Thursday, March 29, 2012

Subsidizing military rule in Egypt

I forgot to link to this last week, so in case you missed it check out my piece with Medea Benjamin on the Obama administration's decision to send another $1.5 billion to Egypt despite (because of?) ongoing human rights abuses being committed by the ruling military.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Legitimately purchase this book

"Those who feel that like lemmings they are being led over a cliff would be well-advised not to read this book," says Noam Chomsky. "They may discover that they are right."

That book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, edited by Joshua Frank and Counterpunch's Jeffrey St. Clair, a compilation of essays on the Obama years just published by AK Press. Touching on everything from drone strikes to bailouts, the book includes a piece by me on the persecution of Bradley Manning. That's a hint that you should buy it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Let's talk about sex (trafficking)

Tom Friedman is a buffoon, his buffoonery so apparent and well-documented I don't much see the point in getting annoyed at what he writes anymore. Trashing one of his columns is like panning the latest single from LMFAO (or their earlier iteration, The Black Eyed Peas) for being vapid, over-produced dreck: well yeah, no shit.

Nick Kristof, on the other hand – now that's a dude who, like a lover or a war criminal, knows how to hit all my anger buttons. Perhaps because he doesn't have a mustache and has never said “suck on this” while on national TV, Kristof enjoys an air of seriousness among serious liberals that Friedman lost somewhere around his 358th mixed metaphor. Being a New York Times columnist, he's no less an imperialist, obviously, but his imperialism is of the crusading white savior variety, which is in vogue these days among the Kony 2012-retweeting set.

Besides selling a savvier, hipper brand of American empire -- "shock and awe" giving way to "the responsibility to protect" -- Kristof is a master at making noble white liberals feel noble for feeling noble. Be it saving poor Africans or exploited sex workers or undereducated Americans or the uncomfortably (for a privileged white liberal) black-like "white underclass," Kristof knows how to couple the aw-the-poor-thing dramatizing with stock neoliberal, imperial policies, from standardized testing to bombing Libyans. Wrapping these policies up in heart-wrenching stories allows Kristof and his like-minded readers to feel morally enlightened for supporting them; we're doing something! That they don't achieve their stated ends -- peace and prosperity, a better educated populace -- is besides the point: they make Kristof and friends feel better. Superior.

This was certainly true of his latest column, "Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods" -- not a reference to the Times -- on the problem of white slavery human trafficking. The problem, as Kristof tells it, is that pimps are using websites like the Village Voice-owned to, well, peddle their "goods": legally underage women who have been coerced into sex work. His solution, as it were, is to have Backpage remove its sex ads altogether.

Now, Kristof freely admits that of those posting on the site, “many” – by which he presumably means “the vast majority“ – are consenting adults who, while one may disapprove of their lifestyle or lament the socio-political conditions one believes contributed to their line of work, are doing what they do as freely as one can in a state capitalist economy. But the small matter of not just inconveniencing but possibly jeopardizing the lives of these sex workers -- who, barred from posting online, may seek clients on the street -- is of no concern to Kristof. Like a kindergarten teacher or Israeli prime minister keen on collective punishment, he maintains the bad actions of a few justifies punishing the many.

Because Jane spoke out of turn there will be no recess today. Put your heads down on the desk and, god damn it Jimmy, quit running with the scissors or we'll call in the IDF and end this playtime shit once and for all.

While banning sex ads isn't the same as bombing Gaza, Krisof admits in his penultimate paragraph that it will be just as ineffective at achieving its stated goal (which may not, of course, be the real goal):
Let’s be honest: Backpage’s exit from prostitution advertising wouldn’t solve the problem, for smaller Web sites would take on some of the ads. But it would be a setback for pimps to lose a major online marketplace. When Craigslist stopped taking such ads in 2010, many did not migrate to new sites: online prostitution advertising plummeted by more than 50 percent, according to AIM Group.
Hey! Notice what he did there? First, Kristof begins his column by talking about forced human trafficking, which everyone can agree is a Very Bad Thing. Using that as his hook, he then advocates banning all sex ads on Backpage. Though he admits this won't "solve the problem" of human trafficking, he then points to statistics showing that after Craigslist got rid of its sex-for-money ads, "online prostitution advertising plummeted by more than 50 percent."

Putting aside the validity of that statistic, recall that in a piece about the need to address human trafficking Kristof is here bolstering his case for banning online sex ads from Backpage by pointing to a decline in said sex ads, not human trafficking. This is because there is not the slightest evidence that a decline those ads, if there in fact is one, has had the slightest impact on trafficking. Maybe, then, while trafficking is the public target of anti-trafficking campaigners, it is that icky matter of consenting adults engaging in consensual sex via the Internet that weirds people like Kristof out.

But who cares what the real motivation is or, worse yet, the result of the policies that are pushed? Like the Kristof-approved air war on Libya, which Amnesty International says killed “scores” of civilians, the crusade is more about the crusaders than those they are claiming to save. The impact of the policies doesn't matter so much as the spirit behind them. Kristof hasn't written about life liberated Libya, where blacks can't walk the streets without fear of murder or kidnapping, since September because the situation there is complicated. It doesn't lend itself to nice little morality tales, where you can do good by signing an online petition or deploying a few Predator drones.

Kristof meant well and he demonstrated his super-human levels of Concern with a couple 800-word, pro-war columns. And that's what matters.

Now, human trafficking is a problem, even if it's been overblown into the latest moral panic -- and by the time it hits the Times, it's indeed a certified moral panic. But it's not a problem that can be meaningfully addressed, much less solved, with feel-good measures and online advocacy; with a petition here, a letter-writing campaign there. Beware those suggesting it can: like the online petition sites, they probably just want your email address; like Nick Kristof, they probably just want your admiration.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

'Foreclosing on the commons'

Check out my latest column for Al Jazeera, where I look to Peter Kropotkin for advise on addressing the US foreclosure crisis.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Obama doesn't bluff

In an exclusive interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, a journalist famed for his ability to fashion innuendo and hysterical falsehoods into a case for preemptive war, President Barack Obama reassured the Israeli government that when it comes to threatening military action against those irksome, annoyingly un-invaded Iranians, "As President of the United States, I don't bluff." He then put on a ten-gallon hat, hocked a loogie on the ground and whipped his dick out.

On what "all options" really means, the president said:
I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it. It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran's military program.
As the Los Angeles Times recently noted, "U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe Iran is actively trying to build an atomic bomb," so it's not clear what "military program" the president believes there is to evaluate.

Moving on.
I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel, and I think political support for Israel is bipartisan and powerful.
The first part of that sentences is arguable; the second, not.
[O]ur assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.
While the bit about a "long lead time" is appreciated, this is not true. The official assessment from the US intelligence community, with which the president is presumably familiar, is that Iran is not only "not yet" in possession of a nuclear weapon, but that in the words of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, they haven't even chose to build a nuke and are instead but "keeping themselves in a position to make that decision," which is government-speak for "we've got nothing."
[O]ur argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.
Got it. The president doesn't listen to his own intelligence officials. But he's not Bush! No, he's literally not George W. Bush. He's Barack Obama, silly.

And as Obama-not-Bush hastens to point out, if you're the leader of an officially racist state seeking to annex evermore of your neighbor's land, he's the best friend you've got:
When you look at what I've done with respect to security for Israel, from joint training and joint exercises that outstrip anything that's been done in the past, to helping finance and construct the Iron Dome program to make sure that Israeli families are less vulnerable to missile strikes, to ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge, to fighting back against delegitimization of Israel, whether at the [UN] Human Rights Council, or in front of the UN General Assembly, or during the Goldstone Report, or after the flare-up involving the flotilla -- the truth of the matter is that the relationship has functioned very well.
There's no disputing that. Back to Iran:
Now, what we've seen, what we've heard directly from them over the last couple of weeks is that nuclear weapons are sinful and un-Islamic. And those are formal speeches from the supreme leader and their foreign minister.
This is actually the only time I've seen a US politician acknowledge the official statements from Iranian leaders denouncing nuclear weapons as counter to their Islamic values. So, credit where it's due, I guess: good for him.

Unfortunately, Obama appears confused but moments later when he appears to suggest an Iranian nuclear weapon is what would set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East:
If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won't name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, "We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons."
Weird, because if Israel already has nuclear weapons -- hundreds of them, in fact -- and the US president and his Israeli counterpart are going around claiming that now Iran wants them too, it would follow that it was Israel's construction of a nuclear weapon that set off a Middle East arms race, not Iran, no? But then, Obama refuses to even acknowledge that Israel is the one country in the region that hasn't signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has in fact covertly developed nuclear weapons, so one wouldn't expect him to make that point in an interview with a former (and proud) Israeli prison guard.

Having failed to make that obvious point, the president returns to a favorite pastime: waving his dick at the American electorate and reminding them he issued the orders to kill that unarmed, apparently surrendering motherfucker, Osama:
I think it's fair to say that the last three years, I've shown myself pretty clearly willing, when I believe it is in the core national interest of the United States, to direct military actions, even when they entail enormous risks. And obviously, the bin Laden operation . . . .
Those "enormous risks," the president did not hasten to add, are typically posed to poor foreigners, not America's patriotic, Mountain Dew-toasting drone operators in Nevada. But whatevs. Boom! Pow! This president kicks ass and he's pretty clearly willing to remind you of it.

Finally, an exchange between Obama and his prison guard over his unflinching support apartheid:
Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they've had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?
GOLDBERG: That's a good way to phrase it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And my answer is: there is no good reason to doubt me on these issues.
No, there isn't. But come November 2012, millions of liberals will do it anyway.