Sunday, June 29, 2008

The covert war on Iran

In my last post regarding allegations of U.S. support for the anti-Iranian terrorist group, Jundullah, I noted that since the likes of Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) were unable to -- or more likely, unwilling to -- investigate the charges, it would probably be best to rely on The New Yorker's Sy Hersh for information on what's really going on. As it would happen, Hersh has a new article out today that finds:
Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations.


The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”
When I asked Senator Rockefeller about these allegations last year, he responded that, gosh darn it, he just couldn't do anything about it. Of course, if Hersh's reporting is right, then Rockefeller has not only failed to adequately exercise his oversight responsibilities -- you know, basic things like actually issuing a subpoena over credible allegations of U.S.-backed terrorism -- but has been actively complicit in the ongoing covert war on Iran.

But should anyone be surprised? If the United States or Israel attacks Iran, it will be because there is broad, bipartisan support in Washington for such an attack. While Democratic partisans can go ahead and try to convince themselves that an attack on Iran will be the fault of all those dastardly neocons in the White House, it's increasingly obvious that the Democratic Party -- which took control of Congress based on broad antiwar sentiment in 2006 -- fully embraces the same imperial foreign policy objectives of the Bush administration. It was, after all, Democrat Harry Truman who dropped two nukes on Japan, fought a war in Korea without congressional approval, and ushered in the Cold War (and the accompanying military-industrial complex), so it's not as if Republicans have a monopoly on militarism and the willingness to commit war crimes.

A wide number of Democrats are also backing a resolution that calls for a de facto war on Iran -- a complete naval embargo and prohibition on the movement of Iranian officials -- for its "pursuit of nuclear weapons", despite the fact that the IAEA and all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have come to the conclusion that Iran is, in fact, not pursuing nuclear weapons. But in Washington, people don't let little things like the "facts" get in the way of America's implacable demand for foreign enemies.


For those interested, Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio fame aired a portion of my exchange with Senator Rockefeller during a recent interview of former CIA intelligence analyst Melvin Goodman. Go here to listen -- the discussion of Rockefeller begins around the 16:30 mark.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Straight talk from Down Under

On Monday, I attended a small briefing for the press held at the Washington office of the United Steelworkers Union to discuss organized labor's view of policies to address climate change. At the briefing was Paul Howes, head of the Australian Worker's Union, who was in the country to lobby for the U.S. government to take the lead on reaching an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When I asked Howes why he felt only the United States had the influence to push for a global climate deal, he responded in a fashion that I'm sure would offend all Good, Respectable critics of the Iraq war (those who initially supported the invasion but now say it was "mismanaged" -- in other words, the war critics you see on television):
When the United States shows leadership the rest of the world will follow . . . I mean, look, half the world got involved in an illegal, immoral war just simply because a request was put out – this is what happens.
Earlier in the briefing, Howes also described the global scope of U.S. power in a way that serves as a useful reminder that Washington, DC, is not merely the capital of the United States, but the capital of a world empire:
The ever-looming presence of the United States is felt throughout every corner of the world, and on other issues the U .S. government is never afraid to use whatever force necessary to get its agenda through on issues that it sees of being importance to it.
I should also note that at 26, Howes is just a few years older than me yet is married, has two children, and heads a 135,000 member union. In contrast, I have a blog read primarily by people mistakenly arriving here after Googling for celebrity upskirt pics (there -- I just doubled my traffic!).

That certainly puts things in perspective...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kill your television

The New York Times reports:
According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

Paul Friedman, a senior vice president at CBS News, said the news division does not get reports from Iraq on television “with enough frequency to justify keeping a very, very large bureau in Baghdad.” He said CBS correspondents can “get in there very quickly when a story merits it.”
If you haven't already done so, disconnect your cable or satellite feed and save yourself from exposure to the criminally asinine celebrity gossip coverage that passes for television "news". Granted, you may not be as up to date on Britney Spears' most recent meltdown or Jessica Simpson's latest hookup as your friends, but you just might gain back your sanity.

As CBS correspondent Lara Logan is quoted as saying in the NYT article: “If I were to watch the news that you hear here in the United States, I would just blow my brains out because it would drive me nuts.”

Instead of absorbing corporate media disinformation, support actual journalism -- links are conveniently provided to your right.

You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

U.S. support for Jundullah in the news

The Washington Post reports (via Scott Horton):
TEHRAN, June 20 -- An armed Sunni group said Friday that it had executed two Iranian policemen, and it threatened to kill 14 others abducted a week ago in an area near the border with Pakistan.

Iranian authorities did not immediately react to a videotape purporting to show the killings, part of which was aired Friday by the al-Arabiya satellite channel, based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Iran has accused the United States of assisting the group, known as Jundallah, or God's Brigade.

In 2007, ABC News quoted U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials as saying that Jundallah members have been "encouraged and advised" by American officials since 2005. A CIA spokesman told ABC that the United States provides no funding to Jundallah.
Alleged U.S. support for Jundullah is something that I noted in April 2007, when the story from ABC News supporting charges that the Bush administration was backing anti-Iranian terrorist groups was met with a collective yawn by the rest of the mainstream media. As I wrote at the time:
Outside of ABC News, it’s a struggle to find any discussion of U.S. support for anti-Iranian extremist groups in the major media outlets. While the New York Times was quick to speak about the Imus affair in an April 11th editorial, there has been not so much as a mention of the Jundullah story in their paper, much less a critical look at how the story undermines the White House’s moral authority to criticize Iran for its supposed "meddling" in Iraq. The same goes for the Washington Post, where a search for "Jundullah" reveals only two wire articles on the subject. One finds no editorials questioning the policy, no reaction from lawmakers, no introspective takes on the morality of such a policy – one finds next to nothing.
I was led to write an article on alleged U.S. support for Jundullah after engaging in a revealing interview with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) that Jonathan Schwarz described as "an amazing statement of congressional impotence". Here's an excerpt of the interview, which took place as Rockefeller was walking out of the Senate chamber (click here to listen to an mp3 of the exchange):
DAVIS: I wonder if you've heard some of these news reports that the Bush administration is backing extremist groups in Pakistan to launch attacks against Iran? Are you familiar with those news reports?

ROCKEFELLER: I've seen no intelligence that would verify that.

DAVIS: Reports quote administration officials as saying this is going on and it's being done in a way to avoid oversight of the Intelligence Committee. Is there any way—

ROCKEFELLER: They'll go to any lengths to do that, as we've seen in the last two days [during hearings on FISA].

DAVIS: Is there anything you could do in your position as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee to find answers about this, if it is in fact going on?

ROCKEFELLER: Don't you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I'm Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say I want it, and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time. I only get, and my committee only gets, what they want to give me.

DAVIS: Is there any way someone, maybe not you, they can somehow press the administration to find something—if they're doing something that may be illegal—

ROCKEFELLER: I don't know that. I don't know that. I deal with Intelligence. That's it. They tend to avoid us.

DAVIS: Well, what do you think about these allegations?

ROCKEFELLER: I'm not—I don't comment on allegations. I can't. I can't afford to.
If anyone believes that Democrats in Congress are going to investigate credible allegations that the U.S. is supporting terrorism, think again. If one of the most powerful -- and one of the richest -- senators is too timid to so much as issue a subpoena on the topic, then it's probably best to rely on the likes of Seymour Hersh for evidence of what's really going on.

The week in review

On Friday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives capitulated to White House demands and passed a bill that essentially legalizes -- retroactively -- the Bush administration's covert spying program on Americans (see Salon's Glenn Greenwald on the many ways in which the bill violates the rule of law. I wrote about Bush's illegal "warrantless wiretapping" back in 2006.)

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Kit Bond displayed the modern GOP's view of the appropriate relationship between a citizen and the State in explaining why telecommunications companies that colluded with the illegal spying program were in the right:
"I'm not here to say that the government is always right, but when the government tells you to do something, I'm sure you would all agree that I think you all recognize that is something you need to do."
Also this week, the House Democratic leadership brought to the floor a $162 billion bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that -- surprise! -- contained not even the weakest language regarding a timeline for withdrawal (not even the non-binding "targets" they initially included in 2007's war supplemental).

Here is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in a stunning act of political courage voted against the war funding bill she chose to bring to the floor (fully aware that it would pass and continue the Iraq occupation well into the next administration), explaining why opponents of aggressive warfare should not believe their own eyes:
"I don't consider it a failure," Pelosi told reporters Thursday. "We never sent them a bill that did not have deadlines, conditions and the rest." She blamed Republicans in the Senate. "They are complicit with the president to make sure he never has to get a bill on his desk with a timeline, because the American people want a timeline," she said.
Just a small note of clarification: in the bolded section above, Pelosi is talking about Republicans who are complicit in funding an illegal war of aggression -- not Democrats like herself. Hope that helps.

On the campaign trail: Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama released a list of his foreign policy advisors that consists almost entirely of near-dead warmongers and Clinton-era imperialists. Of course, most people won't pay attention to these types of things, but Obama's point is merely to signal to the ruling elites that he has no plans to threaten the status quo in any way.

More and more, Obama's lukewarm opposition to the Iraq war (he has voted to fund it while in the Senate and has no plans to withdraw all U.S. troops before 2013) is looking as if it were a fluke based not on any principled opposition to empire or aggressive warfare, but solely on consideration of U.S. strategic interests; that is, I think it's fair to say Obama would have supported invading Iraq had he been convinced the United States could have done so under the auspices of the United Nations and with more international allies -- murder being more respectable if you bring more friends along, of course.

If one needs any further proof of Obama's establishment-bonafides, consider the fact that one of his chief foreign policy advisers, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, was primarily responsible for perpetuating a low-grade war on Iraq, in the form of economic sanctions and continual aerial bombing, that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. and engendered much of the hatred toward the United States that is prevalent in the Middle East today.

Albright, it should be remembered, also dismissed the deaths of Iraqi's as a price that was "worth it", despite the fact that the sanctions neither resulted in Saddam Hussein's overthrow nor prevented a war. And as the Institute for Public Accuracy recounts in an overview of Obama's newly minted group of advisers:
When Lesley Stahl asked "We have heard that a half million children have died [in Iraq from the sanctions]. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And -- and you know, is the price worth it?" Albright replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it." (CBS News, May 12, 1996).
Finally, Obama's audacious list of establishment foreign policy advisers leads the The American Conservative's Kelley Vlahos to write:
'“Anti-war” candidate Barack Obama came out with a list of national security advisors mostly resembling the moldy contents of a closet in Georgetown. At this rate, the potentially painful lessons of Iraq will have been anesthetized by Election Day, moving artfully into another foreign policy chapter and potentially leaving another festering human disaster behind.'

Thursday, June 19, 2008

George Orwell on Power

One of the subjects I come back to again and again on this blog is the doctrine of "American exceptionalism"; the idea that the United States -- and only the United States -- can preemptively invade any country on Earth in the name of fighting terrorism, promoting democracy, or securing "national interests". This perverse view, held by the vast majority of lawmakers in both major political parties, can more appropriately be described as the barbaric philosophy of "might makes right", but can more often be found cloaked in the rhetoric of "freedom" and "liberation" by good, respectable men and women at institutions such as the Brookings Institute and the New York Times.

It should come as no surprise that this almost religious belief in the goodness of American military power is merely a rehashing of age-old rationalizations for militarism and empire, but I was nonetheless surprised to find that George Orwell not only nailed down this prevailing imperial mindset in 1939, but that he did so in a review of the book by Bertrand Russell that I just mentioned the other day.

An excerpt:
If there are certain pages of Mr. Bertrand Russell's book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. It is not merely that at present the rule of naked force obtains almost everywhere. Probably that has always been the case. Where this age differs from those immediately preceding it is that a liberal intelligentsia is lacking. Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion, and such truism as that a machine-gun is still a machine-gun even when a "good" man is squeezing the trigger, and that in effect is what Mr. Russell is saying, have turned into heresies which is it actually becoming dangerous to utter.
As a senior in high school in late 2001, I remember wearing a shirt to school that pointed out, without further comment, that more civilians had died from the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan than had died in the 9/11 attacks. My purpose was not to diminish the tragedy of 9/11, but merely to note that the pain and anguish most Americans felt from those terrorist attacks was also being felt by Afghan mothers who may have lost a husband or child (or family) from a U.S. bomb dropped by a "good" American soldier in the name of a "good" cause.

As a result of wearing the shirt, I remember one girl at my school, who I had never talked to before, coming up to me and declaring, "you're not an American for wearing that shirt" -- the idea being that caring for the dead of non-Americans was, well, patently un-American. Now, that wasn't the most popular response by any means ("oh well" was), but I raise it because the incident made me truly aware of the degree to which militarism had become prevalent in the United States, even among typically non-political high schoolers. That became even more evident to me when a friend, who but two years earlier had joined me in denouncing the Clinton administration's aerial bombardment of Serbia (yes, I was one of those outspoken do-gooders, or at least I tried to be), now felt it necessary to heap vitriol on the French for their opposition to the Iraq war. So it goes.

One would hope that outlook has changed in the years since 9/11 , but it seems more likely that those considered "anti-war" now -- especially so-called "anti-war" politicians -- are merely reacting to the results of the Iraq invasion and occupation rather than having come to any epiphany about the nature of the U.S. war machine and the justness of maintaining a world empire. I'll be convinced otherwise when the anti-war movement (I use the term loosely) denounces President Obama for keeping tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for "peacekeeping" and for bombing Sudan to "liberate" Darfur -- but I'm not holding my breath.

(Thanks to Tom Stanley at the Bertrand Russell Society Library for sending me the Orwell review.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bertrand Russell on politics and power

A few weeks ago I was browsing the selection at the local library when I picked up a little book called Power by philosopher and noted anti-imperialist, Bertrand Russell. Though written in 1938, much of what Russell wrote remains timely today. Of particular note are his observations on the grandiose illusions of those who rule us, who in a just world would be considered just as insane as a crazy man on a street corner warning of the end of the world:
Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one main will think he is the Governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the King, and yet another will think he is God. Highly similar delusions, if expressed by educated men in obscure language, lead to professorships of philosophy; and if expressed by emotional men in eloquent language, lead to dictatorships. Certified lunatics are shut up because of their proneness to violence when their pretensions are questioned; the uncertified variety are given the control of powerful armies, and can inflict death and disaster upon all sane men within their reach. The success of insanity, in literature, in philosophy, and in politics, is one of the peculiarities of our age. And the successful form of insanity proceeds almost entirely from the impulses towards power.
Russell also has some sage advice for those who have been seduced by a certain politician's message of "hope" and "change":
[E]loquence is inversely proportional to solid reason. To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I guess this explains U.S. elections...

H.L. Mencken once remarked that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. That statement might be considered a bit harsh, but a press release I received in my inbox the other day has me thinking that maybe Mencken wasn't harsh enough.

As more people have become concerned about the potential negative impacts of climate change, interest in things such as hybrid cars and energy efficiency has grown accordingly. However, if a set of efficiency tips I received from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers is any indication, getting the majority of Americans to use energy more efficiently in their daily lives may be an insurmountable task.

The Association's press release begins by noting that "Replacing an eight year old refrigerator, dishwasher and clothes washer with new appliances of average efficiency will save consumers about $95.00 per year in energy bills." Fair enough. But then, perhaps with Mencken's quote in mind, the release notes:
If you are replacing your refrigerator, do not use the old refrigerator as a second refrigerator. This will not yield energy savings.
Lord. Have. Mercy. If people really need to be told that running two refrigerators will use more energy than running just one, then you might as well say good bye to the polar bear now and stock up on that beach front property in Ohio while prices are still reasonable.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dogs more valued than Iraqis

The Associated Press reports today:
The Marine Corps said Wednesday it was expelling one Marine and disciplining another for their roles in a video showing a Marine throwing a puppy off a cliff while on patrol in Iraq.

The 17-second video posted on YouTube drew sharp condemnation from animal rights groups when it came to light in March.

The clip shows two Marines joking before one hurls the puppy into a rocky gully. A yelping sound is heard as it flips through the air.
Now, contrast :
LOS ANGELES, June 4 (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine officer was acquitted by a military jury on Wednesday on charges he tried to cover up the shooting deaths of two dozen unarmed Iraqi men, women and children at Haditha in 2005.

In the first court-martial verdict from the high-profile case, Lt. Andrew Grayson was cleared at Camp Pendleton, California, after a five-day trial and less than half a day of deliberations by the jury.


Iraqi witnesses said angry Marines massacred unarmed civilians after a popular comrade, Lance Cpl. Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, was killed by a roadside bomb.

Defense attorneys said the civilians were killed during a pitched battle with insurgents in and around Haditha that followed the death of Terrazas.

Of the eight Marines originally charged by military authorities in December 2006, five have seen their cases dropped.

Good thing that puppy didn't get labeled a "suspected insurgent", otherwise it could have been slaughtered with impunity -- you know, like Iraqi men, women, and children.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Barack Obama: Change you probably shouldn't believe in...

For months Barack Obama has chastised Hillary Clinton over her support for the so-called Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which blamed Iran for the U.S. military's ongoing problems in Iraq and called on the State Department to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization." Most critics of the amendment, such as Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), criticized calling a foreign country's chief military forces "terrorists" as an inflammatory move that could ultimately provide the legal justification for an attack.

Naturally, the Obama campaign was eager to create the impression that the now de facto Democratic nominee agreed with that criticism. Several times Obama attacked Clinton's support for an amendment he claimed could set the United States on a path toward war.

Of course, Obama didn't bother to show up to vote on the measure himself, and as his comments today before the annual gathering of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) reveal, his objections to Clinton's support for that measure had more to do with scoring political points than any real qualms with declaring the military of another country that has never threatened the United States "terrorists":
[W]e should work with Europe, Japan and the Gulf states to find every avenue outside the U.N. to isolate the Iranian regime — from cutting off loan guarantees and expanding financial sanctions, to banning the export of refined petroleum to Iran, to boycotting firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whose Quds force has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.
As ABC News noted last October, Obama previously offered legislation declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization," so this isn't exactly a flip-flop. However, it certainly highlights how little Obama in fact deviates from the mainstream, imperial consensus on foreign policy, despite the claims of Democratic partisans that he somehow represents some sort of fundamental "change". It also highlights the dishonesty of his campaign (surprise! politicians lie!) in playing up his (belated) opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman bill while conveniently downplaying the fact that, well, you know, he agreed with the main thrust of it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another year, another broken promise

Over at his blog, IPS Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe reports on the hawkish makeup of the speakers at this year's annual meeting of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC):
Monday morning marks the formal opening of the annual three-day policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which, according to AIPAC’s press announcement of the event, is “consistently ranked as the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill.” You can expect a strong focus on Iran and a very hawkish line towards same. The press release makes the point that “ALL three remaining Presidential candidates, ALL four leaders of Congress… AS WELL AS Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will address the conference. (Emphasis in the original.) So much for the argument that AIPAC really isn’t as powerful as its critics, like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, claim.
As Lobe notes, following the conference more than 5,000 AIPAC delegates will head to Capitol Hill to lobby their members of Congress -- and direct negotiations with Iran isn't likely to be one of their goals. That detail brings to mind the last AIPAC conference in March, 2007, which just so happened to coincide with the Democratic Congress' first funding bill for the war in Iraq.

At the time, AIPAC lobbied heavily against one provision initially included in the Democratic war funding bill that would have barred the president from launching an attack on Iran without the explicit consent of Congress. Asked why the measure was removed, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) told one of my colleagues at the time that "our friends at AIPAC" had bombarded members of Congress with phone calls expressing opposition to measure. That opposition was due to the belief, as Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) told the Associated Press, that the measure "would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran."

Interestingly, when I interviewed Berkley about the measure a few days later, she downplayed AIPAC's role in getting it removed, claiming to me that the group only instructed its members to lobby against the provision after the Democratic leadership had already removed it. Sensing that the move was generally unpopular with the Democratic base, she repeatedly tried to shift the conversation to the failures of the Bush administration, rather than her support for an aggressive stance toward Iran. Of course, her claim that AIPAC played no role in getting the Iran provision removed was cast in doubt not only by Cuellar's comments (an account others, such as Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), confirmed to me), but by the fact that Berkley was wearing an Israeli/U.S. flag lapel pin at the time of the interview (she will also be "making the case for Israel" at this week's AIPAC convention).

All of this back history is important not only because AIPAC is back in town, but because, as the Capitol Hill publication CQ noted last year:
On March 13, the same day House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, D-Wis., said he had removed the Iran provision from the draft war spending measure, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., quietly promised Appropriations Committee Democrats that she would soon bring the measure up as a stand-alone bill, said James P. Moran, D-Va., who attended the meeting in Pelosi’s suite.
Pelosi's promise to hold a stand-alone vote on the Iran measure was confirmed to me by several members of Congress, all of whom cited it as a reason not to get too upset about its removal from the war funding bill. Of course, like the Democrats' pledge in 2006 to end the war in Iraq once they took over Congress, this promise too has gone down the memory hole. Congress has had ample time to rename post offices and congratulate college sports teams, but apparently not a moment has been free to address this crucial issue of war and piece.

Meanwhile, Pelosi has had plenty of time to travel to Israel, where she recently asserted that "all options", including military action (naturally), need to remain on the table when dealing with Iran. Yet to my knowledge no one has called Pelosi out for this broken promise -- if she weren't a respected, powerful politician, some might even venture to call it a "lie" -- and none of the Democratic lawmakers I spoke to have threatened to withdraw support for her Speakership.

When it comes down to it, party loyalty and winning votes -- which means not upsetting the most hawkish elements of the Israeli lobby, especially ahead of the November presidential election -- is more important than taking concrete steps to prevent what would be a clear violation of international law. It would be naive to think that this isn't -- and always has been -- the case with politicians, but that doesn't make it any more comforting.

Lysander Spooner is looking more prescient every day...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Lysander Spooner on the 2008 election

If, like me, you have had your fill of non-stop election coverage, partisan peans to would-be kings (and queens), heated discussions over whether McCain or Obama's pastor hates America and apple pie more, and the every-four-years talk about the "Most. Important. Election. Ever.", then you may enjoy this letter from 19th century radical Lysander Spooner which shows that things really haven't changed a whole heck of a lot over the years.

Sent to President Glover Cleveland in 1886, Spooner's letter could just as easily be describing modern day America. In the excerpt below he gives the U.S. political system a much needed reality check, and in the process, as Karl Rove might note, he sounds an awful lot like one of those angry left-wing bloggers:
Sir, nothing of all this "din," and "strife," and "animosity," and "bitterness," is caused by any attempt, on the part of the government, to simply "do equal and exact justice to all men," --- to simply protect every man impartially in all his natural rights to life, liberty, and property. It is all caused simply and solely by the government's violation of some men's "rights," to promote other men's "interests." If you do not know this, you are mentally an object of pity.

Sir, men's "rights" are always harmonious. That is to say, each man's "rights" are always consistent and harmonious with each and every other man's "rights." But their "interests," as you estimate them, constantly clash; especially such "interests" as depend on government grants of monopolies, privileges, loans, and bounties. And these "interests," like the interests of other gamblers, clash with a fury proportioned to the amounts at stake. It is these clashing "interests," and not any clashing "rights," that give rise to all the strife you have here depicted, and to all this necessity for "that spirit of amity and mutual concession, "which you hold to be indispensable to the accomplishment of such legislation as you say is necessary to the welfare of the country.

Each and every man's "rights" being consistent and harmonious with each and every other man's "rights"; and all men's rights being immutably fixed, and easily ascertained, by a science that is open to be learned and known by all; a government that does nothing but "equal and exact justice to all men" --- that simply gives to every man his own, and nothing more to any --- has no cause and no occasion for any "political parties." What are these "political parties" but standing armies of robbers, each trying to rob the other, and to prevent being itself robbed by the other? A government that seeks only to "do equal and exact justice to all men," has no cause and no occasion to enlist all the fighting men in the nation in two hostile ranks; to keep them always in battle array, and burning with hatred towards each other. It has no cause and no occasion for any "political warfare," any "political hostility," any "political campaigns," any "political contests," any "political fights," any "political defeats," or any "political triumphs." It has no cause and no occasion for any of those "political leaders," so called, whose whole business is to invent new schemes of robbery, and organize the people into opposing bands of robbers; all for their own aggrandizement alone. It has no cause and no occasion for the toleration, or the existence, of that vile horde of political bullies, and swindlers, and blackguards, who enlist on one side or the other, and fight for pay; who, year in and year out, employ their lungs and their ink in spreading lies among ignorant people, to excite their hopes of gain, or their fears of loss, and thus obtain their votes. In short, it has no cause and no occasion for all this "din of party strife," for all this "purely partisan zeal," for all "the bitterness of partisan defeat," for all "the exultation of partisan triumph," nor, worst of all, for any of "that spirit of amity and mutual concession [by which you evidently mean that readiness, "in the halls of national legislation," to sacrifice some men's "rights" to promote other men's "interests"] in which [you say] the constitution had its birth."

Enjoy the rest.