Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Call me crazy...

... but, isn't this one of the basic reasons for health care reform?:

"If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market ... the public option will have significant price advantages,..."

The speaker prefaces this remark by saying that it would be unfair of the government to just jump right in with a public option to health care. The speaker, by the way, is multi-term United States Senator Olympia Snowe.

Which sort of proves that H.L. Mencken was right when he said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Mencken must have been thinking about Maine when he said that. After all, they keep putting this "moderate" intellectual midget in office, term after term.

Hey, Sen. Snowe, it's quite simple. We pay double what other countries pay, for worse care, and the real reason for that is that for-profit entities have regional monopolies on the health care system.

Most any casual student of business understands that the inevitable course of an enduring corporation is from competition for market share to competitive advantage to monopoly, which effectively negates all of the happy talk about "free markets" by destroying competition (it is competition, after all, which is supposed to give us all the great benefits of higher quality at lower prices). It's why health care delivery in this country is thoroughly broken and has failed so many millions of people.

Therefore, it is necessary for government to step in and create competition again (most often by regulation and oversight to minimize market-gaming strategies and fraud and price-fixing by the erstwhile monopolists, because monopolists never give up monopolies voluntarily--instead, they invoke the ghost of Milton Friedman).

Nor can we forget--as the good Senator seems to have done--that health care doesn't always obey typical rules of supply and demand and markets. It's a bit like water--if you don't get enough of it when you need it, you die. And since people dying for lack of health care--just as people dying for lack of food or water--seems to run counter to the intent of the preamble to the Constitution to "promote the general welfare," it would seem that it is a Constitutional obligation of a United States Senator to rectify the problem in ways that benefit all citizens, rather than the few with large health-care stock portfolios and the financial ability to hire lobbyists to further their own narrow interest in profit over societal benefit.

Here's some ABC-type information for Senator Snowe: for-profit health care corporations make their money by denying health care to people who have purchased insurance for it, and by overcharging them for health care whenever possible. Neither of those corporate behaviors will lead to a healthier, more productive society, nor do they fulfill the Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare. To defend such practices by saying competition isn't fair is foolish or corrupt, or both.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sometimes, a stick is just a stick....

As TBogg thusly describes.

Truth is, the scariest part of this deal is that Roberts got wound even tighter over the years, which doesn't bode well for the next thirty or forty years that he'll be around to oppress the peons and award their masters continued control of the universe, dominance in the culture and legal expenses....

The silliest part of this little bit of history is that Roberts was writing these memos on behalf of the Reagan White House, which made show business a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue institution. Who did Roberts think he was working for? Some distinguished guy with scruples?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tone Poem for an Air-Conditioned Ditchdigger....

Excerpts from Gov. Mark Sanford's emails to his Argentinian paramour have generated facepalms all over the blogosphere for their sheer adolescent ardor, but, it seems to me that his ode to digging dirt in expensive equipment has the same gentleman farmer feel to it that Bush's chainsawing the shit out of salt cedar for the cameras had over these last many years.

It was simply for effect, meant to impress in the absence of any real substance, sort of, "I dig holes in the earth with big honking machinery, so I am of the earth," that sort of thing. He doesn't do this for a living, and as a gentleman farmer who makes a lot more money on investments and his gov's salary than he does on crops, he's not going to go hungry if the crop fails, or if he just fucks up something that would put a real farmer out of business. In South Carolina, I suspect it's a sort of genteel substitute for four-wheel monster truck mudding. More to the point, it's something that I doubt very seriously that the good governor would want to do, day in and day out, for a paycheck--handed out by some hard-hatted and hard-headed moron with a persecution complex--on which his well-scrubbed family would have to depend, and so it seems to be an affectation in same way that Bush's antics appeared.

In Sanford's case, that's particularly troublesome, since there are likely a lot of people in his state who had to do such work, day in, day out, for pinheads like the governor and who no longer are working, through no fault of their own, and whom the governor is determined to teach a hard--and unnecessarily harsh--lesson by denying them federal extended unemployment benefits, strongly suggesting that he actually has no appreciation at all for the work itself and its loss to those in real need of it.

So, his email to his paramour is meant to convey the impression that he's a manly man, capable of dominating a big piece of machinery, while his actual policies show him to be a weaselly, miserly little prick who'll screw the people who have to do the same thing every day for a living so he can score points with his other gentleman farmer friends.

Is there any wonder why the Republicans--especially the ones who make a point of politicizing their Christian faith--reveal themselves as hypocrites and phonies? Should there be any wonder why they eventually show themselves to be much less than they purport to be when they're running for office?

A man who plays at real work as a break from "reality" doesn't have a fucking clue about reality, or real work, and can never respect it. Sanford's departures from marital fidelity, and his willingness to lie about it, right up to the point of public confrontation over his dissembling, is a lesser indication of his character than are his public policies. That South Carolinians are willing to go on voting for politicians who have no respect for them--simply because those politicians shovel a lot of horseshit about their unique moral character and their special relationship to Jesus--should be the bigger lesson in this little morality play.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Inches given...

... equal miles taken....

Yet again, the DFHs warn about dangerously empowering the government, and are dismissed as hysterical, and, yet again, are proved to be right.

As Greenwald says at the above link, there's a very clear pattern that has evolved over these last several years, in which Congress ignores warnings, assures everyone that safeguards of liberty are in place, and, predictably, we find a few months later that it was just so much horseshit.

It's been a fairly common theme amongst civil libertarians that we are much more likely to lose our liberties incrementally, rather than all at once, and that those losses will be justified because of internal and external threats--real or imagined--to security. Such has it been ever since Ben Franklin penned his simple aphorism on the relationship of liberty and security.

Of course, one's suspicions should have been raised by the news that the NSA was expanding its collection facilities well beyond its existing Ft. Meade borders, and that doing so would have been a clear signal that new law was intended to expand spying programs, both in scale and kind, rather than placing Constitutional limits on existing programs (and, of course, a careful reading of recent legislation would have confirmed those suspicions). The facts on the ground belied what the Congress critters were saying publicly, as did the actual text of the legislation.

Predictably, even the expanded law was ignored, and infractions are now described as errors, or mistakes, or exceptions--euphemisms, as Greenwald notes, intentionally used to call lawbreaking anything but that. George Orwell noted, over sixty years ago, that political euphemisms were used in a very intentional manner--as a "defense of the indefensible."

Just as with the Supreme Court ruling on access to DNA evidence today, the government continues to believe that only it should have the technological advantage, and this is apparently true with regard to spying, too. The government's attitude, ever since 2001, has been that if it has the technological tools to spy, they should be used, and that warrants and other due process demands are limitations on use. Successive intelligence legislation has badly broken the due process system, and still, the government finds the few remaining limits on use intolerable and simply violates the law at will.

At some point, maybe even this pathetic crop of Congress critters will figure out that they've been punked by the intelligence services, but, frankly, I doubt it. They've willingly subverted their own rights, too, and that loss of rights hasn't yet caused them to seriously question their trade of real liberty for imagined security.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Regarding the tumult in Iran...

... it's odd that we're not hearing much dot-connecting between the election protests (or the election results) and this little nugget from a couple of years ago.

It's no secret that almost since its inception, Iran has been the CIA's favorite extra-credit project, beginning with Kermit Roosevelt's little blue-book exercise in democracy destruction there, in 1953. It's also the primary reason why we ought not be too quick to see what's going on as some sort of spontaneous outbreak of democracy in an otherwise theocratic nation.

Separating the real news from the white and black propaganda issuing from all sides is going to be very difficult. Ahmadinejad isn't liked in the Western (particularly U.S.) press, but, that doesn't mean he's universally despised in Iran. Quite the contrary, he's seen as defending the one thing that defines Iranian national pride these days--its nuclear power program--against Western interference, and he gets some points for that. The issues during the election campaign in Iran were much as they were here--the economy, inflation, etc., the things that are more or less under Ahmadinejad's administration (his power in Iran as president is not nearly the same as ours has here--the military, state communications and the judiciary are all still under the control of the Council of Guardians, headed by Ayatollah Khamenei).

That the Council or Khamenei might be harmed in some politically fatal way by endorsing Ahmadinejad and then facing hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the streets is likely wishful thinking, mostly because Khamenei did the politically expedient thing by calling for an investigation of the election, which buys a little time (this NY Times story seems to suggest that Khamenei's control is slipping because he's just plain weak, which sort of ignores that he's managed to stay in control for nearly two decades).

If there was a CIA campaign to taint the Islamic Guardians and Khamenei through election tampering, before or after the fact, it probably hasn't worked--although such an attempt might have generated a lot more civil strife had the Council dug in its heels. As well, accusing the U.S. of meddling is always good for some political cred inside Iran, especially when some protesters have openly tied the election results to Khamenei.

Nevertheless, the clampdown on journalists, foreign and domestic, and attempts to short-circuit telephone and internet communications inside the country will not sit well with the protesters and their sympathizers inside and outside of Iran. It means, in some important respects, that Khamenei and his Council have lost control of the message, even if that does not mean loss of control of the government.

If the CIA's involved, it will eventually come out, and that can only hurt the protesters, directly and indirectly. Such a plan can also backfire--there are factions within the Iranian Islamic clerical community that think Khamenei has been insufficiently fundamentalist in his leadership. If there's been a concerted covert effort by the U.S. to bring down Khamenei and Ahmadinejad at the same time, using the election protests as impetus toward that change, the situation in Iran could actually become worse than it is now. Any more fundamentalist cleric that promises the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard even more power in internal affairs than it has now could win out over the so-called moderates on the Council, and that eventuality could push the country even more in the direction of military control over civilian affairs.

Of course, one must also consider the sort of triple-cross, too-clever-by-half sort of thinking that has permeated the CIA since the days of the 1953 coup, that it may be trying to create the sort of civil strife which would push the ayatollahs toward a crackdown that either amplifies the chaos or brings in a group of true fundamentalist hardliners willing to use the Revolutionary Guards in the same way that the Shah used SAVAK, except on a much greater scale. Either of those conditions could create circumstances which the U.S. could exploit as a justification for either attacks or invasion, which pretty much ignores the fact that the bulk of Iran's citizens are strongly nationalist, and majority agreement with theocratic governance is, to a considerable degree, an expression of that nationalism--as a rejection of Western principles and values as embodied by the Shah's corrupt relationship with the United States (which Ayatollah Khomeini exploited to good effect with the economically dispossessed in Iran in the years leading up to 1979).

Once attacked, Iranians would probably find the suspicions of the hardliners to be prescient, and would rally around them. It's probably not a point which can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but, I still think that Bush's and the neocons' verbal bellicosity toward Iran was a major factor in Ahmadinejad's initial election. It works the same way everywhere--hammer on the external and internal threats--real or imagined--to the average voter's security, and the authoritarians win, more often than not.

That said, if it's found that the CIA is involved with these election troubles, it's going to set back relations with Iran and the cause of civil libertarians inside Iran for another few decades, or could prompt yet another war in central Asia, with a subtext of oil and energy profits for Western multinationals. Neither prospect is welcome.

The very sad truth is...

... that, even if NPR had enough politically-independent government funding to get rid of all those "corporate partners" (known in the radio trade as "advertisers"), they would still go on hiring embarrassments like Juan Williams....

Williams can't even throw softballs. He's limited to nerfballs.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oh, yeah, California is...

... pretty much fucked, and because they did it all to themselves. They wanted to prevent any new taxes on wealthy people because a whole bunch of dumb fucks in California thought they'd be wealthy one day.... Fooled you, suckers.

The truly wealthy will skate right through these difficulties while the poor and lower middle will just be stuffed up the assholes of the rich, mostly because they thought that a ten-dollar increase in their taxes was excessive, when it actually meant a ten-thousand-dollar increase on the filthy rich.

I guess an awful lot of those California libertarians had the same response to the "The Grapes of Wrath" as George W. Bush:

President George W. Bush was introduced to the film "The Grapes of Wrath" as a student at the Harvard Business School, where he got admitted on his family's name. "I wanted to give the class a visual reference for poverty and a sense of historical empathy," macroeconomics professor Yoshi Tsurumi told a researcher for Kitty Kelley's book, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty."

"George Bush came up to me and said, 'Why are you going to show us that commie movie?'" Tsurumi recalled. "I laughed because I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. After we viewed the film, I called on him to discuss the Depression and how he thought it affected people. [Bush] said, 'Look, people are poor because they are lazy.' A number of students pounced on him and demanded that he support his statement with facts and statistics. He quickly backed down because he could not sustain his broadside."

The incident and a semester of exposure burned into Tsurumi's memory a disturbing view of the future president. "His strong prejudices soon set him apart.... Most business students are conservative, but they are not inhumane or unprincipled. George Bush came across as totally lacking compassion, with no sense of history, completely devoid of social responsibility and unconcerned with the welfare of others."

They really believed this hybrid Yankee-Houston asshole and all his rich prick friends were right. Fuck `em all. Too bad they're going to take down the poor and dispossessed with them. Jerks.

If you're in California and you think Prop. 13 was the cat's ass, well, as your bud Tom Friedman says, "suck on this."

You've had decade after decade of rich, rich, rich fuckers telling you, the not-quite-poor white people in California society, "you, too, can be as rich as I am, if only you, too, could fuck with the legislative process with money in the same way I did, but, frankly, you're too stupid to figure out how to do that compared to me, because you're just whining about the niggers while I'm buying ads with your money to get you to vote for me because I know you'll vote for me if I tell you you're right to whine about niggers," as if it were a goddamned infomercial.

And, that's nowhere more true than it is in California. You've been played, over and over, by the wealthy fuckers, Californians--including the asshole movie stars you keep voting into the governor's office--like Reagan and Schwarzenegger.

You keep fucking yourselves, and blaming someone else. As your doofus governors keep telling you, "it's the American Way."

How does it feel, Californians, to be dumber than the dumbest politician on the public payroll--and that you voted for the neuron-deprived little prick because he promised he wouldn't raise your taxes, when he really meant he wouldn't raise taxes on his rich friends?

And you fuckin' fell for his routine?

`Nuff said.

Well, yes, NPR toes the imperial line...

... in this little piece, which tries to describe the Afghanistan war in terms of a simple conflict between us (U. fuckin' S.) and the rest of NATO, in which we and NATO are having a few small spats in the matter of who runs that war.

The undershot of the report, of course, is why we're accelerating an unwinnable war while our "allies" in NATO are saying, well, WTF, and yet, the NPR reporter in Brussels can't quite bring herself to say, outright, that our allies think we're just a bunch of right-wing warmongers for trying to ramp up this stupid fuckin' war in a place where empires go to die and we can't seem to figure that out, no matter the warnings our "allies" keep giving us about doing so.

And, no, that's not what those allies have said, outright, but, it's the unspoken subtext, which the NPR reporter is loathe to explain in any way that might actually put the U.S. position in a bad light.

The war against brown people goes on, left-wing bitches. So there, says NPR. And, furthermore, the Lakers are gonna win.

Jaysus, these yo-yos get very, very tiresome.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This, frankly, sounds like a screaming tantrum...

... from a four-year-old that's been told it can't have the toy it wants.

The state of Israel has spent more than sixty years trying to drive the Arabs out of land it thinks it deserves, and, failing that, has done everything it can do to make life so miserable for those Arabs that they'll leave rather than continue to endure the threats to life and dignity Israel has imposed.

Now that someone in the U.S. has said, 'wait a minute,' there's been a concerted effort to roll that back, because the right wing in Israel doesn't want to be constrained in any way--even by common sense.

Let's try to put it in perspective. Israel has no oil, and less than 2% of the U.S. electorate is Jewish, and 70% of those are fairly liberal and would like to see an equitable solution to the travails created by Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands in exchange for some semblance of peace in the region. They know that there's a kind of insanity at work in the upper echelons of Israeli government, and would like to see it end, especially for Israel's sake. Beyond that, Israel as a rightish Western bastion against Arab states tempted to align themselves with the Soviet Union pretty much vanished when the Soviet Union disappeared (continuing economic and military payments by the U.S. to both Egypt and Israel to maintain the peace between the two countries also made this defense of capitalism argument fairly stupid, anyway).

Israel has largely been in the control of its right-wing--regardless of party--for several decades and has used any number of groups in this country as interfaces between the right wing there and the right wing here, to no one's benefit except the right wing's, and U.S. foreign policy has, ultimately, suffered for its indulgence of the warmongers on the right in Israel. The 35-40% of Israelis who are thoroughly fed up with the violence on both sides get little voice here in the U.S.

Now, this little missile from Peled is probably just an idle threat--after all, AIPAC, JINSA, the AJC, and affiliated groups have already exerted perhaps their maximum influence possible on U.S. national politics in the last few years, so, there's some question about how much more in the way of threats those groups can bring to bear on U.S. politicians. Nevertheless, the mere notion that the state of Israel is able to place sanctions on the U.S. Congress because a U.S. President says it can't go on behaving stupidly forever is pretty much the definition of irrational arrogance.

If one were, for the moment, to ignore the religious orientation of the Israeli state and the history of the many Jews in the U.S., one would be inclined to view Israeli's veiled threat as something more hilarious than serious. Think a "Mouse That Roared" plot gone horribly wrong. Peled and his cohort think this is a reasonable way to maintain the status quo because it's worked in the past. The Mouse has roared before, and always gotten its way, after all.

I doubt that it would happen in quite this way and quite as unilaterally, but, if Obama found Netanyahu's recalcitrance to be entirely intractable, and chose to embargo all defense gifts and economic development grants (which Israel uses for arms production) from the U.S. for Israel, and refused to forgive any of Israel's many loans from the U.S. (given that one in four jobs in Israel today depends upon arms in some way), the Israeli economy would very likely be much like it was in the early `70s, when the costs of occupation drove inflation into the stratosphere. If the U.S. were to embargo all arms sales into and out of Israel, cut off all U.S. aid, etc., Israel's economy would collapse in months, if not weeks, as dependent as that country is on arms sales.

Peled and friends think that the U.S. will never take decisive military action against Israel, no matter how badly she behaves. That's probably true. But, just because the United States would not act militarily against Israel doesn't mean that it will tolerate bad behavior forever, especially when the U.S. is spending more on war in the Middle East and South Asia than the entirety of Israel's GDP, and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum might light a path to solving those other conflicts, too.

It's a mystery why the Israeli right wing has, for sixty years, chosen to make Palestinian Arabs surrogates for the Nazis that tried to subjugate and eliminate them in the days before and during WWII. But, I think, they have done just that. Even today, whenever the right wing in Israel shouts, "Never Again," they mean Arabs, not Nazis. It's a mystery, yes, until one realizes that the right wing in Israel--just as the right wing in this country--gains power by inculcating fear in the populace, trying to make their people believe that they are under siege from without. Once that has been achieved, once that siege mentality is in place, it's very easy to convince the public that every extreme action taken by the government is legitimate, in order to protect the people of the homeland, even when every extreme action is yet another whack at the hornet's nest, in order to provide yet more justification for extreme action, and yet more justification to keep the right wing in power, in a neverending cycle.

If we want to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, want to put it into perspective, we need to look at our own history, post-WWII, and at the influence our own right wing--regardless of party--just like Israel's, has had on our policies over these many decades.

Peled and company think that they can maintain a perverse, irrational status quo by threatening the entire legislature of the United States. I don't give Obama many points, these days, for truth and honesty, given his recent actions on secrecy and torture, but, I doubt seriously that he's going to be cowed by threats from a right-wing pissant who's managed to find someone at the right-wing Jerusalem Post to publish his threats. When it comes down to it, Israel's right wingers (just like the ones in this country) are just plain full of themselves and hot air, and nothing else.

The real future, the long-term future, of Israel is with its peacemakers, the lefties who read the Talmud and find in it admonitions against arbitrary cruelty, find in it enduring prescriptions for fair play and decency and commonweal with the world, the very qualities which have enabled Jews, finally, to overcome prejudice in a United States which formerly sought, in often subtle ways, to exclude them.

If we in the U.S. give in to the demands of the right wing in Israel--let that destructive influence in Israel (and a similarly destructive influence among our own Christian right wing) control our decisions--we may be destroyed, too, by them, even as we mistakenly believe ourselves to be coming to Israel's aid.

Hmmm. Don't think I agree...

... with this assessment, or with the underlying post which prompted Atrios' remark.

There's a tendency--a generous one, to be sure--to think of "the right" in this country as the old-guard traditional Republican, sort of in the mold of Everett Dirksen. That view presumes that there's a broad center mostly defined by the Republican party of the wealthy, business and of narrow fiscal opinion and the Democratic party, of civil rights and fiscal excess.

This might have been true fifty years ago, but, it's hardly true today. What began as the Republican so-called "Southern Strategy" has caused the Republican Party to morph into something far more malicious and threatening than the benign view still held by many. What the "Southern Strategy" effectively did was to put the Republican Party on a path to pandering to a vast array of single-issue voters whose issue of choice could be branded, even vaguely, as "not liberal" and, therefore, "conservative."

As the Republicans roped in working-class Americans with displays of faux patriotism and in no small way sought to blame economic problems Republicans helped to create on the Democrats' demands for racial equality, thus encouraging the working class to identify their economic resentments as racial, calling their conquests, "Reagan Democrats," that dragged the Democratic Party even further rightward, encouraging Democrats to make alliances with Republicans on issues of tax cuts for the wealthy and other pro-big business demands. In this particular sense, traditional notions of "left" and "right" no longer apply.

In a marketing sense, the Republicans sought to cross-brand themselves with a long list of limited-issue voters who traditionally either didn't vote at all or would never think of themselves as bedrock WASPy, country-club Republicans, in order to bolster their traditionally lower percentage of party members. Tapping into Southern voters' racial resentments was successful, and the party expanded its efforts. The so-called "Christian Right" is a relatively new phenomenon, politically, because, beginning with Reagan, there was a determined branding effort on the part of the Republicans to align those new groups with "traditional conservative values," when "traditional conservative" values, looking back fifty or a hundred years, had a lot more to do with exclusivity and the accumulation of money, and a belief that government should be limited, to those ends, anyway.

Therefore, the Republican Party began to change perceptibly, not only because of its changing composition, but because of its willingness to embrace extremism in order to keep those single-issue voters. Most of the issues they took on as their own contained the seeds of extremism in them, and brought along extremist practitioners and believers. There were some complicated overlaps between those extremist beliefs. Racists responded to Republican cross-branding with the NRA's campaigns against gun control, since "keeping one's family safe" from the minorities made sense to them. Putting the minority poor in jail for victimless crimes (law `n order values) reduced their numbers on the streets and therefore reduced the implicit threat of minorities. It was inevitable that such policies would attract some on the extreme authoritarian right, including neo-Nazis. Embracing the hot-button issues of the Christian right (resistance to abortion law, excoriation of homosexuals and pressure to abandon church/state separation) meant that some Christian Identity types would find a home in the Republican Party, especially if their only other viable option was the hated "liberal" Democratic Party.

Race, guns, national security and white Christianity have become intimately woven into the fabric of the modern Republican Party (in addition to their more traditional aims), and one only need read the platforms coming out of their national conventions in recent years to understand the extent to which those basic themes have become integrated with their political philosophy.

Despite a strong preference of the nation for Democrats and Obama in the 2008 election, the Republican Party and its enabling gasbags on talk radio and tv have publicly pandered to the most extreme elements and issues in society today (remember that it was only recently that the RNC leadership seriously considered that it would only refer to the Democratic Party publicly as the "Democrat Socialist Party"). The Republican Party has sought to be not conciliatory in defeat, but, rather, increasingly inflammatory in its rhetoric and has been digging in its heels on all legislation that doesn't accommodate the extremist views of its base.

The Republican Party is now official and unofficial host to every right-wing nutball and crazy in the country, and anyone who's lived long enough to remember that half of the Republicans in the Senate voted to censure their own Joseph McCarthy knows this to be the case. How many Republicans has it been, lately, who've offered timid criticism of Gasbag-in-Chief Rush Limbaugh, only to kneel down to plant a wet one on his ass a day or two later?

Certainly, there are Republicans (and no small number of Democrats) in Congress that are closely aligned with the aims of the old Republican Party. But, the Republican Party itself has become a haven for any and all extremists on the right, and the party leadership has worked to make it so.

This is what comes of a "win at all costs" political strategy. The Republican cogniscenti in Washington, DC, can say whatever it likes about not endorsing the recent violence visited upon the extreme right-wing's hated objects, but, until they tell the Becks and the Hannitys and the Savages and O'Reillys and the Limbaughs of the country to put a cork in it--and mean it--and start, seriously, to prune the hate and bigotry and racism out of their policy platforms, then their protestations are just attempts to deflect blame from where it rightfully should accrue.

And, if there's any proof that the right wing in this country is doing its utmost to deny any responsibility and avoid any connection to the recent spate of right-wing violence, it's the almost immediate--and thoroughly lame--attempt to describe James W. von Brunn, the alleged killer of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, as a "leftist."

Well, after all, the far-right wing loves Israel and the Jews, so, they whine, "it can't be us" that caused a right-wing neo-Nazi with white Christian issues (hey, the guy's website was named "") to use a gun inside the Holocaust Museum to get Jews.

The Republican Party's mix-and-match approach to endorsing prejudice, bigotry and general hatred for anything progressive and humane, along with its deliberate courting of many wacko single-issue voters, allowed people to selectively endorse portions of its agenda. The Republicans happily sought out the favors of the Christian Right, which has embraced Israel as ground zero of Armageddon and Jerusalem as the seat of the new thousand-year reign of Jesus after the bloodletting is done. This is, of course, a view that the defenders of the Israeli state amongst the right-wing neo-conservatives were cynically happy to endorse, because they knew that it was all just raving Christian end-times nonsense, and a willingness to aid Israel, especially when they knew that support would never result in what the Rapture wackos most desired, was fine by them.

The fact that the right-wingers are now trying to distance themselves from the very people they sought out for support only a few years ago--and only because those same people are shown as gun-toting racist wackadoos--is proof that they have no principles left. They are entirely cynical.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

And, right on cue...

... the Bobsy Twins of torture denial do their utmost to prove my point:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to hold up any and all legislation in the Senate until Congress passes its legislation to prohibit the release of photos showing detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re not going to do any more business in the Senate,” Graham said. “Nothing’s going forward until we get this right.”

Both Senators said they were alarmed that a House-Senate conference committee on the supplemental war spending bill appears poised to eliminate language — inserted by the two Senators — that would block public disclosure of detainee abuse photos.

Nasty little ankle-biters, both of `em.

Admitting a mistake is the ultimate sin amongst the DC Villagers, and admitting a big, enormous fuck-up that makes the United States look like it dropped trou and dumped a huge turd in the world's punchbowl is something to be avoided at all costs.

Any time someone powerful in this country, be it telecom CEOs, fratboy presidents, sadistic, amoral vice-presidents, the CIA, the FBI or the NSC behaves like Lavrenty Beria's evil twin, you can count on Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee to come to their rescue and introduce legislation to legalize their crimes.

When not even state secrets privilege can hide the evidence of the country's crimes, you can be assured that these two clowns in the anti-democratic wing of the circus will try their best to cover it all up.

The next time some poobah on television goes on and on about the glories of representative democracy, remember these two bits of political codswallop and recognize what they're really representing. And it ain't you....

Endangering national security...

... is a phrase that's getting very, very tiresome:

In an affidavit, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta defended the classification of records describing the contents of the 92 videotapes, their destruction by the CIA in 2005 and what he called "sensitive operational information" about the interrogations.

The forced disclosure of such material to the American Civil Liberties Union "could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed," Panetta argued.

Call me crazy, but, destruction of evidence is a crime. Torture is a crime. The "intelligence" obtained is mostly worthless, because of torture. This is not about protecting "sources and methods," another wonderful catchphrase the CIA employs mostly when they actually mean "cover our asses." It's about hiding criminality, which the CIA is most expert at doing, through the contortional exercise of secrecy.

One of the great conundrums about the CIA is that almost immediately after setting up shop post-WWII, they decided that the best way to go about business was to behave in exactly the same way as their totalitarian counterparts. They were given the mandate to break the law anywhere in the world (except in the United States), and to behave badly wherever they found themselves. And, whenever they get caught behaving badly, the whining begins. "You're not letting us keep you safe! It's your fault if you all die! We can't tell you a single thing about what we're doing because it's all part of a mosaic of information!"

In fact, because the people running the CIA over the years have cared not a whit for the principle of unanticipated consequences, they've succeeded in making us less safe, and because they've been wholly preoccupied with fucking around with other governments trying to install right-wing dictators that will do the bidding of America multinationals and running proxy wars, instead of gathering and analyzing intelligence, they've completely missed the seminal events of our times.

Here's a really simple, true fact. Torture has never been successful in extracting useful information. Many, many people--in and out of the CIA--know this to be true. The actual purpose of systematic torture, since the days of the Inquisition, has been to create false confessions and to get people to recant their beliefs. So, pretty much, if you torture someone, you get bullshit and lies and whatever the torturer wants to hear, because all the tortured person wants is for the torture to stop. They'll do and say anything for it to stop, and the longer the torture goes on, the more unreliable the information becomes. The person being tortured is desperate and will pick up cues about what to say from the questions being asked, and they'll lie, fabricate and ingratiate themselves with the torturer to stop the pain and the insanity.

Now, if all this is known--in and out of the CIA--and the primary purpose of the CIA is to gain useful intelligence, why is it that they've engaged in a sixty-year-long process of refining and honing a psychologically precise and brutal program of torture, beginning with efforts such as Project Artichoke and culminating in the reverse-engineering of the SERE program, if the results of torture are antithetical to their stated mission?

Maybe it's because, from the start, they adopted the methods of their adversaries as the most efficacious means of combatting their adversaries, and didn't care that those methods didn't work as planned. The Chinese Communists of the Korean War used psychological terror and torture to pry false confessions out of captured U.S. soldiers. The SERE program was intended to acquaint U.S. soldiers with those techniques. Reverse-engineering the SERE program duplicated and enhanced what the Chinese Communists had devised. Therefore, by definition, the CIA sought false confessions and useless intelligence, the exact opposite of the CIA's stated mission.

So, when Mr. Panetta starts dribbling into the microphones about "sources and methods," one would be wise to remember that he's defending people who torture and methods that don't work as advertised, and that the whole object of hiding bad practices and incompetent people is to a) prevent the American people, rather than our adversaries, from knowing what a bunch of loony, sadistic fuck-ups are running the CIA today, and b) to ensure that those same loony, sadistic fuck-ups get to keep on doing what they're doing.

Because they will, law or no law. It's their nature. All they needed were Bush and Cheney to give them free rein, and they singlehandedly screwed everything up in almost no time at all. And now, they're trying to convince us all that they're doing a good job and that they're keeping us safe, and that we should just trust them.

No, we shouldn't. Even on days when they're on their best behavior, no agency which depends upon stealth, subterfuge, totalitarian methods and a system of secrecy that in any normal democratic society would be considered completely insane should be trusted.

At this moment, the secret government is more a danger to our safety and liberty than any other force in the world. It has consistently used the power of secrecy to hide its mistakes--and its crimes--from its own citizens, and that situation, if experience is any guide, will only get worse with time.

And, Mr. Panetta, that's exactly what you're doing, make no mistake about it.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Dumber than dirt....

I'm not sure if this is a sign of the end times for conservatives, or if they sincerely think this idea has merit.

It's as if these "free market" gasbags just haven't thought it all through. The raw facts are these:

a) The free marketeers in GM management, beginning with Roger Smith, did their utmost to drive the company into the ground, mostly by thinking their real businesses were marketing and finance, rather than designing and building cars, and by studiously ignoring the obvious.

b) Had the "free market" had its way, GM's creditors would have forced it into Chap. 7, gotten out the long knives and carved it up, never to resurface again, had the government not bailed it out.

c) GM could not be run any worse by the government than it has been in recent times by the yokels chosen by its board of directors.

For better or worse, GM represents a significant chunk of the non-defense industrial sector in this country, and a ton of suppliers are dependent, in part or in whole, on GM's business. Those businesses represent pretty much what's left of manufacturing in this country, and if GM goes down the tubes, they do, too. Thousands of metal-stampers, heat treaters, diemakers, makers of forgings, upholsterers, design facilities, etc., go by the wayside.

Many of those businesses are going to be necessary to reinvigorate industrial capacity (something that's sorely needed after the truly nasty screwing that the financial sector has given the economy), and many are going to be essential in building a greener industrial sector.

But, major-league right-wing dickheads like Hewitt and Limbaugh think it's more important to see Obama fail--along with the rest of the country. What the both of them know about the automotive business you could put in a thimble with room left over for their penises.

Why the mainstream press pays any attention at all to these feebs is beyond me. They're not contributing to the debate. They're just doing what they do best--passing gas. Maybe in the grand era of the Bush Depression, that qualifies as news.

Tortured logic....

Alfred McCoy has a new article up on torture, a subject on which he has been doing research for a long, long time, and he sees a goodly amount of continuity in this country's policies on torture over the decades, including Obama's recent actions on preserving rendition and offering guarantees to the CIA that there won't be any prosecutions of them, and thinks that the Bush era of torture is mostly distinguished by the U.S. government's willingness to do the torture directly, rather than indirectly, by proxy.

What McCoy suggests has larger implications--and not just legal ones. It may get to the core of the problems with the CIA, with the nature of secrecy in government, and with where we'll end up if we keep doing things as we do.

If we take the original arguments for the creation of the CIA and the national security state as a given--that its mission was to anticipate major events and advise accordingly--the CIA has been a spectacular and expensive failure. Within a very short time from its inception, the CIA was transformed by its leadership from an analytical operation to one that was intended to defend an ideology, rather than a nation, using methods that were just as reprehensible as those used by its totalitarian opponents. (This might be why the predilection of the CIA for right-wing dictators caused so little consternation within the agency--as long as those bastards were against communism, nothing they did or could do was truly unseemly.)

McCoy makes the point that the CIA has been intimately associated with and scientifically developing a program of torture almost from the start--back to the late `40s or early `50s. Even then, I suppose, someone had figured out that torture wasn't going to produce useful intelligence, and that the Chinese and Soviet methods on which the CIA's program was based were never intended to produce intelligence. They were, on the contrary, designed to do what torture has intended since the Inquisition--to extract false confessions and to force people to recant their beliefs. And, if one is defending an ideology, rather than a nation, that's an all-important task. Gathering and analyzing intelligence becomes of secondary interest.

Part of the motivation for torture certainly stems from mistakes made early on--Nazis spirited out of Germany under Operation Paperclip who claimed intimate knowledge of the Soviets were a generally corrupting influence on the CIA, and little useful intelligence came from them. In fact, in those early days, the Soviets had virtually shut down every spy network that the CIA tried to create (see Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes for details). The frustration and consternation at not knowing what the ideological enemy was doing must have been considerable, and may be at the heart of the ongoing intelligence failures. Unable to do what its charter mandated, the CIA simply created a new mission for itself--it became the defender of the melding of orthodox white patriarchal Christianity and "free" market capitalism, and the protector of the image of the United States. If torture has never worked to provide useful intelligence, there has to be another reason for the CIA's profound interest in refining the psychological techniques of torture over many decades, and for encouraging torture itself and for promoting it among allies and training allies in "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a phrase which sounds much more impressive in the original German).

McCoy is right to focus on rendition, since it is clearly torture by proxy. Frequently carried out by allies that are effectively closed states which permit no outside interference by human rights organizations, rendition provides suitable cover for the reputation of the United States, although much of the rest of the world isn't fooled. It's a practice meant to make us feel better about ourselves, mostly by saying we send people to countries which do not torture, but, in fact, they do (wink, wink). Otherwise, there would be no need to spirit them away from the U.S. criminal justice system and the restraints it places on prisoner treatment.

Long-term, the hypocrisy of the United States will become increasingly evident, and recognition of that by the rest of the world will serve to further erode our ability to influence the rest of the world diplomatically. Whether the current administration realizes it or not (and I suspect it does, and doesn't care), continuing the practice of rendition and refusing to acknowledge international treaties requiring the investigation and prosecution of torture and other war crimes are endorsements of torture, and acceptance of its practice by the United States.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Does Lamar sense something slipping away?

Via ThinkProgress, we find that Lamar Smith (R-Wacko, TX) is forming a new bipartisan group (composed of, yes, a dozen Republicans) to monitor the "liberal" media.

Smith, of course, knows that there's no such thing as the "liberal" media, but, he, like many other GOPers, knows that their propagandistic bullshit has been shown, over the years, to be a huge pile of big and little lies, which the media have dutifully repeated as truth, and that the public is growing rather tired of it all.

For that reason, he surmises that the only way to correct that obvious problem is to turn up the Wurlitzer's volume. We shouldn't be surprised (or even annoyed) at this tactic--it's just what the right wing in this country does. The press will pay attention to Smith's little ploy, and thus give it much more weight than it deserves, further proving the utter ridiculousness of Smith's basic premise.

What is actually bothering Smith and his cohort is that the propaganda machine isn't quite as well-oiled as it was in the heyday of the Bush administration--that shoveling shit into the minds of ordinary Americans is proving to be a bit more difficult than it once was. After all, ordinary Americans are actually feeling and sensing the effects of believing these right-wing yahoos for so long--job losses, home foreclosures, 401(k)s on a rocket-powered handbasket ride to hell, state budgets and services in severe decline--and they're less inclined to be quite as credulous as they were not so long ago.

Therefore, Smith is desperate to return to the wholly artificial status quo of a few years ago, and his way of doing that is to jump up and down and wave his arms in the direction of the very news outlets that he derides.

If there's an actual "liberal media" out there, the least it can collectively do is to ignore this pea-brained excuse for a legislator and his manufactured outrage. But, it won't.

The media just can't resist an opportunity to let the right-wing crazies shit on them, just to prove--mostly to themselves--that they are not something they've never really been... "liberal."