Sunday, January 14, 2007

"The hippies" finally get through

Dallas Morning News columnist (and National Review Online contributor) Rod Dreher had an epiphany this week, as he recounted in an NPR interview:
As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war.

I had a heretical thought for a conservative -- that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word -- that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot -- that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn't the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?
The "heretical thought" is kind of confusing to me. Distrust of presidents and generals would seem to go hand in hand with any true conservative, libertarian thought. But for some reason the American brand of conservatism has always exempted the military from their comprehension of "Big Gubmint" instead of its most wasteful, destructive manifestation.

But no matter. Rod has come around, and good for him.

Dreher is an interesting conservative, it must be said. He is the author of a recently published book with the ungainly title Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican party).

In which he explores a potential common ground, based in healthy local food consumption between conservatives and left-leaning granola types, a nexus I see every time I pick up a copy of one of my favorite magazines, the Stockman Grass Farmer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

It's a bloody fortune for some people

Harry would be so proud....

“Mr. Reed, what do you think this war is about?”
“PROFITS.” -- Reds

Writing in Counterpunch, Ismael Hossein-zadeh, the author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism, takes a look at something that's lost in all the false discourse about why we're in Iraq. It's not about security, or democracy, or too few troops. It's about the bottom line....

I like the distinction he brings up between vulgar colonialism (which at least had the benefit of seeing some of the booty trickle down to the masses at home) and the parasitic colonialism practiced today, which sucks the home country's coffers dry....

No business model or entrepreneurial paradigm can adequately capture the nature of this kind of scheming and profiteering. Not even illicit businesses based on rent-seeking, corruption or theft can sufficiently describe the kind of nefarious business interests that lurk behind the Bush administration's preemptive wars. Only a calculated imperial or colonial kind of exploitation, albeit a new form of colonialism or imperialism, can capture the essence of the war profiteering associated with the recent US wars of aggression. As Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher put it, "We used to have vulgar colonialism. Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"

Classical colonial or imperial powers roamed on the periphery of the capitalist center, "discovered" new territories, and drained them off of their riches and resources. Today there are no new places in our planet to be "discovered." But there are many vulnerable sovereign countries whose governments can be overthrown, their infrastructures smashed to the ground, and fortunes made as a result (of both destruction and "reconstruction). And herein lies the genius of a parasitically efficient market mechanism, as well as a major driving force behind the Bush administration's unprovoked unilateral wars of choice.

Not only does the new form of imperial or colonial aggression, driven largely by the powerful interests that are vested in the armaments industries and other war-based businesses, bring calamity to the vanquished, but it is also detrimental and burdensome to the victor, namely, the imperium and its citizens. Contrary to the external military operations of past empires, which usually brought benefits not only to the imperial ruling classes but also (through "trickle-down" effects) to their citizens, U.S. military expeditions and operations of late are not justifiable even on the grounds of national economic gains.

Indeed, escalating US military expansions and aggressions have become ever more wasteful and cost-inefficient as they are hollowing out the public treasury, undermining social spending, and accumulating national debt. Viewed in this light, the new form of imperialism can perhaps be called "parasitic" imperialism.

War profiteering is, of course, not new; it has always existed in the course of the history of warfare. What makes war profiteering in the context of the recent US wars of choice unique and extremely dangerous to world peace and stability, however, is the fact that it has become a major driving force behind war and militarism.

This is key to an understanding of why the US ruling elite is reluctant to pull US troops out of Iraq. The reluctance or "difficulty" of leaving Iraq stems not so much from pulling 140,000 troops out of that country as it is from pulling out more than 100,000 contractors. As Josh Mitteldorf of the University of Arizona recently put it, "There are a lot of contractors making a fortune and we don't want that money tap turned off, even though it is borrowed money, which our children and grandchildren will have to repay."

It follows that US troops will not be withdrawn from Iraq as long as antiwar voices are not raised beyond the premises and parameters of the official narrative or justification of the war: terrorism, democracy, civil war, stability, human rights, and the like. Antiwar forces need to extricate themselves from the largely diversionary and constraining debate over these secondary issues, and raise public consciousness of the scandalous economic interests that drive the war.

It is crucially important that public attention is shifted away from the confining official narrative of the war, parroted by the corporate media and political pundits, to the economic crimes that have been committed because of this war, both in Iraq and here in the United States. It is time to make a moral case for restoring Iraqi oil and other assets to the Iraqis. It is also time to make a moral case against the war profiteers' plundering of our treasury, or tax dollars. To paraphrase the late General Smedley D. Butler, most wars could easily be ended-they might not even be started-if profits are taken out of them.

Well, there's a thought. What about introducing legislation to forbid profiting from war? Think that one will fly?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

While the democrats congratulate themselves ...

... on their symbolic protests, the Bush administration has basically opened war fronts in two new countries. There was that appallingly transparent massacre of civilians by helicopter gunships earlier in the week in Somalia, (a grotesque show of force on defenseless targets, timed to coincide with Bush's speech, with the inevitable deaths of innocents and just as inevitable belated admission that the "mission" failed), and now today U.S. troops stormed an Iranian consulate in Irbil, northern Iraq, this morning and basically kidnapped six employees. The Times reports that "Fuad Hussein, the spokesman for the president of the [Kurdish, pro-American] semiautonomous territory, Massoud Barzani. Mr. Hussein called the raid an 'abduction.'"

All the headlines are consumed with meta-commentary on how Bush's speech played in Peoria. Meanwhile, Bush continues to do whatever the hell he feels like. Should we be surprised? His press secretary Tony Snow, who at least wins points for candor, comes right out and says it, "the President will not shape policy according to public opinion."

On what Bush has in store for Iran, there have been two great analyses posted today: Tony Karon, Bush’s New Iraq Plan: Bomb Tehran, and Glenn Greenwald, President's intentions towards Iran need much more attention.

Here's Greenwald:
I think there is a tendency to dismiss the possibility of some type of war with Iran because it is so transparently destructive and detached from reality that it seems unfathomable. But if there is one lesson that everyone should have learned over the last six years, it is that there is no action too extreme or detached from reality to be placed off limits to this administration. The President is a True Believer and the moral imperative of his crusade trumps the constraints of reality.

The AEI/Weekly Standard/National Review/Fox News neonconservative warmongers are mocked because of how extremist and deranged their endless war desires are, but the President is, more or less, one of them. He thinks the way they think. The war in Iraq has collapsed and the last election made unmistakably clear that Americans have turned against the war, and the President's response, like their response, was to escalate. How much more proof do we need of how extremist and unconstrained by public opinion and basic reality he is?
And Karon:

But it was the characterization of Iran’s role that was most disturbing [about Bush's speech]. Bush suggested that the Iraqi people had voted for united country at the polls, and seen their dreams dashed by the maneuvering of Iran and Syria and others. That’s a crock. Iran enthusiastically supported those elections, and why wouldn’t they? The Shiite majority voted overwhelmingly in favor of parties far closer to Tehran than they are to Washington. Moreover, while Bush implies that sectarianism was somehow a deviation from what the electorate had chosen, in fact the electorate had voted almost entirely on sectarian and ethnic lines. The sectarian principle is at the heart of the democratically elected government; it’s not some imposition by al-Qaeda or Iran.

Iran and Syria must be addressed, Bush said, but only as a threat — he accused them of offering support to insurgent forces attacking U.S. troops, and vowed to stop them. Almost in the same breath, he added: “We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing ­ and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”

Carrier strike groups and Patriot missile defenses are of no use in the counterinsurgency war in Iraq: They are an attempt to turn up the heat on Iran by preparing for an air strike, and putting in place the means to contain Iran’s response via its missile capability. Bush called for regional support, but only on the basis of his anti-Iran alliance — for the Sunni regimes, support for the U.S. in Iraq was cited as a duty in light of their common purpose in containing Iran.

So, essentially we’re now being asked to believe that the Iraqi government, dominated by Iran-friendly Shiite religious parties, is going to act in concert with Bush’s plan — and even Bush admitted that their support is the critical factor — giving U.S. forces the green light to take control of Sadr City from the Sadrists and so on, even as Washington moves its assets into position for a military strike on Iran. It may be, of course, that Washington is posturing in order to sweat Tehran into believing that a military strike is coming in order to intimidate the Islamic Republic into backing down, but frankly I wouldn’t bet on the collective strategic wisdom of Cheney-Rice and Khamenei-Larijani-Ahmedinajad combining to avoid a confrontation. And if the U.S. is raising the stakes, you can reliably expect Iran to do the same, probably starting in Iraq.

Oh, yeah, and on the other front, that Somalia massacre didn't get the al qaeda baddies after all. Quelle surprise!

And the number of shepherds, children and newlywed couples whose flesh was shredded by helicopter gunship fire continue to climb....

"We are really scared," said [Dirir Moalim Hussein, a herder]. "We heard bombing and heavy explosions over our village, it was dark and no one could see well. I ran with two children, I don't know in what direction, but three of my family were killed, including my wife."

"I have nothing right now," Hussein said. "I have lost everything, they have bombed my cows and goats, we don’t know what crime we committed and we have been punished for no reason.”

Justin Raimondo sums it up with his characteristic biting sarcasm:

The series of blunders and willful miscalculations that led to our present predicament in Iraq are now being replicated in Somalia, where a rather large U.S. footprint is being stamped into the hard Somali soil. Well, it isn't a footprint, quite yet, but rather a series of bomb craters, where the lives of "many" civilians, according to news reports, have been summarily ended. U.S. bombing raids, ostensibly aimed at al-Qaeda fighters supposedly hidden among native Islamic militias, have succeeded in killing scores, albeit none of the three dudes we are allegedly after. That's right: we're bombing a country because we're after a terrorist trio....

Monday, January 08, 2007

The tormented fat kid with the wedgie

If we have to live in a world where Thomas Friedman is considered a wise man, we at least have the consolation of a Matt Taibbi, who has proven to be so sharp on the utter fatuousness of the Cult of the man with the "Seventies porn-star mustache." (David Rees is pretty good too. See above....)

Taibbi will always have a hard time surpassing his "Flathead" column, back before he was Rolling Stone's politics guy, but today he makes a mighty brave effort with this rant about the Saddam Hussein hanging debacle, one where he describes who, exactly, got us into Iraq.

Remember that this war was cooked up by American bureaucrats, people who know an awful lot more about bowling than they do about Islam. True, there were a few genuine lunatics involved in dreaming up the invasion -- that crazy fraternity of neocon academics, wanna-be revolutionaries who spent the whole 1990s bitter about Clinton and wired on coffee and Goldwater biographies, waiting for their Big Chance. Those people came up with the specific details of the Iraq plan (when, where, ostensibly why) and it's doubtful that anyone else but a lunatic could have dreamed up those particulars, since their logic generally eludes the sane and the normal.

But the engine behind this entire escapade was really the great mass of ordinary Beltway apparatchiks and media creatures who cheerfully assented once the idea squirted out of Bush's mouth. You're talking about a bunch of half-bright golfers from the Virginian suburbs, people raised on Archie comics and fuzzy patriotic platitudes and old saws gleaned from William Holden war movies and their postwar corporate-executive dads. They went for the war because people they trusted told them it was a good idea, and some of them even ended up running parts of the operation, either in Iraq or in positions of responsibility here at home.

Tom Friedman is the oracle of this crowd, the tormented fat kid with a wedgie who got smart in his high school years and figured out that all he had to do to be successful was shamelessly and relentlessly flatter his Greatest-Generation parents, stroke their outdated prejudices, sell them on the idea that the entire aim of the modernization process is the spreading of their amazing legacy through the use of space-age technology.

So he goes into America's sleepy suburbs with his Seventies porn-star mustache and he titillates the book clubs full of bored fifty- and sixtysomething housewives with tales of how the Internet is going to turn Afghanistan into Iowa. The suburban guys he ropes in with a half-baked international policy analysis -- what's "going on" on "the Street," as Friedman usually puts it -- that he cleverly makes sound like the world's sexiest collection of stock tips: "So I was playing golf with the Saudi energy minister last week, and he told me..."

This is just a modern take on the same old bullshit rap that traveling salesmen all over America have been laying on wide-eyed yokels at 99 Steak Houses and Howard Johnsons hotel bars for decades: So I was having lunch with Jack Welch at the Four Seasons last week when I heard about this amazing opportunity.... And these middle-manager types who live in Midwestern cubicles or in the bowels of some federal bureaucracy in Maryland eat it up: They buy every one of Friedman's books, treat his every word like gospel and before you know it they're all talking about Israeli politics and "the situation" in Yemen or Turkey or wherever like they're experts.

And so this is how we got where we are. You get a whole nation full of people who spend 99 percent of their free time worrying about their lawns or their short iron game, you convince them that they know something about something they actually know nothing about, and next thing you know, they're blundering into a 1,000-year blood feud between rival Islamic groups, shooting things left and right in a panic, and thinking that they can make it all right and correct each successive fuckup by "keeping our noses to the grindstone" and "making lemons out of lemonade."

Read the whole piece...

The Pentagon's fantasies of containing "failed, feral cities"

Paul Verhoeven's Robocop seems more and more to be the inspiration for the Pentagon's wet dreams of world domination. The United States military has deduced, after getting its ass kicked time and time again by brown people armed only with seat-of-the-pants technology and local knowledge, that it needs more, smarter firepower, if it hopes to control the planets favelas -- from Baghdad to Bogota -- where resistance to American domination is sure to be based. If there's a very nice payday in these schemes for military contractors at the public's expense, well, so much the better....

Nick Turse points out rather well in his
Pentagon to Global Cities -- Drop Dead, that ever since the Pentagon became, well, the Pentagon, the American record in war fighting has really pretty much been for shit. Lots of death and destruction, to be sure, but not many W's:
[E]ven with high-tech exploding frisbees, spider-man suits, terminator-like robots, and urban training facilities galore coming on line. In the wars begun since the U.S. high command moved into its own self-described virtual "city" -- the Pentagon -- a distinct inability to decisively defeat any but its weakest foes has been in evidence.
Well, the planners and dreamers reason, we just haven't been throwing enough tax dollars at the problem, so they have redoubled their efforts to create an array of lethal, high-tech gadgets that would make Q of James Bond fame salivate.

But my thinking is that, after the contractors who develop the HURTS (Heterogeneous Urban RSTA Teams) and Nano air vehicles (mechanized gnats, I kid you not)
receive their handsome slice of our hard-earned bucks, the Imperial Dreamers will still be at Square One. I'm thinking that their best efforts will result in something that more resembles the ED-209 -- the extremly lethal machine that couldn't handle going down stairs -- than Robocop himself.

At least I hope that to be the case, because by the time all these systems are in place, I fear that there won't be a very distinct line in the Pentagon's thinking to distinguish between domestic and foreign-born troublemakers. Is it too paranoid to think that these tools of destruction will surely work as well in neutralizing "terrorists" and "drug dealers" ... in Detroit as in Dhakka....

As Tom Englehardt writes in his introduction to Turse's piece:

The future -- whether imagined as utopian or dystopian -- was, not so long ago, the province of dreamers, or actual writers of fiction, or madmen and cranks, or reformers and journalists, or even wanna-be war-fighters, but not so regularly of actual war-fighters, or secretaries of defense, or presidents. In our time, the Pentagon and the IC have quite literally become the fantasy-based community. And yet, strangely enough, the urge of our top policy-makers (and allied academics and scientists) to spend their time in relatively distant futures has been little explored or considered by others.

A couple of things can be said about this near compulsion. First, it's largely confined to the arts of war. There is no equivalent in our government when it comes to health care or education, retirement or housing. No well-funded government think-tanks and lousy-with-loot research organizations are ready to let anyone loose dreaming about our planet's endangered environment, for instance. The future -- the only one our government seems truly to care about -- is most distinctly not good for you. It's a totally weaponized, grimly dystopian health hazard for the planet.

Of course, future fictions are notorious for their wrong-headedness. All you have to do is check out old utopian or dystopian fiction, if you don't believe me. The scandal here is not that, like most human beings, our soldiers and spies are sure to be desperately wrong on most aspects of their future fictions. The scandal is that we're mortgaging our wealth and our futures, whatever they may be, to their bloodcurdling, self-interested, and often absurd fantasies.

After all, they're running a giant, massively profitable business operation off fictional futures, while creating their own armed reality at our expense.
Later this week on Tomdispatch, writes Englehardt, Frida Berrigan will explore another aspect of "the future the Pentagon has planned for us," an overview of the major American weapons systems "being prepared for a planet that will never exist."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Snark attack

Deborah Solomon's interviews in the Times' magazine are typically lively and entertaining, often for the way she can manage to slip in tricky, difficult questions. It's fun to see coddled celebrities squirm.

But at the tail end of today's interview with Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, Solomon wields a very clumsy ideological axe and insists that for Mr. Islam to be considered a "moderate" Muslim, he "denounce" "the extremist fringe" of the Muslims religion. Islam handles the ham-handed--and frankly racist--questioning with exemplary grace, but that doesn't excuse it.

How do you support yourself these days — off your old hits?

I think we sell about 1.5 million albums a year.

Which is how much in royalties? About a dollar an album?

Probably more.

For all your devotion to education and good deeds, government officials in various countries have tried to link you to extremist groups, including Hamas. What do you think of Hamas?

That’s an extremely loaded question.

Can you try to answer it?

I have never supported a terrorist group or any group that did other than charity and good to humankind.

O.K., but many of us here in the States would like to see moderate Muslims make more of an effort to denounce the extremist fringe of the faith. Very few mainstream Muslims have publicly criticized their radical brethren.

If I am not an example of that, then tell me, Who is?

So would you say you have contempt for a terrorist group like Hamas?

I wouldn’t put those words in my mouth. I wouldn’t say anything on that issue. I’m here to talk about peace. I’m a man who does want peace for this world, and I don’t think you will achieve that by putting people into corners and asking them very, very difficult questions about very contentious issues.
"Many of us here in the states would like to see moderate Muslims make more of an effort to denounce the extremist fringe of the faith." Anyone with any sophistication could see that that sentence contains the assumption that Muslims are uniquely violent. And Solomon further compounds her ignorance by stating that Americans as a group --"many of us here in the States"--share this prejudice. It just ain't so.

Which brings to mind Jennifer L. Pozner's article that ran in the aftermath of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Our media preserves the "terrorist" word for a small subset of terrorists, the foreign born ones. Historically, in terms of frequency and distribution of murderous attacks, domestic terrorists, (most of them intensely Christian-identified), have been a much greater danger to Americans, especially those who ever find themselves in the vicinity of an abortion clinic. But you'd never know that by reading most newspapers.
On Sept. 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks that devastated our nation, a man crashed his car into a building in Davenport, Iowa, hoping to blow it up and kill himself in the fire.

No national newspaper, magazine or network newscast reported this attempted suicide bombing, though an AP wire story was available. Cable news (save for MSNBC's Keith Olbermann) was silent about this latest act of terrorism in America.

Had the criminal, David McMenemy, been Arab or Muslim, this would have been headline news for weeks. But since his target was the Edgerton Women's Health Center, rather than, say, a bank or a police station, media have not called this terrorism -- even after three decades of extreme violence by anti-abortion fanatics, mostly fundamentalist Christians who believe they're fighting a holy war.

Since 1977, casualties from this war include seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism, according to the National Abortion Federation.
By Solomon's line of thinking, all Christians --or Jews, or Hindus--should be called upon to denounce the actions of their more radical brethren. Somehow, I don't see that happening.

Look, I understand Solomon's basically paid to be a bit of a bitch, but here her stereotyping in dangerous and inflammatory. A quick look at the right-wing blog response confirms that Yusuf Islam has failed the reactionary's favorite litmus test: "Cat Stevens REFUSES to denounce Hamas." [Name's not Cat Stevens, dude. Shades of the late sixties: it's a lot like the sportswriters who persisted in calling Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay].

Callling Hamas a terrorist organization, and leaving it at that, is typical of the oversimplifications that permeate the pages of the Times. I hadn't realized that this dumbed-down conventional wisdom had penetrated to what's supposed to be one of the most lighthearted features in that that publication. For a much more sophisticated view of what Hamas actually is, I'd suggest starting with this post from Tony Karon's Rootless Cosmopolitan.