Sunday, February 28, 2010

Charles Krauthammer: The war on terror is over

Charles Krauthammer, a Washington Post columnist and prominent neoconservative -- or do I repeat myself -- is a smug and dependable advocate of empire, one who doesn't apologize for the sins that inevitably come with occupying foreign lands for years, decades, but one who revels in them, and indeed wishes to see them be fruitful and multiply. Clearly viewing himself as a towering intellectual force, Krauthammer can always be counted to defend the worst excesses of America's imperial adventures, from indefinite detention and torture to drone strikes and illegal war. No peacenik, he regularly takes to the Sunday morning talk shows and Op-Ed pages in a courageous battle in the propaganda war against the terrorists, so when a man of his caliber, who has never met a war he didn't like (from afar, always from afar), says the war on terror is over, I think it deserves some attention.

While searching though the archive of Krauthammer's columns from 2001 for another post -- and because I clearly have some sort of sick, masochistic desire to spend Sunday mornings reading eight year old editorials on the need to invade Iraq lest the victims of 9/11 die in vain -- I came across this pronouncement contained in a typically self-important piece laying out a checklist of countries real men like Charles Krauthammer would bomb:
The war on terrorism will conclude in Baghdad. How? No one knows. All we do know is that history, cunning and cruel, will demand that if this president wants victory in the war he has declared, he will have to achieve it on the very spot where his own father, 10 years ago, let victory slip away.
Despite emerging "victorious" in Iraq, as Krauthammer has taken great lengths to tell us, there always seems to emerge just one more country begging for a little liberation-by-bombing, just one more Hitler-in-the-making that needs taking out by America's armed forces, which is something to be expected when one's view of the world is formed by the ideological equivalent of a hall of mirrors -- my god, is that a WMD, or worse, a Muslim in the corner?! -- and you get paid by the Neville Chamberlain reference.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Do as we say, not as we do

Iran is conducting what U.S. officials say is a broad covert-action campaign to influence Iraq's elections next month, pumping money and other assistance to its allies.
When do we start bombing, right? That's David Ignatius in The Washington Post, by the way, describing nefarious behavior the United States -- if there's a flag near by you best be saluting -- would never dare engage in, it being guided by freedom and all that is good. Read on and soak in the lurid details about what those damnable Persians are up to:
Iran provides money, campaign materials, and political training to various individual candidates and political parties [in Iraq].
In other words, the U.S. government accuses Shiite Iran of supporting the Shiite political parties whose leaders were based in Iran prior to the 2003 invasion and subsequently empowered by the U.S. government after it took out Saddam Hussein and the predominantly Sunni Baath Party (and liberated a few hundred thousand other hapless souls of mixed religious background from their corporeal existences). Iran backing the same groups the U.S. installed in power is, clearly, A Very Bad Thing, a point Ignatius need not expand upon. It just is, okay?

There's more:
"Iran interferes in Iraq's political process, urging alliances that not all Iraqi politicians favor, in an effort to consolidate power among parties supported by Iran.
Iran supports de-Baathification efforts engineered by Ahmed Chalabi for the purpose of eliminating potential obstacles to Iranian influence. Chalabi is also interested in Iran's assistance in securing the office of Prime Minister.
Again, for those not in the DC bubble, Iran stands accused of doing exactly what the Bush administration did back in 2003, when, as that radical outpost the Council on Foreign Relations reminds us, former U.S. viceroy of Iraq L. Paul Bremer "outlawed the Baath Party and dismissed all senior members from their government posts." In November of '03, Bremer then created "a Supreme National Debaathification Commission to root out senior Baathists," barring up to 10,00 of the party's top leaders from even appealing their removal.

Ahmed Chalabi, meanwhile, is head of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that -- with the help of some influential neoconservative friends and idiot journalists -- disseminated alarmist reports of Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction everywhere from The New York Times to the White House. So connected was Chalabi back in the heady pre-invasion days that, as the BBC notes, he was "once touted at the Pentagon as a future president of Iraq." That the alleged support he receives from Iran is now a cause for alarm shows a remarkable turnaround in U.S. support; usually we try to hook up our cronies with a few WMDs and torture chambers before we try to overthrow them a decade later (sometimes longer if the victims aren't photogenic, on Twitter, or living on top of coveted natural resources).

More reasons to be afraid and let Israel invade:
"The Iranians are everywhere, all over the place -- overtly, covertly, you name it," says a White House official who closely monitors Iraq."
Or, "says an official of a government that, after invading Iraq and overthrowing those it overtly and covertly aided for decades, has stationed around a quarter million troops and defense contractors in Iraq for the better part of a decade." For the political sages you know they imagine themselves to be, Washington Post columnists display a, how shall I put it, underwhelming awareness of the world around them and how the actions of their government could be considered . . . hypocritical. Take Ignatius' final line:
Iranian meddling has backfired in the past, officials say, and they are hoping that will happen again when Iraqis go to the polls.
Now, if a nation meddling in the affairs of an immediate neighbor with whom it shares a common religion and similar culture has backfired in the past, as may very well "happen again," what does that say about the chances a nation more than 6,000 miles away, which shares little more than an affinity for guns and Michael Jackson with those it occupies, can meddle in Iraq's affairs without that intervention likewise backfiring? Indeed, I can even imagine a scenario where U.S. intervention in Iraq only empowers those with close ties to Iran (I have a vivid imagination), or helps al-Qaeda recruit its next suicide bomber.

It's hard to say whether ignorance or arrogance carries more weight when Fred Hiatt chooses columnists for the Post editorial page, but rest assured possessing the ability to think critically about the American government and its actions abroad is a certain disqualification.

UPDATE: IOZ takes down the arguments, as it were, in Ignatius' column with his trademark, well-deserved invective and expert Big Lebowski references, rightly -- if a tad too kindly -- describing the piece as a "phoned-in hack job":
That having been said, it is impossible to repeat often enough the utter, fundamental, essential, intrinsic, inherent, unavoidable, inarguable, insane absurdity of lecturing a country for taking an active role in the politics of its neighbor and longtime rival when your own nation has invaded that rival, deposed its long-standing government, mandated a new constitution, fortified and occupied its capital city, garrisoned over 100,000 occupying troops, and committed itself to an "enduring" military presence to be measured in decades at least.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Barack Obama and the ideology of power

Barack Obama is an eminently reasonable man. Not an ideologue of the left or right -- you know, one of those people with actual core beliefs and convictions -- he's a pragmatist interested only in what works. Or so that's what he's sought to convey in every major speech and policy decision: President Obama, Mr. Centrist -- his only ideology is his commitment to being non-ideological -- carefully crafting official policy with the help of a panel of wise elders. Consider his speech last week announcing more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for a new nuclear plant in Georgia, a move that on the face of it seems to be continuation of the bipartisan corporatist ideology that has dominated Washington for decades, if not since the founding of the republic, but which the president carefully lectured the class actually reflects the fact he has yet again transcended all political labels and beliefs:
"Now, there will be those that welcome this announcement, those who think it's been long overdue. But there are also going to be those who strongly disagree with this announcement. The same has been true in other areas of our energy debate, from offshore drilling to putting a price on carbon pollution. But what I want to emphasize is this: Even when we have differences, we cannot allow those differences to prevent us from making progress. On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can’t keep on being mired in the same old stale debates between the left and the right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs."
For people that praise this man's intellect: how not only tired is this rhetoric, but superficial and frankly incoherent is it -- much like his Nobel (War Is) Peace Prize speech? Loans for new reactors equals progress, according to Obama, and differences -- such as whether using tax dollars to help build expensive centralized power plants on behalf of private corporations is really the best use of limited resources -- mustn't block progress, children. I can't help but wonder, though, if the reason some of the debates have become "stale" is because they might have never been resolved, so the arguments become familiar. Like, just what does one do about all the radioactive waste nuclear power plants produce?

Well, Obama has an answer, of sorts, for that:
As the CEOs standing behind me will tell you, nuclear power generates waste, and we need to accelerate our efforts to find ways of storing this waste safely and disposing of it. That's why we've asked a bipartisan group of leaders and nuclear experts to examine this challenge. And these plants also have to be held to the highest and strictest safety standards to answer the legitimate concerns of Americans who live near and far from these facilities. That's going to be an imperative. 
The technocratic liberal voice inside my head wonders, why no blue-ribbon commission? And are Lee Hamilton and Brent Snowcroft available?

Also, notice the use of "we" above, referring to Obama and the energy company CEOs standing behind him: these businessmen are crafting policies designed to save their industry billions of dollars by externalizing problem of nuclear waste, which probably seems reasonable enough to most in DC but demonstrates the extent to which state policy is crafted with an eye not toward restraining and regulating corporate America, but aiding and abetting it, usually under the guise of restraint of regulation.

Attending an EPA public hearing on some mundane regulation is an eye-opening, ableit tedious, experience: while there's always a few do-gooding environmentalists here and there, most of those in attendance and providing feedback to the regulators are the ones being regulated. The Energy Department hosts day-long symposiums to discuss ways it can further aid the nuclear industry, with panel discussions led by energy company vice presidents and keynote addresses delivered by the CEOs. Debate in Washington, and the reason Obama believes he is acting on behalf of consensus, not ideology, consists of corporate lobbyists and the folks in Congress they underwrite discussing how best to promote growth in their respective industries. After the general shape of a policy is agreed to, then perhaps a few scraps are thrown to unions and other interest groups, but the bulk of most major legislation is supported, if not drafted, by the affected industries. Obama might insist there's no ideology at play in his decisions as if that's a good thing, but neither is ideology usually at play in looting.

The actual experience of most nations -- not the political science theorizing -- I think undercuts the belief that the state is ultimately geared, as most liberals contend, to those few moments when it does genuine good for the public at large, and that it just often fails in trying. Rather, reality suggest that those other moments, those much more frequent moments, when the government instead acts on the behalf of those already possessing wealth and power, provide a much clearer indication of the state's true nature and interests, and on whose behalf it serves. Notice the relative ease with which the government comes to the aid of ailing banks and home builders, compared to the immense difficulty it appears to have assisting uninsured Americans, when all the sudden concerns about filibusters and conference committees come into play. I think there's a message there.

Let's use our imaginations for a minute. Say someone decided to brush their teeth with an automatic weapon. Wouldn't really work out too well, right? After a while, if the person didn't figure it out themselves, you'd probably go up to them and point out that an automatic weapon is actually much better suited to killing people than dental hygiene. In fact, it's really fucking good at killing people -- like, so good it seems designed to do so. Much the same, the state doesn't seem so good at helping poor people, though it excels at imprisoning them them, and it's not so good at maintaining peace -- one of its chief stated aim -- yet it's really good, like our friend the automatic weapon, at killing people, as well as at directing money from the middle and lower classes to the interests of capital -- so good, in fact, it appears it was designed to do so. At least it's worth considering.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

‘If only I’d authorized torture instead of jaywalking’

In the world of politics, accepting responsibility for something means little more than actually saying the words: “I accept full responsibility.” Perhaps the Senate Ethics Committee will hold a few hearings, ask some stern questions and issue a report expressing “disappointment” in a politician’s judgment, but unless one’s caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy, chances are a scandal that might sink your or I will result in little more than an awkward press conference for the cronies on top calling the shots. So it is also with the lesser hacks and scribes in the U.S. justice system, where prosecutors are legally permitted to frame citizens and folks like John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- who undisputedly provided contrived legal justifications for the three strikes of torture, indefinite detention, and preemptive war -- get off with a disapproving look from reliable whitewasher David Margolis and teaching gig. A third strike in the service of expanding state power, you see, is different than a third strike for stealing a “24 pack of beer, candy bars, and a package of ground beef”, which is liable to get a mere civilian 25 years in prison. The state needs its army of sub-par legal scholars and second-rate thinkers to justify its acts to its allies and citizens, and will move to protect its assets accordingly, ensuring the next John Yoos can justify killing suspected terrorists' innocent children without fear of prosecution.

Beyond traditional economic classes, the U.S. like most states has a clearly discernible division between the haves and the have nots: the "have" being power, with those in charge of bailing out banks and bombing nations abiding by an entirely different set of rules than those they govern, which is to be expected in a system that invests in a group of mere humans susceptible to the temptations of power a monopoly on the legal use of force and the right to detain and eliminate enemies without even so much as a show trial. And although the treats its own with a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, not wanting to alienate others within its bureaucracies, those that defy it are treated with vengeance and an unflinching commitment to the harshest letter of the law. Indeed, next time you cross the street remember: unless that blinking white dude is telling you to walk, you risk worse punishment than if you’d written in your capacity as an employee of the U.S. government of the president’s inherent authority to torture and kill anyone in the world.

Here are some other things that will get poor schmucks who don’t have shiny badges, fancy uniforms or Ivy League law degrees more punishment than sanctioning war crimes:

*In Washington, DC, “attempting to engage passers-by in conversation for the purpose of prostitution” in the views of a police officer can get someone -- not a politician, mind you -- a $300 fine and up to six months in prison.

*A first time conviction for engaging in a conspiracy to deal crack cocaine can get someone 27 years in prison. Conspiring to sell cocaine on the streets of U.S. cities to finance a Central American insurgency, on the other hand, will get someone a medal and a pretty sweet pension,

*In Georgia, carrying more than an ounce of marijuana can get you 10 years in prison. Teenagers receiving oral sex without first receiving a signed permission slip from Jesus and at least one of the apostles likewise risk spending a decade behind bars.

*And of course, living in a poor area while being black is still punishable by arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial murder in most jurisdictions.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thoughts on Joe Stack

This might be a terribly narcissistic and insensitive thing to say -- always a good opening line to a post -- but my initial reaction to the manifesto from the Austin man who flew his plane into an IRS building is, shit, I hope I didn't lose a reader. I'll be keeping an eye on the RSS feed.

Stewart v. O'Reilly: a battle of the deluded

The winner of the unedited version of the Jon Stewart/Bill O’Reilly show according to the liberal blogosphere is naturally the Comedy Central host, which, frankly, is like winning an arm wrestling match against someone who has no arms. But while Stewart did skewer the comical, alleged sexually harassing curmudgeon -- pointing out the ludicrousness of labeling Obama a “socialist” when he following Bush's lead, redistributing income upward to bankers and brokers, not the crack-smoking welfare queens of the right-wing imagination -- he also looked the fool himself, ignorantly suggesting to O’Reilly that the man who has bombed at least three countries without congressional approval has ceded power relative to his predecessor:
O'Reilly: There are little socialistic programs and giant socialist programs. OK? And some people believe that Obama is on the huge government creation -- the government dominance. And you yourself said it! You yourself said it! He wants more regulation, he wants to create things, he wants big government.
Stewart: But he's given back so much executive power!
O'Reilly: What?
Stewart: Executive power!
O'Reilly: He hasn't given back anything. He just hasn't handled the Congress. He doesn't know how to handle them yet. That's inexperience.
Earlier this month I felt myself siding with Andrew Sullivan when he was dishonestly (and oh so pretentiously) labeled an anti-Semite by an editor at The New Republic for having the temerity to question the policies of the nation-state of Israel and their embrace by some neoconservative pundits, and now I can’t help but conclude Stewart just got owned, as the kids say, by Bill-freaking-O’Reilly; what other surprises will 2010 bring? On the issue of executive power, though, it’s appallingly ignorant to claim, as Stewart does, that Obama’s reign in office has seen a diminishing in the power of the executive. Beyond bombing Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia without so much as a constitutionally dubious congressional resolution, Obama has asserted the right not just to murder individual foreigners overseas without so much as a trial or a hint of oversight -- something liberals have usually been okay with, it being the price necessary to ensure their local NPR affiliates are safe -- but to kill American citizens deemed threats to U.S. national security, either by Obama or a designated subordinate, such matters being unworthy of the emperor’s time. He also, like Bush, maintains the right to wiretap the conversation of anyone in the world without a warrant, or to jettison said person away to one of the U.S.'s numerous military prisons around the globe.

O'Reilly is absolutely correct, a series of words I never thought I'd put together in a piece not labeled satire, when he credits Obama's difficulties on some domestic policy fronts, not to a weakened executive branch, but to inexperience, to which his failure to get even the corporatist health care scheme devised by the Senate to his desk is testament. On the other hand, Obama's failure to push for a "public option" and other initiatives desired by his progressive supporters has been entirely consistent with his governing philosophy -- corporatism mixed with liberal internationalism -- and should not be chalked up to his limited time in Washington, as some of his followers are wont to do. On Afghanistan and support for the financial industry, two areas where the president has de facto dictatorial powers, Obama has pursued the course laid out for him by his predecessor with zeal; only on areas involving cooperation with the increasingly irrelevant and dysfunctional Senate -- though I assume certain interests believe it's functioning quite well -- has Obama stumbled, which has nothing to do with diminished presidential power.

Tolerating a belligerent foreign policy and expansive empire in exchange for some liberal reformist policies at home was never a morally defensible position for progressives, and now, in light of Obama's actual performance in office, it's more clearly untenable than ever. Jon Stewart ought to know that by now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An energy lobbyist plays dress up

When it comes to journalism, I'm an open tent kind of guy -- nothing is more tedious than some sanctimonious hack reporter snidely dismissing pajama-wearing bloggers and citizen journalists when, as is often the case, it is the bunny slipper-wearing amateurs who are producing the truly compelling work. However, I do draw the line at industry lobbyists passing themselves off as journalists, particularly when it's done because either 1) they want to skate past the $400 to $575 it would normally cost them to get in, presumably in orderto save money so they can go get their golf clubs polished after the panel discussion (double entendre intended) or 2) they can't admit to themselves they are a paid shill acting on behalf the agenda -- and at the behest -- of a much, much wealthier person . . . which, it must be said, does sound an awful lot like journalism.

Here's what spurs my line-drawing:

For those not in the know: BGLLP is not, as you might think, texting shorthand for "Big Gulp", but rather stands for "Bracewell & Giuliani LLP" -- yes, that's former New York City mayor and failed presidential candidate -- a law and lobbying shop that represents numerous fossil fuel and other energy interests. Frank Maisano is according to the firm's website a "Senior Principal" and a "skilled media specialist" -- a lobbyist, in other words, and from what I gather from colleagues and acquaintances something of a cross between the overly enthusiastic, "sounds like a case of the Mondays" waiter in Office Space and an earnest and outgoing Satan, the prince of darkness.

But while lobbyists and others pay hundreds of dollars to attend these conferences, working as the do in one of America's last remaining growth industries, I and others in the floundering field of journalism get in free -- free! -- so we can bring you, Joe and Jane News Consumer, the inside scoop on what the chairman of commissions with names you'd fall asleep upon hearing think about the latest innovations in utility regulatory policy; along with free coffee and croissants, hearing the gospel as-it's-delivered, for free, is one of the chief perks of journalism as a profession.

That said, I'm inclined to believe B&G have enough money to foot the bill for attending a conference on the core subjects they litigate and lobby, which leads me to the conclusion that our lobbyist friend for some inexplicable reason feels more comfortable identifying as a journalist than as a much better paid lobbyist -- I'm told not for the first time -- which, if pursuit of respectability in the eye's of one's peers is the concern, is like seeking respite from an uncomfortable seat on a boat by jumping into a lake of acid.*


*(I believe this more or less happened in the 1997 film Dante's Peak with Pierce Brosnan. Hey screw you, it was on TV.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hillary Clinton admits Israel has nukes

It’s becoming something of an annual tradition for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: travel to the Middle East and in literally every public appearance refer to Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons” and the consequent need for more stringent sanctions. Last March, no less than a half-dozen times in the span of a week Clinton, in press conferences from Egypt to Israel, dished out some of the harshest and most militant rhetoric from the Obama administration up to that point on Iran’s “aggressive” pursuit of nukes. This past week, Clinton again toured the Middle East, reprising her by now familiar role as the Obama administration’s point person for hawkish, moralizing lectures against the few remaining non-U.S. client states in the region.

"We think the time has come for the world community to take a position which perhaps will penetrate into all of the decision-making arenas that exist now within Iran, and cause some reconsideration not of their peaceful program, which I know the Iranian people support and have every right to have, but of their nuclear weapons military program," Clinton said at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha.

Responding to a question during a separate townhall-style interview, however, Clinton seemingly slipped up by declaring that the U.S. goal, "eventually, is to have a Middle East free of nuclear weapons." There is, of course, just one country in the region that possesses nukes: Israel, which is widely acknowledged to have at least 100 of them. The U.S. and Israeli governments, however, officially deny this is case, preferring ambiguity over open acknowledgment, which risks drawing attention to the glorious hypocrisy at play. Even aside from the tacit admission of Israeli nukes, that hypocrisy was already on full display.

Back at the World Forum, Clinton earlier maintained the U.S. position "regarding Iran’s nuclear program is simple. We believe that all states, including Iran, start with the same rights and the same responsibilities." This is demonstrably untrue, though. The U.S. and other Western governments, for example, openly flaunt their nuclear weapons arsenals as part of their official national security "deterrence" (dick waving) strategies as they boost spending on developing new and improved means of incinerating their enemies with atomic efficiency. Existing nuclear powers having been graciously grandfathered in on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, however, these governments need only take meek steps toward reducing their stockpiles, it being okay to possess enough nukes to destroy the world once-over, but twice being a tad gauche. Iran, on the other hand, is not an empire but a mere nation, and as Clinton notes thus only permitted "the right to nuclear power so long as they accept the responsibility of demonstrating unequivocally that their programs are used solely for peaceful civilian purposes."

If a country never even takes the good-faith step of committing to the non-proliferation treaty -- Israel, Pakistan, India; U.S. allies and recipients of taxpayer largess all -- all is permitted, under de facto U.S. policy, seemingly undermining the incentive for signing up to the agreement in the first place, given it subjects a signatory to possible charges of non-compliance but offers little certainty one can pursue a nuclear energy program in peace and security. But reason and sanity have never been useful guides to U.S. foreign policy, which, as Steve Hynd notes, is increasingly recalling memories of the 2002 buildup to the Iraq war, complete with media sycophancy -- the administration's distortion of its own intelligence agencies findings a complete non-story in the mainstream press -- and dubious claims of WMDs and emerging threats dominating the airwaves, so much so even our right and honorable statesmen sometimes forget what year it is.

Take Hillary Clinton (no really, please, take her) at the townhall event in Qatar:
"Now, I have spent a lot of time talking with the leaders, and leading influential people from the Gulf and the broader Middle East. And they worry a lot about Iraq having nuclear weapons."
For remembrance's sake, Clinton on the floor of the Senate in 2002:
"[I]ntelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program."
Seems like old times. Even if not seeking to start an actual shooting war,  each day the Obama administration trumps a threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons program its own intelligence officials and international inspectors have found no evidence to prove even exists makes it easier for Israel -- or a President Palin -- to justify military action of their own. In the meantime, perhaps the best we can hope for is that President Obama's troubles on the domestic front don't lead him to start reading Daniel Pipes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Another broken promise, another broken life

So Obama isn't going to end the war in Afghanistan, close Guantanamo Bay or reverse the Bush administration's policies on "enemy combatants." Meanwhile, he's supporting a corporatist health care reform package that would maintain the employer-insurance tie -- a work-or-die incentive in keeping with the US's founding Protestant work ethic -- and, rather than removing such state privileges for the insurance industry, would further increase them in the form of a new mandate that all Americans by their product. But while that whole "change" thing has yet to appear on most fronts, there is one area where President Obama's policy is in line with Candidate Obama's rhetoric: medical marijuana, with Attorney General Eric Holder promising to end federal raids on suppliers and patients who comply with state law, a welcome departure from the Bush administration's open disdain for the right of consenting adults to use medicines not manufactured by major pharmaceutical companies and the will of voters in 14 states and the District of Colombia.

Fooled ya! As The Denver Post reports:
Federal drug-enforcement agents Friday raided the home of a Highlands Ranch man who a day earlier bragged in a 9News report about the large and profitable medical-marijuana-growing operation in his basement.
Someone making a profit selling a drug? Oh dear, someone grab the smelling salts! Unless your name's Glaxo, Smith or Klein, the DEA won't be having any of that, hippie, despite the fact that, as stated by the Colorado government (pdf), "There are no regulations regarding dispensaries." And under the ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by Colorado voters a decade ago, patients are allowed to specify caretakers to grow marijuana for them, so there's a clear reason why state law enforcement did not arrest this man first: he wasn't violating any state laws.

The DEA, however, isn't pretending this raid had anything to with a violation of state law, ostensibly the only reason the Obama administration would permit the agency to conduct one. No, it had to do with maintaing the supremacy of the central government, and signaling to we mere citizens that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, DC, not us peons leading our peaceful, productive lives, will decide what substances may or may not be put into our bodies:
Along with the raid, Jeffrey Sweetin, the Drug Enforcement Administration's special agent in charge of the Denver office, sent a message to anyone involved in Colorado's increasingly profitable medical-marijuana industry.
"It's still a violation of federal law," Sweetin said. "It's not medicine. We're still going to continue to investigate and arrest people."
Though you seem like a charming guy, special agent Sweetin, I must ask: what medical school did you go to? The medical value of marijuana is actually besides the point, though. The more fundamental question is, what entitles someone with a uniform and a badge to use the threat of force to dictate what another human being, another soul who entered this world ignorant and naked, may do, so long as their behavior is consensual and respectful of the equal right of others to experience the same freedom? And on a practical, cost-benefit level, isn't locking up and ruining the life of some pot dealer -- and taxing his neighbors to keep him locked up -- causing greater harm to society than if said dealer had been free to, horror of horrors, continue selling an herb that has never killed anyone to other consenting adults?

I don't expect a DEA agent or any defender of the drug policy status quo to answer that question satisfactorily because I suspect many, like agency chief Michelle Leonhart, aren't too concerned with the moral and philosophical problems with their line of work, instead getting off on the visceral thrill of busting down doors and cracking skulls and acting all special agent like, to which I say: grow up or get an Xbox.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Obama v. the US intelligence community

President Obama today:
But what's clear is, is that they have not said yes to an agreement that Russia, China, Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States all said was a good deal and that the director of the IAEA said was the right thing to do and that Iran should accept.

That indicates to us that despite their posturing that their nuclear power is only for -- for civilian use, that they in fact continue to pursue a course that would lead to weaponization. And that is not acceptable to the international community, not just to the United States.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee:
“Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that bring it closer to being able to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
Enriching uranium to 20 percent is far from the 97-99 percent enrichment necessary to build nuclear weapons, as the Associated Press conceded when it withdrew an article that conflated Iran's enrichment for medical research with a weapons program. And it's far from clear that enriching uranium to 20 percent, which some experts doubt Iran is even technically capable of doing or sustaining, "would lead to weaponization." In fact, it's so unclear that even the normally reliable U.S. intelligence community -- reliably alarmist, that is -- acknowledges it has no evidence Iran is developing nukes, or whether it will even "eventually decide" to do so. Iran's announcement it plans to increase its uranium enrichment level has no impact on that assessment of its technical capability and political will, or lack thereof, to build nuclear weapons.

But the president and officials in his administration continue to suggest otherwise, exaggerating the claims of their own intelligence officials as they make the case for more economic sanctions against Iran -- sanctions that will inevitably impact poor Iranians more than the elites. If Obama spoke in a faux-Texas drawl, perhaps there would be more outrage about that.

Monday, February 08, 2010

'Murtha's personal efforts on behalf of the Afghan Resistance'

Washington is mourning the passing of Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman John Murtha today, with everyone from President Obama on down issuing somber remarks praising his long legislative career. Notably, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who in the '80s headed the CIA when the Reagan administration was funneling arms and money to the Afghan mujahideen (folks who later would join the Taliban, and some guy named Osama bin Laden) as they fought the Evil Empire -- the other one -- dedicates much of his statement to praising "Murtha's personal efforts on behalf of the Afghan resistance fighting the Soviets - efforts that helped bring about the end of the Cold War."

And helped bring about 9/11. But it would be uncouth, I understand, to say so at a time like this. And why not take the opportunity of a man's passing to try and further embed a convenient mythical narrative in the national psyche?

The seen and the unseen

The Chamber of Commerce's Mark Espers is bemoaning the fact that some people may get high-quality sports merchandise from unlicensed vendors at a fraction of the inflated prices of official league-sponsored gear.

That those foolish enough to buy sports jerseys can now do so without first taking out a loan is a tragedy, we are told:
NFL licensed merchandise—such as men’s jerseys—can sell for anywhere from $80 on up.  Thus, a price tag of half that much for a seemingly flawless replication seems like a steal for any fan—which is exactly what it is. Each year, as counterfeit vendors make their way to the playoff games to hawk NFL merchandise, the problem of fakes not only gets worse, it gets more sophisticated. Counterfeit jerseys, caps, and other paraphernalia are often mixed in with the real ones, and even the merchant may not know they're selling a fake. A closer look at some merchandise and the subtle discrepancies should become clear: the color is off, the stitching is sloppy, or sometimes players’ names are misspelled.
That counterfeiters are getting "more sophisticated" to the point that even merchant's can't tell the difference suggests they are improving quality. And if the NFL wasn't using the state to forbid any unlicensed dealers from selling clothing with a team's logo, more respectable merchants would be in the business with even better quality control.
Counterfeiting costs U.S. businesses hundreds of millions in lost sales each year.  Indeed, the Customs and Border Protection service last year seized 14,841 shipments of counterfeit goods with a domestic value of $260.7 million---and this is only the stuff they caught!  All of this counterfeiting leads to job losses ranging from the workers who make the products, to those that package, market, distribute, and sell them.  The NFL and its franchises are surely affected as well, especially given the League’s popularity with the American people. 
Counterfeiting may cost jobs for companies involved in selling official merchandise, but there's no evidence it affects overall employment -- to the contrary, more counterfeiters are certainly employed, and somebody is making the t-shirts they sell. And just because less money may be going to rich NFL owners -- royalties making up much of the price of NFL merchandise -- that doesn't mean there's less money in the economy overall. Saving $60 bucks on a Saints jersey means $60 bucks can be spent elsewhere, like on an overpriced beer or hot dog. Indeed, intellectual property boosts the costs of many consumer goods, diverting resources to padding the pockets of already-rich executives that could have been put to more productive uses.
And in today’s Internet era, sales of counterfeit goods are not just happening on street corners, back alley stores, or outside stadiums, it is occurring in increasingly higher numbers online, and in ways that fool consumers into thinking these goods are the real thing.
So counterfeit gear is indistinguishable from its much more expensive competition? Sounds like consumers win. Remember, though, the chamber represents businesses.
Intellectual property theft—through counterfeiting—is NOT a victimless crime. Not only do these crimes eat away at our economy with job losses, but those involved in these crimes are often directly linked to organized crime in one way or another.
Name something a crime and it should come as no surprise that it is criminals that engage in it. Prohibition beget bootleggers, just as intellectual property laws beget "counterfeiters", whose only crime is making affordable merchandise without paying a state-enforced stipend to some already wealthy copyright-holder; that some counterfeiter uses the Miami Dolphins logo does not preclude the creator or "owner" of that design to use it themselves.

And since we're on the subject of organized crime, how again were mobsters pushed out of the booze business? Alcohol was legalized. There's probably a lesson there.

First, the feverish conclusion:
Counterfeiting is a serious global problem that costs tens of thousands of American jobs each year, and eats away at our economic growth and vibrancy.  The only way to fight back is through stringent enforcement and consumer awareness.  So as we watch the game on Sunday, there will be a lot of activity going on behind the scenes that you’ll never see on instant replay. The cracking down on counterfeiting is just one step in stopping this illegal activity. Increased vigilance from law enforcement all the way to Congress and the White House is needed if we are to deal a serious blow to this detriment to our economy. And lastly, if you’re at the game this weekend or online in the coming weeks, and the price of that NFL cap or jersey seems too good to be true, it’s probably a fake; please don’t buy it, somebody’s job may depend on it.
Intellectual property laws safeguard our nation's "vibrancy"? Tell that to any hip-hop artist trying to clear a sample, or someone trying to use an NFL logo in a way that may not appeal to the near-dead white dudes that make up the league's leadership.

For those that don't speak chamber, Esper's basically saying: keep doing the same thing, U.S. government -- blustery rhetoric coupled with heavy-handed enforcement -- just do it harder. And you, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, forgo that good deal and additional cash you could have spent (or saved? Nah, this is America) elsewhere, and give more of your money to the filthy rich members of the Chamber of Commerce. Or a puppy gets it.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Journalism, as practiced on Meet The Press

This past week Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair confirmed that the Obama administration is targeting U.S. citizens for assassination abroad, assuming the right to execute an American in a foreign country without giving him or her so much as a military tribunal. Mr. Blair also upheld the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, reaffirming that the U.S. intelligence community has no evidence Iran's leaders have made the decision to build nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, increasingly less covert but still officially denied U.S. wars continued to expand, with three American soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan.

With that in mind, here is the entirety of David Gregory's questions for Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan on today's Meet the Press:
MR. GREGORY: We're up against a very difficult threat, as was underlined during testimony in front of the Intelligence Committee this week. This is a portion of that question.
[(Videotape, February 2, 2010)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What is the likelihood of another terrorist attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months, high or low? Director Blair:
MR. DENNIS BLAIR: An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say.]
MR. GREGORY: First off, what can you say about the intelligence that's behind such a specific warning like that?
MR. GREGORY: And how do you win against a threat like this, when CIA Director Panetta was saying that al-Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that are oftentimes very difficult to detect?
MR. GREGORY: Any credible threats against the Super Bowl today?
MR. GREGORY: What, what kinds of attacks is al-Qaeda now interested in pulling off?
MR. GREGORY: How worried are you about sleeper cells in the United States trying to pull off lower level, you know, what in the terrorist world they may call a single rather than a home run, whether it's attacking a shopping mall or this kind of attack?
Gregory then presumably broke for a word from NBC's sponsors: Depends and Lockheed-Martin.

The bipartisan attachment to flag lapel pins

Christian fundamentalist support for the modern nation-state of Israel is kinda funny: on the one hand, fundamentalists are some of the most fervent defenders of Israel's "right to exist" (and right to occasionally bomb and invade its neighbors), while on the other, most of them believe all of Israel's inhabitants will ultimately need to die or convert to Christianity before the righteous few can experience the glorious second coming of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior, hallelujah, amen. There's a bit of a tension there.

Be that as it may, that religiously derived support carries merrily on today, with Sarah Palin -- whose name I promise to do my best never to type again -- opportunistically proclaiming her devotion to Israel in her remarks at the Tea Party convention. Commenting on her speech, Salon's Glenn Greenwald notes that despite appearing at a hyper-nationalist right-wing event, there has been no conservative outcry over Palin donning a flag lapel pin of another country, Israel, during her speech. As Greenwald writes:
Is there any other nation in the world where a leading politician can appear in public -- without controversy -- wearing the flag of a foreign country? It was a huge scandal on the Right when immigration reform marchers waved Mexican (along with American) flags in order to display cultural solidarity with Mexican immigrants who were being demonized and living in wretched conditions, as non-persons, in the U.S.; isn't it obviously more significant when someone who recently wanted to be Vice President and is now the leader of this Fox-News-sponsored political movement appears at events in the U.S. wearing an Israeli flag melded to an American flag, as though the two nations are joined as one entity? Why should an American political leader be wearing an Israeli flag?
Sarah Palin of course isn't the first U.S. politician to proudly boast of her support for Israel by way of tacky patriotic accessories. Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley wore an Israeli/US flag lapel pin just off the floor of the House of Representatives during a 2007 interview with me regarding, coincidentally, the role of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in defeating a measure that would have declared Congress' opposition to a war with Iran:
At the time, AIPAC lobbied heavily against one provision initially included in the Democratic war funding bill that would have barred the president from launching an attack on Iran without the explicit consent of Congress. Asked why the measure was removed, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) told one of my colleagues at the time that "our friends at AIPAC" had bombarded members of Congress with phone calls expressing opposition to measure. That opposition was due to the belief, as Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) told the Associated Press, that the measure "would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran."
Interestingly, when I interviewed Berkley about the measure a few days later, she downplayed AIPAC's role in getting it removed, claiming to me that the group only instructed its members to lobby against the provision after the Democratic leadership had already removed it. Sensing that the move was generally unpopular with the Democratic base, she repeatedly tried to shift the conversation to the failures of the Bush administration, rather than her support for an aggressive stance toward Iran. Of course, her claim that AIPAC played no role in getting the Iran provision removed was cast in doubt not only by Cuellar's comments (an accout others, such as Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), confirmed to me), but by the fact that Berkley was wearing an Israeli/U.S. flag lapel pin at the time of the interview (she will also be "making the case for Israel" at this week's AIPAC convention).
Stephen Walt sure is looking crazier every day, isn't he?

'Homicide bombers' and Sarah Palin

In her big speech at the media-saturated convention that purportedly represents the "Tea Party" movement, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin riffed on the meaning of words and the political manipulation of language, ridiculing the Obama administration for reportedly favoring the term "overseas contingency operation" to describe U.S. imperial adventures in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, over the more viscerally appealing "war".

"We can't spin our way out of this threat," she told the cheering crowd in Nashville, Tennessee. This being Sarah Palin, though, the observation that politicians manipulate language was of course immediately followed by spin and a garbled manipulation of the English language. "It's one thing to call a pay raise a job created or saved, it's quite another to call it a devastation that a homicide bomber can inflict a man-made disaster."

Putting aside the silly attack on a straw man, a "homicide bomber", for those not familiar with Fox News' reporting on the Mid-East, is the term favored by neoconservatives and popularized by the Bush administration for what the rest of us know as "suicide bombers" -- the latter a term the armchair marines at places like Commentary and The New Republic believe is far too forgiving, "bomber" not being sufficient enough to signal that they are the baddie, and "suicide" perhaps prompting too much empathy toward the terrorist as a misunderstood loner. But while useful for propagandists, "homicide bomber" actually conveys less information than the term its intended to replace; a news report that declares "Homicide bomber kills 10", for instance, would not impart the all-important information of whether the bomber died too.

But if we're trying to best express impotent but righteous moral and patriotic certitude in our stories and bravely worded blog posts, why even keep the word "bomber"? To say someone has bombed something is a value-neutral statement, after all -- it could be referring to a good bombing, like Hiroshima or Nagasaki, just as much as a bad one, like that Nigerian underwear guy -- leaving some news consumers confused as to where their sympathies should lie. That being the case, I, for one, propose that we call all those who blow themselves on the behalf of some group other than the U.S. military homicide murderers, just to emphasize that in this instance we mean to say killing is bad. "Breaking: Homicide Murderer Strikes Baghdad Market" leaves little doubt we're talking about some faceless foreigner perpetrating a heinous crime, not one of our boys or girls.

Moving along, the "Palin plan" for winning the war on terror:
"And when it comes to national security, as I ratchet down the message on national security, it's easy to just kind of sum it up by repeating Ronald Reagan when he talked about the Cold War. And we can apply this now to our war on terrorism. You know, bottom line, we win, they lose. We do all that we can to win."
To recap: the secret to winning the war on terror is doing all that we can to win. Now you know. Go out there and be a winner!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snowed in

Zombie Reagan rises to fight the Democrats

If the following ad is to be believed, Danny Tarkanian, the Republican running against Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, is summoning the corpse of conservative icon and former president Ronald Reagan so the latter can finish his ominously named "last campaign": the slaying of timid Senate Democrats. Does it work as an ad? I don't know. But there's no question it could make for quite possibly the best slasher horror film ever.

"Everybody run, Zombie Reagan's threatening to filibuster -- with chainsaws!"

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Is Obama really eliminating fossil fuel subsidies?

The short answer: no, hell no, as I describe in a recent piece for my day job (expensive subscription required):
White House officials are claiming the Obama administration’s proposed 2011 budget eliminates subsidies for fossil fuels, saving taxpayers $40 billion over the next decade. But that projected savings is dwarfed by the amount the U.S. government spends protecting oil supplies and trade routes in the Persian Gulf, an estimated $27 billion-$138 billion annual subsidy to the oil industry that experts say increases global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, the Obama administration is proposing more than $1 billion in new funding for fossil fuel research and development, including $668 million for the Department of Energy’s “Clean Coal Power Initiative,” which aims to develop and commercialize new environmental technologies for the coal industry—suggesting what constitutes a fossil fuel “subsidy” is more a political decision than a policy one.

The Washington Times: Fox News, if Fox News viewers could read

In my last post, I criticized The Washington Times' Eli Lake for what I alleged was inaccurate reporting, as a piece he wrote claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies were now claiming that Iran never halted work on its nuclear program in 2003, contrary to the official view conveyed in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. Notably, Lake then wrote:
Differences among analysts now focus on whether the country's supreme leader has given or will soon give orders for full-scale production of nuclear weapons.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, on the other hand, delivering the 2010 Annual Threat Estimate to the Senate Intelligence Committee -- and representing the consensus view of all 16 intelligence agencies -- states: "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." That is, the differences among intelligence analysts don't focus on whether Iran's supreme leader "has given or will soon give orders for full-scale production of nuclear weapons," the debate remains whether Iran would ever decide to do so -- in violation of Ayatollah Khomeini's own fatwa against nukes; the debate is not over when Iran will begin building nukes, but if.

That isn't a contradiction to Lake, though. Responding to my post on Twitter, he wrote that "the threats testimony is not an NIE. And it is consistent with my earlier and newsweek's earlier scoop. #nicetry". While correct that the testimony is not an NIE, it's a rather pedantic point as there's zero chance the official intelligence estimate on Iran is going to directly contradict the testimony in the threat assessment delivered by the very same man. As to the glaring contradiction between his piece and the official view of the intelligence community, as stated by Dennis Blair, Lake declared "it's not a contradiction", which is, well, confounding.

Until you realize Lake's done this before, as in a ludicrous 2007 article he wrote for the now-defunct neconservative rag The New York Sun, "Iran Is Found To Be a Lair of Al Qaeda." As the Cato Institute's Justin Logan writes:
In that story, Lake published a claim purportedly leaked to him that the National Intelligence Estimate judged that one of two senior al Qaeda leadership councils “meets regularly in eastern Iran.” Lake wrote that “there is little disagreement that a branch of al Qaeda's leadership operates in Iran, [but] the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran’s Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran’s supreme leader.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Lake, the story was tersely refuted later that day by the National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, Edward Gistaro. Asked at a National Press Club briefing whether the judgment Lake described was in the final draft report, Gistaro replied “No, it is not. I don’t think it was ever in the draft…. I read [the Sun article] this morning, and I thought, ‘I don’t know where this comes from.’” The transcript of the conference describes “laughter” in the briefing room after this revelation.
Seeing a pattern?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

New Intel. report says Iran not developing nukes

Just last week President Obama in his State of the Union claimed Iran was, along with North Korea, “violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons. . . . That's why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise.”

In the the 2010 National Intelligence Estimate Annual Threat Assessment (pdf) -- representing the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies -- Obama’s director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, calls him a liar. In a filing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Blair declares that “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that bring it closer to being able to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

In other words, the U.S. intelligence community, which has every incentive to play up the threat of a foreign enemy, is declaring it has no solid evidence Iran is actively building nuclear weapons, contrary to numerous statements from Obama, his secretary of state, his UN ambassador and his press secretary. Politicians distorting intelligence to suit their political needs, dear liberals, is not a partisan affair.

The actual text of the NIE also rather starkly contrasts with a “scoop” reported by the Washington Times’ Eli Lake two weeks ago:
U.S. intelligence agencies now suspect that Iran never halted work on its nuclear arms program in 2003, as stated in a national intelligence estimate made public three years ago, U.S. officials said.
Differences among analysts now focus on whether the country's supreme leader has given or will soon give orders for full-scale production of nuclear weapons.
I eagerly await the correction.

Lake's last big story? The purported “outing” a few months back of the strangely still a free man Trita Parsi, head of the National-Iranian American Council, as a foreign agent working for Tehran. With that record of reporting false but ideologically convenient fairy tales, you can see why Lake is one of the few reporters the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has decided to keep around.

Spencer Ackerman, meanwhile, a liberal reporter/blogger/punk rocker for The Washington Independent, has yet to retract comments he made last month praising Lake for supposedly knowing that the intelligence community's original claim Iran had halted development of a nuclear weapon seven years ago, contained in the 2007 NIE, "was bullshit from the beginning" and would soon be formally overturned. Remember, though, that Ackerman is the same reporter who backed the Iraq war as writer for The New Republic, once credulously wrote of "Obama's focus on progressive goals for the Middle East" -- such as preventing Iran from getting nukes (and expanding the war on terror to Yemen, presumably) -- and claimed his national security team represented an "emerging progressive foreign policy consensus", so we should probably cut him some slack. When it comes to analysis, however, he should probably stick to Fugazi.

(H/T Steve Hynd)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The making of a talking point

President Obama -- speaking to you, John Q. Public, live on YouTube this week -- made a curious claim:
I think it's important to understand that we are at war against a very specific group -- al Qaeda and its extremist allies that have metastasized around the globe, that would attack us, attack our allies, attack bases and embassies around the world, and most sadly, attack innocent people regardless of their backgrounds, regardless of their religions. Al Qaeda is probably the biggest killer of innocent Muslims of any entity out there.
A week ago White House adviser Valerie Jarrett likewise told NBC's David Gregory that al Qaeda had "killed more Muslims than any other group" in the Middle East. It's important to understand, though, that the claim -- self-righteous and politically advantageous though it may be -- simply isn't true, as no terrorist can match the civilian killing power of a powerful state, much less the most well-armed and expansive empire in history. The U.S.-led embargo of Iraq during the 1990s alone killed several hundred thousand Muslims in Iraq, many of them children; the subsequent U.S. invasion in 2003 killed another couple hundred thousand -- perhaps a million -- more.

Al Qaeda would die for those numbers.