Archive for the 'plus ca change' 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.”

21
Oct
10

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar”

Your tax dollars at work. This drone strike killed 0.4 jihadis!— and only 19.6 innocent people. (AP Photo/Hasbunallah Khan)

“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands

The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!

And, in a recent poll, only 3 percent even mention Afghanistan or “the war” (which war?)—at all— as one of America’s most important problems. So drone attacks are not exactly a red-button issue with the American voter. But … just imagine it happening to you, or to your family. Johann Hari puts it into perspective well with this simple little thought exercise:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?

You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy.  Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.

Are we?

That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one.  That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”

The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave  a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.

Remember these?

Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:

“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.

Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:

I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.

I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)

Chris Floyd, who brought Hari’s piece to my attention, thinks the creation of more terrorists is not an accidental byproduct. Seizing on the offhand remark by a “senior figure” in the CIA that the drone targeting can be pretty arbitrary, he wonders if maybe the randomness of the attacks is a feature, not a bug:

“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”

That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.

I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.

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.

08
Sep
10

Are the Dems stupid? Or not?

rahm

"Either way, I win." REUTERS/Jim Young

Money makes the Democrats stupid is a pretty decent rant by Eli at Firedoglake.

The Republicans, he observes, have a big advantage in terms of money because the ideology of conservatism lines up perfectly with giving rich people and corporations more money and power.

Not because they have more [money], although they usually do.  No, it’s because their base is almost completely aligned with their corporate and wealthy big-money donors, while the Democratic base is the complete opposite.

Republicans can deliver their megadonors tax cuts, deregulation, corporate welfare, and protection from prosecution, all cocooned in a conservative narrative of supply-side economics, free enterprise, and independent frontier can-do spirit that their base just loves.

Contrast this with the Dems, who, with a few exceptions, are pretty much on the same level in terms of greed and lack of scruples. But they have this nagging problem with their party’s (purported) ideology, which isn’t a good fit. They have to be sneaky because “there’s simply no way to spin pro-corporate, pro-wealth policies as congruent with progressive values.”

The best they can manage is to play the DLC/Third Way game of pretending that capitulation is really some kind of principled pragmatic centrism which is the only way to win elections or get anything done against the all-powerful GOP and its 55 49 40 41 Senate seats.

Some of the base reluctantly goes along with this because half a loaf is better than the enemy of the good or whatever, but none of us are particularly happy about always settling for a compromise of a compromise of a compromise. Think how much leverage Obama and the Democrats had after two huge electoral landslides, a huge Republican-branded financial crisis, and a huge congressional majority… and how little they did with it. They didn’t deliver on progressive priorities because that wasn’t what their big campaign donors wanted.

And now they’ve failed so miserably, sold out so blatantly, demoralized their base so completely, and ceded the populist ground so thoroughly to the Tea Party, that they’re on the brink of losing the House and maybe even the Senate. All of the Democrats’ kabuki to protect their corporate friends so they could rake in campaign cash and get re-elected will end up costing them their seats instead. Because it is possible to fuck up so badly and so obviously that all the money in the world can’t save you. Just ask the Republicans.

I like this, and I’m down with Eli’s disgust, but wonder if he might be missing something, like maybe the fact that it’s on purpose?

Not sure about this, but I’ll throw it out there and wonder aloud if perhaps we are in for a few decades where control of Congress (and maybe the Presidency) will swing from party to party with every election.

The Party Out of Power promises Change, gets in power, doesn’t change anything, and is sent packing. Or it promises to reverse the Mooslem Socialist Mismanagement of this Once-Great Nation. Until the voters realize they get screwed there too. Rinse and repeat.

Either way the party pros win. If in power, hey, you’re In Power. Out of Power you can make massive amounts of money in the private sector. (Think of Rahm’s waltz with hedge fund Magnetar Capital. Think Tom Daschle. Bob Dole.) Leverage your public service. G’head. You earned it. Take a position with one of the corporations you’ll be in charge of “regulating” when you get back into power. Money’s much better, and you will probably get to spend a little more time with the family.

And don’t worry. You’ll be back in D.C. before you know it. Count on the Other Party not satisfying those pesky voters either. Because there’s no way the non-rich 95 percent can be satisfied–unless legislation happens that actually reverses the flow of wealth.  And both parties have shown how firmly they are allied on the issue of wealth distribution.

At the moment, polls indicate voters will throw the current regime out, WITH AUTHORITY as Marv Albert used to say…. To replace it with a regime that makes no bones about its intention to give an ever bigger piece of the pie to the wealthy and powerful.

Does that makes sense? Not so much. Will it work for a few more election cycles? I wouldn’t bet against it.

20
Aug
10

Always with the tables

Few turns of phrase demonstrate the unquestioning dimwittedness of America’s public discourse than “All options are on the table” when it comes to Iran. As far as I can tell, it first came into broad use during the Dubya Administration.  Bush’s successor, Mr.Changey Changey, didn’t see anything worth changing in the formulation. In fact, he rather seems to  like it.  His  Secretary of State is pretty fond of it, too.

Of course, what Bush, Obama and Madame Clinton really mean by “All Options Are on the Table” is “All Options Involving Violence or the Implied Threat of Violence.”  It’s just a smirky pretend-gangster understatement, like saying “we made him an offer he can’t refuse.”  It means  bombing,  sanctions, freezing bank accounts, holding back spare parts for airplanes,  pharmaceuticals— that sort of thing. And bombing.  Did I mention bombing?

A Tiny Revolution notices the phrase comes up a LOT in Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent weird cover story in the  once respectable Atlantic Monthly:

Any actual reporter would have pointed out the glaringly obvious fact about this rote repetition: all options are not on the table. For instance, Israel is not going to consider giving up its own nuclear weapons if it were part of a deal to make it certain Iran would not develop its own. Nor is the United States considering giving up its nukes. Nor do we have any interest in a region-wide peace settlement that would satisfy us regarding Iran if it required U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States hasn’t even signaled any openness to apologizing to Iranians for our numerous crimes against them (overthrowing their government, teaching the Shah how best to torture them, helping Saddam use WMD against them, etc.). Apparently we would prefer to attack Iran or indeed for Iran to get nuclear weapons rather than exercise any of these possible options.

This is good as far as it goes. But it involves logic and reasoning, and as such might not be the perfect way to grapple with Israel’s and/or America’s urge  to bomb Iran. A more apt piece might be  “Our threatiest threat” from the frequently brilliant fafblog, which demolishes with satire all the unexamined premises underlying the Need to Confront the Evil Persians. It’s from October 2009, but it could have been from 2006, when John McCain entertained us with his version of Barbara Ann. And it could have taken place this week, when everyone has been chattering about the Little Corporal’s article.

I only wish Helen Thomas’ seat in the White House press room had been reassigned to this Fafnir, so I could see this exchange acted out. But of course that isn’t going to happen (I don’t even know if Fafnir is a real person).

Here’s a chunky excerpt of “Our threatiest threat,” but you should read the whole thing. It’s pretty perfect.

Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a threat?
A: Oh, very much so. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Madman.
Q: We know he is a madman because he hates us, and we know that he hates us because he says bad things about us, and the only reason he would say bad things about us is if he were mad!
A: We also know that he has threatened – with his own mouth – to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”!
Q: Really?
A: Yes!
Q: Really?
A: No. But only a madman would say something that could be so easily mistranslated to sound like the words of a madman.
Q: Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually run Iran?
A: No. But wouldn’t it be scary if he did?

…. Q: What should we do with Iran?
A. All options are on the table.
Q: Should we bomb them? Is bombing them on the table?
A: Bombing them must be on the table, because it is an option, and all options are on the table.
Q: What about starving them to death with sanctions? Is starving them to death with sanctions on the table?
A: In that an option? Because if it is an option, then it must be, as we have mentioned before, on the table.
Q: What about bombing their cities and burning their children and raping their livestock and feeding their people to thousands of millions of man-eating ants and piling their skulls into a heaping bonfire on the White House lawn while the President and the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff dance naked in circles ejaculating wildly into the flesh-filled smoke? Is that on the table?
A: It would be irresponsible for this option not to be on the table, given that all other options, as we have said, are on the table.
Q: What about leaving Iran alone? Is that on the table?
A: No. That is not on the table, because it is not an option.
Q: Are you sure? It looks like an option.
A: It may look like an option, but in fact it is the East Tunisian mock option, which over the course of many years has evolved to mimic the distinctive coloring and plumage of the true American option, in order to better evade and intimidate predators.

Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, will it kill whoever it hits on the ground below?
Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a nickel, will he kill five people? If he drops a quarter, will he reestablish the Caliphate?
Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even now amassing an arsenal of spare change deep within the unsuspecting bowels of New York City, roaming from corner to corner, subway to subway, armed with a stockpile of acoustic guitars, violins, steel drums, rudimentary juggling skills, waiting and watching for the perfect moment to strike?

For further Fafblog absurdities, I would recommend Our Omnipotent President, in which I came upon for the first time the genius tag “securitainment.” It was about Bush, but still … somehow seems kind of relevant.

16
May
10

Is this why we vote for Democrats?

Not much to add to what Black Agenda Report’s Bruce A. Dixon says Elena Kagan shows us about Obama and his party.

The damage that Republican Supreme Court judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, to name only a couple, have done is truly incalculable. If appointing a justice who could be counted on to undo and clear away some of that right wing wreckage is too much to ask, what does it say for the main reason, the clinching reason given for supporting Democratic presidential candidates?

This is a crucial and defining moment for the presidency of Barack Obama, the instant at which he leaves his mark on the high court for perhaps twenty or thirty years to come. Retiring justice John Paul Stevens is indisputably the most “liberal” voice on the court, a man with a clear record of opposing many racist practices and authoritarian tendencies. Stevens is the liberal anchor of the court. To replace that liberal anchor with anyone less committed to upholding the rights of the poor and powerless is to unleash and further empower the likes of Roberts, Scalia and Thomas. That’s precisely what President Obama accomplishes with the appointment of Elena Kagan.

Except maybe to mention that other putative trump card for partisan Dems, abortion rights. But the party is not doing such a great job defending the Right to Choose, it seems. This sad, and entirely predictable, state of affairs leads a Firedoglake diarist to lament that “history will show that Obama threw away over 35 years of pro-choice blood, sweat, and tears to give health insurers $474 billion over 6 years… and set us down the path to a country where most women will live in the pre-Roe world.”

Read the entire BAR piece.

23
Apr
10

Seven Democrats, Four Republicans

all quiet on the western front

"I believe it will be a quick war, that there will be few losses."

I know. 2002 was a really long time ago. But you’d think more than eleven members of Congress would remember that sanctions against Iraq, based on now- (and then-) laughably false accusations, only made it easier for the war instigators to take the next step, to attack the country that was the object of the sanctions.

But no.

Unless you live in the districts represented by seven Democrats–Reps. Baird (WA), Moore (WI), Baldwin (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Kucinich (OH), Waters (CA), McDermott (WA)–or four Republicans–Flake (AZ), Jones (NC), Paul (TX), Duncan (TN)– your congressperson voted for a bill that will pave the way for more severe sanctions on Iran, a country that has not attacked another country in oh, say, two or three centuries, but which  has been accused, repeatedly, and in dozens of different ways, of possessing imaginary nuclear weapons.

It has been accused of this by the U.S.A., a country that possesses, ah, ballpark figure here, 9,960 intact warheads, and has tested them in just slightly irresponsible ways, on hapless Pacific islanders and its own citizens alike. Also, we, uh, used them against a civilian population, not once but twice, without warning, and detonating them at an altitude that insured maximum death and destruction.

So we know how awful nuclear weapons are! Trust us.

But no matter. Iran (“a festering sore,” according to noted trash-talker Harry Reid) is doing something sneaky, and we will do anything to stop them from doing … sneaky things, even if we can’t really say exactly what they are. In the past decade or so, we’ve spent a trillion dollars on a war that started in a manner suspiciously similar to the one we’re ready to get underway. And, as Ron Paul pointed out yesterday, a sanctions regime was an integral part of the buildup to that war.

I don’t agree with everything Paul says, but I don’t see a word of this that I can disagree with. Can you?

I rise in opposition to this motion to instruct House conferees on HR 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, and I rise in strong opposition again to the underlying bill and to its Senate version as well. I object to this entire push for war on Iran, however it is disguised. Listening to the debate on the Floor on this motion and the underlying bill it feels as if we are back in 2002 all over again: the same falsehoods and distortions used to push the United States into a disastrous and unnecessary one-trillion-dollar war on Iraq are being trotted out again to lead us to what will likely be an even more disastrous and costly war on Iran. The parallels are astonishing.

We hear war advocates today on the Floor scare-mongering about reports that in one year Iran will have missiles that can hit the United States. Where have we heard this bombast before? Anyone remember the claims that Iraqi drones were going to fly over the United States and attack us? These “drones” ended up being pure propaganda – the UN chief weapons inspector concluded in 2004 that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ever developed unpiloted drones for use on enemy targets. Of course by then the propagandists had gotten their war so the truth did not matter much.

We hear war advocates on the floor today arguing that we cannot afford to sit around and wait for Iran to detonate a nuclear weapon. Where have we heard this before? Anyone remember then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s oft-repeated quip about Iraq, that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to appear as a mushroom cloud?

We need to see all this for what it is: Propaganda to speed us to war against Iran for the benefit of special interests.

Where have we seen this before?

Let us remember a few important things. Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has never been found in violation of that treaty. Iran is not capable of enriching uranium to the necessary level to manufacture nuclear weapons. According to the entire US Intelligence Community, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapons program. These are facts, and to point them out does not make one a supporter or fan of the Iranian regime. Those pushing war on Iran will ignore or distort these facts to serve their agenda, though, so it is important and necessary to point them out.

Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.

Here I should say, “Contact your Congressman.” But geez. 403-11. Kind of an uphill struggle.

Of course, this war has been on the way since Shock and Awe days (remember: “Anyone can go to Baghdad; Real men go to Tehran”?)

What’s holding up actually attacking? Is there some sanity hiding behind the bellicose talk? Do  the gung-ho Congressfolk and military wizards of our broke-ass country realize the lunacy of opening another front in their crazy Long War (my hope)? Or (my fear) are they just waiting for a better provocation? “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.”

11
Mar
10

Bob Dole sez: “Stop lyin’ about Bob Dole’s health plan”

Seth Ackerman goes to town on Ezra Klein’s assertion that whatever health care reform bill passes will be a “huge progressive victory.”

It’s a complex, nuanced piece, and well worth reading in its entirety, but a point Ackerman makes in his conclusion screams out for comment.

This is not an argument about whether Obama “pushed hard enough” on this or that, or whether Harry Reid sold out such-and-such. The obsession with this kind of short-term thinking is the whole reason why we’re in this mess. It’s quite possible Obama couldn’t have gotten elected if he’d proposed anything more ambitious than the “Demo-plan.” And once in office he may not have been able to get his Demo-plan passed without dropping the more liberal features.

But all of that is beside the point. Whether or not a better health reform plan could have passed at this precise moment is a secondary issue. The larger question is what this bill tells us about this precise moment. Obama came into office with every whim of history leaning in his direction: a discredited Republican predecessor, a crisis of deregulated finance that reached a crescendo literally weeks before the election (what luck!); the largest Democratic majorities in decades (in a sense, even larger than the 1965 majorities; not counting southerners, the Democrats had 47 Senate seats in 2009, versus 40 in 1965). Such a clear shot will not return for decades.

And the result: The Democrats shot their historical wad on health care by re-introducing Bob Dole’s bill from 1994 and justifying it as a free-market solution. How is that a “huge progressive victory”?

Wait? Uh, what? Bob Dole’s bill from 1994? Ackerman just sort of snuck that in there. But take a look at this “executive memorandum” from the Heritage Foundation, “Dole’s Health Care Compromise: A Prudent Foundation for Reform”:

[Dole’s]  bill requires insurers to renew policies and prohibits pre-existing condition limitations in new policies, while protecting insurers by allowing reasonable waiting periods. It also limits premium variations to differences based on age, family size, geogra- phy, and other risk factors, but not health condition. Further, the bill blocks states from mandating insurers to include costly benefits that buyers do not want. It introduces malpractice reforms to reduce legal costs, and reforms the antitrust rules to make it easier for groups of physicians or other providers to do business.

The bill also encourages the creation of purchasing groups, including non-employer associations, to bargain for good insurance rates. But wisely, it does not mandate health alliances, or force- employers to pick plans for their employees. Thus, Americans could join health insurance purchasing associations based on, say, a church, a union or a farm bureau, not just an employer-sponsored pool.

Mmm. Yes. That does look vaguely familiar. Wow. Obama sweeps into power with “every whim of history leaning in his direction,” and an unprecedented opportunity to push for real reform, and we get… Bob Dole.

And if you, like me, are sick and tired of hearing “it’s a start” and “it’s better than doing nothing,” there’s this:

But it gets worse. The decentralized private payment system will inevitably start crowding out the public insurance we already have, especially Medicare. With continued double-digit medical inflation, the slow-motion dismantling of Medicare isn’t a possibility, it seems like an eventual certainty. (Just look at the current deficit hysteria, which is now being propitiated by the White House and its independent commission.) We are on a moving train going in the wrong direction; instead of turning the train around, this bill tries to solve the problem by having us all run towards the caboose.

Barring some sort of divine intervention, whatever version of health care reform that passes will be an unmitigated disaster for America. I didn’t vote for Obama (or, I should not have to add, McCain), and wasn’t expecting much, but this tops my most pessimistic imaginings.

09
Mar
10

Stop presses: Politician found with a spine

The Obama regime has, for me, been an even bigger nightmare than the preceding eight years. The Democrats first swept into power in the 2006 midterms, and cemented their stranglehold on Congress and the Executive branch two years later. They promised change, and transparency, and delivered neither.

Whatever protestations Obama and his party make about ideals and values, the Health Care Reform debacle shows the real lay of the land. If you thought the Democrats would take decisive action to actually represent the interests of the voters against the predations of corporations, by now you should be pretty well disabused of any such notions.

For the White House and most of Congressional Democrats, the idea behind their version of “reform” is simple. Cut a deal with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in exchange for … money, and throw a few cosmetic improvements into the package that will in no way flatten the ever ascending arc of the profit margins of the insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

It’s really that simple. The Republicans, for their part, hate the Deal not because it violates their principles, but because they want to be the party cutting it.

Only Dennis Kucinich has consistently spoken up for what is the only rational (and ultimately much cheaper) solution to what is a crisis for many, if not most, Americans: single payer, medicare for all. Take five minutes and listen to this man.

For further reading, spend some time at firedoglake, where Jane Hamsher and Jon Walker and others have been providing enlightening accounts of the deceptions and delusions behind this disastrous piece of legislation. Here is a list of health care-tagged posts.

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.”




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