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Saturday, May 31, 2008

McClellan Squeals

Scott McClellan, former Press Secretary for the White House, launched a promotion tour for his new book, presented as an expose on Bush's manipulation of the press before the Iraq war.

McClellan's book has the talking heads babbling. It's as if the media were surprised when yet another hole in their official narrative appears, despite the many rips in the curtain hiding the worm-eaten carcass of pre-war intelligence. McClellan's tell-all is just more evidence in the mounting case that the press enabled the lie by dispensing administration claims as uncontested facts.

The corporate media has always treated Iraq as the product of "faulty intelligence" hawked by an overzealous administration rather than the premeditated dispersal of cherry-picked intelligence, a whole different approach.

The MSM narrative is so rudely violated by administration insiders telling the truth, which is that they knew Iraq had no ties to terror or WMD, but lied that they did. Lying to start a war is a clear violation of the spirit of the Nuremburg trials, if not an outright violation of international law, whatever that might mean to the administration. While the press might not be tried by some future court--other than that of public opinion where it must earn back viewer trust--the same can't be said for those who knew they were telling lies about Iraq, but went ahead and told them anyway.

It's only now, with the release of McClellan's book, that the press confronts the abject failure to scrutinize the intelligence that led to the war. Can the media police itself and accept responsibility for parroting administration lies?

McClellan has blamed the press for not being hard enough on prewar claims made by the White House. This double standard comes from someone who was walking dispensary of lies, someone who got paid to undercut criticism of the administration and bolster whatever it claimed as the truth. For anyone who's ever listened to these press conferences, sorting the direct and honest truth from what is said is a convoluted process as the spin and half-truths are laid on thick.

It took not the deaths of thousands in a useless, unnecessary war to bring McClellan to his desire to tell the truth, but rather Plame's outing, labeled the "CIA Leak case." The Plame case is very important as the forerunner to a series of abuses of power by the White House. Joe Wilson's debunking of just one of the Administration's claims on Iraq led to the outing of his wife, a covert agent active in the fight against WMD.

The Plame outing showed the rotten core of the relationship between those in power and the press responsible for keeping the press informed. Robert Novak was encouraged by Richard Armitage in a rarely granted interview to pursue the Wilson-sent-on-a-junket angle, which led to the initial public outing of Plame in a column by Novak.

The group of Plame outers conspiring in the White House--led most certainly by Vice President Cheney--counted on media people like Novak and Bob Woodward to care more about preserving insider access--and all the professional benefits that brings--than the truth of what they said. When forced to consider protecting Plame's identity, media people with close ties to the White House were pre-disposed to blaming Wilson was guided by partisan political motives--out to get the White House.

It's hard to be sympathetic to McClellan. During the Fitzgerald investigation, there'd been rumors that he'd brought Plame's identity up in conversations with reporters. McClellan also occupied a central position in the White House/press corps nexus and could exploit overeager, ambitious press people quite easily. Writing a book can hardly absolve him now.

Judith Miller spewed lies spoon-fed her by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) about Iraqi WMD. So enamored was Miller with WHIG member and Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby that she steadfastly refused to testify against him in the Fitzgerald investigation, spending months in jail instead.

Whatever Miller's relationship with Libby, she risked something else entirely by admitting her role in outing Plame: her professional credibility. If the public were to learn about her role as a parrot of White House propaganda, it could taint her entire journalistic legacy. Countless articles on Iraq WMD authored by Miller--appearing on the front page of the New York Times no less--would be revealed as a mix of government propaganda, unchecked facts, and biased innuendo. This revelation would deeply hurt Times publisher Sulzberger, a man who'd entrusted to Miller a great deal of that paper's credibility and page space. It's worth noting that the NYT has yet to run any correction of substance for any of the dozens of articles Miller wrote concerning Iraqi WMD.

While lies on WMD and terror in Iraq were propagandistic, the Plame outing appears more to be about silencing the intelligence apparatus which could have exposed Bush administration "faulty intelligence" to be the lies and outright fabrications. Like Watergate, the famous apartment complex where Nixon-affiliated goons orchestrated a raid on a Democratic Party office, most of the problems for the administration seem to come not from the initial wrongdoing, but from post-facto efforts to cover up the initial wrongdoing.

In the same way, Plame still presents the greatest danger for the Administration if fully investigated not in the sense of unmasking pre-war lies--the initial wrongdoing--but in their real motive: outing Plame in order to intimidate others into silence about pre-war lies. Now we see more and more former White House insiders verifying what was mere conspiracy theory a few years back.

McClellan might still be vulnerable to Congressional investigations which could try to identify what role he had in the Plame outing. We do know that McClellan had a bevy of press contacts through which he could hint that partisan motives were behind Joe Wilson's 2003 editorial on yellowcake, "What I Didn't Find in Africa." McClellan didn't have to tell people in the White House Press Corps that Plame was covert, he could simply hint at it, and hope that the press people he'd told would maintain his anonymity out of fear of losing their source.

McClellan only now chooses to reveal what he knew at the time, which is in itself evidence that he knew what he was saying at the time to be lies. By saying how Bush deceived the American public, he can transfer some of the responsibility over to his boss, and say it was them, not me. This defense was used in Nuremburg by SS guards at death camps, who simply said they were following orders. It's not much of a shield, but prosecution may be difficult when it relies on what someone knew at some point in the past, or when an entire society buys into the message of a Hitler. Much has emerged since Nuremburg to indict soldiers of the German Werhmacht, simple grunts, with all matter of war crimes related to the slaughter of innocents. In this respect, all Germany is responsible for the actions of a few.

Are we Americans responsible for the Administration's lies on Iraq? Like the scene in a Band of Brothers, should we be roused at gunpoint from our homes and made to clean up the corpses at the death camp down the road that we chose to ignore? With two oceans to separate us from our handiwork, the American people remains blissfully disconnected from the actions of its government. As long as Congress fails to investigate, or the press demand more accountability--of itself--I guess it would take a complete dismantling of the current government to hold those responsible, responsible.

Media control

The President's case for war with Iraq in 2002 was quite convincing. I'd just come back from Japan, where I'd been working and quite insulated from the nefarious goings-ons in Washington, D.C.. I'd reassured my Canadian, Australian, and English colleagues that there'd be no war! How wrong I was.

Yet when I'd come back in late 2002, I found the case for going to war compelling. Copious amounts of intelligence had been assembled and presented making what was at the time a powerful case for going to war. I hadn't been alone-- a majority of Americans sided with the President. Judging from a total absence of skepticism on the part of the press, I guess the media had pretty much bought into the Iraq threat, with 9/11 and anti-Arab hysteria playing a large part in that acceptance.

Unlike McClellan, we didn't know at the time that the Bush administration was cherry-picking intelligence and falsifying evidence against Iraq. That behavior was exposed much later, in the alternative media by writers like Justin Raimondo and Ray McGovern. Gracing the front page of the venerable New York Times, Miller's scoop on Iraqi WMD hardly seemed to be propaganda.

Much of what McClellan says has already been revealed. Arianna Huffington has commented that much of the blame for the situation we now find ourselves in rests with people who should have exposed the Bush administration earlier, like five years ago, long before the mainstream media bandwagon joined the Bush-bashing frenzy.

The long-standing reality is that the Bush administration abandoned truthfulness and transparency long ago. It's just never been convenient for editors and publishers in our much-consolidated MSM to let the facts be known.

Few Americans are aware of Congress' prerogative, which allows it to investigate any potential wrong-doing by the executive. Arguably, Congress has been derelict in its duties since passing on any significant inquiry into the Plame leak. It's worth remembering that Fitzgerald was only appointed because Acting Attorney General Comey took over while John Ashcroft was operated on, and signed the investigation into existence. With a Justice Department controlled by political appointees hellbent on pursuing political objectives with Rove-like viciousness, it's a miracle that Fitzgerald got any convictions. Or, once the legal investigation gained traction, accepting a lesser offense became more palatable for those involved.

If a conspiracy had existed to out Plame, it most certainly revolved around the Vice President, who was in the thick of the matter, scribbling in the margins of Wilson's NYT 2003 op-ed. He'd be the bigger fish that Libby, his chief-of-staff would have protected, being that the Bush junta craves loyalty like some gangster family (one whose ex-members are scrambling to rat out, apparently.)

The MSM offers a media environment which purged any dissent, accepting at its core Bush's rationale for war, while showcasing Pentagon "analysts" who were supposedly neutral observers. In just one example, in October, 2004, CBS (then part of Viacom) rejected the airing of a 60 Minutes episode about Bush's National Guard service on the grounds its release would be politically prejudicial to the electorate if released just before the election.

Tight control over the media by Bush-supporting moguls suppressed negatives coverage, so of course now McClellan's revelations are a surprise, but only because they redefine the narrative that the MSM sold about the war.

Who wanted war? There was a reason for the collusion between Zionist, Right-leading media moguls and the Bush administration. This relationship has been based on a quid pro quo based on the FCC deregulating limits on media ownership in exchange for less negative coverage appearing in the news.

To an extent, public perception reflects the amount of attention the press gives a topic. But the MSM can't monopolize coverage, nor can it sustain a politician's popularity. At some point, no amount of spin can sway public opinion in favor of Iraq, nor can it slow the opposition to Bush.

Enticed by the Administration's mismanagement of Katrina in 2005, eventually the MSM's controllers let its journalists enter into attack mode. This came too late to prevent a second term and all the subsequent abuses of authority that have occurred including at a minimum: torture, un-Constitutional spying, mortgage fraud leading to a collapse of the credit markets, on-going destruction of our military readiness, and ballooning budget deficits caused by war spending.

Facts not released to the MSM-viewing public remain out of the public domain, or at least that was the plan. Over time, people have gravitated to the Web, finding it a better source of unbiased facts and information. Out of the sheer necessity for survival against bloggers and alternative news sources which reported more fairly, the MSM was forced to improve its coverage.

On a host of issues, the mainstream media's ability to shape public reception has been drastically curtailed. One of the few remaining perception management techniques is to keep the public in the dark. Stories on Iraq are appearing far less frequently in the news these days.

The pendulum swings back, forcing MSM consortiums to re-evaluate the circumstances. Politics clearly has no place in the newsroom, nor should corporate managers dominate news coverage or censor valuable facts. These companies will most likely pay in the long-term with greatly shrunken numbers of readers and viewers. To the financial detriment of their shareholders, distrust of the corporate-controlled MSM could linger for years--a legitimate price that any distributor of government propaganda should pay in the much-ballyhooed free market of capitalism that these moguls rave about, even as they destroy competition in local media market after local media market.

We human beings have an innate thirst for knowledge and truth. Over time we will learn what we want or must to survive. No propaganda, or still-active-but-feigning-retirement general, can prevent the public from growing wise, getting suspicious, and lead them to question the veracity of their corporate news. Of course it's a tragedy that so many of our civil rights have been sacrificed, and so much treasure squandered, before the public has learned what kind of President that Bush has really been. The blowback will be immense, with the MSM losing credibility.

System failure

Ours is a system which denies us representation that day after a President is elected for a second term. A lame duck President need not fear a Congressional vote of no confidence because no power like that exists under our Constitution. Such a legislative action puts pressure on the Executive, and can even force new elections to be held in some nations. The way our electoral system goes, once Kerry was defeated, the Bush administration was in the clear.

Under our system, abuses of power and misconduct by one branch of government are meant to be constrained by the other two branches. The founders discussed using self-interest as a method to motivate one branch into halting the erosion of the rights of the other branches. With a full Congressional inquiry into pre-war intelligence, Congress could limit expansions of Executive authority that have come at their expense. The White House has successfully kept this area off-limits on the grounds of national security, which has kept Congress from investigating. Unless votes can be had at Bush's expense in a very public inquiry, there's little to be gained.

Once in power, stonewalling the Congress and Courts became the new operating principle for the Bush crew. Except through legal recourse, the methods used to get reelected became irrelevant, unless of course certain offenses were prosecuted or prosecutable. A Congressional investigation may be a big threat and condemn the Administration in the court of public opinion. In a move that hints at its vulnerability, the White House is now claiming McClellan can be blocked from testifying before Congress (link).

Like Watergate, much of the administration's wrongdoing can be traced back to the effort to get reelected. Led by Rove, Bush appointees in Alberto Gonzales' justice Department systematically purged prosecutors who wouldn't pursue politically motivated cases and were thus deemed unfriendly to the politics of the junta. The case of Alabama Governor Siegelman is proving to be a text book case of using prosecutorial discretion at the federal level to score brownie points with political insiders and gain through discretionary favoritism. See the Harper's article by Scott Horton.

Digging deeper into malfeasance within Justice could lead to huge holes being blown open in the official explanation for 9/11. Super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff actually entertained Mohammed Atta on a Sun Cruz casino boat, hardly a site patronized by loyal Muslims whose Koran explicitly forbids gambling. Like the fabricated intelligence used to make the case for the Iraq war, more and more inconsistencies show up in the 9/11 Official Explanation, except no tell-alls will ever emerge from insiders on that one.

As was the case with Joe Wilson, the first whistle-blowers are dismissed as crazies, or considered to be motivated purely by partisan politics. With 9/11, the first skeptics were treated as unpatriotic, or just wierdos. Then more insiders like McClellan might emerge and prove that the conspiracy was nothing less than the truth suppressed by the MSM, and the only fiction was that of the false narrative sustained through backdoor cooperation between the media and White House.

If one good thing can be said of our democratic process, it is that whistle-blowers can whistle. We are not totalitarian, and their voices haven't been silenced. The yin and yang are coming back into balance, we hope. Constitutional rights and a free press have been mauled by this process, but hopefully the Congress will step up and investigate. Likewise, market-based disincentives should emerge from the consolidation and politicization of corporate media.

The more time that elapses away from the event, and the less stigma that gets attached to any contesting of the very preliminary yet utterly final explanation offered by our government. Soon the preponderance of unprovable assertions which constitute the O.E. will have to be addressed, if not in the MSM and/or Congress, then on the Web, where so-called conspiracy theories are growing daily, bolstered by rising audiences willing to consider the merits of any argument based purely on the unvarnished facts.

Rather than conclude the event was caused by the planes, one very likely scenario is that bombs were planted in the buildings and detonated. We are really only seeing the facts emerge now, almost seven years later. How much more has our government and corporate media not told us over the years?


Friday, May 30, 2008

Torture: Illegal and un-American

It's not a big leap from the Executive branch exempting itself from some law to outright lawlessness. If society becomes one in which might makes right, every little too bit wannabe dictator will takes his marching orders from George W. Bush, and do as they please regardless of the laws meant to limit their authority.

The President leads by example. Even if he's not waterboarding people, his role is tantamount to full participation in the "harsh interrogation tactics" if he has endorsed their use, as Bush admitted recently.

Bush's rise to the Presidency really has changed things in our country. During the 2000 campaign, as I was struggling with my business, I hadn't thought the choice of Presidents would really affect me but has it ever. Gas prices spike past $4/gallon, which means prices are and will continue to rise. Our international credibility has tanked, which in my personal experience means overseas friends have given up on coming to visit our country. Another major personal threat is the deterioration of military readiness. We are much more vulnerable to internal tribulations like hurricans, fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes previously left to locally based National Guard manpower and resources, both of which have been shipped overseas.

Changes on the national stage do matter locally, I've learned the hard way. The move to disaster capitalism has federalized our emergency response capability. Under the Bush system of crony capitalism, disaster response and recovery have been privatized and de-localized, so we're more vulnerable than ever. The best example during Katrina was FEMA's blocking a Salvation Army relief convoy because it hadn't been authorized by Washington.

As fires rage in California and Florida, earthquakes and floods in the Midwest, drought elsewhere, maybe someone's trying to tell us something. On a higher note, if these weather tragedies are sent to us from God, the US has really been going down the wrong road morally and might actually a warning to repent and change our ways. No one more than George Bush ultimately takes responsibility for putting us on the path we're on, but I just saw a poll on CNBC that said more people blame Congress for higher oil prices than OPEC, Bush, and Big Oil, combined! The fact that Bush represented Big Oil seems lost on a majority of Americans who can't quite connect the hand-holding with King Abdullah with the nearly 10-fold increase in the cost of oil since Bush entered office.

What matters "over there" does make an impact over here. Over time, the fabric of a society can break down if laws are ignored by those in power. If Bush and his annoited lieutenants can break the law and get away with it, our legal system is irrelevant. Our government was meant to be established as a more perfect union. Kings and queens were entitled to no special priviledges under the law, and treated no differently from the average citizen when it came to the law. Nowadays there is a separate and unequal legal system for the rich, and for our President and those who go forth in his name.

Several of our founders spoke about the threat we could create for ourselves from within. Franklin talked about striving for security and losing all, and I believe it was Adams who talked about threats to our liberties posed by a standing army. The Constitution was created in an age when alliances between European nations caused incessant warfare, so entanglements were rightfully shunned. How far have we sunk in that regard, as we engage in multi-decade Status of Forces agreements in the over 100 foreign countries we now base ourselves in.

Essay on Torture:
Terror transgressions

Lurking in the collective consciousness is the scary fact that the US government, its agents, contractors, and proxies all violated both the spirit and letter of the law in treating detainees. The New York Times has an editorial out under the title "What the F.B.I. Agents Saw."

The FBI were canaries in the coalmine for Bush's newly created classification and trials process custom tailored for radical anti-Western Muslims. The NYT editorial says of the FBI who visited Guantanamo that "they also predicted, accurately, that it would be impossible to prosecute abused prisoners."

I posted to commondreams.org under the article, "Report Details Military Tactics FBI Agents Found Abusive" by Marisa Taylor. Here is my post:
The FBI distancing themselves from military procedures is a huge red flag. I'd written in my blog that "clean" FBI teams had had better success than the ones who witnessed or deployed torture using Starbucks and congenial conversation. Recently, during the Guantanamo trials military attorneys voiced concerns that might be disobeying their superior officers in trying to defend their clients from illegally acquired evidence. The judges may or may not choose to disqualify confessions based on torture. Military lawyers representing Gitmo detainees threatened to quit rather than be forced to violate legal procedure. Allowing the tortured confessions to stand as evidence could deny defendants their right to representation and full defense under the law. Strict adherence to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, like the US law which FBI agents operate under regardless of locale, would throw out all the coerced testimony.

The FBI's pull-out showed illegal conduct was commonplace and in violation of US laws and statutes. Just how bad did the torture get? In Abu Ghraib, we saw the horror captured on digital cameras. A journalist imprisoned at Guantanamo, Sami al-Haj drew illustrations showing the horrors he faced. See his story and some of his art article on alternet here. I particulary liked the alien-like appearance of the US military staff performing an autopsy in one of the drawings. For more in this theme, see Fernando Botero's work here and here.

Like the Botero and al-Haj paintings, hunger strikes have plagued Gitmo but gone hidden in the American media. Forced feedings were ordered lest the prisoners starve. Yet these humanitarian grounds for intervention have been carried out in a most inhuman fashion. In Gitmo, prison guards thrust tubes down the nasal passages of detainees as they were strapped down in special feeding chairs. A famous case of IRA detainees starving themselves in the 1970s established a precedent that forced feeding was a violation of prisoner rights, even if it led to their deaths. In essence the forced feedings were simply more torture inflicted against hapless victims.

Americans should worry about be the possibility of the torturing police state mentality being turned inward, towards domestic dissidents, then political rivals. First, they came for Jose Padilla, and I did nothing... Then they came for Dr. Sami Al Arian, and I did nothing...

Perhaps the torture is the adrenaline rush peak of a power trip. Our political leadership might get off on doing whatever they want, knowing they can get away with it. Maybe the torture videos circulate the White House like porn in a prison, where they provide late night entertainment. A power trip involves doing things not for any good reason--like gathering intelligence--but rather because they can. Victimization serves the ego of a weak mind, so torture tells us a great deal about those who authorize and do it.

Racism plays a role in allowing unspeakable horrors to befall terrorist suspects, who are under our traditional legal system (vs. the de facto one Bush created), innocent until proven guilty. Arabs are seen as a sub-human, and racism forms the backbone of the attitude of Americans towards the region since 9/11. Bush's comments during the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding--not disseminated in the MSM--basically called for a territorial expansion of Greater Israel, a Zionist program from the start. Of course green-lighting ruthless expansionism doesn't bode well for the Palestinians whose lands will be expropriated. The US traditionally played the role of mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; now it is perceived as part of an anti-Arab axis.

Making enemies

The enemy combatant label was created post-9/11. Fabricated, the new label required a whole new legal system, again one which would not be able to meet the more rigorous qualifications of US domestic courts. However, the Jose Padilla case shows that terror convictions can be successfully made under higher evidentiary standards. Padilla's multi-year un-Constititutional lack of representation and due process should have tainted his trial. After such prolonged isolation however, Padilla appears dysfunctional and incapable of grasping the charges made by the government against him. Little of his abusive treatment at the hands of a naval brig in South Carolina was brought up in his trial. By the time Padilla saw the light of a Federal courtroom in Miami, he'd suffered through years of extreme isolation.

Padilla was likely treated better than those that US has held in secret prisons called "black sites", as well as at the hands of third party nations who received non-US nationals as the by-product of "extraordinary" rendition.

Canadian political refugee Arar was sent back to his native Syria after being detained in New York. Arar has filed civil lawsuits claiming that the US government acted with malicious intent when it rendered him out of the US. Suspecting Arar of terrorist ties, the US simply dropped Arar off to a country they'd known would torture him. This way source of their evidence--likely a suspected terrorist tortured into giving names--could be masked under a national security prextext. The government could likewise avoid having to provide evidence against Arar--which is a red flag saying they simply didn't have enough on him (perhaps because he was--in fact--innocent?) In a similar case, Abu Omar, an Eygptian iman from Milan, Italy was sent back to his native land where he'd been brutally tortured, as stories of abuse written on toilet paper emerged out of his Eygptian jail cell. See the Mother Jones exclusive by Peter Bergen.

The enemy combatant designation deprives detainees of due process in part because the system for detaining and capturing through the process of rendition has little legal precedent on which to rule. Yes, international law could be subverted by classify War on Terror targets as "enemy combatants", freeing Bush and the US national security machine to employ radical techniques. The status of detainees was specifically meant to differ from Prisoners of War, who were given legal rights under treaty law. By changing the names of the terrorist suspects, the Bush administration hoped to reject the legal limitations on their behavior. In going it alone on the enemy combatant designation, the US has abandoned precedent in both international and US military law.

Yet the system for dealing with the detainees after they've been forced to confess is dysfunctional. One big problem with the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan is the huge numbers of prisoners that the US must manage.

Our military can't process battlefield detainees, a broad term referring to any persons that the US military and its allies might choose to detain in the battlefield, which through the War on Terror has expanded to encompass just about anywhere. High-value targets are meant to be screened out of the larger group of detainees, and sent up the military chain of custody to Guantanamo, if the military chooses. But what about the Afghan who fired a few potshots then was tortured to confess to being a member of al Qaeda? What if he's simply an innocent who's been brought in order to provide his captors a bounty? If we are to rely on our military alone, we cannot trust whatever evidence our Afghan partners might produce, because it hasn't met our supposedly higher benchmark. And if the US presence is not meant to impose justice, how can we ever get out, yet alone claim victory by creating a functional state through our presence?

Saddam's barbaric execution by Sadr's people showed just what happens if we give detainees over to the Shiite government. Corruption and close tribal affiliations mean prisoners released from US custody might simply be set free by the locals or executed, not for doing anything wrong but simply for being from a rival tribe. On a practical level, we can't process these people, because our military probably lacks the sufficient evidence or judicial capacity to try them all.

(Il)legal process

Bush created a military tribunal procedure which is an attempt to break with concept of a traditional military court controlled by the Uniform Code of Military and US laws which forbid "harsh interrogation techniques," a term that refers to torture under long-standing international laws.

The processing system for detainees reflects the hodge-podge of iffy legal arguments made among White House lawyers. Conjecture based on the theory of a Unitary Executive granted through fiat the President extralegal powers based on his job responsibility to protect the American people. Bouncing legal opinions among White House staffers was elevated to the status of scholarly legal opinion and quickly brought into operative norms of conduct. Scrutiny of the proposed legal processes were reserved from broader, judicious review. Looking back on all the violations of law by the Bush administration, we can now see the legal arguments as nothing more than efforts to circumvent the law--in this case removing the well-established codes of conduct for US military personnel.

So weak was the White House argument that it claimed that US laws don't apply to US personnel operating on Cuban soil--the tip of Cuba on which Gitmo is located. Not so, said the FBI, which pulled its people. This approach actually dates pre-9/11, when the Bush administration tried to exempt US soldiers from the International Court of Justice, which could try US soldiers individually. Under Bush, the US has gone to great lengths to protect military personnel from prosecution by foreign courts, so much so that legal invulnerability for our troops is codified in Status of Forces Agreements we sign with nations hosting our bases. Along the same lines, a clause in Iraqi law forbade kept our soldiers and even private contractors from being tried for any crimes they might commit.

In getting US forces exempted from international law, Bush would have been easily sold the popular misperception that the US military would be hamstrung if put under the legal discretion of non-American courts. There is also the possibility that the higher-ups feared being prosecuted for their wrongdoing if lower ranking personnel testified against them in foreign courts. Perhaps the reason top policymakers were so concerned with legal accountability of troops is the understanding they could be liable as their commanders and originators of the orders.

Accountability for the higher-ups in the military chain of command has been sorely lacking. Looking back at Abu Ghraib, we saw Lt. Col. Pappas apparently endorse the harsh interrogation tactics yet face nothing more than a slap on the wrist for his behavior while the "recycled hillbillies" below him in rank were sentenced to prison. Major General Geoffrey Miller brought torture techniques from Gitmo to Iraq in 2004--he's faced no legal consequences for his conduct either.

Violence and outrage rules in a society stripped of its laws like Iraq. The rape of female KBR contractors also shows the legal loopholes that come into play when suing in US federal courts. Without the rigid controls of a functional legal system in place--military or non-military--, justice breaks down. Criminals aren't prosecuted, crimes occur without recourse, the fabric of a society's grounding in the law begins cracking. Rapists and murders go untried, uncaught, and anonymous, which of course just encourages more raping and killing. Knowing they face no prosecution for what they do in Iraq, private contractors do as they please there.

Roots of torture

Politically, Bush need to be claiming success in the War on Terror. The Iraq insurgency had heated up in the spring of 2004, with Fallujah becoming an example of Sunni resistance to the US occupation. With the fall election coming up fast, demonstrating progress in Iraq became vital for political reasons. Someone must have convinced Bush and his people that torture would forestall the insurgency--at least through the election. The spin job concocted around redefining torture as "harsh interrogation techniques" shows how that Bush and his closest legal advisers like Harriet Miers and John Woo were trying to hide the truth, which was that they were breaking international law.

The domestic political audience was the real target of war on terror rhetoric and presumptions--one of which was the TV series 24's use of torture as an anecdotal proof of the need for expediency in dealing with terrorists. The bad guy--alleged terrorist--is tortured in exchange for saving the lives of thousands. A fair trade-off, it would seem, until the legal ramifications of torture are considered.

With 9/11 as the backdrop, American soldiers in the field could have looked at any Afghan or Iraqi as a terrorist. In the field, civilian casualties were identified post-humously as "dead terrorists" so reclassifying live ones who'd dared to resist the occupation as "al-Qaeda" was no big step. In Americans' eyes, they were all guilty of 9/11. This is the VC in the jungle come alive in every Vietnamese face, all over again 40 years later. There, the dead civilians would become part of an ever-growing body count, used as a metric of military progress in that failed war.

Could the enemy combatant designation have been an effort to produce "actionable" intelligence? The threat to the US couldn't have been framed as more dire than since the Civil War, when Lincoln suspended the Constitution in dealing with domestic insurrections. The end scene in Gangs of New York depicts the harsh clampdown which killed large numbers of New Yorkers. Numerous antiwar writers were imprisoned as well, and denied their right to trial.

Why torture?

The military tribunals system was created out of thin air by the same Bush advisers who created the enemy combatant designation. Trying to avoid international legal accountability originated out of the assumptions that torture 1) was essential to preventing new attacks and 2) would produce accurate results. Torture forces confessions out of guilty and innocent alike, just to stop the pain, so it's inaccurate. Torture is however a good way to find and "detain" a bunch of people regardless of their guilt or innocence, to give the semblance of progress in the nebulous War on Terror.

Just how concerned with accumulating evidence was the Bush administration? After 9/11if evidence were marginal or better, as in Padilla's case for example, convictions could have been had, so why risk it? After all, the military courts which could try terrorists are known to be hard for defendants, so the standards would have been lower than our Courts. Yet we've only seen a handful of post-9/11 convictions; the suspects languish waiting for trial.

Creating a new system to classify and try detainees strongly hints that prosecutors knew that had a sufficient evidence, but not lawfully acquired evidence that could withstand objections by the defense during a trial, whether through military tribunal or other court.

The architects of Bush's detainee classification and tribunals system had to produce convictions, so they created what they thought would be an easier method. They've created a jumble of new terminology and Soviet-style confessions upon which to base the legal side of the prosecution of the War on Terror. Why the need for reclassification and a whole new system of tribunals? Why not just feed their detainees through the standard military justice system?

The Bush people knew that torture worked not from a legal or evidentiary perspective but because it could extract confessions, which provided the currency of the belief that al Qaeda was in fact responsible for 9/11 and that a growing conspiracy persisted. While mostly worthless in a court of law, the results of harsh interrogation reaffirmed the presumption that it was in fact al Qaeda who'd been responsible for 9/11 and that the threat was ongoing. Apprehending terrorists and making them talk became a salve for Americans embittered by 9/11 and thirsty for revenge. In a nexus of politics and terror, they were constantly being told they'd come under attack from al Qaeda.

Our government must have known that their cases were weak long before the manufactured evidence began to come in. They must have known torture would make convictions harder. So why torture, other than to get people to admit being more involved than they actually were? In short, torture created the justification for continuing wars based on a threat from terrorism, by procuring evidence--real or contrived--that an ongoing conspiracy was unfolding, one which rationalized ever more extreme interrogations to prevent a mass casualty event in the US.

Torture committed years ago haunts us now. We have to contend with the thousands of incarcerated Iraqis, Afghans, and others who've been caught up in the terror dragnet. Without a system in place to try, convict, and imprison, or free those detainees, they languish in American-run prisons, denied a right to trial we grant our worst criminals back in the US.

As I said here a while back, the abandonment of Geneva actually causes more problems than it solves. We can still fall back on the rule of international law, but this might decrease the conviction rate, a political liability but a practical necessity if our overseas prisons are to ever shrink and the detainees there processed fairly. Fairness undoubtedly involves the right of habeas corpus--a right to a speedy trial before a judge as well as the right not to be tortured. And back home we need to end this thing one day--with terrorists tried and convicted, doing hard time, or executed.

On a conspiracy level, the inadequacy of Bush's detainee classification and tribunal system may be meant to globalize the prison-industrial complex which has been America's #1 growth industry with more than 2 million imprisoned--more than any other nation. Military functions are being privatized, so we may live to see the day a corporate flag flies over our foreign bases and overseas prisons. Our nation's role in torturing detainees might need to be outsourced in order to save what is left of our global credibility and respect for the rule of law that's been sacrificed in the War on Terror and our ongoing occupations/wars of conquest.

Additional Sources

Good article on torture by Dahr Jamail from March, 2006 here.


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Friday, May 16, 2008

Two Americas

Here is a tale of two nations. One is wealthier, educated, progressive, and post-industrial. The other's economy is in its death throes, its less educated workers desperately clinging to the few manufacturing jobs not sent overseas. Economic hardship hits both nations, but one has a better educated workforce more adapted to a 21st century economy.

In one, religious fundamentalism dominates the body politic. In its most extreme form, this patriarchy forces underage girls into marriage. Women are forced to be submissive and docile before their husbands who rule their polygamous families like little emperors.

The other country supports sex education, condoms, and consequently has a lower rate of teenage pregnancy. Abstinence is embraced both as a substitute for sex ed and an excuse not to offer condoms in the other country. The result is a far higher rate of unwed teenage pregnancies and high demand for abortions.

The real cause of so many abortions--unprotected sex by young, unwed partners--is ignored. Instead, the Red states curse abortionists, criminalize the procedure, forcing providers and pro-choice support networks underground like the "railroad" helping blacks escape the South during slavery.

Meanwhile, in the bluest state--California--homosexual marriages were just approved by the State Supreme Court. Rather than practice tolerance for alternative lifestyle, in most Red states gays are routinely harassed by the God-like, Christian folk who are anything but. Ghandi did say, "I like your Christ but not your Christians."

Not too long ago, cultural conservatives feared "Californication," to borrow the term used in a Red Hot Chilis' song and album by that name. Rather than purge the influence of a morally corrupt Hollywood, young people in both countries have grown up in the shadow of MTV, 90210, Road Rules, etc., which peddle a new consciousness based on the one's level of happiness--which is California-style shallowness, hedonistic. Do what you want if it makes you happy.

The consumption of entertainment has become the social ideal for millions. Self-pleasure is cherished far more than the institutions of marriage and sacrifice.

The Red States do provide more people for our armed forces--supposedly for the collective defense. This may be because people in the Red States consider themselves perhaps more patriotic, or because there are fewer economic opportunities waiting for them back home. While many post-adolescent enlistees enjoy the notion of defending their nation, back in the homeland, sacrifice is for the others--those, to borrow the words of a Red state princess, Jenna Bush, national service is "not even a practical question."

"South Americization" might also describe what has happened to our country. Power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer, who grow progressively wealthy. Like a banana republic, our military serves as a bastion for the President's authority which is tied to a band of thieving plutocrats. In an effort to preserve control over society by the wealthy and retain the power of the ruling junta, the rule of law is truncated by the Executive. The little people suffer as the military turns its attention inward, torturing on dissidents and anyone perceived to be a threat to the regime (or any group labeled as a threat.)

Laws have been subverted by internal memos and signing statements that free the Executive branch from having to follow the laws meant to impose limits on their authority. The Constitution is the highest law in the land, and it requires the President to comply with the popular mandate as expressed through the people's representatives--Congress.

Under Bush, a Department of Justice selectively purged Democratic lawyers in its ranks. It was just by chance that an interim, unappointed Attorney General Comey appointed Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame outing scandal, otherwise nothing would have been done under Bush's minion Gonzales. In South American countries plagued by narcoterrorists, the judicial branches are independent of the Presidency because they are easily tainted by corruption. Judges even have their own police force since the deprivations of the law are so common and enforcement so lax.

"Texas-ification" is an apt description of the process which four years of George Bush has wrought upon our nation. Our prisons now contain over 2 million people, the highest ration of any country in the world. Against the Uniform Code of Military Justice, an environment of prisoner abuse which originated in Texas prisonsunder Bush was re-created overseas. A 2005 BBC Channel Four investigation uncovered horrific abuses; I was only able to find one site offering the video for download (donation requested.)

In Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, "harsh interrogation tactics" were authorized by Bush, justified by White House lawyer John Woo, and implemented by Rumsfeld and commandant Major General Geoffrey Miller, who took Gitmo-style techniques to Iraq in 2004. For those in power, torture has become a necessity in order to protect what's good about that country--an evil justified by the good it serves. What our Red state leaders do in our name reflects on all of us, whether we oppose torture and support the concept that no man, even our President, is above the law. So the lower moral fiber of the South American/Texas approach to governance makes all Americans look like lawless yahoos who like to torture. This does wonders for our international standing.

Torture is a very unreliable interrogation technique, but results aren't what matter. Instead the perception that we are winning a nebulous war on terror matters more. Dispatched to Guantanamo after evidence extracted during torture was realized to be inadmissible in a court of law, FBI teams got better results with cordial conversation and Starbucks.

One possible reason brutality didn't work: perhaps the people there weren't guilty. Torture has the very nasty problem of leading both guilty and innocent to confess. While confessions might please politicians hungry for terror scapegoats, they do tend to get a lot of false positives--like the Salem witch trials. Thrown into a pond to drown, accused witches were said to have been innocent if their corpse floated, as opposed to it sinking, which would have indicated they'd been guilty after all.

Back to the root of the problem with our political system: two Americas. One is a nation ready to accept the challenges of the 21st century, embrace a multi-racial candidate, and look to the future. The other is scared, more comfortable in religion's embrace than facing the pure reason and unvarnished truth that they're falling behind. Unfortunately the Red nation is more populous and has come to dominate national elections; they traditionally determine who is the President.

Economic issues divide Americans

Talk of class is taboo in the US. One study by The Pew Charitable Trusts (.pdf) discover that social mobility--defined in economic terms as the ability to raise your standard of living over that of your parent--has declined below Europe's, a place which many American immigrants left in order to seek out economic opportunity here some time ago.

It's good to be rich in an America of growing income gaps between richest and poorest. A new gold rush is on, but only the wealthiest Americans can play. The rich get to slosh in all the money being pushed around, with little actually being physically made anymore. It's a feudalistic system were serfs and servants serve the master.

Historically, such an imbalance of wealth has been taken to be a sign of impending revolution. Aristocratic rulers have always feared the middle classes most because that is where revolutions tend to originate. The middle classes are more educated and wealthier, and better able to oppose the exploitation and destruction of a society by its elite.

Perhaps its no coincidence the middle class in America is rapidly fading. Social mobility is no longer what it was. Maybe a conspiracy exists to impoverish all but a few, who become little kings over their respective fiefdoms.

One great way to take wealth from the people has been inflation. Inflation robs wage-earners, but it allows the rich to accumulate ever more wealth. Interest rates rise to stymie the over-spending, and the rich simply move their money into better paying accounts, earning higher interest as the newly impoverished must labor as debt slaves to ever higher interest payments, living paycheck to paycheck as their standard of living declines with higher costs.

In an inflationary situation, the wealthy can profit and simply get back more on what they lend out. Meanwhile every cycle squeezes the middle and lower classes, trapping them in debt servitude as their incomes fall.

Political confusion

The US is now controlled by a small group of elite who make decisions on our behalf. "Financial power trumps political power in a country dominated by a corporate system," says Danny Schechter.

The political system offers a fake choice every two to four years for the masses. Like lethargic beast, between a third and a half of those eligible choose to vote. Many have become cynical and don't think their vote will matter. Many have become disillusioned with the choices available in the two-party duopoly. Third party candidates can't earn representation. Could this defrauding of the American voter be a conspiracy?

Elections are digitized into a black box controlled by companies like Diebold (name since changed) and ESS. Allegations of vote fraud are rapidly spun by the winners to be nothing more than whining from sore losers. Our representatives do little to nothing to reassure Americans their votes will be counted and complaints dealt with.

Political control reflects the ability to shape perceptions. TV molds our thinking. We consume en masse but we are convinced that every decision we make, no matter how inconsequential, is the product of a true choice instead of marketing chickanery. We obsess over celebrities and love them as if they loved us, if they even knew we existed. The superficial has become the norm. Fakery and consumption are the benchmarks of success.

The news is offered as a form of entertainment, not as an indispensable source of information required for citizens to make decisions that affect their future.

Just the idea that George Bush could come off as more like us than his political competition shows just how radically reality can be distorted for consumption by the masses. Of course Bush rivals Gore and Kerry came from the same group of Senator's sons and multi-millionaires, so the alternatives must not have appeared to be any more caring or down-to-earth. Bush has shown himself to be no conservative but rather a pandered to corporate interest groups who wear conservatism like a lapel pin while they disguise an intent to deconstruct the federal government's regulatory oversight, plunder resources, and engage in systematic looting of the Treasury through disaster and crony capitalism.

The Federal government has turned into a dispensary of funds for the best lobbyists money can buy. Pharma companies have gorged themselves at the federal trough alongside the prison- and military industrial complexes. Sooner of later the trough will run dry, even if inflated dollars are pumped out to soothe the contraction of a war-dependent, boom and bust economy.

Empowered by the failures of Republican incumbency, Democrats will recognizing the need for infrastructure revitalization and overspend. But medical costs will soar demanding ever more dollars, so they will be created out of thin air--or by the Fed rather (and then loaned back to us!). The depreciating dollars that our over-worked printing presses can still manage to churn out will buy less and less.

It's hard not to deny that changes are afoot that have put our quality of life in America in dire risk. The price of commodities is soaring or, looking at the situation in another way, our currency is losing its purchasing power very quickly.

Issues are of a global scale, with immigration and outsourcing changing the underlying dynamics which affect our standard of life. Trying to control one nation's future is left to the mercy of international flows of capital and free trade. We're told that we're better off with NAFTA, and that the loss of manufacturing jobs is a good thing.

Unlike Europe, we have no safety net. Even social security and medical care can 't keep up and the costs of medical care for seniors continue to go up. Americans appear willing to sacrifice their long-term financial security to make a fast buck. In our race to please our corporate masters, we've eviscerated the value of collective bargaining. As Europeans strike for more employment security, our truckers can only grumble about the rising cost of fuel and try to hold out until the process of free market capitalism combined with runaway inflation destroys them financially.

Tricking the masses

Americans are too overworked and indebted to be able to exert the necessary energy required for change. It's all too easy to work your jobs, decompress in front of TVs, then confront the next day's routine with caffeine and anti-depressants, whose use is sky-rocketing. It's easier to ignore the truth when it's ugly, or when the belief in the possibility of change fades into skepticism.

Americans love to win--the American people don't want to hear that the surge didn't work. So the mainstream media doesn't tell them but rather produces a stream of Pentagon propagandists posing as retired military officer/"analysts."

Identity politics rule--master political manipulators cultivate suspicion and trust as if they were marketing a brand instead of a politician. Like branding cattle, constant messaging convinces Americans to believe one of two candidates is more like them, while in fact no candidate could be anything like them. Who among us could make it through the vetting process and handle the financial burdens of running 18-month long campaigns? Hillary Clinton has plowed $11 millions dollars of her own money into her campaign.

Calling himself the Ebullient Skeptic, Phil Rockstroh writes in his seminal October 2007 "Who's Your Daddy" essay:
When a nation manifests a mixture of mass ignorance and official mendacity, in combination with uncheck(ed) power emanating from an insular and arrogant elite, a golden age of peace and plenty is as possible as holding a tea dance in a tsunami. As sure as a village of desperate fools who devour their seed crop, a nation that refuses universal health care to its children — yet rushes to the aid of its parasitic class of wealthy “speculators” and “investors” from the consequences of their own greed-besotted, fiscal debacles — is doomed.
...In a culture in which an individual’s worth is determined by the degree one can be exploited by the corrupt interests that control both the private and public sector, the public at large has little value to the political establishment. That is: other than, every few years, being bamboozled for their votes in the sham spectacles known as the US electoral process, a scam mostly financed, hence controlled, by the aforementioned big money interests.
In sum, this is the reason the Democratic Party feels little allegiance to their base. In turn, the political classes themselves are only of value to the big money corporate elite, because, by their delivery of staggering amounts of pork, massive tax cuts, and the passage of desired anti-regulatory legislation, they serve as their errand boys.

Rockstroh's essay hits hard. After a six month hiatus, Phil is back writing at his blog Ebullient Skepticism.

Talking about a potential Obama-Clinton match-up, Michael Carmichael in HuffPo says:
...William Burroughs warned America about the political abuse of the viral nature of language. In his chillingly accurate prophecy, Burroughs described our culture as defined by mind control via psychic, electronic, viral, subliminal and pharmaceutical agents under the control of a fiendish gang of miscreants, the Nova Mob. Burroughs explained,
The basic nova mechanism is very simple: Always create as many insoluble conflicts as possible and always aggravate existing conflicts -- This is done by dumping life forms with incompatible conditions of existence on the same planet.

It's like we've all been wound up to fight. Whether triggered by overpopulation or resource scarcity, we're almost sure to battle with each other. Can we ever save ourselves?

The America of today runs under a set of codes and values which no longer represent the little guy, the average citizen. Whatever you want to call it--New World Order, Bilderberg, Illuminati--this elitist control appears transcended the nation-state as the preeminent force on this planet.

The world's real leadership now comes from the business community. Why would billionaires put their leadership at risk by running for office? Control and secrecy are crucial in exerting the power elite's influence. Democracy threatens to challenge money interests for control, so a true choices in candidates is denied by creating a primary system wherein whoever has the most money wins.

To the new moguls, globalization is a purely economic principle, a breaking down of national sovereignty. Free trade is meant to cut the cost of labor. A corporate-friendly model of government is meant to be imposed on citizens everywhere. Mega-corporations and their politician friends set an aggressive agenda to privatize government functions. Government contracts work their way to wealthy friends in a corrupt network of cronyism.

Elitists have tried to control the world through private ownership of the national banking system (central banks) and predatory lending to Third World countries. Once some dictator--Saddam Hussein for instance--exhausts his credit line, calls rise for intervention and regime change.

War is hawked as a societal value--it's rationalized eternally, hidden behind a mask of patriotism. In time the excessive militarism of the Right damages our economy. The popular appeal of the Right wing's approach to governing shrinks. Once people get angry enough about mismanagement of their government to demand change--jarred from their slumber--the pendulum swings back to the left. The Democrats are increasingly empowered until the cycle completes itself--excessive government spending and inflation shuffles in the need for a paternal, Reagan-type influence and control over the chaos.

Bleak future ahead?

More and more, the Boomer generation, hard-working, greedy yet achievers of the highest order, leaves as its legacy a giant vacuum sucking up our "seed crop" for greater glory and profits here and now. No wonder the real estate-based economy is faltering--the demographic tide which buoyed the rise of the Boomers has retreated, leaving a fraction of the growing prosperity the American economy once enjoyed.

As the Boomers age, they leave the rotting carcass of their greed behind as they sunset their final years, not concerned in the least what they've left behind for the future. They got what they want--most of them at least--and their generation was all about me, without the "we." Our generation, the next, will struggle with this selfish legacy--perhaps it will take a economic crisis or real war to bring forth the bonds that unite America as one country. No, sacrifice is not giving up golf, Mr. President.

Technology is a vehicle by which people can unite regardless of physical separation, the internet is the method by which ideas can spread. Far more than a tool for capitalism, the internet may also be raising awareness of the threats faced by people of all nationalities from their governments and the corporate interests that control them. Even now, telecoms try to establish toll booths on the information superhighway, to restrict the free flow of information. In return, they've plead for immunity from lawsuits by people whose privacy they've violated.

Whatever hope for change lies in destruction of the existing system. Otherwise the pointless political cycle will rewind itself. This is what Jefferson talked about. We need to re-establish the relationship between the people and its government, and do it democratically.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Hillary Wins Ohio

Obama's electibility reflects his likelihood of winning. The chance of victory hinges on key states.

I've said Obama is unelectable. Yet no one can say definitively that Obama would do worse than Hillary against McCain. Polls over McCain vs. Hillary, McCain vs. Obama are brought out by one candidate's side to denounce the other. The media is blitzed with polls, predictions, and punditry. Those in one camp are receptive to information positive for their candidate and negative for the other. The same holds true for those in the opposing candidate's camp.

I do hope the majority of this nation, who do hold a set of largely progressive values in common, can overcome the squabbling of two politicians and focus on the larger issue, which is beating John McCain in the fall. Compromise is invaluable tool in politics, and the idea that progressives would abandon each other if their candidate isn't nominated is utterly childish.

No wonder the Right with their always-smaller numbers can defeat us time and time again. They are organized--like any political group which prides itself on uniformity and organization discipline, and loyalty, the Bushite ideal. A smaller cohesive group can always defeat large and more plentiful disorganized faces, just watch Gladiator.

We progressives need to value unity and cohesion more than expressions of individual liberty. We need in a word to come together. To beat McCain, we need to agree on which candidate is more likely to win.

Obama is the enigma--a great unknown who's capable of capitalizing on mass appeal, a desire among Americans to come together. Obama capture a certain hidden pressure I've felt building over the Bush years, the latter years in particular, which does now seem to be emerging in our society. Obama's biracial heritage and rhetoric focus on unity and change.

Obama does have quite a loyal following, a personality cult so to speak. I was labelled as an anti-Obama when I explained my position that he cannot win vs. McCain, what this hubbub is all about.

I'd reached this conclusion based on what I believe is a key and central fact: Hillary has done better in the key states the Democrats need to win in November. I keep returning to the central truth of the past two elections, that Florida and Ohio have been the key, and among the closest races.

No Democratic candidate has gone on to win a Presidential election without taking Ohio. Based on that assumption, Hillary will have a greater chance versus McCain since she won more votes there than Obama did.

Obama supporters no doubt could conclude he could win, but they'd be diminishing the chance of a Democratic victory if Hillary is better positioned to beat McCain in Ohio. No doubt the Obama people could claim that Obama's wins in Colorado and Virginia point to Obama's better likelihood of winning the overall election. They could also assert that Obama's appeal will build unstoppable momentum which could redefine the base assumptions of a traditional formula for victory.

No one can fully predict the results of the General Election in the media. In the polarized environment, such predictions are quickly assumed to be completely subjective. Cynicism and primary fatigue have already sunken to new lows, and could even put Obama's surging popular base at getting tired of politics come November.

The general election boils down to probability. Neither camp can predict that their candidate will win. The issue has politicized, meaning two diametrically opposed camps have formed, where criticism of one candidate is equated with being a supporter of the opposing candidate.

In a word the Democratic Party is polarized. This fracture could be healed, if people who share the values best represented by Democrats (of the two main parties) are willing to forgive each other. At this point, though it almost seems as if everyone wants to see the fight play out. In every war there are casualties, though. Some might even be so gravely hurt as to abandon the Democratic nominee, for another candidate, which will end up increasing McCain's chances of victory. What a shame that would be.

Sticks and Stones

In my last Obama article posted on smirkingchimp.com, pro-Obama detractors managed in labelling me pro-Hillary based on my lack of belief in Obama's electability.

Actually very little of that conclusion has anything to do with what I like about Hillary. I'm simply doing the math and contrary to some racist accusations, I really don't consider race to be any limitation or handicap should Obama actually win. I guess the somber message that racism exudes sufficient negative energy to preclude the possibility of an Obama victory in the states the Democrats need does hit on some raw nerves and stir some anger.

I think experience could be an indicator of future job performance, so--loyal Hillary supporter that I apparently am--I could have directed this accusation towards Obama. But I didn't, because Obama seems qualified. So I'm not trying to criticize Obama or I'd gone after that issue, which is clearly a liability unless of course people consider the brevity of a Senator's service as an indicator of incorruptibility, the duration of a politician service in the service of Ye Old Washington's arse a reverse indicator of trustworthiness.

Some say pointing out Obama's race as a factor is in itself a racist act. My purpose was never to criticize Obama, it's just that my critique became accusative simply because Obama people don't like to hear the negatives associated with race. I choose to make an issue of race not because it matters to me but because it may be the factor that makes Obama lose--in key states, far from bastions of liberalism inhabited by our betters who've quite wisely agreed to abandon race as an issue in their minds.

But out here, in the fields of a Midwestern red state, I get to see things differently. Every day I encounter people who are diametrically opposed to me politically. I feel compelled to burst out, "$4 gas, $4 gas, what a good job electing Bush was", or "nice job in Iraq" whenever I endure my thankfully brief encounters with these reactionary people.

I can't help feel that Bush voters, along with Floridian Naderites, are responsible for all this country has become. All the neglect of hurricane victims, the almost-gleeful failure to stop the worst terrorist strike on our nation, the debasement of our currency, the willful plunder of our Treasury, the systemic rape of environmental laws and enforcement, adoption of torture, and gross moral debasement of our standing in the world, this I lay on them.

I certainly didn't think of myself as a Hillary supporter until I'd been called that by zealous Obama fans! Well, now that I am a closet Hillary freak revealed, I guess I'll need to start revising on this blog all the differences I have had with her, and reasons for not liking her that I've brought up over the months: Kyl/Lieberman, pro-war vote, Pro-Zionist, etc.. Likewise, the reason I've had for liking Obama have been exposed here to see al lthe things I supposedly hate him for: his multiculturalism, amazing speechcraft, good-heartedness, and all those things which I so clearly oppose.

If the price of being labelled a Clintonite is that which I must pay to speak my convictions, so be it. I'd much rather lose what little credibility I have fighting McCain's policy for more of the same than vindicated in an Obama loss, one which I will similarly have predicted more than six months previous to the election, where there's was still time to consider. If Ohio is key, and Hillary better liked there as the primary results indicate, she will be more likely to win the Presidency than Obama.

What matters most

The choice of who goes on to challenge McCain is critical part of a process which focuses on beating McCain. Honestly, it's a question of how loyal people are to the Democratic Party and the progressive ideals which it represents better of the two most electable parties for national office.

The victory of McCain simply has to be considered a bigger threat than the ascension of Clinton, or Obama. Two more Supreme Court justices might be appointed, which could give Republicans an even bigger advantage for decades into the future. A 5-4 vote along political lines could be considered the definitive breakthrough point for Bush's December, 2000, Court-legislated victory. Under a even greater majority appointed by Republican Presidents, long-standing laws like Roe v. Wade will likely be threatened if not purged outright. The environment will be at even greater risk of evermore commercial exploitation just as CO2 and sea levels spike along with Global Climatic Change.

Neither Democratic candidate's popularity with Democrats is as important as their broader appeal with non-Democrats who might vote for the Democratic candidate. Also, I think any polling of Democrats in states certain to go Democratic is really irrelevant. In short it matters not who is more liked in New York or California, or Illinois or Minnesota. What matters in November is how the swing states vote.

Independents will have their say. McCain does have some popularity among independents, as does Obama. If Obama could prove that he can take in independents, it could give the superdelegates something to consider.

Republicans--many of whom allegedly voted for Hillary--may need to be factored out of the primary results, especially in those states where they can cross party lines in the primary.

The general election cannot be summarized in polls with theoretical match-ups: McCain vs. Hillary, McCain vs. Obama. Much will happen to shape perceptions by the time the election rolls around.

Superdelegates hold the key to the nomination. With neither candidate eclipsing the minimum number of delegates required, choice rests with this group. Freed of commitments to either candidate, the superdelegates reserve the prerogative to do what's right, in best interests of the party.

Let's be blunt about the ugliness of an Democratic Party nomination process which may have to deny the candidate with the most votes the nomination. Here is a post on chimpsternation from March by classwarfare:
the Delegates are not bound to any candidate. If they see a real problem with "electability" late in the game, they can switch if it is determine to be in the best interest of the party. And believe me,when the full scope of Obama's relationship with this church comes out,the same church that hold Farrakhan as an honorary member, the GOP will tear Obama a new a**hole with the connection to Wright, Farrakhan and the whole Nation of Islam association-whether real or not. The issue of reparations for slavery will be front and center, what are Obama's views on this?does anyone know,we are going to send him into the ring against Karl Rove without knowing sh*t like this? What else do we not know?

The post may be a little crude, but the point is that huge tub vats of mud are being gathered, waiting to be flung in siege that will be laid against whoever wins the Democratic nomination. Anyone unlucky to have know the candidates might be elevated to celebrity status by the media, like Wright. If the hatchet job isn't done directly by McCain it will be by the many Rove-inspired 529 fringe groups eager to perform character assassinations on the junior Senator from Illinois and his family.

The GOP has a toolkit full of attack ads just waiting to capitalize on bitter and dejected Obama fans if Hillary wins the nomination, or vice versa if Hillary is out.

I've heard Republicans have been voting for Hillary where they can. This has come to be known as the Limbaugh effect after the Right wing demagogue announced that Hillary will make a better candidate for McCain than Obama.

I'm not so sure the Republicans and "Pills" have any better understanding of who will win than anyone else. Trying to predict a candidate's chances of victory--or inversely, their level of commitment to progressive values--by virtue of who Republican icons say they want to face is rather idiotic.

The end game

Controlled by the superdelegates, the leadership of the Democratic party may have to be very undemocratic in denying the winner of the popular vote--who will almost certainly be Obama. The Democratic Party needs to consider the public relations consequences of a brokered convention.

I don't care for the endless ads and constant sparring. Hillary might manage it better, simply because she's been under the nefarious microscope of Republican scrutiny for so long. Simply based on her toughness, I'd give her the nod over Obama in that respect. She may have just as many dirty secrets--or darker ones--but at least we know what most of them are so fewer ugly surprises wait for us.

Obama may be a saint, but I wouldn't count on it. He'll be a crafty dodger if his handling of the largely-fabricated Wright controversy is any indicator. Ditching Wright may have been a bit of a redirection from the tone of his famous Philadelphia speech in late March but it worked. Still, his performance in Indiana and North Carolina was very strong, which show the so-called "controversy" has been dealt with, for now.

Yet these two states are very likely Republican bastions come the fall. Therefore they don't matter much in the fall. Still, Obama can claim his close Indiana finish proves his popularity with non-black voters. African-American voters constituted about 1/3 of the North Carolina Democratic primary but only one out of seven Indiana voters. Hillary barely won the non-black vote in North Carolina.

I've made, and will persist in my position that the black vote has disproportionally buoyed Obama throughout many of his victories, especially in southern states very likely to go Republican in the fall. Theoretically, Obama could win in Red states if he gets massive black turnout, but even then the African-American population make up far less of the total electorate than they do Democratic primary voters. Whites must be wooed.

Race can be positive factor, not only blacks for Obama, but whites who vote for him because the color of Obama's skin doesn't matter to them. Yet demographic limits loom large when the dimensions of state-wide audiences are considered. But, hey, Obama has exceeded all previous expectations, so he can't be counted out if he makes it to the ballot. It could be interesting. The sight of a tall, dignified Obama in his perfect Ivy League suit confronting sniveling, shriveled McCain in the debates might even be worth the price of losing, if the election comes down to Ohio and he can't do better against McCain than he did versus Hillary in that state.

I'm not going to rule him out if he wins the nomination. I will support the Democratic nominee.


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Thursday, May 01, 2008

The neocon dream becomes an American nightmare

The neocons are back in the news as we hear the war drums being pounded, this time for Iran. Iran was designated as part of the axis of evil in G.W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address.

Chinese-Iranian ties are a threat to U.S. economic interest in the realm of petropolitics where the energy reserves lie as the strategic prize, the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Iran also threatens the Carter Doctrine, which states that the US will defend the Gulf from any outside forces--taken to mean Russia at the time.

The hegemony of the dollar as the international currency pressures the US to act. Even the massive expense of Iraq is paid for in increasingly less valuable dollars. Iran just began trading its oil exclusively in currencies other than the dollar--Euros and Yen. Until Saddam Hussein first tried to sell his oil in Euros in the year 2000 or so, all oil had been denominated in dollars or British pounds.

The Iranian oil bourse prevents a financial threat that could further weaken the credibility of the US government and the intrinsic value of its currency. A fiat currency, the dollar's value is arbitrary, reflecting what our creditors think of our economy and ability to repay. The global trend is rejecting the dollar as the oil currency. Ironically the dollar's unattracctiveness come as a consequence of massive amounts of hard power being used to such little effect.

The dollar is now defended not by a strong balance sheet but the club of a military brute. Like any empire, the US' use of military force boils down to the assertion of our economic clout and political control over other nations. Depending on the strength of our military alone carries serious risks. Should the bullied stand up and succeed in resisting the bully, the intimidation factor is lost. Then nobody respects the bully, much less fears him or what he might do.

We're discovering in Iraq that the power to inflict damage can't build nations but rather yields diminishing returns. This is Reverend Wright's chickens coming home to roost, reaping what we so. The exclusive use of hard power denies cheaper and likely more effective alternatives. (For more on hard power see my posts here and here.)

Strategically, even the grandest empire can't muster enough forces and sustain standing armies forever. The US can't further leverage its already drawn-down military forces. Worse, our potential enemies know this and can assert their own prerogative while we can do little save bark and threaten. This is the price of burning our credibility, abandoning effective diplomacy, and eschewing non-military methods to resolve our conflicts.

This said, strikes on Iran via cruise missiles are quite possible. Targets include Iran's uranium processing center at Nanatz, where additional centrifuges were recently installed and Bushehr, the would-be nuclear reactor under construction with off-and-on Soviet help.

Of course an attack on Iran would be a big mistake. Still, nothing the Bush administration has done in the Middle East has been effective or logical unless the goal has been to jack up gas prices and leave the economy in tatters for the next President, presumably a Democrat, to deal with. The Bush junta that came into power on a Supreme Court vote along party lines may be capable of still worse things before they ride off.

One other reason could exist for going after Iran--the influence of the Israel lobby. Under the Clean Break paradigm, Iraq was targetted for regime change, while both Syria and Iran were meant to be destabilized, with regime change a wishful secondary achievement. Using U.S. military force, Clean Break has been rigorously implemented so far, with destabilization achieved throughout the region and two regimes changed.

Perhaps the only reason the war hasn't broadened are the limits on our military power. Like Vietnam--ironically the war that neocons set out to prove could have been won given the right PR support--, spreading the conflict can help alleviate the obvious failures that our Iraq policy has created. Spewing out the violence into a broader rapture would force our proxy states and allies to become embroiled and depend on us for their security. This both lengthens and deepens our involvement. Bush wants to enter into an open-ended, unratified treaty (like a Status of Forces agreement but not called that either) with Iraq committing us to defend that regime for years into the future.

As destabilization spreads, the US and its proxies can claim the need for further preventative and punitive measures as part of the Global War on Terror script. Enemies of the US have been labelled terrorists, so by expanding the war the US can present the illusion that those we kill are all terrorists and completely deserving of their fate. The ugly reality of dead children that accompanies any indiscriminate bombing, a tactic used at the end of the Vietnam war, is repressed as the other nations are attacked by our military or those of our proxies. The failed strategy of Iraq might seem less of failure if a regional war occurs with Iran, who's clearly the main target of Clean Break as the number one threat to Israel.

Lead-in to the Lunacy

Bush-appointed neocons brought forth their plans of conquest for the Mideast must have received quite a reception from the Pentagon. All this, mind you, before 9/11, while Cheney and his secret energy task force meetings were studying maps of Iraqi oil fields. 9/11 provided the perfect opportunity to implement aggression in the Middle East, but the plans for conquest had been laid out long before then.

Eager to avenge Vietnam, and bulstered by hubris, American generals likely underestimated the scope of resistance. Wolfowitz came forward and just recently admitted in the New York Sun. This could be the wicked fruit of the overly cozy relationship between our nation's military and its political leaders.

The Pentagon had been handed responsibility for much of the pre-war intelligence by the Bush-Cheney White House, abandoning functions which the CIA and State Department would have traditionally performed. The Office for Special Plans within the Pentagon cherrypicked intelligence while the White House Iraq Group disseminated falsified intelligence to the media via British and Italian intelligence services, with the later responsible for the famous sixteen words.

The stream of lies was choreographed to stimulate a domestic political audience considering the electibality of "war president" Bush. At this point, why would the White House or Pentagon tell the truth? We can't expect a straight answer if we ask them how the war effort is going. Bush's talking up the surge and General Petraeus has been unmasked as nothing more than perception management, all hat and no cattle.

Telling it is that General Petraeus has emerged as the administration darling. Architect of the surge, Petraeus was supposed to be leading the US to victory. Instead the results in Iraq have been questionable. And Petraeus, he's "falling upwards" as Tom Engelhardt puts it, into higher and higher positions, replacing Centcom's Fallon, who advocated restraint in--of all places--Iran. See Engelhardt's write-up on Petraeus here.

Divide and conquer

I've long said that the US has sought to execute a divide and rule strategy in Iraq. The idea is that by splitting Iraq along sectarian lines, social and cultural distinctions which had been repressed under Saddam could lead to disintegration. Saddam's Iraq, like Tito's Yugoslavia, was a multi-ethnic hodgepodge almost destined to internal turmoil when created by the Great Powers through an arbitrary penstroke across a map.

The world abounds with multi-ethnic nations. People in newly liberated former colonies may shared little more in common with each other than the language and culture of their former occupier. In this chasm of difference exists the potential for violence, in numerous nations, so there is no shortage of this problem; what is rather remarkable is the relative lack of inter-ethnic violence. Nationalism is a bonding force capable of overcoming internal differences, no matter how great.

Under Saddam, Iraqis were united; since our invasion the ethnic divide has grown. Is our intervention not the cause of the civil war? Can we presume to not have known what it would cause? While we can't be held directly responsible for whatever tensions existing before our arrival, we must accept our role in the chain of unintended consequences that we set off by intervening. Anything less is not only an violation of international law, but a wholesale abandonment of our ethical responsiblities as a nation.

If the Pentagon were in charge of the intelligence sent to/from the White House and on to the general public, any internal dissent (Shinseki) would not be tolerated. Thus the only intelligence that superiors would hear would be sufficiently optimistic as to bubble up to the top echelons of the political and military leadership.

Caution and doubt were tossed aside in the overwhelming certainty in a quick victory, so we can't say for sure Iraq was intentionally botched, although the war has been badly mismanaged--this is especially apparent in the afterglow of claims made concerning the progress of last year's surge.

Any outside power seeking to dominate a region will see nationalism as a threat. If Iraqis were to unite, they might throw their occupier out, and regain control over their oil resources, the real plum for the U.S.. Designed, by intention or not, keeping Iraqis divided does continue to offers a perfect pretext for continuing the occupation.

Recently relinked in whatreallyhappened, a 2006 article by James Cogan explains the strategy as articulated by prominent neocon Daniel Pipes:
Pipes argues that a civil war in Iraq could be advantageous by providing a pretext for US military action against Iran and Syria. Open warfare between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, he wrote in the New York Sun, would most likely “invite Syrian and Iranian participation... hastening the possibility of an American confrontation with those states, with which tensions are already high”.

Pipes' influential position allows him to penetrate the bureaucracy and work in conjunction with other Israeli sympathizers to help implement the strategy laid out in Clean Break. See the dossier on Pipes here.

Nothing the neocons have achieved or tried to achieve in the Mideast appears to be independent of the well-documented intentions of PNAC founders Cheney, Libby, etc..

Combining the adoption of Clean Break with Cheney's 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance (link) leads one to the conclusion that Iraq was invaded as part of a bigger scheme.

A confederation of miltary people and neocons joined forced to implement aggressive militaristic policies, using 9/11 as the linchpin. Neocons had harbored a long-standing agenda to attack enemies of the Jewish state, exemplified by Clean Break, the Zionist equivalent of Manifest Destiny.

While neocons may have dominated policy discussions, military men would help "shape the battlefield," waging a public opinion war over-dramatizing the threat from Saddam. Viewed independently of one another, these talking heads might not make much of a case to invade, or sway opinion that much. But the cumulative impact of so many people in whom the public has such trust mitigated criticism of war policies and colored the whole debate.

The US military does consider domestic public opinion to be a part of the battlefield, under a comprehensive war strategy the Pentagon calls full spectrum dominance. A coordinated plan of disinformation--just like the Cold War era Operation Mockingbird--serves the military in reducing domestic political resistance to the war and building popular resentment towards the enemy du jour.

A New York Times article April 20th identified a slew of former generals who'd presented themselves as analysts in the mainstream media as analysts. They'd worked in conjunction with the Pentagon to influence the narrative and reporting. Until very recently, this band of retired high ranking officers conspired to make a case for a continuing the war, and talking up the progress we were supposedly making. All the while they worked in direct contact with the Pentagon, coordinating what they said on TV with what the top brass and their political puppeteers wanted said.

Specific tasks were assigned the military people, including the insertion of outright lies and distortions for public consumption. This confluence of retired "analysts" with close ties to the defense industry and neoconservatives turned the media into a dispensary of lies.

The abuse of the public trust which the Bush regime has exemplified began with Plame, where a covert agent was outed with virtually no consequences. Press people like Novack and Judith Miller were used to make public Plame's status, allegedly as payback for exposing administration lies on Iraq that her husband Joe Wilson revealed in his 2003 NYT op-ed.

Using Pentagon analysts to spoonfeed the public little half-truths is an excellent example of propaganda in action. It's worth remembering that the Nazi Goebbels believed that propaganda needed to be mixed with some truth and innoculated with enhanced credibility associated with the machinery of the state and ultranationalist regalia. The role of as prudent, dispassionate outsiders usually assigned the retired generals masked a dark role as agents provocateur--pro-war plants who'd intended from the beginning to deceive and dispense lies and deflect criticism of the war or how it was being fought.

Goebbels' well-developed positions on the delivery of propaganda are a fitting component of any qualified neocon's dossier. The neoconservative movement was born on the premise that democracies should be willing to do anything to stop the rise of demogogues like Hitler. Neocons are therefore intimately familiar with Nazism and the psychological methods used to assert control over the German people.

Founder of the neocon school, University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss espoused a kind of democratic vigilantism to head off the rise of tyrants like Hitler. A survivor of Nazi death camps, Strauss influenced a whole batch of influential Right wing policy wonks who ascended to power under G.W. Bush. See an article on Strauss by Jim Lobe here.

As neocons were put in key positions overseeing our policy in the Middle East, the Israeli-centric Clean Break strategy came to dominate. Relying exclusively on hard power, the approach has been thoroughly discredited and caused tremendous damage to our economy and international stature.

The Pentagon's dalliance with the Bush crew has destroyed our military capabilities and could well lead to a defeat like Vietnam. Wars are political creatures, and the consequences manifest in the political sphere. Even if military results are presented in a favorable light a lack of positive results can't be hidden forever. Stretching the conflict out, or expanding it into Iran and Syria will most likely compund the negative effects of the intervention.


Blogger Amanda on April 25th discusses the NYT's "analyst" story at think progress. A PBS video is available there. A more recent post offers a video on White House spokeswoman Dana Perino's response to a question on the story.