Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sports and Politics

I think this subject is pretty well covered by the usual suspects, so I'll keep it brief. I only have an interest in the NFL v Limbaugh case because I'm a Rams fan in Saint Louis. Though, witnessing what I have for the first third of the season, I would accept anyone as an owner if they promised not to keep the team in town.

Anyway, Rush, the firestorm is not about your conservative politics. You need only look across town to the Cardinals for proof of that. Bill DeWitt, owner of the team, was one of the larger donors to President Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections. No one cared. I would assume (I'm not sure if such numbers are available) that at least 80 percent of the owners of professional sports teams are conservative or donate to Republicans more than Democrats. Again, nobody cares.

No one would oppose your bid for the team because you favor free-market policies. No, Rush, they opposed your bid because it was to buy a franchise predominantly staffed by black employees while you, yourself, a provably a racist.

And, please, cut the PC police bullshit. When your response to a fight among teenagers is to call for re-segregation, you're a racist. When you suggest that the sport which your potential team plays is like watching the Cryps and Bloods go at it, you're a racist. Reading your view into de Tocqueville or Adam Smith wouldn't have disqualified you, and you know it.

Anyway, aren't the Rams awful enough without forcing them to compete with a team that looks like it came out of the 30s?

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama and Nobel: Absurdity on Parade

Sometimes life's absurdities become so blatant, so consuming, that one cannot hellp but question the sanity of the world we live in. One cannot sanely sympathize with poor white people that protest against a lone black man because they envision some sort of holocaust against their meager existence while in fact this same man is tirelessly working to promote the fortune and power of the same white, Protestant men who've always held the same. How does one begin to argue with a man or woman who has been convinced to fight, sometimes violently, to promote someone else's interests to the detriment of their own?

How does one begin to argue with a nation of immigrants who believe to the core of their souls that this wave of immigrants are not lured by higher pay than they can find in their own country (thanks in part to US policies) but rather by a genocidal desire to murder their children? How does one convince a man like Rush Limbaugh or his drones that teenagers fight over stupid things like seats on a bus and that such an occurrence is not an indicator of a large-scale conspiracy on the part of all black people to exterminate the white race, as if whites were somehow on the precipice of extinction?

How, then, are we to respond to the news that a man responsible for widespread death in three countries, bellicose threats to another, and demonstrable loyalty to the position that you're either with the United States or you're dead receiving a prize for the propagation of Peace?

The President:

Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

Presumably, "all nations" is typical US code for those nations that agree with our foreign policy. One cannot believe that every Afghani who's had his home destroyed by American soldiers or paid mercenaries cheers "American leadership" as he watches the smoldering rubble of his former life.

The Orwellian construct, "War is Peace," is prescient here. Obama has yet to deviate from the neoconservative delusion that the only way to bring peace through the world is through endless war. Here, there is no alternative to the Bush worldview; a worldview which allows a man to stand above the fray, safely removed from danger, look over the smoldering of several countries and pride themselves on how much peace their weapons have wrought.

Part of the explanation of the prize was also Obama's supposed commitment to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Of course, nowhere in that idealistic endeavor is the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons mentioned. That would just be insane. Ignorance is Knowledge.

All this lends credence to what C Wright Mills called "crackpot realism."

From the essay "On Knowledge and Power:"

It is not the barbarous irrationality of uncouth, dour Senators that is the American danger; it is the respected judgments of Secretaries of State, the earnest platitudes of Presidents...that is the main danger. For these men have replaced mind by the platitude, and the dogmas by which they are legitimated are so widely accepted that no counter-balance of mind prevails against them. Such men as these are crackpot realists, who, in the name of realism have constructed a paranoid reality all their own and in the name of practicality have projected a utopian image...

Or from The Causes of World War Three:

In crackpot realism, a high-flying moral rhetoric is joined with an opportunist crawling among a great scatter of unfocused fears and demands. In fact, the main content of “politics” is now a struggle among men equally expert in practical next steps—which, in summary, make up the thrust toward war—and in great, round, hortatory principles. (p. 86)

. . . The expectation of war solves many problems of the crackpot realists; it also confronts them with many new problems. Yet these, the problems of war, often seem easier to handle. They are out in the open: to produce more, to plan how to kill more of the enemy, to move materials thousands of miles. . . . So instead of the unknown fear, the anxiety without end, some men of the higher circles prefer the simplification of known catastrophe. (p. 87)

. . . They know of no solutions to the paradoxes of the Middle East and Europe, the Far East and Africa except the landing of Marines. Being baffled, and also being very tired of being baffled, they have come to believe that there is no way out—except war—which would remove all the bewildering paradoxes of their tedious and now misguided attempts to construct peace. In place of these paradoxes they prefer the bright, clear problems of war—as they used to be. For they still believe that “winning” means something, although they never tell us what. (p. 88)

. . . Some men want war for sordid, others for idealistic, reasons; some for personal gain, others for impersonal principle. But most of those who consciously want war and accept it, and so help to create its “inevitability,” want it in order to shift the locus of their problems. (p. 88)

So, these politicians create their own reality, again in the Orwellian fashion, in which all anxieties, all uncertainties, are eliminated. From whole cloth, they create a world where victory and defeat fall along clearly-defined lines (though they are never able to express those lines to the public). In their world, enemies and friends are clearly defined, and the status of good and evil coincide perfectly. Circular logic dictates that friends are good, enemies are evil. That one defines the other does not seem to trouble their minds, from which they have systematically removed all seeds of doubt or attempts at objective definition.

Having created this reality, these politicians then foist it upon the world. This fabricated worldview becomes truth, rather than the reverse, and the world must subscribe to the reality as the politicians fight vociferously to defend their creation.

Once created, this worldview cannot be questioned. All positions must then flow forth from it. One must begin with the assumption that bombing villages breeds peace. One must subscribe to the notion that the countries with the largest nuclear arsenals are the natural leaders in the cause of reducing such arsenals (in those countries that don't have them). One must accept without question that no matter how poorly a war has been waged for nearly a decade, success (indefinable though it is) is just around the corner, if only a few thousand more soldiers can be brought ashore.

The most important feature of crackpot realism then, is the inability of observers to engage in any discussion which does not begin with the assumption of all that the crackpots have constructed. All discussion of foreign policy must begin with their fabricated premises, which ensures that such a debate cannot possibly progress. Much of the country, and apparently the world, fails to see this.

As long as discussion is constrained to the limits that the rulers set, "peace" is a fantasy. Indeed, mere mention of the word presents the speaker to the word as a wild-eyed naif unfit for public consumption. There is no reason for this to be. There is no reason that discussion should be constrained by bounds set by those who stand to profit most from its limitation. There is no reason that awards for peace should be awarded to a man who's only qualifications seem to be that he is the most eloquent of the ambassadors for the world of the crackpot realists.

When debate is artificially constrained, it ceases to be debate at all. It has become absolution of a vile worldview.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Congress Demonstrates its Fiscal Skepticism

Er, title changed to reflect the fact that I'm not an idiot re: possessive v. contraction

So, that crusader for peace and hope, Barack Obama, has once again demonstrated his commitment to prolonging the Bush presidency. On Tuesday, the Senate approved his first defense budget, with the stated price tag of $626 billion, the largest ever. That's greater than the GDP of all but 17 countries using the IMF numbers from 2008. And again, this was significantly higher than the largest budget requested by Bush, putting perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the fantastical belief that Obama will lead the country down a different path in foreign policy.

I say "stated" because history shows that the Defense Department is never held to the number. If the budget runs over, so be it. Also, as Tom Engelhardt notes, "various military expenses like the upkeep of our nuclear arsenal aren't even in that budget."

The budget itself is no surprise, as any suggestions that the US will ever pare down its military expenditures are grounds for forced commitment and life in a padded cell. The grating part is that for months Republicans and Democrats alike have been parading around feigning fiscal responsibility in the health care debate, rushing to declare that $850 billion over 10 years signifies the height of recklessness. Yet here we see the Senate pass a bill 93-7 which promises to exceed that in less than a year and half. Bipartisanism is alive and well, indeed.

But it’s more than simply the obvious lack of logical continuity and mathematical literacy here. It’s the laughable claim that these Congressmen oppose any sort of health care reform on the grounds that it would put the government into a controlling position over the free market. But consider where this money goes. It is nothing but a vast diversion of public money (presumably the same money the tea-baggers would like back) to private companies.

The money will go, as always, to the same companies lusting for the free market in no-bid, cost-plus contracts. It will go toward creating artificial overseas markets for those same companies. It will provide those companies with a consumer (us) with no arena for recourse, no ability to express displeasure with capital flight; Or, not one indicator of the free market these businesses and their compatriots in Congress claim their un-dying affection for. Artificial markets. No free choice on the part of the consumer. Nothing which would signify free market principles.

Of course, the claim will be made that “defense” is not something to be debated. Unlike health care, “defense” is not an arena where these vermin who vacillate over every last dollar of a health care bill can enter with similar skepticism. The President says “I want this much (for now),” and Congress says, “How fast can I funnel that to you?”

And of course, using the money as the United States is wont to do will always create a higher demand for the next year’s budget. We need the money for defense because people hate us, we use the money to exacerbate those feelings, therefore we will need more next year to combat the bile we’re milked from the world in this one. All the while, we pretend that Afghanis and Iraqis will forget that they are without electricity, food, or basic security from bodily harm. They will forget the death squads, forget the corrupt governments, forget the Predator raids on weddings. They will forget, and then they’ll love us and our freedoms.

Until then, dying Americans will just have to wait while Congress spends as much in less than 18 months—without batting an eye—as they refuse to consider spending over the course of a decade for their own citizens.

Related Posts:

Mental Recession or Just Mental? July 15, 2008
Surge II: Afghanistan July 15, 2008

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Why Are We Stupid?

I don't do the day-to-day minutiae of political theatrics, but somebody was going into a long spiel about Obama and TelePrompters to me the other day. My mind understandably wandered between "Who could possibly care this much about something so meaningless?" and "Somebody feeds him every argument, so this thought must have manifested itself among others." And lo, a Google search.

Anyway, nothing really to say. What can you say? Just this:

Argument. Over.

Probably not.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Hooray for Democracy

The FBI has defined terrorism for us:

FBI anti-terrorism agents raided the Queens home of a self-described anarchist charged with tweeting protesters with instructions on how to evade police at the G-20 summit.

The charges? "Hindering prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possessing criminal instruments." Those criminal instruments were gas masks (though presumably this is for olfactory protection from riot police), mercury, a bag of hammers and *gasp* anarchist literature.

Anyone who still likes to laud this country as "land of the free," need only read this article. For much of what passes for public discussion in this country, observable reality is not an integral part of the equation. When a man can be arrested and have his house raided for a charge of Tweeting the position of police officers to protesters, one cannot wax poetic about freedom.

What's more, nowhere to be found are all those right-wing pundits who so profess their love for the Constitution. You see, the protesters were protesting the neo-liberal financial policies of the G20 in Pittsburgh, and therefore expendable. Right to Assemble? Fuck 'em. Where are all the tea-baggers worried about the loss of their freedom now?

I should expect this from the Post, but nowhere does it seem to compare the level of violence involved in Tweeting to that of firing weapons into crowds of defenseless people.

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When I Go Forwards You Go Backwards...And Somewhere We Will Meet.

Title lyrics from Radiohead's "Electioneering."

Last week, I lamented the inattention to the Afghan election held on August 20th. It's not just the widespread fraud that infuriates, but the blatant disregard for it in the country that is supposed to be pushing democracy there. The silence of benefactors goes a lot further in illustrating to Afghanis where they stand than all the propaganda leaflets in the world. (Indeed, one Afghan girl was recently killed by such a drop from a British plane.)

But the issue here is more than simply inattention, it's a dedicated effort on the part of those charged with ensuring a fair vote to protect the exact opposite outcome. In an op-ed in the Washington Post and in an interview with Amy Goodman, the fired UN official Peter Galbraith indicated that the dispute that led to his recall was "not over how to handle electoral fraud, but over whether the UN should handle it." In other words, though it is clear to all that fraud occurred (Karzai has admitted as much), the UN and the Electoral Complaints Commission has tried to take a stance of non-interference. Such a stance would seem to call into question their very existence, but they don't seem troubled by such logic.


First, in advance of the election, he [Kai Eide, head of the Afghan mission]—when I was trying to reduce the number of the ghost polling stations, he ordered me to stop doing that, after the Afghan ministers complained about it, although, of course, they were working for President Karzai, who would turn out to be the beneficiary of the fraud.

At another stage in the process, we had collected very substantial data on fraud and turnout. This was done by the UN staff at considerable personal risk. Afghanistan is a dangerous place to operate. And then, we wanted to do what our mandate is, which is to support the Afghan institutions, turn this evidence over to the Election Complaints Commission. He ordered the mission not to turn over the evidence, to sit on it. And then, when the Independent Election Commission, which was really a pro-Karzai body, decided to abandon its safeguards, he objected when I intervened with them to try to get them to keep the safeguards.

So, the situation is not only a plan of non-interference after the fact, but a concerted effort on the part of international observers to ensure that fraud was allowed to take place in the run-up to the election. Of course, electoral fraud happens all over the world. I make no claims to the contrary, but there are two things to note here. First, the US has a serious vested interest in propagating a fair democratic system. To fail in that endeavor would be to fail in the claims of our leaders. (Not that I'm suggesting you take them at their word.)

But, in American foreign policy, results are never really near the top of the discussion board. What matters is what our enlightened leaders claim (and the media parrot), nothing else. Only under this facade could one miserable failure lead to another, and then another, without any question as to motives or success. In the last 8 years, all the US and its allies have accomplished in the Middle East is to replace two corrupt regimes with equally-corrupt substitutes. Death and violence have not gone down, infrastructure has not been re-built, nowhere is there quantifiable evidence of progress. Yet, here we stand suggesting again that a couple thousand more soldiers and Afghanistan will be a vast Utopia, freeing our forces up for the inevitable three-peat in Iran.

But it's not just ineptitude here. There is an active conflict between those that are working for fair elections, like Galbraith, and those who are instead dedicated to preventing them. One need look no further than the rules for the fraud investigation released today by the ECC:

Afghanistan's U.N.-backed election watchdog will treat presidential candidates as equally likely to be guilty of vote fraud in suspicious cases, new rules issued on Monday show, a move that may ensure a win for Hamid Karzai.


The ECC published its recount rules on Monday, saying candidates would have ballots nullified in proportion to the total number of ballots they have in boxes considered suspicious, regardless of which candidate perpetrated the fraud.

The arithmetic appears to favor Karzai.

Under the recount rules, ballot boxes considered suspicious are grouped into six categories according to the grounds for the suspicion, but are not separated according to which candidate benefitted from the suspected fraud.

What this means, essentially, is that any fraudulent votes for Karzai will be given the same weight as legitimate votes for Abdullah Abdullah. There will be no attempt to only eliminate fraudulent votes, but rather to take votes away from both parties, even those not suspected of fraud.

In other words, the ECC has constructed rules to ensure a win for Karzai.

Again, this has more to do with the future of the country than one disputed election. What is happening is the propping-up of a corrupt regime which many Afghans will view as illegitimate. There is only one possible outcome of such a policy, and that is continued violence and destruction.

What US foreign policy never accepts, though, is that success is not produced simply by quantity of forces. This being the case, the root causes of violence and war are never addressed. Propagating corruption can never be viewed as a root cause, as such a view would lead some to believe that the US is not inerrant, which is wholly unacceptable. There is no reason to believe an alternate worldview will make an appearance any time soon, so expect the fighting in Afghanistan to continue for an indefinite future, no matter how many "surge" forces are sent into the killing fields.

Related posts:

On Priorities September 29, 2009
There's Always a Siren...Singing You to Shipwreck September 22, 2009
Afghanistan: Right War or No, It's Still War July 21, 2008

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

We're Not Scaremongering...This is Really Happening

Title lyrics from Radiohead's "Idioteque."

The immortal Republican claim that the media apparatchik in the United States is some sort of liberal (in the US sense of the word) behemoth is so demonstrably false that it hardly bears rebuttal. This is not to say, as some do, that they are inherently Conservative (again, in the US lexicographical form). Rather, the failure of the US media is that they are entirely devoid of skepticism and the ability for critical thought processes.

Very rare is the moment when they even take a detour from the tabloid-driven drivel they typically spew forth at equally-uncritical viewers and readers, but when they do, reporting comes only in the form of blandly reporting who said or did what. Never is the veracity of these statements examined.

This method is wholly responsible for the drive to the war in Iraq in the 2002-2003 period, and, despite the hand-wringing and mea culpas in the interim, the American media is again willing to sell an unwitting public another war, this time in Iran. The script could not be any clearer. And, like Hollywood, when the government finds a formula that works, they throw creativity out the window.

Again the country is being treated to breathless front-page articles about a secret Iranian nuclear site. Just as with the Iraqi sale, we are shown pictures of buildings and must take at face value everything the government tells us they mean. Iran, of course, has declared that it is indeed a nuclear facility, but what does that mean? Without any evidence, we are told that we must assume that the site is weeks away from producing weapons-grade nuclear material. This despite the fact that not one ounce of intelligence has been produced which indicates Iran has any such ability.

Simply indicating that Iran has a nuclear facility is not a cause for war. They are entitled, by all treaties to which they are a party, to build and maintain nuclear-power facilities. Is it inconceivable that Iran would pursue nuclear weapons technology? Of course not. But one picture and bloviating does not make a sufficient case that they already have.

Even if they have, one is then forced to make the case that they are not, as a sovereign nation, allowed to pursue such ends. After all, every single one of the countries now engaging in the typical international demagoguery currently maintain vast arsenals of nuclear weapons. That Iran is not allowed to do the same is simply taken as granted, not even worth arguing. That Israel is none-too-subtle about threats to Iran is never addressed. It is just accepted that should Israel choose to attack Iran with nuclear weapons, Iran has no choice but to throw up their hands and accept their fate.

No other country on Earth spends as much money on war-making as the United States. No other country deals as many armaments as the United States. And no other country comes close in the number of fortresses on foreign soil. All this is ignored. In this current dystopian universe, the world's foremost warmongering country is still allowed to parade around the halls of the UN as a beacon of peace. This view is not anti-American, it's pro-reality.

And while Obama does his best Bush impersonation, his beating of the war drums is still too muted for the blood-thirsty press and opinion-makers. And the "liberal" press has re-assumed the role they play some handsomely, that of unquestioning sidekick for an imperial President.

Related posts:

Truth From Power April 20, 2008
Missile Defense: Rehabbing the Cold War July 13, 2008

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Monday, September 28, 2009

On Priorities

Updated below @ 1820, 9/29

The American political scene will never be accused of being held captive by perspective. When even something as basic as "which of these numbers is larger?" can't be harnessed by the blathering press and political leaders, one can hardly expect to find the ability for relative comparisons running rampant. Two disparate issues stand out for me as cases-in-point: election fraud vis Iran and Afghanistan, and the Defund ACORN Act.

Everyone knows about the election fraud in Iran. It was on every channel for nearly a month, demonstrating the journalistic acumen of the American media (re: Bringing you the news in 140 characters or less!), and proving once and for all Iranian leaders are the evilest of all evil-doers the world has ever seen. Granted, said leaders are not great ambassadors for democracy (no one would make such a claim), but the elections were in the news for a reason. The same reason the brutal Egyptian and Saudi regimes don't make the news.

Compare that coverage with that of electoral fraud in Afghanistan. It's okay if you haven't heard of it. Not many have. Why would you? The person accused of fraud is our guy. That's enough to keep him under wraps. If electoral shenanigans were mentioned, it was only to point out Taliban violence. CNN did not do wall-to-wall coverage on things like this:

The shaky footage shows two election monitors inspecting a book of 100 ballot papers that are still stitched together, as they were intended to arrive at the polling station in rural Afghanistan. But something is wrong; instead of being pristine, ready for the voter to make his or her mark, each paper bears a large blue tick next to the name of one candidate: Hamid Karzai.

As the monitors flick through the pad, the back of the ballots clearly show the authorisation stamp of election monitors, validating them as votes ready to be put in the ballot box and counted.

"We found it the day after the elections," one of the monitors in the footage told me. "They were trying to put it in one of the [ballot] boxes but didn't have time, so we took it home and filmed it. If we had given it back to the election committee they would have used it again, so we burned it, but filmed it to protect ourselves if they come and threaten us."

Or this:

The Afghan elections, already tainted by widespread accusations of misconduct and fraud, received another body blow Wednesday when the head of the European Union's election-monitoring commission said that as many as 1.1 million votes cast in the vote were "suspect."

The latest dark cloud over the Aug. 20 election came as Afghanistan's election commission released a preliminary vote tally Wednesday showing President Hamid Karzai with 54.6 percent of the votes cast – enough to avoid a runoff if the total stands up to one official recount already launched and to mounting doubts like those from the EU.

The EU's general depiction of fraud was bad enough. But even more damaging to the Western-backed government of President Karzai was the finding by Phillippe Morillon, head of the EU monitor, that more than one-third of the votes Mr. Karzai received in his reelection bid – 1.1 million of about 3 million votes for Karzai – could be fraudulent and must be investigated.

None of this minimizes Taliban violence, but it does clearly indicate that American views on the world are guided more by a commitment to its allies and stock assumptions than democracy, despite public claims. President Obama has parlayed his campaign speeches into an Afghanistan policy still riding the opinion of Afghanistan as the good war. Meanwhile, the world's beacon of democracy has attached itself to the falling star of a loose coalition of corrupt warlords, most of whom are politicians in name alone. Any lingering notion that the Afghan government holds its own people in any due regard would have fallen away if such fraud was reported with the same fervency as it was regarding Iran.

The furor surrounding ACORN is better covered, mainly because it fits the tabloid model of American journalism. ACORN has always been a target of Republicans, but who would have thought the end would come with a topic so dear to their hearts: prostitution. David Vitter is surely proud.

Consider the thought process here. The defunding act would have no chance were it not for two random ACORN staffers doling out some helpful information on how to get in the flesh business. Okay, but consider the implication here. If followed to its logical conclusion, this would mean that any company that had any employee commit a federal offense would soon be off the government roll. Like these companies, for instance.

While we await that action with baited breath, let's consider a few of these offenses which might rise a little higher on the immorality of the scale. Maybe electrocuting US soldiers.

And while the Pentagon has previously reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq, many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to the documents. A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

One study called electrocution "the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq." And what bastion of liberalism made such a claim? The US Army. Nearly every facility constructed in Iraq by KBR/Halliburton contained dangerous electrical wiring. But, rest assured, putting American soldiers in mortal danger has not hurt the company's bottom line. Nor has the fact that its employees engaged in the gang rape and imprisonment of a female employee.

Then there's Blackwater. In the past months, Blackwater's compound has been raided by the ATF for illegal weapons trafficking, been accused of tax evasion through offshore havens, employed young Iraqi girls for oral sex, and had employees indicted on manslaughter. Yet, 90 percent of its income continues to come from the government.

So let's not kid ourselves as to the magnitude of these crimes here. If the actions of random employees loses a organization government funding, it's only fair to ask when rampant corruption and misdeeds will have their day in the self-aggrandizing Congressional theater. The bill itself states that the organization must be involved in elections, but surely the Republicans leading the charge don't intend for us to consider funneling millions into campaign coffers fitting the bill. But occasionally we may have to accept English at face value, rather than waiting for the political/media filter to deliver it to us.


The US has decided that Karzai will remain president regardless of final results.

The White House has ended weeks of hesitation over how to respond to the Afghan election by accepting President Karzai as the winner despite evidence that up to 20 per cent of ballots cast may have been fraudulent.

Abandoning its previous policy of not prejudging investigations of vote rigging, the Obama Administration has conceded that Mr Karzai will be President for another five years on the basis that even if he were forced into a second round of voting he would almost certainly win it.

The decision will increase pressure on President Obama to justify further US troop deployments to Afghanistan to prop up a regime now regarded as systemically corrupt.


Mrs Clinton told Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan Foreign Minister, that...Mr Karzai would remain President even if investigations now under way cut his share of the first-round vote to below 50 per cent.

Better get something to wash that democracy down with, Afghanistan. It's a bit bitter.


Supporting the Troops Through No-Bid Contracts May 6, 2008
When You Were Here Before...Couldn't Look You in the Eye August 9, 2009

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ambition Makes You Look Pretty Ugly...

Title lyrics from Radiohead's "Paranoid Android."

One of the most frustrating facets of any conversation with fervent opponents of President Obama is their unwillingness or inability to see that they are pretty much railing against an administration they were supporting just 8-plus months ago. Indeed, they never seem to argue against Obama as currently constituted, but instead against an apparition of a presidency that had no shot of ever materializing in the first place.

Just as the American left continues to huff the intoxicating fumes of a primary season long since past, the right continues to focus its ire on a fanciful combination of standard political rhetoric and old-fashioned scaremongering. Neither seems to understand that the Obama of the imagination, that master of oratory who would sweep us into an age of world peace and harmony and convert the United States into a vast Utopia, existed only in the minds of those who chose to believe it out of desperation and those that needed it as a large, slow-moving target at which to foist all angst and antagonism.

The reality is, as always, a lot more pedestrian. To the delight of the right, it seems that you don't need a real liberal Leviathan to stir the masses; a mirage works just as well. But for the left, the Inauguration hangover seems to linger. But, as Tom Engelhardt and David Swanson noted, it has been difficult to distinguish Obama's 8 months from a third Bush term. I also discussed some glaring similarities a month prior, but there are plenty more. To wit:

Obama's campaign continually called for a return to transparency in government. A return to the rule of law. Ad infintum. Ad nauseum. He called Bush's use of signing statements an "abuse." Yet, Obama has already committed such "abuses" several times during his presidency, drawing criticism from members of both parties. His defense is of course a familiar refrain: The statements "have been based on mainstream interpretations of the Constitution and echo reservations routinely expressed by presidents of both parties" and "he could disregard the negotiation instructions under his power to conduct foreign relations." In other words: "Screw off, Congress."

The really titillating part of that defense is the "routinely expressed" part. There are many things that have been done by previous presidents, but repetition does not exonerate. And lest we forget, that theorem goes against what seemed to constitute the only plank in his platform, namely a break from the past.

During the campaign, Obama also promised to curb government abuses regarding prisoners in the War on Amorphous Nouns. Despite all the handwringing from Cheney et al, there was never any danger of mass prosecutions for the torture of American prisoners at Guantanamo or elsewhere.

First, never in American history has a government leader been prosecuted for such crimes. Clowns like Jim Traficant can go down, but never for something that calls the whole system into question. Never for proxy wars in Latin America. Never for funneling arms to Islamic terrorists (when convenient). And, as we shall see, never for strapping live leads to someone's genitals. (And really, it's not difficult to agree with the thought that we'd have to do some real soul searching and research to determine whether that does indeed cross some line. Cause, you know, moral lines are hazy.)

This instance won't be any different. At most, we'll be offered up some sacrificial lambs/bad apples who'll be pardoned shortly thereafter. The left's fantasy of prosecutions of Cheney or Rumsfeld are never going to happen. But even in tossing a small sliver of acquiescence to opponents of US interrogation policy, Obama has effectively validated Bush policy.

Though there may be an investigation of sorts, Obama has declared that only those that went beyond the policies instituted by the Bush administration qualify for discipline. In other words, John Yoo's memos are the effective law. There will be no question as to the legality of that one-man legislation. So, while constantly proposing a radical shift from Bush-era policy in speeches, Obama validates and solidifies it in practice.

The same goes for dragnet surveillance, with the administration claiming that the federal government is immune from litigation because of Bush-era legislation. The illegality of its actions have no bearing here. Obama, like his predecessor, claims that by definition if the government does something, it is legal. Three cheers for change.

Returning to US detention policy, Obama seems to have discovered that Bush set him up quite nicely in that arena:

The Obama administration has decided not to seek new legislation from Congress authorizing the indefinite detention of about 50 terrorism suspects being held without charges at at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, officials said Wednesday.

Instead, the administration will continue to hold the detainees without bringing them to trial based on the power it says it has under the Congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, authorizing the president to use force against forces of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In concluding that it does not need specific permission from Congress to hold detainees without charges, the Obama administration is adopting one of the arguments advanced by the Bush administration in years of debates about detention policies.

It gets better:

But President Obama’s advisers are not embracing the more disputed Bush contention that the president has inherent power under the Constitution to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely regardless of Congress.

The Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday night that “the administration would rely on authority already provided by Congress” under the use of force resolution. “The administration is not currently seeking additional authorization,” the statement said.

Contrary to that claim, this position is not a switch from Bush policy. Bush used that same legislation to justify almost every action he took. Indeed, he was prepared to use that same legislation to go to war in Iraq, until it became evident that a hastily-prepared October vote in an election year would be even more politically beneficial.

Here, the administration is hiding right out in the open. Far from a reversal of Bush policy, the Obama administration is effectively thanking Bush for giving it so much leeway in foreign policy, war-making and wholesale suspension of Constitutional clauses. I'm sure that change is here somewhere. Maybe I just don't know where to look.

How about health care? Surely such an avid socialist like Obama would scare the piss out of the insurance companies with his speech to Congress, right? Well, not so much:

Shares of U.S. health insurers climbed on Thursday after analysts saw no "game changers" from President Barack Obama's highly anticipated speech on health reform.

Following the speech, analysts predicted any changes to the system would be moderate, with Obama backing many initiatives put forth earlier this week by a leading Senate committee. The possibility a threatening public health plan would be enacted also now seemed doubtful, analysts said.

"There wasn't anything said that is drastically changing the outlook as to what might come out of Congress," said Steve Shubitz, an analyst with Edward Jones.

You read that correctly. After the speech, stocks of insurance companies rose. Despite of all the rhetoric and scaremongering, the investors took away from that speech pretty much what I did. Namely, that anything that comes out of a health care bill will actually be a boon for the insurance companies.

First and foremost being the individual mandate. Why wouldn't the insurance companies love that? Everyone has no choice but to pay them (go free market!), but any supposed government competition will never materialize. Those that can't afford the insurance will simply have their premiums paid to the private companies by the government. Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is wiping a tear from his eye with muted applause.


When You Were Here Before...Couldn't Look You in the Eye
Aug 9, 2009
Conventional Folly August 20, 2008
What Orwell Didn't Know August 1, 2008

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There's Always a Siren...Singing You to Shipwreck

Title lyrics from Radiohead's "There There."

That, in general, people are treating General MacChrystal's recently released/leaked report on the status of the conflict in Afghanistan as if it were an influx of new and much-needed information is curious. It is decidedly not.

Most everyone without a personal stake in governance and/or fellating those that do so have recognized for some time that US actions in Afghanistan are far from the drumline/fife cavalcade that many Americans still seem to picture when they imagine war. Battalions helpfully dressed in red wool, civilians avoiding the conflict, marching in straight lines. Sadly, those of us that have put down Cornwallis' theories on war and examined the world as it currently exists aren't typically asked for our input.

Only under these circumstances would the revelation that Afghanis might enjoy a mortar-free trip to the market, or a government that doesn't make the US Congress look as corrupt as a quilting circle, or the occasion spurt of electricity (preferably not using their groins as a conductor) seem anything of the sort. These are not revelations, these are common human traits. Only Americans seem to find surprising the reality that even Brown people like to see their sons and daughters grow up. Only their concerns are more centered on little Joey retaining four limbs than whether he's better at soccer than the son of the person in the next cubicle.

Even in those rare bursts of half-realization, such as MacChrystal's report, the pull of conventional wisdom (read: mental laziness) is still too great to expect any proliferation of such epiphanies. And that's discounting the inevitability of some celebrity dying, getting divorced or shopping for pants taking its place for the news lead.

In addition to finding such mundane human realities as the desire to live vexing, Americans love to whitewash even such trivialities in even more trite catch phrases and slogans. We consider "hearts-and-minds" a tremendously profound strategy, but see upon examination that it is nothing of the sort.

When we say we want to win the "hearts and minds," we mean not that we seek to learn their values and live up to them. We mean that we want to convince them that the values we're are attempting to impose upon them are accepted silently and graciously. This is not a small distinction, and it has confused the "best-and-brightest" since the early Sixties.

We consider the populations of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan so backward and uneducated that we truly believe that they will find relief--joy, even--when they pick up a leaflet extolling American virtues next to the burning rubble of their meager existence. For the US government/military, it is inconceivable that such people might consider the realities of their surroundings when deciding how much credence to give to America propaganda. To the US government, winning hearts and minds means making a flashier leaflet, not a cessation of explosion and death.

Unlike Americans, most foreign populations are aware of the state of their government. We get temporarily bent out of shape at minor infractions upon decorum ('You lie.'), but we never examine the edifice, itself. Afghanis, on the other hand, know exactly who their government is. And it's not Hamid Karzai. They're well aware that they are governed by a cadre of corrupt, often competing, warlords, many of which receive American support.

Temporary incursions into pseudo-logical thinking like MacChrystal's only serve to make the general lack of such that much more luminous.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

When You Were Here Before...Couldn't Look You in the Eye

Now a full-term pregnancy removed from the most recent exercise in choice between white and eggshell (and I don't mean race), it's safe to reflect the 2008 torrent of change that swept all good coffee-drinking, Idol-watching, Tweet-overloading Americans into a New Age of togetherness and prosperity. No?

One of the most striking differences between the current regime of corporate-imperial bedfellows and the previous one is nuance. So dedicated is Obama to the delicate art of subtlety, that one might miss all the overwhelming change taking place beneath our noses. But since Obama presented his campaign as a 180 from the Bush presidency, it's only fair that we struggle to find some evidence of this in practice.

In Iraq, a promise to extricate American forces from Iraq became removing them from Baghdad intermittently, forming a menacing ring around the city with the understanding that they could rush back in anytime necessary. The declaration of necessity of course being at the discretion of the Americans. Problem solved. Clashing warlords, honor killings, ethnic cleansing and the myriad other realities that make Iraq the most dangerous country in the world are not addressed.

Having played his card in Iraq, Obama was able to ensure smooth functioning of the military-industrial machine by funneling more money into an even more depressing and hopeless situation in Afghanistan. Former member of Afghan parliament, Malalai Joya:

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990s.

For expressing my views I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by Nato troops.

In the constitution it forbids those guilty of war crimes from running for high office. Yet Karzai has named two notorious warlords, Fahim and Khalili, as his running mates for the upcoming presidential election. Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House. As we say in Afghanistan, "the same donkey with a new saddle".

Again we see an American foreign policy that pays no attention to the reality of the situation. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, Americans are not fighting a foreign army susceptible to surrender and treaty. It's fighting an amorphous collection of warlords, the supply of which is endless, while the misery of Afghan life continues unabated by the well-oiled machinations of the very democracy we purport to defend.

And then there's Blackwater. (Yes, their PR flack has renamed the company Xe, but as Tyler Durden said, "Sticking feathers in your ass does not make you a chicken.") For all the platitudes we heap on the American armed forces, little has been made of the truth that in Iraq, the ratio of US forces and private security forces (a euphemism for mercenaries) has run about 1:1, and is likely to rise as US force levels are drawn down.

One of the recurring themes in American foreign policy is the fantasy that the foreign populations directly affected by the many proxies the US uses to fight its wars, overt and secret, are as ignorant of the effect as the ever-distracted American population is. Chileans were never in doubt as to the backing of Pinochet. Nicaraguans knew who was backing the Contras. And Iraqis know from whence came Blackwater.

In many ways, Blackwater is the face of American foreign policy in Iraq, which makes it all the more sad that Americans know so little about their representatives. In March, 2008, I discussed the granting of immunity to Blackwater agents who shot indiscriminately into a crowd of innocent Iraqis. This, of course, left no doubt in the minds of Iraqis as to where they stood in the benevolent American enterprise.

In that same essay, I noted that Obama refused to rule out the use of such extrajudicial bands of marauding crusaders. Huzzah, he followed through on something! Name change or no, the song remains the same:

The two declarations are each five pages long and contain a series of devastating allegations concerning Erik Prince and his network of companies, which now operate under the banner of Xe Services LLC. Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that “Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq.” He states that he personally witnessed weapons being “pulled out” from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that “Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince’s private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines,” adding that Prince “generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade.”

Doe #2 states: “Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution.” Blackwater “was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department,” according to Doe #1.

This is the face of American foreign policy in Iraq. That Obama is considered to be at the left fringe of American politics in that area is startling, and says a lot less about him than it does us.

And then there's Somalia:

For as the history of American foreign policy in the last 60 years has clearly shown us, there has never been an internal conflict in any country of the world that was not actually, deep down, a direct threat to all the sweet American babies sleeping in their cribs.

The interim Somali president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed -- an Islamist who only a few years ago was considered by Washington as, well, an evil maniac in league with al Qaeda -- agreed with [Hillary] Clinton, saying that al-Shabab aims to "make Somalia a ground to destabilize the whole world." This would be the same al-Shabab that Ahmed has spent most of his presidency trying to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with. (Where's that scorecard again?)

As usual, the AP story buries some of the most blazing, salient facts way down in the uncritical regurgitation of official rhetoric. But credit where it's due, the story does finally note that the new American assistance is not confined to stuff that can kill more Somalis; it also includes - wait for it again -- U.S. military "advisors" to help "train" the forces of the ever-collapsing transitional government.

Clinton also shook a sword at neighboring Eritrea, accusing it of supporting al-Shabab and "interfering" in Somalia's internal affairs. This, while she was announcing the delivery of 80 tons of American weapons to be poured into Somalia's internal affairs.

Critics on the American Right often use the term "moral relativism" as an epithet. The meaning of the term, that standards of right and wrong should not be influenced by time or culture, seems innocuous until you consider that they mean precisely the opposite of its intended application. Rather than extolling a universal standard of right and wrong, they imply that such standards can only be extrapolated from a situation based upon the actors. America, right. Everyone else, wrong.

Of course, that the Obama administration is carrying the Bush administration's water on this one is not at all surprising to those of us that paid attention to the words of his campaign rather than the ease with which he delivered them.

Many more examples to follow.


Contracting Obama
March 3, 2008
Afghanistan: Right War or No, It's Still War July 21, 2008
Fumbling in the Dark August 2, 2008

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