.
Now we know what additional specific action the secretary of state had in mind, and it's essentially the same one the brave knights of Monty Python's "Holy Grail" came up with when confronted with a superficially friendly little bunny rabbit with a penchant for murder: Run Away!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BP and the federal government: 'unlikely partners'?

President Obama determinedly trying to remember what it feels like to care.
"I’m absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligations to the Gulf Coast and to the American people," President Obama proclaimed following his meeting with the oil giant's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg. "BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remains so."

Blah, blah, blah, boilerplate, talking point -- wait, hold on, what the hell did he just say? It's in "all our interests" that BP continue to prosper and thrive even after it just caused the worst environmental disaster in US history? Sorry, but I don't think the average American ought to much care about the future of a multinational corporation that declined to spend the 10 hours it would have taken to cement and stabilize the deepwater well that eventually exploded and killed 11 people, all because the potential loss in profit meant CEO Tony Hayward would have had to wait two more weeks to remodel his third kitchen (in his fourteenth house). Under the "free market" that we certainly do not have but to which Obama occasionally pledges his allegiance, companies that do Very Bad Things should -- and this is obviously just in theory -- have Very Bad Things happen to them in return. Bankruptcy, maybe, with the company's assets divided up amongst the victims of its malfeasance.

Obama apparently doesn't feel the need to elaborate, though, on why it's in "our" interest that BP continue to be BP; on why, like AIG, it also is "too big to fail." Like the rest of the Washington political establishment, he appears to take for granted that it's necessary and just. BP is a major corporation -- one of the 10 biggest in the world -- with quarterly earnings to die for (not funny), ergo it should always remain that way. Too many people with too much money need it to be that way. As the failure of Lehman Brothers showed, no company that was ever once profitable and influential should be allowed to fall by the wayside, lest by upsetting the status quo our golfing buddies be forced the indignity of sending their little Johnny to public school along with the rest of the dirty, nose-picking proles, or so the thinking probably goes; when elites justify policy decisions by pointing to the need for "stability," remember they're likely thinking in terms of them and their friends' social status.

A silly question, though: were you or I the subject of an ongoing investigation for possible criminal wrongdoing in the deaths of nearly a dozen people, countless wildlife and the livelihoods of many Gulf coast residents, ya think the president would be declaring how important it is for everyone that we, the accused, continue to be as "strong and viable" as we were before the alleged crime? To ask is to . . .

And that silly question brings me to the silliest headline/lede of the month, courtesy, as one might expect, The Washington Post. "It was a marriage of necessity, awkward from the start," the paper's Joel Achenbach says of the relationship between oil giant BP and the Obama administration in the wake of the worsening ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The headline? "Oil spill makes unlikely partners of BP and the federal government".

To say the partnership between BP and the federal government is "unlikely" is about as naive a thing as one could write; it's like remarking how "surprising" or "disappointing" it is that Obama hasn't rolled back the power of the presidency since becoming . . . president. The Defense Department, the single largest energy user in the US with a carbon footprint greater than many countries, purchases the majority of its oil and gas from BP. The deepwater rig that exploded and is now leaking as much as 60,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf per day was leased by BP from the federal government, which decided on the behalf of us -- thanks guys! -- that it was in the national interest that the company be able to drill in public waters for private gain. And let's not forget that in 1953 the Eisenhower administration actually helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran because the uppity bastards decided it maybe wasn't such a good idea to grant a company run by a foreign government -- BP, then known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company -- a monopoly over the country's oil resources (commies!).

The piece also undercuts its own premise: that the relationship between BP and the Obama administration has been shaky and Odd Couple-esque. As an anecdote noted in the article shows, the two appear in fact to be getting along like old friends, even coordinating their PR and taking a shot for the other when need be:
The company knows that the White House needs to score political points. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, officials in Alabama wanted BP to pay for sand barriers to protect beaches. BP was willing go to do so but also saw the advantage in letting the White House appear to be ordering BP to do it against the company's will. Hayward was quoted as saying, "Let the White House have the victory of announcing it, but it's the right thing for us to do."
You almost get the sense that the verdict's already been decided -- BP's here to stay, folks, and there ain't nothing no criminal investigation can do about it -- and that, like with regulatory oversight of the oil industry, the response to the spill from the both the government and the corporation (an increasingly artificial distinction) has had a lot more to do with show, with theatrics, than anything else. Like it has more to do with preventing the masses from grabbing their pitchforks than holding corporate power accountable. Silly, I know.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes:
As many commentators have noted, the Gulf oil spill may pose a serious threat to one of the most important aspects of Obama's presidency: his effort to restore public confidence in government as competent, as a trustworthy agent of genuine and lasting reform.
Being a liberal, Sargent clearly believes that the state is a trustworthy and competent "agent of genuine and lasting reform," and that anything that undermines public faith in that notion would be A Very Bad Thing. The BP oil spill, then, is accordingly cast primarily as a problem of public relations -- how, in the disaster's aftermath, will President Obama restore faith in government and his agenda? -- rather than as a damning repudiation of the state's claim to be an effective guardian against corporate power.

In light of the regulatory "failures" that led up to the Gulf disaster, though, including the decision by the Obama administration -- which we are told believes in using state power for progressive ends -- to exempt the BP rig that caused the spill from environmental review, the evidence suggests regulators, rather than failing to act, were acting exactly as they were expected: in such a way as to provide the guise of oversight absent the risk of impacting corporate profits. Indeed, the BP spill is a vivid, oil-stained testament to the fact that the state is neither trustworthy nor competent -- that it makes decisions with the interests of capital in mind, not the public -- something progressives seemed to grasp under George W. Bush but which many appear to be busily unlearning since he left office.

As Jonathan Schwarz observes, the earnest liberal faith in politicians and the government as effective agents of reform is based on a terribly misguided, naive conception of who it is the state really exists to serve (hint: unless you're part of the political and/or corporate elite, it's probably not you):
The first axiom of Nice Liberalism is that the U.S. government (and in fact all sectors of U.S. elites) are striving to do the very best thing for all Americans. With this as your starting point, you're forced to come up with all kinds of weird interpretations of reality in order to "understand" why the U.S. political system functions as it does.
But in fact, as the Iron Law of Institutions tells us, the people at the top of the U.S. political system are striving to expand their own power at the expense of everyone else, even if that does horrendous damage to everyone else and the U.S. as whole.
Power: it's a helluva drug. But do not despair: "Once you discard the mentality that the people in charge care whether we live or die," notes Schwarz, "you no longer have to twist yourself into bizarre conceptual knots in order to make sense of what they're up to."