Sunday, 29 November 2009

Cheney's big talk while the enemy walks

John Kerry released his Foreign Relations Committee report on Bush’s failure to get bin Laden in a timely fashion, just hours before Obama is to announce his plans for getting out of the ongoing Afghanistan debacle. Our Republican friends have screamed ‘politics!’, and they’re right, for once—and about time, too.

I’m constantly amazed by how the Democrats fail to wield the huge weapons handed to them on a platter. Imagine what Limbaugh and Beck would be saying if Obama had been in charge of chasing down OBL in the Tora Bora Mountains in 2001 and let him slip through. The utter incompetence of the Bushites as armchair soldiers should be a broken record with the volume turned up every time we hear more crap about ‘dithering’ or similar demagoguery.

The report outlines how it was precisely the Rumsfeld-Cheney axis that ‘dithered’ about going up the mountains to get the architect of 9/11 or even to close off escape routes into Pakistan with more U.S. troops. It attributes this failure of nerve to their reluctance to commit large numbers of troops that might then get bogged down in a ‘protracted insurgency’. This was the famous Rumsfeld Doctrine that would soon be put to the test in Iraq—with the well-known brilliant results.

In fact, the report makes clear that the White House was already charging top Pentagon brass to forget Afghanistan and cook up the next pretty little war in Mesopotamia and that they didn’t care about anything else—an ironic conclusion considering their non-stop pandering to American outrage over the Twin Tower bombings.

So by failing to finish the job in Afghanistan, Bush and Cheney allowed bin Laden to use his local contacts to escape to Pakistan and fight another day. His main ally, Mullah Omar, now directs one of the greatest military comebacks in modern history with the Taliban reoccupying much of the country.

From the teabagger/Christian fanatic point of view, this is treasonous incompetence, and the Democrats should remind them of exactly that in answering the whiny bullshit they will start spouting tomorrow before the ink is dry on Obama’s plans.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Deconstructing Iraq

With Obama days from an announcement on how he plans to proceed in Afghanistan, it’s worth looking at what Peter Galbraith had to say about the other, even greater Bush-era debacle, Iraq. His 2008 book Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies looks like a rush job (if someone edited it, you can’t tell) designed to the hit the bookstores in time to influence last November’s election.

Turns out Obama didn’t need Galbraith’s searing indictment of Bush as having ‘lost’ Iraq, but it’s a wonderful primer on ideology-driven incompetence as practiced by the Christian/neocon Republican coalition. But there’s a nagging question in the book that Galbraith doesn’t answer nor even ask.

Galbraith is an old foreign policy hand who worked for Congress, Bill Clinton (as ambassador to Croatia), the UN in East Timor and most recently the UN again as the number 2 guy ‘monitoring’ the massively fraudulent Afghan ‘election’ that President Karzai stole last August. He had the integrity lacking among his bosses to say that the emperor had no clothes, for which he was summarily canned.

We don’t yet know the inside skinny on why the UN went along with this farce, but the logic of a heavy, back-room American role is compelling. Obama has since accepted Karzai’s action and continues to treat him as a legitimate head of state despite the embarrassment (worsened by Galbraith’s honesty), apparently because Obama has decided that the alternative—calling it quits—would be worse.

Galbraith’s review of what happened in Iraq is particularly timely because it cuts through last fall’s laughably crude electoral demagogy and describes the losses already achieved by Bush’s non-policy: enormous strengthening of Iran; de facto break-up of Iraq into two confessional (Shiite and Sunni) enclaves and one virtually independent state (Kurdistan); direct alliance with the original enemy (ex-Baathists) against Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia; intervention on one side of the ongoing intra-Shiite battles for power.

At the heart of Galbraith’s criticism of Bush is his conclusion that the stated policy goals—strengthening U.S. interests in the region—were set back by the attempt to conquer Iraq. That seems beyond debate now, but Galbraith never attempts to ask the obvious: then why did they do it?

I suppose that’s not his job as a policy wonk and advocate, and it is always tricky to enter the swamp of speculation on other people’s motives. But if doing what they did weakened the United States and directly undermined their stated goals, what were the real ones?

My own answer would point to the permanent war-making state and the internal pressures to generate profit-making opportunities. Just as Wall Street did not intend to subvert capitalism and nonetheless tempted itself into chasing the bubble’s short-term gains until it nearly did so, I suspect that belief in the trillion-dollar war was carried along by own momentum. Nine-eleven made the idea of war hugely attractive; in hindsight human agency seems almost secondary.

[Addendum] Too bad that a smart guy like Galbraith couldn’t have kept his business affairs out of his professional work and now is discredited by the huge profits he’s about to obtain from his investments in Kurdish oilfields. The fact that he doesn’t realize how bad it looks for a diplomat to pump for Kurdish independence and simultaneously have a financial stake in it might be part of his non-answer to the above unasked question.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Pharaoh, Step Down

Resentment against the Federal Reserve used to be the purview of oddballs like the Lyndon LaRouche sect while most of the rest of us had only a vague idea of what went on in that big marble building. We thought they had something to do with printing money since the capital letter on the dollar bill told you which of the ten regional Feds had produced it.

But financial chaos has unraveled all that blissful ignorance and undermined the Fed’s jealous independence and its demand for quasi-military secrecy. The long Greenspan era—in which the Ayn Rand disciple was treated by Congress as a visiting potentate for his oracular monthly pronouncements about the state of all things economical—has morphed into a populist revolt against the unelected club of experts.

The outrage is fed by teabagger paranoia against everything, and it won’t help matters in the long run if the Fed’s technical powers are cropped and monetary policy starts to be manipulated by politicians facing re-election. But the Fed’s ignominious failure to fulfill its regulatory role over the financial system and its insistence on keeping its doings cloaked in vague generalities as it shovels trillions into the failing banks is forcing Ben Bernancke to defend his role like never before. And a good thing, too.

The Fed’s independence in handling the creation and destruction of money was awarded to it by Congress, and Congress can just as easily take it away. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says it should have these powers.

It’s more or less accepted wisdom now that the Fed under Bernancke has done a good job of preventing the depression that loomed last fall as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG toppled like falling dominoes. But given the extent of the economic pain, it isn’t immediately clear to those suffering that things would have been worse without huge handoffs of public funds to the guys responsible for the whole mess. Bernancke & Co. are going to have to figure out ways to explain it and themselves, and they can forget the turgid prose of the typical Fed news release—it won’t fly.

Too bad it isn’t Greenspan himself who has to defend the indefensible. But then there’s Timothy Geithner, a full partner in the Greenspan catastrophe during the former’s tenure at the Fed’s all-important New York office. It won’t help Bernancke to retain Fed powers and privileges to be saddled with someone like Geithner at Treasury reminding everyone that none of the main guilty parties have paid a price for their failure.

The smaller and more politically vulnerable agencies, like the Comptroller of the Currency, the FDIC and the laughably inept SEC—that never noticed Bernie Madoff was stealing $60 billion—had much less clout to intervene in the overheated financial markets while the good times rolled. It is the Fed’s very supra-political independence that makes its inaction unforgivable and puts that independence in congressional sights.

By stepping up and acting boldly a year ago, the Fed under Bernancke may have avoided the déluge threatening us. That success may have required funneling billions of dollars in free cash to investment bankers, but the Fed no longer has the privilege of refusing to explain why and showing us all the fine print. Congress will now see to that, and the coalition stretches from libertarian Ron Paul to liberal darling and iconoclast, Alan Grayson, co-sponsors of the one of the bills to give the Fed a nice caning.

Banks once were perceived as part of the normal landscape of life from big city to rural county seat. Bankers made nice salaries, but you could see them going to work and sitting around with their calculators, reviewing mortgage applications and financing businesses.

Now, however, people perceive that the financial economy has grown into a vehicle for the creation of vast fortunes not necessarily linked to any productive activity. Instead, they see bankers financing job destruction and giddily shipping manufacturing jobs overseas while making mincemeat of companies that communities relied upon and once thought would last forever.

A lot of disparate things—teabagging, banker hatred, hysteria over deficits, resentment of insurance companies—are fueled by the fear and uncertainty engendered by the steady disappearance of our manufacturing base and the employment security it once promised. It’s hard to see where decent jobs for future generations will come from, and meanwhile the sense that the privileged classes have feathered their own nests at our expense deepens.

One possible way for Obama to tap this fury rather than become its target would be to put as much energy into regulatory reform as he has into healthcare. Why not let McConnell and Boehner dig in their heels and defend the bankers for all to see?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Health bill vote imminent

We will see in about an hour whether Senate Democrats can get their health care reform bill into the debate stage, but meanwhile it is fascinating to hear the tenor of the debate-to-be in advance of the cloture vote on C-SPAN’s live feed.

Curiously, given all the attention paid to teabagger fury, it is the Democrats showing real passion in defending the reform package. New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, hardly known as an inspired orator, shook his finger at the opposition an hour ago for being ‘on the wrong side of history for a century’ from the New Deal through civil rights and environmental legislation, Medicare, Medicaid and a half-dozen other historic government actions.

Tom Harkin from Iowa told his Democratic colleagues that ‘now is not the time to go wobbly in the knees’, recognizing that it was not the weak Republican minority that threatens to derail the reform but his own supposed allies.

The Republican arguments against going forward with the bill illustrate the risks they took on by openly defying Obama to get anything at all done on health. By bragging that they were going to bury reform in its cradle, speakers like Charles Grassley can’t really get much mileage denouncing the White House for ‘putting together one extreme plan after another’, given that he and his colleagues refused to even discuss them.

Joe Wilson’s rude shout-down of Obama continues to echo through the chamber tonight as the vote nears. Whatever happens to the bill and however health insurance and medical care in this country are changed, we will all know exactly who was responsible for it and who dug in their heels to keep things as they are.

Keep Us Safe!

The law entitled ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act’—isn’t that clever? If you take the first initials, it spells out ‘USA PATRIOT’—was supposed to keep us safer by dismantling all those pesky and legalistic technical protections against government intrusion into our privacy.

Here’s a partial list of what that act, passed by wide margins of solons belonging to BOTH of our distinguished political parties, permitted the government to do: search your telephone and e-mail communications and medical, financial and other records without a warrant; indefinitely detain you if you are a non-citizen pursuant to your deportation on suspicion of terrorism-related acts and refuse you entry if you have incorrect ideas; find out what library books you take out; secretly search your home and property; monitor your Internet searches. Et cetera.

It also established military involvement in domestic law enforcement activities, authorized ‘roving’ wiretaps without probable cause of a crime and permitted ‘sneak and peek’ searches not revealed to the target (later overturned by a judge). This is aside from the complete destruction of judicial review of federal wiretapping of private domestic communications.

So how did all those wonderful new tools help protect us from terrorism? According to the inimitable Joe Lieberman, the Ft Hood shootings were the latest terrorist assault on America. So then how did it occur within the U.S. Army? That is, despite all these police-state methods, the most tightly monitored and controlled institution in the country did not notice that it had a mentally unbalanced dissident in its midst, nowithstanding gigantic warning signs emanating from him over a period of years.

So that’s what we got in exchange for being railroaded into giving up our protections against abuses by agents of the state. It’s wonderful to see how insouciant Americans are about government power when awarding police more nifty tools, then watch them go completely insane when that same state entity wants to find a way to provide health care for its citizens.

Fascists! Nazis! Socialists taking over America! The teabag discourse has a certain resonance among the populace, and it’s not a bad thing to be wary about the state behemoth. But it’s ironic to see how selective people’s fears really are.

As for the authors of USA PATRIOT, this pathetic record not only disrobes their incompetence but also suggests that their motives were more about adolescent emotions all along, that once again they exploited genuine fears to turn themselves into swaggering dicks with new toys. Bipeds are so predictable.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Law Professor Gets an “F”

The paranoid and hysterical will have nothing to worry about, said a Harvard-educated professor of laws yesterday, when Khalid Sheikh Muhammed ‘[is] convicted, and when the death penalty is applied to him’.

The professor quickly realized that he had gone too far and backpedaled: ‘I’m not going to be in that courtroom. That’s the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury’. Referring to the job that he just told them how to do.

Too bad that the professor is also the president of the United States and directly controls their future employment prospects. It’s pretty hard to imagine any judge or prosecutor not doing the ‘job’ that their boss just laid out for them.

Attorney General Eric Holder chimed in with the reminder that ‘Failure is not an option’. Good thing we can arrange the verdicts before starting jury selection!

It’s not surprising that the fix is in for the trial of one of the most notorious perpetrators in our criminal justice history. No one doubts that the evidence is there to convict KSM despite the danger to its admissibility generated by years of systematic torture.

But it is disappointing to see how those whom we elected to restore some semblance of the rule of law are more attuned to the hue and cry of those who did their best to dismantle it. How little backbone Obama and Holder have for defending due process for its own sake in the spirit of Jefferson and Madison in their eagerness to reassure the reactionaries who don’t give a shit about all that.

They also are sorely lacking in killer political instincts. One of their principal critics, former A-G Mukasey, just gave the Obama Administration a huge opening by making a tasteless joke about the Ft Hood shooter, a joke which came pretty close to winking at assassination.

What a great moment to flip the terrorist debate and saddle the crazies and their increasingly reactionary leaders with the implications of their own words. But that would take leaders ready to kick ass like their enemies do.

P.S. The loathesome Mukasey became Attorney General through the machinations of our liberal Democratic U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer, a crime for which he should be pursued by Furies until the end of his days.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A Christian Woman Speaks Her Mind

I thought I’d die when I accidentally saw that half-nekkid Sarah Palin woman on the cover of a magazine in public view. And now she’s all indignant about it when she should be ashamed of herself for showing off her body. Why, back in my day, we’d never even heard of a word like ‘sexist’—whatever it means, it sounds filthy. And why does that woman want to have a man’s job anyway?

She should never have got all tarted up in the first place running in that beauty contest. That sort of thing isn’t for a decent young lady, only for a Charlotte-the-Harlot and other Loose Lindas.

The female has the duty to cover herself, act modestly and to teach her girls to honor the temple of their souls by withdrawing their flesh from public gaze and discouraging the lustful thoughts of men. In the Last Days before the Rapture, fornicating women will be swept away by the wrath of God Almighty and will not enter the Kingdom. So Sarah can just stew in her own juice for putting on those awful short pants—never mind letting them take her picture in them. My Harold never once saw my knees in 52 years of marriage—I’d rather be torn apart by lions.

This all started when women forgot about the sacrament of holy matrimony and allowed their young men to have coitus with them in a premarital state—and even cohabitate openly! It’s no wonder young people began to smoke marihuana and take drugs. If you got pregnant, no problem, just go to a doctor and kill it.

I knew things were going bad when they took prayer out of our public schools. When you don’t teach children to respect God, any blessed thing can happen and probably will—like women going off to work instead of remaining in their rightful sphere to provide loving care for their children and keeping the linens fresh.

Women acting like wild animals living in treetops—all that came about because the liberal secular humanists who run the media want to teach our children that our granddaddies were some sort of baboons in Africa and to forget what they read in the Bible. Who ever heard such nonsense in the entire 6,000 years of the created universe?

That Palin woman should have her hands full with all those babies, so I don’t know what she’s all up in arms about just because she got her silly puss in front of a camera somewhere. A Christian wife wouldn’t have troubles like those, so I say, Read the Bible, young woman, and don’t wait for Thursday prayer meeting! Get right with God, and stop whining about troubles you brought on yourself!

Tim & his pals

The unsurprising news that Treasury Secretary Geithner used the TARP bailout to totally give away the store to his buddy-boys at Goldman Sachs and the other professional looters shines an unflattering light on his boss. Geithner is hopeless, but somebody put him where he is despite his underwhelming record at the New York Federal Reserve and his memory lapse involving a tiny little matter called income taxes.

This complicity with Wall Street’s worst behavior fuels the teabaggers and those who might be swayed by them. The tinfoil hats and gun-toters often live somewhere very light on oxygen, but in this case their instincts are quite correct: the big thugs running things are in cahoots and ripping us off shamelessly.

It is an irony of the current situation that populist resentment of these creeps is being held partially at bay by Barack Obama’s credibility. What a pity that he chooses to spend it on the rich and their enablers.

Without pretending to understand high finance, I think it is pretty obvious that the government aid to AIG and the other pillars of the collapsing bank infrastructure could have been packaged in a completely different way and could have included some serious damage to the wallets of our master engineers of disaster. Instead, thanks to Geithner’s non-negotiations, AIG’s counterparty clients walked away with their full dollar and apparently paid nothing.

All this as documented by a Goldman Sachs alum, no less.

The report’s money graf on Geithner’s terminal wishy-washiness is pretty devastating:

[T]he refusal of FRBNY and the Federal Reserve to use their considerable leverage as the primary regulators for several of the counterparties, including the emphasis that their participation in the negotiations was purely "voluntary," made the possibility of obtaining concessions from those counterparties extremely remote. While there can be no doubt that a regulator’s inherent leverage over a regulated entity must be used other instances in this financial crisis regulators (including the Federal Reserve) have used coercive language to convince financial regulators to take or forego certain actions.

Surprise, surprise! Guys whose lives revolve around accumulating wealth decided not to part with any. Gee whiz.

This is the same Geithner who gives every impression of being at the beck and call of the Wall Street moneybaggers.

Given the lack of shyness in the Obama White House to push things they do care about (I’m thinking of Rahm Emanuel here), we can only conclude that keeping the big bankers delighted was and is a top priority. Says a lot about the limits of liberalism and the ease with which the elite awaken the populist beast in all its many colors.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sentence first! then a trial

The announcement that we will have prosecutions of some 9/11 conspirators in New York’s federal courts is welcome despite the criticism that Attorney General Eric Holder has opted for what are essentially show trials. But the point today is to overcome the hysterical fear of the rule of law drummed up by those hostile to American principles whose views are now trumpeted for all to hear.

I agree with the legal critics of the Obama team’s decision to provide due process only to the extent required to assure convictions. That means a full federal trial for the accused who are already toast, military commissions for those where the cases are weaker and continued detention of those who would get off in any fair trial. So the exercise in public justice for the big fish is already a rigged affair.

The proof that there is little interest in what we used to call criminal justice was ably demonstrated by the truly priceless question asked by the AP reporter at Obama’s news conference on the trials:

President Obama’, said Jennifer Loven, ‘how can you assure the American people that a trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed . . . [will] not result in an innocent verdict for him?

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a transcript of Obama’s answer, but it would have been great to hear him say, ‘Well, Ms Loven, that’s how the American jury system works: they get to decide if the defendant is guilty’.

Holder’s idea is to bring no one to trial who could possibly convince a jury to acquit, so Jennifer L needn’t worry. But it tells us a lot about how the suspension of habeas corpus during the Bush years has undermined civil protections in the minds of the citizenry.

Of course, innocent detainees—or those the system can’t be sure of convicting—won’t be getting fancy trials in federal courts, and therein lies the true challenge for our legal system. Holder’s stacked-deck arrangement does not repair the damage to due process.

But I think as a first step there is something to be said in its favor: we get the chance to see the big bad guys in a court of law with defense lawyers and procedures our system awards even to serial baby-killers. We might even manage to recall that we put these procedures in place for a reason and why we no longer place the accused on the rack or give him the thumbscrew to determine his guilt.

Holder’s Catch-22 process doesn’t award Omar Khadr, the Canadian teenager trapped in a Guantánamo dungeon, the chance to prove his innocence in a real trial. For now, though, the political compromise announced provides his best chance of eventually getting one.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Independence [Updated]

I love how General McChrystal is allowed for several weeks now to lobby and browbeat his civilian commander, one Barack Obama, in favor of his demand for 40,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the civilian ambassador to Afghanistan who is supposed to represent our democratically elected government has to shut up. Otherwise, he’s accused of ‘undermining’ what the army wants to do there.

Except that in the current case, Obama’s man in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, is a former liteutenant general himself and probably knows how that particular game is played.

Big decisions like this have a technical side and a political side, so we have been the object of much balloon-launching in recent days to see how Obama’s handling of the endless guerrilla war in Central Asia was going to fly with the public. My impression is that his enemies on Fox News were delighted to see him following their advice while those of us who got him elected were not thrilled. The idea that Karzai should be reinforced after his open theft of the presidential election there beggars belief.

I think it’s significant that Obama continues to visit places like Dover, Delaware (where the bodies of dead service personnel are shipped) and Arlington National Cemetery. Despite the predictable nasty sniping from armchair soldiers like the horrid Cheney and his horrid offspring, Obama is telegraphing the message about what it really costs to have people pursuing wars in foreign lands, i.e., they get killed there.

Not to mention the wounded, which should be on more people’s minds.

Now it seems as though the big escalation is not necessarily a done deal although for all we know, that could be another floater.

It doesn’t matter until we really find out what he’s going to do, but it is momentarily reassuring to think that he’s refusing to be railroaded and is asking not just how to get more troops over there, but how to get them back, too.

[Update] David Corn ferries the D.C. scuttlebutt from his reporter friends that the White House itself leaked Eikenberry’s memo, thus laying the groundwork for keeping troop levels right where they are or with a meaningless small boost to enable McChrystal to save face. In any case, expect howls of outrage from the usual suspects about losing the war on terror or some such blather. But Obama as the new Truman facing down MacArthur? Can’t wait!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Road of Ideological Purity

A recent article in the New York Review of Books uses the term ‘civic dead end’ to describe the atrophied left-right dispute over what’s wrong with American education, and it struck me as a perfect summation of what Republican know-nothingism has done to all public debate, most recently about health insurance reform. Furthermore, it aptly names the phenomenon by which reactionary Christianity has generated what it most loathed and feared—a weird side B of 1960s counterculture.

It might seem odd to compare the straitlaced, churchgoing family men and women with pot-loving longhairs, activists and cop-baiters, but I maintain that the former have steadily absorbed, reified and evolved into a version of their own worst nightmares, dating from the days in which radical Christians drew together as a political movement in opposition to the feminist, gay, anti-racist and anti-war upheavals of four decades ago.
Sears Roebuck trumpeted an ad campaign back in those days for its kitchen wares as the company’s ‘Counter Revolution’, and at the same time Republican operatives were busy exploiting a similar distaste for youthful ’60s radicalism in the political realm. They reproduced the successes of the grassroots civil rights and women’s equality movements by bringing concerned citizens together for prayer and issue-based activism in thousands of church basements.

Their organizing tool at the time was profoundly ‘anti’—anti-abortion and antigay primarily. But they also held up old-time religion as the antidote and the solution to a raft of social problems—the right to restore prayer in schools being the most emblematic.

The conservative counter-movement flourished dramatically in the 1980 elections that swept both Ronald Reagan and a slew of new-right Republicans into Congress. Their attack campaigns showed the potency of negative advertising on so-called ‘social issues’, driven, ironically, by closeted homosexual Terry Dolan’s innovative techniques. They were ideological and full of themselves but remained within the known confines of planet earth. Those were the good old days.

Back in the 1960s, we felt moral superiority in the face of the slaughter occasioned by the Vietnam war and the very recent dismantling of Jim Crow segregation laws. We got in the face of politicians of both parties and in many ways refused to be part of ‘the system’ at all, believing it hopelessly corrupt and perverse. Today, that’s the outlook of followers of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

Our dropping out led us to a version of the ‘civic dead end’ that the Review laments. We could be crude, rude and self-righteous, and it was only when our own Utopian schemes fell apart—collectively-owned stores in Washington, D.C., rural Oregon communes, experimental urban living arrangements, radical politics of various domestic and international stripes—that we trudged back very gingerly into participation in some pre-established structures.

The radical Palinites and Beck-worshipping troops remind me of ourselves in those days and not in a good way. Their eager assault on Dede Scozzafava in the upstate New York congressional race reflects their mood of millenarian self-absorption and self-indulgence. They didn’t even bother to find a genuine member of the community to carry their ideological standard, blithely assuming that their Truth easily trumped such mundane details, and meanwhile their candidate, glassy-eyed Doug Hoffman [right], couldn’t answer basic questions about the district he suddenly wanted to represent.

Similarly, their rabid opposition to any initiative not led by their religio-patriotic brethren eliminates the possibility of civic cooperation on the pressing issues of the day, as evidenced by the Republican posture of automatic and furious resistance to anything emerging from the Obama White House. They are happiest in the camp of oppositional outrage where things are neatly placed in the categories of Right/Good and Wrong/Evil, as in Obama Health Care=Dachau Concentration Camp [below]. They are indeed the bizarre step-children of the 1960s.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Blue me

A few months ago Rahm Emanuel notoriously threatened with exile to political Siberia any Democrat who dared to vote against Obama’s request for money to fight the Afghanistan war. Given the ensuing gift of the Nobel Peace Prize, dissident Democrats could have argued that they were ahead of Obama on this point. [Artwork: John Pritchett]

In any case, it will be interesting to see how the White House responds to the gross display of disloyalty by 39 House ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats on health insurance reform, given that it was THE key vote of the Obama presidency so far. Will the Rahm-boys retaliate or call for ‘turning the page’ and ‘looking toward the future’?

Two of the 39 voted ‘No’ because the bill wasn’t tough enough, including the Nader-esque Dennis Kucinich, but all the rest fit into the Blue Dog category. A bunch of them are southerners (3 each from North Carolina and Tennessee), but some are from purplish districts that conceivably could respond to a pro-change stance. Larry Kissell’s Fayetteville-based district even went for Obama.

The blogosphere is abuzz with outrage and threats to go after these DINOs (Democrats in Name Only), and given the historic importance of this vote, that seems like a good idea, to a point. However, some cold-blooded strategic thinking is also in order. As we saw in the upstate New York debacle led by Sarah Palin and her glassy-eyed troops, a primary challenge can feel great, especially if you win. But it can also be a self-indulgent distraction.

I’d like to see someone with a sober grasp of the Washington game lay out which of the three dozen congressional districts are ripe for a solid challenge from a pro-reform candidate both within the Democratic camp and among the general voting public. That is, where can the furious defenders of health reform channel their energies into replacing the Blue Dog with a truer and more faithful representative of that district’s residents?

There are solid arguments for not letting this issue go away. One North Carolina blogger put it this way:

‘For [the Blue Dog congressmen], a vote against reform was really a vote against people they see and hear from every day. We know they were contacted again and again by people and families all over their districts who can’t afford coverage or have family members who have died or become gravely ill because they couldn’t afford coverage’.

That discussion could and should continue especially if people in those districts find their conditions improving under the new law even though their own elected representatives chickened out. An unrelenting focus on that underlying issue would be a good way to make these opportunist elements pay a price.

Otherwise, I fear we will see a raft of fund-raising pitches for all sorts of worthy, well-meaning knights on shiny steeds who are indignant that certain politicians acted in their narrow self-interest. It’s an outrage, I completely agree. . . and?

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Grading Mr O

Now that a year has gone by since we went out and elected Barack Obama, how about an early report card?

Appointees: Obama has elevated some excellent people, usually to the second- and third-tier jobs like his pick for Surgeon-General. Hillary was a potentially good choice for Secretary of State as she’s suited to brokering deals and may do well if she recognizes her own limits. But the economic team is a disaster and saddles his presidency with the sins of the Bush years in turning the government into a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. Even with the same policy, he could have had other guys doing it (and a few more women). The technocrats in places like energy, education and housing are mostly invisible, so it’s hard to know how they’re doing. Grade: B-

Foreign affairs: The Nobel Peace Prize is a good symbol of what Obama has achieved by radically shifting the discourse and acting like a reasonable collaborator rather than a big bully. This makes the jingo supremacists go mad; when that happens, you know you’re on the right track. The Cairo speech was a marvel, and his handling of the Iran situation almost flawless. On the other hand, Obama criticized things like bombing runs on Afghan villages during the campaign, then escalated them as president. He tried to get tough with Israel but seems to have no stomach for sticking to it as the Zionist lobby within his own party undercuts him. He is said to be considering more troops in Afghanistan, which is nuts. Of course there’s a political price to pay by recognizing a setback, but an even larger one awaits him if he postpones the inevitable, LBJ-style, and the nutso opposition will pillory him in any case. It’s a good sign that he’s taking his time with a decision. Let’s hope it’s the right one. Grade: B

Civil liberties: Obama signed the order closing of Guantánamo with a flourish in the first hours but hasn’t followed through. His lawyers argue for all the worst abuses of the Bush years from rendition to illegal wiretapping, and the rule of habeas corpus and due process is breached day by day. If he has different instincts, he hasn’t shown them. Eventually, the courts will overrule him, and neither he nor the Democrats will get any credit for defending personal freedom or putting an end to torture. The guilty will crow, Those guys did it too! And they’ll be right. Grade: D

Economics: The stimulus package was the right thing to do but probably too timid. Some New Deal-style job projects would make more sense than the absurd housing credit, which is an expensive subsidy to the comfortably middle class. Banking re-regulation is being undermined on a daily basis as is the consumer protection initiative. Obama had a huge opportunity, and a mandate, to clean house and rewrite the rules after last year’s collapse, but he blew it. Grade: C

Health: Well, I guess we’ll know some time next week, eh? If the whole thing flops, he’ll get no credit from anyone, but I think the overall approach was technically sound if politically amateurish. His speech to Congress was terrific, but we needed a better narrative much earlier, before the teabagger parties. On the other hand, his intuition to zone in on one of the toughest issues right from the start was correct, even kind of obvious. Grade: B if we get a decent deal, C if we get a mediocre one, D if we don’t get any.

Spending: The more obscure budget issues don’t get much play, but Obama has been pretty good at eliminating wasteful arms projects. The stimulus money put cash into worthy activities—we’ll see what happens when the deficit has to be reduced and the belts tightened. His political advisors might make more hay out of his cost-cutting. Grade: A-

Gay issues: We’re waiting. Grade: Incomplete

Immigration: Given the toxicity of that topic, I suppose silence is the best approach for now. However, he didn’t have to promise that Those People would not get any health care from his reform (thus earning the famous Bronx cheer from Joe Wilson). If you’re going to keep mum, then shut the f*ck up instead of making the Mexicans whipping boys yet again. Grade: C

Politics: Obama speaks pretty well in public, but that’s no substitute for keeping a grassroots movement energized. He runs the risk of slipping into pretty-face mode and putting too much faith into his clever team of over-achievers. The Obama campaign had a chance to sustain the spirit of a movement with a parallel organizing structure and opted instead to fold it all into the Democratic Party. They may regret that. Grade: B-

Overall grade: B-

I'm just like all wackos whose last names end in a vowel

A simple test of racism is now available for all to see: to what extent to commentators, public and private, decide that because an Arab and/or Muslim went crazy and shot up a bunch of people, therefore all Arabs and/or Muslims are somehow suspect and must be subjected to special loyalty tests.

This makes a lot of sense, just as the arrest of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing led to a mass vetting of white males.

Collective guilt is a standard biped reaction to people who don’t look or behave like themselves. It’s far older than Christian anti-Semitism based on the crime of Judas and the Pharisees although that’s a good one to recollect at times like these. Here’s another: the Armenian minority was considered insufficiently loyal to the Young Turks after they overthrew the Ottoman sultante, so why not use World War I as an excuse to march a million of them into the Syrian desert to die of starvation? Only logical.

This kneejerk reaction lies at the heart of terrorist attacks on civilians and the familiar waves of racist or ethnic chauvinism. No doubt Fox will pander to its bug-eyed loyalists and whip it up—let’s see if the Republican Party distinguishes itself in this arena as well.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

I [Heart] New York

Hurrah for independent-minded New Yorkers who very quietly stuck their collective fist up the rectal compartment of His Highness, Mayor Bloomberg, Tuesday—and not in a good way. Bloomberg’s humiliating 5-point victory over a non-entity at the cost of $90 million (or an estimated $35,000 per hour) from his own absurdly stuffed pockets will surely set a different tone to his illegitimate third term.

I have to say it feels great to live in a place where people weren’t completely browbeaten into submission by Bloomberg’s non-stop TV ads and his dozen glossy propaganda sheets in their mailboxes every week, but rather expressed their distaste for the arrogance of rewriting the election rules to suit himself—even while recognizing that his mayoral performance has not been dreadful.

My anecdotal impression is that rigging the third term was simply unforgivable to a large bloc of voters, and all the cash on Wall Street wasn’t going to change their minds.

New Jersey: so a filthy rich Goldman Sachs alumnus didn’t manage to buy another term as governor? Who cares? Loyal Democrats maybe.

Maine: at 11 EST it looks like the repealers of gay marriage will eke out a victory. That’s too bad, but the tide has long since turned against their heel-digging. If half the crusty old Maine yankees think it’s okay to be queer, it’s just a matter of time.

Upstate New York: I wish I didn’t have to go to bed so I could relish the possible defeat of the teabagger-carpetbagger in Watertown, who reminds me of the nasty Baptist preachers’ kids I grew up with. A pity because it might undercut the lovely momentum of the Republican intranecine war.

Election Day One Year Later

The teabagger loonies are probably going to be energized by Republican triumphs today including their favorite, a toothy, self-righteous Bible-thumper about to capture the open congressional seat in upstate New York as a third-party candidate. It will be eerily amusing, from a primatological point of view, to watch them celebrate.

Defeat could also be bracing and healthy for the denizens of the Obama White House although if past history is any guide, they will take away the message that they have been too daring and bold and need to cut more deals with their enemies. If they had behaved as true populist liberals, Obama’s support for a sleazy, Goldman Sachs Democrat like Corzine in New Jersey might have been more persuasive. But given his team’s enthusiastic collusion with the worst abuses of Wall Street, defeat in that governor’s race, if it occurs, will be richly deserved.

Obama’s weakness in dealing with the corrupt titans of finance has enabled the wacko reactionaries to paint him as a tool of the rich and powerful, and that’s one arena where they’re not crazy (although their memories are awfully short). So if his party takes a licking, will he get worse? What would that mean? At this point, how much more collusion with the banker scam artists is even possible?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Hillary grovels, Barack salutes

Although Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are on the same team with Hillary the subordinate getting the distasteful chores, the instincts of the two on display this past week are a good reminder why we made the right choice in last year’s primary season.

Hillary outdid her usual bland cynicism by celebrating the legitimacy of the Afghan presidential ‘election’ and praising the ‘concessions’ made by Israel on the settlements issue. Give me a sip of water, I’m laughing so hard the tears are running down my face.

The ‘concessions’ from Netan-Yahoo’s crew consist of a generous decision not to openly replace the U.S. government with itself and instead settle for wagging Obama’s tail publicly for all to see. After openly defying Obama’s demand that illegal settlement activity on the West Bank be halted to get negotiations kick-started, they smugly waited for the inevitable collapse in Washington. Hillary duly obeyed; the only question is whether she felt chagrined at her own humiliation.

She was even more pathetic wanly accepting the daylight theft through massive ballot-box-stuffing of the presidential election by the head of the Afghan narco-state, Hamid Karzai. Unable to force Karzai to run a real election, Clinton signaled the U.S. acceptance of his fraudulent ‘victory’ by calling the opposition candidate’s withdrawal ‘a personal choice which may or may not be made’.

‘I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election’, she added disingenuously, a nicely rounded and complete falsehood meaning that even though the election is completely illegitimate, the U.S. has been outmaneuvered and will have to go along with it.

I can only wonder what that family in Missouri must be feeling as they read this news and realize that their enlisted loved one must expose him or herself to injury and death in defense of a corrupt warlord who thumbs his nose at the nation whose troops protect him and his opiates.

That’s where Obama’s gesture comes in. After nearly a decade of anti-terrorist crusaders pretending that making war in distant lands comes at no cost, Obama reminded the armchair militarists egging him on to escalate in Afghanistan that these decisions entail sacrifice—of other people’s children.

The two wars brought to us by Bush and Cheney were great money-making opportunities for them and their friends, and as Cheney cracked later when asked about the losses, no one can complain because ‘they’re all volunteers’. That was the attitude from the great patriots of the teabagger party, and it’s mind-numbing to think that they continue to get away with it while those who express concern about the troops are tagged as weak.

I suffer from chronic naiveté, but I cannot understand why this is not the moment to tell Karzai and his heroin-trafficking buddies that the U.S. has had enough and will be handing over the business of their defense to them. After all, these guys have shown how determined they are to be in charge—why not take them up on it?