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Posts Tagged ‘Obama

Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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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.

Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Hamid Karzai: The NYT’s Faithful Client

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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.

Written by pavanvan

May 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Justice Stevens

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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.

Oilman T.Boone Pickens Says Peak Oil is Here

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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.

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 9:45 am

John Yoo and the Self-Satisfied Defense

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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.

Written by pavanvan

March 21, 2010 at 11:03 pm

The Coming Totalitarianism

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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.

Written by pavanvan

March 18, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Obama Covers Up FBI Fraud in Anthrax Case

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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?

The Times, Habeas Corpus, and those Bad Ol’ Terrorists

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The Times continues its faux-reporting over the “controversy” that has erupted over whether we should act like tyrants and keep “terror suspects” in cages indefinitely without trial, or act like decent adults and follow the rule of law. Previously, The Times came out in support of the former option, happily announcing that “Detainees will be Held, but not Tried” – but as the political winds shift, so do does the leading newspaper, which now plumps for the worst aspects of both, much like President Obama. They even invoked the mysterious “experts”, who, apparently, do not include the Supreme Court.

As Jane Mayer expertly analyzed in a recent New Yorker, the Justice Department is now in a state of civil war. One one side, Attorney General Eric Holder, who advocates that “terror suspects” be vetted in a court of law to determine what, if anything, they’re guilty of. He is joined by a majority of our Supreme Court, human-rights activists, and other so-called sympathizers of terrorism. Opposing him stands Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff, who contends these “enemy combatants” deserve no quarter and should be tried, without evidence, before a “military tribunal” after being held indefinitely (after an interrogation by torture). Joining Mr. Emanual, ironically, is the Tea Party faction, along with “Republicans” in general, all of whom claim that allowing suspects of terrorism a fair trial stands tantamount to treason.

President Obama, as is his wont, has opted for a “middle path”, as The Times reports today. Some detainees, specifically those whom he is sure to convict, will be publicly tried, and the rest will just be held indefinitely because it’s impossible to convict anyone you’ve tortured a confession out of without looking like a butcher.

Granting civilian trials to some “terrorists” and secretly sentencing the others creates a multi-tiered justice system wherein only the suspects for whom conviction is assured will be allowed to go to trial. This is pre-judgment and worse.  It it is a system that does away with even the pretense of caring whether or not these detainees are actually guilty. The government clearly seeks a few nefarious-looking Terrorists to be convicted by a civilian jury – thus proving that “the system works” – and then machinery to convict the rest of the suspects who could not be tried by jury because they were interrogated by torture and their cases would be thrown out (as, indeed, many have already).

It’s worth remembering that a vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were guilty of nothing more than bad luck. An ex-Bush official is on record saying that most of the people we held there were totally innocent.

But beyond this, The Times completely neglects to mention that these military commissions are illegal. The Supreme court has ruled, in numerous landmark cases, that the whole military commissions process is unconstitutional.  Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively nullifies the necessary sections of the Military Commissions Act, and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld restored Habeas Corpus and Sixth Amendment rights (the right to a speedy trial) to detainees.

In fact, the majority opinion of Hamdan states that all detainees be given a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples“, and clearly states that the commissions system set up in Guantanamo does not fit that requirement.

Any article discussing discussing military commissions has the duty to mention these cases, but since they’re  inconvenient to the prevailing narrative, they become “non-newsworthy”. I’m sure the “experts” they quote (nearly all Bush flunkies) know better.

One hears often from opponents of civil liberties that it’s “borderline criminal” to read a terrorism suspect his rights, that such actions provide “comfort to the enemy”, or as Ms. Palin thundered in her memorable Tea Party speech, that we’re allowing Terrorists who “hate our freedoms” to “lawyer up”. As Scott Brown, Massachusetts Senator and Tea Party darling once remarked: “Some people believe our Constitution exists to grant rights to terrorists who want to harm us. I disagree.”

But of course it is not for this charlatan to decide, but for the Supreme Court, who, unfortunately for Mr. Brown, has consistently ruled in favor of detainee rights. And for the record, the Constitution prescribes the relevant clauses to protect the rights of people who have been accused of a crime but not yet found guilty, much like these so-called “terrorists”. Until convicted in a court of law, these people are, by definition, guilty of nothing.

The reasoning employed by the Palin-Brown faction makes the dangerous assumption that anyone the government accuses of terrorism magically becomes a terrorist. In the warped mind of a Tea Partier, suspicion is proof. This works fine for most people, so long as it’s only brown Arabs with weird squiggly writing whom we lock up in cages with no trial, but the danger of promoting totalitarian practices is that you never quite know against whom they’ll be used next.

Postscript:

It’s also worth mentioning that every other country that has had problems with terrorism – India, Greece, Spain, etc. – have all found ways to deal with it within their already existing legal structures. They saw no need to create new levels of “justice” wherein some suspects get trials and others simply go to jail forever.

Second Anti-Government Terrorist Attack in 2 weeks

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We had another attack by a crazed anti…Obamaite? I guess? He was angry about the “expansion of government”, suspicious over the truth about 9/11, wished to reveal the truth about the “September 11th demolitions”, etc. I think there can be no doubt that the recent rise of the “paranoid style” in American politics, as exemplified by Mr. Beck and Ms. Palin has something to do with this  – and please, read a transcript of Ms. Palin’s “Tea Party” speech, wherein she harangues Mr. Obama for forty-five minutes, accusing him of every crime under the sun , except the ones he actually committed – calling him a tyrant, a usurper, a dictator, etc. before ending her speech with, and I’m not making this up, “I will fight for my country – I will die for my country!” It looks as though some of her followers may have taken those words to heart.

Needless to say the media consensus is that these were not “Terrorist” acts, but merely crimes comitted by confused Americans. “Terrorists”, as Glenn Greenwald explains, are exclusively Arab and/or Muslim. As he reveals, Newsweek‘s Managing Editor, Kathy Jones, even codified it into a “handy guide”:

Did the label terrorist ever successfully stick to McVeigh? Or the Unabomber? Or any of the IRS bombers in our violence list?

Here is my handy guide:

Lone wolfish American attacker who sees gov’t as threat to personal freedom: bomber, tax protester, survivalist, separatist

Group of Americans bombing/kidnapping to protest U.S. policies on war/poverty/personal freedom/ – radical left-wing movement, right-wing separatists

All foreign groups or foreign individuals bombing/shooting to protest American gov’t: terrorists.

So “terrorists” are, by definition, not Americans. But whatever you wish to call it, I do predict we see an increase in the incidence of this sort of thing. America is a big country, and I don’t think all 300 million of us will be subjected to this every day like, oh, say, the Iraqis were – however, people are furious at what our elected officials allowed to happen and are still allowing to happen. While President Obama may not be personally responsible for these things, the system which he heads is responsible, and he’s done nothing to change that. So the anger, at least, is justified.

These attacks do not bode well for our civil liberties, and let us not forget, President Obama has all the new powers President Bush gave himself – including the power to declare martial law at will.

Now I sound like a Tea Party protester myself! Their ideology is attractive and flawed. A discussion for another day, I suppose.

Written by pavanvan

March 5, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Politics

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Whitewashing Bernanke’s Involvement in the Crisis

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Dean Baker gets an excellent catch in what, upon first glance, I thought to be rather solid Washington Post article. Quality from the Post is such a rare beast that I think you’ll forgive me for the mistake. It’s like a guy who gets excited over a bigfoot sighting, but it just turns out to be some hairy guy.

As you probably know, President Obama has hundreds of positions left unfilled within his administration. This is partly due to his not getting around to them, but in large part also due to “Republican” obstructionism, wherein certain senators have placed holds on several key appointments, tossing them into the bureaucratic abyss.

The Post article purports to be about three major posts that Obama has yet to fill in the Federal Reserve and the candidates who may fill them. Now, I’m all for calling attention to Obama’s unfilled administrative positions. They’re a major bottleneck in the bureaucracy and are causing his administration to move sluggishly on matters that urgently need attention – ironically, Federal Reserve issues. It looks as though he’s finally going to bite the bullet and make these appointments during Congress’ recess, which he should have done all along.

So far, so good – it’s all newsworthy. But was it really necessary for The Post to inject yet another ode to Fed Chief Ben Bernanke in its already too-long article? We know how they feel about Bernanke – they’re all for him. If anyone doubts it, I invite you to visit their editorial page. On any given day I guarantee you’ll find some apology for Mr. Bernanke’s malfeasance from one of their establishment cheerleaders.

The phrase in question describes Mr. Bernanke as having “led efforts to make the Fed’s bank oversight more effective and focused on broad risks to the economy that arise out of banks’ decisions.

Not only is that so vague as to be rendered meaningless, but it is also patently untrue.  “More effective”? “Broad risks”? “Bank’s decisions”? How effective? What risks? Which decisions? These are mistakes one goes over in Reporting 101.

They’re sloppy mistakes, too – and they betray a complete vacuum where the writer’s knowledge of history should be. Aside for Lawrence Summers (current National Economic Adviser, who authored the bill that got us into this mess), Timothy Geithner (current Treasury Secretary, who was #3 at the Fed while the banks turned into casinos), and, of course, Alan Greenspan, Mr. Bernanke is the single biggest reason why 1/4 of the workforce is desperately seeking work.

He actively campaigned against oversight, was completely blind to the risks facing our economy (“The subprime mess is largely contained“), and, in fact, actively encouraged those risks by keeping interest rates at almost zero for three straight years after the dot-com bust. This is a matter of public record. A five minute Google search and articles from The Post itself were enough to reveal this.

What’s worrying is that The Post seems to be unaware of this – or if they are aware, put a willfully misleading clause in their “news” article. I can understand it when journalists lie in the Op-Ed pages; that is, after all, what they’re for. But to put a factually ignorant opinion in a serious news article betrays, I think, some very perverse ethics.

Obama Extends Patriot Act

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Say it ain’t so, Barack!

And, of course, the US media can’t be bothered to give this story any more than a couple perfunctory paragraphs. The Times and The Post fail to mention it whatsoever, Reuters gives it a lukewarm 300-word summary, and no one else even tried.

Let’s not forget the serious evidence of systemic abuses within the Patriot Act’s framework. The act has no mechanisms for oversight and no way for anyone to know what the FBI is doing with the massive information to which they now have access.

So in short, President Obama believes in:

Wiretapping any and all American telephones for any reason or no reason at all.

Depriving habeas corpus to anyone he deems a “terrorist”, effectively allowing for indefinite detention, interrogation by torture, and “rendition” to any part of the globe. Also, they don’t get to see a lawyer.

State – sanctioned assassinations (read: murder) of any US citizen he deems to be a “terrorist”.

Suspension of the 4th Amendment, allowing for unlimited searches and seizures without a warrant, including credit records, medical history – pretty much anything they want

Deporting any legal immigrant or citizens accused of “supporting terrorism”.

Ordering FBI surveillance based on how you exercise your First Amendment Rights.

Seizing the Assets of anyone engaging in civil disobedience.

Fabulous.

Six Largest US Banks Own 63 Percent of GDP

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A startling statistic buried within an outstanding New Republic article:

As a result of the crisis and various government rescue efforts, the largest six banks in our economy now have total assets in excess of 63 percent of GDP (based on the latest available data). This is a significant increase from even 2006, when the same banks’ assets were around 55 percent of GDP, and a complete transformation compared with the situation in the United States just 15 years ago, when the six largest banks had combined assets of only around 17 percent of GDP. If the status quo persists, we are set up for another round of the boom-bailout-bust cycle that the head of financial stability at the Bank of England now terms a “doom loop.”

Good god. I knew that these banks were big, but I had no idea they were this big. The New Republic devotes the rest of its article to explaining why Obama’s bank regulations are (surprise!) a sham. But then, we should have already known that. When Treasury Secretary Geithner appeared on Newshour a few days ago, he baldly stated that these new regulatory rules “will not include breaking up the banks“. Forgive me, but what is the point of “regulation” if our banks are allowed to keep their “too big to fail” status and continue to engage in the same practices that brought down our economy in 2008? The so-called Volcker rules do nothing to stymie the relationship between Wall Street and Washington, they do nothing to prevent banks from over-leveraging (as they had during the run-up to the crisis), they allow the banks to retain their gargantuan size… so what were the Volcker rules supposed to do again? Oh yeah, it bans “proprietary trading”, somthing which only accounts for 5 percent of total bank revenue.

Meanwhile, President Obama is proposing yet another giveaway to the banks, this time in the form of $30 billion in loans at below-market interest rates. If I sell you something about below-market value, then I’m giving you a gift. That’s what these “loans” are. The Washington Post attempts to bury the issue in the middle of the piece, and refers to the subsidy as going to “community banks”, without noting that most of these “community banks” have long since been bought up by our banking behemoths.

I don’t really know what else to say here. The banks own Congress; they own the House; they own Obama (check out his campaign donors) – there doesn’t seem to be any way out of this. I think some mobs with torches and pitchforks would not go amiss at this point.

Written by pavanvan

February 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Profiles in Idiocy: Anne Applebaum

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Anne Applebaum has won major accolades for her Gulag: A History, for which she owes a huge debt of gratitude to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and which constitutes the poor man’s history of the Soviet Union – for when you want your histories dull and without universal insights into human nature. Her work for The Washington Post, however, has been singularly atrocious, and one wonders what, exactly, she learned from all her research into the depths of evil.

Her columns consistently and unapologetically disavow international law, human rights, or any concern for civilian casualties – each week brings a new and more forceful call to “defend our allies” and “defeat our enemies”, usually with only the most token concern for anyone who might stand in our way.

Her latest article, horrifically entitled: “Prepare for War With Iran – In Case Israel Strikes” displays all of her odious tendencies, and is worth discussing in detail.

She starts by observing that President Obama is unlikely to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. Why?

The president will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for precisely the same reasons that George W. Bush did not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations: Because we don’t know exactly where they all are, because we don’t know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran’s threatened response — against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iranian allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon — isn’t one we want to cope with at this moment.

Apparently this lady hasn’t heard of a little thing called international law. You see, under normal circumstances, countries aren’t allowed to go mindlessly bombing each other on flimsy pretexts. This constitutes “aggression”, and the Nuremberg Principles (to which we supposedly subscribe) consider it “the supreme international crime”. I mean, I get that we basically threw that idea out the window long ago, but isn’t Ms. Applebaum supposed to be a scholar who specializes in international relations? What kind of scholar thinks the only reason we don’t go around bombing other countries is because it probably wouldn’t work?

After this bald refutation of the basic principles of international law, Ms. Applebaum raises another specter of war. Even though we may consider it inconvenient to bomb Iran, that doesn’t mean other countries won’t. Other countries like Israel. As she remarks:

The defining moment of his presidency may well come at 2 a.m. some day when he picks up the phone and is told that the Israeli prime minister is on the line: Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?

Yes, “what then” indeed? Well, a reasonable observer might note that such a “raid” would be an act of sheer aggression, not to mention one supremely unjustified. After all, Israel boasts of its nuclear weapons every chance it gets, and Iran hasn’t carried out any “raids” on its nuclear sites.  A country truly interested in the rule of law would chastise Israel for its wanton aggression, cut off the extravagant military aid ($2.5 billion per year) it currently supplies the aggressor, and maybe even impose those sanctions everyone likes to talk about so much. The same sanctions we’re currently threatening Iran with. I don’t remember Israel getting any sanctions when it got the bomb. Oh, that’s right. We gave it to them.

The rest of the article serves as a justification for such Israeli “raids”. As she says:

Many Israelis regard the Iranian nuclear program as a matter of life and death. The prospect of a nuclear Iran isn’t an irritant or a distant threat. It is understood directly in the context of the Iranian president’s provocative attacks on Israel’s right to exist and his public support for historians who deny the Holocaust. If you want to make Israelis paranoid, hint that they might be the target of an attempted mass murder. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does exactly that.

I have a hard time believing she wrote this passage with a straight face. Perhaps she remembers a little speech given by President Bush, charmingly nicknamed the “Axis of Evil” speech. In it, he specifically named Iran to the eponymous “axis”, and then punctuated that slur by invading another member of said axis. The US mainstream press is is full of naked suggestions that President Obama attack Iran, including this endearing piece by Mr. Daniel Pipes, ludicrously entitled How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran. “The American people would support it,” Mr. Pipes contends.

For crying out loud, Ms. Applebaum’s own article is entitled “Prepare for War with Iran”! I wonder if she thinks that might make the Iranians “paranoid”.

Of course, Ms. Applebaum doesn’t want war with Iran. But a country’s gotta do what a country’s gotta do:

I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically, not for a war of choice but for an unwanted war of necessity. This is real life, after all, not Hollywood.

And here we see, finally, in what an alternate reality our mainstream punditry operates. Defending an Israeli war of aggression is no longer a choice, but a necessity. Should Israel, without consulting us, begin a unilaterial bombing campaign on Iran, the United States has no choice but to fight Israel’s war for it. I mean, does Ms. Applebaum expect us to buy this nonsense?

Next she’ll be telling us that it’s necessary for the US to remain the “sole superpower” for the indefinite future. Oh wait…

Re-Branding the Iraq War – A PR Offensive

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Lilliana Segura of Alternet turns us on to an upcoming change in Obama’s war policy:

In a one-page memo dated Feb. 17, 2010 and signed by Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense officially requested that U.S. Central Command “change the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.”

“The requested operation name change is approved to take effect 1 September, 2010, coinciding with the change in mission for U.S. forces in Iraq,” Gates wrote to CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, noting that this would send “a strong signal that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission.”


“The DoD’s latest attempt to sell what we’re doing in Iraq to the people and international community simply highlights the tenuous position they’ve committed our forces to,” Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told AlterNet. “Their latest misnomer, Operation New Dawn, has all the qualities of a George Orwell novel. Perhaps ‘Operation Imperial Sunset’ is more appropriate. No one is fooled by their attempts to spin what is happening over there, namely permanent bases, lopsided oil deals and serious breaches of international law. Let’s bring the troops home and let Iraq enjoy its sovereignty.”

“Operation Imperial Sunset”! That’s a good one.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

White Tea

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I’ve largely refrained from commenting on this psuedo-movement, this “populist” Republican party front, this celebration of know-nothing, bible-thumping, war-mongering, “small-government” loving vacuity, because, well, of all the things I just mentioned. But CNN just did a poll of this “movement” and the results are revealing and hilarious.

“Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas,” CNN reports. “Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans, and more than three in four call themselves conservatives.”

Sixty-six percent of the tea party activists reported an income higher than $50,000 per year. Among the overall sample in the poll, that figure was 42%. The group is 80% white, as opposed to 71% among all respondents to the poll.

Politically, the figures are not a surprise. Forty-four percent of tea partiers called themselves “Republican,” while 52% said they were independent. Among all those polled by CNN, 25% were Republicans while 44% were independents. A third self-identified as Democrats.

So this “movement” consists of rich, white, male, educated “conservatives” who happen to identify with the Republican Party. Oh, and they also hate Obama. But they’re not racist!

Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

The Problem With ‘Green Jobs’

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Bloomberg makes a lot of sense on Obama’s “green jobs” initiative. The problem? Most of those jobs are going to Asia.

Obama is giving billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wind and solar industries to create jobs in the U.S. even as production expands faster overseas. First Solar Inc., the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar-power modules, won $16.3 million to add 200 manufacturing jobs at its Ohio plant, yet 71 percent of its planned factory growth will go to Malaysia. The company employs 4,500 globally.

“The cost of manufacturing here is too expensive compared to Asia,” said Guy Chaffin, chief executive officer of Elite Search International, a Roseville, California-based executive search firm that has found employees for Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar and Solar Millennium AG. “As far as a flood of good jobs coming to the U.S., we’re not seeing it.”

Written by pavanvan

February 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Flip-Flops and Assassinations

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Is anyone even remotely surprised that President Obama reserves the right to assassinate US citizens for any reason (or no reason at all)? Should you be so unfortunate as to incur Mr. Obama’s displeasure, you may wake up one morning to find yourself on the business end of an M-16 assault rifle and a grimly determined marine dispatched to “take out the threat” (i.e. you). You need not be on a battlefield  or even have committed any crime – Mr. Obama merely has to label you an “enemy combatant”. You can gain this unfortunate moniker for such acts as speaking out against the American occupation of your country, consorting with “unknown elements”, or, indeed, no reason at all.

It is clear, as Mr. Greenwald repeatedly points out, that such extra-judicial presidential murders are unconstitutional and a dangerous new investment of power into the Executive Branch. One recalls the massive powers President Bush gave himself as a “war president” to craft legislation (via “signing statements), unilaterally declare war, imprison “enemy combatants” without trial or habeas corpus, interrogate by torture, and send CIA hit squads all around the globe. One wonders, however, if even Mr. Bush would have assumed the right to kill American citizens wherever, whenever, and however he wished.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama naturally spoke out against the vast powers accumulated under the Bush Administration. Mr. Bush was terribly unpopular, after all, and Mr. Obama had to distance himself from him as best he could. Let’s take a look at what he said then:

Regarding warrantless wiretapping and Telecom immunity:

1/28/2008, Campaign statement: “I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill. Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.”

Mr. Obama voted for the FISA bill (which he “strongly opposed”), only six months later.

Regarding separation of powers:

10/2/2007, Speech at DePaul University: “We face real threats. Any President needs the latitude to confront them swiftly and surely. But we’ve paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power. The Constitution is treated like a nuisance. Matters of war and peace are used as political tools to bludgeon the other side.”

We continue to pay that “heavy price”, as Mr. Obama has taken for himself powers which even Mr. Bush would have blushed to demand.

Regarding indefinite detention:

Q: Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

A: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

Boston Globe Questionaire, December, 2007

Well, apparently he didn’t like that answer, because almost immediately after his inaguaration, he redacted it. Now, not only does he think the Constitution allows detention without charges, Mr. Obama has come to believe that under the Constitution, the President has the power to impose arbitary death sentances upon any of his subjects who dare incur his wrath.

Here is the most tragic part:

2/26/2008, Speech in Cleveland: “It’s time to give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools they need to track down and take out terrorists, while ensuring that their actions are subject to vigorous oversight that protects our freedom. So let me be perfectly clear: I have taught the Constitution, I understand the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution when I am President of the United States.”

You see, once upon a time, before being seduced by the Dark Side, Mr. Obama was an upstanding constitutional lawyer, and even taught classes on the subject. In fact, that was a major appeal to his candidacy – since he was a constitutional lawyer by profession he would surely have more respect for that document than his predecessor Mr. Bush, who likely had never once read it. I have no idea what happened to Mr. Obama between 2/26/2008 and his inauguration, but something has surely changed his mind on these issues.

Zardari Regularly Sacrifices Goats

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Our man in Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, the bumbling ex-con who now has his finger on the nuclear button, regularly sacrifices goats to “ward off the evil eye”

“It has been an old practice of Mr Zardari to offer Sadqa (animal sacrifice). He has been doing this for a long time,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn on Tuesday.


One thing is certain: Hundreds of black goats have been sacrificed since Mr Zardari moved into the President’s House in September 2008. His trusted personal servant Bai Khan buys goats from Saidpur village. The animal is touched by Mr Zardari before it is sent to his private house in F-8/2 to be sacrificed.

Man, US policy planners sure can pick ’em.

Written by pavanvan

February 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

2/3 of Self-Identified “Republicans” think Obama is a Racist

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This is outta control: 2000 self-identified “Republicans” share their political viewpoints. Some highlights:

Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?

Yes 31
No 36
Not Sure 33

Do you consider abortion to be murder?

Yes 76
No 8
Not Sure 16

Do you support the death penalty?

Yes 91
No 4
Not Sure 5

Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?

Yes 53
No 14
Not Sure 33

I really hope this is an improper sample or statistical error or something, because these results are frightening. 86% either think Sarah Palin is “more qualified” than Barack Obama, or consider the matter open to debate.

Written by pavanvan

February 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Flip-flop of the Day

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Barack Obama, circa 2003:

I’m proud of the fact that I stood up early and unequivocally in opposition to Bush’s foreign policy . That opposition hasn’t changed.

Barack Obama, circa 2009:

Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms… So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.

Written by pavanvan

February 2, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Posted in War

Tagged with , ,

Financial Quotes of the Day

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“We’ve got strong financial institutions . . . Our markets are the envy of the world. They’re resilient, they’re…innovative, they’re flexible. I think we move very quickly to address situations in this country, and, as I said, our financial institutions are strong.”

Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary, March 16, 2008

“We must [enact a program quickly] in order to avoid a continuing series of financial institution failures and frozen credit markets that threaten American families’ financial well-being, the viability of businesses, both small and large, and the very health of our economy,”

Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary, September 23, 2008

Written by pavanvan

January 31, 2010 at 10:20 am

More SOTU Reactions

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The Economist:

An understandably domestic-focused speech could have used more on Iran—probably the biggest issue in American foreign policy and one where a signal from the president in a speech at this level would be huge. Where was an acknowledgment of Iran’s protestors, and the regime’s brutal repression?

*sigh*

The New Republic:

A good defense of the bank bailout, plus an assault on the banks. Obama’s winning smile and sense of humor give his explanation a likeable sheen. He should have done more of that by now. (Geithner still looks, in a friend’s words, “like he got hit by a truck.”)

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder:

I thought it was… good. It think it helps President Obama. I don’t know if it will help his party. It was a speech about the democratic process — a very effective one. It was a speech that challenged his own party as much as it challenged the Republicans. It had little in the way of policy, and a lot in the way of trying to leverage the character traits that Americans see and like about Obama to persuade them to accept that his way is still the right way.

Ezra Klein:

All in all, it was a good speech. But it was a good speech because it told the story of a good presidency and an able president. I expect Obama’s poll numbers will be up for a few days, but if he wants them to remain there, he needs events to bear out his narrative. And that starts with passing the health-care reform bill.

Does anyone notice what all these “reactions” have in common? They don’t refer to the substance of the speech. It’s all a question of whether or not it “helps” the “Democrats” in 2010, whether or not Obama was ‘likeable’, if his smile is ‘winning’, if he’s got a ‘sense of humor’, what kind of “character traits” he has. Not one word on the patent falsehoods or willful misrepresentations of data in the speech. And thus is the public’s consent manufactured.

Written by pavanvan

January 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm

The State of the Union: An Annotated Response

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One year into his prophesied presidency, Mr. Obama addressed the nation on the issues he thinks plague it the most. The speech was 5 parts economy, two parts health care, one part budget, and a few throwaway references to “national security” and Haiti thrown in as well (for spice). Unsurprisingly, the speech was a hit with the mainstream commentariat. The inimitable Joe Klein seemed to think this was “Obama at his best“; Yglesias, of course, thought it was “just great”; and Greg Sargent praised its “mix of charm and good humor”. As we all know, the main things our belaguered republic lacks at this juncture are “charm” (and/or) “good humor”.

I guess nobody took notes on what Mr. Obama said, as the reactions I’ve seen are based on qualitative nonsense (“How did he look? Was he friendly? Did he get the Republicans’ goat?”) A shame, because a close reading of the text of the speech reveals evasions, inconsistencies, and, at times, willful manipulation of data. Let’s dive in, shall we?

As Mr. Obama said early on, “It begins with the economy”.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it — (applause.) I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal. (Laughter.)

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took that program over, we made it more transparent and more accountable. And as a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we’ve recovered most of the money we spent on the banks. (Applause.) Most but not all.

To recover the rest, I’ve proposed a fee on the biggest banks. (Applause.) Now, I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea. But if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need. (Applause.)

Did you really hate it so much, Mr. Obama? I mean, the largest contributors to your campaign were financial institutions, and they certainly didn’t hate it. And your Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, was practically appointed by Goldman Sachs, and went on to distribute trillions of untraceable dollars to unknown banks. He certainly didn’t hate it. Especially when your read about how Geithner willfully colluded with AIG to defraud the taxpayers of billions, it just seems like you’re making up all this populist “oh I hated it but it had to be done” nonsense ex post facto.

You’re well aware that the largest banks consider your so-called “bank fee” a joke, and that the $90 billion you plan to extract from them doesn’t cover 1/100th of the total money their malfeasance lost our economy. Also, paying back the government was stipulated in the TARP to begin with. When the banks accepted the money back in September ’08, they did so with the knowledge that they’d eventually have to pay it back. So all this “fee” does is force the banks to uphold the contract they already signed.

Moreover, you are well aware what $90 Billion won’t even cover the current outstanding bank debt. As Propublica reports, the net outstanding in the TARP program is $316 Billion. Not $90 Billion.

Concerning the “Recovery Act”:

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. (Applause.) That’s right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill. (Applause.) Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created. Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

Or you can talk to this guy, who got a $24 million stimulus award after numerous accusations of bribery. Or you could talk to this crumbling school district unable to access its stimulus funds for “bureaucratic red tape”. Or, again, these six companies, currently under criminal investigation, who nevertheless received $30 million from your free money giveaway. As Mr. Obama says in his speech,

There are stories like this all across America.

Right.

But what about clean energy? Well, he’s glad you asked:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

You clearly aren’t a scientist, Mr. Obama, because those suggestions don’t make a lick of sense. As I’m sure you’re aware, no nuclear plant has ever been built on time or on budget. Ever. “Breeder Reactors” are still an experimental technology, and there is no safe way to dispose of the waste current reactors produce. What should we do with “zombie reactors” – those crumbling ’70s-era nuclear plants we can’t find the budget to inspect? They constantly break down, and constitute a major public health risk.  Shouldn’t we do something about those, first? Oh yeah, “Spending Freeze”. Well, I guess we can do like the French and just dump our N-waste in Russia.

As for “Clean Coal”, your colleague Al Gore called that a “lie” months ago. There is no such thing as clean coal. You know it and I know it. But, as you and the coal lobby so fervently hope, the American public doesn’t know it. And let’s not even mention the world food crisis your vaunted “advanced biofuels” had a hand in creating. Or the massive deforestation now going on in Brazil and Indonesia to meet our “advanced biofuels” demand. That technology is wasteful, inefficient, and impracticable. Europe would have to use 70% of its landmass exclusively for biofuel crops in order to meet its energy demands. America doesn’t even have enough landmass to grow enough biofuels to meet its demands. And never mind that the distillation of biofuels requires orders of magnitude more energy than we get from them.

We move on to Health Care:

After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

It would also require every American to purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not (indeed, whether or not they can afford it) – but that’s not a popular aspect of the bill, so we better not mention that. In fact, given your recent defeat in Massachusetts, it’s probably better we move on altogether.

So now let’s talk about… the deficit!

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. (Applause.) Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. (Applause.)

So your plan is to cut everything but the three biggest contributors to the deficit? How is that a good idea? And is “national security” really something we “need” at this point? You are aware, I’m sure, that we spend on the order of $1 trillion per year prosecuting our misbegotten murder rampages in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and whomever else wish to inflict misery upon.This spending benefits no one, and it demonstrably makes us less safe. You think that might be something we would “cut” if we were trying to save money. I really can’t stress this point enough. We spend the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP murdering Arabs. This is completely baffling to me. Would a “cash-strapped family” really refuse to “sacrifice” its largest and most wasteful expenditure that also happens to actively harm it?

But it’s not just a “deficit of dollars” – it’s also a deficit of… trust. Getting that trust surplus back is what Mr. Obama came to Washington, apparently, to do.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why -– for the first time in history –- my administration posts on our White House visitors online. That’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress. It’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

Actually, that bolded statement turned out not to be true. When you said “we have excluded lobbyists”, you might have added, “except for the ones I personally approve of.” You know you’ve given waivers to several former lobbyists to work for your administration. Why lie about it? Oh yeah, you’re doing the populist thing. But it kind of detracts from the whole “honesty” message if you have to lie while you’re making it.

So then while he’s on a roll, Mr. Obama attacks the Supreme Court bribery decision, even though the idea that “campaign donations are free speech” was a major reason why he got elected.

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people.

Is this some kind of joke? You raised $680,000,000 in the most expensive presidential campaign ever. You took money from every major financial institution, including some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Geithner-Bernanke giveaway. I’m really at a loss for words here.

Finally we come to the part about terrorism. I think he’s almost done.

Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.

No you haven’t. Well, maybe you have, but – wink! – we’ll never know, right? The “black site” at Bagram air base is expanding; Guantanamo hasn’t closed; you believe in extra-legal kidnapping and assassinations (even of American citizens!) And given that you refuse to prosecute Bush-era torturers, even though their actions constitute high crime under the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Code, and our own World War II legal precedent, it’s hard to believe you’re really against torture. Oh, and by the way, I know of a massive plot to take American lives. In fact, it’s killed more than 5,000 Americans already, almost twice as many as 9/11 did. Do you know what it is?

Aaaaand that about does it. A few more references to the “heroic” American response to Haiti (our decidedly ‘un-heroic’ IMF loansharking, of course, went unmentioned), a throwaway reference to some random lady who says “we are tough, we are American”, one last “God Bless America!”, and we’re clear! Another logically inconsistent, factually dubious, rabble-rousing excuse of abuse that managed to tell us nothing. Congratulations, Mr. Obama.

BHO

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While you’re busy gaping in awe at the marevellous speech machine that is our President, I invite you to remember this article in last July’s Harper’s entitled “Barack Hoover Obama“:

The comparison is not meant to be flippant. It has nothing to do with the received image of Hoover, the dour, round-collared, gerbil-cheeked technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. To understand how dire our situation is now it is necessary to remember that when he was elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover was widely considered the most capable public figure in the country. Hoover—like Obama—was almost certainly someone gifted with more intelligence, a better education, and a greater range of life experience than FDR. And Hoover, through the first three years of the Depression, was also the man who comprehended better than anyone else what was happening and what needed to be done. And yet he failed.

Written by pavanvan

January 28, 2010 at 9:50 am

It’s Getting Cold In Here….

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The Obama has just announced a “spending freeze” in order to throw a bone to the various “deficit hawks” now assailing his presidency. The idea, I guess, is that you put a moratorium on some of the more unpopular aspects of government spending – and this way voters don’t have that bad taste in their mouths when it comes time to vote in 2010. Let’s see what Mr. Obama wants to cut.

The Times:

The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.

But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Here’s a handy graph to get that into context:

Right. So you see those three massive lines near the bottom? The ones that pretty much overshadow all the rest? Yeah, those are exempt from Mr. Obama’s “spending freeze”. Look at tiny little “Department of Education” vs. the massive “Department of Defense!” The poor thing.

Glenn Greenwald has a fantastic essay on ‘The sanctity of military spending‘, and I agree with all of his points. “Defense” spending is the one form of expenditure for which it can be said that it benefits no one. Not the professed beneficiaries – those impoverished desert-dwellers who we continually pound with our bombs – not the American citizens, who are made demonstrably less safe by our government’s various adventures… well, I guess only the war-profiteers, the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, the United Atomics and Blackwaters can really be said to benefit. So I guess that makes it worth it.

Written by pavanvan

January 27, 2010 at 10:02 am