Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama/Wright redux

In a press conference today, Barack Obama denounced his pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, and expressed how "outraged" he was at Wright's recent controversial comments at the National Press Club. All of this is not surprising. Obama, after all, is the quintessential politician (sorry Obamaphiles), so the fact that Wright has made some acerbic (and accurate) comments on the nature of the U.S. empire and American imperialism made it near-certain that he'd be tossed aside at some point. The fact that Wright didn't call for the immediate lynching of Louis Farrakhan when prompted by a reporter at the press club only sealed the deal.

So, again, the fact that Obama would dump his pastor in his quest for political power is not surprising (worship of power having replaced religion). However, what is surprising is just how craven and dishonest some of Obama's comments were:
When he (Wright) suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that's what I'm doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.
First off, all those who think Obama represents some sort of fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy should take note: "there are no excuses" for equating "United States wartime efforts with terrorism," at least in the mind of this Democratic hopeful (savior?).

Translation: questioning the murder of innocent civilians by the U.S. government -- as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq -- is beyond the pale. Killing of innocents, if sanctioned by a more-or-less democratically-elected government, is a legitimate, if unfortunate, consequence of "war" -- "war" being a useful term used by the State to cloak the true nature and immorality of armed conflict; what is rightly called "mass murder" in peacetime soon becomes "collateral damage" if carried out by someone wearing a uniform of the U.S. government.

For context, here is what Wright said at the Press Club that set Obama off:
Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.
See the problem? Jesus can only be referenced when debating gay marriage or abortion -- and never, never, when it comes to all that "love thy neighbor" and "do onto others..." hippie crap. Of course, as demonstrated by McCain supporter Rev. John Hagee, citing Jesus to call for a preemptive military attack on Iran doesn't raise an eyebrow among the mainstream media or the political elites, if only because militarism and the concept of "American exceptionalism" is the predominant American religion.

It should also be pointed out that, contrary to what Obama states, Wright did not praise Louis Farrakhan as "one of the greatest voices" of the 20th and 21st centuries. Here is what he did say:
What I think about him, as I said on Bill Moyers and it got edited out -- how many other African-Americans or European-Americans do you know that can get 1 million people together on the mall? He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that's what I think about him. I said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks it's like E.F. Hutton speaks. All black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan any more than Mandela will put down Fidel Castro. You remember that Ted Koppel show where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro is our enemy, and he said, "You don't tell me who my enemies are; you don't tell me who my friends are."

The difference -- "important" vs. "greatest" -- is subtle but meaningful. One can say that Stalin and Hitler were "important" voices in the 20th century without endorsing either Stalinism or Nazism. To state they were important is merely to say they had a lot of influence and their actions had a profound impact on history. In this sense, Wright is merely pointing out that by getting hundreds of thousands of people to turn out for a march on Washington, DC, Farrakhan had demonstrated that his importance in a certain section of the American public.

In distorting his (now former) pastor's words, Obama shows that either he wasn't actually familiar with the Wrights comments, or more likely, he doesn't care. He realizes that the vast majority of Americans aren't ready for any demystifying of the U.S. empire, much less from a black man. Hell, Obama -- a middle-of-road, bland politician -- has himself been accused of being a stalking horse for radical islam.

But that doesn't excuse his misrepresentations of Wright's comments or his nationalistic claptrap that argues nuking hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians is morally superior to the killing of 3,000 innocents on 9/11. His willingness to denounce a friend and mentor of two decades for political gain speaks volumes about his character and desire for power, and it isn't positive.

Could it be that the savior of American progressives is just another politician?

Friday, April 25, 2008

The difference between you and the State

From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK - Three detectives were acquitted Friday in the 50-shot killing of an unarmed groom-to-be on his wedding day, a case that put the NYPD at the center of another dispute involving allegations of excessive firepower.
You see, if you attend a few months of police training and receive a nice, shiny badge, then you effectively become not just above the law, but you become the law. Justice and responsibility for one's actions? Why, that's something best left to the proles. And that reality isn't lost on those most familiar with police brutality:
William Hardgraves, 48, an electrician from Harlem, brought his 12-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter to hear the verdict. "I hoped it would be different this time. They shot him 50 times," Hardgraves said. "But of course, it wasn't."

The officers, complaining that pretrial publicity had unfairly painted them as cold-blooded killers, opted to have the judge decide the case rather than a jury.

The judge, Justice Arthur Cooperman, indicated when he delivered the verdict that the officers' version of events was more credible than the victims' version. "The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified" in firing, he said.
And doesn't that just say it all? The police needn't prove that the man they shot dozens of times on his wedding day was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- oh no. Why, they merely had to argue that they were scared that something might happen to them, never mind the fact that none of the men they shot at were armed.

In effect, the men who were shot at -- and in one case, murdered -- were forced by the court to prove they were innocent, rather than requiring the agents of the State to justify shooting at them without evidence of a crime having been committed. At no point did the police need to demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the men posed a dangerous threat, just merely that they felt they could be a threat. That's the difference between having a badge and being a mere serf; what would be murder if perpetrated by you or I is just an unfortunate incident with no repercussion's for New York's finest.

Now, you might think that this case demonstrates that the U.S. criminal justice system is broken beyond repair. Police officers can murder with impunity, while possession of a controlled substance can land you an extended prison sentence -- and in some cases, the death penalty.

The sad fact is the United States is home to the largest prison population in the world -- the vast majority nonviolent drug offenders -- and an African-American male is more likely to be convicted of a felony than to graduate college. And no amount of rationalization on the part of defenders of the State can defend the horrendous human rights violations perpetrated in U.S. prisons, where rape is joked about by officers and prison guards and condoned as a mere added punishment for the deserving.

But to some, namely those who benefit from the status quo, the U.S. criminal justice system is beyond reproach.
The U.S. attorney's office said after the verdict that it had been monitoring the state's prosecution and would conduct an independent review of the case. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who represents Bell's family, called for a federal investigation.

"This verdict is one round down, but the fight is far from over," Sharpton said on his radio show. "What we saw in court today was not a miscarriage of justice. Justice didn't miscarry. This was an abortion of justice."

Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, responded angrily to Sharpton's suggestion that the verdicts were unfair.

"That's despicable for him to say that because we have the greatest criminal justice system on earth," he said.
Of course it comes as no surprise that Palladino also came to the defense of the four NYC police officers who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times because they mistook his wallet for a gun. As he told the Austin American-Statesman in an October 26, 2003, article on police shootings (which is available on LexisNexis but not online)
"They just become political pawns," said Detective Michael Palladino, the organization's executive vice president and the vice president of the Detectives Endowment Association of New York, which closely monitored the trials of the four officers involved in the 1999 incident. "It is gut-wrenching for the officers."
Poor guys; the stress of standing trial for murdering unarmed individuals is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Just imagine the stress they would feel if there was actually a chance they would ever be convicted (emphasis on "imagine").

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Electing the next president of... Israel?

In comments to a post by Daniel Larison at The American Conservative regarding the idiotic meme that calls for Democratic Party "unity" are "fascist", a blogger by the name of "Grumpy Old Man" points out a truly remarkable statement made by Clinton campaign surrogate Ann Lewis reported by Dana Milbank a few weeks ago.

Speaking to a gathering of American Jews, representatives of both the Obama and Clinton campaigns attempted to demonstrate their pro-Israel credentials. But unfortunately for Obama, his representative, Princeton professor Dan Kurtzer, was unable to outdo the brazenness of the Clinton campaign and their representative, former Clinton administration spokeswoman Ann Lewis:
Next question to Kurtzer: Obama's assertion that he needn't have a "Likud view" -- that of Israel's right-wing party -- to be pro-Israel. Kurtzer explained that Obama wanted to see a "plurality of views." Silence in the room.

To that, Lewis retorted: "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties." The audience members applauded.
Silly me. I thought the role of the president of the United States was to support the decisions that are made by the people of the United States, not any other country. But then again, Israel isn't just "any other country," and a major party candidate has nothing to lose by expressing absolute fealty to the most right-wing Israeli policies, however much those policies may actually hurt both the United States and Israel. On the other hand, expressing the most mild of criticisms of Israeli actions -- such as the immoral and counterproductive collective punishment of the people of Gaza -- is likely to get one branded as "far left" or an anti-semite. In Obama's case, merely suggesting that the United States should listen to a plurality of Israeli voices has gotten him roughly the same treatment in some quarters.

However, with the rise of pro-Israel groups in the United States that aren't entirely beholden to the Israeli government's more destructive policies, the political climate may slowly be shifting to the point that sane discussion on Israel and Palestine may someday be a reality. Maybe.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Condoleezza Rice: "George Bush is a coward"

According to the AP, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called out President George W. Bush as a coward yesterday for his refusal to personally fight in Iraq, especially in light of his glib response in 2003 to increased attacks on U.S. forces by Iraqi insurgents: "bring 'em on."

Just kidding.

But in a move that can't possibly backfire, Secretary Rice did call someone else a coward: perhaps the most popular man in Iraq, cleric and head of the Mahdi army, Moqtada al-Sadr.

As the AP reports:
"I know he's sitting in Iran," Miss Rice said dismissively, when asked about Sheik al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Miss Rice said. "I guess that's the message; his followers can go to their deaths and he's in Iran."
The exact same comments, of course, could be applied more justly to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and, well, Rice herself. All used lies to sell a war they had no intension of ever fighting. In fact, both Bush and Cheney spent the majority of their college years actively avoiding fighting in another foreign war of aggression that they both supported in Vietnam.

But don't expect the committed torturers and warmongers that fill the upper echelon of the American state to ever once look in the mirror. Al-Sadr is a despicable coward because he will send others into battle but doesn't fight himself -- despite the fact that al-Sadr, at least, is taking a real risk with his life by opposing U.S. imperial ambitions in the region, and by even being involved in Iraqi politics in general.

In contrast, U.S. politicians are brave Churchillian leaders for having the courage and conviction to send poor, young American men and women off to die in a foreign land. So it goes being the most powerful country on the face of the Earth.

For now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Breaking news...

... the government and the corporate media present a distorted view of the war in Iraq!

That's the rather unsurprising finding of a recent investigation published by the New York Times, which at lesser times (which is more often than not) tends to serve as one of the primary vehicles for war propaganda, as evidenced by Judith Miller's sensational (and entirely erroneous) front-page reports on Iraqi WMD's prior to the war, and Michael Gordon's continually shoddy reporting about alleged Iranian "meddling" in Iraq today.

That the Times investigation found that most "military analysts" on television and radio were actually Pentagon propagandists raking in cash from the military-industrial complex is not a revelation. After all, it makes sense that those who will most benefit from military conflict are likely to be its chief advocates. It also is unsurprising that the State would seek to propagandize on behalf of its wars and assorted "national security" policies. And it's certainly not news that the major media outlets are complicit in this activity, for even when they're not wholly owned by defense contractors (like NBC/General Electric is, for instance), they are run by people who are entirely invested in perpetuating the establishment, American imperial mindset -- the same mindset that sees nothing wrong with having a two minute debate on the merits of bombing another country immediately followed by a five minute debate on whether Britney Spears is a fit mother.

To the political and media elites, war is simply another policy option to be debated as casually as an actress' wardrobe. Foreign military interventions are as American as apple pie in eyes of the establishment (and exploding bombs are always good for ratings), and advocating the use of military force inherently makes one "serious" in this militaristic environment. Rather than the burden of proof being placed on those who agitate for state-directed aggression against foreigners, in Washington the onus is on the advocates of peace to explain why they want so many Americans to die. In the eyes of the ruling class it's always 1938, all perceived enemies are invariably at least a little bit like Hitler, and the American military is always landing on the beaches of Normandy.

Once that is understood it comes as no surprise that major media outlets would book military analysts who share this view of"American exceptionalism" -- that the United States is the world's knight in shining armor, on call to police the globe. Questioning the stated reasons for war is something best left to naive hippies and others of dubious patriotism, and there's no better way for the liberal media to shore-up its patriotic credentials than by having blood-thirsty, ass-kicking former military men telling the American public how necessary war is -- and, damn it, just how cool it will all bee, what with all those high-tech gadgets of "shock and awe" and everything. Booking war critics like General William Odom or Scott Ritter? Bah, Amy Goodman can keep 'em.

Of course, every once in awhile some intrepid journalist will question this media consensus, sometimes even from the platform of one of the chief propaganda outlets themselves, as reporter David Barstow does in the Times. So rather than continuing to throw more scorn at the Times, here's an excerpt from Sunday's piece on the media's love affair with military propagandists:
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

The irony of the piece being published in the Times, and one duly noted by Barstow, is that many of these military propagandists lied to the public not only through the lens of a CNN or Fox News camera, but from the comfortable perch of the Times op/ed page:
Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

Read the rest.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Albert Jay Nock on liberalism vs. radicalism

Via Roderick Long I see an interesting short piece by Albert Jay Nock exploring the difference between the terms "liberal" and "radical" has been posted online. Though written in 1920, it is apparent from reading the essay that Nock's observations ring especially true today, as countless Good Liberals continue to delude themselves into believing that it's not the system or the U.S.'s political institutions that are faulty; rather, it's just the people running them.

In other words, the problem to many liberals isn't the fact that a U.S. president can order a person, American citizen or otherwise, to be extradited and tortured on his or her word alone, or that an invasion of another country can be ordered by just a de facto dictator who is elected every four years -- no, the problem is we don't have the right people making those decisions. Though George W. Bush is dastardly and evil, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can be trusted to exercise absolute power responsibly. To accept that, one probably also has to believe that Hillary or the Progressive Messiah will actually bring all the troops home from Iraq, or fundamentally change the direction of U.S. foreign policy to make war less likely in the future. Of course if that's what you believe, then there's a bridge to Brooklyn I'd like to offer you...

As Nock writes:
In the philosophy of public affairs, the liberal gets at his working theory of the State by the "high priori road"; that is to say, by pure conjecture. Confronted with the phenomenon of the State, and required to say where it came from and why it is here, the liberal constructs his answer by the a priori method; thus Carey, for example, derived the State from the action of a gang of marauders, Rousseau from a social contract, Sir Robert Filmer from the will of God, and so on. All these solutions of the problem are ingenious and interesting speculations, but nothing more than speculations. The radical gets at his theory of the State by the historical method; by tracing back and examining every appearance of the State, to the most remote examples that history can furnish; segregating the sole invariable factor which he finds to be common throughout, and testing it both positively and negatively as a determining cause.

The result carries the radical to the extreme point of difference from the liberal in his practical attitude towards the State. The liberal believes that the State is essentially social and is all for improving it by political methods so that it may function accordingly to what he believes to be its original intention. Hence, he is interested in politics, takes them seriously, goes at them hopefully, and believes in them as an instrument of social welfare and progress. He is politically minded, with an incurable interest in reform, putting good men in office, independent administrations, and quite frequently in third-party movements. The liberal forces of the country, for instance, rallied quite conspicuously to Mr. Roosevelt in the good old days of the Progressive party. The liberal believes in the reality and power of political leadership; thus, again, he eagerly took Mr. Wilson on his hands at the last two elections.

The radical, on the other hand, believes that the State is fundamentally antisocial and is all for improving it off the face of the earth; not by blowing up officeholders, as Mr. Palmer appears to suppose, but by the historical process of strengthening, consolidating and enlightening economic organization. The radical has no substantial interest in politics, and regards all projects of political reform as visionary. He sees, or thinks he sees, quite clearly that the routine of partisan politics is only a more or less elaborate and expensive byplay indulged in for the sake of diverting notice from the primary object of all politics and political government, namely, the economic exploitation of one class by another; and hence all candidates look about alike to him, and their function looks to him only like that of Dupin's pretended lunatic in "The Purloined Letter."

Read the rest.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

You know an institution's dead when...

Here in DC, the big event this weekend is the opening of the "Newseum", a multimillion dollar shrine to American journalism -- complete with high-priced condominiums -- founded by the creator of USA Today. Discussing this at work yesterday with my editor, we came to the conclusion that it was fitting that there was finally a museum to journalism in this city. After all, like the dinosaurs, all that is left of the so-called "fourth estate" is the fossilized remains.

Then again, perhaps a comparison to mythical creatures is more apt, for like Cthulhu, it's doubtful journalism as glorified by the mainstream press at places like the Newseum ever truly existed.

As usual, Dennis Perrin's take on the establishment media's trumpeting of itself is excellent:
The triangle is finally complete: journalism schools; journalism awards; and now, in time to quench the public thirst, a journalism museum in DC called, wittily, the Newseum.

Since American journos love to honor themselves while stroking each other, an official base celebrating the profession is long overdue. The one remaining task is to pour a few million gallons of warm tree sap over the building and let it harden into a nice, rich amber cage -- preferably with Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, and the entire MSNBC roster trapped inside.

Why such harsh words when I've yet to set foot in the place? Surely, there are exhibits that'll stir my admiration for the free press, yes? Well, based on the New York Times' ga-ga review of the joint, I seriously doubt it. However, reporter Edward Rothstein does note that:

"[F]or all the celebration of the news industry, care is taken not to descend too deeply into puffery. Along with the many testimonials to journalistic courage and a memorial to journalists who lost their lives on the job, there are examples of distortions that mar the profession: the frauds perpetrated by a Pulitzer Prize winner or by a trusted reporter; the distorted reporting that led The Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., to acknowledge in 2004 that in the 1960s it had given the 'front-page news' of the civil rights movement 'back-page coverage'; or even Peter Arnett’s 1991 broadcast on CNN that seemingly swallowed the Saddam Hussein government’s account of the United States having bombed a 'baby-milk plant.'"

In other words, "distortions" that reinforce the larger, elite definition of "journalistic courage." And given all of the outright lies and true press distortions about U.S. policy toward Iraq, the most significant example offered (according to the Times) is that fucking Peter Arnett story about the "baby-milk plant"? Wow. Accuracy In Media should get a royalty check from the Newseum for that.

Now, I'm doing my best to restrain from quoting the whole post, so make sure to read the rest.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"But honey, I was only protecting national security... honest!"

In my previous post, I noted how to some of the most ardent war supporters -- those ones so brave that when called to fight themselves, instead chose to defend Houston from the Vietcong -- military action was nothing more than a distant, romanticized fantasy -- a wet dream, if you will. Consider President Bush's recent comments to soldiers serving in Afghanistan that he was "a little envious" of their situation:
"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.
Clearly one who had witnessed the realities of war -- mothers wailing over the loss of a son or daughter, children traumatized by continual violence and sounds of bombs dropping -- would not be able to so easily view it as "romantic". But for U.S. political leaders, war is usually more than just another policy option, albeit a bit sexier and exciting. Unfortunately, these same leaders never seem able to get in on the action themselves. Odd, right?

However, as ABC News has revealed, the courageous defenders of freedom in the White House were not content in letting these exciting times pass them by. But since they couldn't secure the streets of Baghdad themselves (they always seem to have other commitments), they decided to bring a little bit of that good war-fighting-feeling back home -- by micromanaging torture:
Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic. [emphasis mine]

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.
That's some pretty hot stuff there. Can you imagine the conversation as these very serious, Churchillian leaders of ours discussed in minute detail just how individual prisoners -- excuse me, terrorists -- would be "handled"?

"Dick, why don't we slap them three times on the side of the face first, stick needles under their fingernails, drown them until they almost die and -- oh god, yes! -- stack them naked when we're 'through', if ya know what I mean?"

Commenting on the story, author and professional chronicler of presidential crimes, James Bovard, notes the psycho-sexual issues at play in all of this and asks the most important question of them all:
Sitting around a table and deciding how many times each Muslim detainee can be whacked up side the head sounds like the ultimate NeoCon masturbatory fantasy.

Even prize-Constitution stomper John Ashcroft had qualms about the meetings, reportedly warning, “History will not judge this kindly.”

What does it take to get someone indicted for war crimes in this country any more?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Political theatre

Over at Counterpunch, Winslow Wheeler, a former Republican staffer on the Senate Budget Committee currently at the Center for Defense Information, writes about his experience watching the recent Petraeus/Crocker hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee:
It does not get any better than this--quite literally. And, that is the pity of it.

I have just finished watching the four and a half hour gala of the Senate Armed Services Committee "questioning" General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, America's high commissioners for Iraq. The hearing was greatly bally-hooed as a major Washington event on the war in Iraq--to say nothing of the significance it held for the two presidential candidates on the committee, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Hilary Clinton (D-NY), and their opportunity to impress us all as ready to raise a right hand to swear a new oath of office.
What Winslow then recounts is all too accurate in describing the theatre of most congressional hearings (steroids in baseball, anyone?): questions that are more like speeches; questions that are never followed up on; and a whole lot of political posturing:
Throughout all this palaver--I can't say "questioning" because no real questions were asked - there were no answers that advanced our knowledge of what is going on in Iraq. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were never in danger of facing anyone who informed him- or herself well enough to know when they were being feed baloney - or if they did, enough spine to correct the general's and the ambassador's vague, uninformative answers.

After all, the "questioners" were clearly not after information; they were after political advancement or protection.

If they were after information, they are gross incompetents.

Last word: after Chairman Levin gaveled the hearing to a close, protesters in the room started singing a song. To the listeners on TV, their words were totally incoherent. A fitting end, I must say.
Read the rest.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hate war? Then you hate America

Over at the American Conservative's new group blog, writer Kelley Vlahos points out a recent piece by establishment hack Michael Barone that attempts to divide American voters into two categories: "Jacksonians" (pretentious shorthand for "tough guys" -- i.e. "Real Americans") and "academics" (those who recognize that the first category is a b.s. attempt at sounding scholarly).

Here's Barone doing his best to justify his own primitive, establishment political prejudices:
[T]he real Jacksonian in this race is John McCain. He is descended from Scots-Irish fighters who settled in Carroll County, Miss. Former Sen. Trent Lott, who once worked as a fundraiser for the University of Mississippi and therefore knew the folkways of elite types in his state very well, once told me that he had relatives who had known McCain's relatives in Mississippi. "They were fighters," he said, as best I can remember his words. "They would never stop fighting you. Those people would never stop fighting." Obama gives the impression, through his demeanor and through his statements on Iraq, that he would never start fighting. That appeals enormously to voters in the academia and public-employee enclaves of America, who want to deny honor to our warriors and arrogate it to themselves (think of those bumper stickers that call for spending Pentagon dollars on teachers). [emphasis mine]
This is what mainstream conservatism, as expressed by inside-the-Beltway pundits like Barone, has devolved to (as opposed to the all-too-rare intelligence and thoughtfulness demonstrated by the writers at The American Conservative): praising the "maverick" St. McCain because he seems like the kind of guy who would have beat you up in elementary school. Obama? Even though he is far from a strident anti-war activist, as I've tried to point out a number of times on this blog, his mild criticism of the Iraq war is enough to get him labeled as more or less a pansy by the same people, like Barone, who themselves never so much as a saw a field of battle outside of a wet dream.

And I'm all for bashing Obama supporters as much as the next guy, but really -- they want to "deny honor to our warriors"? First of all, this isn't Sparta; there is more to a country than just its ability to kill foreigners (or "terrorists" as they are known on CNN), but I guess you wouldn't know that by hanging around Washington for too long. It's also far from radical to suggest that spending more on the military than the rest of the world does combined just might not be the wisest course of action.

As Vlahos writes:
It must be nice to be so far away from an actual battlefield as to continue romanticizing it. If not, Barone and others would see that Americans – Jacksonians and all – aren’t incapable, they’re just plain tired of fighting, as evidenced, in part, by the recent 81 percent “wrong track” poll numbers.

Sure, the current economy has plundered our faith, but a creeping resignation, a growing sense that we have sent another generation of kids off to a war with no end in sight, only to return with shattered minds and broken, missing limbs, back to fractured families, burdened communities – has settled in like a virus, affecting people all over the country, even those parts with the “right” ancestry.

It also bears repeating that, in the American political establishment, it is quite alright to refer to anyone who questions the bipartisan foreign policy consensus in support of interventionism as borderline treasonous, or at least hopelessly naive. In fact, if you really question the need for an American empire, you just might be (*gasp*) a pacifist!

Of course, if one so much as dares to point out that those people who continually agitate for war -- and even joke about bombing other countries to the tune of a Beach Boys song -- are "warmongers", then there will be all hell to pay, as liberal radio host Ed Schultz learned.

Incidentally, the courageous Barack Obama immediately denounced Scultz's sensible characterization of McCain, just as he earlier denounced the inflammatory-but-true comments from his pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Why, that's change you can believe in! But his last name is neither "McCain" nor "Clinton", so I suppose he has that going for him...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Congress: Making a killing

It should go without saying that in times of war, those people who manufacture the tools of death and destruction stand to benefit the most. That basic point was perhaps most notably addressed by infamous Chomyskite America-hater, former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, when in his 1961 farewell address he warned Americans that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

As a new study from the Center for Responsive Politics finds, the huge profits one can make from foreign military interventions and the "homeland security" ruse hasn't been lost on Congress, the legislative body that chooses to fund wars and -- theoretically -- has the sole responsibility to declare them:
According to the most recent reports of their personal finances, 151 current members of Congress had between $78.7 million and $195.5 million invested in companies that received defense contracts of at least $5 million in 2006. In all, these companies received more than $275.6 billion from the government in 2006, or $755 million per day, according to FedSpending.org, a website of the budget watchdog group OMB Watch.

The minimum value of Congress members' personal investments in these contractors increased 5 percent from 2004 to 2006, but because lawmakers are only required to report their assets in broad ranges, the value of these investments could have risen as much as 160 percent—or even dropped 51 percent. It is also unclear how many members still hold these investments, since reports for 2007 are not due until May 15, 2008. In 2004, the first full year after the Iraq war began, Republican and Democratic lawmakers—both hawks and doves—had between $74.9 million and $161.3 million invested in companies under contract with the Department of Defense.
This revelation should come as no surprise. War is a pretty sound investment in a country that has military bases in more than 130 nations, from South Korea to Germany, and that spends more on the military than does the entire rest of the world -- and more than the entire economies of 47 sub-Saharan African countries combined.

As Justin Raimondo points out in his April 4th column, the draft of Eisenhower's farewell address actually used the phrase "military-industrial-congressional complex", noting the crucial role that members of Congress play in self-servingly perpetuating an imperial foreign policy. Congressional proponents of interventionism prefer to speak in vague, euphemistic language about "America taking action" or some other such attempt to disguise the vicious nature of what war actually is -- killing lots and lots of people, from 2,000 feet above to 20 feet away, more often than not innocent civilians. In reality, the decision to go to war is never profound -- the people who decide when to bomb a country are not fundamentally different than you or me. Oh, they may be richer, but they certainly aren't smarter, and they definitely aren't braver, and as former congressman Mark Foley's (R-FL) cyber-sexing during a vote on funding the Iraq war illustrates, they don't gravely consider sending other people's children into war.

But what about all those anti-war Democrats?

While Democrats are more likely to advocate for ending the Iraq war sooner than Republicans, as a group they have more of their own money invested in America's military efforts. In 2006 Democrats had at least $3.7 million invested in the defense sector alone, compared to Republicans' $577,500. More Republicans, however, held stock in defense companies in 2006—28 of them, compared to 19 Democrats.

According to a spokesman for one of these investors, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who held at least $15,000 in Lockheed Martin stock in 2006, it's "insulting" to make a connection between personal investments and a lawmaker's job. "Congressman Blunt does not consider his personal finances when voting for legislation, especially on issues as weighty as sending our troops into harm's way," Blunt spokesman Nick Simpson said.
How... completely unsurprising? To be fair, as Rep. Blunt's spokesman states (rather unconvincingly), personal investments aren't enough of a reason why a congressman would vote for war. After all, according to the study the majority of lawmakers are not heavily invested in the defense industry, yet they also continue to vote for militarism at every turn. So what gives?

I think the answer to that is fairly easy: just as oil was clearly a factor in why Iraq was even on the minds of U.S. policymakers (as opposed to, say, Rwanda in the mid '90s), money plays a part in why lawmakers vote for aggressive war -- but neither factors can fully explain the respective decisions. Though most congressional districts likely have some connection to the defense contracting industry (by no coincidence, either), it's too simple to say that that is the only reason why Congress votes the way it does.

Much I'm sure has to do with nothing more than basic nationalist, jingoistic ideology -- what is sometimes loftily referred to as "American exceptionalism", and can be boiled down to "we (the USA) can do what we want -- invade, torture and kill, kill, kill -- and you (the non-Western world) can't." Not to say that these lawmakers are conscious of this -- oh no. Most people think of themselves as good, and it's a safe bet that those same people leading the United States into one disastrous war after another believe that they are Fine American Patriots, just as those who killed "witches" in New England undoubtedly had a feeling of pure self-righteousness when they fastened the rope around a young woman's neck.

It is important to keep in mind that the perpetuation of the military-industrial complex is not (necessarily) a result of nefarious plotting in dark alleys and the ritualistic drinking of the blood of virgins. The reality of evil tends to be much more banal. Think more along the lines of a career bureaucrat in some anonymous office building in Anywhere, USA -- stamping form 1024a day in and day out becomes a mundane routine, just as stamping out obstacles to U.S. hegemony becomes so for a defense contractor (or Senator) who thinks of their job as nothing more than a paycheck and, if their lucky, maybe a little prestige.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Exporting democracy... and drug war propaganda

Remember that anti-drug Super Bowl from a few years ago? The one that claimed smoking a joint was equivalent to giving arms to al Qaeda (you know, kind of like the Reagan administration did)? Well, as Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, in addition to adopting such long-time U.S. policies like extrajudicial killings and ill-conceived and disastrous military actions, officials in Israel have also co-opted American drug war propaganda:
Israel's Anti-Drug Authority has launched a new campaign featuring Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, aimed at deterring Israelis from smoking marijuana.

As part of the campaign, the authority has published a poster showing the Hezbollah leader emerging genie-like from a bong (a waterpipe commonly used for smoking marijuana and hashish).
The picture, as one would imagine, is ominously hilarious:

But as the story explains, the text is even more ridiculous:
Underneath the image, the poster reads: "Hezbollah is clearly planning to flood Israel with narcotics. Narcotics pose a strategic threat to Israeli society. Whoever uses narcotics is giving a hand to the next terrorist attack." [emphasis mine]

The Israeli media last week quoted senior Israeli security sources as saying that Hezbollah is planning to flood Israel with drugs in an effort to harm its citizens.
Subtle, right? Of course, the typical anti-drug ads are about as clever and nuanced as an Axe body spray commercial -- but instead of preaching about how drugs will get you laid, they tend to mention how smoking a joint will lead you to either kill your best friend or fly a plane into the Twin Towers.

And you have to love the fact that Hezbollah is allegedly trying to undermine Israeli society with really good pot. What, are they hoping the Israeli Defense Force will be too stoned to carpet bomb Lebanon again?

Naturally, what's never mentioned is that the huge profits Bad People make from the illegal drug trade are a direct result of their illegality. Consider how farmers in Afghanistan grow opium, not hops. Funny, that.

It couldn't be because opium is artificially scarce and thus worth exponentially more on the black market, could it?

But back to the Israeli ad. Anyone care to guess what type of bong Osama would use? Discuss.