Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mass Protests Needed

I just read "What Is to Be Done? Assessing the Antiwar Movement" by Matthew Smucker over at commondreams.org. The article worries about the future direction of the war movement, and reviews some of the underlying concerns about the efficacy of mass protest.

The last major protest I know of was over 9 months ago in Washington, D.C., where over 40,000 people (the organizers said 100,000) made their feelings known.

While MSM coverage was scant, I personally don't qualify the success or failure of a protest action based on its receptivity by the corporate press. For one thing, the press understated participation, and secondly, they minimized coverage. Rather than wait for results in the MSM, my response would be more to expand the size and frequency of the protests. Many antiwar groups have turned to other forms of protest.

Here was my original comment at commmondreams.org, which for some reason didn't load:

The people have spoken! It's only a question of if their representatives will listen. If you're tired of waiting and talking, I suggest mobilizing a protest march.

Apparently the upcoming elections will make little difference. As I listen to the collective groans about Obama's swing to the right, and the 60-90,000 troops that will be in Iraq in 2012 if Obama is elected, I realize the need for change.

Some protest groups have abandoned mass protest, believing it less effective than targetting politicians and key decision-makers. I don't know if that approach will work or not.

The last main protest was on 9-15-07 in DC, sponsored by ANSWER. There were about 40-50,000. I was there. Here are a few pictures that I believe catch the moment:

Leading edge
Code Pink is in action here
I like this one (too bad Pelosi took it off the table.)
Go Terps

I took heart from the leadership of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, a remarkable organization committed to ending the war. Their leaders were in the front of the march, wearing their fatigues. They took it all the way to the steps of the capital, where lines of DC police waited. There some 100 were arrested. Trials would later exonerate virtually everyone.

I have a few amateur videos about the protest available, but they aren't working at the moment thanks to Monoposoft "optimization."

This said I do think the mass protest is very effective. I'm surprised the ANSWER people don't want a repeat--it's been almost a year.

Like I'm saying, the President and his cronies will get away with as much as they can. They must be stopped--neither the Congress nor the Courts really seem able or willing. This leaves it up to the average person on the street through mass mobilization.

It's time for a new march. Then another. And another. 'Til they get the point.
~end comment~

In the comments beneath Smucker's article, as well as in several articles, mass protest is rejected as being ineffective. I think progressives tend to feed off the low expectations which seem to be based on the lack of any immediate positive outcome. This maybe partly the doing of the current administration, which seems to shower well-intentioned people with a constant stream of unrestricted corporate cronyism, war profiteering, human rights abuses, environmental destruction, and outright abuses of power that could get anyone down.

Protest hinges on belief, or to use another term, faith. As long as people don't believe they can make a difference, they won't.

Introspection doesn't have much value to the antiwar movement. Just get out there and get'r'done. Of course everyone is entitled their opinion--it just seems that the kind of people who attend protests might respect individualism too much. The crowds which tend to gather for most demonstrations tend to be anti-authoritarian, and therefore more tolerant--too much so--of differences in opinion.

Rebellious types who typically make up the vanguard of a mass protest may also lack organizational talent, although the ability of ANSWER to mobilize so many thousands in D.C. last September amazes me to this day. A little authoritarianism might be needed, at least enough to keep the march on schedule.

It seems as if people in the movement feel the "movement" is no movement at all. I'm afraid the inexperience of many participants in the antiwar movement leads them to conclude they've had no effect if their effect isn't felt immediately, and broadcast in the media. It's as if the many participants in the antiwar movement need to be assured that their opinions do matter, and that their actions do have an effect, before they'll take the slightest action.

Beware the perils of driving forward--especially at a high rate of speed--while looking through the rear view mirror! If the antiwar movement is so introspective, and looking for self-appreciation in how the broader society sees it, it will be limited in effectiveness. Perhaps it's the self-conscious media age which we find ourselves is partly responsible.

Mass protest is the only proven method to get attention when all else fails. The past demonstrations have been devoid of any hardcore protest actions. Fights tend to be between counter-demonstrators and antiwar demonstrators, not the demonstrators and police. I tried to intervene with one cameraman who jammed his camera between one of the Golden Eagle counter-demonstrators and an antiwar one, inciting them to a tussle. He kept on filming despite my pleas for him to stop.

Fight for your right

Without real confrontation, mainstream media attention will be limited--if it bleeds, it leads. It's a sad legacy of 9/11, that performing for the cameras, and delivering shock and awe, have become the modern forms of spectacle, the modern gladiator wars to appease the masses.

Maybe the 80's and 90's raised an apathetic generation who've come to take their freedoms for granted. We're always told that freedom isn't free. Yet when it comes to do something important, far too many prefer to sit at their computer screens and blog about it, or simply do nothing.

Now if there's a draft, the motivation to end the war will certainly rise, and encourage young people to protect themselves from conscription. As draftees come back in body bags, lukewarm resistance to the war will become hardened. Antiwar protesters will take bigger chances trying to get noticed. All of a sudden the consequences of war resistance won't be as drastic as getting sent into the fray as a young draftee.

Resistance to the war might lead legions of young people might reject totally the societal norms, like they did during Vietnam. Communal living, drug exploration, and anti-materialism might lead to serious consequences for our broader society. Not many societies can sustain indefinite periods of cultural upheaval; in this regard, the passage of time becomes a considerable liability as the status quo shifts negative.

Publicly opposing the government's positions forces it to rationalize and justify them, as well as whatever countervailing force it brings to bear in its effort to suppress dissent. This repression can further diminish the credibility of the regime, and bolster the cause for more democratic reforms.


In the aftermath of social upheaval, the population might well grown cynical and distrustful in their government, as the many in the US did after Vietnam.. This anti-establishmentarianism constrained military efforts, covert surveillance, and police interventions which helped defend the war economy and the police state.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was one of the legal manifestations of this blowback, passed by Congress in 1978 after a thorough investigation of CIA activities. During the war on terror, neocons and defenders of the "Unitary Executive" saw laws like FISA as impediments in wielding unrestricted warfare against enemies of the state--in this case people labelled terrorists. In the opinion of people like John Woo and David Addington--who recently testified--the power of the federal government was sufficient to defeat any threat--foreign or domestic--anywhere, if Congress and the Courts would just leave them alone.

Naturally, politics play in role in free the Executive from the presumptive burdens of following the law. The arrival of Bush in 2000 offered the neocons an opportunity to right what they saw as the wrongs of the seventies, when Congress had done so much to reign in the Presidency and military after Vietnam and Watergate.

How long were Americans willing to tolerate Vietnam? Endless war for endless peace has been a guiding mantra in this country since World War Two ended and the hungry military-industrial complex began to look for new wars to fuel economic expansion and feed itself. The Seventies may have just been a pause in the inevitable march forward of the growth of the state and elimination of individual rights and privileges under the Constitution. Under Bush, laws have been nullified de facto, simply through the absence of any efforts at enforcement. Standards of conduct have dropped precipitously as a result, creating an atmosphere where illegality is not only tolerated but encouraged. Complicit, Congress has just gone along, content to abandon their oversight responsibilities and shower endless billions more on Bush and his wars.

Hippie comeback

Looking back at Vietnam, the massive protest movement was about "dropping out" and "tuning out" what "the Man" was saying. Life was all about following a course of one's making, with the way sculpted with hallucinogenic drugs, led by a free-wheeling spirit of rock'n'roll and nurtured along with a good dose hippie love. Resistance was more than a movement, it was a way of life.

I was lucky enough to have experience much of this world through my days as a fan of the Grateful Dead. The concerts were surrounded by a mix of happy campers, flower children and their children, alongside mushroom-munching, rasta-haired, VW bus-driving, tiedye-wearing peace lovers. Inevitably, I discovered a counterculture with the Grateful Dead that began to look very much like a culture, one that just happened to reflect a set of values radically different from the ordinary. Being on the fringe, and not hippie enough to become intimately immersed, I nevertheless found myself cautious of Deadheads who were more about the drug scene, and the free-living lifestyle, than they were about the music, or the more transcendent virtues of peace and love central to the hippie movement. To some of the newer rebel fans, the peace, love and music were often just secondary benefits, tangential to the real reason they went to a Dead show: to get high, to drop acid, and escape.

The anti-drug movement which spiked in the mid-Eighties provided a catalyst for contrarian-minded people to reject mainstream America's values. In the same way a generation before millions had rejected 1950's era conformity for a more creatively-inspired future, in a world limited not by convention or function, but by the endlessness of the imagination. A whole new generation of Americans has matured since "Just Say No" attempted to correct the popularity that drugs like cocaine and marijuana had enjoyed during the Vietnam and the Disco Period.

The Vietnam War offered the perfect justification to drop out of mainstream society. The draft encouraged young people to reject societal values, and even explore alternate political theories like Marxism and Maoism. While these political orientations gained little traction in the mainstream, their rising popularity did scare the Establishment, who saw their control over America's war machine and two-party political system threatened by destabilization. While we weren't likely to abandon our system of government, Vietnam-era protest did lead many average Americans to question its authority, and the "Big Lie" that was Vietnam.

FISA ignored

The FISA Act in 1978 is now being phased out in a series of reforms claiming to aid the effectiveness of the government's War on Terror. Liability protections for telecoms which violated FISA are being offered through Congress yet again, with Bush threatening to veto any legislation that lacks the retroactive immunity.

Glenn Greenwald spells out Obama's role in acquiescing on telecom immunity in the new bill. He blasts Keith Olbermann for excusing Obama for accepting a Bush-friendly compromise on FISA, one which would "restore the Constitution", according to Jonathan Alder. See the article here.

Providing telecoms with legal cover would "retroactively immunize corporate criminals," according to Olbermann in a January, 2008, diatribe against Bush. The FISA cave-in represents the opposite of how Americans felt about their privacies after the Vietnam War and struggle for Civil Rights.

Managing perception

Since Vietnam, the Right-wing has become highly savvy about the media and its impact. Supporters on the right have achieved much, and managed to consolidate control over giant media conglomerates, which have benefitted from the liberalization of ownership rules by the FCC. Jack Welch of GE/NBC worked to purge rebellious media figures like Phil Donahue who had the audacity to tell Americans that invading Iraq wasn't such a good idea. Politics have crept into the boardroom, and from there into the bedroom, through the TV broadcasts.

It's not that the MSM actively inserts propaganda. Instead the antiwar view was and is neglected, ugly contradictions ignored, in a form of propaganda-by-omission. Without an active press, the actions of government become secret, unaccountable, and most likely illegal.

At the end of Vietnam, Americans had grown tired of seeing the war play out night after night on their TVs. Fed up, they'd had enough by the early 70s. Thirty years later, neoconservatives who've brought you our most recent wars have committed to controlling public perception. Convinced of America's military superiority, the neocons felt then as they do now that if they could suppress negative coverage, then popular support for the war would not die, and the unwinnable could be won.

With their close Zionist media mogul allies, neocons have succeeded in keep Americans in the dark on Iraq, and continue to feed disinformation to the public through the mainstream media. The media was responsible for not asking too many questions--or challenging assumptions presented about WMD in Iraq, for example. Unlike Vietnam, there would be no more live reporting from the front, no more headlines given to some moral outrage caused by the hostilities we initiated. Even now, caskets of dead US soldiers are kept from view; during Vietnam, showing flag-draped caskets was routine.

Even with criticism by the media, support for continuing the occupation of Vietnam was over 50% in 1973, when withdrawal began. This high level of support means that Vietnam could have gone on, theoretically, and even been won, if American society had just been willing to pay the price. The media had clearly undermined support for Vietnam, so neoconservatives thought out ways the media could help build support for their future wars, ones which we would win, unlike Vietnam, where we'd lost because media coverage had turned Americans against the war (or so they said, ignoring the fact that there were Vietnamese willing to fight for as long as we were there.) 9/11 offered the perfect "Peal Harbor-like event" the neocons sought, and gave a instant shock and awe effect delivered by the media which would buoy popular support for wars against their enemies.

Still, as Goebbels said, propaganda must contain some truth to be effective. Neocons like Michael Barone say we are winning in Iraq, yet suspiciously there is no coverage of our "success." We have to take it on his word--and those of others who've cheerlead the rush to war from the beginning. To be winning, our troops need to be coming home, not continuing to die. The truth is that counterinsurgencies really can't be won in the classic military sense; rather the confrontation must be resolved through political means. If the surge is indeed working, additional troops would not be needed and could come home, which they aren't, which violates the premise that substantial progress has been made.

As with protest movements in the past, the young tend to dominate. For one thing, they to have the most to lose--this was certainly true of Vietnam. With Iraq, however, there is no draft, yet. We get a draft and things will really fall apart. Then those who are responsible for continuing the war will have to choose between the narrow benefits that the war grants key constituents versus the damage it does to the nation, and the Constitution they swore to protect.

If enough rich mens' daughters run off to the commune, or if enough soccer moms go to jail, a critical mass will be achieved that cannot be negated by the influence of money and corporations alone. While a terrorist attack would give McCain an advantage, according to aide Charlie Black, another 9/11 won't overcome resistance to the Iraq war. It's possible the failure to stop the attack could show how ineffective our military interventions have been in stopping terror.

Problems with the system

If the war simply wages on now matter who's in charge, it's the system that's to blame. Working from within the system becomes no avenue for change, but rather helps to sustain and legitimatize the existing political system. This is why so many progressives are tempted to abandon politics entirely and/or choose a protest candidate. Often this means the better of the two viable candidates will lose votes they need to win.

To me, the disconnect comes from people who marginalize themselves politically because they no longer can believe that a choice of candidates makes any difference. I believe that position is composed in ignorance, and that people must learn to compromise, and accept the lesser of two evils. If it makes no difference who is chosen, then why don't we elect McCain instead of Obama, or toss away votes on Nader instead of Kerry or Gore. Just where has Bush taken us as a result?

I can see the concept of not voting because it won't change anything, but I don't see any method other than voting at the present which can help improve things at the national level other than by choosing the better of a Democrat or Republican. Does this mean I think anything will change, or that my progressive values will be reflected in the choices and positions of my elected representative? Probably not. Still, here in a Red state, I see the consequences of one party--Republican--rule and I'm convinced things could get better under another party's leadership. Besides, not voting simply grants other people the right to choose who will represent you. Will it be someone like Bush, or someone like Gore, Kerry, or Obama?

There's a natural reason to oppose incumbents, as a means of challenging the status quo. Also, voting anti-incumbent forces both parties to try to accommodate you. New incumbents elected on anti-incumbent platform know they have to perform at a different level, or face those same forces in the next Election cycle.

Can big money alone save incumbency? If the system were based purely on money, through campaign contributions, the granting of political favors and benefits to corporate contributors would give incumbents a major advantage against an outsider. Corporations don't vote, though they are working on it. In the meantime, it still takes the pull of a lever or push of a button for a politician to get re-elected. At least before the age of Diebold and black box voting, each vote required one voter.

Is Obama Shifting to the Right?

So far I've been leery of Obama's prostrations before AIPAC and cave-in on FISA, though he still opposes immunity for telecoms. Charles Sullivan, writing in Information Clearing House, offers a good article on the what may be Obama's tilt to the right.

The idea is that progressives tend to move towards the "middle" to grab voters there. Wherever the proverbial middle of American politics exists, no one can rightfully say.

By moving to the right--though never all the way there--progressives can alienate their "base"--the people who are most likely to do the most to get the candidate elected. Also, the act of framing politics into a left/right/middle trichotomy is silly. Even so, political consultants make their money by the millions postulating and triangulating to find a sweet spot between conservative and liberal that may not even exist. While these kind of categorizations are great for 30-second sound bytes, they do little to explain why a candidate appeals to the majority. Obama supporters come from all kinds of different groups. While some groups are more likely to like him for some things, this doesn't mean that Obama can win more votes overall if he changes what he does, or his positions, especially if he does so for no other purpose than to make himself attractive to groups which typically aren't expected to gravitate towards him. Trying to be all things to all people is like being nothing to no one.

Obama faces some major risks if he continues to triangulate, and tries to appeal to the greatest number through a quantitative approach. As one example, Americans have dumbed-down, so a consultant might suggest dumbing down the message in order to appeal to the greatest number of potential supporters. But only 50% vote, and the vast majority of the dumbed-down may not vote at all, so a dumbed-down message might do more to alienate the base and potential voters than it could to spread political appeal.

The more vacillations that a candidate makes, the more vulnerable they become to accusations of flip-flopping. That term emerged in the 2004 election, I believe, and stuck to Kerry in regard to his position on funding the war on Iraq. While those making the accusations were well in the Republicans' corner, they did succeed in attacking Kerry's character and made him look weaker, and less decisive, and thus by inference less capable of leading, especially in a time of war.

The more conservative Kerry tried to appear, the less liberal he seemed, and thus the less true to who he really was Kerry seemed. Obama seems a little better prepared than Kerry was to deal with the threats posed by "moderation," especially if the whole political scheme has shifted to the Right.

What the Right-wing calls moderate may in fact be quite far to the Right, especially considering how far the Republican party has fallen to the Right. Obama probably has the most to fear from trying to appease groups of potential voters which will likely not vote for him, no matter how he tries to appeal to them, even if he does gravitate towards the theoretical "middle" in an effort to woo them.

Enough said of 2004. I would have liked to not bring Kerry up at all, but I do worry that Obama will be similarly treated. As the Wright controversy showed, Obama does have the ability to defend his positions using clear, unemotional logic. Yet the dangers of tilting Right are there on issues like Iran and FISA. The day after locking up the nomination, we saw the first in the supplication before AIPAC. Cave-ins on Iraq troop withdrawals or an attack on Iran could really damage support for him, not directly but through painting him as a flip-flopper. Antiwar sentiments appeal to the majority of Americans--it's perhaps by seeking compromises on Iraq that Obama could risk losing the most support.

Sept. 15th March Resources

My brief article on onlinejournal.com here.

Several more posts are at this archived page of my blog. Apologize for the failure of the videos, they were working until Microsoft "upgraded" the Windows Media players.

See this post on a emotionally charged conversation I had in Maryland with a man I called D, a retired cop and Vietnam veteran pissed off about the war.


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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Drilling for profit in all the wrong places

John McCain and Bush are calling for a grand solution to our energy woes: tapping the billions of gallons of crude that lie off our coasts and in our wilderness areas. Less obvious is just how easily the oil can be extracted, refined, and brought to market--here. Some of the reserves on the Continental Shelf lie within eyesight of some of Florida's internationally renowned beaches. Other areas out farther in the Gulf are now accessible to drillers but lie up to five miles underwater, which will test the limits of engineering. Even if the oil can be brought up, it will take billions of dollars and years of time.

Drilling concessions to Big Oil need to be tempered by environmental standards and limits on oil company profiteering. Unfortunately, the spiralling cost of oil encourages producers not to produce, but to rather sit back and wait to sell into higher prices in the future, a practice which tends to run prices up even further. Democrats claimed that oil companies already "have under lease 68 millions acres on federal lands and waters--outside the ban area--that are not being developed." (link).

Allowing those who control the drilling and manage our supplies to lease more lands allows them to sit on the reserves. They could sublease the fields and make huge sums simply acting as intermediaries between the government--every successive regime sees itself as uncontested "owner" of all public lands--and the actual drillers and refiners.

As margins shrink, distributors have been squeezed out of the industry as the costs of petroleum go up almost daily. Gas retailing is extremely low margin, less than 4%, to the point some outfits have gone to cash only to avoid credit card surcharges (link). One oil producer, Exxon Mobil, just sold all its distributorships. More profitable it is to ride out the higher prices than to compete on the distribution end, where higher fuel costs mean constantly shrinking profit margins. Like inflation, it can takes several days for higher prices to result in higher prices at the pump --distributors eat the difference.

Fruit falls near the tree

One would think that the public would grow suspicious of the motives of long-time incumbents with ties to the oil and natural gas industries. Bush, who hailed from Big Oil, has presided over a regime that has seen the price of crude oil go up almost ten-fold.

I'd cited a few posts back a CNBC poll that placed blame for the higher cost of oil on a number of different players. Bush finished well back in the poll, behind Congress even, for his role in bringing higher oil prices. Many CNBC viewers are "free-market capitalist" Republicans, so they might have a hard time believing that the actions of our government could account for such a huge swing on prices set in what is a supposedly open market. For years this group has blamed government regulation, a Chicago School of Economic hobgoblin for some time now, as the chief source of problems in what are otherwise perfectly functioning markets.

Given the predilection to demand government get off our backs, it should come as no surprise then that Republicans would tend to blame a domestic drilling moratorium for the higher prices. Much harder to confront would be the reality that continuing military intervention in the world's largest oil-producing region could be to blame. Yet as has become the norm under the Bush years, disconnnecting causes with their effect has become a way of coping with a world that simply won't cooperate, and a world that won't give us what we want, no matter how much we deserve it, or how righteous our cause in the War on Terror.

If one looks closely at the price of oil and its trailing indicator, oil company profits, the run-up in oil prices came well into Bush's term, after 9/11, so terror wasn't the cause--the reaction, the wild lashing out, was. The spike upward began almost precisely as US tanks rolled across the Iraqi border from Kuwait. Coincidence? Impossible. Bush and two million share Halliburton sharehold Dick Cheney are intimately tied to Big Oil. How can we separate their commitment to increase profits for their cronies from their actions? Can we really believe that the President was invading Iraq to spread democracy and secure the world from the spread of terror as he claimed? Or can those of us who dare to think for ourselves consider the connection between the rising oil prices and the actions of our President? Cause and effect are quite pronounced in regard to the price of oil--one need only consult the charts showing oil's steady march up.

Of course other factors have pushed the price of oil up. For one thing, China's economy has grown and generated much more demand for petroleum. India and a host of nations have a growing middle class which emulates an American standard of living built around cars and suburbs. Demand in the US has increased, due mostly to the inability of Washington to redirect national priorities. We consume 25% of the world's energy though we make up but 5% of its population.

Congress can be blamed to some extent for caving in to the influence of the now-not-so-Big Three automakers (Chrysler's stock is now valued at under $1billion, making it a mid-cap.) Detroit was content to push massive SUVs and stave off new CAFE standards as long as possible. That plan is proving unsustainable with higher gass prices--it'll be a miracle if US automakers can catch up with the Japanese and Koreans, who've made fuel efficiency key to automobile design for years.

Time for real change

It is the job of a real leader to push for changes where momentum to keep doing as before is so strong, as it is in America's gluttonous use of oil. A President is elected to lead and to force change even where it's not welcome, like in the corporate boardrooms of Big Oil and the automakers. Now if the President is no more than a corporate shrill beholden to these industries, he'd be less likely to exercise his leadership. Leadership failures are therefore not failures at all, but rather grand deceptions meant to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Large entities do tend to drift into complacency--leaders who can bring change represent a threat to the status quo rather than the means to create a better future. In a style favored by the Washington establishment, rhetoric is fashioned to appeal to the populace, whether or not the candidate really believes in the things they say. The difference between leading and pretending to lead is a willingness to confront the need for change and the constituencies which oppose it. The benefits to our society have to matter more than the corporate sponsorship offered to politicians in exchange for serving the interest of the few. Washington becomes particularly monolithic at the end of a numbing eight-years under a single President, the capital seems more averse to change the more it needs to change.

Nothing Bush has done would indicate any commitment to change. Yes, there have been rhetorical pronouncements, but little of substance has been achieved in regard to energy policy. Most glaring is the complete absence of any conservation program whatsoever.

I'm old enough to remember the Carter years, during which we Americans experienced what I believe was the second major oil shock of the 1970's. Starting at federal offices--which were supposed to start a trend--thermostats were turned down. The speed limit on the entire interstate highway system was brought down to 55 miles per hour. Executive orders were used to force government departments to save on energy. Acting on the President's example, private corporations and individuals all across the nation joined in by reducing costs, commuting, doing whatever it took. Where is that conservation effort now?

Surely turning down the thermostat a few degrees is not such a great sacrifice, nor is signing an Executive order forcing better fuel economy standards on federally owned vehicles that big of an effort. Therefore it's something other than the effort to change that is missing--it is the lack of a desire to change. In short, the White House doesn't want to change, despite the fact it could through no great hardship bring conservation to the forefront, where it most deservedly belongs in this time of crisis.

One could suspect that the lack of leadership on this issue is not the product of happenstance, but rather the absence of leadership is perhaps the willful desire of a regime wedded to its cronies in the oil and energy businesses.

Now we are told that the windfall profits of these companies shouldn't be taxed. To go a step farther in their prostrations at the feet of Big Oil, McCain and Bush vow to make every orifice available for drilling and exploration, to solve America's energy crisis, a crisis that would likely never have been so severe if energy conservation had begun, or if US forces weren't still threatening the stability of the world's most important oil-producing region.

Could the higher oil prices and the actions of the Executive be related? How could they not be? Looking now at the consequences of inaction on energy, and the giant hole that higher energy prices have created in our economy, it's hard to believe that the damage could have been intentional. Then again, if there's anything that Bush's time in office has shown us, it's that we are truly on our own. If it's a YOYO (your on your own world), the first objective is to get your own piece, then build a bunker, or escape, and let the weak and vulnerable reap the consequences of whatever may come after.

"Apres moi, le deluge," the French King Louis the 15th said. This in English means "after me, the flood." The King knew what would come, the French Revolution, largely because he had done so much to bring it on, by overspending and constant war-making with other European nations. Perhaps Louis got off on his grand legacy, knowing that whatever would befall France, would be as the result of his excesses. In this regard, the King would be the last of his dynasty, part of an unsustainable system of government by a French nobility that had little concern for the lower classes or the consequences of their leadership (or absence of it.)

Just how much flooding is there to come in the wake of Bush/Cheney's eight year reign? As the Mississippi river floods town after town along its banks, we're left to wonder just how big of an impact higher gas prices will have. There will most certainly be a ripple effect, despite the best effort of government statisticians who separate food and energy from the core rate of inflation, as if food and energy didn't matter.

Try as they might to minimize the impact, le deluge will likely flood virtually everyone's home, with a force and fury mightier even than the Mississippi's. We've built a suburban lifestyle here in America that requires huge amounts of energy. Our homes are too big, as are our cars. And worst of all, Americans are woefully ignorant of how much energy we use. TVs are left running; car motors are revved even where a stoplight ahead is clearly red. It's as if not knowing how much we use allows us to keep on wasting energy--as if so many wasteful choices won't add up or hurt us if we simply don't acknowledge the problem. Denial it's called--sooner or later the pain of higher energy prices will cause the addict's inevitable bottoming out that brings to the mind's fore the scale of the problem and desperate need for change.

Much talk of a second depression is rooted in Peak Oil. There is however plenty of oil, except that it's not as easily extracted. Much of the oil off our coast is likewise hard to obtain. Available, yes, cheap, no.

Yes, we can produce billions of gallons, but at what cost to our tourist economy? Bush has authorized coastal exploration at the federal level, which means that it will be up to the states to drill or not. Some states might go ahead, despite the risk of beach contamination.

We can't drill our way out of this--an approach that the Republicans are tossing around as if it were possible to reverse the reliance on imported oil--which now provides something like 60% of our petroleum needs. I've heard that the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) holds about 2% of the US' annual needs, and will only pump out for 20 years. What then? We'll still face the same predicament, and by then our government will likely be even more indebted.

A pipeline is very vulnerable to sabotage; a single rifle shot in late 2001 shut down the main Alaskan pipeline. There is also the highly ironic quandary posed by melting permafrost, which makes the construction of pipelines very expensive as they must be built above ground on elevated platforms. BP was fined for massively polluting an Alaskan oil area as their inadequately maintained, corroded pipes burst. As with Exxon Valdez--whose damages to the victims have yet to be paid by Exxon--shows, the oil and natural gas industries are neither efficient nor especially careful. And should they make a mistake, they will most assuredly use whatever political influence they have and the best lawyers available to avoid legal and fiscal accountability.

Polls have put a narrow majority of Americans in favor of drilling in wilderness areas; these results are brought forward by pro-drilling groups and their media allies. The connection between new drilling and lower gas prices is hardly convincing, yet our commitment to protect and preserve our national heritage, the raison d'etre for creating these places, is under constant pressure by those who would exploit these resources for their profit. Signing drill rights away depreciates past efforts to protect these lands-they were set aside for a purpose that is neither economic nor the selfish domain of this generation to deny to others. Permanent disfiguring of these places marginalizes their value as wilderness areas in which future Americans can recreate, in effect denying their use and the purpose for which they were created.

Now if Bush and his cohorts could simply auction off every national park, reserve, forest, and wildlife management area to their cronies in Big Energy, they would. And no thought would be given to the environmental devastation, which could well assume massive financial consequences to affected regions, if the Valdez is an example. An oil leak off the coast of Florida, to give just one example, could decimate that state's economy for years. Besides, the benefit of oil leases to the general public is a small fraction of the benefit to the developer. Oil and natural gas developers do have to contend with massive start-up costs. We are of course routinely reminded by their lobbyists in Congress that lower government regulation would make things less expensive and therefore cheaper for the consumer. This despite recent testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee that attributed approximately 1/3 of a barrel of oil's cost to speculation.

During the June 3rd meeting, Michael Greenberger, a former Director at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, linked the activities of speculators with the higher price of oil. This idea in itself is controversial to many of the corporate interests which want to seize on the "oil crisis" by expanding drilling, typically through absurdly low lease rates on federal lands. I'm trying to dig out the video from that hearing, as I'd been surprised by its candor and Greenberger's highly persuasive commentary. I wonder if the challenge I'm having getting a link might be precisely because the hearings were so direct, which flies in the face of Washington's obstructionist and byzantine functionings which seem to avoid scrutiny and transparency, in an effort to limit accountability.

In a Senate Democratic Policy Commitee Hearing in May, 2006, Greenberger traced many of the problems we face to speculation. In that testimony (.pdf), Greenberger separates the distinct objectives of one group of companies--those that pay for the higher price--from the "oil industry, the banks and the hedge funds, and free market-oriented financial regulators who contend that market manipulation plays no role in this price run up" {Footnotes omitted.}

Greenberger goes on to link Enron's price manipulation schemes with higher energy prices in California in 2001-2. It should be noted that those higher prices were brought on by de-regulation. Enron--it should be remembered--was the #1 donor to George W. Bush. In return for this financial support, federal regulators were held at bay in a quid pro quo that might be repeating itself for the benefit of oil speculation. Of course California had some serious energy issues at the time, but it was the combination of a weakened regulatory environment, coupled with predatory practices by greedy corporations, that led to a worsening energy crisis. In this sense, California's energy woes then acted as precedent for what's happening on a natural level now. Led by mostly GOP partisans, our elected representatives might view the oil and gas companies as the solution to the problem and simply give them what they want, as we see happening with unconditional funding for Iraq. This despite the clear mandate the Democrats received during the 2006 election to end the war. In both cases, the popular will is subverted.

The same people who advocated abandoning so many of the regulatory and environmental standards are the same people speculating on the higher prices. According to Greenberger, limits on speculative activities that stood in place for over 70 years in the commodities market were recently removed. Investors in energy companies, meanwhile, have the most to gain in the short-term from de-regulation, which allows them to raise prices in exchange for opening up their markets to competition (which unless you have a few billion lying around most likely won't mean you.) Even today, we can hear the constant bleat of market mavens who advocate drilling more of less everywhere, as if these speculators had the best interest of the American public at heart. While lower gas prices may have a stimulative effect, lower prices may be quite some time in coming, as the reserves located off our coasts will take years and billions to develop. Many of the speculators will help invest, but they won't do so for free, or for a rate of return which is lower than that they can get abroad.

This article in smirkingchimp notes how Morgan Stanley now owns more oil than any oil company. Through the derivatives market, huge quantities of futures are bought and sold, often without any link to the underlying commodity. Securitization--the use of sophisticated financial contracts--overshadows the buying and selling of actual oil. Like bundles of mortgage-backed securities, Wall Street pounced on commodity contracts as the natural consequence of easy credit and too much capital available for speculative purposes from hedge funds and banks. With excess capital to invest, real assets like oil become more attractive. As more and more money flows into those assets they appreciate, further increasing their demand and price.

In reality, the rising asset bubble we saw in real estate has found a new bubble: commodities. Money likes to follow money; once the consensus that oil is headed up gathers momentum (CNBC's oil price ticker refers "America's oil crisis"), then further price gains become almost certain.

Government regulation is here for a reason, and where markets de-regulate, we are made painfully aware of the reason for the existence of regulations--to protect consumers from the inevitable greed of the capitalist system, whose mantra is "greed is good." In the constant effort to attain higher profits, sacrifices are willingly made to the environment, and short-cuts taken, even in some cases to the detriment of the companies themselves. Sustainability is not a virtue; more attractive to these investors are the corporate raider-style tactics of a Carl Icahn, who come in and plunder a company's name and desert its stakeholders. Looking at the companies where Icahn and others like him have had their say, very little or nothing is left over. TWA and Enron are great examples.

We can't afford to let Big Oil control our energy future. The public lands belong to us, not our government, and therefore we retain exclusive control over their use. Leases must be fair, and the lessees held accountable for the efficiency of their operations, as well as the environmental impacts. Above all we need to reduce energy consumption, which will reduce our demand on imported energy, much of which comes from nations who are either hostile to us, or are our strategic competitors, like Russia and Venezuela. Yes, we need domestic energy production, and we can do it more effectively through renewable, low emission resources than through oil, which through the combustion engine guarantees increasing levels of CO2 and greenhouse gases which will further radicalize our climate.


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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Before Plame there was Susan Lindauer

Before Plame, a woman who revealed the administration's lies on Iraq paid a horrible price for coming forward. In an effort to diminish her testimony, Susan Lindauer was labelled insane, isolated, and forcibly medicated during her detention.

Lindauer is a former reporter and Congressional aide, so she can't so easily be dismissed. Espionage charges were filed against her in 2004, then later dropped. Rather than release her, now-Attorney General Mukasey, Lindauer's presiding judge at the time, ordered her to undergo extensive psychiatric observation and treatment against her will.

I am not a psychiatrist so I couldn't assess Lindauer's mental condition. I don't trust a Court-appointed psychiatrist, either, especially when the presiding judge is a friend of the President's, or seeking a promotion. The present Attorney General, Mike Mukasey, presided over Lindauer's case while a federal judge in New York. She'd been accused of "acting as an unregistered agent," in the original indictment.

Mukasey's payback for forcing Lindauer out of the public eye must have been his selection as A.G.. Doing dirty jobs for the Bush administration has been a ticket for advancement. Now-Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts was on a Federal Appeals Court that granted a favorable ruling to the White House prior to his nomination in 2005. Democracynow explains:
"Roberts was part of a three-judge panel that handed Bush an important victory last week when it ruled that the military tribunals of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could proceed. The decision also found that Bush could deny terrorism captives prisoner-of-war status as outlined by the Geneva Conventions."

Mukasey is a neocon who has fought hard since his promotion to keep John Bolton and Harriet Miers from testifying before Congress. Sacrificing moral and judicial principles and integrity for a little bigger slice of the pie is just how the game is played in Washington. None of this of course excuses Mukasey, Bush, or Roberts, any more than just obeying orders would have been an excuse for anyone active in achieving the aims of the Nazi government.

Of course, we are not the Nazis, or we wouldn't have need for any solution more complicated than a bullet in the back of the head. The neocons however, have said that any behavior is tolerable in defense of democracy. It should also be noted that neocons fervently believe the case against fascist regimes--as Hussein's was painted--justify any action by democracies, legal or illegal, who were seen as too soft in opposing the rise of Hitler.

In another example of how we aren't like the Nazis, our Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision just agreed to give Gitmo detainees back their right to challenge their detention. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented of course, claiming detainee rights were sufficient or in his words, "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” (link)

Don't dose me, bro

Forced medication is against numerous state, federal, and international laws. The US military recently suspended the involuntary drugging of Gitmo detainees due to a recent Court ruling (seeking the link). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to the Department of Defense in April, 2008, TPMMuckraker reported.

One anti-psychotic drug, Haldol, was used by the Soviet Union. A May, 2008, the commondreams.org article "Back in the USSR" by Joyce Marcel cites a Washington Post article:
"“Haldol gained notoriety in the Soviet Union, where it was often given to political dissidents imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals,” the Post said. Then the story quoted a specialist who pointed out — as if it needed to be pointed out — that giving these drugs to people who are not psychotic “is medically and ethically wrong.”

The Soviets liked to accuse dissidents of mental illness and imprison and medicate them on those grounds. If the activists were too much of a problem, their disappearance might only generate additional public interest about what they did, and stir more curiousity in why the activist had presented such a threat to the regime. By isolating the individual, medicating and most likely over-medicating, the threat could be quarantined. In our alternate approach, the effort seems to be on restricting negative media coverage. This is fitting as our politicians are extremely media-conscious and eager to manage public perception.

The US has admitted that Some U.S. detainees (were) drugged for deportation." Along a similar theme, in January, Immigration and Customs Control announced they would no longer sedate detainees. The change in policy came after a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

It began with Plame. Or did it?

It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration is hostile to the truth. By now, the vast bulk of evidence indicates that secrecy has been a methodology through which the White House has attempted to cover up illegal activities, including the willful outing of Valerie Plame.

Plame's outing should have sounded the warning that intelligence operatives were being threatened. Lindauer predates that incident, so I guess keeping her silenced was even more important in setting precedent. Good thing Joe Wilson wasn't intimidated into silence, although Wilson made the mistake of underestimating the lengths to which the administration would go to try to keep the Iraq intelligence deception from being revealed. Operating covertly, Plame was presumably vulnerable; Wilson therefore must not have known that his wife would be outed in retaliation.

Contrasting Lindauer's case with Plame brings up some noticeable contrasts. Active in the CIA, Plame was not as easy a target. She couldn't have anticipated that the administration would retaliate for Wilson's revelations about Iraq not seeking yellowcake from Niger as the President had claimed on at least two occasions. Lindauer was far easier to isolate, being an outside contractor. Kept at arm's length in her dealings with the CIA, she could be more easily cast aside.

I am leery of Lindauer's association with anyone in the Bush White House, even a marginal relationship. Having "CIA links" is enough to convince me that someone's credibility might be questionable; this may be the specter of disinformation that seems to accompany involvement with any covert intelligence service. This of course doesn't mean that Lindauer never worked for and/or with the CIA, but rather that she may have ended up mingling with the kind of people who work in the shadows and like to remain anonymous.

Plame's active status within the CIA should have shielded her from marginalization efforts but right-wing supporters of the administration were quick to decry her covert status, claiming Plame's employment at CIA was well known around Washington, which simply wassn't true. Plame's closest friends and family members didn't know that she worked for the CIA--why would she tell random passers-by? The effort to reduce Plame's status hints at typical damage control methods. For administration defenders to thrash her covert status meant that it was most likely was a major issue, and made the group of conspirators work quite diligently to reveal her identity indirectly, through their contacts in the press.

Women targetted

Bush and his gang of neocons seem fond of targetting women instead of their husbands. As the author of his editorial, Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador, was a bigger target than his wife, but victimizing women is a recurring theme as there've been several women targets of the administration. The question remains, however, that if Joe Wilson had been the covert agent and his wife the former ambassador making the public revelations, would he have been outed?

Oppressing women seems to be a recurring theme in the neo-fascist environment which emerged post-9/11. In Cleveland Heights, Ohio, attorney Carol Fisher was arrested for putting up posters critical of Bush. Greg Szymanski has her story here.
In an outrageous case, Fisher spent five weeks in jail, and was subjected to extensive psychiatric treatment during her detention. Her crime: opposing the regime.

Another prominent woman who hasn't faced any prosecutorial or pharmacological abuse is Sibel Edmonds, a whistelblower and former translator at the FBI. Edmonds has a lot to tell about the close relationships between key adminsitration officials and the Turkish government. At one point, she was put under a gag order--I believe before the 2004 election--but has said much since then.

Looking at the Sibel Edmonds case, it's clear government employees, even those under strict limits under their national security clearance, do tend to talk. This is the sign of a healthy democracy, a counterweight to the idea wrongdoing won't be exposed or revealed. As the Edmonds case demonstrates, even if exposure comes years later, a good deal of damage can be done, as ex-employees employees do carry a lot of credibility.

Women's stories have been manipulated for positive propaganda purposes as well. We saw the Jessica Lynch story and other instances where the US military lied about her rescue. The raid that freed Jessica Lynch hadn't saved her from any immediate danger. At considerable risk to themselves, Iraqi doctors had twice gone to US soldiers to tell them that they had Lynch at the hospital and wanted them to come get her.

The effort to look good motivated the Pentagon to make a more powerful case for war with Iraq through the use of fabricated pre-war intelligence. Subsequent to that, the Department of Offense placed active military officers posing as impartial analysts throughout the mainstream media, to keep the good news rolling.

Media Non-coverage

I've heard virtually nothing about this woman's case, not even on the Web, which testifies to the magitude of the marginalization of the story she tries to tell. How deliberate is the process to silence Lindauer? The scope of the effort to keep her out of the public eye shows how important keeping her story quiet was.

Lindauer is referred to as a "political prisoner," which implies Soviet-era tactics against dissidents: a dark cell, isolation, torture, and the forced injection of psychotropic drugs meant as an inducement to talk, or just to turn perfectly sane and mentally health people into drooling idiots--a sort of lobotomy without the lobotomy. Drugs can induce a near-comatose state. If professionally applied, psychotropic drugs can be allow the recipient to remain medicated, incoherent, harmless, or in a catatonic state more or less indefinitely.

We know that licensed medical professionals were involved in the use of psychotropic drugs in managing the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as in black sites throughout the world, including even some prison ships whose existence has only been recently acknowledged. In addition, some professional medical services must have been rendered in the process of extraordinary rendition, as we know from the accounts of released detainees that they'd been drugged before or in-flight.

Theoretically, the use of psychotropic drugs will leave far fewer aftereffects than physical trauma. LSD, it should be remembered, was developed as an interrogation method for Soviet agents by the CIA. Flashbacks can and do occur, but these might not be so unpleasurable. With other drugs, long-term psychological effects could linger in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although the specific trauma-causing incidents might be forgotten, it's unlikely memories of mistreatment can be forgotten altogether. Also, if detainees are kept too drugged, they can't communicate and therefore possess no "intelligence value" if indeed they could have provided any "actionable intelligence."

The use of dangerous psychotropic drugs by US government agents is evidence of torture and a clear war crime, especially when the Geneva treaties explicitly states that an Occupying force cannot remove a combatant or citizen from the nation in which they are apprehended. This makes holding ghost detainees highly illegal under US and international law, as well as that of the country where the detainee is being held. [Rep. Dennis Kucinich brought up this treaty statute as part of his 35 Articles of Impeachment recently brought before Congress.]

Agents who inject drugs into detainees without their consent do so at grave risk to the detainee if they lack the prerequisite medical training. Also, surviving "disappeared" detainees could be tested for drug residues, which could make plausible deniability harder by proving that someone was held, and that highly specialized medications were administered. I don't know how long truth serum survives in the bloodstream, I'm guessing newer meds might do so for much longer periods of time. (As a example, Prozac never degrades in the body and upon exit from the body enters the downstream water systems, which can't filter it out.)

We saw US policymakers at the highest level advocate the use of torture to exrtact "confessions" in the War on Terror. Surely they'd known that the results would be questionable. The use of torture revealed the administration's primarily political motive--to look tough on terror. The same political movitations might have led the military to go to great lengths to avoid negative publicity.

In one case, an active duty sergeant serving as an intelligence officer in Iraq was removed from the field of battle under suspicious circumstances and subjected to forced psychiatric treatments and evaluation. A Democracy Now webpage describes Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford as attempting to file a formal complaint that his fellow intelligence operatives has repeatedly tortured and abused Iraqi detainees in Samarra, Iraq:
"...according to Ford, instead of an investigation being conducted, within about a day-and-a-half later, he was, in fact, strapped to a gurney, put on a C-130, and flown initially to Kuwait and eventually to Landstuhl, Germany, where he then underwent a series of psychological evaluations in Germany and also at two bases in the United States for approximately eight months."

We have no way of knowing how many of our soldiers have been shipped stateside simply for threatening to reveal blatant violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Interfering with Sgt. Ford's grievance was a violation of his rights, as he's required to inform his superiors of any violations under the UCMJ, as he did. Prisoner abuse was clearly going on and the military didn't want it known that abuse was commonplace. I was reminded of the 1989 Sean Penn movie Casualties of War which shows the extent that the "us vs. them" attitude among many in the military leads them to protect criminals in their ranks. Unchecked, amplified by the need to strike out at an unseen enemy, this behavior can result in outright brutality and savage war crimes.

Target #1: Intelligence Community

The intelligence services had a vital role in dispersing false information. Therefore intelligence agents who might reveal intelligence fabrications presented a real threat to the administration--at least through Election Day, November, 2004, after which they could presumably stall any investigation using the power of the Executive. If the public learned that the intelligence was not faulty but faked, they might question the justifications for war as being based on willful and premeditated lies.

The allegation that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger--later exposed by Joe Wilson--ultimately originated from the neocon camp. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Michael Ledeen, a prominent neocon, had a hand in procuring documents bearing the stolen stamp of the Niger embassy in Rome. More details on the inside operation can be found here, as well in this blog pertaining especially to Carlo Bonini's expose on the Niger affair, summarized by Justin Raimondo here.

The intelligence community seems to be the first target of the White House's suppression effort on the real pre-war intelligence, which stated quite clearly that Iraq had no WMD nor any connection to terror--two main rationales for war which a policy shop of outside contractors led by Douglas Feith called the Office of Special Plans strived to concoct. Feith and Ledeen worked together on building the case for war.

Operatives both within the Agency and those working on its periphery in an unofficial capacity--there are lots of these people--present the administration with serious political threat if they talked. Marginalizing these operatives must have seemed prudent, especially if they were to talk about how the President had lied, and known he'd lied.

Plausible deniability functions by denying that the individual ever worked with the intelligence agency, a reason that the CIA likely uses outside contractors on various jobs where the chance of discovery is higher.

The post-9/11 tendency to silence would-be whistleblowers over national security concerns--real or imagined--has been overshadowed by growing tolerance in the Courts for ex-federal employees to talk to the media. As the momentum of political opposition has risen to a critical mass, so has the tacit understanding that mistakes--and perhaps much more, malignant and purposeful deceptions--were committed and must be revealed to the public.

Had Lindauer's admissions been revealed sooner--in 2002 and early 2003--the administration and mainstream media narrative that WMD existed there would have been aborted, long before any earnest searches for WMD launched after the invasion failed find any. Violating the "oops, sorry, we thought they were there" premise would point back to the fact that administration and neocons knew WMD were never there so they manufactured fake intelligence and lied to start a war for the neocon's primary benefactor, Israel.

The fact that intelligence was willfully manipulated, as opposed to being merely erroneous, emerged long after the President had to face the electorate. The greatest threat that the falsified intelligence now presents to Bush is damage to his legacy, some consolation prize for those who believe that lying to start a war is a war crime.

Removing threats

We see almost daily stories emerging from former insiders like Scott McClellan. Still, among all these crises that the White House must manage, no mention has been made of Lindauer.

Drugged, she posed little threat to the administration. Derided as a looney, flung into a psychiatric ward, Landaeur and, more importantly, her story, could be easily forgotten.

Lindauer's status as an unofficial contractor helped to publicly marginalize her when she tried to go to the press. Made into a felon by a politically motivated prosecution, she was painted into a criminal with psychological problems.

More recently, another CIA contractor referred to as 'Tony" made his way into the news. His case has been pursued by the MSM with the same vigor as Landauer's. His name was Richard Carnaby, shot by Houston police last month at the end of a car chase. Carnaby had called the FBI and a Houston police officer during the pursuit, then been shot in the back exiting his SUV. See more on the story , here.

Eliminating a potential whistleblower may be less effective than marginalizing them, although in a pinch I guess either could do. For those who can prove they'd worked for the government, a shooting might be preferrable, as they'd have more credibility than an outside contractor whose relationship with our government had been completely covert.


Michael Collins of electionfraudnews.com has authored two articles on Susan Lindauer. His 2007 article on scoop.co.nz; his more recent piece was available on HuffPo here.

Greg Szymanski articles on Lindauer appear in Artic Beacon archives here and the article "Two of America's Many Political Prisoners Released From the Gulag".


Friday, June 06, 2008

Obama wins, panders to AIPAC

I've promised to support the Democratic candidate, so whatever criticism I direct towards Obama is not designed to weaken his bid for the Presidency. Instead, I hope to point out some of Obama's mistakes in the hope he might avoid them in the future. Also, Republicans are sure to capitalize on schisms in Obama's positions, so the sooner they are brought to the fore, the better thay can be managed and confronted.

Another reaon not to fear my criticism--I can hardly believe what I say here will actually change the outcome of any race. I consider that self-importance part of the mainstream media's vanity, and a prescription for dumbing down--something this blog was created to avoid and confront.

Now as for those who might criticize my criticism, and perhaps call me racist for opposing Obama, I can only say that I will put what I feel is the truth first, just as I did when I said that Obama cannot win the General Election. Now for the sake of supporting my candidate, I'm willing to keep most of my fears at bay. I am not, however, willing to succumb utterly to the cult of personality which Obama seems to generate. That would be tantamount to accepting the undisputed authority of a Great Leader, a common and dangerous practice among Bush supporters who reject all criticism and equate dissent with anti-Americanism.

The strength of Obama's following resembles a form of mass hysteria with all the risks of a cult of personality--death before disloyalty, perfection of the cult leader, and unconditional acceptance of the message. The strength of his popularity feeds a belief in Obama's imperfection and a corresponding overconfidence in victory. Like any candidate, Obama is flawed. Let's not presuppose that ignoring his flaws, or embracing the total certainty of his victory--as Bush would have us believe in this War on Terror--will make Obama any more likely to win.

Obama will have some work ahead convincing Hillary supporters that they should support him. Already, Obama has given a great deal of credit to Clinton and her achievements. Perhaps showing their inexperience, many in the Obama crowd seem to bear some anger towards Clinton, and are prone if not to boo at the mention of Hillary at least grimace when Hillary's name is brought up. This is not reconciliation, but the opposite. More must be given by the victorious to the vanquished, unless Obama supporters don't think they'll need all the help they can get in the fall. Leading the party requires reconciliation--bearing grudges will do neither Hillary fans much good, and could well destroy Obama's chances.

Quick some were to label Hillary divisive for not conceeding at the end of the last primaries on Tuesday. So too has Hillary's sluggishness to acknowledge Obama's victory been met with anger from Obama fans. Yes, the inner core of Obama fanatics has worked hard to win, are entitled to the glory of a victory and the satifaction of bestowing some humility on the loser. Like some video game, it's not enough for many in the Y generation to simply win, they derive far greater pleasure from destroying the opposition, then--to quote a Conan movie, "to have your enemy driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women...".

Young and greatly enthused by their candidate, many in the Obama crowd are overzealous and overly combative--hallmarks of those with limited experience in politics. As good as it might feel, disrespecting Hillary for being too slow to admit defeat can only do damage.

Hillary was never the enemy. She in many ways stands for the same things as Obama. She was however, perceived as part of the establishment. "Clintonism is dead" I've heard said. See more on an end to the Clinton dynasty below, in an article from Rob Kall of Op-Ed News.

Politics is more than victory, pleasurable though that may be, amplified as it is. Politics is more an exercise of discretion. Those with political power need wield it carefully as all political power is transient and fickle and subject to forces both far-flung and hard to anticipate. What succeeds in the political arena now may not in the future, if the winds by chance blow from another direction.

Right now, political momentum is in Obama's favor. Yet it is a primary no longer, and anti-Obama political forces are massing. Hopefully, sour feelings among Hillary supporters might not generate enthusiasm for Obama's competition, or alienate Clinton supporters.

Criticizing Critics

During the primary, criticizing Obama has led to accusations of racism. Criticizing Hillary, on the other hand, was not seen as anti-woman. I've always said the reason I supported Hillary was not out of dislike for Obama--or admiration for Hillary--but rather the very practical position that many swing states wouldn't vote for a black man. And they didn't, at least in the Democratic primary, which leads to the troubling conclusion that the Democratic candidate is less likely to win, if the traditional swing states of Ohio and Florida, among others, will determine who wins come November.

Yet there is a window of opportunity: the all 50 states approach. This idea involves engaging all Americans, everywhere, in a dialogue of inclusion. Under this philosophy, we are not from Red states, or Blue ones, but rather share universal values as Americans.

As someone with progressive values stuck in a very Red state, I'm not so convinced we are all equally receptive to good ideas, or not so unprejudiced as to value one person's opinion equally regardless of skin color, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. While Americans have the capacity to overcome our differences, it seems to me our differences are deeply ingrained. Now in the ivory towers on the coasts, people might seem to be coming together under Obama and that contagion may seem to be sweeping the more conservative heartland. Let's hope this feel-good attitude is based in reality, and can overcome racism and resistance to Obama, which may or may not be related to the candidate's race.

While it may seem that black and white, brown and yellow, can dwell under the same roof and practice similar beliefs, the fact is America is divided. We are split mostly by income, but also by identity politics. This latter term describes a process which attempts to make one candidate more appealing based not on specific positions, but rather by how receptive voters are to the image they project. A marketing approach for politics, identity poltics capitalize on differences not between candidates, but between voters. Negative perceptions rule in identity politics; it's not just how much the candidate is like the voter, but how much the other candidate isn't.

John Kerry should have provided a good example of how image and perception shape a politicians' electability. A real veteran, not one serving an aborted deployment in the Texas Air National Guard, was swift-boated into a pansy, while Bush's dubious service records fell on deaf ears in the media. Kerry's flip-flopping on the Iraq War vote painted him as indecisive--apparently a far worse crime in the opinion of a majority of the electorate--apparently--then making a horrible decision to invade Iraq, a choice which should have clearly disqualified Bush entirely, had the media not strained so hard to hide his downside.

Rovian politics epitomize this discordant approach. They were quite successful in framing George Bush, a prep school, upper crust New England liberal as a cowboy president whom NASCAR dads could look up to and soccer moms could trust. Image was everything and perception the key. Will Americans now embrace an Obama? They might, we do not know. Americans have grown tired of identity politics, and want change. Obama claims to represent a new America, but we still don't know what he can achieve, other than change itself, until he wins the Election.

An Obama weak spot

Like Obama critics being called racist by overzealous supporters, critics of Israel are always quick to be labelled anti-Semites by defenders of Zionism. Zionism is a militaristic approach which puts Arabs on the receiving end of territorial expansionism and apartheid imposed by the state of Israel over Palestine. The philosophy dominates American foreign policy in the Mideast.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Israel, all American politicians pander to the Zionist philosophy, embodied by AIPAC--the American-Israeli Political Action Committee. In an exemption granted by Congress, AIPAC is the only foreign lobbying organization whose lobbyists aren't required to identify themselves as agents of a foreign government.

So innundated with Zionist influence is our political system that no alternative to a continuance of the status quo in regard to America's unconditional support for Zionism is offered among our choice of candidates. Nor is any meaningful debate tolerated in regard to our policy towards Israel. Not surprisingly, Israel behaves however it wants--colonizing the West Bank and "protecting" itself--including cutting off medical supplies to Gaza and bombing civilians (a 4-year old and her mother were killed by an Israeli "Defense Forces" air strike there yesterday).

It should be noted that many Jews oppose Zionism. The mainstream press however, is dominated by the Zionist Power Configuration, which controls Israel's image and how she is perceived by Americans. Ultimately, support for Israel has been equated with support for Jews, an insidious achievement which testifies to the strength of the Zionist movement and Right wing Israelis in shaping perceptions around the enormity of the Arab threat, and the need to take preemptive action--an approach mirrored in our War on Terror.

Obama's very first speech was to AIPAC. So great is AIPAC's stranglehold on American politics, that virtually all politicians feel pressured to comply with AIPAC's wants. Those that don't are labelled anti-Semites, and AIPAC money and influence is used to isolate and selectively purge those who don't submit to Israeli control over US foreign policies, which should be built around American interests, not foreign ones--no matter how important the foreign state is, or how closely aligned they are said to be with us.

Obama's forte is not foreign policy. Still, considering the status of our foreign policy under the current regime, committing to getting out of Iraq qualifies Obama as a more skilled statesman with better leadership abilities. About other issues, Obama has indicated that he would delegate some of the responsibilities of the President to underlings. Yet the formulation of foreign policies is a task over which he cannot afford to lose control, as foreign policy is too important.

Obama's foreign policy team will devise his foreign policy. Reading the AIPAC speech, it's clear that whoever wrote it is Zionist. The message appeases and appeals to militaristic principles. Arabs are labelled as the aggressors in every confrontation--Israeli use of force is never unnecessary, no matter what the consequences or effectiveness.

This philosophy of Zionism advocates the use of military force against any hostile regime. Obama bends backwards to announce his willingness to do anything--anything--to protect Israel. While not a surprise coming from an Presidential candidate hungry for funds, the boot-licking does grow tiresome. Politicians need to exercise some restraint, announce that we will support Israel, but not service AIPAC's every need. American foreign policy must serve American interests--troubling it is that every politician must grovel at AIPAC's feet in order to be vetted as a suitable candidate by a mainstream media thoroughly dominated by Zionists and their interests.

In the speech, Obama shows his inexperience. Hamas is to be excluded from any election, because of their open willingness to confront Israeli military aggression with counterattacks. Neither Obama nor Israel can or should be able to ban Hamas from an election--only the Palestinians can and should choose to reject violence, not be prevented from defending themselves from Israeli aggression. In its striving to please the Israel lobby, America has abandoned any semblance of neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of blanket acceptance of any Israeli action no matter how grievous to the Palestinian side, or counterproductive for any Palestinian government that espouses non-violence.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah is treated as a terrorist organization for launching missiles into Israel proper in the August 2006, month-long war. Obama said that Iran's al-Quds force was rightfully labelled a terrorist group, which would deny Iran a right to defend itself, or preserve the rule of international treaty in the waging of war against Iran, either by us or our proxy Israel. (Or is Israel the tail that wags the dog--with us being her proxy, fighting her war for her?)

In short, violence and aggression begets violence and aggression--just how much can one people take without resorting to the collective instinct to strike back? The Israeli threshold for tolerating incursions and rocket attacks is well known, can we blame the Palestinians for not exercising the same right of self-defense? Violence by Palestinians triggers a cycle that the Israeli Right justifies to perpetuate more preemptive aggression and territorial control. Violence by Palestinians is labelled terror, while violence inflicted by Israelis called justified force, no matter what the terror it causes.

Zionist influence manifests itself in anti-Iranian sentiments now dominating the mainstream media narrative. Obama said "the Iranian regime is the author of its own isolation" and he believes "stronger sanctions in the Security Council" that will "strengthen our hand with Russia and China."

"...We should work with Europe, Japan and the Gulf states to find every avenue outside the UN to isolate the Iranian regime," Obama claims, as if the world can't wait to punish of a Muslim state which had the gall to develop nuclear power--which is its right as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel--with its 150 nuclear weapons--has refused to sign. So innundated with the influence of Zionism is our foreign policy that we assume other nations must not only see Iran as the threat we do, but also comply Amero-Israeli efforts to sanction the Persian state.

Russia and China do business with Iran. Are we supposed to believe they'll abandon billions in trade and massive energy investments because we say the Iranians are bad? Obama seems prone to inherit Bush naivete on international matters, despite his obviously greater intellect. This immaturity in the foreign policy arena makes it clear that people other than Obama are already likely wielding far too much authority in formulating his foreign policy.

Obama need not design all his foreign policy positions himself. But if foreign policy goals aren't well-designed and implementable, or bent purely around the interests of another country to the exclusion of others in the region, they are destined to fail. The US doesn't need more failures at this point. Our international influence is in fact waning, and our leaders would be wise to rebuild it, not simply push more anti-Muslim propaganda for the benefit of Israel. Israel's interests are but one consideration in a multi-faceted web of global policy issues. Can US interest in the Mideast best be served by making our "shoulder-to-shoulder" support of Israel the cornerstone of our dealings with all the people in that region?

The AIPAC speech showed that pleasing the the Zionist Power Configuration is the primary goal of Obama's foreign policy. This may be based on Obama's fund raising--apparently 40% of all giving to Democrats comes from Jews, with a large portion of that coming from people who support the Zionist cause.

By talking up sanctions, and thereby reducing the preventative role played by diplomacy in averting conflict, Obama has flip-flopped on Iran. He's caved into the practice of brinkmanship made popular by the President he hopes to replace. John McCain criticized his willingness to negotiate with Iran. In a pattern with echoes of the Reverend Wright controversy, Obama began by responding with a clever, reasonable, articulate defense of his position that negotiating with our enemies was vitally important.

Then, when challenged further, Obama changes his position, rejecting his previous position. While a few months ago, Obama had been content to explain that negotiation is a sign of strength, he's gradually toned down his support for diplomacy. In his most recent AIPAC speech, he says talk isn't just for talk's sake. I'm left wondering if, given more pressure amplified by the media, he might talk himself into abandoning any negotiations at all.

Obama's eventual departure (a "resignation of membership" as it was referred to) from Trinity church made his careful deconstruction of Wright's positions seem unnecessary. Like a novice politician, Obama first distanced himself, then later realized he hadn't made the separation clear enough to the dumbed down element of the audience. A nice, calm, logical refutation of Wright, which seemed so wise and reassuring, was abandoned.

Perhaps, in a shift toward more astute managing of public perception, Obama seeks an appeal to the voter's lower nature, recognizing their intolerance for discretion and nuance in an age of mindless media consumption and meaningless sound bytes. If this is necessary to win, then perhaps he must do it. But this would hardly be the change around which he's built his campaign message. As his AIPAC speech showed, avoiding risks and building political support is just what any politician would do in order to win, even if the result is no change of policy.

Perhaps the Obama could have done better sticking to his guns--or perhaps not. He'd defended himself without defending Wright. He'd made the racist perspective part of a legitimate black liberation theology. Without rejecting blackness, Obama rejected racism. But this delicate message was hurt by Wright's stubborn unwillingness to just back off, plus a later scandal with a white preacher which further threatened Obama.

Obama's 2007 speech contained some feel-good stuff for the Zionist crowd, but he'd apparently been booed at some points for not offering enough. Along with a pledge for $30 billion for Israel, Obama's 2008 speech shows that he's learned how to milk the Zionist cow, which is a major force shaping the media and political environment in America.

Other Notes

Rob Kall of OpEdNews.com interviewed several influential media personalities concerning the shift to the left that he thought Obama's nomination might bring to the Democrats. To Rob, the Clintons personify the Washington, D.C. power interest, epitomized by the DLC, Democratic Leadership Committee.

Kall poses to his interviewees the question of whether or not Clinton's defeat brought an end to the dominance of a more conservative Democratic Party. While Kall's report stretches over seven pages, it contains numerous jewels. What kind of changes should we expect, with Obama assuming his position as the new leader of the Democratic Party?

The party's future may be shaped more by what Obama is not more than what he stands for. He is not the insider, nor is he adverse to new ideas and approaches. In theory, Obama's leadership will mean changes in the way government operates at the federal level.

Obama will need to unify Democrats, which means bring Hillary supporters back into the fold. Some of the lingering resentment that now Hillary faces came from her take-no-prisoners approach. Anyone who was not with them, was against them. This political philosophy is shared by Washington's other quintessential insiders, the Bushes. Loyalty is praised above all else, and the viewpoints and opinions of outsiders are ritually ignored.

Here Kall quotes Consortium news' Robert Parry:
"If Clinton wins, the first period of time will be spent getting rid of anyone who showed them disloyalty. They'll put their loyalists in everywhere. That's how they work. That's how they think. And that's why they called Bill Richardson the "Judas" on Good Friday. It was typical of them. That's how they are. Richardson was not "made" by them.link.

Obama camp does maintain a degree of exclusivity, but only in a much more bottom-up way that accomodates grass roots activism. The semi-fanaticism shared by Obama supporters acted to (and still acts) casts out non-believers, but participation is open, which was and will be vital in motivating younger voters who will be key.

Parry talks about all the money and the role in plays in Washington politics. Whether or not Obama is an outsider to that system, he clearly understands the importance of fund-raising. His campaign raised most of its money via the Internet, a sum of over $200 million contrasting with Hillary's constant money issues.

Now on to the strategy changes like the 50 state approach that I mention above. Kall quotes Katrina Vanden Heuvel:
You have in Howard Dean someone who, whose campaign in 2004 was a striking repudiation of Clintonian centrism. It urged Democrats to end the war and it talked about a bottom up kind of campaign, using the internet, and organizing, and I think Obama is sort of Dean 3.0, fusing online and offline in ways Dean never had a chance to do and I think what Dean has done with the Democratic party, in terms of his 50 state strategy, is very much in line with what Obama has been doing and talking about, which is, not seeing the country as red and blue, but trying to organize in every state and bringing people into that organization so it's not just about suites but also about the streets.
That 50 state strategy is the hallmark of Howard Dean's time as the DNC Chair. And it's come under fire. It's come under fire from people from people who think that the role is to fight it out just in the battleground state or certain states and not try to engage people across this country.link

That would be me, I guess. I don't know if the Obama campaign can change historical precedent. If his popularity does catch, the chance of victory will be greater in the less Red states like Virginia and Colorado. While I've said that Obama might win Ohio, Hillary was a better candidate there, in a state that no Democratic President has ever lost.

Obama's popularity could rewrite those assumptions; I'm hoping it will. Even if he's less likely to win Ohio than Hillary, he could still win the state, particulary if the contagion effect amplifies his message and popularity in traditionally Republican areas, places who've recently shown a willingess to vote Democratic.