Sunday, May 31, 2009

'The ax in my head is really bumming me out . . . got any Prozac?'

An ad for the anti-depressant Cymbalta that I saw on TV the other night cautioned any would-be consumer not to take the product if suffering from “uncontrolled glaucoma.” This raises the obvious question: If you have freaking uncontrolled glaucoma, don’t you think that might have something to do with any sense of unhappiness you may feel? And might I suggest that -- despite the average American’s propensity to pop prescription happy pills like popcorn -- you talk to your doctor about that whole impending blindness thing first, before asking about your media-induced fears of mood-altering chemical imbalances?

I’m guessing the treatment for glaucoma might also help with any other lingering feelings of malaise. Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

U.S. liberalism: promoting 'reform' while sustaining the status quo

"The history of American liberalism is one of promoting substantively modest if superficially radical reforms in order to refurbish and sustain the status quo. From Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to Bill Clinton's New Covenant, liberals have specialized in jettisoning the redundant to preserve what they see as essential. In this sense, modern liberalism's great achievement has been to deflect or neutralize calls for more fundamental change - a judgment that applies to President Obama, especially on national security."
-- Andrew Bacevich, "Obama's sins of omission"
Writing for The Boston Globe last month, historian Andrew Bacevich alluded to a critique of liberalism long voiced by the likes of radical "New Left" writers like Gabriel Kolko: that rather than curtailing corporatist or imperial polices, or fundamentally altering the nature of the corporate state, liberal politicians have regularly sought the appearance of change while reaffirming the reality of the status quo, albeit with minor superficial changes designed to keep the rabble in check and prevent the chance of actual change unscripted by the establishment taking place.

That Bacevich sees less change than more-of-the-same coming out of Washington is notable as, prior to the election last November, he penned a piece for The American Conservative on why he, a life-long conservative, was voting for Barack Obama rather than John McCain. "The election of John McCain would provide a new lease on life to American militarism, while perpetuating the U.S. penchant for global interventionism marketed under the guise of liberation," Bacevich wrote. While hardly a glowing endorsement of the American state's new caesar -- "Obama’s habit of spouting internationalist bromides suggests little affinity for serious realism" -- Bacevich argued his election would at least "constitute something approaching a definitive judgment of the Iraq War"; namely, as Obama declared during the campaign, that it was a war which never should have been waged in the first place.

But with Obama's election -- and with the benefit of hindsight -- has that really been the case? Or has the election of a self-styled war critic, resulted in a "rather breathtaking bait-and-switch," as Michael J. Smith posits, whereby the discussion of Iraq and Afghanistan has shifted among the once anti-war Democratic base from one focused on the morality of the policy to "a discussion of means -- means to an end which is never explicitly stated but is implicitly agreed upon by all: namely, conquest"?

Judging by the muted response among the Democratic base to Obama's decision to dramatically escalate the U.S. war Afghanistan, his continued acts of war inside of Pakistan and his rather timid Iraq "withdrawal" plan that leaves 50,000 troops -- more than half the size of the initial invasion force -- there until 2011 (unless, that is, the Iraqi government "requests" the U.S. stay a bit longer), I'd have to say Smith is clearly right: the anti-war movement, in so far as there ever was one, has been co-opted by the Democratic Party. One need look no further than the top liberal blogs for evidence of this: simply compare the number of outraged posts about bloated, right-wing talk radio blowhards to the ones expressing concern over the morality of extrajudicially killing suspected Taliban with remote-controlled drones.

This process of co-option and deflection -- pay no attention to state-sponsored murder, but did you hear what crazy shit Rush Limbaugh just said? -- is reinforced by the fact that Obama's nominal opposition on the right, though they more or less share the same underlying assumptions on the desirability of a global U.S. empire, has reacted to the president's mild shifts in rhetoric with the type of hysteria one would expect should he have gay married an illegal immigrant. To the stubborn third of the country that thought President Bush was doing a heckuva job to the bitter end, any dealings with "anti-American" foreign leaders which don't end with an insult and an ultimatum amount to appeasement; any policy shift that proposes something less than complete annihilation for Iran and others should they defy "U.S. interests" degenerate pacificism.

This was in full display after Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago, when the likes of Bill Bennett and Newt Gingrich took the airwaves to hyperventilate about the his shaking hands with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, claiming the Republic imperiled by an American president sullying his office by appearing to be on equal footing with his Latin American counterparts. In doing so, "Obama’s opponents on the mainstream right showed how ready they are to lash out at any gesture or move, however meaningless and harmless in itself, and declare it proof of Obama’s naivete, weakness, folly, etc.," notes conservative blogger Daniel Larison.

In this context, it's no wonder Democrats feel the need to form a protective circle around their chosen Godhead, cook up some popcorn and enjoy the spectacle of the Republican faithful crying "fascism!" at the first change in upper-income marginal tax rates -- all the while propounding an economic and foreign policy platform of their own that would make Mussolini blush. That partisanship on both sides of the corporatist political spectrum trumps factual analysis comes as no surprise, but it is unfortunate since those best positioned to criticize Obama's imperial agenda instead spend their time explaining to reactionaries that no, Obama is neither a Muslim nor Malcolm X's lovechild, while right-wingers busy themselves calling for ever more imperialism and blasting anything short of unilateral, preemptive war as "blame America" McGovernism.

Thus, while he's busy boosting the Pentagon budget and expanding U.S. wars overseas -- with the help of Bush administration Defense Secretary Robert Gibbs -- the only real vocal opposition to Obama's policies comes from, absurdly, those who argue he's not being militaristic enough. Sure, a few liberal bloggers voice objections, but for every Glenn Greenwald there appears to be a about a dozen Paul Begala's unwilling to criticize Obama's endorsement of what Bacevich calls "the Second Trinity of global power projection, global military presence, and global activism - the concrete expression of what politicians commonly refer to as 'American global leadership.'"

As Bacevich suggests, the issue is not so much Obama -- though he's obviously in a position to effect the most change in U.S. foreign policy -- but American liberalism, which has all too often excelled at engaging in the same policy of covert coups and overt invasions as conservatives but cloaked in an easy-on-the-conscience veneer of human rights.

“[H]owever much Obama may differ from Bush on particulars, he appears intent on sustaining the essentials on which the Bush policies were grounded,” Bacevich writes. “Put simply, Obama's pragmatism poses no threat to the reigning national security consensus. Consistent with the tradition of American liberalism, he appears intent on salvaging that consensus.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The curious case of the establishment liberal

From an inflammatory piece I had published last week:
A peculiar notion has arisen of late, maintaining that things like torture, domestic spying and illegal wars are all attributable to the Right -- namely, the administration of President George W. Bush -- and are in fact historical anomalies, not at all in keeping with the traditions of these great United States . The idea that war crimes and civil liberties violations are strictly conservative affairs is particularly comforting to wide-eyed Democrats in awe of America’s First Black President ™, and it affords the heirs to the same liberal establishment which brought us Vietnam and Hiroshima another opportunity to grandstand about their commitment to human rights even as the noble humanitarian Barack Obama continues to extra-judicially murder foreigners with unmanned drones. Unfortunately for partisan Democrats – and even more so the victims of U.S. exceptionalism – American imperialism and its associated evils have long enjoyed bipartisan backing, though liberals tend to be somewhat more sheepish about their support for killing, torturing and maiming poor people overseas.
Read the rest.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who cares about this 'Nancy Pelosi torture crap'?

Hanging around the U.S. Capitol this afternoon, I overheard a reporter for a major publication you probably last read at the dentist's office bemoaning how ever so bored she was the news this week. Actual quote:
"I don't care about any of this Nancy Pelosi torture crap . . . I'm a forward-looking girl."
That "Pelosi torture crap" to which the reporter refers is of course the news that self-styled progressive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was reportedly briefed on the Bush administration's use of torture and did not object, supposedly out of "respect" for the "'appropriate' legislative channels."

Yet to some reporters, the news that one of the leaders of the nominal opposition party during the Bush years was informed -- and indeed complicit -- in the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques used on suspected terrorists is just so bor-ing. But no, it's Google that's killing journalism . . .

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who could object to Mother's Day?

Apparently a whole lot of of folks once did, as Bill Kauffman reminds us, citing the lopsided defeat the first resolution proposing a national Mother's Day suffered back in 1908:
Senator Henry Moore Teller (D-CO) scorned the resolution as “puerile,” “absolutely absurd,” and “trifling.” He announced, “Every day with me is a mother’s day.”

Senator Jacob Gallinger (R-NH) judged the very idea of Mother’s Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother “could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10.”

“There are some thoughts that are so great and so sacred that they are belittled by movements of this character,” lectured Senator Charles Fulton (R-OR), who went on to suggest the consecration of “Mother-in-Law Day.”

Besides—and this objection may strike modern ears as bizarre—whether or not young men honored their mothers was none of the federal government’s damned business.

“It is not a proper subject for legislation,” declared Senator Weldon Heyburn (R-ID). “[T]he sentiment that exists between the parent and the child” was “too sacred to be made the subject of bandying words” and symbolic resolutions.

By a margin of 33-14, the Senate contemptuously returned this first Mother’s Day resolution to committee.
Read the rest.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Senator Kit Bond talks sports with a dog

Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, may be on the very fringes of sanity and losing all sense of awareness or an under-appreciated comedic genius. You decide:

For another glimpse into the state of Bond's perception of the world around him, check out this news conference from earlier this month where he speaks for over 6 minutes behind a blinking (and quite distracting) traffic light. It had something to do with a report Bond was releasing -- or else he was just trying to communicate with his home planet.

The militarization of law enforcement

While reading a news story this week about the tragic murder at Wesleyan University, I came across this rather interesting picture:
The caption insists the photo is of "Middletown police and Wesleyan University security", which perhaps makes it even more disconcerting to see them decked out in military garb, yet further evidence of the militarization of U.S. law enforcement -- a trend made more disturbing by the number of cops that have served in the military or are in the reserves, and one accelerated by the bipartisan fondness for adopting the language -- and tactics -- of war to fight illicit drugs.

Unfortunately, outside of a few paranoid "rule of law" types, there doesn't seem to be much of an outcry over military-style police forces, the public perhaps conditioned to images of military occupation from years of CNN and the "war on terror". This bumper sticker photographed by Radley Balko captures much of the problem:
As Balko writes:
Once again, cops aren’t soldiers. American cities aren’t battlefields. And U.S. citizens aren’t potential combatants. This isn’t pedantry. It’s about the mentality with which police officers approach their job, and about what sort of relationship they’re going to have with the people whose rights they’re supposed to be protecting.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Video: Obama official speaks 'off the record'

Last month I highlighted another instance of the increasingly popular phenomenon of b-list political appointees and congressional staffers seeking to go "off the record" at public events. In this most recent case, U.S. Trade Representative Tim Reif spoke was to speak on a panel at the Cato Institute about "restoring the pro-trade consensus", and while his fellow panelists' remarks were to be on the record, his, inexplicably, were not.

Well, in case you were unable to attend the undoubtedly thrilling event, Cato has helpfully provided a video recording. Reif's remarks begin around the 43 minute mark.

Is being black a 'political leaning'?

I don't typically start my day by reading The Washington Times, but a copy of the moonie rag happened to be sitting next to me on the subway this morning, enabling me to read what may be the stupidest opening to a story I've read this year:
WASHINGTON — The same Homeland Security Department office that categorized veterans as potential terrorists issued an earlier report that defined dozens of "extremists" ranging from black power activists to abortion foes. The report was nixed within hours and recalled from state and local law enforcement officials.

Whites and blacks, Christians and Jews, Cubans and Mexicans, along with tax-hating Americans were among several political leanings listed in the "Domestic Extremism Lexicon" that came out of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) in late March.
Note to Times editors: unlike one's politics, a person's race or ethnicity tends not to be subject to change, ergo it is inaccurate to describe, say, being black as one of many "political leanings". And while it's great you're exposing the Department of Homeland Security's rather inept attempts to define domestic "extremists", you might want to invest in an in-house lexicon of your own.