Monday, October 31, 2011

Not dead yet

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Preach it, Peter

Anarchist Communism maintains that most valuable of all conquests
—individual liberty—and moreover extends it and gives it a solid basis—
economic liberty—without which political liberty is delusive; it does not ask
the individual who has rejected god, the universal tyrant, god the king, and
god the parliament, to give unto himself a god more terrible than any of
the preceding—god the Community, or to abdicate upon its altar his
independence, his will, his tastes, and to renew the vow of asceticism which
he formerly made before the crucified god. It says to him, on the contrary,
"No society is free so long as the individual is not so! Do not seek to modify
society by imposing upon it an authority which shall make everything right;
if you do, you will fail as popes and emperors have failed. Modify society so
that your fellows may not be any longer your enemies by the force of
circumstances: abolish the conditions which allow some to monopolise the
fruit of the labour of others; and instead of attempting to construct society
from top to bottom, or from the centre to the circumference, let it develop
itself freely from the simple to the composite, by the free union of free
groups. This course, which is so much obstructed at present, is the true
forward march of society: do not seek to hinder it, do not turn your back on
progress, but march along with it! Then the sentiment of sociability which is
common to human beings, as it is to all animals living in society, will be able
to develop itself freely, because our fellows will no longer be our enemies,
and we shall thus arrive at a state of things in which each individual will be
able to give free rein to his inclinations, and even to his passions, without
any other restraint than the love and respect of those who surround him."


We do not advocate Communism and Anarchy because we imagine men to
be better than they really are; if we had angels among us we might be
tempted to entrust to them the task of organising us, though doubtless
even they would show the cloven foot very soon. But it is just because we
take men as they are that we say: "Do not entrust them with the governing
of you. This or that despicable minister might have been an excellent man if
power had not been given to him. The only way of arriving at harmony of
interests is by a society without exploiters and without rulers." It is
precisely because men are not angels that we say, "Let us arrange matters
so that each man may see his interest bound up with the interests of
others, then you will no longer have to fear his evil passions."
-- Peter Kropotkin, The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution

So gracious

Our old friend Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine, last seen 'round these parts wondering why more Americans weren't blaming "deadbeat" Americans for costing poor 'ol Wall Street so much money, is willing to concede not every member of the Occupy movement is the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler:
"While the history of anti-capitalism is infused root and branch with racism, I do believe that at least a minority of participants in the Occupy movement are not racists or anti-Semites."
And I'm willing to believe "at least a minority" of Reason writers aren't such craven shills for the wealthy that they would stoop to suggesting a few nuts blaming The Jews for the status quo are representative of a mass movement that enjoys the support of a majority of Americans.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Noam Chomsky, anarchist, on the impossibility of anarchism

After my last typically tedious post about Noam Chomsky, a blogger friend who took issue with my taking issue with the professor -- meaning he's of course now dead to me -- sent along another interview with the Chomster on what anarchism means to him. To clear up any misconceptions: I realize Chomsky is well aware of the corporate-state nexus. My issue is not his analysis of the status quo, but his solution to it, which he reiterates yet again in this excerpt:
Q: As far as we favor a stateless society in the long run, it would be a mistake to work for the elimination -- I've said that it would be a mistake to work for the elimination of the state in the short run, and we should be trying to strengthen the state, 'cause it's needed on the check of power of large corporations. Yet the tendency of a lot of anarchist research -- my own, too -- is to show that the power of large corporations derives from state privilege, and governments tend to get captured by concentrated private interests. That would seem to imply that the likely beneficiaries of a more powerful state is going to be the same corporate elite we're trying to oppose. So if business both derives from the state and is so good at capturing the state, why isn't abolishing the state a better strategy for defeating business power than enhancing the state's power would be?
Chomsky: Well, there's a very simple answer to that: it's not a strategy, and since it's not a strategy at all, there can't be a better strategy. The strategy of "eliminating the state" is back on the level of "let's have peace and justice". How do you proceed to eliminate the state? Okay? Can you think of a way of doing it? I mean, if there were a way of doing it in the existing world, everything would collapse and be destroyed. You just can't do it. I mean, there is nothing to replace it. If there was a rich, powerful network of, you know, cooperatives, community organizations, worker-controlled industry, you know, extending over the whole country, and the whole world, in fact, yeah, then you can talk about eliminating states. But to talk about eliminating the state in the world as it exists is simply to keep yourself in some remote academic seminar or small group, you know, saying, "Gee, this would be nice." It's not a strategy, so there can't be a better strategy. We are faced with realities. What is described here, and in fact it's true (I've written plenty about it, too), is that we have a number of systems of power, closely interlinked. One of them's corporate power, business power. That's by far the most dangerous of all. That means, effectively, unaccountable private tyrannies. A second, pretty closely linked to them, is state power. And the comment is correct (as the commentator says, I've written about it, too, a lot) that state power tends to be overwhelmingly influenced by concentrated private power.
Hey, Noam: You're an anarchist, bro! So why are you so condescendingly dismissive of strategies to eliminate the state? Peace and justice are also long-term, elusive goals, and yet we strive for them anyway -- and, importantly, we do so not by advocating more conflicts and instances of injustice, politicians and professional pundits excepted. Fighting wars to end war hasn't turned out so well and, mock though you may the smash-the-state crowd, Noam, increasing the power of the institution with a legal monopoly on the use of violence, the state, as part of a strategy to eventually abolish it -- which, if Chomsky's anarchism is anything more than intellectual pose, we can only assume is his goal as well -- is fraught with the same error in logic.

That is not to say corporate power is not a great evil. It undoubtedly is. But it is an evil enabled by the institution of the state; when I rail against the latter, I am railing against the former. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that the target of my blogging wrath is the corporate-state nexus Chomsky identifies, for without the coercion and legal cover government currently provides in the form of everything from the police and military to intellectual property and the tax code, corporations as we know them could not exist.

Argue all you want about which is the greater evil, but it's about as useful as debating which came first, the chicken or the egg. Atomic weapons, for example, may be built by nominally private companies, but it's the U.S. government that provides the tax money that makes them possible -- and the only institution that has actually used them. Private prisons may be evil, but it is the state that fills them with prisoners. Rather than adversarial, the corporate-state relationship is symbiotic.

Chomsky's own work shows this, which is why I find it all the more irksome he chooses to argue against what seems to me an anarchist strawman. There may be a few anarchists who would like to smash the state tomorrow, but most that I've come across believe an anarchist society can only come about after the long-term process of creating a society of anarchists and the building up of institutions, like cooperatives and mutual aid associations, built on consensus, not coercion. We talk about eliminating the state because that is a long-term goal to strive for, like peace and justice, not because it's something we think can or should happen overnight.

Yet all Chomsky seems to have is disdain for the mere talk of a stateless society as he argues against an anarchist caricature, falsely suggesting those anarchists who do not share his opinion on the wisdom of increasing state power would like to keep intact all the corporate privileges it provides; as if their enemy is corporate taxes, not corporate personhood.

And while Chomksy casts himself as wisely pragmatic, the more I read about his solutions the more I find them naive and indistinguishable from those offered by a standard-issue liberal. Indeed, later in the interview excerpted above he even bemoans the loss of the loathsome Martha Coakley in the Massachussets Senate race a few years back, complaining that the electorate yet again voted against its own self-interest -- as if the Democrats, and former prosecutor no less, favor anything more than a marginally more subtle assault on those interests.

If one wants to be pragmatic, there are many ways a philosophical anarchist can act that don't depend on the dubious notion of short-term increases in state power. Economist Dean Baker details this in his new book, from patent reform to removing tax loopholes, and I'd argue they're at least as politically viable as instituting a the type of national health care system Chomsky favors. Indeed, when Democrats took back the White House and both chambers of Congress and had the opportunity to implement that very health care reform, which Chomsky accurately notes enjoys broad public support, they instead turned around and only increased the power of pharmaceutical giants and corporate insurance providers, even mandating the purchase of the latter's products.

And that illustrates a key point: increasing the power of the state, as the individual insurance mandate indisputably does, has historically been accompanied not by a decrease in corporate power, but an expansion of it. Just as wars for peace have only led to more wars, expansions of state power often enable only greater economic exploitation. While the state may be subject to influence as Chomsky contends, it's those with the most money who tend to do most of the influencing -- and who in turn use the state to ensure their power is not subject to the nuisance of labor unions and general strikes.

So who's really naive: the person who wants to limit corporate power by decreasing the power of the state, historically its chief enabler, or the one who believes that this time around the power of the state can be harnessed for good -- and that the road to a less coercive society depends on increasing the power of an institution whose unique feature is its legal monopoly on coercion?

Monday, October 17, 2011

About that assassination plot

For  years, U.S. hawks have insisted that Iran and its alleged proxy force Hezbollah are nefariously building up ties with governments and criminal organizations across Latin America, including drug cartels.

If the official story about the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington is true, and the Iranian government indeed reached out to a used car salesman in Texas to get in touch with these cartels, then obviously its ties to said cartels are, well, a bit overblown. And as I write for Inter Press Service, if the official story is false, then the dire threat purportedly posed by Iran's dealings in Latin America has not materialized like promised.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Obama 2016!

This, from a man currently attempting to refashion himself as a leader of The Resistance:

I don't know about you, but it certainly seems to me that Jones is more in the business of giving blows than taking them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Somalia: 'libertarian paradise'

I'm not sure in what context this remark was made, but I think it's worth pointing out that this critique is no different than a conservative or right-wing libertarian responding to a criticism of modern state capitalism by snorting, "oh yeah, and how did the Soviet Union turn out, ya Marxist?" It's intellectually dishonest. It's lame. It's -- perhaps most damningly -- just plain unoriginal, returning "About 210,000 results" on Google. And it's a damn weak attempt to hang around the necks of those who would dare imagine a world where people are free to organize and live in communities not subject to the coercive interference of an outside, centralized power, a failed state -- Somalia -- that has been torn apart by decades of Western state intervention, as noted by libertarian socialist Noam Chomsky and none other than Jeremy Scahill.

From a U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion and brutal military occupation that left more than 16,000 civilians dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, destroying the first semblance of normalcy the country had experienced in nearly two decades, to an ongoing U.S. war involving CIA torture chambers and drone strikes, Somalia has been ravaged by powerful nation-states, not anarchy.

But hey, let's put that all aside and just concede for a moment that Somalia is in fact some anarchist's wet dream, "a libertarian's paradise." Let's just ignore the fact Somalia was ruled by a military dictator for decades and not make the cheap point that the period preceding its current "anarchist" stage therefore indicts anyone who believes in the justness and necessity of centralized power.

We can say this for the little 'ol anarcho-paradise that is Somalia: At least it hasn't, like some other countries in the region, murdered tens of thousands of its neighbors. At least, like another government I know whose legitimacy has never been questioned by any respectable liberal writers, dropped nukes on any Japanese cities or killed upwards of one million Iraqis or put one out of every 100 of its own citizens in steel cages.

Up next: Is North Korea, with its socialized health care and strict regulation of business, a "liberal paradise"?

Update: Scahill says the comment "was a joke." Okay. But what's the punchline?

I wonder why?

"The idea that Wall Street criminals are getting away with a criminal conspiracy against the American people is a popular one. Nobody ever asks how the seemingly victimized American people managed to make so much of Wall Street’s money disappear through their own deadbeat behavior."
--Tim Cavanaugh, Reason, 14 October 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Picking on Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is great. Manufacturing Consent is a masterful look at how the mainstream media in America subtly and not so subtly serves the interests of the state and its corporate puppeteers. He has long been one of the most trenchant critics of the U.S. empire, a fact that's led to him to be ostracized from respectable political discourse – good riddance – and to be ridiculed by Weekly Standard neocons and Mother Jones liberals alike.

But – and with effusive praise like that, you just had to know there'd be a “but” – because I think he's generally on the side of Truth and Justice, like a relative or loved one (not always the same thing) he's thus open to more withering criticism from yours truly than your average tenured professor, Melissa Harris-Perry excepted.

My chief issue with Uncle Noam comes down to the fact that, while his analysis of the state often charms this anarchist's black heart, his professed allegiance to anarchism as a philosophy often appears like a lot of folks' professed Catholicism: something one claims allegiance to in order to keep up appearances – be it to before one's radical readers or just dear mother – but which one doesn't think twice about on weekdays, outside of May Day or Christmas.

By that I mean, while Chomsky professes anarchy to be his end-goal, his strategy on how to get there doesn't strike me as substantively different than the Marxist-Leninists he mocks. That is, he views the state as a necessary bulwark against the privations of corporate capitalism; a necessary evil that ought to be maintained and even strengthened in order to prevent private tyranny. But, like the communist he derides for believing the dictatorship of the proletariat – or rather, the dictatorship of the Party – will voluntary wither away and cede power to a society of anarchists, Chomsky never really elaborates on how to get from a system of centralized power and coercion to a decentralized world of consensus.

"What, is the state just going to give up that power all on its own?" Chomsky might witheringly ask.

Take the good professor's response when asked about “the prospects for realizing anarchism in our society”:
Prospects for freedom and justice are limitless. The steps we should take depend on what we are trying to achieve. There are, and can be, no general answers. The questions are wrongly put. I am reminded of a nice slogan of the rural workers' movement in Brazil (from which I have just returned): they say that they must expand the floor of the cage, until the point when they can break the bars. At times, that even requires defense of the cage against even worse predators outside: defense of illegitimate state power against predatory private tyranny in the United States today, for example, a point that should be obvious to any person committed to justice and freedom -- anyone, for example, who thinks that children should have food to eat -- but that seems difficult for many people who regard themselves as libertarians and anarchists to comprehend. That is one of the self-destructive and irrational impulses of decent people who consider themselves to be on the left, in my opinion, separating them in practice from the lives and legitimate aspirations of suffering people.
Insofar as Chomsky asserts that there is no one easy, “right” answer to this question, I agree. While I think it's important to lay out a vision for the world you would to build, I personally see anarchism as a process: I would like to minimize the centralization of power and use of coercion in society, as I believe both lead to great evils in the hands of flawed, fallible human beings. In that sense, I see the use of co-ops in Nicaragua's Ometepe, for instance, as an example of anarchism in actiom. a significant step toward a world based on consensus, no coercion, where people can be free and self-reliant, dependent on neither politicians nor capitalists.

At the same time, though, I take issue with Chomsky answering a question on how to realize anarchism almost entirely with an attack on his fellow anarchists. And I find particularly irksome his seeming acceptance of the left-liberal framing of the state as the common person's last best defense against corporate power. I believe Chomsky himself would admit – and the much less radical, left-liberal economist Dean Baker details in his latest book – that it is the state which is in fact the chief enabler of that power, from “intellectual property” laws that guarantee monopoly profits to drug companies to the doctrine of “corporate personhood” that enables those very companies to skirt full financial and legal responsibility for their actions.

As an anarchist, Chomsky ought to have detailed why the divide between “public” and “private” power is less than meet the eye; that, in fact, the state and corporation collude to screw the public and to redistribute wealth from the lower classes to the wealthy; that, in fact, there is no real distinction between the two at all. The Federal Reserve is a perfect example of this: a government-chartered institution that is almost entirely run by the quasi-private banking industry to -- surprise! -- the benefit of bankers.

While those who would remove limits on corporate power while keeping in place the privileges are worth criticizing, Chomsky attacks “libertarians and anarchists” with far too wide a brush, most irksomely by deploying a red-flag raising phrase like “a point that should be obvious” and a groan-inducing appeal to those who “think children should have food to eat.” Really, Noam?

My other point of contention is Chomsky's contribution to the sort of political in-fighting he often decries, namely his denunciation of anarcho-capitalism, a system that he says, “if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history.”

First things first: I'm no anarcho-capitalist. I think those who adopt that label often have an almost self-parodying view of the role markets and the profit motive play in society, every potential problem that might arise discussed by pointing to how a private company could meet Social Demand X or Y, complete with the appropriate citation of some book by Murray Rothbard. Many, though not all, seem to leave no room for other forms of social cooperation, anything that doesn't involve a profit appearing suspiciously commie. And many do not seem to have ever questioned the moral basis for private property and the role the state has played in upholding that particular institution – and in determining who has come to hold property – and whether it could truly be maintained in a world free of coercion and the subsidy of state protection.

I also recognize that it's just a label; that some anarcho-capitalists or market anarchists could very well read the preceding paragraph while nodding their heads. I also recognize that, differences aside, I have a lot in common with these people. Indeed, Chomsky himself admits – when not suggesting anarcho-capitalism would be on par with the evils of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia – that he finds himself “in substantial agreement with people who consider themselves anarcho-capitalists on a whole range of issues,” and that for awhile they were the only ones he would publish his work. He also concedes that there may very well be a role for markets in his ideal anarchist world.

So why the over-the-top, tyranny “with few counterparts in human history” denunciation? While I'm no stranger to hyperbole, and I too have my qualms with anarcho-capitalists, I find it hard to believe that, at its worst, an an-cap world would be any more tyrannical than the one we have now, what with its state-privileged corporate monopolies and standing armies and massive prison complexes. Chomsky's critique, then – and the mirror image attack on anarcho-syndicalism from the clowns at the Mises Institute – strikes me as not unlike the bickering between Monty Python's Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea, where radicals that agree on 90 percent of the issues hate each other more than their shared enemy: the corporate state. Or was it the Romans?

Anarchists should be free to criticize other anarchists. Debate is good and keeps people honest. But let's not lose sight of the common foe: coercion, be it perpetrated by state or corporation, recognizing, I would add, that you can't have the latter without the former. Sure, we can and should debate the merits of syndicalism and the wisdom of municipal versus privatized police forces. But guys! We're a long way from there. We have a lot of coercion to remove from society before we get to the point where those debates will have real world consequences. We can discuss the workability of everyone's desired dream anarchist world as soon as we, say, live in a world where U.S. military bases are only to be found in the United States, okay?

And Noam, buddy: let's not forget, because I know you're aware of this, that right now at this moment the state is the chief deployer of coercion and, far from its foe, the chief enabler of corporate power. No, let's not do away with the social safety net or regulations that, however feebly, restrict corporate excess, at least not without first doing away with corporate privilege. But let's also not forget that, historically, increasing the power of the state as you would like to do has not been found conducive with minimizing coercion or corporate power in society. And as for reducing that power once you've increased it: ask your Marxist-Leninist friends how that worked out.

Ashes to ashes

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

America's Only Elected Socialist (TM) on state murder

I certainly don't agree with everything he says, but I have to hand independent Senator Bernie Sanders this: he has forcefully, and repeatedly, condemned President Obama's expansion of the war on terror and his recent authorization of the assassination of two American citizens without charge or trial.

Oh, wait, I'm thinking of Ron Paul.

Well, then. What does American's only elected self-styled socialist from the People's Republic of Vermont think about the due-process free killing of Americans? It's kind of dumb question, really: Obviously a man who "values the rule of law" and opposed the use of torture under the Bush administration would oppose the lawless, extrajudicial -- and immoral -- killing of his fellow countrymen. I mean, if you think waterboarding is unacceptable and un-American, then you surely can't be cool with a president unilaterally assassinating anyone in the world he chooses based on secret and admittedly patchy evidence.


CNN's Wolf Blitzer recently tried to figure that out:
Blitzer: Did President Obama do the right thing in ordering the killing of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki?

Sanders: Uh, that's a long discussion. Probably longer than the amount of time we now have.

Blitzer: Go ahead, give me 30 seconds.

Sanders: Well, the answer is that I, you know, that when you have an American citizen killed by the United States government, it raises some real questions. On the other hand, when you have somebody who's a terrorist at war with the United States, that's the other side of that equation. 
Stirring. On the one hand, Bernie Sanders casts himself as tough, no-nonsense socialist fightin' for the average American. On the other hand, he caucuses with the Democrats and campaigned for his seat in the Senate alongside "one of the great leaders" of that august institution, Barack Obama.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nicaragua triunfará

Elections in Nicaragua are less than a month away, which means the criminal misuse of American pop songs -- artistically speaking -- as a means of marketing the various candidates to the all-important Youth of the Country has just about hit its awful peak.

Sometimes the songs are almost endearingly awful, as when 79-year-old businessman and conservative presidential candiate Fabio Gadea airs television ads set to a repurposed -- and still awful -- Black Eyed Peas song. Other times, as in the case of certain local candidate for office here in the southwestern department of Rivas by the fucking name of "Alejandro," it's enough to drive a nice anarcho-pacifist boy into a fit of violent, unthinking rage, particularly when said asshole plants his campaign truck right outside your apartment and blares his unofficial theme for the better part of a Saturday.

But I'm ranting.

Recently, the Central American tradition of using bad pop music to sell even worse politicians made news when a certain mom-and-pop corporation by the name of Sony Entertainment decided it didn't like Sandinista leader and odds-on favorite to win Nicaragua's presidential election Daniel Ortega's use of the 1961 hit "Stand by Me."

Now, I don't much like the song either. Or at least I don't now that I've heard three times a day for the past four months. But Sony's problem with it is a bit different than mine: it contends the Sandinistas' appropriation of the tune constitutes a "serious infringement" of the company's copyright over the half-century-old song. And that's a big no-no.

“We don’t allow our songs to be used by political campaigns,” Jimmy Asci, a spokesman for company, explained in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

Of course, the actual song being used by Mr. Ortega is nothing like the one recorded by Ben E. King 50 years ago. The words are completely different; it doesn't even say "stand by me." It's in Spanish. And it's about Nicaragua. And peace and love, two themes that if adopted by any major candidate in the United States would get them laughed right off the stage of the prime-time CNN debate brought to you by Lockheed-Martin.

Check out the song yourself:

Intellectual property laws ostensibly exist to encourage artists to create art because, as we all know, the best musicians are those in it for the money. But that's not the issue here: the guy who recorded the original "Stand by Me" has made his cash. The issue is a major company's ability to make even more money off of another's work -- and to prevent that work from being used in ways its executive board doesn't deem acceptable, which would be called "censorship" if carried out by a state but is called plain old "capitalism" when it involves a state-chartered corporation reliant on the legal machinery of the state.

Judging by the country's complete and thoroughly admirable lack of respect for those intellectual property laws, however -- I've yet to see a "legitimate" CD or DVD in my 10 months here -- I'm guessing Nicaragua will triumph.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Drones, civilian deaths and The New York Times

In Pakistan, according to American officials, strikes from Predators and Reapers operated by the C.I.A. have killed more than 2,000 militants; the number of civilian casualties is hotly debated. In Yemen last month, an American citizen was, for the first time, the intended target of a drone strike, as Anwar al-Awlaki, the Qaeda propagandist and plotter, was killed along with a second American, Samir Khan.
"Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race," The New York Times, 8 October 2011
Do civilians die in war? Not according to U.S. officials. Are their claims trustworthy or verifiable? It doesn't matter. What does is that they're making them.

A number of things are noteworthy about the recent piece in the New York Times, excerpted above, on China getting into the unmanned killer drone game. First, there are some basic factual errors. Last month, for instance, was not "the first time" an American citizen was the target of a U.S. drone strike; back in May, Awlaki in fact survived an earlier such assassination attempt that left two his companions dead. And since the list of Americans determined by the Obama administration to be eligible for due process-free death by drone is classified, and since the drone strikes themselves are often not even acknowledged by U.S. officials, we really don't know if -- and the Times plainly can't assert with certainty -- even that strike was the actually the first attempt on an American citizen's life.

Most interesting, though, is what the piece shows about the willingness of the Times to print, unchallenged, claims by U.S. officials -- and how readily it's willing to ignore or downplay widely reported facts when they're disputed by those in power. For example, we are told as a matter of unattributed fact that Awlaki was a terrorist "plotter," despite the lack of any solid evidence for that assertion having been made public by American officials. Indeed, Reuters reports that those very officials acknowledge "the intelligence purporting to show Awlaki's hands-on role in plotting attacks was patchy." Experts on the ground in Yemen also report Awlaki "did not have any real role" in the organization he was accused of being a part of.

And yet, there it is: "Anwar al-Awlaki, the Qaeda propagandist and plotter."

Then there is the line about the number of "militants" killed by CIA drone strikes. Here, the Times is very specific: 2,000 have died, though the assertion this time comes with an "according to American officials." Are these militants members of al-Qaeda? The Taliban? Just men between the ages of 12 and 60 who don't passively accept a U.S. military occupation in their backyard? The paper doesn't deign to tell its readers. It probably didn't bother to find out.

A U.S. official said it, after all.

The Times also doesn't appear to have bothered to find out the number of innocent men, women and children whose lives have been extinguished by flying death robots. That unmentionable number is merely "hotly disputed" -- and the details of the dispute not worth reporting.

Never mind that Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution, hardly a radical anti-war group, suggests that "for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died." Put aside the fact the New America Foundation more conservatively estimates one in five of those killed are civilians. And forget that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented credible reports that "[m]ore than 160 children" and somewhere between "385-775 civilians" have been killed in U.S. drone strikes. The mere fact that Obama administration officials like John Brennan assert, contrary to all available evidence, that few if any civilians have died is all that matters to a respectable stenographer.

The lesson for those who wish to be successful in the corporate media is this: If a U.S. national security official asserts something to be true, dutifully report it, preferably with no attribution. Objective facts, on the other hand, are not to be published provided that an anonymous government official takes issue with them, or if they're just too darn anti-Americany.

The purpose of the corporate press is to service the needs of the state and its corporate masters, remember. While there may be instances of quality journalism in the likes of The Washington Post and The New York Time, their chief purpose is serving the corporate-state agenda, not the public interest. And the key to any fact being ignored or "hotly disputed" is the degree to which it challenges that mission.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

U.S. Attorneys take on Big Pharma

In no uncertain terms, U.S. federal attorneys in California are blasting the corporatist health care system and the mega-corporations behind it that are every day placing profits over people.

Benjamin Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, for instance, denounced "Large commercial operations" that "cloak their moneymaking activities in the guise of helping sick people when in fact they are helping themselves." Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, was equally forceful, declaring that the medical "industry is not about providing medicine to the sick. It's a pervasive for-profit industry."

What turned a bunch of lawyers for the Obama administration into radical leftists adopting rhetoric that wouldn't be out of place at the Occupy Wall Street protest? Pot. As Reason's Jacob Sullum notes, they weren't talking about the medical industry writ large, or the major pharmaceutical and insurance companies that stand to gain from the health care law their boss, President Obama, signed into law in 2010, but rather California's medical marijuana industry.

Turning a profit is immoral, you see, when it threatens the profits of more politically connected players in the drug industry: the likes of Merck and the Miller Brewing Company.

Friday, October 07, 2011

'Where is the justice?'

The family of Samir Khan, the "other American" killed in the recent U.S. drone strike that took out Anwar al-Awlaki, has issued a statement:
"We, the family of Samir Khan, in our time of grief and mourning, request that the media let us have our peace and privacy during this difficult time. It has been stated in the media that Samir was not the target of the attack; however no U.S. official has contacted us with any news about the recovery of our son's remains, nor offered us any condolences. As a result, we feel appalled by the indifference shown to us by our government.
"Being a law abiding citizen of the United States our late son Samir Khan never broke any law and was never implicated of any crime. The Fifth Amendment states that no citizen shall be 'deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law' yet our government assassinated two of its citizens. Was this style of execution the only solution? Why couldn't there have been a capture and trial? Where is the justice? As we mourn our son, we must ask these questions."
Update: "So, uh, sorry about that whole us-killing-your-son thing."

'Don't need an invitation to drop in upon a nation'

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Congressional drones

Concerned that the unmanned aerial drones currently raining death upon the unfortunate inhabitants of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia aren't having their synthesized voices heard in Congress? Sick and tired of our brave robots defending American overseas lacking representation the halls of power? Fret no more, friend. Drones, unlike some bipeds, now have their very own caucus in Washington consisting of around 50 lawmakers -- perhaps the only patriots left in America.

Here is their mission:
This is an exciting and existing technology that will continue to grow, and improve our lives [ed: by ending them?] as public acceptance progresses. The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus’ goal is to educate members of Congress on every facet of this industry. We are this industry’s voice on Capitol Hill, and will work closely with industry to ensure we continue to expand this sector through efficient government regulation and oversight
Be sure to check out the sea of mostly pale white faces bravely speaking out for poor, disenfranchised military contractors like Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin in the face of the dire threat posed by the dark forces of the peace-activist-congressional complex. One only hopes they can convince the public they purport to represent to accept this killer technology for which their tax dollars are paying. Good luck, brave sirs!

As for all you other living and breathing folks, especially you hippies protesting the collusion between state and Wall Street, just be aware: while Predator drones have a voice in Congress, you don't.

Was the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki legal?

I argue that isn't the right question.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Another state subsidy to the insurance industry

Besides just outright mandating that people purchase private health plans as under the 2010 health care law, the U.S. government subsidizes the insurance industry in a number of other ways, particularly through the tax code, where it encourages Americans to put money into dubious insurance products as a way to reduce their IRS bills.

"Life insurance," to take but one example, "enjoys unique status among financial products." Among its advantages:
1. You pay NO current income tax on interest or other earnings credited to cash value. As the cash value accumulates, it is not subject to current taxation.

2. You pay NO income tax if you borrow cash value from the policy through loans. Generally, loans are treated as debts, not taxable distributions. This can give you virtually unlimited access to cash value on a tax-advantaged basis. Also, these loans need not be repaid. After a sizable amount of cash value has built up, it can be borrowed against systematically to help supplement retirement income and in many cases, never pay one cent of income tax on the gain. Several cautions regarding policy loans: First, loans are charged interest and policy loans can reduce the overall value of the policy. Second, the cash value is potentially subject to income taxes when there is a withdrawal from or surrender of the policy, or if a certain ratio of death benefit to cash value is not maintained. Third, if the policy is a modified endowment contract, the loan may be taxable.

3. Your heirs pay NO income tax on proceeds. Your beneficiaries receive death benefits completely free of income taxation. Therefore, a $500,000 policy delivers $500,000 in benefits with no deductions and no withholding required. Note: This is true with all life insurance policies, both term and cash value.

4. You can avoid potential estate taxes and probate costs on policy proceeds, as long as the beneficiary designations and policy ownership are arranged in accordance with current law. For instance, if you (A) own your policy at the time of your death or (B) make your estate the beneficiary, the policy proceeds will generally be included in your estate at death. This can increase the value of your estate, triggering estate taxes. This situation may be avoided, however, by placing ownership and naming beneficiaries outside your estate. If structured properly, the policy proceeds will not be included in your estate. However, to avoid estate inclusion for existing policies, the policy must be transferred more than three years before your death. Consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your particular circumstances.
(Source: New York Life Insurance Company)
Life insurance is a sound investment for the wealthy individual looking it to avoid taxes when passing on wealth to their children. Speaking of which: one man worth $39 billion currently being rewarded with praise from Democrats for his selfless call for higher taxes on the rich -- let's call him "Barren Wuffet" -- would like to know if you're interested in some life insurance.

This is not only an example of how the state subsidizes the insurance industry, by the way: it's another reason why critics of the status quo and the growing divide between rich and poor ought to spend less time on the topic of higher taxes for the rich -- which they can afford to avoid, not that they shouldn't be raised anyway -- and more time on the policies, including existing incentives in the tax code, that are responsible for actually making them rich.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Lies, damn lies, and drug war statistics

Anti-marijuana campaigners hate the fact that in some states in the U.S. sick people are allowed to use a drug that doesn't come from a big pharmaceutical company, which they fear could eventually lead to a broader relaxation of cannabis laws. But they can't really just say that they'd prefer your grandma to spend all day vomiting up her cancer drugs, so they, predictably, point to the children.

As the Contra Costa Times reports, prohibitionists in California are claiming "relaxed state laws toward medical marijuana" are responsible for an overall increase in the use of pot.
"In evaluating the statistics, it shows states that have a medical-marijuana program have a significant increase in use of those who are using marijuana," said Paul Chabot, founder of Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition.
What follows is a bunch of statistics showing marijuana use is slightly up, not just in California, but around the country. Nowhere is their statistical evidence that "states that have a medical-marijuana program" experienced larger increases, as implied by the noble and not at all self-interested Mr. Chabot.

So, what do the statistics actually say? California's had legal medical marijuana for about 15 years now, so somebody has to have studied the issue. Let's see what we can find on the website of the U.S. government's National Institute of Health, shall we?

"Do medical cannabis laws encourage cannabis use?" That sounds promising. Published in 2007, the study was conducted by researchers at Texas A&M's Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics. And what did it find?
No statistically significant pre-law versus post-law differences were found . . . . Thus, consistent with other studies of the liberalization of cannabis laws, medical cannabis laws do not appear to increase use of the drug. One reason for this might be that relatively few individuals are registered medical cannabis patients or caregivers. In addition, use of the drug by those already sick might "de-glamorise" it and thereby do little to encourage use among others.
Meanwhile, Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project notes that a recent federal survey of teen cannabis use found that in states like California "rates actually decreased since the implementation of their medical marijuana programs."

So just who is this Paul Chabot guy anyway and why is he so invested in making factually flawed arguments against liberalized drug laws? It's interesting, actually. From his official bio on the website of the Coalition for a Drug Free California, we find that he is:
a combat veteran from Iraq [sic] where he served as an intelligence officer with special operations forces. Having fought to defend America's values and principles, he returned home to find California falling further down a slippery slope of drug legalization, addiction, crime and violence. At the early age of 12 Paul entered drug rehab for alcohol and marijuana addiction, and has to date achieved 25 years of sobriety. He served as a police officer, a parole board commissioner and a White House Senior Advisor for law enforcement, justice and drug control, followed by assignments with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the State Department. As a professional speaker, he has traveled to 48 states to speak on the perils of substance abuse.
Chabot is also a failed Republican candidate for California's State Assembly, his 2010 campaign based on the rallying cry of "Send a Military and Law Enforcement Veteran to Fight for You in Sacramento." The Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition that he is credited as founding, meanwhile, is according to its website composed of, among others: "Law Enforcement"; "Healthcare Professionals, including mental health and substance abuse"; and "Government agencies."

In other words, Chabot's career, like the careers of other prohibitionists, is dependent on maintaining the drug war status quo. Oh, he may believe the stuff he says; he may be a true believer. But then, money and power have a strange way of affecting people's thinking. The simple, indisputable fact is the institutions Chabot served, and the groups that now fund his anti-pot campaigning -- law enforcement and drug rehab profiteers -- depend on a system of fines, jail time and mandatory treatment for marijuana use.

Don't accuse me of being surprised this isn't the case, but it'd sure be nice if journalists noted the personal and financial interests anti-marijuana campaigners have in maintaining draconian drug laws. Or maybe they could just fact check the things they say before printing them.