Monday, May 30, 2011

I think they mean 'especially'

"Americans and, for that matter, all Westerners are treated hereabouts with a warmth and gratitude rarely seen in any Muslim country — even those with 100,000 American troops — in probably half a century or more."
- "In Libyan Rebel Capital, Shouts of Thanks to America and the West," The New York Times
So wait, Americans are perceived more favorably in places their government isn't occupying with 100,000 soldiers and an equal number of trigger-happy private contractors? Strange!

Friday, May 27, 2011

NIAC says Eli Lake's wrong (drum roll) again

In a Twitter battle earlier this week that maybe, though almost certainly not, was of interest to someone other than me and Washington Times reporter Eli Lake, I critiqued the latter -- or gave him shit, to use the popular vernacular -- for a 2009 piece he wrote suggesting the head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Trita Parsi, was illegally serving as a foreign agent for the regime in Tehran.

If true, the claim would be damning. Neoconservatives have long claimed those who opposed their liberation-by-occupation agenda were in the service of foreign despots and here, finally!, is the proof. So why, I wondered, a year and a half after the exclusive exposé took the right-wing commentariat by storm, had Parsi not been charged? I mean, this is a secret agent for Iran we're talking about, mingling with lawmakers in the nation's capital, no less.

Lake's response to my question, posed to him on Twitter, was to thank me for my "illiteracy," in his typical smug-when-criticized manner suggesting I just didn't understand, I just couldn't grasp, what his story was about. "I reported NIAC violated IRS disclosure laws," he wrote. And on that charge he claimed validation: In the "latest 501c4 NIAC registered as a lobby."

Now, Lake's story did indeed deal with whether NIAC was violating its tax status by engaging Capitol Hill on U.S. policy toward Iran, encouraging diplomatic engagement rather than the military conflict sought by Lake and his fellow Beltway cheerleaders for wars they'll never personally fight. But the much more salacious claim, the bombshell that led the story to be picked up by everyone from David Frum to Michael Goldfarb, was always that Parsi was in the pay of the mullahs, his puppet masters, in Iran.

Lake eventually conceded that yes, his story did deal with whether Parsi was serving as an unregistered foreign agent. But adopting the pose of Objective Journalist, not an Ideologue, Lake maintained he merely laid out both sides to the story -- even as he at the same time suggested I was "embarrassing" myself by daring to disagree with a former FBI official's assessment, quoted in the story, that Parsi was likely an Iranian mole.

At the risk of embarrassment, I'll just point out that, if the charge against Parsi were true, we'd probably have seen an indictment by now -- unless, that is, the Obama administration and the Department of Justice are also filled with Iranian moles; no doubt the Washington Times is on the story. But even Lake's lesser charge, the 501whatever allegation, isn't true.

In an email, David Elliott, NIAC's assistant policy director, tells me that his organization has not, in fact, changed its tax status. So when Lake reports that in its latest filing "NIAC has registered as a lobby," he is (and I'll be charitable) just plain wrong. Again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shocker: Neoconservative journalist unapologetically wrong, again

In late 2009, The Washington Times published an exclusive piece by national security reporter Eli Lake that made a sensational claim: Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), was acting as unregistered foreign agent on behalf of the regime in Tehran. The charge, picked up by all the usual suspects in the neoconservative press, was as convenient as it was stunning: Parsi had given lectures to the CIA and met with top American officials to discuss his belief that engagement with the Iranian government was preferable to sanctions and military action.

Parsi's views made him a target of right-wing hawks. Middle Eastern expats living inside the Washington beltway are supposed to help sell wars, after all, not campaign against them.

Lake's evidence that Parsi was acting "as an agent of a foreign power, in this case . . . Iran," as he quoted former FBI official Oliver Revel? The smoking gun that would cause a former FBI special agent to tell Lake that, "Were I running the counterintelligence program at the bureau now, I would have cause to look into this further"? The exclusive document showing Parsi's "lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic,” in the words of another quoted source? Nothing more than an e-mail from Parsi to an Iranian diplomat congratulating the latter on meeting with a House Republican and noting that other lawmakers may be interested in a meeting as well.

No bank statements showing Parsi's group received funding from Tehran. No pay stub from the ayatollahs. Nothing, really

A year and a half later, you'll no doubt be surprised to learn, Parsi is a free, unindicted man. Chalk another one up for neoconservative "journalism."

To mark Parsi's curiously continued freedom, I took to Twitter to ask Lake about it, curious how he would spin it. His response was novel.

That's right: the same reporter who stacked his piece with damning quotes from law enforcement officials suggesting Parsi was an agent for Tehran, adding as the only caveat that "the case is not definitive," now, a year and a half later, won't even acknowledge he made the claim. Instead, Lake suggests his November 2009 piece -- picked up by the likes of former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, who said it raised "real questions" about which country Parsi was really working for -- was but a ho-hum look at whether NIAC filled out the write tax forms.

That whole unregistered foreign agent serving the tyrants of Tehran bit -- the part that got the piece cited by every major conservative outlet as proof those who disagreed with them on U.S. policy toward the Middle East were, as they long suspected, evil sons of bitches of dubious loyalty? Eh, um, *clears throat*, well I . . . you're stupid.

Don't leave Tom Friedman in charge of the signs

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has some advice for the Palestinians:
Announce that every Friday from today forward will be “Peace Day,” and have thousands of West Bank Palestinians march nonviolently to Jerusalem, carrying two things — an olive branch in one hand and a sign in Hebrew and Arabic in the other. The sign should say: “Two states for two peoples. We, the Palestinian people, offer the Jewish people a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.”
A few questions: Is it physically possible to march with an olive branch in one hand and a 80-word sign in the other? Can you even fit 500 characters on a protest sign? And is Tom Friedman the worst writer in the history of humankind or just a deftly performed caricature of the banal, passing-off-received-idiocy-as-insight American Newspaper Columnist?

(via Matt Bors)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Preach it, brother Chris

I can't really bring myself to call Cornell West a "prophet," but there's much to love about former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges' latest essay laying into careerist liberals whose efforts to promote progressive values consist entirely of shilling for politicians like Barack Obama (she goes unnamed, but I'm guessing much of Hedge's ire is directed at Princeton professor and friend of the blog Melissa Harris-Perry).

The professional liberal class, Hedges observes, claims to support progressive ideas like peace and restraints on corporate power -- claims. But that claimed support is belied by the fact that, come election time, these same purported anti-corporate peaceniks busy themselves "defending and promoting systems of power that mock these values." Like the Obama campaign. Like the Democratic Party. Like the U.S. government.

Harris-Perry, for instance, last week penned a widely circulated critique of her colleague Cornell West after the latter publicly renounced his support for the Obama administration. "It is clear to me that West’s ego, not the health of American democracy, is the wounded creature," Harris-Perry wrote, adopting a tone of scathing condescension she has never been able to muster toward the man responsible for killing hundreds of Pakistani civilians (and others) with Predator drones.

Like any good, decent liberal, though, Harris-Perry made sure to inform her readers -- in the last paragraph of her piece -- that she does not much care for the president's policy of mass murder. Yet that's but a polite "disagreement," and certainly not one that'll stop her from voting for Obama and his congressional enablers or publicly shaming their critics. For if she acted on her liberal principles by promoting direct action and the empowerment of people, not politicians, she might lose the access to power and the privileges it brings -- access for which she and other careerists like her have strived their whole professional lives.

More than just an unhealthy allegiance to the politicians, though, Hedges writes -- and shines while doing so -- that the liberal class is also guilty of maintaining an unquestioning, almost religious allegiance to the state. Fantastical (and ludicrous) concepts like the "social contract" aside -- which, mind you, no government in practice has actually been founded upon -- Hedges correctly notes that the state, which relies on the liberal use of violence as a matter of course, is in fact the antithesis of truly progressive values:
By extolling the power of the state as an agent of change, as well as measuring human progress through the advances of science, technology and consumption, liberals abetted the cult of the self and the ascendancy of the corporate state. The liberal class placed its faith in the inevitability of human progress and abandoned the human values that should have remained at the core of its other post-facto liberal justifications for the only institution in society permitted to use violence as a matter of course --activism. The state, now the repository of the hopes and dreams of the liberal class, should always have been seen as the enemy.
Remember, folks: this is all coming from a former reporter for The New York Times. While Hedges' piece is a depressing indictment of modern liberalism, the fact it's written by someone once a star at the most establishment of establishment paper's is enough to give me hope that even the Harris-Perry's of the world will someday wake up and, instead attacking those who criticize the government when -- my god -- a Democrat's in power, start throwing rhetorical bombs at the true enemy of progressive reform: the state.

I'm an eternal optimist.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Says it all, really

Barack Obama speaking today at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC:
Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.

That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.
While spending that actually helps poor people at home in being slashed and programs like Social Security are being eyed for the cutting board, the president of the United States brags -- amid an official unemployment level hovering near double digits -- that he has increased funding for a wealthy foreign country's military to record levels. Any commentary on this fact would be superfluous. It speaks for itself.

As Medea Benjamin and I pointed out a few months ago, outside of the odd Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, Republicans and Democrats -- made-for-television shows of partisan squabbling aside -- are in complete agreement when it comes to the military-industrial complex in general and Israel in particular. In Congress, the only real debate is over who is more "pro-Israel," not over whether it's right to ask struggling Americans to fork over more than $3 billion a year to subsidize another country's addiction to militarism.

Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald highlights how delusional are those who believe -- or rather, those who say they believe -- Obama is an enemy of the Jewish state all because he uttered the same banal talking points as his predecessors about Israel and the "peace process."

My personal favorite response came from Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkeley, who immediately after the president's speech last Thursday fired off a statement declaring she was "extremely troubled by President Obama's call for Israel to 'act boldly' for peace." That, my friends, is how little Obama's pro-Israel critics have to work with: the mere suggestion that Israel, possibly, maybe, I dunno, could do something to help promote peace is cast as borderline anti-semitic.

Greenwald, however, writes that when it comes to Israel and Palestine, "I think President Obama deserves support and some modest credit." Why, you might ask?
From the start of his administration -- from appointing George Mitchell as his envoy to demanding a settlement freeze in the West Bank -- the White House has appeared to recognize that tongue-wagging subservience to the Israeli Government is a counter-productive policy.
I don't see it. In terms of actual policy, Obama's approach to Israel has been indistinguishable from that of George W. Bush, who you'll recall labeled illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank an "impediment to success" in peace negotiations. "The unauthorized outposts, for example, need to be dismantled," Bush said in 2008.

As Greenwald himself notes, Obama was silent when Israel massacred hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, silent when Israel slaughtered unarmed activists on the Mahi Marva, and has had his diplomats working overtime at the United Nations to prevent Israel from facing scrutiny for its war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.

I'm not sure why, in light of these his more substantive support for war crimes and "record levels" of support for those who perpetrate we should be giving Obama any credit or support, however modest, for briefly, once upon a time, meekly asking Israel to abide by international law.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On 'The Speech'

Medea Benjamin and I -- surprise! -- were not too impressed with Barack Obama's speech yesterday on the Middle East. Check out our reaction over at Common Dreams.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Privatization is theft

Taxes entail coercion; this is why they're not called donations. Accordingly, one might think self-styled advocates of free markets and smaller government, Ayn Rand aficionados especially, would be cognizant of the fact that, when it comes to a moral claim over the things that said taxes go to -- from telecommunications to transit systems -- the coerced taxpayer would have the strongest case for ownership.

You'd be wrong, of course. When it comes to downsizing the state, most conservatives and libertarians have a raging hard-on for privatization, by which they mean the government auctioning off taxpayer property to the highest private bidder. The problem with this approach, from a Freedom! and individual rights perspective, is that those who were forced to invest in the state entity to be auctioned off are left with next to nothing to show for it, usually some multinational corporation instead swooping in to pick it up at pennies on the dollar.

Take the example of Guatemalan state telecommunications firm GUATEL. In the late 1990s the Guatemalan government, instead of handing the firm over to the workers and taxpayers who had supported it over the previous two decades, sold 95 percent of its stake to a private company called Telgua, which -- thanks in no small part to its being handed a monopoly share of the market -- continues to be the country's largest telecommunications provider.

At Reason magazine, the move is this week being commemorated as a clear victory against statism. "In Guatemala," former head of GUATEL Alfredo Guzmán tells the magazine, "we have a clear example that freedom works."

Yeah, I'm not so sure about that. While Reason argues the move is responsible for the widespread availability of phone services in Guatemala today, one can look elsewhere in Central America and see a similar story of proliferation. Even in behind-the-times Nicaragua -- and I say that endearingly -- I can get 3G Internet access pretty much anywhere I need (and unlike in the "free market" U.S., I can do so affordably using a prepaid modem).

But if we're going to call what happened in Guatemala the result of "freedom," more pertinent to me than the number of sexting Guatemalan teens there are today is how the transition from state to "private" telecom monopoly actually came about. And if you actually look at it, it begins to look less like a story of free minds and free markets and a bit more like the standard, time-old tale of one economic class, international capitalists, using the power of the state to exploit another economic class, in this case Guatemalan workers.

As former GUATEL head Guzmán himself boasts in the interview with Reason, the decision to privatize the firm was so politically unpopular (read: courageous! ) in his country that the Guatemalan government actually had to threaten its own citizens with jail time should they protest the proposed sale by striking. Rather than respect the right of its people to freely organize and voice their discontent as they saw fit, in this case by merely not going to work, the government of Guatemala threatened those forced to live under its rule with the prospect of time behind bars should they exercise those rights. Moves like that may make life easier for multinational corporations, but it ain't exactly "freedom."

Rather than hand the state's telecom monopoly to the highest bidder, the Guatemalan government could have -- and to my warped syndicalist mind, should have -- turned it over to the Guatemalan people. Each citizen of the country could have been given a share in the company and a say in how it was run; perhaps they'd vote to delegate that authority to an elected board. Or the state could have divided its telecom monopoly amongst its workers, who could run as a cooperative. Either option, or a combination of both, would have better protected the rights and, indeed, property of those poor Guatemalans who put their time and money into GUATEL than merely auctioning it to the multinational corporation with the most money.

Putting aside the financial and political reasons as to why that didn't happen -- maybe, I dunno, it's because rich capitalists have more a say over government decisions than poor workers? -- there's a cultural reason why actual liberty-and-freedom preserving options aren't given much consideration by the folks at Reason and other privatization zealots: it reeks of socialism. Sure, cooperatives are entirely compatible with voluntarism and even modern capitalism, but unless there's a CEO with an insane salary and a private jet involved, right-wing libertarians don't want to hear it -- after all, who would pay them to defend those insane salaries and corporate jets?

While they preach their love of freedom, it's clear that for many on the right the love of markets -- or specifically, corporations -- trumps all other concerns about force and state power. All human needs must be met by a corporation in a quasi-competitive marketplace (the second part's optional), in their view, lest we all become limp-wristed socialists prattling on about "sharing" and "community." That there are alternatives to such strictly defined systems of economics that are not based on state coercion -- and who do you think grants corporations personhood and limited liability? -- is not so much as acknowledged. The light at the end of the freedom tunnel is a McDonald's arch. Corporate ledgers are the gospel.

If minimizing the use of coercion in human affairs is your goal, however, as opposed to maximizing corporate profits, than faux-privatization schemes like the one Guatemalans were subjected to should be described for what they are: manifestations of corporatism, not liberty and free markets. Again, it bears repeating: Transferring a state monopoly funded by taxpayers to the control of international investors is not a win for freedom. The only thing that changes in that scenario is who profits from state coercion, politicians or capitalists -- if it even does that, given the ties between the two.

Instead of fawning over big business and demanding state power be given to state-created corporations, libertarians and other self-styled proponents of freedom on the right ought to be demanding that power be given to the people. That they're not suggests they should be described not as proponents of liberty, but of corporate capitalism. And no, Virginia (Postrel), they're not the same thing.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Did Bradley Manning nearly tip off Osama bin Laden?

In an effort to defend their president's war on whistleblowers, one of the more committed partisans at Daily Kos has a diary up claiming that Bradley Manning and his friends at WikiLeaks nearly tipped Osama bin Laden off to the fact that the U.S. was aware he may be living in Abottabad, Pakistan. How so? Because Manning, "who violated his oath and honor" by supposedly leaking secret government files on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; you know, that place liberals used to talk of as a grave stain on the U.S.'s image before Barack Obama made it his own.

According to diarist "FreeStateDem," echoing claims from one "Extreme Liberal," it was the leaking of the following file on al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libi in particular that nearly ruined Obama's Great Day:
"In July 2003, detainee received a letter from UBL's designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan. UBL stated detainee would be the official messenger between UBL and others in Pakistan. In mid-2003, detainee moved his family to Abbottabad, PK and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar."
According to the diarist, thanks to Manning and WikiLeaks, "bin Laden would have been made aware that the U.S., through Abu Faraj al-Libi, had established a connection between high-level al-Qaeda operatives and the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was hiding."

My god -- damning, right? The Obama administration almost didn't get to extrajudicially execute the guy.

Except, well . . . As New York magazine notes, Pakistani intelligence officials "raided a house in Abbottabad years ago in search of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the man who succeeded Khalid Sheik Muhammad." Given al-Qaeda's reported contacts within the Pakistani intelligence serve, one can safely presume the world's most wanted fugitive would have been aware of such a raid in the town in which he was living. But that's not all:
"In his memoirs, former President Pervez Musharraf said interrogations showed al-Libbi used three houses in Abbottabad, including the same compound where the U.S found bin Laden."
Musharraf's memoirs were published in 2006.

Dear anti-WikiLeaks Democrats,

If you want to defend your guy's mistreatment of Manning and, by extension, shame those shameless purists who insist on upholding the values of transparency and accountability even when one of their own's in power, do us all a favor: try harder. Or perhaps you could spend half the time you do slamming Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald as Bad Liberals reading up on how your beloved president clandestinely cluster bombed and killed 41 innocent men, women and children in Yemen, a brutal act of mass murder confirmed by WikiLeaks and Amnesty International.

Or, as I suspect, not.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Liberals for extrajudicial murder

Under George W. Bush, a common liberal critique of the U.S.'s post-9/11 foreign policy was that, instead of treating terrorist attacks as crimes, the Bush administration had adopted the war paradigm. Instead of treating the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as criminal acts like previous acts of terrorism, such as the 1993 WTC bombing, Bush and company responded with invasions rather than indictments.

With the killing of Osama bin Laden, however, the liberal commentariat has come to embrace the terrorism-as-war framing, just as Democratic partisans who once mocked Bush's “cowboy” persona are now, with no trace of irony, casting their beloved Barack Obama in the role of tough-talking, ten-gallon hat wearing bad ass.

This was all to be expected, of course. It borders on the banal to point out that, for many liberals, the problem was never the U.S. empire, it was that the U.S.'s state of permanent war was being administered by a member of the wrong party. If Al Gore had decided to invade Iraq, no doubt many Democrats would have embraced the supposed humanitarian case for war – even more so than they did under Bush – just as they have with Obama's unilateral decision to bomb Libya.

Despite the predictability of it all, however, even I'm a bit surprised by how readily those who based the “eight disastrous years” of George W. Bush have come to embrace not just the policies they once claimed to loathe, but the rhetoric. On Twitter, American Prospect blogger Adam Serwer lambasted those who would dare claim the execution of Osama bin Laden was illegal, despite reports he was unarmed and that U.S. officials had no intention of taking him alive – and, if you believe his 12-year-old daughter, that he was in fact executed after being captured.

Indeed, despite the shifting narrative from the White House about how the hit actually went down, "there's just no dispute killing him was legal," Serwer declared. The evidence provided: this UN Security Council resolution and the internationally recognized right to "self-defense."

There's a couple problems with this. For one, nothing in the Security Council resolution appears to endorse an extrajudicial killing. In fact, it states simply that UN members ought to "bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of [the 9/11] terrorist attacks," suggesting the opposite. Secondly, as Michael Mansfield points out in The Guardian, the right to self-defense applies in cases of an imminent threat and, nasty man though he may have been, there's little to suggest Osama bin Laden -- a man who didn't even have an Internet connection -- had an actual operational role in planning future attacks against the United States, instead serving as a figurehead and inspirational figure. That is, though he may have been a murderer, he did not pose an imminent threat that would justify murdering him. And while you may not shed a tear for the death of an admitted killer, the dangerous principle embodied in his killing -- that the U.S. can extrajudicially kill anyone it declares a terrorist -- is important to oppose; while it may just be Osama today, it could just as easily be Anwar al-Awlaki or others against whom there is much less evidence of wrongdoing tomorrow.

As for Osama, what of that minor being-unarmed thing? It's of no concern: "[A]ctually," Serwer replied to one critic, "in the context of armed conflict it's perfectly legal to shoot someone who is unarmed but has not surrendered." If true -- like Serwer, I'm no lawyer -- this indicates that perhaps appeals to international law don't have the moral authority some would like to believe. And given that the institutions tasked with upholding international law have allowed the U.S. to run roughshod over the most basic aspects of it, like the prohibition against aggressive war, it's not clear it's worth the paper -- not stone tablet, as Serwer appears to believe -- it's written on.

If we accept the interpretation of international law offered, however, it's hard to see how one could argue against other nations acting just like America and summarily executing anyone they say has declared war against them, a fear actual experts in international law have raised. If the whole world's a battlefield, as Serwer argues, then, indisputably, the Cuban government has the right to send an assassination squad to Miami to take out admitted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. After all, Carriles is unrepentant about killing 73 civilians on an Cuban airliner in 1976 and admitted to The New York Times his role in planning a series of deadly bombings that struck Havana during the 1990s.

Or, as I suspect, does only America, guided as it is by the Light of Liberty, have the right to execute its enemies without trial?

That Serwer and his ilk would stretch international law to defend the actions of President Obama isn't surprising. He's a Democrat. What is, at least to me, is the extent to which he and his ilk have adopted the exact same rhetoric and debate techniques as the neoconservative right. Consider this exchange between Serwer and a critic who noted that America's "right to self-defense" was perhaps undermined by the fact that said right was cited to justify the invasion of Iraq.

This disgusting response is straight out of the Rudy Giuliani school of foreign policy debate. Challenge any aspect of the war on terror -- in this case, uncontroversially pointing out that the U.S. has killed a lot more people in "self defense" than actually died on 9/11 -- and, my god, you must be siding with The Terrorists.

Then there are the lame attacks on limp-wristed liberals  -- nay, pacifists (if phlegm doesn't come out of you're mouth when you say it, you're pronouncing it wrong) -- who have the audacity to question whether the U.S. really ought to be going down the assassination route:

If it's not clear by now, the Democrats -- and their faithful defenders -- are no friends of peace or the rule of law. As soon as it's a member of the Blue Team dropping the bombs and ordering the assassinations, partisan liberals will turn on their anti-war allies the first moment it's seen as politically beneficial. And they'll do so with the exact same unoriginal rhetoric, because when it comes down to it, they share the exact same beliefs in American exceptionalism as their right-wing brethren.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

'The Army is full of a bunch of scumbags'

From Harper's magazine, here's a revealing Facebook chat between Christopher Winfield (C.W.) and his son, Adam (A.W.), after the latter witnessed members of his Army platoon in Afghanistan stage the murder of an innocent Afghan civilian:
A.W.: Did you not understand what I just told you what people did in my platoon?

C.W.: Murder.

A.W.: Yeah, an innocent dude. They planned and went through with it. I knew about it. Didn’t believe they were going to do it. Then it happened. Pretty much the whole platoon knows about it. It’s OK with all of them pretty much. Except me. I want to do something about it. The only problem is I don’t feel safe here telling anyone. The guy who did it is the golden boy in the company who can never do anything wrong and it’s my word against theirs.

C.W.: Was it an Afghan they killed?

A.W.: Yes. Some innocent guy about my age just farming. They made it look like the guy threw a grenade at them and mowed him down. I was on the Stryker and wasn’t on the ground when it took place. But I know they did it because they told me. Everyone pretty much knows it was staged. If I say anything it’s my word against everyone. There’s no one in this platoon that agrees this was wrong. They all don’t care.
A.W.: I was going to keep my mouth shut but they fucked with the wrong guy this time. I’ve about had it with this Army. Last night I was so mad I almost quit altogether and told them I refuse to go on missions with them but they would really get me in trouble then.
C.W.: Four months left. You will make it through. We will work on this problem too.
A.W.: Well, if you talk to anyone on my behalf I have proof that they are planning another one in the form of an AK-47 they want to drop on a guy.
C.W.: How many are involved?
A.W.: Well, it was two guys who did it, actually killed the dude. But the whole platoon knew about it for the most part. I think our platoon leader doesn’t know and maybe like two dudes. Everyone just wants to kill people at any cost. They don’t care. The Army is full of a bunch of scumbags I realized.
Just a few bad apples is all. And remember: if you don't think "our" troops are "the good guys," you're a very naughty liberal.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Give him a trial? Give me a break

Look, I don't even know why we're debating this. The guy was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Men, women and children. Little babies. He did not deny this – hell, he reveled in it. Wore it as a badge of honor. Dude was guilty as sin. And some whiny bitches are wringing their hands whining and bitching about giving the dude a trial? Give me a break. Putting him on trial would take forever, give him a platform, stir up the crazies... and there's always the non-zero probability he could be found innocent. A trial is fruitlessly pro forma in a case like this.

Obviously – painfully so – George W. Bush should be summarily executed.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Who was Osama bin Laden?

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, or rather Internet commenter Paul Alexander's channeling of him, has the answer:
Well, he was about 8 feet tall with really big fangs. This one time him and his buddies flew a rocket ship into the Freedom Building in New York City and killed 6 million people. It was called the Holocost at 9/11 Street. He survived, though, and flew back to Afghaniraqovia on a magic carpet. He then set to building a gigantic army of evil which consisted of every man, woman and child of Arab descent. He used mind control like Dr. Mabuse. I think everyone was, and understandably so, convinced that he could only be killed with Excalibur. And when I asked Wally down at the yogurt shop what he thought about his death, he shrugged his shoulders and asked, "Do you want Oreo cookie bites on this like usual?" I lost it right there and started screaming and yelling and asking if he cared about anything in this world. I think I had a right!
I'd only add that Osama was also the guy who stole Christmas that one time.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A final word about Ron Paul

Over at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi responds to my recent piece criticizing Obama critics like him who, despite acknowledging that the president is perpetrating mass murder -- in the form of ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya -- and continuing to lock up scores of Americans for non-violent drug offenses, say that they'd still vote for the guy over someone who wouldn't do any of that: Ron Paul.

Now, I love Taibbi's work. And I'm not just saying that: dude's been a favorite of mine since his New York Press days, even if I think he's unfortunately become more of a conventional liberal Democrat since moving over to Rolling Stone (for example, I'm not sure the Taibbi of old would have felt it necessary to start a piece critiquing the president's personality cult with the line, "I supported Barack Obama. I still do."). I didn't mean to single him out because I think he's especially awful -- just the opposite: here's a guy who pretty much gets what's going on, knows that Obama's expanding the empire and handing trillions of dollars to Wall Street, and still supports him. I find that strange.

And as the proprietor of a blog called "false dichotomy," I didn't intend to paint Obama supporters into a false either/or choice of "I support Ron Paul, or I support mass-murder," as Taibbi characterizes my piece. Indeed, I made it clear I'd rather cast a write-in ballot for Emma Goldman than either Paul or Obama.

The framing for piece came not because I believe one must choose between the two -- as I wrote for Counterpunch last year, I'd rather people forgo the diversion of electoral politics altogether -- but because of an explicit hypothetical posed to Taibbi earlier this year.

"In light of the enormous disappointment that was Barack Obama," a reader wrote to him this past February, "would you vote for Ron Paul over Barack Obama in 2012?"

Taibbi's response at the time was, well, no, primarily because he said he found Ron Paul's son, Rand, to be an enormous prick. No argument there, though I'd note that his opponent in the race for Senate was one too -- we're talking about politics, after all.

That reply, combined with Taibbi's earlier avowed support for Obama, was one of main the reasons -- along with the smug denunciations of Ron Paul, who opposes war, from self-styled progressives who support a president who just launched, believed-it-or-not, another one -- I wrote my piece. It's not like Ron Paul's anywhere near perfect, as I noted, but given a choice between a guy who cluster bombs women and children in Yemen and one who, reactionary though he may be, is a true believer in peace, why support the war criminal? It's not even like Obama's war crimes have been accompanied by the creation of a socialist worker's paradise at home -- quite the contrary, in fact -- effectively negating the liberal critiques of Paul's budget-slashing domestic agenda, which even if enacted wouldn't preclude local governments and -- as an anarchist, I would hope -- alternative social organizations not dependent on coercion from picking up where the federal government left off.

Taibbi, who knows well enough that Obama's a corporatist, recognizes that in a lot of ways Paul is superior. And he even notes that the latter's supporters -- who I'm afraid probably bombarded him with links to my piece, complete with denunciations of his role in serving the New World Order (dude: sorry!) -- weren't all that bad in his experience:
When I followed the elder Ron Paul’s campaign in 2008, a lot of the people I met were intellectuals who had a genuine philosophical problem with government spending and the Fed, and who were really consistent about their limited-government beliefs – no welfare, but also no drug laws and no foreign interventionist wars. (You frequently found Ron Paul supporters who were more passionate about ending the drug war than they were about ending food stamps or whatever). I got along with almost all of these people, who were all unfailingly polite and respectful toward me. And I had a lot of respect for their views, even though I didn’t agree with everything they believed.
So why, given the choice between Paul and Obama -- a false dichotomy, yes, but the one posed to him -- would he choose the latter, war crimes and all? Because Rand Paul, Ron's son, is a dick, one who Taibbi argues relied on "racial signaling" during his run for the Senate. I'm not going to dispute his characterization of Rand, which he says now colors his view of the father, but this strikes me as less than persuasive. If the Pauls' uglier views and racial insensitivity was held out as a reason to forget elections in favor of community organizing and direct action? Hey, I'd be right there with ya. But as a reason to continue supporting Obama? Eh . . .

I could be off base, and I'm conscious that I may be unfairly using my personal hobby horse as a litmus test for others, but I feel pretty damn strongly that ending the empire is far and away the most important issue of our time. Not killing people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya -- pretty big deal. Not imposing an embargo on Cuba or helping fuel violent insurgencies in Mexico and Colombia -- again, big deal. Not undermining any foreign leader who shows the slightest inclination to serve his or her own people rather than international capital -- you get the idea.

Domestically, I also see no more pressing issue than the fact that 2.3 million Americans, or roughly 1 in 100 adults, are now in prison, mostly poor minorities and largely for non-violent offenses that ought not be crimes in the first place. Ron Paul says he would do away with the war on drugs and pardon many of its victims; Barack Obama, by contrast, hasn't freed a single person behind bars, instead choosing to use his enormous power as president to unilaterally launch new wars and threaten states that dare consider legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Ron Paul may be a dick, but at least he's not a murderous dick that would throw you in prison for growing some pot. Go ahead and don't vote for him -- again, by all means. But instead of discussing how awful he is, I'd like to hear folks like Taibbi discuss why they still support Obama -- less "Why I Can't Vote For Ron Paul," more, "Why I Can Vote for Barack Obama." Or, better yet, I'd like to hear ideas on non-electoral alternatives to supporting, yes, a mass murderer. I'm all ears.

Addendum: Since some of you in the comments think I'm somehow backing off my original position, let me clarify. When I say that I'm conscious I may be using "my personal hobby horse" -- empire, or rather, the state bombing little children with cluster bombs -- as a litmus test for politicians, I'm being sarcastic. A year or so ago Chris Floyd and I were accused by one particularly dull liberal blogger of of making issues of war and peace our silly little "hobby horse," and I've since embraced the term.

Perhaps I was too subtle -- there's a first for everything -- but, obviously, if somebody believes it's okay to blow poor foreigners up with munitions because somebody Bad might be in the vicinity, then they are fucked as a human being and not worthy of your support, whether they're a politician or a friend (I'm harsh like that). If you believe it's okay to murder innocent men, women and children with Predator drones, I don't care what your position on Social Security is.

Also, to be gratuitous: Fuck Matt Tabbi on this.

Fair is fair

Now that every good, patriotic liberal believes Barack Obama is personally responsible for the success or failure of every U.S. military action undertaken during his watch, can we call the dude a mass murderer yet?

Related Reading: Barack Obama: He's Not Your Friend, But What If He Was?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The liberal defense of murder

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole -- who I interviewed for public radio back when U.S. presidents unilaterally starting wars was still considered a bad thing -- reacts to reports that NATO bombs may have killed Muammar Qaddafi's youngest son and three of his grandchildren:
"If you hang around in a charnel house, you could end up being cremated."

Update: More high-minded, sophisticated commentary from Juan Cole.

(Headline borrowed from Richard Seymour)