Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lesson for reporters: assume everything Bush/Paulson say is not true

In an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson boldly declared that he was well on his way to fixing the U.S. economy.

"The banking system has been stabilized," said Paulson, who raked in tens of millions of dollars in bonuses while helping to foment the current crisis as the head of bailed-out investment firm Goldman Sachs. "No one is asking themselves anymore, is there some major institution that might fail and that we would not be able to do anything about it. So I think that is a positive."

It hasn't taken long, however, for reality to catchup with Paulson's optimistic forecast -- which, as others have noted, is beginning to look a lot like President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment:
Citigroup Inc., facing the threat of a breakup or sale, received $306 billion of U.S. government guarantees for troubled mortgages and toxic assets to stabilize the bank after its stock fell 60 percent last week.

Citigroup also will get a $20 billion cash injection from the Treasury Department, adding to the $25 billion the company received last month under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. In return for the cash and guarantees, the government will get $27 billion of preferred shares paying an 8 percent dividend. Citigroup rose 53 percent to $5.75 at 8:37 a.m. in New York trading today.

The Treasury, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said in a joint statement that the move aims to bolster financial-market stability and help restore economic growth. The decision came after New York-based Citigroup's tumbling share price sparked concern that depositors might pull their money and destabilize the company, which has $2 trillion of assets and operations in more than 100 countries.
Should one doubt that Paulson could have been so audacious as to discount the possibility of another major bank failure at a time when, as a high-level government official, he had to have been aware of Citigroup's tenuous financial situation, consider this exchange:
Siegel: But just to clarify, you're saying no one is saying now there could be a failure of a major institution that we wouldn't be able to deal with. There could be a failure of another major institution, though.

Paulson: I got to tell you, I think our major institutions have been stabilized. I believe that very strongly.
I also believe -- very strongly -- that based on nearly all economic indicators, Mr. Paulson's efforts to centrally plan the recovery of the U.S. economy by transferring wealth from the middle class to the politically connected rich have thus far failed (at improving the economy, that is).

Nonetheless, Mr. Paulson's supporters on Wall Street and in the business press will undoubtedly claim the Treasury Secretary has to present a somewhat rosy picture of the economy, lest the stock markets crash on an ill-considered word or phrase. But while there's certainly something to be said for not screaming about the sky falling during an economic downturn (as Bush and Paulson did to win congressional passage of the banker bailout), to an amateur economist like me, telling people that the major financial institutions have all been stabilized a little over a week before one of the largest banks in the world fails seems, well, a bit destabilizing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

See no evil

Buried in this story from the AP about President Bush's recent pardons is this little aside about prosecuting (and pardoning) executive transgressions of international law and the constitution:
One hot topic of discussion related to pardons is whether Bush might decide to issue pre-emptive pardons before he leaves office to government employees who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some constitutional scholars and human rights groups want the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to investigate possible war crimes.
If Bush were to pardon anyone involved, it would provide protection against criminal charges, particularly for people who were following orders or trying to protect the nation with their actions. But it would also be highly controversial.
At the same time, Obama advisers say there is little — if any — chance that his administration would bring criminal charges.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Why, after all, would a politician assuming the most powerful position in the world want to do something that could possibly end up limiting his authority? Prosecuting a former president is "divisive" in today's post-partisan world, and why risk establishing a precedent that could someday be used against a President Obama?

Rhetoric vs. Reality

Last year conservative columnist William Safire, addressing the prospect of a Hillary Clinton/Rahm Emanuel presidential ticket on Meet the Press, remarked that the noted liberal interventionists' rallying cry could be "Invade and bomb with Hillary and Rahm." While a Clinton/Emanuel ticket was not be, the alleged opponent of the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, has ensured both will likely have significant sway over U.S. foreign policy for the next four years.

One of the constant refrains in my posts about Obama over the last six months has been that those expecting fundamental change from the president-elect, particularly with regard to U.S. foreign policy -- withdrawing from Iraq, engaging countries like Iran -- would be severely disappointed. For while a smart politician who deftly positioned himself to capitalize on voter discontent with those associated with the Iraq war during the primaries, Obama is far from a radical set on upturning the system. Rather, he has shown himself time and time again to be the very epitome of the cautious, consensus-seeking politician -- one more likely to placate the established interests than take them on. 

While Obama's penchant for conciliation and consensus has been welcomed by many in the wake of the Bush administration's unilateralist approach to governing, that approach is also likely to generate much more in the way of continuity than change, particularly in the realm of foreign policy -- as witnessed by the number of holdovers from the Clinton administration on the Obama team like Madeleine Albright and -- if media reports are right -- Hillary Clinton.

The appointment of Clinton to secretary of state, in particular, has upset liberal antiwar activists who (rightly) thought the former first lady a hawk for unrepentantly backing the Iraq war and the sanctions and official policy of "regime change" that preceded it -- and who (wrongly) believed Obama, who contrasted his 2002 speech against the war with Clinton's early and loud support as evidence of his superior judgment and the failure of the Washington establishment, would as president break from the Washington foreign policy establishment.

The last major party candidate who even talked of significantly altering U.S. foreign policy was George McGovern in 1972 -- every candidate since, Obama included, has embraced America's right to intervene militarily around the world to promote its interests. Jimmy Carter officially embraced the U.S.'s sole right and responsibility to intervene in the Middle East to protect its oil.

But the idea that Obama was a neo-McGovernite peacenik -- as claimed by Republicans, and wished by antiwar activists -- was always rooted in the campaign's rhetoric rather than the substance of Obama's views. Part of the reason for this misperception was willful, but part of it can also be traced to inaccurate media reports that conflated Obama's moderate deviations from Bush administration policy with radical departures.

Case in point: Obama's pledge, as reported in news story after news story, to "withdraw troops from Iraq." In reality, Obama has long supported merely withdrawing "combat" troops from Iraq -- based more recently on "conditions on the ground" --  and maintaining a "residual" force in the country to combat terrorists and train the Iraqi military; a platform that is arguably less "antiwar" than the status of forces agreement that the Bush administration just negotiated with the Iraqi government.

With that in mind, the hawkish Clinton as secretary of state makes perfect sense, especially when you realize, as the New York Times notes, that the differences between her and Obama during the Democratic primaries were for the most part merely rhetorical:
While Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama agree most of the time on foreign policy, during the campaign she made a point of highlighting their differences, seeking to paint him as unsophisticated. Now those differences will be brought into stark relief as she seeks to become into Mr. Obama’s emissary to the world.
On Iran, for instance, Mrs. Clinton staked a position during the primaries to the right of Mr. Obama. She voted in favor of a measure more hawkish than what even most of the Bush administration had been willing to venture, asking Mr. Bush to declare Iran’s 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. Mr. Obama did not show up to vote that day but said that if he had, he would have opposed the bill.

Many Iran experts criticized the bill, saying it was similar to Iran’s declaring the United States military a terrorist organization because it carried out Mr. Bush’s orders. Even some members of the Clinton campaign’s foreign policy team at the time privately disagreed with the vote.

But the bigger fight between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama was over the issue of talking to Iran, which Mrs. Clinton could soon find at the top of her portfolio. When during a debate Mr. Obama termed “ridiculous” the notion of not talking to adversaries, Mrs. Clinton sharply criticized him, calling that position “irresponsible and frankly naïve.”

The difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama on the issue is more perception than reality, advisers to both now say. Mr. Obama has said he would have a lower-level envoy do preparatory work for a meeting with Iran’s leaders first, and Mrs. Clinton has said she favors vigorous diplomacy and lower-level contacts as well.
On Iran, it's worth noting that while Obama's campaign criticized Clinton as a reckless militarist for voting to label the Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization", Obama himself told AIPAC just this summer that the IRG, in his view, had been "rightly" labelled a terrorist group. Meanwhile, Obama's backtrack on meeting with foreign leaders of "enemy" nations -- such as Cuba's Raul Castro, as I noted in a piece during the campaign -- further reveals the would-be change candidate's efforts to more closely align with the same elite that brought the world the Iraq war.

To expect a candidate who during the campaign endorsed unilaterally attacking a nuclear-armed ally, Pakistan -- and pledged his support for Israel's disastrous and deadly war on Lebanon in 2006 -- to be a peacenik was always a fantasy. As Obama transitions from campaigning to governing, however, it will be a fantasy increasingly difficult to maintain:
Aside from Clinton and [Bush Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, the roster of possible Cabinet secretaries has included Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who both voted in 2002 for the resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, though Lugar has since said he regretted it.

"It's astonishing that not one of the 23 senators or 133 House members who voted against the war is in the mix," said Sam Husseini of the liberal group Institute for Public Accuracy.
It certainly is astonishing that no antiwar voice has been considered for any position higher than White House janitor, but not if one were paying attention during the campaign. No doubt, like during the campaign, Obama will continue to enjoy a good deal of support from professed liberal antiwar types, likely well into his first term -- the reality of his business-as-usual, militaristic foreign policy views (such as a "surge" of tens of thousands of U.S. troops into Ira-- excuse me, Afghanistan) be damned.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New links

Blogs you should already be reading, but that have just been added to my coveted links section:

Beat the Press by Dean Baker

Dissenting Justice by Darren Hutchinson

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Forget a bailout, how 'bout a war?

While researching a story last week, I came across a rather unusual press release from the RAND Corporation that I caught my attention for what I think are reasons that will be readily apparent:
Claims RAND Advocates War Against China are False

Contrary to various online accounts, RAND is not advocating war against China or any nation to advance recovery of the U.S. economy. The notion that RAND has generated such an analysis is simply a rumor, with no foundation in fact. We do not know how those who generated the rumor arrived at their conclusion.
Wondering why RAND would feel the need to issue such a release, I did some Googling and found a few rather poorly sourced articles from the tinfoil hat crowd claiming the Pentagon-founded think tank was advocating a hefty dose of military Keynesianism in order to boost the struggling U.S. economy. 

But as an article, "The RAND Corporation: America's University of Imperialism," by noted imperial critic Chalmers Johnson indicates, RAND would be just the type of place to coldly advocate war as a way to jump-start the economy -- after all, World War II supposedly ended the Great Depression, right?

Indeed,  the article notes that RAND researcher Herman Kahn was apparently the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick's Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove in his classic film of the same name. And, as Johnson writes, RAND hasn't suffered since from a lack of militaristic sociopaths:
The RAND Corporation is surely one of the world's most unusual, Cold War-bred private organizations in the field of international relations. While it has attracted and supported some of the most distinguished analysts of war and weaponry, it has not stood for the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and debate. While RAND has an unparalleled record of providing unbiased, unblinking analyses of technical and carefully limited problems involved in waging contemporary war, its record of advice on cardinal policies involving war and peace, the protection of civilians in wartime, arms races, and decisions to resort to armed force has been abysmal.

For example, Abella credits RAND with "creating the discipline of terrorist studies," but its analysts seem never to have noticed the phenomenon of state terrorism as it was practiced in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America by American-backed military dictatorships. Similarly, admirers of Albert Wohlstetter's reformulations of nuclear war ignore the fact that that these led to a "constant escalation of the nuclear arms race." By 1967, the U.S. possessed a stockpile of 32,500 atomic and hydrogen bombs.

In Vietnam, RAND invented the theories that led two administrations to military escalation against North Vietnam -- and even after the think tank's strategy had obviously failed and the secretary of defense had disowned it, RAND never publicly acknowledged that it had been wrong. Abella comments, "RAND found itself bound by the power of the purse wielded by its patron, whether it be the Air Force or the Office of the Secretary of Defense." And it has always relied on classifying its research to protect itself, even when no military secrets were involved.
While I don't think war with China is in the offing anytime soon -- U.S. political leaders are notorious for their hubris and willful disregard for reality, but they surely can't be that insane, right? -- just to be safe, one might want to get in touch with those cousins in rural Idaho that you haven't talked to in a couple of years . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The gift that keeps on giving

From choosing liberal hawk Joe Biden to be his running mate, to the selection of pro-war creep Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Barack Obama -- despite his often repeated calls for some sort of vague "change" -- has sided with the Washington foreign policy establishment ever since he first arrived in the U.S. Senate, as evidenced by his repeated votes in favor of funding the occupation of Iraq. 

Yet, in a stubborn refusal to accept reality over rhetoric, liberal Democrats continue to feign disappointment at the alleged "peace" candidate's continual snubbing of his anti-war base -- and like other victims of abuse, many continue to hold out hope that Obama, deep down inside, really does oppose things like preemptive war and warrantless spying -- honest, he does -- but acts counter to his instincts because of "politics" or some other rationalizing nonsense. 

Now, as Politico reports, Obama appears set to offer the position of secretary of state to the same woman, Hillary Clinton, he once criticized (back in the primaries) as representing the tired, old Washington establishment -- to the dismay of those in "Obamaland":
Barack Obama's serious flirtation with his one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, over the post of secretary of State has been welcomed by everyone from Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton as an effective, grand gesture by the president-elect.

It's not playing quite as well, however, in some precincts of Obamaland. From his supporters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, to campaign aides of the soon-to-be commander-in-chief, there's a sense of ambivalence about giving a top political plum to a woman they spent 18 months hammering as the compromised standard-bearer of an era that deserves to be forgotten.
"The specific policy area at issue seems to be one in which the two of them aren't all that well-aligned," wrote the liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias.
Call me crazy, but perhaps -- just perhaps -- Obama and Clinton really are "well-aligned" on foreign policy, but that in order to win the primary, Obama positioned himself better to capitalize on the widespread anti-war sentiment of the Democratic base? Maybe?

For instance, consider the fact that during the primaries Obama's campaign lambasted Clinton for voting for the provocative Kyl-Lieberman resolution, which as I noted in a piece for Connecticut public radio station WSHU last year, called for Iran's Revolutionary Guard to be labelled a "terrorist organization" -- which many senators considered tantamount to calling for another war. However, as soon as Obama secured his party's nomination, he was quick to tell the crowd at the far-right American Israeli Public Affair Committee's (AIPAC) annual meeting that the Revolutionary Guard had "rightly been labeled a terrorist organization."

Writing last June regarding Obama's seeming about-face at AIPAC, in a piece entitled "Barack Obama: Change you probably shouldn't believe in...", I noted that the move:
. . . 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.
Predictably -- as foreshadowed by their quick acceptance of the militaristic drug warrior Biden -- self-proclaimed progressives, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who, for all his claims to be an "independent," radical socialist, has endorsed every Democratic presidential candidate since at least 1992), appears more than willing to accept the business-as-usual nature of the coming Obama administration:
"Sen. Clinton is one of the brightest people in Congress and she would be an excellent choice," Vermont's independent senator, Bernie Sanders, told Politico through a spokesman.
I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton is, as far as politicians go, intelligent. It would be nice, though, if she weren't also a militaristic corporatist who wholeheartedly supported -- until it became politically inopportune -- the disastrous and murderous war crime that was the invasion (and current military occupation) of Iraq. 

Then again, I'm not a well-respected foreign policy figure like a Henry Kissinger or a Colin Powell, so what do I know?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The foreign policy consensus

Former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal -- seemingly channeling this blog -- throws water on the idea that Barack Obama's presidency will mark a significant change in how the United States deals with the rest of the world:
Because of its “soft power”, the US presidential election gets such extensive coverage internationally that its import gets exaggerated. This election decides the fate of two competing candidates, not that of the world. As in elections elsewhere, the central issues are domestic ones, not those of foreign policy. In the American case, the contest is not between two radically different visions of US foreign policy; it is about advancing US interests best. The difference is in tactics, not strategy. On basic assumptions, such as US global pre-eminence, preventing the emergence of any other power that can challenge Washington’s dominance, the goodness of US intentions and actions, superiority of American values, the responsibility to maintain international peace and stability, its exceptionalism providing the right to act unfettered by multilateral constraints if required and keeping America safe against non-proliferation, there is internal consensus in the US.
(Via the American Conservative's Daniel Larison)

The endorsement that speaks for itself

As an outspoken supporter of the Iraq war -- and of the earlier policy of starving hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children to death -- Hillary Clinton is of course a widely respected figure in Washington when it comes to foreign policy. No doubt Clinton's illustrious track record of advocating a belligerent though "humanitarian" militarism (once criticized by President-elect Obama in an earlier, forgotten time) was a key factor in her winning a glowing endorsement to be the next secretary of state from a fellow war criminal who once occupied the office:
Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Henry Kissinger said Hillary Clinton, frontrunner to be the next U.S. Secretary of State, would be an "outstanding'' appointment to the post.

New York Senator Clinton appears to be President-elect Barack Obama's leading choice for secretary of state, according to a Democrat familiar with the matter.

"She is a lady of great intelligence, demonstrated enormous determination and would be an outstanding appointment,'' Kissinger, who served as secretary of state from 1973 to 1977 under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, told the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit in New Delhi today.
Having overseen the deaths of millions of innocent civilians in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Kissinger -- in a just world -- would be considered, at best, a pariah whose endorsement would be more toxic than Al Qaeda's. But in the United States, those who advocate and facilitate disastrous, illegal wars of aggression are considered well-respected statesmen, with critics of American exceptionalism excluded from respectable mainstream discourse.

Kissinger's endorsement of Clinton should at least provide a clue to those self-described anti-war progressives expecting great things from the next president that -- rather than great change -- the incoming Obama administration will more often than not represent continuity, particularly with regard to foreign affairs.

As I like to point out to my Obama-adoring friends: any man who can win the endorsement of both Colin Powell and Code Pink is bound to disappoint one or the other. I'm guessing it won't be Powell.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pigs at the trough

"You can't hold a board accountable if it's not transparent about what it's doing."
So said former Federal Reserve governor Larry Meyer at a conference in Washington, DC, that I attended this past March. Now consider that remark as you read this:
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.
Writing in his blog for the American Prospect, economist Dean Baker asks the obvious question: "Are Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson Crony Capitalists?"
"After all, they are trying to hide which banks are in trouble and refusing to give out information about who is borrowing from the Fed. This is exactly the behavior that the IMF and widely cited economists denounced when it was done by the East Asian countries during their financial crisis in the late 90s. Are these practices now good economics because our government is doing them?"
Meanwhile, more and more corporate executives are lining up to beg for federal tax dollars -- or in the case of American Express, openly positioning themselves to do so in the near future:
Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) -- American Express Co. won U.S. Federal Reserve approval to become a commercial bank, gaining access to government funds as credit-card defaults climb with economies slowing around the world.
"Given the continued volatility in the financial markets, we want to be best positioned to take advantage of the various programs the federal government has introduced,'' American Express Chief Executive Officer Kenneth I. Chenault said in a statement yesterday.
When Congress debated the Wall Street bailout, those who objected to using tax dollars to line the pockets of the executives who bankrupted their companies -- and who argued that taking money from the lower and middle class to prop up unsustainable, behemoth corporations might not be the best way to fix a fundamentally flawed U.S. economy -- were dismissed as cranks by all respectable pundits and politicians. Two months later, however, critics of the bailout look more and more prescient as the bailout devolves into an open grab for money by the incompetent corporate elite, while the economy shows no signs of a recovery in the near future.

It kind of makes one think that, instead of disgraced financial pundits and CEOs who just a year ago were predicting perpetual economic bliss, politicians and the mainstream press should start looking for guidance from those who haven't been wrong about everything over the last decade.

The chances of that happening? Not so good. People who rightly predict negative outcomes based on evidence that was readily available before the fateful decision was made tend to annoy those in power, as well as the large segment of the media that grovels before those in charge. 

People who were wrong, but for all the "right" reasons, according to the establishment consensus? Nothing less than sainthood -- as witnessed by Colin Powell's name being favorably (and inexplicably, based on actual performance) mentioned as a possible Obama cabinet official. Hell, I won't be the least bit surprised if, after leaving office, Dick Cheney gets a column for the New York Times. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Corn: It's what's for dinner

While the U.S. government flexes its ability to centrally plan the economy by essentially outlawing financial losses for major corporations, a new study provides another illustrative example of corporatism in action -- in this case highlighting the harmful impact of political economic planning on pretty much everyone that happens to eat food:
Chemical analysis from restaurants across the United States shows that nearly every cow or chicken used in fast food is raised on a diet of corn, prompting fresh criticism of the government's role in subsidizing poor eating habits.
Corn is central to agriculture in the United States, where it is grown in greater volumes and receives more government subsidies than any other crop. Between 1995 and 2006 corn growers received $56 billion in federal subsidies, and the annual figure may soon hit $10 billion.
But in recent years, environmentalists have branded corn as an icon of unsustainable agriculture. It requires large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, both of which require large amounts of fossil fuel to manufacture.
Most of the resulting corn is fed to livestock who didn't evolve to subsist entirely on corn. In cattle, eating corn increases flatulence emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — and creates an intestinal environment rich in e. coli, a common cause of food poisoning. That necessitates mixing cow feed with antibiotics, in turn producing antibiotic-resistant disease strains.
Many of those livestock end up in high-calorie, low-nutrition franchised fast foods, which have been repeatedly linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Fast food's biggest selling point is its low price — and that, say industry critics, is largely possible because of corn's ubiquitous cheapness.
Too bad there are no clear lessons to draw from this example for those advocating government subsidies for banks, insurance companies, automakers . . .

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just as American liberals convinced themselves to love Joe Biden -- the pro-war career politician whose chief legislative achievement appears to have been the imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of Americans through his pet project, the war on drugs -- I have no doubt the giddy partisans at Daily Kos and elsewhere will find much to love about Barack Obama's newly announced chief of staff, the pro-war corporatist Rahm Emanuel. Indeed, self-proclaimed progressives like Matthew Yglesias are already gliding past Emanuel's support for the Iraq war (which Yglesias, like most respectable Democratic pundits at the time, also supported) to fawn over the alleged grit and toughness he will bring to the Obama White House.

While I won't claim to have had all that much interaction with Emanuel, at the press conferences I have spoken to him, he has, frankly, always come across as the archetypal sleaze-bag politician convinced of his own slickness and drunk off his political power. That he's corrupt is also fairly well established -- notice that he was on the board of directors of Freddie Mac, the government corporation at the center of the housing bubble and subsequent economic collapse, at a time when it was cooking its books to deceive investors. No wonder he and his fellow progressive Democrats were so loathe to provide more oversight for Fannie and Freddie as they dove into the sub-prime mortgage market.

In the summer of '07, I also distinctly remember Emanuel openly ridiculing Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) right off the floor of the House of Representatives for -- horror of horrors -- passing out fliers to his fellow lawmakers detailing how the oil "revenue sharing" law Congress was trying to force down the Iraqi parliament's throat was, in fact, merely an attempt to "privatize" (i.e. forcibly expropriate) Iraq's oil fields for the benefit of U.S. corporations.

"Yeah, it's all about the oil," Emanuel chortled to a like-minded congressman.

Needless to say -- in addition to unrepentantly backing an Iraq war he claims was merely mismanaged -- Emanuel also happens to be extremely ignorant of issues concerning Iraq and the Middle East in general (these tend to be qualifications for government service, however), as he revealed on an episode of "Real Time" with Bill Maher last year:
The Iranians are a Persian culture and the House of Saud is a Shiite government, a total different culture and a different people and etc. The question about Saudi Arabia is there is a clear, they have been funding radical schools throughout the Mideast and it is a big problem for us.
Close Rahm. Except Saudi Arabia is very much a Sunni country, while Iran is, in fact, Shiite. After five years of a war in Iraq, when the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite should be abundantly clear, Obama's new, widely respected chief of staff went on national television and showed he knows less about the Middle East than a Bush administration foreign policy adviser. It should also be pointed out that congressional Democrats were some of the loudest supporters of the U.S. support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan in their war against the Soviet Union -- the same backing that was contingent on Saudi Arabia providing matching funds that largely went to building and operating the madrassas Emanuel now rightly decries, but I digress.

But Emanuel's ignorance aside, the decision to pick him as his chief of staff -- like the pick of Biden for vice president, and Susan Rice, Madeleine Albright, Dennis Ross, et al as foreign police advisers -- more importantly signals that a President Obama fully embraces the concept of liberal, "humanitarian" intervention (his pledge to escalate the U.S.'s failing military occupation in Afghanistan certainly isn't an example of the neo-McGovernite foreign policy that foaming-at-the-mouth neoconservative types were warning about prior to his election).

Emanuel is the also same guy, it should be noted, who engaged in this exchange with Tim Russert back in the summer of 2005:
MR. RUSSERT: So even knowing there are no weapons of mass destruction, you would still vote to go into Iraq?

REP. EMANUEL: You can make--you could have made a case that Saddam Hussein was a threat, and what you could have done also, Tim, is worked with other countries, go through the U.N., take the time to do it. Again, the problems with our troops and the country today faces in Iraq isn't about whether we should or should not have gone to war, whether we should or should not have removed Saddam Hussein, it's how they have pursued this war, the lack of planning, the lack of processing, thinking about there was no plan, as you know, for after we removed Saddam Hussein, what would you do. There was no plan for--as you know, before war, you had to have an exit strategy. One has not even been annunciated. There's been a presumption that we were going to be greeted as liberators. There was a presumption this would be quick and easy, and then we can turn the country over. None of that has been laid out, and that has to do with the competency and the planning that goes in, and they did not have a plan for the day after "hostilities ended."
So Emanuel's main objection to the Iraq war is not that it has resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (silly hippy), but that it was mismanaged. This, of course, was the same argument that Obama supposedly opposed during the Democratic primaries when he sought to highlight the only real difference between him and the aged pro-war senators he was running against -- that he opposed the Iraq war before it began (by giving one speech in 2002 in which he belabored the point that he wasn't opposed to all wars, just "dumb" ones).

Funny how the progressive, anti-war candidate, Barack Obama, has no problem employing the same people who supported the United States illegally invading and occupying Iraq, while fighting all attempts to bring it to an end once it was clear it was an unmitigated disaster. Then again, as the newly launched official website for President-elect Obama -- the I-kid-you-not "" -- makes clear, an Obama-Biden administration has absolutely no intention of ending the Iraq occupation:
Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism.
In other words, look for a President Obama to essentially continue the same policy as the Bush administration -- except U.S. liberals will fall over themselves to praise his intelligence and vision for the region.

With so little prospect for real change, Democratic partisans might want to consider Chris Floyd's recommended test for considering actions taken by an Obama administration:
"WIBDI: What If Bush Did It?"
This user-friendly analytical tool provides a quick and easy way of determining the value of any given policy while correcting one's perception for partisan bias. Simply take a particular action or proposal and submit it to the WIBDI test: If Bush did this, would you think it was OK? Or would you condemn it as the act of a warmonger, or a tyrant, or a corrupt corporate tool, etc.?
Sadly, I fully expect most Democrats to embrace the warfare state under an Obama administration just as much as they claimed to oppose it under George Bush -- and reveling in denouncing those opposed as "anti-American". As William Safire might put it, we can probably look forward to at least four years of "Invade and Bomb with Obama and Rahm."

But at least now the prime time speeches announcing new bombing campaigns will be uplifting and eloquent, right?

Initial thoughts on the election

After eight years of President George W. Bush, it sure will be nice to have an intelligent, articulate liberal running America's military empire, bombing impoverished nations at his discretion, prosecuting the war on drugs from Colombia to the streets of LA, and overseeing the largest prison population in world history (2.3 million and counting!).

It's morning in America, baby!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

First, the good news

As millions of Americans head to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, take heed of this comforting thought: by the end of the day, one of the men pictured below will very likely not be the next president.
Now the bad news: barring a last minute surge in support for Ralph Nader or Bob Barr, one of the men pictured above will be the next president (or "commander-in-chief" for the military fetishists of both parties), where he will assume control of the most powerful state in world history. That means, come January 2009, one of these men will gain the power to unilaterally declare war on impoverished nations on the other side of the globe, without so much as a congressional authorization. That means, come next year, one of these men will be able to -- again, unilaterally -- declare someone an "enemy combatant" and hold them indefinitely in a U.S. military prison (with a little torture at a CIA black site thrown in for good measure).

And unfortunately, as we know from their numerous public statements, the next U.S. president is on record as supporting all of the following policies: expanding the military by more than 90,000 troops; sending tens of thousands of soldiers to further a failing military occupation in Afghanistan; furthering the so-called "war on drugs", particularly in Latin America (where the U.S.-backed government in Colombia has been busy murdering innocent civilians with the support of U.S. anti-drug funding); at the very least, increasing economic sanctions against Iran while leaving "all options are on the table" in dealing with the country's nuclear program; extending NATO membership to countries such as Georgia, thus committing the United States to a war with Russia in the event of another conflict over South Ossetia; launching attacks against "terrorist" targets in Pakistan (though McCain's muddled position seems to be to attack, but just don't brag about it); striking "terrorist" targets inside Syria; maintaining the death penalty; continuing taxpayer funding for abstinence education; perpetuating the embargo against Cuba, and icy relations with Venezuela; continuing to bailout failing corporations with taxpayer money; keeping tens of thousands of troops in Iraq (and tens of thousands of private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater); ramming U.S. "intellectual property" laws down the throats of poor nations through the signing of ill-named "free trade" agreements; spying on the communications of Americans and foreigners alike, sans warrant; and so on, and so on.

Whether it's "country first" or "change you can believe in," one thing's certain after today's election: the maintenance of the status quo.