Saturday, April 30, 2011

Poor Boeing is under assault!

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley argues in The Wall Street Journal that President Obama is unjustifiably interfering with Boeing's right to hire cheap labor because his administration is in the pocket of big labor unions, which "rely on coercion, bullying and undue political influence to stay afloat." Apparently the issue is that South Carolina is a "right-to-work" state, meaning it relies on coercion to forbid unions and businesses from voluntarily agreeing to make union membership a condition of employment. Some people on the National Labor Relations Board don't like that.

I must admit, though, I find it perplexing that Gov. Haley would contrast "great corporate citizen" Boeing with what are the purportedly uniquely corrupt and coercive labor unions. Boeing, after all, was just awarded a $35 billion contract -- billions, not millions -- from the Air Force to construct a fleet of refueling tankers. I'm not sure if the governor knows where the Air Force gets its money, but it's not from bake sales.

And I hate to shatter Gov. Haley's innocent little world, but Boeing doesn't get all those multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded contracts because it simply makes a better ice cream cone than its competitors. No, it gets them by bribing government officials and because just about every politician who wants a second term is beholden to them, from the "progressive" Jim McDermott -- seen here shilling for his friendly neighborhood military contractor and that $35 billion contract -- to that anti-business Marxist reviled by the right for his hatred of motherhood and the American way, Barack Obama, who travels the globe trying to sell Boeing's lethal products to foreign heads of state.

This is why Republicans and the right can't be taken seriously: They have the gall to suggest that big government contractors are under assault by the very big government by which they earn their profits. They pretend big businesses get to be so big because of the "free market." And, arguably most ludicrous of all, they purport to believe that President Barack "Boeing" Obama isn't a good little corporatist just like them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Glenn Greenwald used to be a liberal favorite back when he was railing against the Bush administration, considered a progressive hero for his forceful defenses of civil liberties and attacks on the warfare state.

Guess what happened: Greenwald kept up his whole having-actual-principles shtick even after Barack Obama's glorious ascent to power. And that's a no-no.

Since January 2009, Greenwald has come under increasingly ludicrous attacks from Obama's partisan fan club, the premise underlying most of the broadsides being that any critic of the president's must be a secret Republican or, my favorite, in it for the fame and money (I'm still waiting for my check from the Koch brothers).

In a recent interview with Out Magazine, Greenwald really stepped in it, though, when he suggested he might be open to supporting someone for president who's not a Democrat. In particular, he said some complimentary things about Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who, like Ron Paul, is campaigning for the Republican nomination on an anti-war, pro-drug legalization platform.

Now, as a non-voter I could perhaps criticize Greenwald for focusing a bit too much on electoral politics, which very rarely is a path toward real change; independent social movements, like the ones that pushed for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam war, seem to me much more effective. Instead of diverting time and resources into elections, I'd like to see more people organizing and their own communities and raising money not for politicians, but for health clinics and even alternative news organizations. But that, of course, is not what upsets Obama's loyal fans.

In a piece much-circulated by that fan club, which by the reception from Democratic partisans I take it is supposed to be scathing, not satire, we are told Greenwald's hypothetical support for Johnson constitutes an excommunicable offense. "Neither a Liberal Nor a Progressive," blares the headline to the pieces, which gives a run-down of Johnson's history as governor of slashing "taxes on the rich while cutting social services for the poor" (no one tell liberals about how that guy in the White House who just extended Bush's tax cuts for the rich at the expense of social programs for the poor).

Given Johnson's record -- the accounting of which excludes that whole opposition to war and locking up hundreds of thousands of people for non-violent offenses stuff -- we are told:
"You simply can’t consider yourself a progressive in any broadly accepted meaning of the term and thoughtfully and in an informed way support for president someone with the views and history of Gary Johnson."
"By saying he might support Gary Johnson, Glenn Greenwald has now demonstrated that he is a narrowly-focused advocate who cares about only a few issues, and is not a liberal or progressive with a broad sense of the common good."
As the post makes clear, though, one can still be a "liberal or a progressive with a broad sense of the common good" if you support a guy who blows up little children with cluster bombs, as Barack Obama has in Yemen. You can still be a liberal or progressive in good standing if you support a man who has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani civilians with flying death robots. And you can still be a liberal if you back a guy who has shown not the slighest inclination to reform, much less do away with, a war on drugs that has led to 2.3 million Americans being placed in cages, the vast majority minorities.

That the president has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan, ordered more drone strikes in Pakistan than his predecessor did in eight years, and launched another war in Libya without so much as getting a rubber stamp from Congress is of no concern to the good party-line liberal. The president, after all, is a Democrat.

If that's what it really means to be a liberal or a progressive -- supporting empire and mass incarceration or, even worse in my opinion, pretending neither exist -- Greenwald might be happy to learn he's not one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'll take the reactionary over the murderer, thanks

Ron Paul is far from perfect, but I'll say this much for the Texas congressman: He has never authorized a drone strike in Pakistan. He has never authorized the killing of dozens of women and children in Yemen. He hasn't protected torturers from prosecution and he hasn't overseen the torturous treatment of a 23-year-old young man for the “crime” of revealing the government's criminal behavior.

Can the same be said for Barack Obama?

Yet, ask a good movement liberal or progressive about the two and you'll quickly be informed that yeah, Ron Paul's good on the war stuff -- yawn -- but otherwise he's a no-good right-wing reactionary of the worst order, a guy who'd kick your Aunt Beth off Medicare and force her to turn tricks for blood-pressure meds. By contrast, Obama, war crimes and all, provokes no such visceral distaste. He's more cosmopolitan, after all; less Texas-y. He's a Democrat. And gosh, even if he's made a few mistakes, he means well.

Sure he's a murderer, in other words, but at least he's not a Republican!

Put another, even less charitable way: Democratic partisans – liberals – are willing to trade the lives of a couple thousand poor Pakistani tribesman in exchange for a few liberal catnip-filled speeches and NPR tote bags for the underprivileged. The number of party-line progressives who would vote for Ron Paul over Barack Obama wouldn't be enough to fill Conference Room B at the local Sheraton, with even harshest left-leaning critics of the president, like Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, saying they'd prefer the mass-murdering sociopath to that kooky Constitution fetishist.

As someone who sees the electoral process as primarily a distraction, something that diverts energy and attention from more effective means of reforming the system, I don't much care if people don't vote for Ron Paul. In fact, if you're going to vote, I'd rather you cast a write-in ballot for Emma Goldman. But! I do have a problem with those who imagine themselves to be liberal-minded citizens of the world casting their vote for Barack Obama and propagating the notion that someone can bomb and/or militarily occupy Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Libya and still earn more Progressive Points than the guy who would, you know, not do any of that.

Let's just assume the worst about Paul: that he's a corporate libertarian in the Reason magazine/Cato Institute mold that would grant Big Business and the financial industry license to do whatever the hell it wants with little in the way of accountability (I call this scenario the “status quo”). Let's say he dines on Labradoodle puppies while using their blood to scribble notes in the margins of his dog-eared, gold-encrusted copy of Atlas Shrugged.

So. Fucking. What.

Barack Obama isn't exactly Eugene Debs, after all. Hell, he's not even Jimmy Carter. The facts are: he's pushed for the largest military budget in world history, given trillions of dollars to Wall Street in bailouts and near-zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve, protected oil companies like BP from legal liability for environmental damages they cause – from poisoning the Gulf to climate change – and mandated that all Americans purchase the U.S. health insurance industry's product. You might argue Paul's a corporatist, but there's no denying Obama's one.

And at least Paul would – and this is important, I think – stop killing poor foreigners with cluster bombs and Predator drones. Unlike the Nobel Peace Prize winner-in-chief, Paul would also bring the troops home from not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but Europe, Korea and Okinawa. There'd be no need for a School of the Americas because the U.S. wouldn't be busy training foreign military personnel the finer points of human rights abuses. Israel would have to carry out its war crimes on its own dime.

Even on on the most pressing domestic issues of the day, Paul strikes me as a hell of a lot more progressive than Obama. Look at the war on drugs: Obama has continued the same failed prohibitionist policies as his predecessors, maintaining a status quo that has placed 2.3 million – or one in 100 – Americans behind bars, the vast majority African-American and Hispanic. Paul, on the other hand, has called for ending the drug war and said he would pardon non-violent offenders, which would be the single greatest reform a president could make in the domestic sphere, equivalent in magnitude to ending Jim Crow.

Paul would also stop providing subsidies to corporate agriculture, nuclear energy and fossil fuels, while allowing class-action tort suits to proceed against oil and coal companies for the environmental damage they have wrought. Obama, by contrast, is providing billions to coal companies under the guise of “clean energy” – see his administration's policies on carbon capture and sequestration, the fossil fuel-equivalent of missile defense – and promising billions more so mega-energy corporations can get started on that “nuclear renaissance” we've all heard so much about. And if Paul really did succeed in cutting all those federal departments he talks about, there's nothing to prevent states and local governments -- and, I would hope, alternative social organizations not dependent on coercion -- from addressing issues such as health care and education. Decentralism isn't a bad thing.

All that aside, though, it seems to me that if you're going to style yourself a progressive, liberal humanitarian, your first priority really ought to be stopping your government from killing poor people. Second on that list? Stopping your government from putting hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizens in cages for decades at a time over non-violent “crimes” committed by consenting adults. Seriously: what the fuck? Social Security's great and all I guess, but not exploding little children with cluster bombs – shouldn't that be at the top of the Liberal Agenda?

Over half of Americans' income taxes go to the military-industrial complex and the costs of arresting and locking up their fellow citizens. On both counts, Ron Paul's policy positions are far more progressive than those held – and indeed, implemented – by Barack Obama. And yet it's Paul who's the reactionary of the two?

My sweeping, I'm hoping overly broad assessment: liberals, especially the pundit class, don't much care about dead foreigners. They're a political problem at best – will the Afghan war derail Obama's re-election campaign? – not a moral one. And liberals are more than willing to accept a few charred women and children in some country they'll never visit in exchange for increasing social welfare spending by 0.02 percent, or at least not cutting it by as much as a mean 'ol Rethuglican.

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum, for example, has chastised anti-Obama lefties, complaining that undermining – by way of accurately assessing and commenting upon – a warmonger of the Democratic persuasion is “extraordinarily self-destructive" to all FDR-fearing lefties.

“Just ask LBJ,” Drum added. The historical footnote he left out: That LBJ was run out of office by the anti-war left because the guy was murdering hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. But mass murder is no reason to oppose a Democratic president, at least not if you're a professional liberal.

There are exceptions: Just Foreign Policy's Robert Naiman has a piece in Truth Out suggesting the anti-war left check out Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who's something of a Ron Paul-lite. But for too many liberals, it seems partisanship and the promise – not even necessarily the delivery, if you've been reading Obama's die-hard apologists – of infinitesimally more spending on domestic programs is more important than saving the lives of a few thousand innocent women and children who happen to live outside the confines of the arbitrary geopolitical entity known as the United States.

Another reason to root -- if not vote -- for Ron Paul: if there was a Republican in the White House, liberals just might start caring about the murder of non-Americans again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How not to get Barack Obama's attention

Earlier today, a group of protesters in San Francisco disrupted President Obama's $35,800-a-plate fundraiser -- $5,000 goes directly to his reelection campaign, the rest to the DNC -- over the conditions in which alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning is being held. Great! It's reassuring to know even good little San Francisco limousine liberals can be bothered to do something more significant to affect change than affixing an Obama-Biden sticker to their Audi.

Except . . . well, not be a downer or anything, but, um -- remind me -- why again should a politician like Obama give a shit about your cause when, before even stating your reason for protest, you declare:
Dear Mr. President, we honor you today sir
Each of us brought you $5,000
It takes a lot of Benjamins to run a campaign
I paid my dues, where's our change?
We'll vote for you in 2012, yes that's true
Look at the Republicans - what else can we do
Look, liberals: dude's a politician. He doesn't care about you. I can't stress this enough: Barack Obama is not your friend. If killing your grandma by running her over with the family station wagon was a viable path to reelection, the fucker would do it -- and back up over her just to make sure she was dead. He'd probably file an insurance claim too.

I don't have all the answers, but one thing I do know: if you want to get sociopaths like Barack Obama to pay attention to your concerns, giving him wads of cash and professing your willingness to vote for him no matter what he does is probably not the best way to go about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Death and taxes

Medea Benjamin and I have a new article up at Counterpunch on taxes and how they pay for tangerine trees and marmalade skies killing poor people on the other side of the globe. Check it out.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Obama's judgment

Okay, so critiquing comments posted on blogs is the lowest form of commentary, but -- but! -- this one is just too perfect to pass up, embodying every caricature of the Good American Liberal that I had to check twice to make sure I didn't post it myself.

The background: last week Mother Jones' Kevin Drum wrote that, while he was conflicted over the U.S.'s intervention in Libya, he trusted that President Barack Obama, Constitutional Scholar (TM), knew more than him about pretty much everything, so in the end he would just defer to his judgment and hope for the best -- after all, who's he, a mere citizen, to form his own opinions about little things like war and peace?

The key graf:
I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust him, and I still do.
After being called out by Salon's Glenn Greenwald, among others, for being, you know, a big fucking tool indistinguishable from the rightly maligned Bush "30 percenters," Drum penned the predictable follow-up post where he feigned offense at the idea that anyone could think he was some sycophantic intellectual cripple.

Enter "Matthoboken" to offer some words of support:
Count me as thinking Kevin was, if anything, understated in his original post. (And I know the next several sentences will portray me as thoroughly unlikeable.) I'm full of self regard. I'm certainly in the top 1% of the distribution for general intelligence (given the usual imperfect metrics). I was born into middle class circumstances (middle middle class), but got myself into the best schools on scholarships, and got all As without really trying. I have an elite, intellectually satisfying job. I'm well into the top 1% of the income distribution, even though I've made no effort to make money. Obama is smarter than me. Harder working than me. Clearly a better and wiser person than me. Far more emotionally astute than me. No, I don't always agree with him. Yes, I trust his judgment. 
To make a banal point: this, my friends, is what liberals are voting for -- someone who, like them, fashions themselves as a smart, cosmopolitan, over-achieving (i.e. corporate ass-kissing) elite who, unlike that nasty Bush character, probably doesn't make fag jokes in the Oval Office while watching NASCAR.

Obama, of course, is far too dignified -- too "emotionally astute" -- for that. He, by contrast, just jokes about killing innocent people with Predator drone strikes. Like an adult.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

War for NATO

Governments don't abide by the same rules that govern the rest of us. They steal. They kidnap. They kill. And they do so with impunity, possessing a monopoly over the legally sanctioned, societally condoned use of force.

So it's odd to see University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole writing of the U.S. government's commitment to a military alliance, NATO, in terms of a “moral obligation” – one to bomb Libya, no less – as if the same state that killed millions in Vietnam and Iraq possesses the desire or ability to be an upstanding moral actor. Odder still: demonstrating the existence of said “moral obligation” by citing NATO's participation in an unjust military occupation of Afghanistan that only underscores the inability of Western powers to carry out the “humanitarian" wars of liberal lore.

But that's just what Cole does in a Sunday post attempting to justify the Obama administration's decision to bomb Libya by citing the U.S.-led NATO's decision to take over the U.S.-led campaign, as if that move -- taken weeks after the initial bombing runs -- compels skeptical Americans to recognize the Rightness and Justness of the president's commitment of U.S. forces (and CIA personnel) to the latest and greatest war in a country that, coincidentally, has massive oil reserves.

“[D]oes that decision not lay a moral obligation on the U.S. to lend support to the effort of its allies?” Cole writes, directing his softball of a question to Glenn Greenwald, who's no doubt in the process of penning a 1,200-word evisceration. The U.S. had the most “robust ability” to take out Gaddafi's anti-aircraft batteries, Cole writes, so if it refused to participate in the war of choice its less-robust allies could -- potentially! -- have had their jets shot down, undermining their commitment to NATO (which would be a bad thing, apparently).

“Should the United States have said, well, too bad, we are not getting involved over there?”

The answer, of course, is "yes." That a war of choice incapable of achieving its stated end of protecting civilians might prove costly or difficult to the U.S.'s allies is no good reason to start bombing with them; as Cole would have argued were this still 2003 and a Republican was in office, real allies point out when their friends are making mistakes, they don't join in.

But in 2011, Cole adopts the opposite stance, saying NATO's commitment to a bloody war he's likened to Vietnam compels the U.S. government to join in the bombing of Libya (as if it was oh-so-reluctant to fire 193 of the first 200 missiles in that war):
I’d like to remind everyone that NATO did invoke article 5 with regard to the September 11 attacks, which led to a substantial NATO presence in Afghanistan in support of the US war on al-Qaeda and its Taliban backers. Coalition deaths in that struggle include 362 British troops, 155 Canadian troops, 55 French troops, and 40 Danish ones.

While these death tolls are smaller than the American ones, they are very large for the countries concerned, especially since their publics (with the exception of the UK) almost universally desperately did not want to be in Afghanistan. If, having made this supreme sacrifice so many times for the sake of their NATO alliance with the United States, these countries now met with a yawn from Washington and a disinterested wave saying ‘so long folks, you are on your own’ — surely it would mean the end of NATO and would likely send America’s stock in Europe into the toilet.
Thanks for the reminder, professor: NATO has long been a means for the U.S. to circumvent democratic input and gain supporting firepower for its unjust wars and brutal military occupations – wars and occupations “almost universally” opposed by the citizens on whose behalf they're ostensibly being undertaken. But are we supposed to think that's a good thing -- that an alliance that repeatedly defies the will of the public to carry out immoral wars is something to be preserved and protected, rather than undermined at every opportunity?

If Cole really cares about protecting civilians, he should be cheering “the end of NATO,” not raising the specter of its collapse as a bugaboo by which to justify another bombing campaign against a Muslim nation with oil. After all, as Cole points out, NATO is crucial to the occupation of Afghanistan, where almost every day brings news of more innocent women and children murdered by their country's occupiers. Should the alliance collapse -- as it should have two decades ago when its stated reason for existence, the Soviet Union, dissolved -- so could the occupation of Afghanistan (and the deadly drone war next door in Pakistan), an outcome that would save a lot more lives than tossing cruise missiles into Libya and prolonging a bloody civil war.

But the good professor seems more concerned with myopic imperial considerations and the playing the role of an ivory tower Kissinger -- pretending nation-states that carry out immoral wars have "moral obligations" to a military alliance -- than the big picture ramifications of bolstering an organization that regularly kills poor people who have the misfortune of living somewhere of "strategic interest." A U.S. refusal to participate in a war against Libya could anger officials in Britain and France, Cole gravely warns, which could jeopardize the very existence of the military alliance that makes the occupation of Afghanistan tenable!

And you know what? Cole could -- fingers crossed -- be right. And with respect to his support for the war in Libya, that's precisely why he's wrong.