Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gone fishing

Dear fans (the few of you), critics (the many of you) and Mom (I love you!): I'll be in Southern California over the next week in order to witness a couple I know make the greatest mistake of their young lives participate in a beautiful ceremony signifying their commitment to love each other until death do them part -- meaning I will be doing my best to take advantage of an open bar, not blogging about injustice in the world.

I may post inane observations about life and politics on Twitter, though, so feel free to follow me there. Alternatively, I recommend replaying the following music video continuously until I return, or at least until you have the dance moves down.

Monday, June 21, 2010

State Department warns Americans: Israel might kill you

Following weeks of conspicuous silence, the Obama administration is taking decisive action in response to the Israeli Defense Forces' killing of Furkan Dorgan, an unarmed U.S. citizen aboard one of the ships in the “Free Gaza” flotilla who was shot four times in the head by IDF commandos: it's telling Americans to stay the hell out of harm's way – that is, out of the range of the Israel's U.S. taxpayer-subsidized weaponry.

In a travel warning issued Sunday, the State Department “strongly urges that U.S. citizens” – including all those pesky “journalists and aid workers” who might be tempted to report on the Palestinians' plight – “refrain from all travel to the Gaza Strip”:
The security environment within Gaza and along its borders, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. 
In light of the warning, it's worth remembering what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared soon after news broke that an American was among the nine activists bringing aid to Gaza who were massacred by the IDF:
Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental responsibility of our government and one that we take very seriously. We are in constant contact with the Israeli Government, attempting to obtain more information about our citizens. We have made no decisions at this point on any additional specific actions that our government should take with respect to our own citizens.
Now we know what additional specific action the secretary of state had in mind, and it's essentially the same one the brave knights of Monty Python's "Holy Grail" came up with when confronted with a superficially friendly little bunny rabbit with a penchant for murder: Run Away!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BP and the federal government: 'unlikely partners'?

President Obama determinedly trying to remember what it feels like to care.
"I’m absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligations to the Gulf Coast and to the American people," President Obama proclaimed following his meeting with the oil giant's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg. "BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remains so."

Blah, blah, blah, boilerplate, talking point -- wait, hold on, what the hell did he just say? It's in "all our interests" that BP continue to prosper and thrive even after it just caused the worst environmental disaster in US history? Sorry, but I don't think the average American ought to much care about the future of a multinational corporation that declined to spend the 10 hours it would have taken to cement and stabilize the deepwater well that eventually exploded and killed 11 people, all because the potential loss in profit meant CEO Tony Hayward would have had to wait two more weeks to remodel his third kitchen (in his fourteenth house). Under the "free market" that we certainly do not have but to which Obama occasionally pledges his allegiance, companies that do Very Bad Things should -- and this is obviously just in theory -- have Very Bad Things happen to them in return. Bankruptcy, maybe, with the company's assets divided up amongst the victims of its malfeasance.

Obama apparently doesn't feel the need to elaborate, though, on why it's in "our" interest that BP continue to be BP; on why, like AIG, it also is "too big to fail." Like the rest of the Washington political establishment, he appears to take for granted that it's necessary and just. BP is a major corporation -- one of the 10 biggest in the world -- with quarterly earnings to die for (not funny), ergo it should always remain that way. Too many people with too much money need it to be that way. As the failure of Lehman Brothers showed, no company that was ever once profitable and influential should be allowed to fall by the wayside, lest by upsetting the status quo our golfing buddies be forced the indignity of sending their little Johnny to public school along with the rest of the dirty, nose-picking proles, or so the thinking probably goes; when elites justify policy decisions by pointing to the need for "stability," remember they're likely thinking in terms of them and their friends' social status.

A silly question, though: were you or I the subject of an ongoing investigation for possible criminal wrongdoing in the deaths of nearly a dozen people, countless wildlife and the livelihoods of many Gulf coast residents, ya think the president would be declaring how important it is for everyone that we, the accused, continue to be as "strong and viable" as we were before the alleged crime? To ask is to . . .

And that silly question brings me to the silliest headline/lede of the month, courtesy, as one might expect, The Washington Post. "It was a marriage of necessity, awkward from the start," the paper's Joel Achenbach says of the relationship between oil giant BP and the Obama administration in the wake of the worsening ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The headline? "Oil spill makes unlikely partners of BP and the federal government".

To say the partnership between BP and the federal government is "unlikely" is about as naive a thing as one could write; it's like remarking how "surprising" or "disappointing" it is that Obama hasn't rolled back the power of the presidency since becoming . . . president. The Defense Department, the single largest energy user in the US with a carbon footprint greater than many countries, purchases the majority of its oil and gas from BP. The deepwater rig that exploded and is now leaking as much as 60,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf per day was leased by BP from the federal government, which decided on the behalf of us -- thanks guys! -- that it was in the national interest that the company be able to drill in public waters for private gain. And let's not forget that in 1953 the Eisenhower administration actually helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran because the uppity bastards decided it maybe wasn't such a good idea to grant a company run by a foreign government -- BP, then known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company -- a monopoly over the country's oil resources (commies!).

The piece also undercuts its own premise: that the relationship between BP and the Obama administration has been shaky and Odd Couple-esque. As an anecdote noted in the article shows, the two appear in fact to be getting along like old friends, even coordinating their PR and taking a shot for the other when need be:
The company knows that the White House needs to score political points. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, officials in Alabama wanted BP to pay for sand barriers to protect beaches. BP was willing go to do so but also saw the advantage in letting the White House appear to be ordering BP to do it against the company's will. Hayward was quoted as saying, "Let the White House have the victory of announcing it, but it's the right thing for us to do."
You almost get the sense that the verdict's already been decided -- BP's here to stay, folks, and there ain't nothing no criminal investigation can do about it -- and that, like with regulatory oversight of the oil industry, the response to the spill from the both the government and the corporation (an increasingly artificial distinction) has had a lot more to do with show, with theatrics, than anything else. Like it has more to do with preventing the masses from grabbing their pitchforks than holding corporate power accountable. Silly, I know.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes:
As many commentators have noted, the Gulf oil spill may pose a serious threat to one of the most important aspects of Obama's presidency: his effort to restore public confidence in government as competent, as a trustworthy agent of genuine and lasting reform.
Being a liberal, Sargent clearly believes that the state is a trustworthy and competent "agent of genuine and lasting reform," and that anything that undermines public faith in that notion would be A Very Bad Thing. The BP oil spill, then, is accordingly cast primarily as a problem of public relations -- how, in the disaster's aftermath, will President Obama restore faith in government and his agenda? -- rather than as a damning repudiation of the state's claim to be an effective guardian against corporate power.

In light of the regulatory "failures" that led up to the Gulf disaster, though, including the decision by the Obama administration -- which we are told believes in using state power for progressive ends -- to exempt the BP rig that caused the spill from environmental review, the evidence suggests regulators, rather than failing to act, were acting exactly as they were expected: in such a way as to provide the guise of oversight absent the risk of impacting corporate profits. Indeed, the BP spill is a vivid, oil-stained testament to the fact that the state is neither trustworthy nor competent -- that it makes decisions with the interests of capital in mind, not the public -- something progressives seemed to grasp under George W. Bush but which many appear to be busily unlearning since he left office.

As Jonathan Schwarz observes, the earnest liberal faith in politicians and the government as effective agents of reform is based on a terribly misguided, naive conception of who it is the state really exists to serve (hint: unless you're part of the political and/or corporate elite, it's probably not you):
The first axiom of Nice Liberalism is that the U.S. government (and in fact all sectors of U.S. elites) are striving to do the very best thing for all Americans. With this as your starting point, you're forced to come up with all kinds of weird interpretations of reality in order to "understand" why the U.S. political system functions as it does.
But in fact, as the Iron Law of Institutions tells us, the people at the top of the U.S. political system are striving to expand their own power at the expense of everyone else, even if that does horrendous damage to everyone else and the U.S. as whole.
Power: it's a helluva drug. But do not despair: "Once you discard the mentality that the people in charge care whether we live or die," notes Schwarz, "you no longer have to twist yourself into bizarre conceptual knots in order to make sense of what they're up to."

Monday, June 07, 2010

America's Top Criminal: Barack Obama or Helen Thomas?

More than 40 Yemeni civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, were murdered in a cluster bomb attack last December personally ordered by President Barack Obama.

From Amnesty International:
The 17 December 2009 attack on the community of al-Ma'jalah in the Abyan area in the south of Yemen killed 55 people including 14 alleged members of al-Qa'ida.
“A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful. The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. 
The Yemeni government has said its forces alone carried out the attack on al-Ma'jalah, the site of an alleged al-Qa'ida training camp in al-Mahfad district, Abyan Governorate.
Shortly after the attack some US media reported alleged statements by unnamed US government sources who said that US cruise missiles launched on presidential orders had been fired at two alleged al-Qa'ida sites in Yemen.
“Based on the evidence provided by these photographs, the US government must disclose what role it played in the al-Ma'jalah attack, and all governments involved must show what steps they took to prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries,” said Philip Luther.
In addition to the threat cluster bombs pose to civilians when initially fired, it's worth noting the ordinance that does not immediately explode can continue to threaten innocent lives for decades to come, part of the reason why much of the civilized world -- the U.S., Israel and Russia excluded -- has sought to ban them.

Don't expect much in the way of moral outrage from the commentariat in imperial Washington, though, whose members only seem to find their capacity for self-righteous indignation when someone sufficiently powerless -- like Helen Thomas -- commits a "gaffe" by expressing an opinion one wouldn't find on The Washington Post editorial page (a cardinal sin). Sure, maybe a few progressive-leaning types will decry how “counterproductive” it is to drop cluster bombs on innocent men, women and children. Maybe a few will opine about how it makes the task of winning hearts and minds for the U.S. empire that much harder. But judging by Henry Kissinger's social calendar, no one in Official Washington believes complicity in the killing of innocents abroad is as risible an offense as questioning Zionism; it's certainly no reason to expel someone from polite society (much less bar them from the hors d'oeuvres), nor to be so uncouth as to call them a murderer.

But make no mistake: Barack Obama is a killer. A mass murderer. A war criminal who jokes about his crimes. He may weep over his victims' fate when alone at night confronted by his conscience -- perhaps, in spite of everything, he has retained that level of humanity. But while Joe Klein and David Gregory may never say it, the president's much-vaunted capacity for reflection does not lessen one iota his culpability in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of innocent civilians since he took office. Not a guy I'd want at my dinner party.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

And Rodney King's torso used disproportionate force against the LAPD

Link TV's Mosaic news program is useful not only because it lets you see and hear stories from the Middle East that would never make it to CNN, but because it provides a glimpse at the official line being sold domestic audiences about world events through state-controlled TV outlets from Syria to Israel.

Take a recent news program on the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, an official government organ, where a former Israeli ambassador by the name of Avi Posner was brought on to talk about the raid on the "Free Gaza" flotilla with a host who only showed signs of a pulse when discussing how "repugnant" the Turkish prime minister is. At first Posner appeared rather frank, projecting something of a realist image that stood in contrast to the boisterous Benjamin Netanyahu, as he openly accepted that, yes, "Diplomatic damage has been done to Israel, this is obvious."

At the same time, though, "damage has to be controlled," Posner continued, laying out an Israeli PR strategy centered around by now familiar talking point "that our soldiers acted in self-defense":
"This is very important. I understand that in many countries the films given out by IDF spokesmen showing the lynching of our soliders has not even been shown on television in Europe. I would make an all out effort to convince television stations to show the film, accompanied by good spokesmen explaining exactly what has happened, that we defended ourselves; we were in a position not of using disproportionate force -- on the contrary, the force was disproportionate against us; and saying that what we did we did in self-defense. And, of course, we regret any loss of life."
I'll say this: though it might have been more tactful to move the whole regretting the loss of life thing a bit higher up, I kinda like Posner's whatever-you-say-bounces-off-me-and-sticks-to-you approach to post-massacre spin, which is not unlike Karl Rove's approach to politics in its ballsy mendacity: your political opponent is a "war hero" (there are no heros in war, but that's another post) while your guy went AWOL from the National Guard? Then paint the deserter as the real, masculine warrior -- land on an aircraft carrier and declare "Mission Accomplished" while in a flight suit -- and cast the other guy as a feckless, effeminate, brie-eating pansy who just might be tempted to surrender to the terrorists if voters are foolish enough to put him in office.

Likewise, heavily armed Israeli commandos drop out of a fucking helicopter in the middle of the night, kill nine humanitarian activists -- shooting a teenager in the skull four times from close range (and once in the chest) -- wound more than 30 others and suffer not one fatality? Then, obviously, it must have been the trigger-happy IDF who suffered the disproportionate force at the hands of the activists and their ferocious fists. I mean, don't you understand how disproportionately traumatic it must be for those soldiers to live with themselves after taking the life of another (even when it's the life of an "other")?

I suspect Israeli officials are right now busy filling out the paperwork to indict Emily Henochowicz's left eye for assaulting an IDF tear gas canister. Oh, how the poor soldier who shot it must feel . . .

(The IBA segment begins around the 8:30 mark.)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Should 'secession' be a dirty word?

Tarnished by its association with slavery and jackasses who drive pickups with confederate flags on them, secession has gotten a bad name -- particularly on the left, and especially now that a Democrat's in power; I certainly don't hear liberals talking about breaking off from "Jesusland" as much as I used to. But should openly discussing the fact that the United States as a geopolitical entity is not set in stone, was not created by the Good Lord on the sixth day, and may not in fact represent the final, perfected stage of human development be verboten?

David Swanson, reviewing Bill Kauffman's new book, Bye Bye, Miss American Empiredoesn't think so:
Those advocating secession today do not seem easily divisible into left and right, a division that appears as artificial and superimposed a distraction as that between Sunni and Shia or north and south Vietnam. The motives behind secession center around resentment of foreign empire -- not just the imperial escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rest of the globe, but also the imperial idea of governing Alaska or Maine from Washington, D.C. In place of this distant, anti-communal, outside rule, the people of Vermont could keep their money and their self-respect, not to mention their militia (which is now called the National Guard and shipped overseas to plunder in the interests of Washington, D.C., not Vermont). If pieces of the United States grew tired of funding wars and Wall Street, BP and Massey Energy, if a group of us determined that we'd rather elect our elected officials than buy them, if we objected to the media outlets in our state being owned by outsiders, if we finally said we weren't going to stand for another Code Orange day at the airport and were going to keep our clothes on when we traveled but cease antagonizing half the world against us, well what harm would be done exactly by pulling out?
Of course it's not just the Civil War that makes us long for federal supremacy. It's Jim Crow. It's Arizona Apartheid. There are states that would move right if they detached and others that would move left. But it's not clear to me that the people of Arizona would have a harder time undoing racist laws if, instead of appealing to a broken federal government thousands of miles away, it were forced to appeal only to itself and to establish for itself international respect and recognition.
Read the rest.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Steny Hoyer: Move along folks, nothing to see here

In a statement issued today regarding Israel's attack on the “Free Gaza” flotilla, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) -- the second highest ranking Democrat in the House behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- begins by declaring that, “As we wait for all the facts to emerge about Monday’s events, several things are already clear." Chief among those things that are "already clear"? That there's no real need to wait for any further facts to emerge, since the Obama administration and Congress are already prepared to block any effort to condemn Israel's actions at the UN, the results of that "credible and transparent investigation" into the incident sought by the Security Council be damned:
"First, the loss of life was tragic. Second, Israel – rightfully so – invoked its right to self-defense on the Mavi Marmara. While the majority of ships in the flotilla – 5 out of 6 – reacted peacefully when approached by Israeli Defense Forces, activists on board the Mavi Marmara were clearly bent on a violent confrontation. They further chose this path despite two week’s worth of repeated warnings from Israel that the ship would not be allowed to come ashore, and despite Israel’s offer to instead receive the humanitarian goods at Ashdod, inspect them there for weapons, and ensure their distribution to Palestinians in Gaza (*). Finally, to the extent that this act was in protest of the Gaza blockade, let’s be clear: Hamas could end the blockade at any time by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and releasing Gilad Shalit.
“The Administration and Congress are determined to prevent condemnation of Israel at the UN Security Council. In times of increased tension such as now, it is imperative that we not allow these events to distract from our main goals of achieving peace in the region and preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
So according to Hoyer, achieving peace in the Middle East requires that we not be distracted by little things like Israeli actions that undermine efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. And speaking of peace, why aren't we talking about bombing Iran?

*Not true, which could actually be said about almost every line in the statement.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Better propaganda, please

In the lead up to its attack on the "Free Gaza" flotilla that left at least nine dead and dozens more wounded, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon claimed that the basic supplies being brought by the more than 600 pro-Palestinian activists -- medicine, wheelchairs, construction material -- were simply not needed, as "there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," a claim repeated ad nauseam by Israeli press officials. That proved, Ayalon claimed, that the mission was not a humanitarian one, but rather "a provocation intended to delegitimize Israel."

The statement ignored, as of course it must, the reality on the ground -- the reality that, according to a spokesman for the UN relief agency in occupied Palestine, “There is a severe humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip", which is something to be expected when 1.5 million people are held in a de facto prison, barred from traveling to and trading with the outside world, forbidden the privilege of a functioning economy and faced with having the shit bombed out of them whenever a car backfires in southern Israel.

But it's one thing for reality and evidence to contradict state propaganda, as more often than not ends up being the case and should always be assumed -- what about when it explicitly contradicts itself?

IDF spokesman Colonel Moshe Levi -- not one of Israel's better propagandists, though I'll concede he has a tough job -- in a statement issued to reporters on Tuesday proclaimed that Israeli soldiers had "been working non-stop for the last twenty-four hours examining the cargo holds of the three large cargo ships and I can say with great assurance, that none of the equipment on board is needed in Gaza."

"The equipment that we found is all equipment that we have regularly allowed into the strip over the past year," Levi continued. "This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the whole premise of the voyage was for propaganda and provocation and not for humanitarian purposes."

To debunk this claim, forget for a moment the reality-based assertions of the limp-wristed UN and those threatening, butter knife-wielding former diplomats and Nobel laureates on the "Free Gaza" boats themselves -- let's turn to IDF spokesman Colonel Moshe Levi and The Jerusalem Post:
"According to Levi, the soldiers also found construction equipment, including sacks of concrete and metal rods. He said that Israel did not allow those products to enter into the Gaza strip for fear that they would be used to construct fortifications for terrorists and for weapons manufacture."
So all the equipment the IDF found was equipment they regularly allow to enter Gaza, except for all the equipment they found which they regularly forbid from entering Gaza. I'd say Levi should lose his job for such a poor effort at propagandizing, but I have a sickening feeling he's got a better than 50/50 chance of being the next White House press secretary.