Archive for the 'obama' Category

03
Nov
10

The real winner was gridlock, and why we should be happy

Randy, Ronnie, Barry

As is typical, the most concise and most biting analysis of the recent Electiontainment Follies comes from Mr. Cockburn over at Counterpunch. “America the Clueless” is guaranteed to raise the hackles of partisans of all stripes (a good thing).

The American people have spoken, but it’s impossible to decode their incoherent message. Drunk with their capture of the House of Representatives, the Republicans thunder that the verdict of ballot boxes from Maine to Hawai’i is clarion-clear: the ultimate evil in America is government, specifically government as led by President Barack Obama. But when exit pollsters questioned voters on their way to those same ballot boxes, as to who should take the blame for the country’s economic problems, 35 per cent said Wall Street, 30 per cent said Bush and 23 per cent Obama. The American people want a government that mustn’t govern, a budget that must simultaneously balance and create jobs, cut spending across the board and leave the Defense budget intact. Collectively, the election makes clear, they haven’t a clue which way to march.

A couple of choice snippets:

On Harry Reid and the bizarre challenge mounted by Ms. Angle:

It should be added that the powerful corporate and labor interests in the state of Nevada , most notably in the gambling and entertainment and construction sector, were all aghast at the possibility that economically stricken Nevada might cease to have its cause promoted in Washington DC by the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate, and instead have as their tribune a racist dingbat with zero political clout. If ever there was a need for the fix to be in, and seasoned fixers available to face the task, it was surely in Nevada. But that said, Angle and the Tea Party may have engineered defeat all on their own.

And the Rand Paul/Reagan nexus (or disconnect):

The second craziest victory speech of the evening came from a Tea Party man, Rand Paul, now the Republican senator from Kentucky. “We’re enslaved by debt,” he screamed at his cheering supporters and followed this by savage diatribes about any constructive role for government. Now it’s possible that Paul, inflamed with libertarian principle, could actually try to filibuster the next vote in the US Senate to authorize an increase in the US national debt. As awed commentators swiftly noted, he could plunge the United States into default, bring economic devastation to the world.

On the other hand, the history of the Republican Party is supposed crazies, like Ronald Reagan who campaigned against the deficit in 1980, coming to heel and plunging the United States into a vast new ocean of red ink, courtesy of his tax cuts. It’s what drives the Tea Partiers crazy. They do know one basic truth – that to govern is to betray and they are in line for betrayal.

Nor does Cockburn sugar-coat things for the strikingly (still!) large contingent of Obama loyalists. (But if the die-hards can overlook the fact that the only peep to emerge from the White House on the night the President’s party was being slaughtered was a statement in praise of the defeat of Prop 19 (“screw you, young people“), this will probably roll off their backs as well):

The landscape has changed. The Republican swing in the House was as dramatic as in 1994, after two years of Bill Clinton. Democrats who entered Congress on Obama’s coattails have now been ousted. What lies ahead is a war of maneuver, between the White House and the Republican leadership. Obama has been weakened — deservedly so, because a large part of Tuesday’s disaster for his party can be laid at his door. He laid down no convincing political theme, mounted no effective offense, relied on a team of advisors of dubious competence, which had run out of steam. He himself tried to run for and against an effective role for government, made the same childish equations of domestic and federal budgets, sent out mixed messages, lost the confidence of the young and of a vital slice of the independents.

All the same, after two years, the polls show Obama is no more unpopular than was Clinton in 1994. By 1996 Clinton had outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and won reelection in 1996. Today the economic situation is far worse than it was in 1994. No effective political and economic strategy for recovery is on the cards in the current atmosphere. As always, these days in America, our last best friend will be gridlock.

He’s saying we can pretty much count on the incompetence of politicians of both classes. I wish I were as optimistic as he is.

By the way, Counterpunch needs MONEY!

26
Oct
10

Hedges: America more or less screwed, thanks to the liberal class. Have a nice day!

UPDATE BELOW: A defense of liberals!

Chris Hedges continues to hammer on the failure of the liberal class. And I can’t say I find much with which to disagree—either in the video above or his recent piece “The World Liberal Opportunists Made.”

I get so tired of the fearmongering about the threat to Democracy posed by Rush, Beck, Christine O’Donnell and Palin. It is absolutely true that they are are clowns, dangerous clowns. But at the moment they hold zero real political power. One wishes the Democrats would stop talking about how awful their opponents are, and just run things, as they were elected to do. But that is the only weapon left in their arsenal. Unwilling to actually enact changes that live up to their purported ideals, all they can do is say, “Look over there. What if those bad people actually took power!?”

Not that there’s any chance of the Dems finding their spine at this point, but even if they did, Hedges says it’s already gone too far.

An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class.

 

UPDATED: “In defense of liberals, though, we…uh. Yeah, I got nothing.”

24
Oct
10

The pathetic case against Omar Khadr

The United States strongly condemns the use of children as well to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers. —Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, September 16, 2010, at a Security Council debate on Somalia

UPDATED BELOW

Which is the most appallingly evil thing about the sad, ridiculous incarceration and trial(s) of Omar Khadr?

That a CHILD of 15, shot twice in the back, and blinded in one eye, is accused of WAR CRIMES for fighting back against an invading army that bombed and rocketed his compound before sending in the Special Forces, chucking grenades and … well, shooting children in the back?

That much of what we know about the firefight comes from the heavily redacted report by one OC-1, the “government employee” who shot Khadr in the back, twice?  And that that report only fell into reporters’ hands by accident, because the prosecution team accidentally left it where journalists could see it? And that there was a standoff worthy of the Keystone Kops where the authorities insisted the report be returned, with the reporters (naturally) refusing?

That OC-1’s testimony makes it clear that no one knew who threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer? It might have been his own comrades.

That Khadr was clearly tortured, and that whatever he confessed to must be seen in that light, and dismissed?

That half a dozen military PROSECUTORS have been disgusted enough to quit? “This is neither military, nor justice,” said one.

Another prosecutor’s case is reminiscent of Soviet psychiatric examinations for dissenters:

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, formerly lead prosecutor in another commissions case against a child soldier—a case that collapsed midway through, with the government dropping all charges. “It would be foolish to expect anything to come out of Guantánamo except decades of failure. There will be no justice there, and Obama has proved to be an almost unmitigated disaster,” he told me. After resigning from the commissions as a matter of ethical principle, Vandeveld was punished with a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and gratuitous hearings into his fitness for remaining in the Army, even though he now has only two months remaining in his term of service. Vandeveld, who has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, doubts very much that any more prosecutors will resign after his highly visible reprimand.

That Obama, who vowed to “close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions,” has not gotten around to any of those things yet. What DID he do? He

abruptly barred four of the most knowledgeable reporters from returning to Gitmo, accusing them of violating an order that the identity of Omar Khadr’s primary interrogator be kept secret. It doesn’t matter that “Interrogator Number One,” convicted in a 2005 court martial for prisoner abuse at Bagram prison, had already been interviewed by one of these journalists two years ago and that his identity is available in the public record.

That the prosecution has engaged a shady charlatan who promotes himself as an “expert in evil” as a kind of last half-hearted effort to demonize Khadr?

That Khadr’s options are still ridiculous, to face the farcical military commissions trial, or agree to a plea-bargain that will see him behind bars for eight more years?

As has been argued forcefully elsewhere, the war criminal is not Omar Khadr.

Even if Khadr did everything alleged, none of the five charges as actually lodged describes a criminal violation of the law of armed conflict (LOAC). Two of the charges, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, are inherently problematic. The remaining offenses, murder and attempted murder “in violation of the law of war,” and spying, are capable of valid application, but lack legitimacy in Khadr’s factual situation. Essentially the government seeks to distort the fundamental legal equality between opposing belligerents into a unilateral shield for coalition personnel, turning the conflict into a “hunting season” in which U.S. forces can shoot their enemy on sight but their adversaries commit a war crime by fighting back. Because the tribunals’ statutory bases, the Military Commission Acts of 2006 and 2009, were enacted after Khadr was in custody, any charges lacking sound grounding in the LOAC constitute impermissible ex post facto enactments.

It’s Sunday night. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning and Khadr’s legal team might agree to a plea bargain any minute. Which would be a tragedy. Of course, his going forward with the trial might be even more tragic.

The laws and treaties that bind the United States are clear. Omar Khadr should not have served a single day in any prison. He was 15, a child, when captured. In a just world, he should be paid massive restitution from both the United States and Canadian governments. I know. Fat chance of that.

UPDATE: Omar Khadr has plead guilty to all charges against him.

Not at all surprising, just very very sad.

Pithiest comment so far: “Well, it’s official now. Anyone fights a U.S. attacker, s/he’s committed a war crime. Even if s/he didn’t, even if s/he was a child.”

29
Sep
10

“I can’t stand you. Now go vote for me!”

Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.

Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.

There are any number of good pieces on Firedoglake on the topic.  Jane Hamsher offers the most perceptive take on the motivation behind the strategy, and points out how self-defeating it is.

I also liked Cenk  Uygur’s rant on Ratigan, but this from Bluetexan was perhaps the most succinct.

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of messages that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”

Yes, I do.

And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.

“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”

“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”

“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”

“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”

“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”

“We will repeal DADT.”

“We will fight for marriage equality.”

“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”

“We will make the Fed transparent.”

“We will legalize marijuana.”

Hope that helps.

On the other hand, these would do the trick.

20
Sep
10

Obama to lefty supporters: Drop dead!

If you ponied up $30,000 per plate to attend that DNC fundraiser at a 1,500-acre gated community in Greenwich, Connecticut, congratulations. You got to hear Obama tell his real constituents (people like you) what he thinks of the earnest saps who worked so hard to get him elected, and then had the temerity to expect results:

If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and — (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.)

Wow. Really? It’s like that?

Glenn Greenwald, as is his habit, is right there with evidence to the contrary, and offers this nice summary, in headlines, of the lowlights of the Obama reign so far. Taken as a whole, these headlines don’t depict an administration that hasn’t yet gotten around to enacting progressive, or even liberal, legislation. As Greenwald writes:

It’s true that there are good things Obama has done …. But there have been many, many awful things* — not things which he has failed yet to do (i.e., “quickly enough”), but multiple policies he’s affirmatively adopted, including many which directly violate his campaign pledges and ones which Democrats spent years during the Bush presidency vehemently condemning. Sitting at a $30,000 per plate fundraising dinner and mocking liberal critics as irrational ingrates while wealthy Party donors laugh probably does wonders for bruised presidential egos, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective way to motivate those who are so unmotivated. Then again, Barack Obama isn’t actually up for election in November, so perhaps the former goal is more important to him than the latter. It certainly seems that way from these comments.

Last week we also had Biden on Rachel Maddow telling progressives to “get in gear, man” (really, he said “man”!). A master of motivation, that guy!

Obama, Biden, Emanuel are all now on record. They find their progressive base an annoyance, and appear to enjoy painting the people who got them into power as whiny, unrealistic, idealistic losers who don’t understand the game of politics.

The problem is that they understand all too well.

________________________

* For a thorough accounting of the “many, many awful things” we’ve seen so far in the Obama reign, see the Obama scandals list. Lest you think it targets the current administration unfairly, have a look at its predecessor, the Bush scandals list. It’s pretty good too.

24
Mar
10

“Aspirin for cancer”

“Aspirin for cancer.” That’s the way a doctor in my neck of the woods characterized the health reform bill passed this weekend, to the wailing and gnashing of teeth (and worse) from some quarters, and to some nearly as deluded self-congratulatory partisan nonsense from others.

Unicorn-bestriding super-prez saves Captain Sulley AND passes historic health legislation!

I’m still waiting for those public forums on C-SPAN that Obama promised when campaigning. You know, where all parties come to the table, instead of legislation based on a series of shady back-room deals with insurance and pharmaceutical execs and lobbyists.

Those deals were again confirmed recently by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick on the Ed Show.

[Y]eah, I think the hospital industry’s got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you’re interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product.

And last week I wrote that the basic outlines of this bill owe a lot to that great progressive Bob Dole. Now, I am reminded, via Taylor Marsh, that an even more ironic architect stands cackling offstage, none other than the mighty Milhouse himself:

It was back in 1971 and President Nixon was concerned that he would once again have to face a Kennedy in the next year’s election — in this case a Kennedy with a proposal to extend health care to all Americans. Feeling the need to offer an alternative, Nixon asked Congress to require for the first time that all companies provide a health plan for their employees, with federal subsidies for low-income workers. Nixon was particularly intrigued by a new idea called health maintenance organizations, which held the promise of providing high-quality care at lower prices by relying on salaried physicians to manage and coordinate patient care.

At first, Kennedy rejected Nixon’s proposal as nothing more than a bonanza for the insurance industry that would create a two-class system of health care in America. But after Nixon won reelection, Kennedy began a series of secret negotiations with the White House that almost led to a public agreement. In the end, Nixon backed out after receiving pressure from small-business owners and the American Medical Association. And Kennedy himself decided to back off after receiving heavy pressure from labor leaders, who urged him to hold out for a single-payer system once Democrats recaptured the White House in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

But it should tell you how far the country has moved to the right that the various proposals put forward by a Democratic president and Congress bear an eerie resemblance to the deal cooked up between Kennedy and Nixon, while Nixon’s political heirs vilify it as nothing less than a socialist plot.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, in an icky direction. But the Republicans’ appalling behavior is really the sputtering of the powerless. The GOP and its elected functionaries are simply obstructing a deal they wish they had struck. As for their shock troops, the dissonance is simply too much and they are bellying up to the table and scarfing down vast quantities of their peculiar comfort food: paranoid ideas of a super-powerful government and, that old standby, race-based vilification. They are burrowing deeper into their crazy places than I had thought possible.

But the lunacy of certain powerless factions, while capable of generating horrific acts, is a sideshow.

The main event is this: the party in power made a bargain with industries with a proven record of doing actual harm to the health and well-being of the electorate. The president spoke in favor of a public option while in private reassuring insurance and pharma that it ain’t gonna happen on his watch. Really. He did. There is no electoral justification for this strategy, as the Republicans were going to oppose anything he put forward anyway.

Obama is indeed a walking Rorschach test, but I would humbly submit that he is not the Hitler/Stalin/Chavez/Satan composite of the teabaggers’ fevered imaginings. Just as important, some of his partisans need to get a clue. He falls waaaaaaayyy short of being a heroic champion of progressive values.

This bill, if it ever gets enacted, four years down the line, might be a step in the right direction. Or, even its supporters must accept, it might not. It’s a mess. As Michael Moore points out, some will benefit hugely, but, as Donna Smith, a blogger on his site, also notes, in the near term, people will keep dying by the thousands for the crime of not being able to pay for health care. “The dead SiCKOs would still die; the bankrupt and broken would still break; and the ill would still suffer.” In large part this is because the President and Congress suddenly value thrift with the national budget (except, uh, it need hardly be said, here) and the patronage of cronies over their voters’ lives.

The Democrats can count their blessings that they exist at the same time as the current version of the Republican party, which has pretty much gone completely crazy. In the presence of such batshit opposition, they get a pass for being merely appalling.

With the groundswell of support and good will they had in the 2008 elections, the sky was the limit, but they took single payer off the table immediately, and cut a deal eliminating any kind of public option (while singing its praises, and fretting that they didn’t have the votes). We’re still going to have a single payer system in this country. We could have done it this year, but it will have to wait until millions more are overwhelmed by the costs of health care, which this legislation does nothing to contain.

18
Feb
10

Obama’s energy budget — nukes get the goldmine, conservation gets the shaft

Maybe you know this. Maybe you don’t. (I didn’t, until fairly recently.) But the money for  building and maintaining nuclear weapons is NOT in the Pentagon’s budget. It’s in the budget of the Department of Energy. (Why?)

Just something to keep in mind as we all try to digest what the President means by “the largest investment in clean energy in history.”

The Institute for Policy Studies points out a few inconvenient truths (boldface is mine).

Despite Obama’s rhetoric about reshaping America’s energy future, he’s asking for a budget that would have the Energy Department continue to spend 10 times more on nuclear weapons than energy conservation. More than 65 percent of our energy budget covers military nuclear activities and the cleanup of weapons sites. Its single largest expenditure maintains some 9,200 intact nuclear warheads. Even though the department hasn’t built a new nuclear weapon for 20 years, its weapons complex is spending at rates comparable to that during the height of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s. Even with economic stimulus funding, the department’s actual energy functions comprise only 15 percent of its total budget and continue to take a backseat to propping up the nations’ large and antiquated nuclear weapons infrastructure. In fact, the Energy Department’s proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year, minus stimulus money, looks a whole lot like it did in the Bush administration, and as it has during several presidents’ tenures.

And at Grist, David Roberts notes the expanded budget for building new nuclear reactors includes some potentially ginormous hidden costs:

To the naked eye it looks like nuclear energy wins out here:

The Budget substantially expands support for construction of new nuclear power plants by increasing the Department of Energy loan guarantees authority for such projects by $36 billion, to a total of $54.5 billion, and provides credit subsidy funding of $500 million to support $3 to $5 billion of loan guarantees for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

But it’s worth unpacking this. As OMB chief Peter Orszag emphasized in a briefing call this morning, the nuclear loan guarantees are meant to be fully repaid, while the renewable energy and energy efficiency money contains $500 million in credit subsidy. So there’s more direct spending on clean energy.

That’s with one big caveat, of course: that the nuclear industry doesn’t default on loans, sticking taxpayers with the liability. That could never happen, right? Ha ha. See Sue Sturgis and Dan Weiss on that subject. Or see the Congressional Research Service (PDF), which says the “federal government would bear most of the risk, facing potentially large losses if borrowers defaulted on reactor projects that could not be salvaged.” Or the Congressional Budget Office, which “considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high—well above 50 percent.”

27
Jan
10

“relapses into barbarism”

Another precision operation

Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.

I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.

The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen,  who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?

According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)

This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

These days, such relapses into barbarism aren’t hidden from the public eye. They’re bragged about.  In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said,  “Many [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States.” He gave that weird chortle, and there was thunderous applause. Obama has not only continued targeted assassinations, he has expanded them, via a surge in missiles fired from those newfangled drones, and quainter methods such as dragging schoolchildren hardened terrorists from their beds, tying their hands, and shooting them.

He’ll probably have the decency not to chortle about that in his State of the Union address tonight, though.

14
Jan
10

“This is pure ‘lord of the flies’ stuff”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Facts are getting in the way of the idea that Afghan corruption is hindering America’s noble efforts to rob, kill and destroy save that poor, benighted country.

According to the AP:

The U.S. agency overseeing the multibillion dollar Afghanistan reconstruction effort is investigating 38 criminal cases ranging from contract fraud to theft – most involving non-Afghans, officials said Tuesday…Just 10 of the criminal cases under the microscope involve Afghans only, while the rest involve U.S. and other foreigners, according to Raymond DiNunzio, the agency’s assistant inspector general for inspections.

And in not unrelated news, the President is asking Congress for another “$33 billion to fight unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department next year.”

And this is yet another must-read piece from Tomdispatch about “a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and that bears little relationship to the Afghan War as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.”

We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the U.S. was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the U.S. that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.

… Today, in Afghanistan, a militarized mix of CIA operatives and ex-military mercenaries as well as native recruits and robot aircraft is fighting a war “in the shadows” (as they used to say in the Cold War era). This is no longer “intelligence” as anyone imagines it, nor is it “military” as military was once defined, not when U.S. operations have gone mercenary and native in such a big way. This is pure “lord of the flies” stuff — beyond oversight, beyond any law, including the laws of war. And worse yet, from all available evidence, despite claims that the drone war is knocking off mid-level enemies, it seems remarkably ineffective. All it may be doing is spreading the war farther and digging it in deeper.

Talk about “counterinsurgency” as much as you want, but this is another kind of battlefield, and “protecting the people” plays no part in it. And of course, this is only what can be gleaned from afar about a semi-secret war that is being poorly reported. Who knows what it costs when you include the U.S. hired guns, the Afghan contractors, the bases, the drones, and the rest of the personnel and infrastructure? Nor do we know what else, or who else, is involved, and what else is being done. Clearly, however, all those billions of “intelligence” dollars are going into the blackest of black holes.

10
Jan
10

“You never explain why they want to do us harm”

Glenn Greenwald rightly thinks this exchange reduces the brokenness of our system to its essence. It shows Helen Thomas repeatedly asking a very simple question, and the various ways White House terror expert John Brennan refuses to address  it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(I especially love the journalist seated to her left. His supercilious stare over her shoulder, his fidgeting, his frowns. Finally, he just cuts her off and starts talking over her.)

Poor Helen. She looks like an exhausted wraith. I don’t imagine there was ever a time when White House press secretaries actually answered questions, but the mendacity took a turn for the worse not long after the dawn of the 21st century. I can only imagine this deranged, stylized theater of many words and no substance must be something saddening to her.

So back to the question of why. Writes Greenwald:

The evidence of what motivates Terrorism when directed at the U.S. is so overwhelming and undeniable that it takes an extreme propagandist to pretend it doesn’t exist.  What is Brennan so afraid of?  It’s true that religious fanaticism is a part of their collective motivation, but why can’t he just say what’s so obviously true:  “they claim that the U.S. is interfering in, occupying and bringing violence to their part of the world, they cite things like civilian deaths and our support for Israel and Guantanamo and torture, and claim that their terrorism is in retaliation”?

Can you spot the difference between Brennan’s attitude and the previous administration’s contention that “they hate us for our freedoms”? I can’t either.

Quite simply, don’t count on anyone with any clout in the national power structure ever addressing this question. As long as there is an insatiable, irrational, and evil entity out there, the military can’t be mobilized enough. The defense budget can’t be high enough. There is no battleground too distant. If this enemy had real grievances and demands, then maybe we could do something to improve the situation. Like pull our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and stop our murderous Predator attacks in Pakistan, Somalia, and now Yemen. Might even save us a little money. A trillion here, a trillion there. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

But that ain’t gonna happen. They’re Islamist crazies who will stop at nothing short of world domination.  And the bombs must keep dropping, the supplemental budgets must be rammed through, the money, in short, must keep flowing.

26
Dec
09

More on Jane, Grover and Rahm

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All I know is the Hamsher/Norquist joint venture caused many Obama loyalists to pee their pants, and got a lot of positive comments on Jane’s own site. Not exactly surprising.

Someone asked about it on the President’s plane and was met with a predictably smug reply, that the Chief of Staff’s job was “very safe”.

And also: over the Christmas weekend the White House announced that the caps on Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac losses would be lifted. There was talk that they would be raised from $400 billion to $800 billion, but no. They have been raised, to, uh, infinity.

Did Jane Hamsher really whack Rahm Emanuel upside the head, as Cenk Uygur claims? If so, was it with a Nerf bat, or a 2 by 4 with a nail sticking out of it? Is he PISSED? Just mildly annoyed? More important, Will this be enough to shame the White House into taking any real judicial/investigative action with regard to Freddie Mac, like letting Inspector General Ed Kelley get back on the job? You know, 6 trillion dollars is a lot of money.

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20
Dec
09

“Future prospective torturers can now draw comfort from this decision”

We suspect he's an Enemy Combatant, so this is OK!

News earlier this week, from the Center for Constitutional Justice

Today, the United States Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s dismissal of a case brought by four British former detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse at Guantánamo. The British detainees spent more than two years in Guantanamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.

The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By refusing to hear the case, the Court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The lower court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants.”  Finally, the circuit court found that, even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantanamo had any Constitutional rights.

Eric Lewis, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Baach Robinson & Lewis, lead attorney for the detainees, said, “It is an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when the Supreme Court lets stand such an inhuman decision. The final word on whether these men had a right not to be tortured or a right to practice their religion free from abuse is that they did not.  Future prospective torturers can now draw comfort from this decision. The lower court found that torture is all in a days’ work for the Secretary of Defense and senior generals. That violates the President’s stated policy, our treaty obligations and universal legal norms. Yet the Obama administration, in its rush to protect executive power, lost its moral compass and persuaded the Supreme Court to avoid a central moral challenge.  Today our standing in the world has suffered a further great loss.”

No shortage of outraged commentary on this howling catastrophe, but I thought Digby put it pretty well:

So torture is a for[e]seeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants. I guess it’s official.

Everyone in the world should be advised that if they don’t want to be tortured, they shouldn’t let themselves be suspected of being an enemy combatant. And if they foolishly allow themselves to be suspected enemy combatants, they should realize, regardless of any laws or treaties to the contrary, that they’ll be tortured. After all, nobody can be expected to know ahead of time which people are legally “persons” or which prisoners are allowed constitutional rights. It’s up to innocent people not to allow themselves to be caught in this Catch 22 in the first place. Good to know.

Any guesses who said this way back in January?

I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture.We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals.

15
Dec
09

Blame everyone but the big guy

Updated below.

And again.

I am not going to defend Rahm Emanuel. He’s never been more than a corrupt, self-interested, low-life would-be hard guy who’s not even really that hard. His role model, that pudgy lump o’ Rove, is the real deal, a completely psychotic fire-breather who would do anything for his party. Rahm has convinced many that he puts the party’s fortunes above everything. Leaving aside the larger question of whether that’s a good thing, lately even those who think he’s a necessary evil have had to reappraise a. his commitment to his party, and/or b. his competence.

Firedoglake blogger TBogg:

So all I really wanted for Christmas was a Karl Rove of our own who would make all of our Obama wishes come true, even if he had to kick Evan Bayh’s mushy skull in to accomplish them. Someone who, I had hoped, would make Joe Lieberman’s life something akin to a hemorrhoidectomy gone horribly terribly wrong.

Such is not the case:

The White House wants Reid to hand Joe Lieberman the farm.

An aide briefed on discussions with the White House says that there would be no story if Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel hadn’t interceded. The aide confirmed an account, reported by Huffington Post, that Emanuel visited Reid personally, telling him to cut a deal with Lieberman.

Then the aide provided more detail.

Emanuel didn’t just leave it to Reid to find a solution. Emanuel specifically suggested Reid give Lieberman the concessions he seeks on issues like the Medicare buy-in and triggers.

“It was all about ‘do what you’ve got to do to get it done. Drop whatever you’ve got to drop to get it done,” the aide said. All of Emanuel’s prescriptions, the source said, were aimed at appeasing Lieberman–not twisting his arm.

If Rahm Emmanuel is all he was supposed to be, we can safely assume that the Obama White House either never gave a shit about health care reform, or they managed health care reform so horrifically and incompetently that they are now willing to settle for a “win”, no matter how meager.

For more of the same, see “Rahm’s making the White House look terrible,” especially the impassioned comments section. So many former true believers think this is the last straw, but so many are still acting like Rahm’s a maverick operative acting against the wishes of his benign boss, who really does have the best interests of the country at heart.

I don’t know what it will take to convince the Obamamaniacs.

Update.  Well, as Jane Hamsher points out, at least Russ Feingold isn’t afraid to finger the Prez:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.

“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold.

Update 2 Glenn Greenwald says everything I’ve just said, and says it better.

In essence, this reinforces all of the worst dynamics of Washington. The insurance industry gets the biggest bonanza imaginable in the form of tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls. Progressive opinion-makers, as always, signaled that they can and should be ignored …. Most of this was negotiated and effectuated in complete secrecy, in the sleazy sewers populated by lobbyists, industry insiders, and their wholly-owned pawns in the Congress. And highly unpopular, industry-serving legislation is passed off as “centrist,” the noblest Beltway value.

And, in an update, he comes up with this classic dissection of Obama/Emanuel excuse-making:

It’s also worth noting how completely antithetical claims are advanced to defend and excuse Obama. We’ve long heard — from the most blindly loyal cheerleaders and from Emanuel himself — that progressives should place their trust in the Obama White House to get this done the right way, that he’s playing 11-dimensional chess when everyone else is playing checkers, that Obama is the Long Game Master who will always win. Then, when a bad bill is produced, the exact opposite claim is hauled out: it’s not his fault because he’s totally powerless, has nothing to do with this, and couldn’t possibly have altered the outcome. From his defenders, he’s instantaneously transformed from 11-dimensional chess Master to impotent, victimized bystander.

09
Dec
09

President Rorschach

A Good Man or a "Muslim President?"

Glenn Greenwald muses on the fervor of personal feeling that is behind so many opinions — pro and con — about the current president. Yes, there are kooks who venerate Sarah[!] for no good reason. But what about… um, you know, the president?

This week Andrew Sullivan has highlighted numerous rants from Obama loyalists who are disappointed, nay, disgusted that people “on the left” are daring to criticize their president. As Greenwald asks, should we just ignore all of this:

[A]re the criticisms that have been voiced about Obama valid?  Has he appointed financial officials who have largely served the agenda of the Wall Street and industry interests that funded his campaign?  Has he embraced many of the Bush/Cheney executive power and secrecy abuses which Democrats once railed against — from state secrets to indefinite detention to renditions and military commissions?  Has he actively sought to protect from accountability and disclosure a whole slew of Bush crimes?  Did he secretly a negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical industry after promising repeatedly that all negotiations over health care would take place out in the open, even on C-SPAN?  Are the criticisms of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan valid, and are his arguments in its favor redolent of the ones George Bush made to “surge” in Iraq or Lyndon Johnson made to escalate in Vietnam?   Is Bob Herbert right when he condemned Obama’s detention policies as un-American and tyrannical, and warned:  “Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House”?

Greenwald asserts that these reactions are “grounded almost exclusively in (a) a deep-seated conviction that President Obama is a good and just man who means well; (b) their own rather intense upset at seeing him criticized; and (c) a spitting ad hominem fury of the type long directed by Bush followers at any critics of their leader, and generally typical of authoritarian attacks on out-groups critics.” So, the big question this raises: WTF is up with America and politics??? Is it all about an innate national inclination to favor judging the person over scrutinizing policy? I guess. Along with a massive media industry that works exactly along the lines of some arcane symbolism, judging the president’s body language, his failure to wear a flag pin, his pre-empting the Charlie Brown Christmas!

Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual.  These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies.  But for those looking for some emotional attachment to a leader, rather than policies they believe are right, personality attachments are far more important.  They’re also far more potent.  Loyalty grounded in admiration for character will inspire support regardless of policy, and will produce and sustain the fantasy that this is not a mere politician, but a person of deep importance to one’s life who — like a loved one or close friend or religious leader — must be protected and defended at all costs.

You know, this doesn’t really bode well for democracy. And somehow, I don’t see us pulling out of this personality-driven shite anytime soon.




Ineffable beauty, unspeakable evil, and all sorts of crap in between

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