Out in America-the-Real, Halloween time in this year of 2009 has an
interesting "Day of the Locust" flavor. There's more than a whiff of smoke in
the air, along with an odor of dead carp wafting out of all the the offices and
institutions we depend on to define reality. Like the Hollywood of Nathaniel
West's dark 1939 novel, America today seems poised in the gate of some harsh
judgment. When the historians look back at this era - especially at the time
between January 20th and the holiday season of 2009 - won't they marvel at how
well-understood our predicament actually was, by so many parties to it, and the
gulf between that comprehension and the story we told ourselves: that we
Like a lot of other observer-interlocutors, I'd
like to know what folks imagine we are recovering to. To a renewed orgy of
credit-card spending? To yet another round of suburban expansion, with the
boys in the yellow hard-hats driving stakes out in the sagebrush for another new
thousand-unit pop-up "community?" For a next generation of super-cars built to
look like medieval war wagons? That's the "hope" that our officials seem
to pretend to offer. It's completely inconsistent with any reality-based
trend-lines, by the way.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
In case you haven't noticed, the "debate" about Afghanistan going on inside
the White House (thanks for the transparency) has already been decided, and the
answer is: we're staying. The remaining question being considered is: how
many troops? The question not being considered, if leaks are any
indication, is why?
If there's any consistency to the foreign-policy mistakes of America in
the post-World War Two era, it's the saga of brilliant men deciding upon wars in
countries they barely understand, countries whose history they ignore--at our
peril. That was the story of Vietnam, of Iraq, and it's now being
repeated. It's also the story of a policy becoming hostage to notions of our
"credibility" as a world power, as if being trapped in a debilitating struggle
with enemies who aren't leaving (and who know we are) is good for the ol'
But, and I'm anticipating two-thirds of your comments, I'm "just" a
funny person. You bet. That's why I pay attention to the people who
know what they're talking about on this issue, and here's one of them--Matthew
Hoh, who had the guts Colin Powell wishes he'd had, who resigned his State
Department job rather than continue to promote a failing, misguided, doomed
policy. Read Hoh's online chat.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking
about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not
dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the
domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify
an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan....
The U.S. military has given its assessment. It said that stabilizing
Afghanistan and removing it as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country.
Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can’t afford it. So our
political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most
security for less money and less presence. We simply don’t have the surplus we
had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 — and we desperately need
nation-building at home. We have to be smarter. Let’s finish Iraq, because a
decent outcome there really could positively impact the whole Arab-Muslim world,
and limit our exposure elsewhere. Iraq matters.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
It goes into the reasons why many think LBJ had something to do with JFK's assassination. Most interesting in this is the interview with Barr McClellan who was LBJ's attorney. He happens to be the father of Scott McClellan, press secretary for President George W. Bush.
How long are we going to continue to do this? We invade and
occupy a country, and then label as "insurgents" or
even "terrorists" the people in that country who fight against our
invasion and occupation. With the most circular logic imaginable, we then
insist that we must remain in order to defeat the "insurgents" and
"terrorists" -- largely composed of people whose only cause for fighting is our
presence in their country. All the while, we clearly exacerbate the very
problem we are allegedly attempting to address -- Terrorism -- by predictably
and inevitably increasing anti-American anger and hatred through our occupation,
which, no matter the strategy, inevitably entails our killing innocent
civilians. Indeed, does Hoh's description of what drives the insurgency --
anger "against the presence of foreign soldiers" -- permit the conclusion
that that's all going to be placated with a shift to a kind and gentle
But the decisions on Afghanistan truly are either-or. Obama can decide to
pursue a counterinsurgency strategy or a counterterrorism strategy. He can do
one or the other -- not both. If he chooses counterinsurgency, he has to send
enough troops to make that strategy work. If he doesn't want to send all those
troops, he needs to pursue counterterrorism or do something else.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan who has
devised the counterinsurgency strategy, is asking for 40,000 or more additional
troops. Obama is right to examine the general's calculations, but it would make
no sense to try a middle path and approve, say, a troop increase of 20,000. That
would just put more Americans in harm's way without giving McChrystal the
resources he says he needs. This game's been going on for eight years. It's time
to raise or fold.
Obama is at the key juncture: in or out. If he ratifies the
counterinsurgency strategy and approves a troop increase, he'll be committing
the United States to see the project through to its end. Advisers say the
president's goals for "fixing" Afghanistan are realistic, even modest. To me,
however, the whole enterprise looks unrealistic and immodest.
We invaded Afghanistan to ensure that the country could never again be
used to launch attacks against the United States. That mission is accomplished,
and our only goal should be making sure it stays accomplished -- whether the
place is run by Hamid Karzai or the Taliban. The counterinsurgency campaign that
Obama is contemplating looks like a step onto the slipperiest slope imaginable.
It doesn't matter whether the step is tentative or bold.
Sometimes a "war president" has to decide to start bringing the troops
home. That's what Obama must do.
Nice sentiments, Gene, and I agree with you. But if Obama was thinking about 'bringing the troops home', he sure picked the wrong advisors. Clinton, Holbrooke, Jones, Gates, the young know-it-alls from the Center for a New American Security--each and every one liberal international interventionist hawks. Not to speak of the omniscent, omnipotent CIA. (The only sensible one seems to be Joe Biden--imagine that!)
These forces for 'saving the world' through our military engagement and nation building will have their way. All very noble...and very foolish.
Already, Obama is paying a price for Afghanistan. In April, the public gavehim a
63 percent approval rating on Afghanistan; that's now down to 45 percent.Up to
now, the erosion of support for his Afghanistan policy has come fromRepublicans.
This is as God intended. But should the president truly escalatethe war, it is
his Democratic base that is going to yell bloody murder. In arecent Post-ABC
News poll, only about a third of Democrats favored sending anadditional 40,000
troops, with 61 percent opposed -- 51 percent of them stronglyso. The Nation
magazine, a reliable voice of the left, calls in its latest issuefor Obama to
"begin planning a responsible exit strategy." He is, in fact,continuing a
responsible entry strategy.
There is no doubt in my mind that Obama will move ahead on Afghanistan, with more troops and private contractors. He's no more going to begin to exit Afghanistan than he's going to get tough on his banker campaign contributors at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. He's just trying to find a way to do it that doesn't destroy him politically.
A recent post of mine with an interview with Andrew Bachevich goes into more detail on this.
The real problem the administration has is with a public, and especially Obama's voters, who don't want anything like that to happen. So he has to somehow 'bring them along' or risk losing their support. My guess that a lot of this deliberation is being done for that reason. If that sounds cynical, so be it. But this is a real dilemma for Obama: not whether to do full counter-insurgency, but how to bring his supporters, or at least enough of them, along for the ride.
I'm not going along for that ride.
Again, the issue is not whether government acts, but whether it acts with
an awareness of the limits of its knowledge. Sometimes we seem to have a
government with no sense of those limits, no sense that perhaps government
officials don’t know how to restructure General Motors, pick the most promising
battery technology, re-engineer the health care system from the top, or
fine-tune the complex system of executive pay.
"Limits of its knowledge...." If only Brooks applied this truth across the board. How about the ability of government to invade and occupy and rebuild another country in another culture clear around the world? Did he use this fine principle to oppose our hubristic invasion of Iraq? I did, but he didn't.
How about our current military buildup in Afghanistan? Why do we think we're going to be able to accomplish that kind of nation-building in that wild country? Is Brooks for or against it? I'm against it, for the very reason he cites, the 'limits of our knowledge".
Personally, I think it's crazy for our government to be setting individual executive's pay. The thing is, however, we basically own several of these companies, don't we? I know that's the case with AIG and GM and probably several others. So setting the salaries is probably justified.
Frankly, I wish we would have done to them what we normally do to banks. Put them through bankruptcy and make sure they won't do again what they did the last time.
I have been focusing a lot of my reading recently on the history of the CIA and our 'invisible government' . I started out with Tim Weiner's A Legacy of Ashes, which is a recent award-winning history of the CIA, and have branched out from there. It has been shocking, to put it mildly. Some liken it to 'going down a rabbit hole,' a la Alice in Wonderland. I think they're right.
Over the last several years, I've come to believe quite strongly that appearances can be very deceiving (have you seen the movie The Matrix?). All the goings-on surrounding 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the economic crisis (to speak of just the last 8 years) have sensitized me to how gullible we can be, how the media can be very unbalanced and misleading, and how so much is going on behind the scenes that we know nothing about.
For example, with both the 2003 Iraq invasion and the recent economic crisis, I saw things a whole lot differently from most other people and from the mass media in the run up to both of those events. It turns out that I was largely right, and the mass media and most people were not (i.e. the Iraq invasion was based on a lie and was a disaster, and the economic crisis was just a matter of time, given the level of unsustainable debt and the bubbles). That has given me some confidence in my ability to honestly sort through things and get to a semblance of the truth.
I have also come to believe that there were a number of turning points in the history of the last 50-60 years that reveal a whole lot about who we are as a nation, if you can somehow get to the bottom of them. These include the real activities of the CIA around the world and in our own country, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of the Kennedy brothers, Watergate, 'Iran Contra' in the 80s, the rise of the financial sector in the last 25 years, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the economic crash of the last year, and the rise and election of Barack Obama.
What's so incredible to me are the resources that you can access online these days. It's a new day for research, in that regard. Obviously you have to be careful about their credibility, but you can kind of get a sense of their reliability, once you've been working on a subject for awhile. Wikipedia, for example, with their up-to-date information and links can lead you down paths of research you could never imagine doing a few years ago, at least not as quickly.
Anyway, I don't quite know where all of this will lead. But I enjoy following the trail, even if it's unfamiliar and somewhat threatening to my sense of reality. Consider it the equivalent for me of going on a long hike in unfamiliar territory (though not quite as good exercise as that!). And I'll share some of it with you via The Great Awakening, as long as you care to read it.
"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of
the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page
letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations
about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is
based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials,
concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a
prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W.
Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy
staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting
with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in
love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the "second-best job
I've ever had," his dominant experience is from the Marines, where many of his
closest friends still serve.
But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the
United States largely because its troops are there -- a growing military
presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are
not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected.
While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be
confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in
Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.
Monday, October 26, 2009
That time in Miami, with Saint by his bed and disease eating away at him and him thinking he's six months away from death, E. Howard finally put pen to paper and started writing. Saint had been working toward this moment for a long while, and now it was going to happen. He got his father an A&W diet root beer, then sat down in the old man's wheelchair and waited.
E. Howard scribbled the initials "LBJ," standing for Kennedy's ambitious vice president, Lyndon Johnson. Under "LBJ," connected by a line, he wrote the name Cord Meyer. Meyer was a CIA agent whose wife had an affair with JFK; later she was murdered, a case that's never been solved. Next his father connected to Meyer's name the name Bill Harvey, another CIA agent; also connected to Meyer's name was the name David Morales, yet another CIA man and a well-known, particularly vicious black-op specialist. And then his father connected to Morales' name, with a line, the framed words "French Gunman Grassy Knoll."
So there it was, according to E. Howard Hunt. LBJ had Kennedy killed. It had long been speculated upon. But now E. Howard was saying that's the way it was. And that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't the only shooter in Dallas. There was also, on the grassy knoll, a French gunman, presumably the Corsican Mafia assassin Lucien Sarti, who has figured prominently in other assassination theories....
Later that week, E. Howard also gave Saint two sheets of paper that contained a fuller narrative. It starts out with LBJ again, connecting him to Cord Meyer, then goes on: "Cord Meyer discusses a plot with [David Atlee] Phillips who brings in Wm. Harvey and Antonio Veciana. He meets with Oswald in Mexico City. . . . Then Veciana meets w/ Frank Sturgis in Miami and enlists David Morales in anticipation of killing JFK there. But LBJ changes itinerary to Dallas, citing personal reasons." David Atlee Phillips, the CIA's Cuban operations chief in Miami at the time of JFK's death, knew E. Howard from the Guatemala-coup days. Veciana is a member of the Cuban exile community. Sturgis, like Saint's father, is supposed to have been one of the three tramps photographed in Dealey Plaza. Sturgis was also one of the Watergate plotters, and he is a man whom E. Howard, under oath, has repeatedly sworn to have not met until Watergate, so to Saint the mention of his name was big news.
For the past thirty years we have minted billionaires, and we have created
the most unequal distribution of wealth since 1928-29. This didn't happen by
accident. We deliberately deregulated the financial sector and we deliberately
eliminated the steep progressive taxes on the super-rich that had kept in check
our income distribution.
By unleashing capital and finance we were supposed to get an enormous
investment boom in real goods and services. Instead we got a fantasy finance
boom as Wall Street marketed derivatives to those with excess capital. We
also got the biggest crash since the Great Depression.
Perhaps the most dramatic measure of our emerging billionaire bailout
society is seen by comparing compensation for the top 100 CEOs and to that of
average workers (the 100 million or so non-supervisory production workers). In
1970 the ratio was 45 to 1. By 2006 it was 1,723 to one. (The Looting of America
Perhaps the most damaging feature of our billionaire bailout society is the
"jobless recovery." This oxymoron refers to an economy that is growing, but that
can't produce nearly enough jobs to reach full employment (an unemployment rate
below 5 percent). Our current jobless recovery will be the worst ever. Right now
the BLS (U6) jobless rate stands at 17.0 percent -- and climbing. (This counts
those without work plus those who have part-time jobs because they can't find
full-time work.) If the billionaire bailout society becomes permanent, we may
never see full employment again.
Why is that? Because you don't need a full employment society to mint
billionaires. Reflect for a moment on Goldman Sachs. They do not have individual
depositors. They are not public brokers. They do not make loans to small
business. They are in the business of making money by playing the financial
markets, from mergers and acquisitions, from trading, and from creating and
selling fantasy finance instruments.
In our billionaire bailout society these are unquestioned
positive activities. But what value do they produce in the real economy? What is
their contribution to market efficiency? How do they lower the cost of capital?
How do these activities create jobs in the real economy? Good luck answering
those questions because they don't do any of that. They just make money for
themselves while producing little or no value to our society.
It's obvious we need to break up these large institutions so that
we won't have to bail them out the next time around -- which may come sooner
than expected given the lack of jobs and the fact that the financial casino is
But we can't solve the bailouts without addressing the billionaire part
of the equation. Two years ago the richest 400 Americans had a combined
wealth of $1.57 trillion. Last year during the crash their wealth dropped to
"only" $1.27 trillion. Now they are set to rise again. We need to tie their
wealth of our richest to putting our people back to work.
Here's the simplest and most controversial approach: a 10 percent
wealth tax on all those with more than $500 million -- until unemployment drops
below 5 percent. The money collected would come to about $150 billion a year.
That money should be directly invested in public works programs to put our
people to work -- a Green Corps to weatherize every home and office in the
country -- a Youth Corps to provide work for unemployed high school and college
(I realize that many Americans detest the idea of taxing anyone's
assets, even billionaires'. But let's be realistic: That's where our society's
wealth has gone and we need that wealth to put people back to work. Some
billionaires do create large numbers of jobs, but not enough. They can
contribute more and not feel a bit of pain or suffering.)
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The New York Times. The Agency’s relationship with the Times was by far its
most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. From 1950 to 1966,
about ten CIA employees were provided Times cover under arrangements approved by
the newspaper’s late publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. The cover arrangements
were part of a general Times policy—set by Sulzberger—to provide assistance to
the CIA whenever possible.
Sulzberger was especially close to Allen
Dulles. “At that level of contact it was the mighty talking to the mighty,” said
a high‑level CIA official who was present at some of the discussions. “There was
an agreement in principle that, yes indeed, we would help each other. The
question of cover came up on several occasions. It was agreed that the
actual arrangements would be handled by subordinates.... The mighty didn’t want
to know the specifics; they wanted plausible deniability.
The Columbia Broadcasting System. CBS was unquestionably the CIAs most
valuable broadcasting asset. CBS President William Paley and Allen Dulles
enjoyed an easy working and social relationship. Over the years, the network
provided cover for CIA employees, including at least one well‑known foreign
correspondent and several stringers; it supplied outtakes of newsfilm to the
CIA3; established a formal channel of communication between the Washington
bureau chief and the Agency; gave the Agency access to the CBS newsfilm library;
and allowed reports by CBS correspondents to the Washington and New York
newsrooms to be routinely monitored by the CIA. Once a year during the 1950s and
early 1960s, CBS correspondents joined the CIA hierarchy for private dinners and
Time and Newsweek magazines. According to CIA and Senate sources, Agency
files contain written agreements with former foreign correspondents and
stringers for both the weekly news magazines. The same sources refused to
say whether the CIA has ended all its associations with individuals who work for
the two publications. Allen Dulles often interceded with his good friend, the
late Henry Luce, founder of Time and Life magazines, who readily allowed certain
members of his staff to work for the Agency and agreed to provide jobs and
credentials for other CIA operatives who lacked journalistic
For many years, Luce's personal emissary to the CIA was
C.D. Jackson, a Time Inc., vice‑president who was publisher of Life magazine
from 1960 until his death in 1964.While a Time executive, Jackson coauthored a
CIA‑sponsored study recommending the reorganization of the American intelligence
services in the early 1950s. Jackson, whose Time‑Life service was interrupted by
a one‑year White House tour as an assistant to President Dwight Eisenhower,
approved specific arrangements for providing CIA employees with Time‑Life cover.
Some of these arrangements were made with the knowledge of Luce's wife, Clare
Boothe. Other arrangements for Time cover, according to CIA officials including
those who dealt with Luce), were made with the knowledge of Hedley Donovan, now
editor‑in‑chief of Time Inc. Donovan, who took over editorial direction of all
Time Inc. publications in 1959, denied in a telephone interview that he knew of
any such arrangements. "I was never approached and I'd be amazed if Luce
approved such arrangements," Donovan said. "Luce had a very scrupulous regard
for the difference between journalism and government."
In the 1950s
and early 1960s, Time magazine's foreign correspondents attended CIA "briefing"
dinners similar to those the CIA held for CBS. And Luce, according to CIA
officials, made it a regular practice to brief Dulles or other high Agency
officials when he returned from his frequent trips abroad. Luce and the men who
ran his magazines in the 1950s and 1960s encouraged their foreign correspondents
to provide help to the CIA, particularly information that might be useful to the
Agency for intelligence purposes or recruiting foreigners.
The American Broadcasting Company and the National Broadcasting Company.
According to CIA officials, ABC continued to provide cover for some CIA
operatives through the 1960s. One was Sam Jaffe who CIA officials said performed
clandestine tasks for the Agency. Jaffe has acknowledged only providing the CIA
with information. In addition, another well‑known network correspondent
performed covert tasks for the Agency, said CIA sources. At the time of the
Senate bearings, Agency officials serving at the highest levels refused to say
whether the CIA was still maintaining active relationships with members of the
ABC‑News organization. All cover arrangements were made with the knowledge off
ABC executives, the sources said.
These same sources professed to
know few specifies about the Agency’s relationships with NBC, except that
several foreign correspondents of the network undertook some assignments for the
Agency in the 1950s and 1960s. “It was a thing people did then,” said Richard
Wald, president of NBC News since 1973. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people
here—including some of the correspondents in those days—had connections with the Agency.”
In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists,
went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked
to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the
newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the
Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the
past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central
Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of
these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit.
There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full
range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as
go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks
with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer
Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors
without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign
correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their
work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the
spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA
employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents
show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of
the managements of America’s leading news organizations.
Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the LouisviIle Courier‑Journal, and James Copley of the Copley News Service. Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps‑Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald‑Tribune.
“I’m proud they asked me and proud to have done it,” said Joseph Alsop who, like his late brother, columnist Stewart Alsop, undertook clandestine tasks for the Agency. “The notion that a newspaperman doesn’t have a duty to his country is perfect balls.”
The real story that Syriana missed is that the CIA today has more
employees, more hangers-on in the bureaucracy, more private contractors, a
fatter budget than ever, and it still can’t seem to effectively deploy field
agents for the fundamental purpose of human intelligence. In the
long wake of 9/11, the agency, flush with money, engaged in vast new hiring, and
the CIA now boasts over 20,000 employees, equal to the size of an army
division. Most serve in the Directorate of Intelligence, the geek squad;
less than 2,000 work in the clandestine services at the Directorate of
Operations. But even the operations people are mostly staying
home. According to Ishmael Jones, some 90 percent of CIA employees live
and work in the comfort of the US, unaccustomed to drinking ditchwater and
sleeping on cots; during the Cold War, perhaps 45 percent lived stateside.
The physical evidence of the domesticity is all around Washington DC, in the
form of huge new building construction for CIA offices.
One reason may be the president's essential character, which is at odds
with the persona that developed during the campaign. Perhaps because of his race
and his age, much of the electorate, especially those of us who are liberals,
succumbed to stereotype and assumed that he was by way of being a firebrand. A
year in, and we know that we deceived ourselves. He is methodical, thoughtful,
cerebral, a believer in consensus and process. In an incremental system, Barack
Obama is an incremental man. It is one reason he is taking his time ending the
two wars in which we remain mired, Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding. On the one
hand, on the other.
I don't think it was so much that we succumbed to "stereotype", as that he intentionally portrayed himself as a progressive, who would promote and work for "change we can believe in."
I like "methodical" and "thoughtful", but not in support of the miserable and dysfunctional status quo. To say I am disappointed in Obama is perhaps an understatement.
President Barack Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their
effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part
of health care reform. In its place, say multiple Democratic sources, Obama has
indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance
industry, which would see a public plan "triggered" into effect in the future by
a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.
The administration retreat runs counter to the letter and the spirit of
Obama's presidential campaign. The man who ran on the "Audacity of Hope" has now
taken a more conservative stand than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.),
leaving progressives with a mix of confusion and outrage. Democratic leaders on
Capitol Hill have battled conservatives in their own party in an effort to get
the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Now tantalizingly close, they are
calling for Obama to step up.
"The leadership understands that pushing for a public option is a
somewhat risky strategy, but we may be within striking distance. A signal from
the president could be enough to put us over the top," said one Senate
Democratic leadership aide. Such pleading is exceedingly rare on Capitol Hill
and comes only after Senate leaders exhausted every effort to encourage Obama to
Unfortunately, this increasingly doesn't surprise me at all. All too often, Obama talks a good progressive line when he wants the votes, but when the policy is on the line, his true conservatism shines through.Isn't this a classic 'bait and switch'? I'm afraid so, if it is true.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
But the single most startling event was the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, which was never hit by an airplane. It completely collapsed around 5 PM. Watch the following nine minute video on the subject of Building 7.
If the buildings were brought down by controlled demotion, there would be explosions. And there were explosions, as the following video very vividly demonstrates. Why have these accounts been ignored by the government and mainstream media?
If these buildings were intentionally destroyed by controlled demotion, that changes everything. This had to be a pre-planned event, by 'terrorists' of some sort or other. The only question is, who? Who stood to benefit from this event? Think about it.
At the lower right corner, the rectancular button gives you a full-screen view. You can get out of that by hitting your 'esc' button in the upper left corner of your computer keyboard.
Well, even during Obama’s presidential campaign, I did not buy into his
slogan of “change” being promoted by the media and, unfortunately, by the naïve
blogosphere. First of all, Obama’s record as a senator, short as it was, spoke
clearly. For all those changes that he was promising, he had done nothing. In
fact, he had taken the opposite position, whether it was regarding the NSA’s
wiretapping or the issue of national-security whistleblowers. We whistleblowers
had written to his Senate office. He never responded, even though he was on the
As soon as Obama became president, he showed us that the State Secrets
Privilege was going to continue to be a tool of choice. It’s an arcane executive
privilege to cover up wrongdoing—in many cases, criminal activities. And the
Obama administration has not only defended using the State Secrets Privilege, it
has been trying to take it even further than the previous terrible
administration by maintaining that the U.S. government has sovereign immunity.
This is Obama’s change: his administration seems to think it doesn’t even have
to invoke state secrets as our leaders are emperors who possess this sovereign
immunity. This is not the kind of language that anybody in a democracy would
The other thing I noticed is how Chicago, with its culture of political
corruption, is central to the new administration. When I saw that Obama’s choice
of chief of staff was Rahm Emanuel, knowing his relationship with Mayor Richard
Daley and with the Hastert crowd, I knew we were not going to see positive
changes. Changes possibly, but changes for the worse. It was no coincidence that
the Turkish criminal entity’s operation centered on Chicago.
The monitoring of the Turks picked up contacts with Feith, Wolfowitz, and
Perle in the summer of 2001, four months before 9/11. They were discussing with
the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the U.S. would
invade Iraq and divide the country. The UK would take the south, the rest would
go to the U.S. They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for
allowing an attack from Turkish soil. The Turks were very supportive, but wanted
a three-part division of Iraq to include their own occupation of the Kurdish
region. The three Defense Department officials said that would be more than they
could agree to, but they continued daily communications to the ambassador and
his defense attaché in an attempt to convince them to help.
Meanwhile Scowcroft, who was also the chairman of the American Turkish
Council, Baker, Richard Armitage, and Grossman began negotiating separately for
a possible Turkish protectorate. Nothing was decided, and then 9/11 took
Scowcroft was all for invading Iraq in 2001 and even wrote a paper for
the Pentagon explaining why the Turkish northern front would be essential. I
know Scowcroft came off as a hero to some for saying he was against the war, but
he was very much for it until his client’s conditions were not met by the Bush
Multiple sources tell TPMDC that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is very
close to rounding up 60 members in support of a public option with an opt out
clause, and are continuing to push skeptical members. But they also say that the
White House is pushing back against the idea, in a bid to retain the support of
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
"They're skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to
the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger," said one source close to
negotiations between the Senate and the White House. "they're certainly not
calming moderates' concerns on opt out."
This new development, which casts the White House as an opponent of all but
the most watered down form of public option, is likely to yield backlash from
progressives, especially those in the House who have been pushing for a more
maximal version of reform.
This doesn't surprise me, the more I read. Obama, a true-blue neo-liberal, has been skeptical of public option and single payer from the getgo, when you read between the lines. He is beholden, for whatever reason, to the health insurance industry (who helped pay for his election campaign perhaps?). We need to stop being surprised about the chasm between some of his words and his real intentions/actions. Rahm Emanuel may be the real story here, as in other things.
The seven companies under Feinberg's purview are Citigroup, Bank of
America, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC, Chrysler Financial and American
International Group. These firms have received a total of about $250 billion in
bailout funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program, adopted last year by
Congress, and benefited from hundreds of billions of dollars more in government
guarantees and other support.
Feinberg, who was named special master on compensation by the
administration in June, has sole discretion to set compensation for the five top
senior executives plus the next 20 highest-paid people at each of the seven
It's nice to know that there must be some pooh-bah at B of A, Citigroup or
AIG who will have to live without the new $90,000 Porsche Panamera he was
planning to buy. But Feinberg's writ of imperial decree doesn't extend beyond
those seven companies, and the rest of Wall Street gives no indication of
remotely understanding what the big deal is about compensation. Goldman Sachs,
for example, has a bonus pool this year of at least $16 billion and perhaps as
much as $23 billion.
But all this is just a sideshow. The main event is the limited,
far-too-modest attempt by the Obama administration and Congress to curb the
irresponsible Wall Street practices that led to the financial meltdown -- and,
if unaddressed, will lead inexorably to the next crisis.
Deregulation allowed the financial marketplace to devolve from an institution that served the overall economy -- by allocating capital most efficiently to the companies that could put it to best use -- into an institution whose primary mission was to
All this investing and hedging generate huge transaction fees and big
profits, which can be skimmed off the top each year. Everything's fine, until
there's some disruption in the real economy -- a downturn in the housing market,
say. If the disruption is severe enough, the web of make-believe deals starts to
unravel. At which point the government steps in and bails everybody out.
The White House and Treasury Department have proposed reforms that
would ameliorate, but not eliminate, this ridiculous cycle. What the
administration won't do is outlaw some kinds of derivative products or
transactions; officials say that if they went down that road, they would always
be one step behind Wall Street's inventiveness and greed. I think it would be
worth a try.
The administration did propose that derivatives transactions go
through clearinghouses and be conducted on transparent, regulated exchanges. But
as reform legislation begins to work its way through Congress, Wall Street firms
-- including companies that received bailout funds -- have boosted their
spending on lobbying and political donations.
Until we come up with some kind of public financing of political campaigns, our politicians will be 'bought and paid for' by the big corporations, representing their interests and not ours, the people. Under these circumstances, just voting in elections is really irrelevant, when all the politicians already belong to their real masters.
"Simmons has been a cash cow. It’s made a lot of people a lot of money,”
said David Perry, executive editor of Furniture/Today. “But there’s a growing
question in the industry of how many more times can this be repeated. How much
more juice can be squeezed out of the orange?”
The economy and its companies (and employees and their jobs and pensions and health benefits) as a 'cash cow' for the investor class, who sit around in their mansions and luxurious offices making deals, like they're playing Monopoly? This is 'capitalism' at its decadent worst, if you ask me. This is why Michael Moore and his new movie on capitalism are creating such a stir.
But in the mid-1980s, Simmons caught the attention of a new type of
investor. The businesses that stormed corporate America in recent years under
the banner of private equity were not always called private equity firms. In the
1980s, they were known as leveraged buyout shops. Their strategy is essentially
unchanged, however: they try to buy undervalued companies, using mostly borrowed money, fix them up and sell them for a fast profit.
Because they pile debt onto the companies they buy, the firms free up
their own cash, allowing them to make additional investments and increase their
potential profits. Simmons’s first trip through the revolving door of
private equity came in 1986. Like the latest trip, it was not a pleasant one for
employees, but the buyers did just fine.
Simmons says it will soon file for bankruptcy protection, as part of an
agreement by its current owners to sell the company — the seventh time it has
been sold in a little more than two decades — all after being owned for short
periods by a parade of different investment groups, known as private equity
firms, which try to buy undervalued companies, mostly with borrowed money.
For many of the company’s investors, the sale will be a disaster. Its
bondholders alone stand to lose more than $575 million. The company’s downfall
has also devastated employees like Noble Rogers, who worked for 22 years at
Simmons, most of that time at a factory outside Atlanta. He is one of 1,000
employees — more than one-quarter of the work force — laid off last year.
But Thomas H. Lee Partners of Boston has not only escaped unscathed, it
has made a profit. The investment firm, which bought Simmons in 2003, has
pocketed around $77 million in profit, even as the company’s fortunes have
declined. THL collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the company in the
form of special dividends. It also paid itself millions more in fees, first for
buying the company, then for helping run it. Last year, the firm even gave
itself a small raise.
Wall Street investment banks also cashed in. They collected millions for
helping to arrange the takeovers and for selling the bonds that made those deals
possible. All told, the various private equity owners have made around $750
million in profits from Simmons over the years.
How so many people could make so much money on a company that has been
driven into bankruptcy is a tale of these financial times and an example of a
growing phenomenon in corporate America.
Is this kind of behavior going to drive America into a revolutionary situation?
In many ways, what private equity firms did at Simmons, and scores of other
companies like it, mimicked the subprime mortgage boom. Fueled by easy money,
not only from banks but also endowments and pension funds, buyout kings like THL
upended the old order on Wall Street. It was, they said, the Golden Age of
private equity — nothing less than a new era of capitalism.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Palin was the last clear expression of capitalism-as-usual before
everything went south. That’s quite helpful because she showed us—in that
plainspoken, down-homey way of hers—the trajectory the U.S. economy was on
before its current meltdown. The core of her message was this: Those
environmentalists, those liberals, those do-gooders are all wrong. You don’t
have to change anything. You don’t have to rethink anything. Keep driving your
gas-guzzling car, keep going to Wal-Mart and shop all you want. The reason for
that is a magical place called Alaska. Just come up here and take all you want.
“Americans,” she said at the Republican National Convention, “we need to produce
more of our own oil and gas. Take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of
Alaska, we’ve got lots of both.”
And the crowd at the convention responded by chanting and chanting:
“Drill, baby, drill.”
Watching that scene on television, with that weird
creepy mixture of sex and oil and jingoism, I remember thinking: “Wow, the RNC
has turned into a rally in favor of screwing Planet Earth.” Literally.
My economic point of view is from ground level. It is a point of view
sometimes described as “agrarian.” That means that in ordering the economy of a
household or community or nation, I would put nature first, the economies of
land use second, the manufacturing economy third, and the consumer economy
A properly ordered economy, putting nature first and consumption last,
would start with the subsistence or household economy and proceed from that to
the economy of markets. It would be the means by which people provide to
themselves and to others the things necessary to support life: goods coming from
nature and human work. It would distinguish between needs and mere wants, and it
would grant a firm precedence to needs.
The present and now-failing economy is just about exactly opposite to the
economy I have just described. Over a long time, and by means of a set of handy
prevarications, our economy has become an anti-economy, a financial system
without a sound economic basis and without economic virtues.
It has inverted the economic order that puts nature first. This economy
is based upon consumption, which ultimately serves not the ordinary consumers
but a tiny class of excessively wealthy people for whose further enrichment the
economy is understood (by them) to exist. For the purpose of their further
enrichment, these plutocrats and the great corporations that serve them have
controlled the economy by the purchase of political power. The purchased
governments do not act in the interest of the governed; they act instead as
agents for the corporations.
The growth of vast inequalities between the yearly payments of the
financial ruling class and the medium salary of workers has reached
unprecedented levels. The financial elite receives something in the range of a
ratio of 500 up to 1000 times that of an average worker, depending on how
narrowly or broadly we conceive of the financial ruling class....
Inequality in the distribution of national income in the US is the worst in
the entire developed capitalist world. Moreover studies of time series data
reveal that in the US inequality increased far greater and intergenerational
social mobility was far more difficult in the US than any country in Western
Europe . The growth of monstrous and rigid class inequalities reflects the
narrow social base of an economy dominated by finance capital, its ingrown
intergenerational linkages and the exorbitant entry fees ($50,000 per annum
tuition with room and board) to elite private universities and post-graduate
business schools. Equally important, the political power of finance capital and
its ‘associated’ conglomerates wield uncontested political power in the US in
comparison to any country in Europe . As a result the US government
redistributes far less through the tax and social security, health and
educational system than other countries.
Neither the Democratic Party majority in Congress, nor the
Republican-controlled Executive offer any proposals to challenge the financial
ruling class’s dominance nor are there any proposals to reverse its most
retrograde policies causing the growing inequalities, wage stagnation and the
increasing rigidity of the class structure. The reason has been reported in the
Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times : An overwhelming chunk of the funds
that Democrats raise nationally for election campaigns comes either from Wall
Street financiers or Silicon Valley software entrepreneurs. ( FT November 3,
2006 p. 13). The Democratic congressional electoral campaign was tightly
controlled by two of Wall Street’s favorite Democrats, Senator Charles ‘Israel
First’ Schumer and Congressman Rahm Immanuel, who selectively funded candidates who were pro-war, pro-Wall Street and unconditionally pro-Israel.
The financial ruling class is internally stratified into three sub-groups:
at the top are big private equity bankers and hedge-fund managers, followed by
the Wall Street chief executives, who in turn are above the next rung of senior
associate or vice-presidents of a big private equity funds who is followed by
their counterparts at Wall Street’s public equity funds. Top hedge fund managers
and executive have made $1 billion dollars or more a year – several times what
the CEO’s make at publicly traded investment houses. For example in 2006 Lloyd
Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, was paid $53.4 million, while Dan Ochs,
executive of the hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital paid himself $220 million dollars.
That same year the Morgan Stanley CEO received $40 million dollars, while the
chief executive of the hedge fund Citadel was paid over $300 million
While the ‘hedge fund’ speculators receive the highest annual salaries, the
private equity executives can equal their hundreds of millions payments through
deal fees and special dividend payments from portfolio companies. This was
especially true in 2006 when buyouts reached a record $710 billion dollars. The
big bucks for the private equity bosses comes from the accumulating stake
executives have in portfolio companies. They typically skim 20% of profits,
which are realized when a group sells or lists a portfolio company. At that
time, the payday runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The subset of the financial ruling class is the ‘junior bankers’ of private
equity firms who take about $500,000 a year. At the bottom rung are the ‘junior
bankers’ of publicly traded investment houses (‘Wall Street’) who average
$350,000 a year. The financial ruling class is made up of these
multi-billionaire elites from the hedge funds, private and public equity bankers
and their associates in big prestigious corporate legal and accounting firms.
They in turn are linked to the judicial and regulatory authorities, through
political appointments and contributions, and by their central position in the
Within the financial ruling class, political leadership does not usually
come from the richest hedge fund speculators, even less among the ‘junior
bankers’. Political leaders come from the public and private equity banks,
namely Wall Street - especially Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, the Carlyle Group and
others. They organize and fund both major parties and their electoral campaigns.
They pressure, negotiate and draw up the most comprehensive and favorable
legislation on global strategies (liberalization and deregulation) and sectoral
policies (reductions in taxes, government pressure on countries like China to
‘open’ their financial services to foreign penetration and so on). They pressure
the government to ‘bailout’ bankrupt and failed speculative firms and to balance
the budget by lowering social expenditures instead of raising taxes on
speculative ‘windfall’ profits.
Who are these people? I am not referring to the pathetic parents of
“Balloon Boy,” whose fake drama I have been unable to escape while on the
treadmill this week, thanks to my gym’s insistence on tuning its flat-screen TVs
to Wolf Blitzer’s nonstop self-parody.
The Colorado incident was significant only in the tawdriness of
those who perpetrated the made-for-TV scam and their allies in the mindless
media who covered this sham “reality” so relentlessly. But even so, it was
enough to push aside most consideration of the true hoax reported last week with
far less fervor: the obscene rewards that Wall Street bankers bestowed upon
themselves for ripping off our economy.
The people I want to know more about are the superrich who expect to be
rewarded for their failures, like the folks at Goldman Sachs who will receive
$16.71 billion in bonuses—an average of $530,000 per employee—this year after
their company did as much as any to bring the world economy to the brink of
“The Guys from Government Sachs” is what The New York Times once called
them in recognition of their chokehold on the federal government. Their power is
marked by the two treasury secretaries who led the fight to legally enable and
then reward Wall Street for its obscene excesses. Why wasn’t there a CNN
stakeout at the homes of former Goldman-execs-turned-treasury-chiefs Robert
Rubin and Henry Paulson aimed at finding out how they feel about the almost $7
billion profit that Goldman Sachs made in the last two quarters in the wake of
the government’s bailout of the firm?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The debate over Afghanistan -- or, more accurately, the multi-pronged
effort to pressure Obama into escalating -- is looking increasingly familiar,
i.e., like the "debate" over Iraq. The New York Times is publishing
articles filled with quotes from anonymous war advocates. Permanent
war-justifier Michael O'Hanlon is regularly featured in "news accounts" as
he all but blames Obama for increasing combat deaths due to his failure to
escalate the moment the military demanded it. The New Republic is churning
out pro-war screeds. Every option is on the proverbial table except
one: not fighting the war. And there's a widening gap between
(a) public opinion (which sees Afghanistan as "turning into another
Vietnam" and which opposes more troops, with 49% favoring a full or partial
withdrawal) and (b) the virtual unanimity of establishment punditry which,
as always, is cheerleading for the war. The only difference is that, with
a Democratic President, there seems to be more Democratic and progressive
support for this war (though there was, of course, plenty of that for Iraq,
The primary rationale for remaining -- and escalating -- in Afghanistan
is the same all-purpose justification offered for virtually everything
the U.S. has done since 2001: Terrorism. Apparently, the
way to solve the Terrorist threat is by sending 60,000 more American troops
into a Muslim country and committing to at least five more years of war
there. That, so the pro-escalation reasoning goes, will make us
Monday, October 19, 2009
Still, she does cite one example of an organization that at least tries to
get it right: Wegmans, a chain of supermarkets with stores located mostly in the
suburbs of New York state, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland,
offers its employees job-training programs, health insurance and retirement
benefits. The company operates on the supposition that if it treats its
employees respectfully, they'll be better prepared (and more willing) to serve
the needs of customers. The approach seems to work: Wegmans profits financially
by fostering and retaining customer loyalty, and its employee turnover rate is
low -- roughly 6 percent, measured against an industry-wide rate of more than 30
percent. The company also buys a large percentage of its produce from small,
local farmers, and has been doing so for 20 years.
But any lawmakers voting “yes” should have no illusions about what they’re
voting for. This version of reform probably won’t make health care more
affordable for most Americans, or place the system on firmer footing for the
long run. Despite all the talk about a once-in-a-generation opportunity, our
political class will have barely finished congratulating itself before rising
costs will force everyone back to the negotiating table to consider more radical
We know what one such approach would look like. It’s the eventual endgame
that liberals pushing a “public option” are aiming for: a federal takeover of
the health-insurance sector, paid for by rising tax rates, in which the
government guarantees universal access while using its monopoly power to hold
But there’s another path, equally radical, that’s more in keeping with the
traditional American approach to government, taxation and free enterprise. This
approach would give up on the costly goal of insuring everyone for everything,
forever. Instead, it would seek to insure Americans only against costs that
exceed a certain percentage of their income, while expecting them to pay for
everyday medical expenditures out of their own pockets.
Such a system would provide universal catastrophic health insurance, in
other words, while creating a free market for non-catastrophic care. In the
process, it would marry a central conservative insight — that we’ll never
control spending so long as Americans are insulated from the true price of their
medical care — to the admirable liberal premise that nobody should go bankrupt
paying for life-saving treatment.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
More than a year later, I covered a Senate subcommittee hearing in New
Orleans on the lagging reconstruction effort. I watched as a young senator who
was thought to be considering a presidential run -- that would be Barack Obama
-- used his Harvard Law skills to eviscerate Bush-era officials for not doing
enough to rebuild and revive the Gulf Coast region.
So it was strange and disheartening that Obama would wait nine months
to make his first visit to New Orleans as president. It was stunning that he
would spend only a few hours on the ground and that he wouldn't set foot in
Mississippi or Alabama at all. But worst of all was the way he seemed to dismiss
the idea that his administration could and should be doing much more.
that local officials say the Obama administration is more responsive and more
effective than the Bush administration, but that's not saying much. What says
more is that New Orleans still doesn't have an operational full-service
hospital. And that an adequate flood barrier is still not in place.
"I wish I could just write a check," Obama said. If that was his
message, he should have stayed home. We now know that our government can make
hundreds of billions of dollars available to irresponsible Wall Street
institutions within a matter of days, if necessary. We can open up the
floodgates of credit to too-big-to-fail banks at the stroke of a pen. But when
it comes to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, well, these things take time.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It can be viewed at this link: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread485502/pg1. Scroll down just a little to get to the video itself.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
It's hard to overstate how aberrational -- one might say "rogue" --
the U.S. is when it comes to war. No other country sits around
debating, as a routine and permanent feature of its political discussions,
whether this country or that one should be bombed next, or for how many more
years conquered targets should be occupied. And none use war as a
casual and continuous tool for advancing foreign policy interests, at least
nowhere close to the way we do (the demand that Iran not possess nuclear
weapons is clearly part of an overall, stated strategy of ensuring that other
countries remain incapable of deterring us from attacking them whenever we want
to). Committing to a withdrawal from Iraq appears to be acceptable, but
only as long as have our escalations and new wars lined up to replace
it (and that's to say nothing of the virtually invisible wars we're
fighting). For the U.S., war is the opposite of a "last resort":
it's the more or less permanent state of affairs, and few people who matter want
it to be any different.
The factions that exert the most dominant influence on our
foreign policy have only one principle: a state of permanent warfare is
necessary (the public and private military industry embraces that view because
wars are what bestow them with purpose, power and profits, and the
Foreign Policy Community does so because -- as Gelb says -- it bestows
"political and professional credibility"). In his 1790 Political
Observation, James Madison warned: "Of all the enemies of true
liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded. . . . No nation can preserve
its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." Can anyone doubt that
"continual warfare" is exactly what the U.S. does and, by all appearances,
will continue to do for the foreseeable future (at least until we not only
run out of money to pay for these wars -- as we already have -- but also the
ability to finance these wars with more debt)? That proposition is
indisputable; it's true by definition. Doesn't turning ourselves into a
permanent war-fighting state have some rather serious repercussions that ought
to be weighed when deciding if that's something we really want to keep
What would a group of people like that ever recommend other than continued
and escalated war? It's what they do. You wind them up and they
spout theories to justify war. That's the function of America's Foreign
Policy Community. As one of their leading members -- Leslie Gelb,
President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations -- recently wrote in
re-examining the causes of his enthusiastic support for the attack
"My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies
within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to
support wars to retain political and professional credibility....We must double
our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside,
opinions and facts that blow the common--often wrong--wisdom apart."
It's early in 1965, and President Lyndon B. Johnson faces a critical
decision. Should he escalate in Vietnam? Should he say "yes" to the request from
U.S. commanders for more troops? Or should he change strategy, downsize the
American commitment, even withdraw completely, a decision that would help him
focus on his top domestic priority, "The Great Society" he hopes to build?
We all know what happened. LBJ listened to the generals and foreign
policy experts and escalated, with tragic consequences for the United States and
calamitous results for the Vietnamese people on the receiving end of American
firepower. Drawn deeper and deeper into Vietnam, LBJ would soon lose his way and
eventually his will, refusing to run for reelection in 1968.
President Obama now stands at the edge of a similar precipice. Should he
acquiesce to General Stanley A. McChrystal's call for 40,000 to
60,000 or more U.S. troops for Afghanistan? Or should he pursue a new
strategy, downsizing our commitment, even withdrawing completely, a decision
that would help him focus on national health care, among his other top domestic
The die, I fear, is cast. In his "war of
necessity," Obama has evidently already ruled out even considering a "reduction"
option, no less a withdrawal one, and will likely settle on an "escalate
lite" program involving more troops (though not as many as McChrystal has
urged), more American trainers for the Afghan army, and even a further
escalation of the drone war over the Pakistani borderlands and new special
By failing his first big test as commander-in-chief this way, Obama will
likely ensure himself a one-term presidency, and someday be seen as a man like
LBJ whose biggest dreams broke upon the shoals of an unwinnable war.
I'm for pulling out, but I also agree that, given the political situation in the U.S., that is unlikely. So we'll just stay and spend our treasury and shed our blood (and theirs) and spin our wheels and neglect others much larger issues facing us.
That is what you call a lose-lose situation.
The Nobel committee did President Obama no favors by prematurely awarding
him its peace prize. As he himself acknowledged, he has not done anything yet on
the scale that would normally merit such an award — and it dismays me that the
most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way.
It is not the president’s fault, though, that the Europeans are so relieved
at his style of leadership, in contrast to that of his predecessor, that they
want to do all they can to validate and encourage it. I thought the president
showed great grace in accepting the prize not for himself but “as an affirmation
of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Last night's show dealt with the financial crisis and basically showed the greed and indifference at the highest levels of the banking industry to the plight of the average American. And unfortunately, it gave little hope that anything has really changed from what has been going on for the last 10-20 years that got us into the mess we're in.
Watch it and weep.
The Scandinavians simply got ahead of themselves, out of their simple joy at what the American election had wrought. They should have given the Prize to the American people for having rejected the militarist McCain and electing a young black internationalist. We who voted for Obama were the real recipients of the Prize, I think. It is we who deserved it and so I'll take my, what, $.05 worth of prize money. (I'm just kidding, I think.)
You know, in the long run, maybe Obama should have turned it down. Can he still do that? I think he could. Or perhaps give the medal and the money to Neda's family and the Green Revolution in Iran.
We understand how much Scandinavians and other Europeans welcomed the end
of the Bush administration; in that sense, Mr. Obama's prize confirms that his
ascension to the presidency has improved America's image in the world, or at
least parts of it. But in offering this latest Euro-celebration of the 2008
election, the Norwegian committee has also demonstrated a certain cluelessness
about America. If anything animates Mr. Obama's critics in this country, it is
the impression that he is the focus of a global cult of personality. This prize,
at this time, only feeds that impression, and thus does him no favors
The Nobel Committee's decision is especially puzzling given that
a better alternative was readily apparent. This year, hundreds of thousands of
ordinary people in Iran braved ferocious official violence to demand their right
to vote and to speak freely. Dozens were killed, thousands imprisoned. One of
those killed was a young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan; her shooting by thugs working for the Islamist
theocracy, captured on video, moved the world. A posthumous award for Neda, as
the avatar of a democratic movement in Iran, would have recognized the
sacrifices that movement has made and encouraged its struggle in a dark hour.
Democracy in Iran would not only set a people free, it would also dramatically
improve the chances for world peace, since the regime that murdered her is
pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community.
Friday, October 9, 2009
I see this prize as an endorsement of his extraordinary reorientation of
world politics, and as an encouragement to see it through. In the midst of our
domestic battles, and their ill-temper (from which I have not been immune
lately), this is an attempt to tell us: look up for a moment, see how far we've
come in pivoting away from global conflict, and give this man a break for his
efforts and the massive burden he now bears.
And, in the darkness that still
threatens, know hope.
If any person has done more to advance some measure of calm, reason and
peace in this troubled word lately, it's president Obama. I think the Cairo
speech and the Wright speech alone merited this both bridging ancient rifts even
while they remain, of course, deep and intractable. He has already done more to
heal the open wound between the West and Islam than anyone else on the
I'd just add one caveat: the American people who elected him deserve
part of the credit too. Now he needs partners to help him.
I've had some coffee now. Reading through all the reactions, compiled by
Chris and Patrick, there are two obvious points: this is premature and this is
Both are right. I don't think Americans fully absorbed the depths to
which this country's reputation had sunk under the Cheney era. That's
understandable. And so they also haven't fully absorbed the turn-around in the
world's view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished. Of
course, this has yet to bear real fruit. But you can begin to see how it could;
and I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this
man to persevere.
This president has done a huge amount to bring race relations in this
country to a different place, which is why the far right has become so vicious
in attacking him and lying about him. They know he threatens their politics of
division and rule. He has also directly addressed the Muslim world, telling some
hard truths, and played a small role in evoking a similar movement of hope and
change in Iran, and finally told the Israelis to stop cutting their nose off to
spite their face.
The award is premature," said Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East
Center at Oxford University in England. "He hasn't done anything yet. But he's
made clear from the start of his presidency his commitment to promote peace. No
doubt the Nobel committee hopes the award will enhance his moral authority to
advance the cause of peace while he's still president."
Actually, I regretfully have to agree with those who will say that it is premature to give the prize to Obama for what he has accomplished in achieving peace around the world. He has great ideals, but only time will tell if any of it will be accomplished. I think Michael Gerson may have put his finger on it when he said that this was the Nobel Committee's way of casting their vote for Obama.
Those sly Norwegians!
Apparently, they now give out a Nobel Peace Prize for good intentions.
Unless I have missed something, President Obama has not yet achieved a nuclear
free world -- which was also, by the way, Ronald Reagan's good intention. He has
not yet achieved peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- a prospect the
Israel Foreign Minister recently dismissed as years away. He has not yet tamed
the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which has responded to outreach with deception,
defiance, bloody crackdowns and missile testing. He has not yet pacified
Afghanistan -- preferring, so far, to dither and fidget. He has not yet removed
the nuclear threat of North Korea, the world's wackiest, totalitarian nuclear
power. He has not yet solved the problems of global warming, achieved a free
Tibet, ended the slaughter in Congo, lifted the oppression of Burma or settled
the conflict in Darfur.
At first I thought the announcement of the prize was a joke. On further
reflection, the Noble Committee has made itself a joke. It has decided to give a
ribbon before the race, a trophy for aspiration, a gold star for admirable
sentiments. Which means that the decision it made is entirely, purely, solely
political. Members of the committee like Obama's goals and rhetoric. And since
they aren't American citizens, this is the only way they could vote for him. In
the process, they have forfeited any claim to seriousness. Peace -- the kind of
peace that keeps people from being killed and oppressed -- is an achievement,
not a sentiment. The Noble Peace Prize Committee can no longer distinguish
between the two.