Archive for the 'priorities' Category

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.”

Advertisements
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.

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.

30
Jun
10

Baby steps in the right direction

This week, the FDA issued a “draft guidance” that in effect asks industrial meat producers to pretty please, at least think about limiting the practice of pumping massive quantities of antibiotics into factory animals meat machines.

The big lobbying groups, predictably, were outraged by this intrusion of mere science into their god-given right to make a bundle at the expense of the world’s health (both animal and human).

Tom Scocca at Slate sums up just how late this is in coming:

Forty-one years after the United Kingdom concluded that feeding antibiotics to healthy animals to make them gain weight could promote drug resistance in bacteria, 12 years after the European Union banned the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock for weight gain, nine years after researchers found widespread antibiotic-resistant salmonella in American ground beef, and four years after the EU banned all feeding of antibiotics to healthy animals, the Food and Drug Administration today issued a “draft guidance” urging “judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs” in the American livestock industry.

At Grist Tom Laskawy some excellent background on the issue as well as a slightly more optimistic view. “While this may sound like so much bureaucratese, it represents a strong statement by the FDA and suggests further action is forthcoming.”

This draft, though clearly preliminary and subject to industry feedback, also gives Congress a reason to move forward on legal restrictions knowing that a scientific consensus is forming — though in reality it’s unlikely a law could be passed much before November, if at all.

The question remains just how hard Big Meat will fight this guidance. The FDA wants to bend over backwards to limit problems for livestock producers by phasing in restrictions and taking their concerns into account. But will groups like the Pork Board — which denied the very existence of the problem to CBS News anchor Katie Couric in her blockbuster report on the subject — take the hand the FDA has offered? Or will they bite it?

Or will CAFO operators simply seek to bypass any regulation altogether, by claiming that routine doses of antibiotics are medically necessary to prevent disease in close quarters? I’m contacting an expert on this topic to find out if the FDA’s draft guidance indicates such loopholes will exist, and whether industry will head for them.

We know that subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock is unnecessary. The Danes have, somewhat famously, proved it by banning the practice and significantly reduced the threat of antibiotic resistance with no long-term effects on livestock health or productivity. The American Society of Microbiologists knows it. The FDA does, too. Even over a hundred House members and 17 senators (that being the number of cosponsors attached to the pending legislation) know it. With any luck, the industry will finally get the message.

22
Jun
10

Futureless farming?

I imagine there must be a proverb or several somewhere about the farmer who travels in springtime, when a huge chunk of the year’s work has to get done.

This year, I had to travel not once but three times in the crucial spring months, and since returning have been scrambling to rescue my little farmstead from total chaos. Calves still coming in, new chickens to tend to, the beehives thriving but needing a lot of attention, weeds galore in the garden. Weeds. Weeds. Weeds. WEEDS! (Did I mention weeds?)

But I think I’m getting there.

Which raises the question of “where is there”?

In general I’ve downplayed my farmerly ambitions by claiming only that I’m trying to feed my family better, and perhaps create a better sense of self-reliance. I do hold out a hope, not often expressed, that someday this farm will be our livelihood. Slowed food revolution, in this month’s American Prospect, makes me wonder how realistic that dream is.

The author, Heather Rogers,  offers a thorough look at the state of the American organic or alternative or sustainable farmer, seen from a policy perspective as well as through the eyes of Morse Pitts, who farms in the Hudson Valley and can charge what for me is a jaw-dropping price of $14 for a dozen eggs at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. In spite of this, and the fact that he is hard-working and resourceful, he still has had enough with a life that promises (and delivers) so many rewards, save one—the ability to earn a steady and decent living.

… despite having no mortgage debt (he inherited the place), a ready market, and loyal customers, Pitts wants to leave his farm. His town recently rezoned the area as industrial, and if he wants to cultivate soil that’s not surrounded by industry and its attendant potential for water and air pollution, he has to move. The problem is, he can’t afford to.

Aside from the standard instability farmers must endure — bad weather, pests, disease, and the vagaries of the market — holistic and organic growers face great but often overlooked economic hardship. They must shoulder far higher production costs than their conventional counterparts when it comes to everything from laborers to land. Without meaningful support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their longevity hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the USDA showers billions on industrial agriculture. Growers who’ve gone the chemical, mechanized route have ready access to reasonable loans, direct subsidy payments to get through tough years, and crop insurance, plus robust research, marketing, and distribution resources. Whether organic and holistic growers raise crops, like Pitts does, or grass-fed, free-range livestock, they must contend with circumstances made harder by a USDA rigged to favor industrial agriculture and factory food.

As he has done in so many other areas, the president raised hopes for progressive farmers to the sky, and then sent them crashing. An organic garden at the White House! Beehives! But not a heck of a lot of tangible things have been delivered to folks like us. And even modest things like the Know Your Farmer campaign have met with angry resistance. “In an April letter to the new agriculture secretary, agribusiness-friendly senators Saxby Chambliss, John McCain, and Pat Roberts opposed even the meager support the USDA is giving small unconventional growers. ‘American families and rural farmers are hurting in today’s economy, and it’s unclear to us how propping up the urban locavore markets addresses their needs.'” Which of course is a hugely disingenuous piece of cow dung. And then there’s the “urban locavore” dig—a “trendy food choice” by well-to-do foodie snobs doing their evil mischief again. You know, if it weren’t for Alice Waters, America could be made whole again.

It’s a really good article, if not particularly encouraging for me, or for any of the other kooks out there who want to eat real food that isn’t farmed in ways that are killing the earth. I recommend you read the whole thing….

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.




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

Twitter Updates

wordpress analytics