Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

You Just Can’t Trust the Hawks

September 29, 2009

Glenn Greenwald:

What people like David Brooks were saying back then was so severe — so severely wrong, pompous, blind, warmongering and, as it turns out, destructive — that no matter how many times one reviews the record of the leading opinion-makers of that era, one will never be inured to how poisonous they are.

All of this would be a fascinating study for historians if the people responsible were figures of the past.  But they’re not.  They’re the opposite.  The same people shaping our debates now are the same ones who did all of that, and they haven’t changed at all.  They’re doing the same things now that they did then.  When you go read what they said back then, that’s what makes it so remarkable and noteworthy.  David Brooks got promoted within our establishment commentariat to The New York Times after (one might say:  because of) the ignorant bile and amoral idiocy he continuously spewed while at The Weekly Standard.  According to National Journal’s recently convened “panel of Congressional and Political Insiders,” Brooks is now the commentator who “who most help[s] to shape their own opinion or worldview” — second only to Tom “Suck On This” Friedman.  Charles Krauthammer came in third.  Ponder that for a minute.

Just read some of what Brooks wrote about Iraq.  It’s absolutely astounding that someone with this record doesn’t refrain from prancing around as a war expert for the rest of their lives.  In fact, in a society where honor and integrity were valued just a minimal amount, a record like this would likely cause any decent and honorable person, wallowing in shame, to seriously contemplate throwing themselves off a bridge:

David Brooks, Weekly Standard, February 6, 2003:

I MADE THE MISTAKE of watching French news the night of Colin Powell’s presentation before the Security Council. . . . Then they brought on a single “expert” to analyze Powell’s presentation. This fellow, who looked to be about 25 and quite pleased with himself, was completely dismissive. The Powell presentation was a mere TV show, he sniffed. It’s impossible to trust any of the intelligence data Powell presented because the CIA is notorious for lying and manipulation. The presenter showed a photograph of a weapons plant, and then the same site after it had been sanitized and the soil scraped. The expert was unimpressed: The Americans could simply have lied about the dates when the pictures were taken. Maybe the clean site is actually the earlier picture, he said. That was depressing enough. Then there were a series of interviews with French politicians of the left and right. They were worse. At least the TV expert had acknowledged that Powell did present some evidence, even if he thought it was fabricated. The politicians responded to Powell’s address as if it had never taken place. They simply ignored what Powell said and repeated that there is no evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and that, in any case, the inspection system is effective. This was not a response. It was simple obliviousness, a powerful unwillingness to confront the question honestly. This made the politicians seem impervious to argument, reason, evidence, or anything else. Maybe in the bowels of the French elite there are people rethinking their nation’s position, but there was no hint of it on the evening news. Which made me think that maybe we are being ethnocentric. As good, naive Americans, we think that if only we can show the world the seriousness of the threat Saddam poses, then they will embrace our response. In our good, innocent way, we assume that in persuading our allies we are confronted with a problem of understanding. But suppose we are confronted with a problem of courage? Perhaps the French and the Germans are simply not brave enough to confront Saddam. . . . Or suppose we are confronted with a problem of character? Perhaps the French and the Germans understand the risk Saddam poses to the world order. Perhaps they know that they are in danger as much as anybody. They simply would rather see American men and women–rather than French and German men and women–dying to preserve their safety. . . . Far better, from this cynical perspective, to signal that you will not take on the terrorists–so as to earn their good will amidst the uncertain times ahead.


War. War never changes.

September 24, 2009

How far we’ve come from a nation that thought two oceans could separate us from Europe’s constant internecine warfare. 

Glenn Greenwald:

That’s why I keep quoting the 1790 warning of James Madison about what happens — inevitably — to a country when it chooses to be a permanent war-fighting state devoted to maintaining imperial power:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied : and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Shouldn’t we think about what that means?  All of these subsidiary, discrete battles are shaped by this larger truth.  We’re a country that has been continuously at war for decades, insists it is currently at war now, and vows that it will wage war for years if not decades to come (Obama:  we’ll be waging this war “a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — ten years from now”).  Exactly as Madison said (and as Wills this week emphasized), as long as we’re choosing to be that kind of a nation, then the crux of the Bush/Cheney approach will remain in place.  We can sand-paper away some of the harshest edges (“we’re no longer going to drown people in order to extract confession”); prettify some of what we’re doing (“we’re going to detain people with no charges based on implied statutory power rather than theories of inherent power”); and avoid making things worse (“we won’t seek a new preventive detention law because we don’t need one”).  But no matter who we elect, the pervasive secrecy, essentially authoritarian character of the Executive, and rapid erosion of core liberties will continue as long as we remain committed to what Wills calls “the empire created by the National Security State.”

Why he threw the shoe

September 23, 2009

From the always-entertaining Guardian:

When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diaspora.

If I have wronged journalism without intention, because of the professional embarrassment I caused the establishment, I apologise. All that I meant to do was express with a living conscience the feelings of a citizen who sees his homeland desecrated every day. The professionalism mourned by some under the auspices of the occupation should not have a voice louder than the voice of patriotism. And if patriotism needs to speak out, then professionalism should be allied with it.

I didn’t do this so my name would enter history or for material gains. All I wanted was to defend my country.

Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic

September 22, 2009

A personal letter to George W Bush:

Dear President Bush,

We have never met, and so I hope you will forgive the personal nature of this letter. I guess I should start by saying I supported your presidential campaign in 2000, as I did your father’s in 1988, and lauded your first efforts to wage war against jihadist terrorism in the wake of 9/11. Some of my praise of your leadership at the time actually makes me blush in retrospect, but your September 20, 2001, address to Congress really was one of the finest in modern times; your immediate grasp of the import of 9/11—a declaration of war—was correct; and your core judgment—that religious fanaticism allied with weapons of mass destruction represents a unique and new threat to the West—was and is dead-on. I remain proud of my support for you in all this. No one should forget the pure evil of September 11; no one should doubt the continued determination of an enemy prepared to slaughter thousands in cold blood in pursuit of heaven on Earth.

Of course, like most advocates of the Iraq War, I grew dismayed at what I saw as the mistakes that followed: the failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora; the intelligence fiasco of Saddam’s nonexistent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; the failure to prepare for an insurgency in Iraq; the reckless disbandment of the Iraqi army; the painful slowness in adapting to drastically worsening conditions there in 2004–06; the negligence toward Afghanistan.

These were all serious errors; but they were of a kind often made in the chaos of war. And even your toughest critics concede that, eventually, you adjusted tactics and strategy. You took your time, but you evaded catastrophe in temporarily stabilizing Iraq. I also agree with the guiding principle of the war you proclaimed from the start: that expanding democracy and human rights is indispensable in the long-term fight against jihadism. And I believe, as you do, that a foreign policy that does not understand the universal yearning for individual freedom and dignity is not a recognizably American foreign policy.

Yet it is precisely because of that belief that I lost faith in your war. In long wars of ideas, moral integrity is essential to winning, and framing the moral contrast between the West and its enemies as starkly as possible is indispensable to victory, as it was in the Second World War and the Cold War. But because of the way you chose to treat prisoners in American custody in wartime—a policy that degraded human beings with techniques typically deployed by brutal dictatorships—we lost this moral distinction early, and we have yet to regain it. That truth hangs over your legacy as a stain that has yet to be removed. As more facts emerge, the stain could darken further. You would like us to move on. So would the current president. But we cannot unless we find a way to address that stain, to confront and remove it.

Ken Silverstein on the ACORN fiasco

September 18, 2009

Ken Silverstein is a phenomenal journalist.  Read everything he writes.  This is one of his latest on the recent mess.

I’ve always admired the work of ACORN and thought right-wing attacks on the group bordered on the hysterical, but that was a terrific undercover sting mounted by the two young conservatives. Sorry, but it’s a serious matter when at least three different ACORN offices, in Washington, Baltimore, and New York, offer to help a 25-year-old “pimp” wearing a derby hat and chinchilla shoulder throw and his “prostitute” lie about their business in order to buy a home. And even more so when the preposterously dressed duo suggested that they’d be bringing in underage girls from Central America to work at their brothel.

ACORN has said that its offices in four cities declined to take the bait. Terrific, that means that only three out of seven ACORN offices were willing to commit fraud to help people set up a brothel.

Liberals have been attacking the videos by saying that the two videomakers, James O’Keefe III and Hannah Giles, are right-wing advocates. Who cares? O’Keefe and Giles got some important things wrong, like the amount of federal money received by ACORN, but there’s no denying the central claims and power of their work. Nor does it matter that the case is now being picked up and exploited by Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, which in no way undermines the journalists’ work.

Great essay on lobbying influence in Washington

September 18, 2009

By Michael Winship, on the Bill Moyers Journal. Ultimately unsurprising, but the detail is still very interesting.

If you ever needed proof that Washington is governed by the Golden Rule – the one that says, he who has the gold, rules – you only have to look at the wagonloads of cash being dumped by big business into crushing President Obama’s domestic agenda.

Good gosh, how the money rolls in. And I’m not only talking about the millions bankrolling the gang war over health care reform. A couple of weeks ago, THE WASHINGTON POST reported that the energy lobby is barnstorming around the country holding rallies and concerts, giving away free lunches and tee-shirts, spreading the wealth like a drunken oil tycoon – all to defeat the cap-and-trade climate bill that squeaked through the House and now awaits a vote by the Senate.

The paper noted that in the first half of the year oil and natural gas groups spent $82.1 million lobbying Capitol Hill – but that environmental, health and clean-energy interests scraped together less than a quarter of that amount, $18.7 million. Money talks, and it’s murmuring in your ear, “Global warming, what global warming?”

I’m a fan of Jeremy Scahill

September 17, 2009

You can follow his blog Rebel Reports here.

You can find a scintilating, angry discussion with Bill Moyers here.

From the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Some people have suggested that the increasing reliance on military contractors in Afghanistan underscores the fact that the military is actually stretched very thin. General McChrystal said, this week, he admitted that he doesn’t even know if we have enough troops there to deal with the situation as it is now. Does that surprise you?

JEREMY SCAHILL:No. It doesn’t surprise me. Because this is increasingly turning into a war of occupation. That’s why General McChrystal is making that statement. If this was about fighting terrorism, it would be viewed as a law enforcement operation where you are going to hunt down criminals responsible for these actions and bring them in front of a court of law. This is turning into a war of occupation. If I might add about General McChrystal, what message does it send to the Afghan people when President Obama chooses a man who is alleged to have been one of the key figures running secret detention facilities in Iraq, and working on these extra judicial killing squads. Hunting down, quote unquote, insurgents, and killing them on behalf of the U.S. military. This is a man who’s also alleged to have been at the center of the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death, who was killed by U.S. Army Rangers.

BILL MOYERS: But he apologized for that this week be before Congress.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, it’s easy to apologize when your new job is on the line. It’s a different thing to take responsibility for it when you realize that the mistake was made, or that you were involved with what the family of Pat Tillman says was a cover-up.

The 1st Amendment is about to be redefined…

September 17, 2009

From the Atlantic:

Oral arguments at the United States Supreme Court today could mark the end of more than 30 years of struggle for a tranche of conservative and libertarian intellectuals — and for corporations that have had to find inglorious and meandering ways to influence the political system. Also at stake is how the court interprets the First Amendment. The stakes are that big.

Four weeks before the traditional First Monday in October start to its term, the court is taking the unusual step of convening to hear a case that does not involve life or death — Citizens United v. FEC. Why the rush? Its ruling might very well require Congress to rewrite campaign finance laws in the middle of an election year, and the court is trying to be generous. The Supremes heard this case in March, but then it decided that the narrow range of issues at stake didn’t do justice to the case. Like an edited version of a blog post, the court sent the case back to the litigants with the instruction to consider much broader principles than whether a certain action violated campaign finance laws.

Campaign finance regulations, he writes, are thought restrictions because political contributions are a form of political expression.

Robert Reich on Health Care Reform

September 16, 2009

An opinion piece on Salon about the political prospects of Health Care Reform:

The real political race for healthcare has just begun. The significance of the president’s speech to Washington insiders was its signal about where the White House is placing its bets and its support. More on this in a moment. First, let’s be clear about who’s racing and why. Think of the speech as the starting gate of a two-month sprint between two competitors — and they’re not Democrats and Republicans.

On one side are America’s biggest private insurers and Big Pharma. They’re drooling over the prospect of tens of millions more Americans buying insurance and drugs because the pending legislation will require them to, or require employers to cover them. The pending expansion of Medicaid will also be a bonanza. Amerigroup Corp., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and other companies that administer Medicaid are looking at 10 million more customers. Healthcare Inc.’s Medicaid enrollment is expected to jump by 43 percent, according to its CEO. WellPoint Inc., the largest U.S. insurer, is also looking at big gains.

Bryan Lambert is my hero.

September 16, 2009 brightens my day.

“OBAMA’S Civilian National Security Force is HIS way of FORCING US TO PAY FOR HIS PRIVATE ARMY!!” – If there is an emblematic image of 9/12 that will be burned into our retinas forever, it will be this, the single greatest teabagger sign in the history of teabagger signage.

This has it all. Paranoia? Check. Random Internet conspiracy theory? Words two through five inclusive. The inescapable semantic conclusion that the sign-holder would be fine if Obama had a private army as long as he wasn’t paying for it? Oh yes. But the best part is the sweet, sweet hypocrisy. Because between 2001 and 2008, the Bush administration had a method for getting people like Jimmy Signholder to pay for his private army. It’s called deficit spending (which teabaggers hate) on no-bid contracts to Blackwater.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe around the same time it reset its “X Days Since Our Last Civilian Massacre” sign, is a goddamned private army. That’s its mission statement. And this guy paid for it for seven fucking years, and never made a sign or marched on Washington or got off his ass for any reason beyond wiping it with Osama Bin Laden toilet paper. But that’s because Blackwater was real. This Civilian National Security force is much more dangerous because, being completely fictional, it’s capable of ANYTHING. And I’m sure there are all kinds of atrocities Blackwater never committed that this guy thinks Obama’s private army is capable of. I mean, I can’t think of anything worse, but I clearly lack the imagination necessary to carry out the horrors of 9/12.