Friday, February 22, 2008

And Now, Back to Bipartisanship

Karen Kwiatkowski lays it out very clearly today:
It would be easy to blame the current situation in the Middle East on George W. Bush, or easier yet, Dick Cheney. But to do that would be to ignore our foreign policy over the past 80 years in that region.

It would also be easy to suggest that the situation in the Middle East is not the result of our intentions, but rather our poor judgment, our misunderstanding of Arab or Persian culture, our lack of sophistication, or even our own democratic system here at home where we shift diplomatic course with each shifting president, and elect Congresses that reflect the changing priorities of the American people, year by year.

It would be easy to say that most of these policies were pursued under the auspices of the Cold War, where we were forced to take sides around the world in order to stop a communist world revolution, to avoid world socialism.

It would be easy to say all of this. But none of that would be true.

In fact, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney came of age and were inspired by a foreign policy of force for both prestige and perceived profit. To be strong as a nation, for Dick Cheney as for Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. required aggression, manipulation of other governments, and subterfuge. How many of us here in the United States study the CIA coup in 1953 (or countercoup, as Kermit called it) that reinstated the Shah in Iran, and voided democracy in that country until populism and anti-Americanism boiled over in 1979? Operation Ajax, we called it.

Our foreign policy may seem disorganized, but in the Middle East it has been deliberate and in many ways, well thought out. It has not shifted dramatically from president to president. Jimmy Carter is often seen as a very different political person than a Dick Cheney, a George Bush, or even a Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. Yet events in the late 1970s under Carter’s executive watch were both a maturation of the actions of previous Republican and Democratic presidents, and set the foundations for our present-day policies. Do we remember the Carter Doctrine, and the establishment of Central Command? This history was made in my lifetime, and for many of you, only a few years before you were born. Carter set a direction, followed by Reagan and Bush. Clinton left his mark with a pseudo-war that gave us brand new bases in Bosnia and Kosovo – not outposts of southern Europe, but rather forward bases for the Middle East and Caspian Sea theaters.

What seems to be lack of sophistication is nothing more than might making right. When one is a great country in the world, who needs manners?

We have followed in the Middle East, before, during and after the Cold War, a policy of remarkable consistency. To admit that we have behaved much like the colonial powers we once admired, and have perhaps subconsciously stepped into a role the British Empire had long recognized was impossible and unsuitable in the late 20th century, is hard to do.

Can we gracefully untangle ourselves from what has been a quite purposeful foreign policy, over many decades? Well, just as in the 12-step programs, admitting we have a problem is the first step. I want to now address the very needed fourth step in a typical 12-step process – to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
That's not all; please go read the rest.

An Artist at Work

It seems to me that this blog has been a little short on Bush-bashing lately. Maybe this is simply because the well-pickled fratboy and son of privilege has seemed particularly irrelevant lately; or maybe it's because I've been emphasizing the bipartisan nature of our national predicament, seeing so many of my fellow 'Murkans getting high on that potent Obama-weed, or that home-cooked crystal Hillary.

But most likely, it's because I'm put to shame by William Norman Grigg of Pro Libertate, who is such an artiste of the BushBash:
TODAY correspondent Ann Curry: Some Americans believe that they feel they’re carrying the burden because of this economy.

George W. Bush: Yeah, well…

Curry: They say we’re suffering because of this.

Bush: I don’t agree with that.

Curry: You don’t agree with that? It has nothing do with the economy, the war, the spending on the war?

Bush: I don’t think so. I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs.

Curry: Oh, yeah?

Bush: Yeah, because we’re buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy is adjusting. --

TODAY Show, February 18

Occasionally the Mass Murderer-in-Chief will make a candid comment that serves as a core sample of his personality. Beneath the superficial affability that disguises his inbred sense of unearned privilege, below the dense-pack arrogance, hidden away under multiple layers of ignorance and corruption, at the center of his being, Bush is a creature of the kleptocratic State, in its crudest and most destructive form.

It’s not just that Bush has completely internalized a dimwit’s version of Keynesianism. He also appears genuinely to believe that war –heedless wholesale destruction -- is more profitable than constructive private enterprise.

“Y’see” -- I can imagine him saying in his practiced mock-drawl, his shoulders hunched over in that oddly simian way of his, a self-satisfied smirk creeping across that face that could have been designed by Matt Groening – “these idiots in the private sector jus’ went out and built a whole buncha houses nobody could afford, an’ now we gotta big mess. Don’t know why the fools went and overbuilt the housing market. Here’s the cool thing, though: You can’t overbuild the military. Heck, if we build too many bombs, or tanks, or missiles, we can always find some use for ‘em, and if we can’t, I’m sure the Israelis or the Saudis or someone can take ‘em off our hands – even if we have to pay them to.”

While Bush is well-known for his significant contributions to the practice of military Keynesianism, he has played no small role in expanding the practice of the domestic version as well – including the same vastly overbuilt housing and mortgage market.

The unwinding of the sub-prime mortgage market is what triggered the ongoing – and ever-escalating – global financial crisis. Bush (who probably thinks the term “sub-prime” refers to a steak that costs less than a C-note) probably doesn’t remember that he was directly involved in abetting the sub-prime disaster. Yes, the Fed created the mortgage mess as a matter of deliberate policy. But Bush did his considerable best to help things along.
Is this guy good, or what?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Billy the Blind Squirrel

Can an immoral and dishonest person sometimes identify a significant truth? Asked another way: does even a blind squirrel occasionally locate an acorn? Based on what the prominent Israel-Firster William Kristol wrote for yesterday's New York Times, it would seem so:
Browsing through a used-book store Friday — in the Milwaukee airport, of all places — I came across a 1981 paperback collection of George Orwell’s essays. That’s how I happened to reread his 1942 essay on Rudyard Kipling. Given Orwell’s perpetual ability to elucidate, one shouldn’t be surprised that its argument would shed light— or so it seems to me — on contemporary American politics.

Orwell offers a highly qualified appreciation of the then (and still) politically incorrect Kipling. He insists that one must admit that Kipling is “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.” Still, he says, Kipling “survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.” One reason for this is that Kipling “identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition.”

“In a gifted writer,” Orwell remarks, “this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality.” Kipling “at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.” For, Orwell explains, “The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you do?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.” Furthermore, “where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly.”

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell’s argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. Many Democrats, on the other hand, no longer even try to imagine what action and responsibility are like. They do, however, enjoy the support of many refined people who snigger at the sometimes inept and ungraceful ways of the Republicans. (And, if I may say so, the quality of thought of the Democrats’ academic and media supporters — a permanent and, as it were, pensioned opposition — seems to me to have deteriorated as Orwell would have predicted.)

The Democrats won control of Congress in November 2006, thanks in large part to President Bush’s failures in Iraq. Then they spent the next year seeking to ensure that he couldn’t turn those failures around. Democrats were “against” the war and the surge. That was the sum and substance of their policy. They refused to acknowledge changing facts on the ground, or to debate the real consequences of withdrawal and defeat. It was, they apparently thought, the Bush administration, not America, that would lose. The 2007 Congressional Democrats showed what it means to be an opposition party that takes no responsibility for the consequences of the choices involved in governing.

So it continues in 2008. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of national intelligence, the retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, and the attorney general, the former federal judge Michael Mukasey, are highly respected and nonpolitical officials with little in the way of partisanship or ideology in their backgrounds. They have all testified, under oath, that in their judgments, certain legal arrangements regarding surveillance abilities are important to our national security.

Not all Democrats have refused to listen. In the Senate, Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, took seriously the job of updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in light of technological changes and court decisions. His committee produced an impressive report, and, by a vote of 13 to 2, sent legislation to the floor that would have preserved the government’s ability to listen to foreign phone calls and read foreign e-mail that passed through switching points in the United States. The full Senate passed the legislation easily — with a majority of Democrats voting against, and Senators Obama and Clinton indicating their opposition from the campaign trail.

But the Democratic House leadership balked — particularly at the notion of protecting from lawsuits companies that had cooperated with the government in surveillance efforts after Sept. 11. Director McConnell repeatedly explained that such private-sector cooperation is critical to antiterror efforts, in surveillance and other areas, and that it requires the assurance of immunity. “Your country is at risk if we can’t get the private sector to help us, and that is atrophying all the time,” he said. But for the House Democrats, sticking it to the phone companies — and to the Bush administration — seemed to outweigh erring on the side of safety in defending the country.
I hasten to admit that, in order to locate Mr. Kristol's acorn, you have to hold your nose and sift through a big, big pile of crap -- starting with his archly-simulated surprise at the idea that there'd be a bookstore at an airport in Milwaukee, "of all places." Who knew -- the hinterland goyim read books and everything! But he's pretty much right on the money in his description of mainstream Democratic "opposition" to the Imperial project -- foreign (perpetual war) and domestic (the emerging police state). Democrats don't oppose these things, as such, at all. What they oppose is these things, as operated by Republicans. When Sen. Obama, or Sen. Clinton, becomes President, and when Democratic control of Congress becomes consolidated, guess what? The U.S. will continue on the foreign warpath, the Department of Homeland Security won't go away (any more than the Department of Education went away under St. Ronnie Reagan), and neither will the PATRIOT Act, the Protect America Act, the TSA, or any of the rest of the Imperial apparatus.

Imagine, for a moment, that the National Socialist Party in 1940s Germany had a political rival: maybe the "Teutonic Virtue Party" or some such. After the wildly harsh terms imposed on Germany after WWI, and the economic ruin of the Weimar Republic, these two great parties were united: Germany must recover her national greatness! Politics ends at the water's edge (or the borders, anyway)! Later on, though, when the Decider opened a second front against the Soviet Union, the Teutonic Virtue leadership erupted in dissent: Adolf, you idiot! This "second front" nonsense will never work! Consolidate Europe instead ... get serious about invading Britain! What a laughably bad war manager that paperhanger is! Only by electing better war managers ... from the TVP, of course ... can Germany win the Global War on Non-German-ness!

That's the Democratic party in what they choose to call "opposition." And there's where Kristol returns to what is, for him, the all-too-familiar territory of being wrong. The real reason the Democrats look so ... silly ... in opposition is simply that it's difficult to quarrel impressively when you don't disagree with your opponent about anything important.

Be sure to vote, now. Voting changes things, don'tcha know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fully -- Fully, I Say -- Bipartisan

So, the government-lapdog secret "court" whereby the government supposedly protects us from itself -- don't laugh, dammit! -- is now better than ever, and the lawbreaking but government-cooperative telecoms are as safe, warm, and secure as if in their mothers' arms:
After more than a year of wrangling, the Senate handed the White House a major victory on Tuesday by voting to broaden the government’s spy powers and to give legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President Bush’s program of eavesdropping without warrants.

One by one, the Senate rejected amendments that would have imposed greater civil liberties checks on the government’s surveillance powers. Finally, the Senate voted 68 to 29 to approve legislation that the White House had been pushing for months. Mr. Bush hailed the vote and urged the House to move quickly in following the Senate’s lead.

The outcome in the Senate amounted, in effect, to a broader proxy vote in support of Mr. Bush’s wiretapping program. The wide-ranging debate before the final vote presaged discussion that will play out this year in the presidential and Congressional elections on other issues testing the president’s wartime authority, including secret detentions, torture and Iraq war financing.
None of us has any excuse to pretend to be surprised by this. I hope, though, that we all recognize how fully complicit the Congress and both major-brand political parties are.

And, for my fellow Hoosiers, be assured that both your senators -- that's the "R" one and the "D" one -- voted in favor. Onward to Our Glorious Police State!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Each Cloud Has a (Very Small) Silver Lining

I suppose this is what must pass for "good news" in our formerly glorious, formerly constitutional former republic these days:
Illinois Senator Barack Obama has won the Democratic caucus in Maine, defeating Hillary Clinton. The Maine victory tops a weekend of gains by Mr Obama in the battle for the party's presidential nomination.

On Saturday, Mr Obama won polls in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state and the US Virgin Islands.

The clean sweep of all five weekend contests puts him almost neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton in their deadlocked nomination battle.

Meanwhile, Mrs Clinton has appointed a new campaign manager after this weekend's setbacks.
Since Sen. Obama's candidacy is the closest thing remaining to an antiwar candidacy in the Democratic Party, he qualifies for "lesser-of-two-evils" status, the alternative (and greater) evil being the bellicose Sen. Clinton. And, for now, he seems to have the momentum in a delegate-tied race, causing the aroma of fear and defeat to waft gently upward, once again, from the Clinton campaign.

However, I can call this "good news" only in the palest and most relative terms. Given what Sen. Obama's had to say when speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, and before the Treason Lobby (AIPAC, that is), it's fairly clear that he is very, very far from a principled opponent to the Imperial project in general. It seems rather certain that his current "position" on the Iraq occupation is simply that: a position, a place from which one moves when the winds shift. Or after he gets elected, when he turns from campaign pandering to the Serious Business of Governing Responsibly. Somehow, it's very difficult for me to imagine Sen. Obama as the surpassing rarity who will even try to say a convincing "no" to the Dark Suits who manage America, Inc.