Saturday, May 28, 2011

War Powers of Congress Ignored By Obama

George Will has been one of America's greatest columnists, and despite being 70, he continues to earn his (considerable) keep in Washington. He's a conservative, but he interprets this in a non-partisan fashion, following the evidence wherever it leads. He did not hesitate to criticize George W. Bush, and unlike liberals who are willing to 'overlook' Preident Obama's non-liberal tendencies now that he's President, he will not hesitate to criticize Obama.

Today's column is on Obama's unwillingness to come back to Congress for further reauthorization of his Libyan adventure.

The U.S. intervention in Libya’s civil war, intervention that began with a surplus of confusion about capabilities and a shortage of candor about objectives, is now taking a toll on the rule of law. In a bipartisan cascade of hypocrisies, a liberal president, with the collaborative silence of most congressional conservatives, is traducing the War Powers Resolution.

Enacted in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto, the WPR may or may not be wise. It is, however, unquestionably a law, and Barack Obama certainly is violating it. It stipulates that a president must terminate military action 60 days after initiating it (or 90, if the president “certifies” in writing an “unavoidable military necessity” respecting the safety of U.S. forces), unless Congress approves it. Congress has been supine and silent about this war, which began more than 70 days ago....

Liberals are situational ethicists regarding presidential warmaking: Imagine their comportment if Obama’s predecessor — who got congressional authorization for his uses of force — had behaved as Obama is doing regarding Libya. Most conservatives, who preen about their commitment to keeping government on a short leash, seem anesthetized by the administration’s sophistries.

“No president,” says Sen. John McCain, “has ever recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and neither do I. So I don’t feel bound by any deadline.” Oh? No law is actually a law if presidents and senators do not “recognize” it? Now, there is an interesting alternative to judicial review, and an indicator of how executive aggrandizement and legislative dereliction of duty degrade the rule of law

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Are We In Libya? To Remain The Global Hegemon, Stupid.

Yesterday, I quoted George Will about the folly of our 'humanitarian interventionism' in Libya.  My only disagreement with that would be the word 'humanitarian', because I seriously doubt that our motivations and purposes in Libya are humanitarian.  We don't invade or bomb countries for less than our greater national interest and/or geostrategic goals.  Our intervention (in the form of NATO bombing and covert teams on the ground) is not to the save the lives of the Libyans, but to gain for ourselves something very important (whatever that might be).

For decades now since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bipartisan Washington Establishment consensus, as set forth in a variety of documents and statements, is to remain the 'dominant global hegemon', intervening wherever necessary--with economic, diplomatic, covert, and if necessary military power--around the world to prevent the rise of a competing global power and to preserve our unhindered access to the resources we need to operate, ie. first and foremost, oil. 

We clearly saw this in the 'Project for a New American Century', an organization formed by hawks from both political parties, that advocated for the invasion of Iraq years before the events of 9/11.  We saw this in Zbigniew Brzezinski's important book from 1998, called The Grand Chessboard (which can be read online in PDF form here), where he stipulates the importance of Central Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the 'Stans of the former Soviet Union) and the Caucausus (the countries between Russia and Iran, like Azerbaijan and Georgia) for American global primacy.

[For those who haven't yet grasped it, President Obama is basically a disciple of Brzezinski's, having studied with him at Columbia University in college.]

Here's a sample of the kind of thinking that guides our foreign policy and military deployment, from The Grand Chessboard:
Despite its limited size and small population, Azerbaijan [just west of Afghanistan], with its vast energy resources, is also geopolitically critical. It is the cork in the bottle containing the riches of the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia. The independence of the Central Asian states can be rendered nearly meaningless if Azerbaijan becomes fully subordinated to Moscow's control. Azerbaijan's own and very significant oil resources can also be subjected to Russian control,once Azerbaijan's independence has been nullified. An independent Azerbaijan, linked to Western markets by pipelines that do not pass through Russian-controlled territory, also becomes a major avenue of access from the advanced and energy-consuming economies to the energy rich Central Asian republics. Almost as much as in the case of Ukraine, the future of Azerbaijan and Central Asia is also crucial in defining what Russia might or might not

Potentially, the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an "antihegemonic" coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances. It would be reminiscent in scale and scope of the challenge once posed by the Sino-Soviet bloc, though this time China would likely be the leader and Russia the follower. Averting this contingency, however remote it may be, will require a display of U.S. geostrategic skill on the western, eastern, and southern perimeters of Eurasia simultaneously. [pp. 47, 55 of The Grand Chessboard]
Of course, Azerbaijan did become independent, thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in turn was at least partially caused by our support for the Islamist Mujihadeen [Osama Bin laden et al] in the late 70s and 80s, opening up its oil riches to the West. And that 'grand coalition' of China, Russia, and Iran has been occurring over the last ten years, just as 'Bzig' predicted. And "U.S. geostrategic skill", such as it is, is currently being applied to what we've been doing around 'Eurasia', including our invasion of Iraq and our surge in Afghanistan.  Here's another quote:
Whatever the future, it is reasonable to conclude that American primacy on the Eurasian continent will be buffeted by turbulence and perhaps at least by sporadic violence. America's primacy is potentially vulnerable to new challenges, either from regional
contenders or novel constellations. The currently dominant American global system, within which "the threat of war is off the table," is likely to be stable only in those parts of the world in which American primacy, guided by a long-term geostrategy, rests
on compatible and congenial sociopolitical systems, linked together by American-dominated multilateral frameworks....

The traditional Balkans represented a potential geopolitical prize in the struggle for European supremacy. The Eurasian Balkans [meaning the Caucasus and Central Asia], astride the inevitably emerging transportation network meant to link more directly Eurasia's richest and most industrious western and eastern extremities, are also geopolitically significant. Moreover, they are of importance from the standpoint of security and historical ambitions to at least three of their most immediate and more powerful neighbors, namely, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, with China also signaling an increasing political interest in the region. But the Eurasian Balkans are infinitely more important as a potential economic prize: an enormous concentration of natural
gas and oil reserves is located in the region, in addition to important minerals, including gold....

The world's energy consumption is bound to vastly increase over the next two or three decades. Estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy anticipate that world demand will rise by more than 50 percent between 1993 and 2015, with the most significant increase in consumption occurring in the Far East. The momentum of Asia's economic development is already generating massive pressures for the exploration and exploitation of new sources of energy, and the Central Asian region and the Caspian Sea basin are known to contain reserves of natural gas and oil that dwarf those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico, or the North Sea.  Access to that resource and sharing in its potential wealth represent
objectives that stir national ambitions, motivate corporate interests, rekindle historical claims, revive imperial aspirations, and fuel international rivalries. [pp.59, 124-125]
Question: do you ever hear such language on the evening news or the cable news networks?  No, of course not.  The Washington foreign policy Establishment does not want the average American to worry their silly little heads over such matters of great importance!!  It would be too distracting for us, you see.  They would rather that we think of our military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya as 'humanitarian' in nature, or to promote 'democracy' or simply chasing Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the mountains and valleys of North Wazirastan.  In other words, we the average Americans, who vote for our elected leaders and pay the bills, are kept in the dark by our government and the main-stream media about the real reasons we are involved in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.  (And truth be told, many Americans probably don't want to know!  Ignorance is bliss, you know.)

For all I know, this global geostrategy may be necessary and something we've got to do.  We may have gotten ourselves so 'painted into a corner' with our excessive use of fossil fuels, that we can't stop occupying nations that have it, short of national collapse.  But we'll never get the chance to decide that, because they never tell us.  It's not really open to debate.  "It's a secret", as we used to say as kids.  Our leaders treat us as children, not adults.

Just remember this the next time you're listening to Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Barack Seamus O'Toole Flaherty Joyce O'Bama

A very funny piece from The Telegraph in London.
Ah Bejaysus and Begorrah! Oi’ll be swearin’ boi the auld shrine to the Vorgin with the shamrocks growin’ round it next to the hill where Cuchullain slew the Great Leprechaun of Kildare on St Patrick’s Day that Barack Seamus O’Toole Flaherty Joyce O’Bama is the most Irish US president that ever set foot on the Emerald Oisle, so he is, so he is.

Except, when he’s in Africa, of course, when he disappears into the dry ice and re-emerges with a grass skirt and a bone through his nose and declares himself to be Mandingo, Prince of the Bloodline of the Bonga People, Drinker of Cattle Urine, Father of A Thousand Warrior Sons, Keeper of King Solomon’s Mines, Barehanded Slayer of Lions, Undaunted Victim of the Evil Colonial British Empire.

And in the Middle East, where he is Al-Barak Hussein Obama, Protector of the Holy Shrine, Smiter of the Kuffar, Lion of the Desert, Tent-Loving-Aficionado-of-the-Oversweetened-Coffee, Chomper of Sheeps’ Eyeballs, Restorer of the Caliphate.


Tony Blair used to do this trick too, his accent mutating from broad Glaswegian to genteel Edinburgh to Mummerset to Estuary to Richard E Grant to Sarf London Grime – often in the course of one Downing Street reception – the better to persuade his target audience that he was their kind of guy. And it is, of course, the hallmark of an unutterable charlatan.

I’ve argued before that Tony Blair and Barack Obama have an awful lot in common. Both are lawyers; both are snake-oil-salesman; both claim to be post-partisan, and Third Way and consensual; both play the acceptable, moderate-seeming public face of a regime chock full of Communists, class warriors, single issue rabble rousers, malcontents, communitarians and eco-loons hell bent on destroying every last vestige of what once made their country great. And both do (or did) the things dodgy political leaders always do when the going gets tough at home and their domestic audience finally wises up to how totally useless they are: they hop on the plane and pose as international statesman instead.

The Libyan Intervention

This is one of the better critiques of Obama's intervention in Libya, written by George Will.  It illustrates the non-interventionism of one of the exemplars of paleo-conservatism (or whatever Will is), compared to the lack of hesitation to intervene on the part of liberal 'humanitarian imperialism'.  Liberal 'internationalism' (which, like its conservative counterpart, neo-conservatism, thinks that no part of the globe should be safe from American meddling) can't wait to solve all the world's problems, whatever it takes. 

Actually, it's all a form of being the Grand Global Hegemon, which is a temptation we can't seem to resist.  After all, we have the world's greatest military, why not use it?  Until we fall apart economically, that is, at which point we'll collapse, panting, in a heap, with plenty of blood on our hands.

The Graying of California's Leadership

An interesting comment on the Californian political leadership by George Will:
Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution notes that California’s four most influential Democrats are Brown, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who are 73, 77, 70 and 71, respectively: “No other state’s political ruling class is as gray, a terrific irony for youth-worshipping California.” Dutton and other relatively anonymous Republican legislators can, by being constructively obdurate (“no”), shake the foundations of reactionary liberalism — the regulatory state that seemed so right in the septuagenarians’ formative years, a half-century ago.

Moving Beyond Political Paralysis

The always thoughtful and growing David Brooks has a good column today on the British political culture.  Bottom line--it works, and better than ours.
Britain is also blessed with a functioning political culture. It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school. This makes it gossipy and often incestuous.

But the plusses outweigh the minuses. The big newspapers still set the agenda, not cable TV or talk radio. If the quintessential American pol is standing in his sandbox screaming affirmations to members of his own tribe, the quintessential British pol is standing across a table arguing face to face with his opponents.

British leaders and pundits know their counterparts better. They are less likely to get away with distortions and factual howlers. They are less likely to believe the other party is homogenously evil. They are more likely to learn from a wide range of people. When they do hate, their hatreds are more likely to be personal and less likely to take on the tenor of a holy war.

The British political system gives the majority party much greater power than any party could hope to have in the U.S., but cultural norms make the political debate less moralistic and less absolutist. The British press also do an amazing job of policing corruption. The media go into a frenzy at the merest whiff of malfeasance. Last week, for example, a minister was pummeled for saying clumsy things about rape.

Tuesday, as President Obama visits London, we will get a glimpse of the British political culture. We Americans have no right to feel smug or superior.
I have thought for some time that we have a paralyzed political system here in America . Part of it is our constitutional system of checks and balances. Constructed over two centuries ago for a tiny national government with much more vigorous state governments, we now have the reverse, and it's just not working. Nothing gets done, except to make things worse by pandering to the electorate. No one is held accountable.

We are just such a huge country. England is the size of my state of North Carolina. The governing of such an enormous country cannot be done properly from D.C. We need to return more power to the states (and communities and individuals too) and shrink the federal government.

And we need accountibility for political parties in governing. With split government such as we have it (with the executive in one party's hands, the House of Representatives in another, and the Senate basically in the hands of any one Senator who can gum up the works with holds and threats of filibuster!), very little gets done. (This is not to mention the extent to which rich corporate interests control the politicians and their agenda.)

I'm for giving one party the control of the Congress and Executive branches, and then when they screw up, replace them with the other party. I don't how to achieve that, but right now, I'm so angry with the Democrats, that I'm for giving the Republicans the power and letting them do it. At least, the party in power will have both the power and the responsibility to move things forward.

True federalism and more power to one party at a time (whatever this principle is called).  Therefore I'm intending to vote next year for sensible conservative and libertarian candidates, but no warmongers and global interventionists of either party (I'm talking to you, neo-cons and liberal interventionists!).  As you know, right now that means Jon Huntsman for President.

I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Jon Huntsman Will Win the Republican Nomination

I continue to think that Jon Huntsman, Obama's ambassador to China and former Republican governor of Utah, has the inside track for the Republican nomination.  Obviously, I like that thought and hope it happens, but I also happen to think he's the strongest candidate currently in the race (something the Obama White House also seems to believe, we are told).

Here's a scenario.  The declared and/or prospective field of Republican candidates has been shrinking in the last few weeks, with potentially strong candidates--like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour--refusing to enter the race.  Tim Pawlenty has very little appeal, frankly, and Newt Gingrich is simply a disaster-waiting-to-happen.  Herman Cain is definitely a Southern loudmouth with no depth and no political staying power. 

All this leaves a much bigger opening for Huntsman than one would have expected at this time.  Barring the entry of some other strong candidate, his main competition now is Mitt Romney in the center and Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann on the right.

Mitt Romney has strengths, no doubt, which is why he's currently leading the field, but he also has many liabilities, the primary one being that he is seen as too ambitious and too willing to say whatever has to be said to win.  He also has a certain 'unctiousness' about him (that's a great word) that will ultimately be his undoing.  He is at or near his political high water mark, if you ask me.

As for the Tea Party favorites, Sarah 'Barracuda' Palin and Michele Bachmann, Palin will not enter the race, because, frankly, she really can't stand the political or intellectual heat.  As long as she can shoot off her mouth from Alaska, she's fine.  But it is simply impossible to think of her actually being able to engage the press and the public in an actual national campaign.  As we all remember, in 2008 she was encased in this press-tight VP campaign from which she rarely emerged to talk to the press.  That can't happen when you're running for the top job, so therefore she won't do it.  She likes her money, her fame, her family and Alaska too much, in that order.

Bachmann is another matter.  She is much more capable of enduring the rigors of a campaign, because she can comfortably talk to the press and has the ability to make her case to the public.  Indeed, it is very possible that she could win the Iowa Caucuses next January.  But that would probably be her high water mark, since she has too narrow a following in the Republican party, and her experience in office is quite narrow as well.

I haven't mentioned Ron Paul yet.  He has a strong but narrow following in the Republican Party, so that limits how well he can do.  But I do think that he will find Jon more to his liking than any other plausible candidate, and may even swing his support to Jon somewhere along the line.  I say this because some of Jon's position (civil unions, limited interventionism abroad, gun rights, fiscal conservatism and accountibility, etc.) are actually more libertarian than they are 'liberal'.

Jon Huntsman has very strong domestic (private and public) and foreign policy credentials.  He has an attractive personality with a strong family, and is intelligent and engaging.  He is a thoughtful pragmatist, on the center-right of the political spectrum.  I personally think that having served as a diplomat to China in a Democratic administration will end up being a plus for him, even with a Republican electorate, who (except for the hard right) like to see a bipartisan foreign policy.  Furthermore, I see Jon bringing hope and light and stability to what has been a pretty dark and unstable field of candidates. 

I think that Jon will soon gain the imprimatur of the Bush clan, which will bring him a lot of assets (and I hope he doesn't bargain too much away in the process).  The one big question mark that I see is Fox News and what their take on him will be.  My hope is that they will be 'fair and balanced' and give him a chance, despite his perceived centrism.  My fear is that they will go after him and that this could make things difficult.  Of course, the upside to this is that this could gain him a following in the non-Fox viewing public.

Two more points that I think will be novel to most people and that will help Jon down the road.  First, Jon gave the speech to nominate Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican convention.  I'm sure she hasn't forgotten that.  Plus the fact that they were both governors in the West.  And second, I can see Glenn Beck endorsing Jon, given their common Mormon heritage and Glenn's adulation of Jon's father, Jon Huntman's Sr.  Beck has an independent streak in him, and his support could swing a lot of conservatives to Jon.  Not sure these things will happen, but it's possible.   

So, here's my initial prediction for the 2012 Republican nomination process.  I see Jon coming in second or third in Iowa, with Michele Bachmann coming in first.  Generally, the top two or three winners go on to New Hampshire.

The next test would be the New Hampshire primary, and in 2008, John McCain beat Mitt Romney there, 37% to 31%.  My guess is that that is pretty close to what Jon's margin of victory will be over Mitt.

Next stop is the Nevada caucuses, which Jon should be able to win, given its so close to his Utah base and has that Western sensibility that favors Jon's candidacy.

In South Carolina, the next primary, Jon will run up a victory that will be not a plurality but a possible majority vote.  Why do I think that?  John McCain and Mike Huckabee won 63% of the vote in S.C., to Romney's 15%.  Jon has the McCain people as his advisors (and he may well have McCain's endorsement as well by that time), and many Huckabee supporters like Jon's social conservatism (stemming from his Mormon  faith) and his genteel, positive, almost Southern-like personality.  The current youthful Republican governor Nikki Haley has said good words about Jon as well.

Frankly, I think the race will effectively be over by the end of the South Carolina primary, and the rest of it will be coasting into the finish line at the Republican National Convention in the end of August in Tampa, Florida.  If that were to happen, it would allow Jon to begin positioning himself for the general election very early in the race.

Now, obviously, that is a best-case scenario, and things don't often work out that way.  So all this hinges on no major missteps or revelations.  Let's see what happens.

Benevolent Elite--With Benefits, Of Course

Ross Douthet, conservative columnist for the NYT, writes about Dominique Strauss Kahn in a way that I've not seen before--as the embodiment of the globalizing European elite that is increasingly under attack from the Right and the Left.
What binds all these plots together, with the former I.M.F. chief in a starring role, is the crisis of the European dream — the vision of a continent without borders or divisions, supervised by a benevolent and cosmopolitan elite.

This crisis takes two forms. There’s the challenge to Europe’s economic union, driven by the upside-down balance sheets in the Continent’s weaker economies. And there’s the challenge to its political consensus, driven by an anti-immigration backlash that’s empowered nationalist parties from France to Finland.

Both these problems increasingly divide Europe along north-south lines. (Once again, Strauss-Kahn’s France straddles both worlds.) The debt-ridden countries of the Mediterranean are also the front lines for migration from the largely Muslim Maghreb, and their northern neighbors are trying to contain both the red ink and the refugees. Earlier this month, in a controversial move, the Danish government announced that it was restarting border checks, possibly running afoul of the Schengen agreement, which enables passport-free travel through the E.U.

Both pit the ambitions of the Continent’s leaders against the residual nationalism of ordinary Europeans, who are challenging the elite consensus from the left and right at once. (Many prominent far-right leaders, Le Pen included, strike protectionist and populist notes.)

And both have been exacerbated by that same elite’s arrogance and glaring blind spots — its expansion of the monetary union to include economies that weren’t ready to share a currency with Germany and France, and its blithe, politically correct assumption that mass immigration would enrich the Continent, rather than divide it.

No screenwriter could have invented a better embodiment of this elite than the globe-trotting, presidency-aspiring Strauss-Kahn. (Imagine if Ben Bernanke and Mitt Romney were somehow the same person, and you’ll have a sense of his unique profile.)

Is College Right For Everyone?

Having criticized Diane Rehm in my last post, I want to applaud her for another program she hosted recently on the issue of higher education, entitled "Is College Right For Everyone?" 
President Obama has called on every American to receive at least one year of higher education or vocational training by 2020. For most young people, that means heading to campus in the pursuit of a college degree. But for a small, influential group of educators and economists, pushing the college experience is wrong. A recent report from Harvard backs them up. It found that only one-third of future jobs will need a bachelor’s degree. The report’s researchers said it’s time to offer stronger alternatives.
I have written on this blog for over two years that I think that the notion of 'college for everyone' is a wrong-headed notion. All of my previous posts on this can be found here.  In December, 2008, I wrote the following:
The NYT reports on something I mentioned a week or two ago, that college is going to get increasingly more expensive and out of reach of the average family.

This is such a reversal of what we have experienced for the last 50 years, with more and more people going to college, that it stuns the sensibilities. But I've been feeling it even as our youngest child finishes college this year. Tuition and other college expenses are rising, even as wages are stagnating. Even borrowing for college becomes more and more difficult. I'm glad that I've got all my kids through, but I'm feeling sorry for those who will be coming along in the next decade. Timing is everything.

To my mind, this is merely one expression of the way in which we're actually getting poorer as a nation, something that has been happening as our manufacturing disappears offshore and the rich begin sucking up a larger percentage of the national wealth.

Add to that the fact that we have actually sent more kids to college than should probably be there. That may sound elitist, but there are many young people who would be better off working, going into the military, or doing apprenticeships in industry. In other words, doing something productive.

College is, in my opinion, actually quite non-productive for many people. Consider: how many graduates in sociology and psychology do we need in American society? If I heard this once, I've heard it a dozen times, "I majored in psychology in college, but now I'm working at (fill in the blank)." Really, did learning about B. F. Skinner's rats help anyone do their job better or raise their kids better?

We'd be a better society if our kids learned more in, and actually finished, high school. Most college these days is just glorified high school anyway, with the exception that kids can go and be sheltered from life, have pretty much a free ride, binge drink and party and sleep around and sleep in late while having no parents around to tell them what to do. They go into class to listen to professors drone on about this or that subject while surfing the internet and FaceBook on their laptop computers. Not all kids do this (for example, my own) but far too many do.

Have we as a society substituted general education college for decent, entry-level jobs or appreticeships for our young adults, just to keep them busy and 'out of trouble' for four or five years? It doesn't look to me like we can afford this any more.

One more thing: you don't need to be in college to keeping learning. All you need to do is read books, which is a lot cheaper than sitting in a classroom and listening to some professor give you a condensed version of that same book, just from his perspective. There are books (most of which you can borrow for free from a library) that teach you more in a week than a semester course costing thousands of dollars.

You can also learn a whole lot from just living life and paying attention to what's going on around you.

Jonathan Kay, Neo-Con Flack

You know, it seems that I can sniff out a neo-con zealot even when I'm minding my own business and hardly paying attention.  Yesterday I was listening online to some recent programs of the Diane Rehm Show on NPR as I was assembling my new workbench.  One of them was an interview with a Jonathan Kay, the author of the new book, Among the Truthers, on the issue of conspiracy theories.

He talked about all kinds of conspiracy theories, but it seemed to me that he was focused mostly on the 9/11 'truthers' and also the 'birthers', who dispute Obama's U.S. birth.  He tried to psychologically analyze conspiracy theorists, stating that these folks and their theories arise during traumatic times.  Also, at one point, he stated that since most conspiracy theorists are men, he connected the phenomenon to their mid-life crises, using as an example the 'conversion' of architest Richard Gage to 9/11 Truth movement when he was 50.  (Gage has lost his family and his career as a result of his commitment to advocating for the 9/11 movement).

And of course, Kay blamed the internet for the upsurge in conspiracy theories, because before the internet developed, the main stream media kept such things under control.  He seemed to have a yearning for those controlled days again.

Having listened carefully to Kay's argument, something sounded quite fishy to me.  Here was a man who was adamant about ridiculing 'conspiracy theorists' and making the case that they are either midlife crazies, solitary internet fantasists, or severely traumatized extremists.  In other words, they can be safely ignored, at best, and at worst, should be put away or silenced to protect society from their ravings.   

So who is this man Jonathan Kay?  Well, it turns out that he is the editorial page editor for a right-wing newspaper in Canada, the National Post, owned originally by Conrad Black, Canada's version of Rupert Murdock (of FOX News fame).  This would be the equivalent in the U.S. of the Washington Times or the New York Post, pushing neo-conservative or right-wing perspectives in opposition to the actual 'main stream media' like the Washington Post or the New York Times.  Here's a quote from the Wikipedia article on the National Post:
Black established the Post to provide a voice for Canadian conservatives and to combat what he and many Canadian conservatives considered to be a liberal bias in Canadian newspapers.
Also, Kay is a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a D.C. organization which is described by Wikipedia this way:
It is a neoconservative think tank that claims to conduct "research and education on international terrorism—the most serious security threat to the United States and other free, democratic nations....The foundation's president is Clifford D. May and its executive director is Mark Dubowitz. Its Leadership Council is composed of prominent thinkers and leaders from the defense, intelligence, and policy communities including Paula Dobriansky, Steve Forbes, Bill Kristol, Louis J. Freeh, Joseph Lieberman, Newt Gingrich, Max Kampelman, Robert McFarlane and James Woolsey.
Have you ever seen so many neo-cons and right-wing types gathered in one place?  This is same group of people who successfully pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and are pushing now for the bombardment of Iran.  Surprise, surprise.

So, far from being some kind of psychologist or objective researcher on the topic of conspiracy theories, it turns out that Jonathan Kay is just really primarily a right-wing, neo-con flack.  I just wish Diane Rehm, whose programs I enjoy, had been a little more perspicacious about someone like this.  But unfortunately at times, she comes across to me as rather naive.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Huntsman, The New Youth Candidate

Things to continue to go Jon Huntsman's way.  Mitch Daniels is not going to run for the Republican nomination, paving the way for those more centrist Republicans who don't care for Mitt Romney to move Huntman's way.  Tim Pawlenty remains his old BORING self who, though he's been around for years, can't get above 3 or 4 percent in a Republican poll.  The talking heads on Sunday talk shows, for some strange reason, can't seem to take Huntsman's seriously, but these 'inside-the-beltway' pundits are pathetic in their ability to see what's going on outside their little 'Truman Show' world of Georgetown and D.C.

Barring a major misstep (which is always possible in our media-saturated world--eg. Newt Gingrich), I think Jon Huntsman will be seen within one month as a major Republican candidate, rising in the polls, getting endorsements, and raising money.

I also predict that he will become the 'youth' candidate in the forthcoming election, replacing Barack Obama as the inspirer of the younger generations.  Obama has largely lost that role, given his refusal to be a transforming or even truly reforming President.  (And being known as the 'killer of Osama bin Laden' is not going to restore him to it.)  Huntsman's background includes (if you can believe this) dropping out of high school to play in a rock band, and then getting his degree by GED!  (Of course he went on to finish college at Penn, an Ivy League school.)  He also loves motorcycles and motocross, he cares about the environment, and doesn't come across as a religious fanatic.  These are facts that youth will be attracted to.  Plus he actually speaks Chinese, which is almost mysterious!  And finally, he is able, I sense, to give them some hope for the future.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

EBooks More Functional?

A very smart younger blogger/commentator Ezra Klein struggles with the choice between traditional books and eBooks, as I do (I do not yet own a Kindle or its equivalent), but comes down for eBooks:
Do traditional books have some advantages over eBooks? Sure. But my hunch is a lot of those advantages are not advantages so much as things we’re used to about traditional books and not used to about eBooks. Take this paragraph from Ned Resnikoff’s defense of the book:

Because we’ve come to take printed books for granted, we tend to overlook their enormous flexibility as reading instruments. It’s easy to flip through the pages of a physical book, forward and backward. It’s easy to jump quickly between widely separated sections, marking your place with your thumb or a stray bit of paper or even a hair plucked from your head (yes, I believe I’ve done that). You can write anywhere and in any form on any page of a book, using pen or pencil or highlighter or the tip of a burnt match (ditto). You can dog-ear pages or fold them in half or rip them out. You can keep many different books open simultaneously, dipping in and out of them to gather related information. And when you just want to read, the tranquility of a printed book provides a natural shield against distraction.

Those are facts about books, but advantages? Stray bits of paper fall out of books, and then you’ve lost your place. You can’t access your highlighted passages when you’re at the office and your book is at home. You can’t read your matchstick etchings two months after they were written. A ripped out page gets quickly lost. The natural shield against distraction means that if you do want a quick distraction, you have to put the book down entirely — and then you may not pick it back up.

Moreover, I don’t think we have any clear concept of how good eBooks are going to become. I wasn’t at all impressed with the first generation of eBooks, or eBook readers. When asked to review the first-generation Kindle, I reviewed it poorly and sold my device as soon as I’d finished the article. But now? I have the Kindle application on my home computer, my work computer, my iPad, and my phone. Wherever I am, my books are there, too. My place is always saved. My highlights and notes are automatically uploaded to a central Amazon server that I can access from any internet connection. I get more out of my books now, can read them in more places, can search back through them with more ease, can integrate them into my job with less hassle.

I was resistant to eBooks, but I’ve become a believer. In a matter of a few years, they’ve gone from worse-than-books to, for my purposes, anyway, better-than-books. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like that conclusion. But it’s true.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jon Huntsman--The New and Improved John McCain

This is a great--and very revealing--article in The New Republic on Jon Huntsman, written back when he was still Governor of Utah but was on his way to China as Ambassador.  VERY insightful...a must read.
Jon Huntsman Jr. wants to know if I'm in the mood for Mexican food for lunch. "I know a great place we can go downtown," the Utah governor says as we pile into the back seat of his black, tinted Suburban. (He goes there all the time, three of his aides separately assure me.) We drive south from Capitol Hill, passing the enormous Mormon temple in the center of town. The car finally turns into a Sears parking lot on the other side of the city, across the street from a pornography store that offers to "BUY AND SELL USED ADULT MAGAZINES AND DVDS."

Huntsman, shedding his jacket for a fleece that does little to hide his designer suit, jumps out of the car and runs up to a group of chaps-clad bikers on the side of the lot. "Looks like you got the Fatboy wheels, you got the Fatboy tank, a Dyna Glide engine, and some shotgun pipes on there," the governor says after mounting one. "Wanna hear them?" the owner asks. "Oh, I've heard them before," Huntsman said.

With the bikers left duly impressed, Huntsman makes his way over to the decrepit taco stand in the corner of the parking lot, offering "Hola"s and "Gracias"es to the bewildered patrons. Looking at the buckets full of brown onions and browner tomatoes left out to roast in the sun, I consider promising the governor to write about his "favorite taco stand" if we can actually eat somewhere else--but his aide is already placing an order for us.

We take a seat on the curb and try to eat the over-stuffed tortillas. "The best!" he says, wiping lettuce from his mouth. A middle-aged Hispanic man approaches us with his young son in tow and gestures to his camera phone. "Oh sure, of course, come right over," Huntsman says, plopping his plate on the sidewalk and putting his arm around the boy. The boy looks over at me and whispers in Spanish, "Is he the president?"

That’s what I came to Utah to find out--more precisely, would he be our next president? At the time, it was a reasonable question. A virtual unknown only six months ago, Huntsman had burst onto the national radar based largely on his declaration of support for civil unions in February--a shocking position for the Republican governor of the reddest state in the country. He then started using his new platform to brashly criticize his own party. Politico, which in February dubbed him "the fastest-rising star you have never heard of," by March described him as "an articulate, unapologetic, and unlikely spokesman for a new brand of Republicanism." By May, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was describing Huntsman as "the one person in [the Republican Party] who might be a potential presidential candidate."
Do you know how helpful it would be in both our domestic economic situation and our foreign policy for the President to be able to speak fluent Chinese? Anyway, I thought this paragraph was very insightful about Huntsman in the context of Utah politics.
If Huntsman was planning to run for president, why would he move so brazenly to the left at a time when the GOP seems to be heading rightward? The most obvious reason is that he may actually be a moderate. "I'm not very good at tags," he tells me. "I just try to do my best, and maybe that makes me a pragmatist." He joins a long tradition of moderate Republicans from Utah, despite--or perhaps because of--the fact that the state is the reddest in the country, with the GOP holding every statewide office and more than two-thirds of the state legislature. The GOP lock on Utah politics allows the party to welcome a broader swathe of politicians, and breed leaders who are less combative and ideological than their besieged colleagues in more competitive states. And if Huntsman has learned anything from the failed Mitt Romney campaign, it is that the only thing worse for a Republican than not being a conservative is being a phony conservative.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Godfather

Just ran across this interview of Barack Obama by Katie Couric from September, 2008.
COURIC to Obama: Do you have a favorite scene?

Obama: Love--love those movies. I--you know--so many of them. I think my favorite has to be --you know, the opening scene of the first Godfather where, you know, the opening scene of the first Godfather where the caretaker comes in and, you know, Marlon Brando is sitting there and he's saying "you disrespected me. You know and now you want a favor." You know it sets the tone for the whole movie. Now there--

COURIC: And all hell breaks lose, right?

Obama: Yeah, right. I mean there's this combination of old world gentility and you know, ritual with this savagery underneath. It's all about family. So it's a great movie.

Public Transit in America

Here is a chart showing the ten best and worst cities in the U.S. for public transit, with the additional factor of access to employment.  Very interesting.

A New Generation

Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and (just resigned) Ambassador to China, is beginning his race for the 2012 Republican Nomination, and the media is beginning to pay attention.
Certain Republicans, even youngish ones, mistake conservatism for orthodoxy. They seem out of touch, as if they were selected by a Republican College of Cardinals, like George W. Bush actually was. So former China Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr.’s call for “new thinking” at the University of South Carolina, where he gave the commencement speech, should be heeded. We need “new thinking.” We need new generations. And new ideas always need new packages.

"Our system needs new thinking,” he said. "We need a fresh generation of innovators, leaders, risk takers, entrepreneurs, scientists and activists — that's you!"

In contrast, the orthodoxy finds representation by Dick Cheney, who, like the Officer in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” nostalgic for the torture machine of the old days, said he would reinstate waterboarding if he were president. Cheney is poison to any Republican hopeful.

At no time since 1963, when Jack Kennedy spoke words similar to Huntsman’s about “a new generation” at the Democratic convention in LA, have we so urgently needed new people and new ideas. Huntsman is thankfully free from that paternalistic attitude of the cloistered partisans.
I think one big hurtle is going to be: can Jon Huntsman take the heat from the national media scrutiny? He hasn't really had to deal with that before, in Utah as Governor or in Washington as Ambassador to China. But it's going to come fast and furious now. That will be a real test of whether he's up for this.

Musical Interlude...For All the Graduates

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Social Security: The Difference Between Dignity And Poverty

Andrew Sullivan posts a graph showing how important Social Security is to the income of the elderly: it makes up about 66% of their income.  Jared Bernstein, economic advisor to Vice President Biden notes that "poverty among the elderly goes from 9% with Social Security benefits to 45% without them."

The Cult of Obamabots

Cartoonist Ted Rall on falling out of love with O.
Obama lost me before Inauguration Day, when he announced cabinet appointments that didn’t include a single liberal.

It got worse after that: Obama extended and expanded Bush’s TARP giveaway to the banks; continued Bush’s spying on our phone calls; ignored the foreclosure crisis; refused to investigate, much less prosecute, Bush’s torturers; his healthcare plan was a sellout to Big Pharma; he kept Gitmo open; expanded the war against Afghanistan; dispatched more drone bombers; used weasel words to redefine the troops in Iraq as “non-combat”; extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich; claiming the right to assassinate U.S. citizens; most recently, there was the forced nudity torture of PFC Bradley Manning and expanding oil drilling offshore and on national lands.

I was merciless to Obama. I was cruel in my criticisms of Obama’s sellouts to the right. In my writings and drawings I tried to tell it as it was, or anyway, as I saw it. I thought—still think—that’s my job. I’m a critic, not a suck-up. The Obama Administration doesn’t need journalists or pundits to carry its water. That’s what press secretaries and PR flacks are for.

There’s been a push among political cartoonists to get our work into the big editorial blogs and online magazines that seem poised to displace traditional print political magazines like The Progressive. In the past, editorial rejections had numerous causes: low budgets, lack of space, an editor who simply preferred another creator’s work over yours.

Now there’ s a new cause for refusal: Too tough on the president.

What’s weird is that these cultish attitudes come from editors and publishers whose politics line up neatly with mine. They oppose the bailouts. They want us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. They disapprove of Obama’s new war against Libya. They want Obama to renounce torture and Guantánamo.

Obama is the one they ought to be blackballing. He has been a terrible disappointment to the American left. He has forsaken liberals at every turn. Yet they continue to stand by him. Which means that, in effect, they are not liberals at all. They are militant Democrats. They are Obamabots.

As long as Democrats win elections, they are happy. Nevermind that their policies are the same as, or to the right of, the Republicans.

So I don’t care about Obama. Or the Democrats. I care about America and the world and the people who live in them.

Hey, Obamabots: when the man you support betrays your principles, he has to go—not your principles.

Libya Would Make a Great Military Base

In this article, Asad Ismi provides more background as to the U.S.-Nato attack on Libya.
The Western attack on Libya is motivated mainly by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions taking those countries out of Washington's control. This created the need for a military base from which to contain those revolutions, which Libya is perfect for, since it borders both of these countries. Gaddafi has been ruling Libya as a dictator for 41 years, after overthrowing the U.S. puppet government of King Idris in 1969. Under Idris, Washington was able to set up its biggest military air base in the Middle East in Libya. Gaddafi closed the base and nationalized Libyan oil resources, ensuring that the country's people benefited from the wealth the oil generated. He redistributed this wealth widely, implementing progressive social welfare and employment policies that gave Libya the highest per capita income in Africa. He ended widespread illiteracy, made higher education free, created jobs and housing, and provided food subsidies. Under Gaddafi, Libya became the highest ranked among African countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, which assesses living conditions, life expectancy, and education.

Since 2003, however, these social gains have been eroded as Gaddafi started moving closer to the U.S., Britain, France, and Italy. Before this, Washington considered Gaddafi an enemy and had labelled him a terrorist. Blaming him for the bombing of a disco in Berlin, the U.S. bombed Gaddafi's residence in April 1986, killing Hanna, his adopted baby daughter, and 100 other people, most of them civilians. The U.S. and the U.N. had also imposed economic sanctions on Libya. In exchange for removal of these sanctions and normalized relations with the West, Gaddafi shut down Libya's nuclear weapons program, joined the U.S. "War on Terror," opened up Libya's oil sector to foreign investment, implemented regressive neoliberal reforms, and paid compensation for the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

To further please the West, Gaddafi implemented neoliberal economic reforms, including launching a major privatization program. As one observer explained: "In September 2003, the United Nations lifted all economic sanctions against Libya, in exchange for an economic package which included plans to privatize 360 state enterprises, and in 2006 Libya even requested entry to the World Trade Organization." The neoliberal reforms also included cutting social programs and subsidies for the poor, which have increased poverty and inequality in Libya. Partly due to these regressive reforms, Libya's unemployment rate rose to 20% while the prices of rice, flour, and sugar have soared by 85% since 2008. At the same time, Libya's oil wealth was being given to foreign corporations.

Gaddafi was thus moving away from the progressive aspects of his rule and towards becoming a client of the Western countries. There was one crucial concession, however, that he was not willing to grant the West and that was making Libya a military base for the U.S., as Iraq, Bahrain, and Qatar had become. Since a military base in Libya was considered vital by Washington once the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions succeeded, Gaddafi therefore had to be removed, despite his extensive catering to the West since 2003. As another pro-Western dictator, Saddam Hussein, had earlier discovered, to maintain close relations with the West a local leader must comply with and support important Western objectives. Otherwise such an uncooperative leader can become a target for regime change.

Unlike the largely peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the revolt against Gaddafi started as an armed uprising. Its disorganized participants were a mixture of Islamic fundamentalists, monarchists who supported King Idris centred in the city of Benghazi, tribal groups (Libya has about 140 tribes and clans), disaffected military officers, and neoliberal privatizers (ones even more ardent than Gaddafi himself). A few CIA agents were undoubtedly also involved in the insurrection. The rebels do not offer a progressive alternative to Gaddafi and would probably be even more subservient to Western demands than he has been. They would certainly allow Libya to be turned into a U.S. military base. The rebels' calls for Western military intervention discredits them, as does the almost complete lack of public support from their fellow citizens.

The rebels' links to the CIA and U.S. involvement in the Libyan "uprising" have been noted by several commentators, including mainstream news sources. Discussing a March 30 New York Times article by reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, Professor David Bromwich of Yale University pointed out on The Huffington Post website the next day that "One thing is clear, thanks to Mazzetti and Schmitt [who state that] 'Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the CIA to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels.' "The timing is interesting," Bromwich notes. "The order was signed just about the moment that President Obama was lauding the triumph of non-violence in Egypt… The upshot is this: An event that we Americans were led to believe was an autonomous rising on the model of Egypt turns out to have been deeply compromised from the start, and compromised by American meddling."

DSK Framed?

Paul Craig 'Gone Rogue' Roberts was a Reaganite economist for years, even working as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury on the supply-side economics of the period.  But at some point, he went 'to the dark side' and began to write critical commentary of the economic and foreign policy of the United States.  This accelerated during the Bush Administration, which is when I began to see his work on Counterpunch, the leftist website edited by Alexander Cockburn.

Anyway, I find him fascinating and perceptive, and with a great deal of intellectual integrity.  So I take what he says seriously, though I may not always agree.

Anyway, Roberts thinks that there is a good chance that the current troubles of IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn may not be totally of his own making.
Strauss-Kahn was the first IMF director in my lifetime, if memory serves, who disavowed the traditional IMF policy of imposing on the poor and ordinary people the cost of bailing out Wall Street and the Western banks. Strauss-Kahn said that regulation had to be reimposed on the greed-driven, fraud-prone financial sector, which, unregulated, destroyed the lives of ordinary people. Strauss-Kahn listened to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, one of a handful of economists who has a social conscience.

Perhaps the most dangerous black mark in Strauss-Kahn’s book is that he was far ahead of America’s French puppet, President Sarkozy, in the upcoming French elections. Strauss-Kahn simply had to be eliminated.

It is possible that Strauss-Kahn eliminated himself and saved Washington the trouble. However, as a well-travelled person who has often stayed in New York hotels and in hotels in cities around the world, I have never experienced a maid entering unannounced into my room, much less when I was in the shower.

In the spun story, Strauss-Kahn is portrayed as so deprived of sex that he attempted to rape a hotel maid. Anyone who ever served on the staff of a powerful public figure knows that this is unlikely. On a senator’s staff on which I served, there were two aides whose job was to make certain that no woman, with the exception of his wife, was ever alone with the senator. This was done to protect the senator both from female power groupies, who lust after celebrities and powerful men, and from women sent by a rival on missions to compromise an opponent. A powerful man such as Strauss-Kahn would not have been starved for women, and as a multi-millionaire he could certainly afford to make his own discreet arrangements.

As Henry Kissinger said, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” In politics, sex is handed out as favors and payoffs, and it is used as a honey trap. Some Americans will remember that Senator Packwood’s long career (1969-1995) was destroyed by a female lobbyist, suspected, according to rumors, of sexual conquests of Senators, who charged that Packwood propositioned her in his office. Perhaps what inspired the charge was that Packwood was in the way of her employer’s legislative agenda.

Even those who exercise care can be framed by allegations of an event to which there are no witnesses. On May 16 the British Daily Mail reported that prior to Strauss-Kahn’s fateful departure for New York, the French newspaper, Liberation, published comments he made while discussing his plans to challenge Sarkozy for the presidency of France. Strauss-Kahn said that as he was the clear favorite to beat Sarkozy, he would be subjected to a smear campaign by Sarkozy and his interior minister, Glaude Gueant. Strauss-Kahn predicted that a woman would be offered between 500,000 and 1,000,000 euros (more than $1,000,000) to make up a story that he raped her.
The Daily Mail reports that Strauss-Kahn’s suspicions are supported by the fact that the first person to break the news of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest was an activist in Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party – who apparently knew about the scandal before it happened. Jonathan Pinet, a politics student, tweeted the news just before the New York Police Department made it public, although he said that he simply had a ‘friend’ working at the Sofitel where the attack was said to have happened. The first person to re-tweet Mr Pinet was Arnaud Dassier, a spin doctor who had previously publicised details of multi-millionaire Strauss-Kahn’s luxurious lifestyle in a bid to dent his left wing credentials.


Comedian Jon Stewart and Fox Host Bill O'Reilly have this strange relationship that is quite intriguing, and O'Reilly has Stewart has his show quite regularly.  Here's a four minute excerpt from the latest interview (and I agree with Jon Stewart's comments about President Obama at the 3 minute mark.)

A Fable

With thanks to Daily Kos...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Santorum the Idiot

Former Rick Santorum, speaking on Hugh Hewitt's radio program, on Senator John McCain (Remember him? Vietnamese POW? The man whose arms still won't work right because he was tortured?) and the issue of torture:
HH: Now your former colleague, John McCain, said look, there’s no record, there’s no evidence here that these methods actually led to the capture or the killing of bin Laden. Do you disagree with that? Or do you think he’s got an argument?

RS: I don’t, everything I’ve read shows that we would not have gotten this information as to who this man was if it had not been gotten information from people who were subject to enhanced interrogation. And so this idea that we didn’t ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, he doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative. And that’s when we got this information. And one thing led to another, and led to another, and that’s how we ended up with bin Laden.
What an idiot.

Hedges on the Middle East, Al Qaeda, and Violence

Chris Hedges is one of our most trenchant and knowledgeable social critics.  A Pulitzer Prize New York Times correspondent for twenty years, he is now spending his time writing books and speaking truth to power.  This is a recent 15 minute interview with Laura Flanders.

No Airplane Parts, No Bodies, No Nothing.

I want add this short video to my 9/11 collection.  All on-the-scene reports on September 11, 2001.

One Nauseating Candidate

Newt Gingrich is such a nauseating candidate for the Presidency, with demagoguery and hypocrisy seeping out of his very pores.  WaPo columnist Richard Cohen agrees:
He deals in boogeymen — menacing abstractions such as “left-wing radicals,” the “secular socialist machine” and “gay and secular fascism,” all of which (or some of which) represent “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” The purplish mixing of homosexuality and fascism is both breathtakingly wrong and breathtakingly tasteless. No one was more anti-gay than the Nazis. They killed ’em.

This core dishonesty is what separates Gingrich from the rest of the Republican presidential candidates, committed or not-quite-yet. Some of the others say things that are untrue — Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” for instance — but these untruths spill out of the mouths of ditzes. Not so with Gingrich. He is a former history professor with a doctorate, someone who knows his way around the stacks. He talks in neon, using gaudy words such as “socialism” not because they’re true but because they’re ear-catching. He employs the ugly language of demagoguery not because he is oblivious to its history but on account of it. He mimics. He was, however, brilliantly original in explaining to the Christian Broadcasting Network why he had committed adultery. It had to do with “how passionately I felt about this country” — a genuine contribution to the annals of sexual fibbery....

There is more than a little Richard Nixon in Gingrich — the same lack of place, the same keen intellect, the same petty fights and imaginary enemies, the same hallucinatory grievances, the same willingness to lie, exaggerate and smear. On a given day, Newt Gingrich could be a brilliant president. On any night, he could be a monster.

The Republican Dark Horse: Jon Huntsman

Let me post here what I first wrote on Facebook on May 4th, concerning the Republican dark horse candidate who is getting ready to jump out of the gate: Jon Huntsman.
Wow! I've just seen the future...and it's Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is retiring as Ambassador to China, has been effective governor of Utah and is going to run for President as a Republican. He is very impressive, as you can easily see from this video clip of an interview he had with Charlie Rose.

And here is his Wikipedia article.

Huntsman is Mitt Romney without Romney's negatives.  I think he's going to shock the Republican field as soon as he jumps into the race (assuming he does).

Domestic Surveillance and Spying

I just finished reading the article on domestic spying by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, that I just mentioned in the last post.  It is a must read article, at least the first half.  The changes that occurred in our government after 9/11, and the futility experienced by many dedicated government staffers, who opposed the changes but finally just retired/resigned in frustration, will curl your hair.

But what is most frightening and depressing is that the changes toward domestic spying on a massive scale are being institutionalized by the Obama administration, and its opponents prosecuted.  All the changes toward accountibility and limitation on abuse of government power put in place in the 1970s are now gone, and, in fact, they are far worse. 

Cracking Down on Whistleblowers

In Salon, Glenn Greenwald writes about a very disturbing trend in the Obama administration:
In a just released, lengthy New Yorker article, Jane Mayer -- with the diligence and thoroughness she used to expose the Bush torture regime -- examines a topic I've written about many times here: the Obama administration's unprecedented war on whistleblowers generally, and its persecution of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake in particular (Drake exposed massive waste, excess and perhaps illegality in numerous NSA programs). Mayer's article is what I'd describe as the must-read magazine article of the month, and I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety, but I just want to highlight a few passages. First, we have this:
When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as "often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government." But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks -- more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book "Necessary Secrets" (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, "Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history -- even more so than Nixon."
When it comes to civil liberties and transparency -- cornerstones of the Obama campaign -- those two paragraphs are a perfect microcosm of what has taken place. And Mayer did not even include this quote about whistleblowers from candidate Obama: "Such acts of courage and patriotism . . . should be encouraged rather than stifled." Apparently, by "encouraged," he meant: "snuffed out with relentless prosecution and intimidation."

But for the real microcosm of the Obama legacy in these areas, Mayer offers this:
Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. "We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state," he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has "systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration."
If someone asked me to point to a single paragraph that best conveys the prime, enduring impact of the Obama presidency, I'd point to that one.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Anguish of the Deceived

I am always surprised (I don't know why) when I read accounts of others who have had the same reaction to Barack Obama that I have.  The latest is an article by journalist Chris Hedges about well-known Princeton Professor Cornel West who is, well, deeply disappointed by his black brother Barack.
No one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama, believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed. He bitterly describes Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”

I have to take some responsibility,” he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. “I could have been reading into it more than was there.

“I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator and working with [Sen. Joe] Lieberman as his mentor,” he says. “But it became very clear when I looked at the neoliberal economic team. The first announcement of Summers and Geithner I went ballistic. I said, ‘Oh, my God, I have really been misled at a very deep level.’ And the same is true for Dennis Ross and the other neo-imperial elites. I said, ‘I have been thoroughly misled, all this populist language is just a facade. I was under the impression that he might bring in the voices of brother Joseph Stiglitz and brother Paul Krugman. I figured, OK, given the structure of constraints of the capitalist democratic procedure that’s probably the best he could do. But at least he would have some voices concerned about working people, dealing with issues of jobs and downsizing and banks, some semblance of democratic accountability for Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who are just running amuck. I was completely wrong.”

West says the betrayal occurred on two levels.

“There is the personal level,” he says. “I used to call my dear brother [Obama] every two weeks. I said a prayer on the phone for him, especially before a debate. And I never got a call back. And when I ran into him in the state Capitol in South Carolina when I was down there campaigning for him he was very kind. The first thing he told me was, ‘Brother West, I feel so bad. I haven’t called you back. You been calling me so much. You been giving me so much love, so much support and what have you.’ And I said, ‘I know you’re busy.’ But then a month and half later I would run into other people on the campaign and he’s calling them all the time. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. He doesn’t have time, even two seconds, to say thank you or I’m glad you’re pulling for me and praying for me, but he’s calling these other people. I said, this is very interesting. And then as it turns out with the inauguration I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.’ Beginning in Iowa to Ohio. We had to watch the thing in the hotel.

“What it said to me on a personal level,” he goes on, “was that brother Barack Obama had no sense of gratitude, no sense of loyalty, no sense of even courtesy, [no] sense of decency, just to say thank you. Is this the kind of manipulative, Machiavellian orientation we ought to get used to? That was on a personal level.”

But there was also the betrayal on the political and ideological level.

“It became very clear to me as the announcements were being made,” he says, “that this was going to be a newcomer, in many ways like Bill Clinton, who wanted to reassure the Establishment by bringing in persons they felt comfortable with and that we were really going to get someone who was using intermittent progressive populist language in order to justify a centrist, neoliberalist policy that we see in the opportunism of Bill Clinton. It was very much going to be a kind of black face of the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council].”

Obama and West’s last personal contact took place a year ago at a gathering of the Urban League when, he says, Obama “cussed me out.” Obama, after his address, which promoted his administration’s championing of charter schools, approached West, who was seated in the front row.

“He makes a bee line to me right after the talk, in front of everybody,” West says. “He just lets me have it. He says, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself, saying I’m not a progressive. Is that the best you can do? Who do you think you are?’ I smiled. I shook his hand. And a sister hollered in the back, ‘You can’t talk to professor West. That’s Dr. Cornel West. Who do you think you are?’ You can go to jail talking to the president like that. You got to watch yourself. I wanted to slap him on the side of his head.
I didn't have the personal contact that Professor West did, but I too went ballistic when Obama appointed Summers and Geithner soon after this inauguration.  (Well, not exactly ballistic, but I did have that sick feeling in my stomach.)  That was the beginning of my disenchantment.

Ps.  Andrew Sullian responds to Cornel West this way: 
The classic West bullshit: "my dear brother". I am sorry to say I put West in the same category as Gingrich as intellectuals whose reputation as such I could never find any serious evidence for. And I have really tried hard to understand West, charming and eccentric as he is.
LOL, because that's funny!

The Larger Picture in South and Central Asia

Most of the time we peons outside Washington have no idea what the larger, strategic goals of American foreign and military policy are.  The government and the media play us like a piano, feeding us superficial analyses and giving us scapegoats to hate, while all the while the larger picture goes unseen.

All that to say, if you want to see the larger picture (or at least one version of it) of what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, check out this article in the Asia Times:

Here's a few sample paragraphs:
Grand visions take time to realize but they seldom die. They may languish but they regenerate and take new unexpected forms. The ''Great Central Asia'' strategy envisioned by the George W Bush administration is most certainly one such grand vision.

The complex intellectual construct involved many strokes: The US would expand its influence into Central Asia by rolling back Russia's traditional and China's growing influence there. Washington would encourage New Delhi to work as a partner in Afghanistan and Central Asia, and lay a new Silk Route via South Asia to evacuate the fabulous mineral wealth of the land-locked region, consolidate its presence in Afghanistan on a long-term footing, and establish itself along Xinjiang and Russia's ''soft underbelly''. In so doing, it would create the conditions needed to win the ''new great game'' in Central Asia.

The strategy was unveiled in an article in the summer 2005 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine by Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the John Hopkins University. Starr proposed a matrix for a "Great Central Asia cooperative partnership for development" with the US taking the lead, the five Central Asian states and Afghanistan entering as the main members, and India and Pakistan participating.

Starr wrote, ''The main idea of the proposal is to take the US control of the situation in Afghanistan as an opportunity, promote optional and flexible cooperation in security, democracy, economy, transport and energy, and, make up a new region by combining Central Asia with South Asia. The United States is to shoulder the role of a midwife to promote the rebirth of the entire region."
If this is true, needless to say, we're really not in Afghanistan just to destroyed Al Qaeda or the Taliban. They're more the alibi than the reason.  Our real goals are much, much greater.

The Weirdness of Osama Bin Laden

The execution of Osama Bin Laden is the latest 'triumph' of our warring madness. In one sense, he's just one more corpse in a vast pile of them in that miserable part of the world.  But in another sense, of course, his death is the symbolic decapitation of a serpentine extremist movement, and so it is hard to be sad about it (although that contradicts the plain teachings of Jesus--who was clearly out of touch with reality, I guess).

But there are so many weird things about Bin Laden. He was, of course, our CIA covert asset for many years (this is probably news to most Americans, given their vast and increasing historical incomprehension). We, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis recruited, trained, and equipped Bin Laden and thousands of his Islamist pals--we called them 'Muhajideen' and 'freedom fighters' then--for our own 'jihad' against the Soviet Union in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  First in Afghanistan in the 1980s, then in Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union (Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, etc.) and of the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia) in the 1990s. (This is all fully documented.)  In all of these areas, these Islamist 'Arab Afghans' served our American national interest (destroying the Soviets while also increasing our military presence in the vital petroleum regions of the Middle East and Central Asia).  Weird, eh?

Then, like magic, just when we needed a 'new Pearl Harbor' (courtesy of the neo-con 'Project for a New American Century') to launch our war on Iraq (and possibly Iran, Libya, Syria, etc.), guess who shows up?  That's right, our Islamist freedom fighter and ally Osama Bin Laden.   What an amazing coincidence!!  Very convenient for us that this faithful ally of ours, who had done so much for us over 20 years, now turns against us just when we need a pretext for our wars.

And like some comic book superhero, Bin Laden and his cadre of terrorists sliced through our incomparable national defenses like a knife through soft butter.  Our NORAD/Pentagon/CIA/FBI/NSA/DIA/etc. forces were simply helpless before his stealthy and uncanny maneuvers and tactics, using such high tech weapons as box cutters!  And then, whoosh, he just as quickly disappeared, and we, with our vast, trillion dollar per year global intelligence network, were unable to locate him for 10 years, until a few months ago!  Living with his large family in a huge walled compound in the West Point of Pakistan.  We are just a pretty weak and helpless nation, don't you think, when it comes to this Darth Vader of Villains, Osama Bin Laden? 

The attack on 9/11 put we Americans in a very, what shall I say, aggressive state of mind?  We were ready to rumble!  If President Bush had said Canada was the culprit, well, don't you think that Toronto would today be the capital of our 51st State called Ontario?  But instead, we turned first on Afghanistan and quickly thereafter on Iraq (which of course had nothing to do with Bin Laden or 9/11, but, on the other hand, had the second largest untapped pool of oil in the world...which of course we weren't interested in).
So, now, the great Islamist leader Osama Bin Laden (aka 'Geronimo') is dead, executed (in his bedroom and unarmed) on the order of President Obama. One would have thought that we might want to interrogate this man, and put him on trial for his many crimes, perhaps even waterboard him, since we all know that is so effective in getting good intelligence. But instead, we killed him--no questions asked--and then took his body and dumped it in the ocean, like some kind of Chicago mob hit (as many have noted). With a proper Muslim burial, of course!  What a dumb thing to do, if we were really interested in getting to the bottom of Al Qaeda.  I guess maybe we weren't?

As I said, all this is very weird. In our national celebration over his death, few are asking any questions.  We just accept what our leaders say as the Truth because, of course, they know best. 

But that won't last.

The Decline and Fall of Obama

I am increasingly unhappy with President Obama, who received my vote in 2008.  And that is probably an understatement, since I haven't been pleased with his actions since he began appointing his Cabinet and staff in Nov/Dec of 2008, before he was even sworn into office.  Anyone who has been reading this blog since then knows what I'm talking about.

Who's not to like?  Let me list the names (sorry if I mispell the names but I'm not looking each one up!).  For starters, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Peter Orzag, Laura Tyson, Ben Bernanke, and Rahm Emmanuel.  Obama's economic team was a swat team from Wall Street, if you ask me, ready to shoot down any real economic reforms measure.  This administration has been every bit as subservient to Big Finance as any Republicans ever were.  Instead of reform, we got the status quo of the last 30 years.  Which means that we're going to continue the patterns of the last 30 years, and that means further (and worse) economic disaster down the road.

And then we had the ramping up of the Afghanistan War, in all its inglorious ugliness.  Make no mistake, this is Obama's war.  He could have scaled down and gone counterterrorism, but instead he put the pedal to the metal and went counterinsurgency and nation-building.  And so we've invested untold billions of increasingly worthless American dollars, destroyed thousands of lives, families, and communities  on all sides, and FOR WHAT?!  To prove that our Democratic President is not a wimp?  To kill a few hundred Al Qaeda?  To try and determine the destiny of the Afghani people by 'defeating' the Taliban?  To keep our military-industrial complex in business?  For God's sake, what is worth all this treasure? 

And now we (along with our European partners) are invading Libya.  To protect the Libyan people?  Please, don't make me laugh!  These governments couldn't care less about the Libyan people.  Really, I mean that.  What they obviously care about is that nice pool of oil there in Libya, plus Ghaddafi's unwillingness to play along with the Anglo-American big boys and the threat he poses to the petro and dollar system as a result.

I think there is a real chance that Obama will be defeated in 2012, given that the economy is going nowhere fast.  Furthermore, many people who thought who was a true reformer have now been thoroughly disillusioned (like me), and they're either going to not participate, or they will look for another candidate to support.  That doesn't mean that things are going to go any better, of course.  Our path toward national (and maybe global) decline is pretty well set and will be hard to change.  There's going to be a lot of thrashing about in the coming years by the mortally wounded American shark, and it ain't going to be pretty.