Posts Tagged ‘Obama’
Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.
Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.
First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.
The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from. As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.
But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.
The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.
This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.
It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr. Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.
Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.
The New York Times has a rather fluffy article in today’s issue about how Abdullah Abdullah, the gentlemen from whom Hamid Karzai stole last year’s election in Afghanistan, was given a “cold shoulder” from the White House. The United States, it seems, did not want to give an impression of “doubt” that Mr. Karzai, whose brother is Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin, is serious about “combating drugs and corruption”. A more clear and direct vote of confidence for our faithful client in Afghanistan, one can hardly envision.
The article stands as a tract to justify Karzai’s illegitimate rule in Afghanistan, but it does more than that. The most interesting quote comes halfway through the piece:
“There is no point in rolling out the red carpet for a guy who is wanting recognition for being himself,” said a senior European diplomat who is involved in Afghanistan. “The world doesn’t work that way. Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan.”
Forgive me, but why did this “senior European diplomat” need anonymity to state such a trite banality? Did they really need to hide his identity so that he could spout the US governnment’s “line” with an air of objectivity? And who is this mystery diplomat anyway?
A clue comes in his final statement: “Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan”. Now, it should be clear to anyone who has even loosely followed the debacle of Afghanistan’s election last August that Hamid Karzai is not the rightfully elected leader of Afghanistan, that he fabricated at least one-third of his votes, that he engaged in widespread voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing, and that nearly every international monitoring agency declared the election in which Karzai won a sham.
The only “senior European diplomat” who has consistently apologized for Karzai’s election “engineering” is Kai Eide, who summarily fired his subordinate, Peter Galbraith, for breaking the story that one-third of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent last October. Kai Eide is one of the most odious UN officials working for Afghanistan, one who has consistently and repeatedly covered up for Hamid Karzai’s staggering corruption, his lawless reprisals against dissent, and his slavish devotion to the US occupation of Afghanistan. It would make perfect sense for him to lend his “expertise” to the New York Times for a hit-piece on his best buddy Karzai’s biggest rival.
But the article is even more insidious than that. Nowhere does it even mention that Karzai’s August 2009 victory was fradulent, save for a single mention that Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s vanquished rival, “accused the Karzai government of profound corruption and electoral fraud“, a sling which could be interpreted as mere sour grapes, if it didn’t happen to be true. An uninformed reader, after digesting this one-sided pap, would come away with the clear impression that Hamid Karzai legitimately won the August 2009 election, and that the United States is correct in giving his losing rival the “cold shoulder”. This is a falsehood and a fallacy. Karzai did not legitimately win the election, and the US is wrong and undemocratic to deny the rightful victor, Abdullah Abdullah, an audience with President Obama, who, after all, is leading a vicious occupation of his country.
A sad showing from the once-venerable Gray Lady.
Still traveling, but I want to briefly touch upon Justice John Paul Steven’s recent retirement from the Supreme Court, which is an extremely crucial event in US jurisprudence and will likely have far-reaching ramifications on issues as diverse as campaign finance, torture, kidnapping, indefinite detention, abortion, and nearly every other issue on which the Supreme Court has given a narrow decision in the last fifty years.
Unlike the Sotomayor-for-Souter swap that occurred last year, Stevens retirement presents the first real opportunity for President Obama to re-make the Supreme Court. Stevens, who will turn 90 this year, has led the so-called “left wing” of the Supreme Court for nearly forty years. The New Yorker ran an excellent piece a couple weeks ago detailing Stevens’s long and storied career which I highly recommend reading to get an idea of what a significant force he has exerted on American jurisprudence. The last justice who still remembers World War II, Stevens has been a consistent champion for individual rights, limiting Executive Branch power, and upholding anti-trust legislation. The past decade saw numerous challenges to President Bush’s theories of unlimited executive power come before the Supreme Court, and many of the most dangerous powers assumed by Presidents Bush and Obama (suspension of habeas corpus, interrogation by torture, warrantless wiretappaing, etc) were struck down in narrow 5-4 majorities.
It is difficult to overstate Stevens’s role in providing at least a nominal limit to the President’s power. He not only voted with the majority in those decisions, he was the majority’s intellectual leader. Were Stevens not on the bench when the Supreme Court was deciding, say, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, we would not have even a theoretical limit to what the President can and cannot do.
All this makes President Obama’s selection for Stevens’s replacement crucial. The establishment press is now reporting that Elena Kagan has emerged as the “frontrunner” for Stevens’s seat. Glenn Greenwald has a good rundown of her major characteristics, and she appears a “centrist” candidate, equally likely to please “both sides” of the aisle, and is sure to undergo a swift and painless confirmation.
To appease the “left”, Ms. Kagan takes solidly pro-abortion and pro-gay positions. To satisfy the national security fanatics, Ms. Kagan supports an expansive view of executive power, including the power to detain “terror suspects” indefinitely. According to the LA Times (via the Washington Independent), Ms. Kagan has explicitly stated that the President can hold ‘enemy combatants’ without trial:
Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan, President Obama’s choice to represent his administration before the Supreme Court, told a key Republican senator Tuesday that she believed the government could hold suspected terrorists without trial as war prisoners.She echoed comments by Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. during his confirmation hearing last month. Both agreed that the United States was at war with Al Qaeda and suggested the law of war allows the government to capture and hold alleged terrorists without charges.
This is not a fair trade. It is important to realize that Ms. Kagan’s colorful opinions on Executive power fly directly in the face of the most significant Supreme Court decisions of the past decade: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and Boumediene v. Bush, all of which upheld the rights of ‘enemy combatants’ to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention (i.e. not tortured), be tried in a regularly constituted court, and challenge their detention in accordance with the Sixth Amendment. Given Ms. Kagan’s stated opinions, one can only conclude that her nomination to the Supreme Court would signify a palpable shift to the “right” for the judicial branch – that is, a shift away from the idea of “separation of powers” and toward a theory of an all-powerful executive.
Congress has long since lost almost all of its independence to massive corporations and executive bullying (remember the Iraq war?), but the Judiciary has still retained at least a modicum of separation from the executive-legislative conglomerate. Ms. Kagan’s views regarding executive power during “war time” (and let’s not forget that this ‘war on terror’ is supposed to last 50 years) throw our independent judiciary into considerable danger. She should not be confirmed.
Via the Christian Science Monitor:
Speaking in a Senate committee hearing, the legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens said that world crude oil production has topped out.
“I do believe you have peaked out at 85 million barrels a day globally,” he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday, according to Reuters.
He noted that the United States is consuming “21 million barrels of the 85 million and producing about 7 of the 21, so if I could take just a minute on this point, the demand is about 86.4 million barrels a day, and when the demand is greater than the supply, the price has to go up until it kills demand.”
And when Mr. Pickens speaks about energy, the world listens. His ability to read markets has vaulted him into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest people. His hedge fund, BP Capital, manages more than $4 billion in assets.
This is about a year and a half old, but the trends Mr. Pickens identified have only progressed since he made his pronouncement. The Obama Administration, on the other hand, refuses to believe in the “Peak Oil theory”, instead plumping for something called the “undulating plateau”, which has absolutely no scientific basis. So naturally, he’s doing nothing about reducing our reliance on liquid fuels.
Folks, we are in a lot of trouble.
John Yoo, the primary author of the legal memoranda that gave President Bush the power to detain and torture anyone he likes, has written a slimy op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending his ethical lapses. I know that Mr. Yoo is a big-shot Berkeley Law professor (and I’m just a 22-year-old nothing), so for fear of sounding ignorant I suppose I won’t give his article too much time. But it does beg for comment.
He begins, detailing the marvelous gift he bestowed upon President Obama:
Barack Obama may not realize it, but I may have just helped save his presidency. How? By winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.
He sure didn’t make it easy. When Mr. Obama took office a year ago, receiving help from one of the lawyers involved in the development of George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies was the furthest thing from his mind. Having won a great electoral victory, the new president promised a quick about-face. He rejected “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” and moved to restore the law-enforcement system as the first line of defense against a hardened enemy devoted to killing Americans.
This is confusing for so many reasons. As I’m sure Mr. Yoo knows, President Obama has endorsed kidnapping “terrorism suspects” and holding them indefinitely at various sites around the globe. He’s opposed to any further investigation into our torture policy (something for which I imagine Mr. You would be quite grateful), and has, in fact, expanded the legal black hole at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where no defense attorneys, judges or prosecutors can set foot.
Mr. Yoo mentions that President Obama has ordered Guantanamo closed (actually, Obama hasn’t closed it yet, and probably never will), but no other evidence to suggest President Obama has endorsed a meaningful review of executive power. I just don’t understand how one promise that anyway went unfulfilled means Obama is “[determined] to take us back to a Sept. 10, 2001, approach to terrorism”, as Yoo later writes.
Then Mr. Yoo complains of being “hounded” in the form of a superficial Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) review. I admit I have not read the report, but Mr. Yoo claims:
OPR’s investigation was so biased, so flawed, and so beneath the Justice Department’s own standards that last week the department’s ranking civil servant and senior ethicist, David Margolis, completely rejected its recommendations.
Which says more, perhaps, about the Office of Professional responsibility than it does about the tactics which Mr. Yoo authorized, which include being forced to stand for weeks while shackled to the ceiling. And, of course, Mr. Yoo doesn’t deign to mention that the very “enhanced interrogation techniques” that he advised Presidents Bush and Obama to use, and defends in this article, are unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Yoo lauds himself for sitting through the tedious hearings, even though he was under “no legal obligation to do so” and even though they had no impact on his lucrative professional career. Why should he make such a non-sacrifice?
I did not do this to win any popularity contests, least of all those held in the faculty lounge. I did it to help our president—President Obama, not Bush. Mr. Obama is fighting three wars simultaneously in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against al Qaeda.
Forgive me, but if one of the wars is specifically against al Qaeda, whom are we fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are those merely “wars” in the general sense of the term, with no clear enemy or end? If they are, Mr. Yoo’s lengthy and repeated defenses of executive rule-by-decree during “wartime” means he advocates for a vast and permanent expansion of the President’s power. I don’t get it. Is that what he’s trying to say?
He ends his “op-ed piece”, which was really a self-serving polemic, with a bizzare example from five years ago:
n 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts.
The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow. In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission.
So, according to John Yoo, those few American deaths justify the indefinite detention of any and all goathearders (and anyone else we might happen not to trust). Do not bother asking Mr. Yoo why it is we’re in Afghanistan in the first place, who it is we’re fighting, or what our ultimate goals are. That’s not his department.
Chris Hedges in Alternet with one of the most well-written dissections of our modern politics I’ve ever read:
Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.
Too many resistance movements continue to buy into the facade of electoral politics, parliaments, constitutions, bills of rights, lobbying and the appearance of a rational economy. The levers of power have become so contaminated that the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant. The election of Barack Obama was yet another triumph of propaganda over substance and a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by the mass media. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by the United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein – for progressive politics and genuine change. We confused how we were made to feel with knowledge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. Obama, now a global celebrity, is a brand. He had almost no experience besides two years in the senate, lacked any moral core and was sold as all things to all people. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com. Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they can make you feel.
We can march in Copenhagen. We can join Bill McKibben’s worldwide day of climate protests. We can compost in our backyards and hang our laundry out to dry. We can write letters to our elected officials and vote for Barack Obama, but the power elite is impervious to the charade of democratic participation. Power is in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls who are ruthlessly creating a system of neo-feudalism and killing the ecosystem that sustains the human species. And appealing to their better nature, or seeking to influence the internal levers of power, will no longer work.
The absurd idea that the marketplace alone should determine economic and political constructs led industrial nations to sacrifice other areas of human importance – from working conditions, to taxation, to child labor, to hunger, to health and pollution – on the altar of free trade. It left the world’s poor worse off and the United States with the largest deficits – which can never be repaid – in human history. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the United States struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt this year. This will require Washington to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which one day has to happen, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as two trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it, in effect, print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. And at that point the entire system breaks down.
All traditional standards and beliefs are shattered in a severe economic crisis. The moral order is turned upside down. The honest and industrious are wiped out while the gangsters, profiteers and speculators walk away with millions. The elite will retreat, as Naomi Klein has written in The Shock Doctrine, into gated communities where they will have access to services, food, amenities and security denied to the rest of us. We will begin a period in human history when there will be only masters and serfs. The corporate forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the rage at the ruling elites and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to ruthlessly extinguish opposition movements. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross. Totalitarianism, George Orwell pointed out, is not so much an age of faith but an age of schizophrenia. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” Orwell wrote. “That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Our elites have used fraud. Force is all they have left.
You may remember the so-called anthrax attacks in 2001, which were widely cited as a reason to attack Iraq. The lasting image in the run-up to the war is of Colin Powell sitting in front of the UN, shaking a vial of anthrax and saying “We know this came from Saddam”. Of course it didn’t. And for years afterward, no one quite knew who the mysterious “anthrax attacker” was.
Then, in 2008, the FBI came out with its decision that the anthrax attacker was one Bruce Ivins, an apparently disgruntled Army biodefense expert who committed suicide just days before the justice department planned to formally charge him. Since Mr. Ivins was dead, the FBI saw no need to gather any additional evidence or reveal what evidence they had already gathered. Case Closed!
Not quite. Glenn Greenwald and several other bloggers have cast deep aspersions on the FBI’s investigation, stopping just short of calling it a fraud. In his sublime article, Greenwald noted several unresolved questions in the FBI’s investigation – questions which, it would now seem, will never be solved. Also see this, this, and this.
Greenwald isn’t the only one with questions. Last Thursday, Rep. Steve Holt called on Congress to begin a new investigation. As he wrote in a letter to Congress:
To date, there has been no comprehensive examination of the FBI’s conduct in this investigation, and a number of important questions remain unanswered.
We don’t know why the FBI jumped so quickly to the conclusion that the source of the material used in the attacks could only have come from a domestic lab, in this case, Ft. Dietrick. We don’t know why they focused for so long, so intently, and so mistakenly on Dr. Hatfill.
We don’t know whether the FBI’s assertions about Dr. Ivins’ activities and behavior are accurate. We don’t know if the FBI’s explanation for the presence of silica in the anthrax spores is truly scientifically valid. We don’t know whether scientists at other government and private labs who assisted the FBI in the investigation actually concur with the FBI’s investigative findings and conclusions.
We don’t know whether the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Postal Service have learned the right lessons from these attacks and have implemented measures to prevent or mitigate future such bioterror attacks.
You can read the full letter here. Rep. Holt joins Senator Pat Leahy, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Arlen Specter, and several others in expressing deep skepticism on the FBI’s narrative. What would cause all these senators and representatives, from both sides of the aisle, to question the FBI’s findings?
And on top of it all, President Obama has threatened to veto an intelligence budget bill (a move which I would normally be all for), because it carries a provision to investigate the FBI’s handling of the anthrax case. Why would he do this?
Well, according to him, an investigation “would undermine public confidence in a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the attacks and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions,”. To tell you the truth, that statement did far more to undermine my confidence in the FBI than any investigation would have.
This whole thing stinks of a cover-up. At this point I think it extremely likely that the anthrax scare was deliberately put on by the Bush Administration (at the cost of five lives) in order to drum up support for the Iraq War. It was just too convenient! Think of how many speeches in which President Bush or one of his flunkies accused Saddam of manufacturing anthrax. The only thing that made those threats credible was the anthrax attack that already happened in the US.
So the FBI, under immense public pressure to find someone responsible decides upon Bruce Ivins. But they know if the case went to court, their fraud would be exposed. So they “arrange” for him to commit suicide, thus precluding the possibility of a trial but still closing the case once and for all.
Then President Obama uses his muscle to make sure the case stays closed, by threatening his first veto over the matter. It’s all too easy.
Also, see this. Dr. Meryl Nass is an expert in the subject, and was intimately involved with Bruce Ivins’s research. She rounds up 16 major holes in the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, including the fact that no autopsy was performed on Ivin’s body (so we’re supposed to just take their word that it was a suicide).
Remember, without these anthrax attacks, President Bush would have had a far more difficult time convincing the country to go to war with Iraq, and many think he could not have done it. The FBI’s case is full of holes and begs for a more thorough investigation. Ask yourself: why is President Obama so intent on letting sleeping dogs lie? What does he think this investigation will reveal? Why is he willing to veto a major intelligence bill to make sure that Bruce Ivins remains the sole anthrax perpetrator?