Friday, August 28, 2009

The AP vs. the AP

The Associated Press, like many old media outlets, is struggling to adapt to the Internet and a world where the public appears increasingly unwilling to pay for news content in general, much less bland and unremarkable wire reports. Like the recording industry, however, the AP's approach to this development has not been to reassess its business model, but to threaten legal action against those nefarious news aggregators like Google who send traffic to the AP without first paying them for the privilege.

Just this month, AP's general counsel, Srinandan Kasi, claimed that the news organization has no problem with people coming up with innovative ways of distributing its content -- so long as the AP pockets any money the innovator makes. “If this becomes a runaway success, I want to be part of this kind of business arrangement with you," Kasi said, addressing a hypothetical iPhone developer. "In the meantime, if you want to experiment, go at it.” That is, you do the hard work of figuring out how the AP can make more money from distributing its content electronically and, if you're successful, the AP will reward you by using the long arm of the state to confiscate whatever money you make, entering into a coerced “business arrangement” akin to the type of partnership the mafia might enter. If you fail? You're on your own, bud.

But AP's hubris regarding its “intellectual property” doesn't end there. If the copyright disclaimer at the end of many of its stories is to be believed, the wire service also claims that none of its material may "be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed" without prior consent. Since many of its stories merely restate facts one can find elsewhere, AP's claim that one cannot rewrite their material has provoked an understandable mix of ridicule and outrage. Given the company's own method of news gathering, it's also rather hypocritical.

Consider this AP account of the story this week of the head of an anti-animal cruelty organization in Virginia accidentally leaving her dog locked in a hot car, causing it to die. At the bottom of the 150-word article is this line: Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch,

If you go to the Times-Dispatch website it's clear the AP based its entire story on this article, "Dog of Richmond SPCA CEO dies after being left in car for 4 hours". While I have no problem with this – no one should be able to claim ownership over information and the AP did credit the Richmond paper – this is just the sort of activity to which those running the company and other major news organizations have so vociferously objected. Remember: the AP's piece contained no actual new reporting and merely leeched off the work of others. If anything, the AP merely acted as an aggregator of information, taking a news item from an obscure publication and dispersing it to a wider audience.

There is nothing wrong with what the AP did, of course. It allowed a broader audience to discover a news story they probably otherwise would have missed (even if it wasn't the most newsworthy), and it undoubtedly drove some traffic to the Times-Dispatch's website. Since AP journalists see the benefit of building on -- and sometimes just taking -- information reported by others without any apparent prior consent, perhaps they should explain their reasons for doing so with those running the company. Rather than using the state to enforce their revenue stream by threatening lawsuits over a legal fiction -- "intellectual property" -- maybe they can begin to shift their focus to building a business model appropriate for the 21st century.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

War: just another policy option

Matt Yglesias, the Center for American Progress blogger we last saw offering a damning (albeit unintentional) indictment of the unshakable liberal faith in electing Democrats to improve America’s “quality of governance”, has uncovered a problem. And it's a big one.

You see, if one holds the U.S. government to the same standards it applies to other, less powerful countries, and if in the grips of some far-left ideology you go so far as to say wars should only be fought as an absolute last resort – and only in self-defense – then one soon discovers there are very few instances where American military action has been justified. One might even conclude that many of the wars fought by the U.S. have been unjust given that, as Yglesias notes, “For the United States, which is conveniently located on the North American continent adjacent to two friendly and relatively weak countries, it’s going to be very hard for anything to meet a strict necessity test.”

As a serious member of the Washington punditocracy, this fact concerns Yglesias -- not because it eviscerates the moral case for the American empire and an obscenely bloated military budget, but rather because applying such a strict criteria to U.S. actions would preclude the righteous humanitarian interventions left-leaning hawks like himself imagine their government engaging in. And like any good establishment liberal, Ygelsias cites disgraced war criminal Harry “Hiroshima” Truman to boost his case, “happily” granting the war in Korea “as a great example of a 'good war'” that may never have been – perish the thought – had the intrepid Truman abided by the “just war” theory popularized by that sissy theologian, St. Augustine.

“You have a country friendly to the United States becoming the victim of unprovoked aggression from an unfriendly country,” Yglesias writes. “Pretty much everyone believes that South Korea has a right to fight back in its own defense. And it’s only a very small leap from a belief in self-defense to a belief in the idea of 'collective self-defense' whereby countries who are friendly to South Korea should help it out in its hour of need. That’s how Harry Truman saw it and that’s how I see it decades later.”

What I find interesting about this paragraph is not only Yglesias' laughable stance that it's but “a very small leap” from a belief in legitimate self-defense to a belief in the U.S. as policeman of the world, but what he lays out as one of his chief criteria justifying American intervention: that South Korea's government was “friendly to the United States,” which was sort of a given at the time considering it was installed by the American government. This was of course exactly the criteria Truman used to justify U.S. involvement in the Korean civil war, rather than any concern about civilian life. “Unprovoked aggression” is only a concern to U.S. political leaders if aimed at an American proxy state, and the killing of innocents but a propaganda point if committed by an unfriendly power.

South Korea's “U.S.-backed regime,” after all, killed “untold thousands of leftists and hapless peasants in the summer of terror in 1950,” often under the watch of American military advisers, as the Associated Press reported last year. According to South Korea's government-sponsored Truth and Reconciliation Committee, a “very conservative” estimate would place the number of civilians executed by the South Korean regime at 100,000, and likely at least double that. And that’s on top of the thousands of civilians who died at the hands of the South Korean military on Jeju island well before the war started.

But these facts aren’t mentioned by Ygelsias since they don’t seem be relevant to his mode of thinking on foreign policy, much as civilian deaths weren't relevant to Harry Truman, who considered dropping nuclear weapons on North Korea -- after destroying its dams, cities and industrial infrastructure, killing one out of nine North Koreans. All that does matter is the fact that the U.S.-backed regime was friendly to the U.S. and was invaded, which is a neat little rationalization to justify a war that killed three million people all so South Korea could be ruled by a nationalistic capitalist dictator friendly to America rather than a nationalistic communist dictator who wasn’t.

Also, seemingly left unconsidered by humanitarian interventionists like Yglesias -- who seems intent on proving that his backing for the Iraq war was no one-time error in judgment -- is what to do with, or how to restrain, the massive military-industrial complex a policy of global intervention requires. So Korea was justified (it wasn’t), what about Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia? Or Iraq? What about U.S.-backed coups in Chile or Iran? Not mere aberrations, these unnecessary interventions are the inevitable consequences of anointing the United States government the defender of the world and establishing a permanent class of mercenaries and munitions makers whose interest it is in to agitate for conflicts and cold wars.

Consider how the U.S. military describes the aftermath of the national security state brought about by its involvement in Korea:
While Eisenhower did reduce military spending after the war, the U.S. armed forces remained much larger than they had been in 1950, possessed many more and increasingly powerful nuclear weapons, and were ensured a steady supply of manpower through the retention of conscription. The American military, after the humiliating and bloody defeats of the war’s first six months, shifted its focus from preparing for a World War II–type mobilization to maintaining forces ready for immediate use. This larger military, eager to put the frustrations of the Korean War behind it, now was widely dispersed around the world, including Indochina, where American advisers assisted the new Republic of Vietnam.
Advocates of humanitarian intervention can't live in a fantasy world where a massive U.S. military can be restrained and limited to intervening in places like Rwanda and Darfur for pure, good reasons. Even if such interventions were desirable or likely to succeed, they would be the exceptions to a long record of U.S. military actions since World War II motivated by much less wholesome desires. And sometimes those in charge of the military won't be progressive saints subscribing to the RSS feeds of their favorite liberal bloggers, which shouldn't be too hard to imagine even for partisan Democrats given the fact this country did elect George W. Bush -- twice (well, kind of . . .).

If the U.S. government is not going to abide by the "necessity" standard for war it holds other countries to, one shouldn't be surprised when said government fights a number of wars that are unnecessary and unjust. And given the record of human history, it would appear liberal interventionists of even the most earnest sort have not figured out a way to prevent that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A curiosity

Compare the relative ease with which a Democratic Congress and a Republican president passed a $700 billion bailout for failed Wall Street investment firms with how difficult it appears to be for a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president to pass a healthcare proposal many Democrats campaigned on.

What does that tell you about the interests the government serves? Discuss.

Friday, August 21, 2009

If Chris Matthews only had a brain

Chris Matthews is paid around $5 million a year by the kind folks at General Electric/MSNBC to pontificate on politics and to essentially act as a guardian of the establishment. So it makes sense that he would be not only stunningly, offensively ignorant of American history, but that his ignorance would be displayed in such a way as to flatter the ruling elite. In that respect, Matthews is typical of the DC commentariat -- he makes up in blind worship of power what he lacks in actual knowledge -- as he displayed during his most recent appearance on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, where he claimed that not only had the Kennedy clan saved us from nuclear war (after bringing the world to the brink of it due in part to the ill-conceived Bay of Pigs invasion), but that they actually "created the civil rights movement." Sorry Rosa Parks!

Though the stupidity starts at the beginning of the clip, the mind-numbing, make-your-brain-hurt ignorant adulation of the political class begins about three minutes in:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Chris Matthews
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Protests

The problem with folks like Matthews, and the very thing that makes him so attractive to politicians and his corporate paymasters, is that they envision all social progress as something bequeathed to us mere peons by the state and our betters in the halls of Congress and the White House. Our benevolent political leaders -- presidents and senators, kings and queens -- in the view of the these courtiers are the drivers of history, with we serfs merely along for the ride.

That it was the people, through protests, boycotts and open defiance of state-backed discrimination that forced the government to grant concessions to basic human decency if only to head off the prospect of an actual revolution (and to counter anti-American Soviet propaganda) is apparently lost to this class of professional flatterers. To claim the civil rights movement was “started” by a bunch of white aristocrats from New England reveals an incredible historical ignorance and bias in favor of the powerful, and ignores the fact that watershed events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Greensboro sit-ins, all aimed at protesting government-backed segregation, occurred while John F. Kennedy was busy hanging out at country clubs enjoying the favored pastime of the idle rich and years before he became president.

That history is comprised of little more than the actions of elites is a view held not merely by U.S. officials and media sycophants, mind you. For instance, a few months ago I attended a luncheon here in DC where an aide to a Canadian premier remarked to those around him that Lyndon Baines Johnson had gotten a bad rap from ungrateful Americans given all he had done for minorities in this country, evidenced by the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Since it is rude to eavesdrop -- and ruder still to call someone a f_cking idiot from across the table at these sorts of functions -- I held my tongue, but couldn’t help but wonder if this official had ever considered the civil rights of those tens of thousands of African-Americans and other minorities drafted and sent off to kill and be killed in the jungles of Vietnam, much less the millions of Vietnamese who suffered the liberatory aftermath of the U.S. munitions dropped on their homes and schools.

Pondering these sorts of questions is probably why I’m just some small-time reporter with a blog, though, rather than a highly paid celebrity commentator. That said, here’s what a I propose: that from here on out, the term “Chris Matthews” become synonymous with “pompous, historically ignorant windbag” -- if it isn't already. Come on folks, through the power of the people we can make this happen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Matt Yglesias Comedy Hour

Matt Yglesias, a blogger for the liberal Center for American Progress, is one of most well-known and prolific writers on the left (or what passes for it) out there. On any given day you can find him opining on any number of topics, from the NBA draft to urban land-use policy to the war in Afghanistan. But did you know that he’s also a comedian?
The fact of the matter is that the outcome of the 2006 elections improved the quality of governance in the United States. And so did the outcome of the 2008 elections. Governance improved because politicians were replaced by other, better politicians. The same method—replace existing politicians with new, better politicians—can continue to reap improvements in the future.
From the use of the cliched “the fact of the matter” to the embrace of electing more and better rulers as the chief means of affecting social change -- and the conspicuous lack of examples illustrating how exactly the “quality of governance” has improved since the Democrats took over all three branches of the U.S. government -- Yglesias has penned a truly scathing sendup of technocratic liberalism and its proponents. I tip my hat to you sir!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Trust-busting in Afghanistan

In March, President Obama’s top antitrust official announced that “that the administration would restore an aggressive enforcement policy against corporations that use their market dominance to elbow out competitors or to keep them from gaining market share,” according to The New York Times.

At the time, I remember wondering how this stated new policy was consistent with Obama’s support for the bailout of insolvent Wall Street financial institutions -- the greatest single transfer of wealth in U.S. history -- considering that letting companies like AIG fail would actually have been a step toward a more competitive financial services industry that rewarded firms based on performance, not political influence. But alas, it’s now clear the likes of Goldman Sachs, Obama’s top corporate campaign contributor, were never to be the target of the new trust-busting administration.

Rather, as Scott Horton at the Huffington Post reports, the U.S. government is focusing its attention on the true threat to America’s market system: “Raymond Azar, a 45-year-old Lebanese construction manager with a grade school education.” According to Horton:
Azar and a Lebanese-American colleague, Dinorah Cobos, were seized by "at least eight" heavily armed FBI agents in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they had traveled for a meeting to discuss the status of one of his company's U.S. government contracts. The trip ended with Azar alighting in manacles from a Gulfstream V executive jet in Manassas, Virginia, where he was formally arrested and charged in a federal antitrust probe . . . .

According to papers filed by his lawyers, Azar was threatened, subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and induced to sign a confession. Azar claims he was hooded, stripped naked (while being photographed) and subjected to a "body cavity search."
On a ride to the infamous Bagram air base in Afghanistan -- site of the torture-homicides involving U.S. interrogators exposed in the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side -- Azar contends that a federal agent pulled a photograph of Azar's wife and four children from his wallet. Confess that you were bribing the contract officer, the agent allegedly said, or you may "never see them again." Azar told his lawyers he interpreted that as a threat to do physical harm to his family.
You will be relieved to know that Azar -- who “has the unlikely distinction of being the first target of a rendition carried out on the Obama watch” -- remains in federal custody.

(via Brian Doherty)

Monday, August 17, 2009

When is a coup a coup?

The Center for International Policy's Adam Isacson, who has been chronicling the Obama administration's efforts to station U.S. troops on bases throughout Colombia, highlights this revealing exchange from earlier this month between a reporter and State Department spokesman Robert Wood regarding the U.S. government's conspicuous refusal to declare the overthrow of Honduras' democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya a "military coup":
MR. WOOD: [W]e’re going to continue to try to convince both parties and go from there. But a coup took place in the country, and –
QUESTION: Well, you haven’t officially legally declared it a coup yet.
MR. WOOD: We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Why does it take so long to review whether there’s a military coup or not?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are a lot of legal issues here that have to be carefully examined before we can make that determination, and it requires information being shared amongst a number of parties. We need to be able to take a look at that information and make our best legal judgment as to whether or not –
QUESTION: It seems to be taking a very long time.
MR. WOOD: Well, things take time when you’re dealing with these kinds of very sensitive legal issues.
Having majored in English in college, I am ill-prepared for deciphering the language of government and State Department flacks. Indeed, my lack of education in bureaucratic legalese does not permit me to fully comprehend how Robert Wood can concede Zelaya was overthrown in a coup -- defined as "the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group" -- but at the same time claim it an unresolved question whether said overthrow was a military coup. My confusion is compounded by the widely reported and undisputed fact that it was the (U.S. School of the Americas-trained) Honduran military brass which forced Zelaya into exile.

In other news, a spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the department has concluded that the sun rises in the East, but that officials are still "carefully examining" whether it sets in the West.

How liberals learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

A long, long time ago liberals pretended to care about the deaths of foreigners at the hands of the U.S. military, with chants of “Bush lied, people died” dominating protests -- since hilariously appropriated by right-wing reactionaries -- and Daily Kos diarists penning morally righteous denunciations of the American empire. Then something changed: Barack Obama was elected.

Since that fateful day, while the Democratic rank-and-file say they oppose Obama’s wars, it doesn’t appear to be a pressing concern to the quasi-professional online activist set, which spends more time documenting the antics of (and shouting fascism! in response to) Sarah Palin and her painfully ignorant groupies than opposing the president’s escalation in Afghanistan or his undeclared war in Pakistan. In this respect, donkey partisans are merely following the example of their erstwhile anti-war leaders, who seamlessly segued from campaign promises to bring the troops home in 2006 to appropriating ever more funds for the imperial adventures they once claimed to have vehemently opposed.

Proving that partisans on both ends of the spectrum are incapable of being parodied, progressive activists attending “Netroots Nation” this weekend -- a conference where upper-middle class liberal bloggers come to learn how to become “a media star” by following the “tools and techniques used by professional actors to create star presence” (taught by a “media trainer to performers and successful progressive candidates”, which sounds a tad redundant) and to be flattered by Democratic politicians hungry for campaign donations -- gave Obama’s presidency a 95% approval rating, according to a poll (pdf) conducted there.

This comes despite Obama's apparent disavowal of a single-payer healthcare system, a top priority of the Democratic base, his aforementioned imperial escalations, and his denial of habeas corpus to those accused of acts of terrorism. Obama does, however, typically speak in complete, coherent sentences, which to the average liberal is more than enough to “restore America’s standing in the world."

Digging deeper into the poll of Netroots conference attendees, one sees that but one brave soul just 1 percent (which comes out to about two people) declared ending the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan their top priority (who let Cindy Sheehan in?). This lagged behind other liberal priorities, such as: “Working to elect progressive candidates in the 2010 elections”; “Working to enact President Obama's agenda generally”; and of course, “Countering right-wing attacks on Obama and his agenda.”

As historian David Beito writes of the would-be power brokers of the liberal blogosphere, “If the antiwar movement ever makes a comeback, it won't be because of them.”

The top priority of the Netroots crowd? “Passing comprehensive health care reform”, which -- while I understand the status quo is a catastrophic mess -- seems a tad curious in light of the president’s promise to cut health care costs by but a meager 2 percent and his refusal to back what many progressive activists believe to be the answer to our corrupt corporatist system. It also strikes me as indefensibly nationalistic since -- and hear me out -- putting healthcare reform ahead of dismantling the warfare state implicitly signals that one values cutting their health care bill by a few percentage points more than stopping their government from using their tax dollars to kill and maim poor foreigners. Call me crazy, but I say any professed liberal humanitarian should abide by the rule, “first, do no harm” -- meaning, at the very least, stop killing people.

I’d also suggest dismantling the domestic police state should take precedence, still I suppose America’s record number of incarcerated do get some form of free government healthcare.

Meanwhile, though liberal activists may no longer be all that concerned about taxpayer-funded murder in far-off lands, CNN reports an almost poetic coincidence: “President Obama will take a brief hiatus from his health care push on Monday and turn his focus to the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan.”

Sunday, August 09, 2009

On the road

I'll be driving cross-country over the next week, beginning in Albuquerque and -- barring any life changing incidents in the desert -- ending up back here in DC. That means you shouldn't expect any long-winded pieces about U.S. policy toward Iran or why you should read Lysander Spooner.

You can, however, follow my exploits on Twitter.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Eric Cantor blasts U.S. interventionism

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) is a hawkish conservative lawmaker who strongly supported the Bush administration's militaristic foreign policy and has blasted President Obama for being insufficiently imperialistic. That's why it was so surprising when, during a trip this week overseas, Cantor sounded off on the U.S.'s interventionist policies abroad, noting that "I don't think we, in America, would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws."

Of course there's the obvious catch: Cantor "objected to U.S. criticism of Israel's eviction of two Arab families from housing in eastern Jerusalem earlier this week."

When it comes to Israel clearing Arabs out of East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, Cantor empathizes with those who defy American foreign policy. When it comes to other countries' internal affairs, umm . . .
"The Administration’s silence in the face of Iran’s brutal suppression of democratic rights represents a step backwards for homegrown democracy in the Middle East," Cantor said. "President Obama must take a strong public position in the face of violence and human rights abuses. We have a moral responsibility to lead the world in opposition to Iran’s extreme response to peaceful protests."
It's almost as if Cantor's views on foreign policy are -- and get ready for this folks -- a tad . . . inconsistent, almost as if he doesn't mind human rights abuses committed by U.S. allies, expressing moral indignation to such abuses when it serves the interests of American hegemony. Shocking, I know.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Paging Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart is a funny and intelligent guy, but ever since his weepy America-has-finally-fulfilled-its-promise performance upon the election of Barack Obama, he hasn’t been quite the same -- epitomized by his disappointingly pathetic apology for the perfectly sensible (thus politically unpopular) statement that President Harry “Hiroshima” Truman was a war criminal.

While interviewing writer Ronald Kessler earlier this week, Stewart -- though brilliant and scathing when he’s on -- had another cringe-worthy outing, apparently forgetting that Barack Obama is not the nice guy with a great smile he once interviewed, but the commander-in-chief, the head of a global empire -- a guy who okayed the deaths-sans-trials for over a dozen Pakistanis within days of taking office.

Responding to Kessler’s comment that “Obama [smokes] on a regular basis, despite his claims that he gave it up,” Stewart appeared to forget these uncomfortable facts (a shockingly prevalent phenomenon among Obama boosters), telling Kessler:
Stewart: Now that seems okay with me. I’ll take that.

Kessler: You’re a smoker?

Stewart: I was a smoker for 20 years. And I prefer that to... bombing countries. I’ll take a smoker.
Well Jon, with Barack Obama you get both a president that smokes and a president that bombs sovereign countries without so much as a declaration of war. Since taking office, Obama has overseen hundreds of Pakistani deaths from attacks that he's signed off on, in addition to the hundreds of Afghan civilians who have died to further the U.S. goal of -- wait, we’re still waiting for a blue ribbon commission to get back to us on what that is.

To refresh your memory, here’s a woefully incomplete list of just some of our peace president’s overseas contingency operations:

January 23, 2009:
Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for his first military action yesterday, missile strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan which killed at least 18 people.
May 6, 2009:
US-led air strikes have killed dozens of Afghan people, the Red Cross said today as the Pentagon launched a joint investigation into what appeared one of the deadliest incidents and heaviest civilian losses so far at the hands of coalition forces.
Rohul Amin, the governor of Farah province in west Afghanistan, where the bombing took place during a battle on Monday and Tuesday, said he feared 100 civilians had been killed.
June 23, 2009:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An airstrike believed to have been carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.
August 1, 2009:
The widening war in Afghanistan between Taliban militants and American-allied Afghan forces is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians, with 1,013 killed in the first six months of 2009, up from 818 during the same period in 2008, according to a United Nations report released Friday.
Explosions and suicide attacks carried out by anti-government forces, including the Taliban, caused a majority of the civilian deaths, killing 595 during the period, the report said. Of the 310 deaths attributed to pro-government forces, about two-thirds were caused by American airstrikes.
August 5, 2009:
A US air strike has killed a wife of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, delivering a message to the notorious militant commander that western and Pakistani pursuers are closing in on him.
Two missiles from an unmanned drone plane struck a house near Makeen in South Waziristan, a Mehsud stronghold near the Afghan border, last night, killing at least two people and wounding several others.
Unfortunately, like many of his fellow American liberals, it would appear Jon Stewart values soothing rhetoric about human rights (and torture bad!) over actual policy.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Obama weighs economic warfare against Iran

One reason Iran has been unwilling to agree to any deal over its nuclear program that would outsource its uranium enrichment to other countries is the fact that it fears its energy supplies being threatened by unfriendly powers, much as U.S. politicians speak glowingly of "energy independence" as a means of promoting national security. It also helps that for decades Iran was exploited by imperial powers such as Russia and Britain, the latter which for a time held a de facto monopoly over Iran's domestic oil production.

So if you're a U.S. policymaker seeking to allay Iran's concern that giving up its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium will leave its energy production at the mercy of unfriendly foreign powers, what do you do? Well if you're the Obama administration, according to the New York Times, you threaten to blockade Iran's importation of refined gasoline, upon which it is dependent:
The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products.

The option of acting against companies around the world that supply Iran with 40 percent of its gasoline has been broached with European allies and Israel, officials from those countries said. Legislation that would give Mr. Obama that authority already has 71 sponsors in the Senate and similar legislation is expected to sail through the House.
One wonders (not for long, mind you) whether your typical American lawmaker has ever pondered how the average American would respond were another country proposing a similar act of aggression against the U.S. That Venezuela's Hugo Chavez subsidizes oil for the poor in the the United States (in between often hyperbolic denunciations of U.S. policy) and is still seen as a poster-child for the merits of reducing this country's dependence on foreign oil should offer some insight on the matter.

However, the Obama administration appears to be endorsing National Security Council member Dennis Ross' strategy of pursuing diplomacy as a means of making acts of war more palatable to the so-called international community, in this case exploring ways of blocking importations of refined gasoline into Iran -- which Newshoggers' Steve Hynd notes would necessitate a naval blockade and "would be an unequivocal act of aggressive and illegal warfare under international law" -- a form of economic warfare that produced misery in Iraq, but little in the way of regime change. (For some odd reason, whether they're being bombed or embargoed, people tend to side with the those claiming to defend them -- however poorly -- rather than the people conducting the bombing raids and blocking the importation of basic goods.

Unfortunately, as Hynd observes, Obama's reported consideration of an act of war against Iran over a nuclear weapons program international inspectors and his own intelligence agencies say does not exist doesn't appear to be eliciting the same sort of outraged reaction from Democratic politicians and partisans that might have been expected in the past, with coverage of the silly-things-right-wingers-say dominating much of the conversation.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports:
The U.S. Defense Department wants to accelerate by three years the deployment of a 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb, a request that reflects growing unease over nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.


Accelerating the program “is intended to, at the very least, give the president the option of conducting a strike to knock out Iran’s main uranium enrichment capabilities,” said Ken Katzman, Middle East military expert for the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.
Combined with Obama's actions on everything from gays in the military to drone attacks in Pakistan, one could be forgiven for believing the Republicans still control all three branches of government.