Saturday, March 8, 2008

"When you stare into the abyss..."

I'll have to say that the whole dust-up about Samantha Power calling Hillary Clinton a monster has provided plenty of cheap entertainment in its own right. Well, as the old Nietzsche quote goes, "When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you." For those whom IOZ characterizes as "cruise missile liberals," the abyss not only stares back but stares them down.

Michelle Malkin's Head Explodes

Actually, it's her commenters who provide the comic relief.

War Criminals in the News

Via Ten Percent, we learn that Tony Blair will be joining the faculty of Yale as the Howland Distinguished Fellow, and will be teaching a seminar on - get this - religious values.

Over at The Try-Works, one can check out a number of YouTube and Liveleak videos documenting US troops winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, one dead puppy at a time.

This is change? Nuts!

Via The Try-Works, Matt Gonzalez has his own take on The Obama Craze. Just a few examples:

On NAFTA
Regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, Obama recently boasted, "I don't think NAFTA has been good for Americans, and I never have." Yet, Calvin Woodward reviewed Obama's record on NAFTA in a February 26, 2008 Associated Press article and found that comment to be misleading: "In his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama said the US should pursue more deals such as NAFTA, and argued more broadly that his opponent's call for tariffs would spark a trade war. AP reported then that the Illinois senator had spoken of enormous benefits having accrued to his state from NAFTA, while adding that he also called for more aggressive trade protections for US workers."

Putting aside campaign rhetoric, when actually given an opportunity to protect workers from unfair trade agreements, Obama cast the deciding vote against an amendment to a September 2005 Commerce Appropriations Bill, proposed by North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, that would have prohibited US trade negotiators from weakening US laws that provide safeguards from unfair foreign trade practices. The bill would have been a vital tool to combat the outsourcing of jobs to foreign workers and would have ended a common corporate practice known as "pole-vaulting" over regulations, which allows companies doing foreign business to avoid "right to organize," "minimum wage," and other worker protections.
On the Iraq War
Since taking office in January 2005 he has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300 billion. He also voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State despite her complicity in the Bush Administration's various false justifications for going to war in Iraq. Why would he vote to make one of the architects of "Operation Iraqi Liberation" the head of US foreign policy? Curiously, he lacked the courage of 13 of his colleagues who voted against her confirmation.

And though he often cites his background as a civil rights lawyer, Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005, easily the worse attack on civil liberties in the last half-century. It allows for wholesale eavesdropping on American citizens under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts.

And in March 2006, Obama went out of his way to travel to Connecticut to campaign for Senator Joseph Lieberman who faced a tough challenge by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. At a Democratic Party dinner attended by Lamont, Obama called Lieberman "his mentor" and urged those in attendance to vote and give financial contributions to him. This is the same Lieberman who Alexander Cockburn called "Bush's closest Democratic ally on the Iraq War." Why would Obama have done that if he was truly against the war?

Recently, with anti-war sentiment on the rise, Obama declared he will get our combat troops out of Iraq in 2009. But Obama isn't actually saying he wants to get all of our troops out of Iraq. At a September 2007 debate before the New Hampshire primary, moderated by Tim Russert, Obama refused to commit to getting our troops out of Iraq by January 2013 and, on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly stated his desire to add 100,000 combat troops to the military.

At the same event, Obama committed to keeping enough soldiers in Iraq to "carry out our counter-terrorism activities there" which includes "striking at al Qaeda in Iraq." What he didn't say is this continued warfare will require an estimated 60,000 troops to remain in Iraq according to a May 2006 report prepared by the Center for American Progress. Moreover, it appears he intends to "redeploy" the troops he takes out of the unpopular war in Iraq and send them to Afghanistan. So it appears that under Obama's plan the US will remain heavily engaged in war.

This is hardly a position to get excited about.
On the Apartheid Wall
On September 29, 2006, Obama joined Republicans in voting to build 700 miles of double fencing on the Mexican border (The Secure Fence Act of 2006), abandoning 19 of his colleagues who had the courage to oppose it. But now that he's campaigning in Texas and eager to win over Mexican-American voters, he says he'd employ a different border solution.
That's just the tip o' the iceberg.

The end of the not-so-good "good times"?

I suspect that deep down many of us were highly skeptical about how "wonderful" the economy was doing this decade. Now that a recession seems "inevitable" to the pundit class, all I can say is "welcome to my world":
And if the good times have really ended, they were never that good to begin with. Most American households are still not earning as much annually as they did in 1999, once inflation is taken into account.
Although the number of billionaires seems to keep going up, the actual median household income has been dropping from its peak in 1999. Being ever the optimist, I expect that the drop is only beginning.

Speaking of Smedley Butler's assertion that "war is a racket"

Eli over at Left I makes a good catch:
It's an almost unbelievable story:
Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation's top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.

More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq - including about 10,500 Americans - are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.

The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman Islands shell companies.
In a way, though, there's another aspect of the story which is even more interesting:
In 2002, the firm received a secret [no-bid] contract to draw up plans to restore Iraq's oil production after the US-led invasion of Iraq.
I'm sure I don't need to point out that 2002 was before the invasion, and was at a time when George was denying that there were any plans for war against Iraq "on his desk" (something I have dubbed the "credenza defense", as in "no, he had them on his credenza").
Isn't disaster capitalism just lovely?

And in other news

Junior Caligula is still pro-torture. Imagine that.

There are ideals, and then there are ideals

One huge facet of the Zeitgeist of our elites goes as follows: making huge profits is something to be idealistic about.

From the Esquire article on Admiral Fallon via A Tiny Revolution:

Unlike his Arabic-speaking predecessor, Army General John Abizaid, Fox Fallon wasn't selected to lead U. S. Central Command for his regional knowledge or cultural sensitivity, but because he is, says Secretary of Defense Gates, "one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today."

If anything has been sorely missing to date in America's choices in the Middle East and Central Asia, it has been a strategic mind-set that consistently keeps its eyes on the real prize: connecting these isolated regions in a far more broadband fashion to the global economy. Instead of effectively countering the efforts of others (e.g., the radical Salafis, Saudi Arabia's Wahhabists, Russia's security services, China's energy sector) who would fashion such connectivity to their selfish ends, Washington has wasted precious time focusing excessively on transforming the political systems of Iraq and Afghanistan, as though governments somehow birth functioning societies and economies instead of the other way around.

Waiting on perfect security or perfect politics to forge economic relationships is a fool's errand. By the time those fantastic conditions are met in this dangerous, unstable part of the world, somebody less idealistic will be running the place--the Russians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians, Turks, Iranians, Saudis. That's why Fallon has been aggressively hawking his southern strategy of encouraging a north-south "energy corridor" between the Central Asian republics and the energy-starved-but-booming Asian subcontinent (read: Islamabad down through Bangalore and then east to Kolkata), with both Afghanistan and Pakistan as crucial conduits.

[snip]

The Persian Gulf right now is booming economically, and Fallon wants to harness that power to connect the failed states that pockmark the landscape to the outside world. In this choice, he sees no alternative.

"What I learned in the Pacific is that after a while the tableau of failed, failing, or dysfunctional states becomes a real burden on the functional countries and a problem for their neighborhood, because they breed unrest and insecurities and attract troublemakers very well. They're like sewers, and they begin to fester. It's bad for business. And when it's bad for business, people tend to start restricting their investments, and they restrict their thinking, and it allows more barriers, so we're back to building walls again instead of breaking them down. If you have to build walls, it means you're moving backward."

The American Exceptionalist mindset has allowed for one hell of a cognitive bias: a self-serving bias in which other nations' actions are "selfish" but the actions taken by the US government at the behest of its corporate masters are "idealistic." Ultimately though it all comes down to what is good or bad for business, at least as defined by our CEOs.

Now since Jonathan Schwarz was already kind enough to quote Gen. Smedley Butler's admission that his service to the US military amounted to being a "racketeer for capitalism", I thought I'd add a bit by Butler about the "idealism" that is really manifest in US empire building:

Lest this seem to be the bellicose pipedream of some dyspeptic desk soldier, let us remember that the military deal of our country has never been defensive warfare. Since the Revolution, only the United Kingdom has beaten our record for square miles of territory acquired by military conquest. Our exploits against the American Indian, against the Filipinos, the Mexicans, and against Spain are on a par with the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the Japanese in Manchuria and the African attack of Mussolini. No country has ever declared war on us before we first obliged them with that gesture. Our whole history shows we have never fought a defensive war. And at the rate our armed forces are being implemented at present, the odds are against our fighting one in the near future.

Bruce Gagnon sez:
...we are addicted to war and to violence. The very weaving together of our nation was predicated on violence when we began the extermination of the Native populations and introduced the institution of slavery. A veteran of George Washington's Army, in 1779, said, "I really felt guilty as I applied the torch to huts that were homes of content until we ravagers came spreading desolation everywhere....Our mission here is ostensibly to destroy but may it not transpire, that we pillagers are carelessly sowing the seed of Empire." The soldier wrote this as Washington's Army set out to remove the Iroquois civilization from New York state so that the U.S. government could expand its borders westward toward the Mississippi River. The creation of the American empire was underway.

Our history since then has been endless war.
Ward Churchill sez:
...the U.S. has always postured itself at the forefront of valuing others even as it treats them like toilet paper.
If you read around enough, you'll figure rather quickly that since its inception, the US has always been involved in one military operation or another. I recall while reading Ward Churchill's On the Justice of Roosting Chickens a few years ago the stark reality: the US has never truly been at peace - some interventions were and are larger in scale than others, but not a year goes by in which some sort of military operation fails to materialize (one might get the same basic impression from William Blum's Rogue State, and Killing Hope; Anthony Hall's The Fourth World and American Empire: The Bowl With One Spoon; among others. The rhetoric of such interventions is usually quite lofty and idealistic in tone, but the subtext of that rhetoric can be boiled down to a simple slogan: "property and profits before people."

In the "remains to be seen" department:

I'm still betting that the House Democrats will prove to be as brave as Sir Robin when it comes to electronic surveillance legislation this year.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Oxfam on the humanitarian situation in Gaza

The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion (pdf file). Consider this a follow-up to Humanitarian situation in Gaza bleak.

h/t to The Angry Arab News Service

"Jericho" as a dramatization of disaster capitalism

I'm not sure how many of my readers have followed the series Jericho. If not, it might be a good idea to check a few episodes of the series out as its story is pretty fascinating. The basic premise is that of a rural community in northwest Kansas (the fictitious town of Jericho) cut off from the rest of the world in the wake of a set of nuclear explosions which end up destroying a number of major urban areas around the US. Over the next several months, the residents struggle with basic survival, maintenance of some semblance of social order, developing some contact with surrounding communities, and redefining meaning in life in what is now a radically different world.

The second season (which as a mid-season replacement means we only get seven episodes) focuses on a national rebuilding of sorts. We learn that the US is now split up into three entities: the United States of America (which consists of all the states east of the Mississippi River, and whose capital is now Columbus, OH), the Allied States of America (most of the western states, with its capital in Cheyenne, WY), and Texas (which for the time being is operating as an independent nation, much like it did briefly in the 1800s prior to statehood). We have no idea as to what happens to Hawaii or Alaska.

The news that the residents of Jericho are receiving from the entity that controls their territory, the Allied States of America, is that the US is crumbling and that they're pretty close to getting Texas to join the new nation. In many respects, the Allied States government appears to operate much along the lines of a corporatist state that neoliberal economists (e.g., Milton Friedman) and politicians (think the Bush family, the Clintons, etc.) have dreamed of. Aside from maybe a military force, all other government functions are administered by private corporations - including a Halliburton-style corporation (the fictitious Jennings & Rall) that administers supplies, financial services, etc.; and a Blackwater-style Jennings & Rall subisidiary (Ravenwood) that administers "security" via its hired mercenaries.

As the series is winding down its second (and probably final) season, it's revealed that the nuclear attacks were an inside job. Turns out that a private corporation (Jennings & Rall) contracted to help the federal government in the early 1990s to make contingency plans for a nuclear terrorist attack had some hand - along with some high-level government officials - in bringing about those very attacks. And - surprise, surprise - look who's among the leadership of the Cheyenne-based Allied States of America. The viewers of Jericho now merely have to wait three episodes to see how the whole thing turns out.

I got hooked on the drama last summer when CBS re-aired the entire first season, and have been quite pleased with the direction the writers have taken for this season. It's serendipitous that I managed to get turned on to Jericho about the time I began to really dig on Naomi Klein's work. Much of the story in Jericho fits in quite nicely with the sort of analysis Klein offers in her recent book, The Shock Doctrine. I don't know how hip Jericho's writing and production team are to Klein's work, but they certainly have learned a few relevant lessons from both the 9/11 attacks as well as from the Hurricane Katrina disaster and aftermath.

Shock

The shock in Jericho begins with the residents initially noticing a mushroom cloud in the distance to the west of town - appearing to be from the Denver area (later it's confirmed that Denver was one of the locations hit). With the attacks, all life as it was previously known ends: no more telecommunications, no more shipments of Doritos and salad shooters, no electricity (save for that courtesy of emergency generators), and no easy means of pumping gas or diesel into one's vehicles. It doesn't take long for shortages of all types to become manifest, as the town's residents grow to realize that they are clearly on their own. Even the brief semblance of normality that takes hold when electricity and telecommunications are restored quickly evaporates when a second set of nuclear attacks (we later learn aimed at Iran and North Korea) take place (two ICBMs near Jericho are launched), and an electromagnetic pulse pretty well fries whatever electronic devices were operable (with the exception of one of the main characters, Hawkins, who has computer and phone equipment designed to withstand such pulses).

Taking advantage of the shock

After weathering an unusually harsh winter, a rogue band of mercenaries, and some looters who posed as Marines, Jericho's residents were ready for someone to make life "normal" again. The end of the first season hints at, and the second season reveals, the nature of that "someone": a new government. Before long, a blood feud between members of Jericho and a neighboring town (New Bern) has been put to an end, the town is put back on the grid, and the residents at least initially get the message that the nightmare is over. However, there is trouble in paradise.

propaganda

One thing that becomes clear in a hurry is that the folks running this Allied States of America are quite the historical revisionists. The school teachers are already complaining about the new textbooks that this government wants them to use - as the books refer to the US as "The First Republic" and describe that government as "weak" when it came to dealing with threats to its citizens. The president is a slick former senator who arrives at Jericho to give a speech that sounds like something out of the George W. Bush/Adolph Hitler playbook. The news that the residents receive places the blame for the terrorist attacks on North Korea and Iran (which were then nuked out of existence as far as we know). They're the "bad guys" and they've been dealt with.

A journalist that one of the show's main characters befriends seems wise to the nature of the new government, and that much of what he "reports" is pure b.s. That same journalist is conveniently killed off when he becomes a potential whistle-blower.

privatization of basic government functions

The way the Allied States of America functions in this particular drama can be best described as more like a corporate monopoly. A Halliburton-style entity seems have been contracted to handle nearly all of the administrative functions, with security handled primarily by a Blackwater-style entity. The only government employees that Jericho's residents encounter are some military personnel. Otherwise, everything from treasury, revenue, supplies, and postal services runs right through a private corporation with what appear to be no real oversight from the government. My guess is that whatever government exists in the fictitious ASA exists as little more than a storefront.

Needless to say, the monopolization by a private corporation with no real accountability leads to some issues of corruption. J&R seems to be hoarding doses of vaccines crucial to warding off a deadly virus. Donald Rumsfeld, who is on the board of Giliad Sciences which has been known to keep a tight reign on its supplies of medications for flu and AIDs (thus maximizing profit margins while those most at risk suffer needlessly) would no doubt be impressed. There is also the apparent issue of embezzlement that gets revealed in the most recent episode.

If one looks at the last three or so decades of history, we'll find that whenever a shock to the system is introduced - such as a coup or natural disaster - those wanting to capitalize on that shock act relatively quickly, while the average citizen is still disoriented, to put in place an economic system that will, as Milton Friedman would envision, maximize the "freedom" of capital. For a privileged few, it makes for some incredible profits - for the vast majority, though, increased poverty.

corporatist state vs the independent farmer and merchant

In the most recent episode of Jericho, local merchants are already finding that they're being squeezed out of existence. The same is also true for local farmers and ranchers. Needless to say, they're already complaining. If the new ASA order is using the Milton Friedman playbook, we would anticipate that the goal is to pretty much squeeze all the resources out of towns like Jericho. There's little room for the family farmer or the locally run grocer: if they're lucky, maybe they can get a job with Jennings & Rall, earn a fraction of what they might have earned otherwise, and probably relocate to the rapidly-growing urban center of Cheyenne. Any farms and ranches that eventually remain will probably be owned - if not in name, then certainly in practice - by Jennings & Rall. Any merchant that doesn't have the Jennings & Rall blessing is simply shut down. The new Jericho would probably become an impoverished place for whoever remains, with few exceptions.

mercenaries

Imposing a new order that no-one's really consented to is likely to create some friction, and one way or another any form of dissent or resistance would have to be squashed by whatever means are available. That's where Ravenwood comes in. The mercenaries working for Ravenwood are there to act in much the same way as the death squads of El Salvador, Guatamala, and Brazil. They exist to sufficiently terrorize the local residents into submitting to the new order. As of yet in the series, we haven't seen Ravenwood's goons use torture (which would certainly be expected, given the last few decades of disaster capitalism), but they've certainly proven adept at "disappearing" whomever they want with impunity.

resistance

Where the writers appear to be offering hope is in the resistance that already seems to be developing. Since it took a few months for the ASA to sufficiently consolidate power in the area surrounding Jericho, it's possible that for quite a number of residents the shock was already beginning to wear off - hence making them less susceptible to what is being forced upon them. What comes of any resistance remains to be seen. If the series is canceled, as I'm guessing will probably happen, expect a happy-ish ending in which the ASA's neoliberal dictatorship is stopped before it is too late, and the perps of the original bombings are exposed.

Summary

This is merely a brief attempt to put some tentative thoughts about the series out there, placing the plot in the context of Klein's new book. The notion that a government would contract some private firm to "come up with a catastrophic ... disaster plan" and then use that info to victimize those most affected by said disaster is nothing new: that's what happened to NOLA. Instead of the fictional Jennings and Rall, the real private contractor was something called Innovative Emergency Management (see Klein, p. 409). NOLA also offers us an insight into the effort to privatize all services previously handled by government employees. Remember public schools? They barely exist in NOLA these days; education has been privatized. That's merely the tip of the iceberg, but you get the picture. The potential of some form of "false flag operation" to induce a shock to the system is also pretty familiar - think Reichstag Fire on a grander scale. In recent pop culture, a "false flag" scenario is employed in the film V For Vendetta. The notion that a government and its corporate cronies could attack its own people for profit and power is certainly in the air these days.

So it goes.

My hope is that at least a few of y'all reading this will see something worthwhile in the series, which I consider a reasonably decent dystopian television drama that deserves more attention than it has received. Thankfully, CBS was willing to at least see the show through to some form of closure, and in the process may well have left us with a pop culture artifact worth continued study. Sometimes our mass media actually does something right.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

$500,000,000,000

That's what the Iraq War has cost so far, according to the National Priorities Project. As the site mentions, that's about $4,100 per household devoted exclusively to the war, and about $275 million per day. In other words, a huge chunk of change has been spent, resulting in chaos (which may well be the intention of the perpetrators), around 4,000 troops killed, 60,000 wounded, and depending on the estimates, somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 to over 1,000,000 Iraqis killed.

Although I don't live in the OKC area, I do know folks who do, and here's what their share of the war has cost them:
604,043 People with Health Care OR
1,013,620 Homes with Renewable Electricity OR
31,750 Public Safety Officers OR
26,880 Music and Arts Teachers OR
238,358 Scholarships for University Students OR
111 New Elementary Schools OR
17,265 Affordable Housing Units OR
638,735 Children with Health Care OR
204,708 Head Start Places for Children OR
28,130 Elementary School Teachers
Food for thought.

Note: Apologies for the sloppy typing on the title initially - as I said, I've been pretty swamped lately. Updated and bumped.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wiretapping bill vote far from a done deal

FISA vote pushed back again:

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Wednesday the House will not take up an electronic surveillance measure this week, further delaying any decisions on the controversial measure.

Hoyer said in his weekly press conference that he hoped to wrap up work on an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; “towards the end of this week or the beginning of next week.”

However, the majority leader acknowledged that there were “still disagreements” within the Democratic caucus over the issue of granting immunity to telecom companies who aided the government in the wiretapping program.

[snip]

Although Democratic leaders insist they are working feverishly to iron out their differences, one House member—speaking on the condition of anonymity—suggested it could be a long time, if ever, before the bill was brought for a vote.

“A lot of people think the politics of doing nothing on this issue are very good for both sides of the political spectrum,” they said.

I can see why some have been pushing to go along with the Senate version of the bill (which would grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies):
President Bush's director of national intelligence recently acknowledged that the goal of this legislative effort was to provide amnesty for the telephone companies. If the telecoms receive the "get-out-of-jail-free" card that the administration demands, more than 40 lawsuits charging that the phone companies acted contrary to established federal law by not protecting consumers' privacy will be thrown out of court. We are plaintiffs in one such lawsuit, and Congress should not deny us our day in court. The companies broke the law, and we believe they must be held accountable.

The Bush administration and its acolytes now claim that we must give giant telecoms amnesty for breaking the law, or else those telecoms will no longer cooperate with the government in spying efforts that help protect America. The truth is that telecoms do not need a special deal. These companies have immunity from lawsuits for turning over customer records to the government if they do so in conformity with existing law. But, in this instance, the telephone companies knowingly violated that law. If we give them a free pass this time, won't the telephone companies feel free to violate the laws protecting our privacy in the future?

The Bush administration and its supporters in Congress complain that these lawsuits are simply about money and enriching trial lawyers -- suggesting that the litigation should be stopped because of the potential damages that might be awarded in such lawsuits. This criticism ignores the fact that, according to the rules in the federal court, the only way that we could ensure that a federal judge could continue to explore previous violations if the companies simply changed their participation or the government changed or ended the program was to ask for minimal damages. We are not interested in recovering money for ourselves, nor is our counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. We, however, are committed to assuring that these giant companies are punished for violating the law and thus dissuaded from violating the law in the future.

More important, amnesty not only lets the companies off the hook without answering any questions, it assures that the American people will never learn about the breadth and extent of the lawless program. Some seem to suggest that we should not have our day in court because a select few members of Congress have been able to review documents about the spy program operated by the White House. The judgment of a few Washington insiders is not a substitute for the careful scrutiny of a federal court.

Congress is supposed to act to protect the rights of American citizens, not sacrifice those rights to large corporate entities. The House and Senate should resist the bullying tactics of the Bush White House and ensure that we have our day in court to vindicate our rights and reveal any illegality engaged in by the telecoms. We need to know about the Bush White House's secret program.
I remember a line from an insert in an old Dead Kennedys album that seems appropriate: "What you don't know helps us to hurt you." There are plenty of folks out there who have an awful lot to lose if the telecoms can't be guaranteed immunity.

Humanitarian situation in Gaza bleak

In fact, the humanitarian situation is the worst since the Israeli government first occupied Gaza:
A coalition of eight British-based human rights organizations on Thursday released a scathing report in claiming that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at its worst point since Israel captured the territory in 1967.

The report said that more than 1.1 million people, about 80 percent of Gaza's residents, are now dependent on food aid, as opposed to 63 percent in 2006, unemployment is close to 40 percent and close to 70 percent of the 110,000 workers employed in the private sector have lost their jobs.

It also said that hospitals are suffering from power cuts of up to 12 hours a day, and the water and sewage systems were close to collapse, with 40-50 million liters of sewage pouring into the sea daily.
Meanwhile, back inside the Beltway, Congress gave its near unanimous blessing of the Israeli assault on the residents of Gaza. The lone dissident in the House? Ron Paul.

From the ABC files: Hillary Clinton by the numbers

Props to Earthside for the friendly reminder:
+ The first First Lady to come under criminal investigation

+ The first First Lady to almost be indicted acccording to one of the special prosecutors

+ Number of Hillary Clinton fundraisers convicted of, or pleading no contest to, crime: 5

+ Number of times that Hillary Clinton, providing testimony to Congress, said that she didn't remember, didn't know, or something similar: 250

+ Number of close business partners of Hillary Clinton who ended up in prison: 3. The Clintons' two partners in Whitewater were convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. Hillary Clinton's partner and mentor at the Rose law firm, Webster Hubbell, pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud and tax evasion charges, including defrauding former clients and former partners out of more than $480,000. Hillary Clinton was mentioned 35 times in the indictment.

+ In the 1980s, Hillary Clinton made a $44,000 profit on a $2,000 investment in a cellular phone franchise deal took advantage of the FCC's preference for locals, minorities and women. The franchise was almost immediately flipped to the cellular giant, McCaw.

+ Hillary Clinton and her husband set up a resort land scam known as Whitewater in which the unwitting bought third rate property 50 miles from the nearest grocery store and, thanks to the sleazy financing, about half the purchasers, many of them seniors, lost their property.

+ In 1993 Hillary Clinton and David Watkins moved to oust the White House travel office in favor of World Wide Travel, Clinton's source of $1 million in fly-now-pay-later campaign trips that essentially financed the last stages of the campaign without the bother of reporting a de facto contribution. The White House fired seven long-term employees for alleged mismanagement and kickbacks. The director, Billy Dale, charged with embezzlement, was acquitted in less than two hours by the jury.

+ Two months after commencing the Whitewater scheme, Hillary Clinton invested $1,000 in cattle futures. Within a few days she had a $5,000 profit. Before bailing out she earns nearly $100,000 on her investment. Many years later, several economists will calculate that the chances of earning such returns legally were one in 250 million.

+ In 1996, Hillary Clinton's Rose law firm billing records, sought for two years by congressional investigators and the special prosecutor were found in the back room of the personal residence at the White House. Clinton said she had no idea how they got there.

+ In 2007, A Pakistani immigrant who hosted fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton became a target of the FBI allegations that he funneled illegal contributions to Clinton's political action committee and to Sen. Barbara Boxer's 2004 re-election campaign. Authorities say Northridge, Calif., businessman Abdul Rehman Jinnah, 56, fled the country shortly after being indicted on charges of engineering more than $50,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic committees.

+ The 'Fellowship': Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. (Mother Jones - September 1, 2007)

+ "Disgraced fund-raiser Norman Hsu did a lot more than just pump $850,000 into Hillary Clinton's campaign bank account: He also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local, state, and federal candidates who have endorsed Clinton or whose support she courted." (Boston Globe)

I was reading somewhere this morning that Hillary had mentioned herself and Barack Obama as a potential presidential "dream team" come the general election. I'm thinking, God help us.

The struggle continues: Israeli genocide and Palestinian resistance in Gaza

Since I'm just a bit swamped at the moment, I'll simply throw a few items in your direction and let you sort them out however you might wish, with perhaps some brief commentary on nonviolent resistance toward the end. We'll first start off with an item on the so-called "Gaza violence" which more properly should be called an Israeli massacre:
Israel was facing widespread international condemnation yesterday for its onslaught in Gaza, as the UN and EU demanded an end to a "disproportionate" response to Palestinian rocket attacks, which were also denounced. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, rejected the criticism and vowed to press on with the offensive, which has claimed an estimated 100 Palestinian lives in the past five days.
Further:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet Monday with legal experts in the military and government to examine whether the Israel Defense Forces can legally target populated areas from which Qassam rockets are being fired at the western Negev.
And:
Following Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai's Friday warning that the Gaza Strip faces "a holocaust" if homemade rocket fire continues, Vilnai's aides rushed to downplay the remarks, claiming the minister did not mean a holocaust exactly.

However, the following day, the Israeli army, through ground forces and helicopters in the sky, killed 61 Palestinians in Gaza, at least ten of them children. Since Wednesday, 26 March, Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 77 Palestinians in Gaza and injured approximately 130, including children who won't live to see their first birthday.

[snip]

Last Thursday, 28 February, Israeli cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit said that the solution to the rocket fire would be for Israel to "hit everything that moves with weapons and ammunition." Earlier in the month, during a cabinet session Sheetrit stated that "exactly what I think the [Israeli army] should do [is] decide on a neighborhood in Gaza and level it."

Genocidal statements calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are not reserved for those in Gaza, however. The extreme rightist Yisrael Beitenu party leader and former Deputy Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was born in Moldova and immigrated to Israel at the age of 20, advocates for the "transfer" or ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinian citizens in Israel and has declared that Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset who meet with Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza should be executed as traitors.
There's some skepticism about the role of nonviolent resistance and its efficacy in Gaza. A blogger over at Antiwar.com has a few words on the matter worth consideration:

Rather, we know precisely what strategy the Israeli military employs in response to non-violence, because it is the only strategy available to it. Indeed it is the only strategy militaries ever employ in response to non-violence, and we saw it clearly this weekend.

Escalation.

Seeing the path of non-violence to its necessary conclusion is not easy for precisely this reason: that every act of non-violence defiance is met with an act of increasingly disproportionate violence in the hopes of realizing a violent response and vindicating the claim that the posture of non-violence is an insincere one.

Today, Israeli ground forces begin their pullout from the Gaza Strip. The mainstream press treats this as a response to international condemnation for the large civilian death toll. Hamas sees it as vindication of their violent resistance and claims ‘victory’. But both of these are mistaken. Israeli troops are leaving the Gaza strip because they achieved their goal: they provoked a response.

It takes a very special brand of determination to see non-violence through in the face of attacks on soccer-playing children and troops marching through suburbs killing civilians. Yet it is precisely this determination which must follow, if those deaths are not to be in vain.

Of course, the practice of nonviolent resistance by Palestinian activists is not a brand new phenomenon - it merely receives precious little coverage in the usual corporate controlled media outlets. Nonviolent action has been central to what is called the Third Intifada against the Wall, characterized by the slogan, "yes to peace, no to the wall." Leaders such as Naim Ateek have projected a Gandhi-like presence. In discussing Ateek a few months ago, I said:
What makes someone like Ateek so threatening to the status quo is his steadfast refusal to play the role assigned to him, and in fact vocally exhorts his peers to do likewise. He neither meekly accepts his status as a "defeated" and "inferior" person, nor does he fight the organizational and structural violence perpetrated on him and his peers with violence - although doing so would be understandable given the circumstances. The potential for an organized nonviolent resistance would present the Israeli government and its apologists with a conundrum: violently crack down and risk whatever good will might still be extended to it by the US, or stand down and lose authority. It's damn difficult to frame a resistance movement as "savage" and "terroristic" if its members are refusing to fire a shot. I'm not exactly a doctrinaire pacifist (I do see nonviolence as the preferred route and violent resistance as strictly a last-resort), but see plenty of potential for what Ateek advocates to work. Nonviolent resistance gives its practitioners a moral high ground, in the process placing the practices and policies of their oppressors in sharp relief. One could argue that moral high ground doesn't buy much if you end up six feet under. Indeed, the main reason for shying away from such resistance would be fear of death. However, one could readily counter that oppression kills and that merely accepting oppression will not prevent death, but actually accelerate individual and social death. There is precious little to lose, and so much to be gained.
When dealing with a genocidal regime hellbent on destroying a people or peoples, one might ask if nonviolent resistance could work. I'll keep repeating that nonviolent resistance can and should be part of our arsenal, and that it is relevant wherever there is oppression. Check out the good folks at the Albert Einstein Institute. While you're at it, an acquaintance of mine completed a nice series of diaries back in 2006 that go into various facets of nonviolent resistance (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), including a rather thorough debunking of the misconceptions that many have with regard to nonviolence (based primarily on the work of Gene Sharp). Naturally, it is worthwhile to check into the work of one of Sharp's protégés, Robert Helvey, while you're at it. I'm fond of referring to the Zapatistas from time to time, largely because their insurgency - although initially fought with guns - has relied primarily on nonviolent action (Subcomandante Marcos has stated from time to time that "our words are our weapons"). The neoliberal mindset that produced such catastrophes as NAFTA have been no less genocidal (especially in terms of social death) than what is going on in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli government. That the Zapatistas have had some success in attaining a level of autonomy - albeit fragile - lends some weight to the notion that one can fight with palabras (i.e. words), fight without so much as firing a rifle or rocket launcher, and still have a positive impact. Hopefully our friends in Gaza have been following the Zapatista movement and gained some ideas that can be tweaked to fit their specific situation. One thing about nonviolent approaches is that its practitioners have to prepare themselves for the long haul - this isn't an immediate gratification approach to fighting for social change. Then again, if one really thinks about it, there really aren't any immediate gratification friendly options available even for those who prefer more violent means. Either way, the bad guys are going to do what they do best - intimidate, coerce, kill. After all, they have a lot to lose.

In solidarity.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

One of the few decent tv shows left

Jericho. The series premiered last season, got canceled at one point at the end of its first season run, and then revived this year as a mid-season replacement (season one is also now airing on SciFi). Since I have an interest in various media (books, films, tv series) dealing with dystopic scenarios of one sort or another, this one is right up my alley.

The basic premise of Jericho is straightforward enough: a small town in northwest Kansas is cut off from the rest of the world in the wake of a nuclear attack that destroys 23 major metropolitan areas, and its residents try to figure out how to survive. In the process, there are all these nifty subplots, including the discovery that the terrorists responsible for the attacks were folks within the US government, as well as get treated to an idea of how a Blackwater-style mercenary organization would operate in the wake of such a disaster (hint: the organization in question basically loots vulnerable towns with impunity).

The acting's well-done, the plot and subplots are interesting, and the action has definitely picked up for the second season. My only complaint - and this is one that I have with just about any series set in the midwest or great plains regions - is aesthetic: it is a bit jarring to see the occasional palm tree show up in the background in a location that I am supposed to believe is just a handful of hours due north of me. That, and the landscape in spots seems just a bit too mountainous; we have plenty of rugged territory out in the high plains, but more along the lines of canyons and mesas perhaps.

I have no idea if the series will get renewed. In some ways, it hits a bit too close to home - folks looking for pure escapism probably don't want to be reminded that the proverbial "end of the world as we know it" is hardly far-fetched. Additionally, the series does require a level of concentration that seems anomalous in our current 15-second soundbite culture. On the other hand, Jericho does seem to be tapping into some of the same vibe that other post-apocalyptic films have tapped into (I Am Legend comes to mind) - namely that there is some anxiety about the near future. Many of us sense that with all the various problems facing us - climate change, the recent peaking of oil production, etc. - that we are truly living in the twilight of an era, and to the extent that we've attached our identities to the status quo find the process of losing that status quo terrifying. Some of the characters in the series find that what they once took for granted as their livelihoods and lifestyles are completely obliterated, and over the course of the first season show some success in forging new identities. Even after the end of the world, life manages to go on - even if the journey is much more precarious. The writers seem to have found a good balance between dread and hope, as the fictional community of Jericho makes its way through the initial months following the attacks and its members figure out what to make of some of the possible futures that await them as they rebuild.

If you have any inclination towards television viewing, this one's worth checking out while it lasts.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Yet another strike against Obama

I tend to be very wary of any politician who counts among his advisers an economics professor from the University of Chicago. Chicago-style economic policy is called disaster capitalism for good reason.

Whoppers aren't only served in Burger King

Karl Rove is serving up a few of his own via the Sunday talk show circuit:
Well, we were not involved in the world before 9/11, and look what happened.
Let's see...In order to believe that, one must be willing to completely ignore any mention of the US invasion of Iraq in 1991 along with subsequent bombing raids and sanctions during the next dozen years; the US air war in the Balkans; the US military's involvement in Somalia around 1993; air strikes in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. That's not even getting in to the various and sundry ways that the US involved itself into the internal affairs of numerous nations like Russia and Poland (among others), imposing its version of "free trade" with disastrous consequences for the poor and middle classes in affected countries. Nor does that even begin to mention the continued expansion and consolidation of its military bases around the globe, or the continued propagation of torture techniques through the SOA/WHINSEC.

If anything, the US was too involved in the world.

Another anniversary: As we approach the end of Year Five of the newest Hundred Years' War

As of February 28, we passed another five-year milestone. Greg Mitchell reminds us of what Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld were saying about what was then the impending Iraq War:

Today marked the fifth anniversary of the day deputy Pentagon chief Paul Wolfowitz assured Congress that the U.S. would need no more than 100,000 troops to secure postwar Iraq and get the hell out. Here's how The New York Times reported it at the time: "In a contentious exchange over the costs of war with Iraq, the Pentagon's second-ranking official today disparaged a top Army general's assessment of the number of troops needed to secure postwar Iraq. House Democrats then accused the Pentagon official, Paul D. Wolfowitz, of concealing internal administration estimates on the cost of fighting and rebuilding the country.

"Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, 'wildly off the mark.' Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops. Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year. He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward....

"'I think you're deliberately keeping us in the dark,' said Representative James P. Moran, Democrat of Virginia. 'We're not so naïve as to think that you don't know more than you're revealing.'...


"At a Pentagon news conference with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld echoed his deputy's comments.

A further excerpt from the Eric Schmitt article follows.
*

In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq.

He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that ''stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible,'' but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it.

''I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction,'' Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help....

Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. ''I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact,'' Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high, and that the estimates were almost meaningless because of the variables.

Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. ''To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong,'' he said.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said the factors influencing cost estimates made even ranges imperfect. Asked whether he would release such ranges to permit a useful public debate on the subject, Mr. Rumsfeld said, ''I've already decided that. It's not useful.''
The Hundred Years' War is a reference to both an event that marked the late Middle Ages, and presidential contender John McCain's recent statements to the effect that the US would be in Iraq for 100 years.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Now that's more like it: throw the bums out!

Every last one of them! Mick Arran sez:
If one looks past Obama’s rhetoric to his record, what one sees is, as Rob so poignantly says, that he’s as much a Republican at heart as Hillary. Make all the excuses you want, the fact of the matter is that once again the Left has no one to vote for. Neither of the two likely candidates is worth spit on a stick, with Hillary running a dirty, Nixon-ish, Roger Ailes-style campaign and Obama lying through his teeth every time he opens his mouth.
If we want to break the back of the corporate control of both parties, we’re going to have to fight both parties. Tooth and nail. We have no friends left in positions of power. We have few real friends left in any positions. Our options are shrinking. The strongest one we have left this late in the game?
Stay home.
“What? And give the election to McCain? You can’t be serious!”
Oh, but I am. We have nothing, repeat NOTHING, to lose.
In the first place, McCain isn’t George W (assuming the Emperor leaves office when he’s supposed to rather than declaring a national emergency and scrubbing the election, extending his reign into an FDR-like 3rd term; how does President for Life Bush sound?). At root he’s fairly pragmatic, and while he’s a slug, a hypocrite, and a slimeball, he isn’t an ideological fruitbat, nor is he stupid.
In the second place, he isn’t likely to win no matter how many committed lefties stay home. The Great Middle is going to go Democratic come hell or high water. They hate the GOP at this point and Bush & Co are doing their best to make sure that state of affairs continues.
In the third place, neither Hillary nor Obama is likely to be much better than McCain on either domestic policy or the war. That may be a hard idea to swallow - certainly it tastes awful and we’d rather not - but facts are facts. All three will continue the Iraq debacle, all three will hand corporations the reins of govt, and all three will either expand or at a minimum refuse to retard the Emperor’s assumption of autocratic powers. Oh, they’ll all make noise about “working with the Congress” and Obama already has his “bi-partisan compromise” schtick rolling along, a farcically “reasonable” proposal that virtually guarantees that the Donkeys will go right on surrendering to corporate and GOP loudmouths, but in the end nothing much is going to change and there won’t, in practice, be much difference between them.
So screw it. Don’t enable them. Work against them all or at least stay home. The day after the election we’re going to be fighting for our lives no matter who wins.
That seems to be right up my alley. Longtime readers here know that I've been pretty sour on the Dems for quite a long time - easily for as long as I've been an adult - and that disdain has only deepened this decade. Some of my current perspective can be gleaned from an essay from back in 2005:
For more years than I would want to count at this point in my life I have been questioning the direction and purpose of the Democrat party. I've made no secret of my general uneasiness within what has become of the Dems whose leadership has generally underwhelmed me over the last quarter century. Truth is I really don't fit in with a party that seems to favor its corporate cronies over its purported commitment to basic progressive and populist values and policies. The GOP was never and will never be an alternative for me. The unholy alliance of theocons and neocons is one with which I simply would never wish to associate. Genocidal wars, draconian laws that decimate the letter and spirit of The Bill of Rights, looting the nation's treasury and generally pissing away the nation's future for the sake of feathering a few cronies' nests under the aegis of God and Country are the halmarks of the GOP. The best I've been able to say about the Dems is that they are "less bad."

The question that I can never leave far behind is this: "is less bad good enough?" When lives and quality of life are at stake, the answer is no. As of late I have given the words of the late Malcom X a fresh read, and I have a couple observations. One is that in many respects, when we're talking about civil rights and human rights in America things really haven't changed much since Malcom's day. The images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of the dire poverty that has consigned so many of our fellow Americans to a lifetime of marginal existence (what the Marxists would call the lumpenproletariat) and neglect by the very government that is supposed to serve them, will haunt me for as long as I can still draw a breath. Those images should haunt all of us. The specter of racism and classism continues to plague our political and social landscape, just as it has all of my life. The second observation: politicians from one party or another haved talked a good game when it comes to promoting progressive ideas and policies - but with few exceptions they don't walk the talk. That was a problem that Malcom confronted with the issues that were salient to him, and is a problem that we on the left continue to confront. The Dems have assumed for so long that they have the leftists, the women, the ethnic minorities in their back pockets because presumably we have "nowhere else to go." The result is, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, a not-so-benign neglect of our issues and values from the powers that be. And as long as we keep registering Democrat and periodically show up to vote when expected, nothing changes, except maybe for the worse. We have a party where its members say the right things more often than not, but then by and large approve laws like The Patriot Act, the bankruptcy bill that will end up burying working families who've encountered exhorbitant medical expenses; they've been silent when the White House nominated an architect of the current pro-torture policy to the office of AG; when it comes to the illegal war being fought against the Iraqis, many of the Dems want to send more troops and kill of even more people; they've been largely silent on the issue of voting irregularities both in Ohio and Florida; and we know that privacy rights are also no longer sacred in Dem circles.

What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP.

[snip]

Malcom was onto something back in 1964 and 1965 when he advocated refusing to back any candidate until it was clear that they were willing to walk their talk. If they turn out to be kosher, then by all means support them, but only to the extent that they are representing us. If they stop representing us, we should be willing to walk away from them. If they know that their constituents mean business, they'll be more careful to represent us in whatever legislative body they hold office. There's strength in numbers, especially when those numbers are independent.

[snip]

Making meaningful social change happen in America will not happen overnight, and will be truly a community effort in which each of us must play an active role. In other words, it's time to stand up.
At the time, I would have placed a bit more primacy on voting, although I've been having a change of heart as of late - largely as it becomes more and more apparent that the system itself is hopelessly corrupt. I do like the idea of being antipartisan:
Antipartisanship (n)
1. A chronic aversion to professional politicians and their handlers, based on the belief that they are all cynical and unprincipled. 2. An unwillingness to identify with either major political party based on said beliefs.
Why be antipartisan? Here's a reminder from last November, when I asked:
Why does this continue to surprise anyone?
The Democrats, however, also deserve a large measure of blame. They did almost nothing while they were in the minority to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.
On Thursday, the Senate voted by 53 to 40 to confirm Mr. Mukasey even though he would not answer a simple question: does he think waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning used to extract information from a prisoner, is torture and therefore illegal?
Democrats offer excuses for their sorry record, starting with their razor-thin majority. But it is often said that any vote in the Senate requires more than 60 votes — enough to overcome a filibuster. So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes? Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.
[snip]
All of this leaves us wondering whether Mr. Schumer and other Democratic leaders were more focused on the 2008 elections than on doing their constitutional duty.
Ya think? As I was putting it yesterday:
Arthur Silber and Chris Floyd have been expressing far more eloquently than could I a very simple observation about the ruling class (which, lo and behold includes not only Republicans but Democrats!): they do not give a fuck what you or I think. We are irrelevant beyond fulfilling our duties of donating portions of our paychecks to their campaigns and showing up at the polls come election day. Otherwise, our concerns about unabated slide into the depths of dictatorship are mere trivia that would "distract" them from more important matters such as consolidating power and lining the pockets of themselves and their cronies. There maybe the very occasional member of the political class who "get it", and even occasionally throw a Hail Mary pass in order to stave off further decay, but they do too little too late, and are left with the unsavory choice of remaining with their party and enduring the shame that comes with enabling monstrous abuses of power by their peers, or cutting the Gordian Knot and risk ostracism.
Instead, expect the same sorry cycle to repeat. During the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 election cycles, voters were told by the Democrat party politicos and their netroots propagandists that all we needed were more Democrats in office. Democrats were supposedly unable to do a goddamn thing, so the story went, because they were in the minority in Congress. Hence they had no choice but to capitulate whenever the White House or the GOP leadership wanted to quash civil liberties, commit war crimes, etc. Eventually, as voters got increasingly sick of GOP shenanigans, the Dems end up with Congressional majorities (as of the 2006 election cycle).

Now, we're led to believe that those majorities are not good enough because they are too small. So, if the White House wants yet another pro-torture bureaucrat confirmed to a cabinet level position, or if the GOP minority leaders do so much as sneeze, the Democrats are simply "powerless" to do anything but go along - or so we are told. More plausible is the observation that the GOP and the Dem leadership are pretty much on the same page, with one party playing "Bad Cop" and the other playing "Good Cop" while all along their constituents continue to be ignored.
I'll acknowledge, contra Ralph Nader circa 2000 that there is actually a dime's worth of difference between the likely GOP and Democrat standard bearers for the presidential election coming up, as well as with regards to each party's respective leadership in general. That dime's worth merely amounts to the GOP playing the role of "Bad Cop" and the Dems playing "Good Cop." Once more: there is nothing to lose by cutting your ties to the Democrats but your chains. Change will not come from simply casting a vote on a Deibold machine or being a netroots ATM machine for the Dems or their affiliated organizations such as MoveOn. To put it as I did back last spring in So Where's The Change?

As time has moved on, I've witnessed a lot of people come and go. They always seem to have good intentions, but, for one reason or another, the commitment just isn't there. It's no use asking where they went because they probably weren't there in the first place. How can one possibly be "aware" when he/she is out of it 99% of the time? If anarchy's nothing more than an excuse to get wasted and fall over, I'll have no part of it.

Beware of the person who would rather listen to records instead of thinking for him/her self. The bombs will be dropping and they'll be listening to their stereo.

Music is one of the greatest forms of free expression in the world today, and a powerful inspirational tool, but music, in itself, will never change a thing. The real change lies within you. Working for change requires thinking, creating, acting, writing, reading, learning, and, most of all, living.

If you aren't right with yourself about what you're doing, you're wasting your time. The contradictions are endless. Don't talk to me about unity if you're not willing to join hands. Don't talk to me about peace while you're bashing heads. And please don't bore me with half-witted statements about how things could be, if you're not prepared to give 'em a fight.

IT'S TIME FOR US TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN!
INCREASE THE PRESSURE TODAY AND TOMORROW WE'LL EXPLODE!
That was the intro to an old friend's zine, Pressure #4, from around 1986. A couple more issues would come out before my friend folded it for good in 1988 (his zine ended up being the first place to publish any of my work; an act of kindness on his part for which I am eternally grateful). I lost touch with that friend about a decade ago, and was thinking about him recently and decided to dust off some old zines from back in the day (for the kids out there, zines were the precursor to today's blogs, and as a form of communication seem to have plenty of life left in them). A lot has changed in the last couple decades (we'd no longer be talking about records and stereos but rather mp3s and Ipods, for example), but a lot has remained constant. Folks with good intentions continue to come and go, giving plenty of half-witted statements about how things might be if only we vote for their candidate or donate Moveon.org before splitting for the greener pastures of exurbia.

Whether we're talking about some dope lyrics from an aware band, or the words on a blog, keep in mind that these are tools that will hopefully inspire you to look at the world in a different way, or to make a difference in you particular corner of our aching planet. They do no good if you try to be a passive recipient - you have to think, feel, create, improvise on whatever you're reading or listening to in order to get anywhere. That much, my friends, has not changed one bit since the days when an old friend was giving me a copy of his zine to check out.

The good news is that even in these dark days, there are many more good people than I could ever begin to count who are doing what they can to increase the pressure today. My old friend was on to something, as tomorrow we will explode.
When some idiot starts babbling about "change" ask them where it is. When they inevitably prove incapable of doing so, tell 'em where to get off and do something more productive, that will actually increase the pressure TODAY.
Imagine if those fed up would-be voters not only refused to vote, but held some sort of general strike on election day. The latter is unlikely to happen, but man, would that drive the point across much more forcefully than merely staying home (unless of course the number of those simply staying away from the polls was simply too massive to ignore, as Arthur Silber suggested a couple weeks back) that whoever assumes the White House throne does not have a mandate; and that the same applies to whichever party has nominal control of Congress.

Food for thought, my friends. Food for thought.

Kafkaesque

"There can be no doubt—"said K., quite softly, for he was elated by the breathless attention of the meeting; in that stillness a subdued hum was audible which was more exciting than the wildest applause—"there can be no doubt that behind all the actions of this court of justice, that is to say in my case, behind my arrest and today's interrogation, there is a great organization at work. An organization which not only employs corrupt warders, oafish Inspectors, and Examining Magistrates of whom the best that can be said is that they recognize their own limitations, but also has at its disposal a judicial hierarchy of high, indeed of the highest rank, with an indispensable and numerous retinue of servants, clerks, police, and other assistants, perhaps even hangmen, I do not shrink from that word. And the significance of this great organization, gentlemen? It consists in this, that innocent persons are accused of guilt, and senseless proceedings are put in motion against them..."

The Trial
Franz Kafka
But for decades, the FISA court -- for obvious reasons -- was considered to be one of the great threats to civil liberties, the very antithesis of how an open, democratic system of government ought to function. The FISA court was long the symbol of how severe are the incursions we've allowed into basic civil liberties and open government.
The FISC is a classicly Kafka-esque court that operates in total secrecy. Only the Government, and nobody else, is permitted to attend, participate, and make arguments. Only the Government is permitted to access or know about the decisions issued by that court. Rather than the judges being assigned randomly and therefore fairly, they are hand-picked by the Chief Justice (who has been a GOP-appointee since FISA was enacted) and are uniformly the types of judges who evince great deference to the Government. As a result, the FISA court has been notorious for decades for mindlessly rubber-stamping every single Government request to eavesdrop on whomever they want. Just look at this chart (h/t Arthur Silber) for the full, absurd picture.
Yet now, embracing this secret, one-sided, slavishly pro-government court defines the outermost liberal or "pro-civil-liberty" view permitted in our public discourse. And indeed, as reports of imminent (and entirely predictable) House Democratic capitulation on the FISA bill emerge, the FISA court is now actually deemed by the establishment to be too far to the Left -- too much of a restraint on our increasingly omnipotent surveillance state. Anyone who believes that we should at the very least have those extremely minimal -- really just symbolic -- limitations on our Government's ability to spy on us in secret is now a far Leftist.

The "liberal" position on the Surveillance State
Glenn Greenwald
If you read the rest of the Greenwald essay, you'll get a bit of a history lesson of how FISA was originally received by folks from a wide variety of political persuasions. Heck, the pro-FISA forces back then were primarily the usual array of bad guys and their toadies. These days, to be a "respectable" and "responsible" liberal or progressive, one must toe the party line on granting the government unlimited carte blanche to spy on whomever it wants, with impunity. All that need be said is that there is an on-going "emergency" of one sort or another - be it The International Communist Conspiracy (back in the 1970s when FISA was first foisted upon us) to today's International Islamist Conspiracy. Hence, FISA remains, augmented with the recently deceased "Protect America Act" - a vile law that will likely be resurrected by the soul-less pond scum that pollute the halls of Congress these days. As I said almost two weeks ago:
Once a regime has assumed that kind of power, it's hard for that regime to give it up. "Emergencies" have this funny tendency to either stretch into what might as well be eternity, or the population may be subject to an on-going series of "emergencies." Either way, the regime in question will just keep on assuming whatever "extraordinary powers" for what is promised to be only a "short time." The so-called "respectable" progressives will of course rue that such situations "necessitate" such extraordinary executive power, but, their hands are tied. After all, who wants to appear soft on "terrorism" (or whatever the flavor of the month "threat" happens to be at the time)? One might lose valuable advertising on one's blog or face a primary challenge for daring to point out - even meekly - that such powers are unneeded or that the "emergencies" are at best overblown if not altogether nonexistent.
To remind the readers of a quote that we must never forget:
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.

-- Wendell Phillips, Boston, MA, January 28, 1852
The price of the alternative is the risk of being caught up in a Kafkaesque legal system that operates largely in secret, by functionaries who have been appointed by rulers who have practically no connection whatsoever to the electorate. In the rest of the world, such a scenario would be considered a hallmark of a dictatorship. In the US, we call it "democracy."