'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ronald Takaki: Rest in Peace 

Earlier this week, UC Berkeley Professor Ronald Takaki died at the age of 70. He committed suicide after becoming demoralized from his 15 year struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Takaki was a leading figure in comparative ethnic studies. He described an Asian American experience that had long been marginalized. In doing so, he deconstructed the mythology of Asian Americans as a model minority, and thus, returned them to their rightful place within the interwoven processes of American history from whence they had been ideologically extracted. He placed this experience within the broader context of the histories of people of color and immigrants within this country, with a particular focus upon the intersection of race and class. In this respect, he resembles Peter Linebaugh, another innovative historian who identified anarchic instances of liberatory social transformation within a turbulent mix of immigrants, runaway slaves and poor white laborers created by the Anglo-American globalization of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

In other words, Takaki, as Linebaugh has done, dedicated his career to the publication of histories from below. Takaki, growing up in Hawaii, was not, unlike his continental brethren, interned during World War II. He grew up in an environmental where Japanese Americans were, by and large, considered the equals of whites. He committed the unpardonable sin of talking back, a sinfulness that only became more incorrigible as he lived through the radicalism of the 1960s. Even worse, he possessed the skill of presenting his works in a popular form that reached large numbers of Americans. His books, such as Strangers from a Different Shore and A Different Mirror, among others, were academic works that fared well in the marketplace. Predictably, he became a lightning rod from conservative discontent.

Older white historians did not appreciate the exposure of their biases and inadequacies by Takaki. Liberal Arthur Schlesinger was embarrassingly scornful of the multiculturalism represented by younger academics like Takaki. Takaki dismissed Schlesinger with a short, dry observation of his incompetence:

More than ever before, there is a growing realization that the established scholarship has tended to define America too narrowly. For example, in his prize-winning study, The Uprooted, Harvard historian Oscar Handlin presented -- to use the book's subtitle -- "the Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People. But Handlin's "epic story" excluded the "uprooted" from Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- the other "Great Migrations" that also helped to make "the American People." Similarly, in The Age of Jackson, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., left out blacks and Indians. There is not even a mention of two marker events -- the Nat Turner insurrection and Indian Removal, which Andrew Jackson himself would have been surprised to find omitted from a history of his era.

One can only imagine what Takaki said in private: how in the world can Schlesinger talk about the insidious influence of afro-centrism and the use of history as group therapy for minorities, when he doesn't know anything about the history of anyone except white people?

Of course, at a more mundane level, this dispute was a reflection of increasing competition for positions within the academy, the proteges of historians like Takaki were now being hired, while the ones of historians like Schlesinger increasingly were not. I had a personal encounter with sort of thing about 15 years ago, when I accidentally overheard a couple of old professors in the UC Davis American Studies program talking about a new Latina hire over dinner at a restaurant. They described her scholarship with the words vomit and diarrhea. Confronted with the demands of people that their heretofore buried histories and social experiences be told, such academics responded with the language of white supremacy instead of with an open, tolerant inclusiveness.

There is an irony in this. Historians like Schlesinger, and the American Studies professors that I encountered, were, no doubt, proponents of American exceptionalism, a belief that the US is a unique society that should be emulated around the world. Takaki, quite clearly, was not. Yet, it was Takaki, and the historians and sociologists that brought the experiences of women, people of color, immigrants, workers and poor people into the academic mainstream, in short, all those people who lived their lives outside the elite histories of government, geopolitics and economic development, that facilitated the creation of a new American identity. The current version of American exceptionalism now in vogue is one of inclusion, one in which the social experiences of people of various races, cultures, gender, even sexual orientation and religions are recognized, and yet remain fused in a decentralized, but firm, form of nationalism. The election of Barack Obama enshrined it as semi-official doctrine.

But the irony is more insidious than just this paradox. The new multicultural American identity, co-authored by Takaki and others, constitutes a critical ideological support for the so-called war on terror which includes the invasion, and ongoing occupations, of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our culture is purportedly inclusive, tolerant and, by and large, non-violent, in its resolution of domestic conflict. Their culture, by contrast, is not. Our multiculturalism is contrasted with the inherent violence of Islam and the peoples of the Middle East and Central Asia as a justification for perpetual military intervention and custodial oversight.

Needless to say, this is an extremely reductionist perspective about the US, the Middle East and Central Asia, but it is this, more than anything, I think, that explains the inability of many moderates and liberals to dissociate themselves from American militarism. It also creates doubt among non-whites that might otherwise be predisposed, in reliance upon memories of past national liberation movements, to oppose it. And, if there were any question about the proprietary of the project, just look at our military as opposed to their fighters, insurgents, or just plain terrorists. Our military is multi-colored, and even permits Arab Americans and Muslims to serve (only gays and lesbians are excluded as a result of an antiquated social policy that even the multiculturalists couldn't expunge), while the resistance is supposedly organized along lines of religious and ethnic intolerance. Again, simplistic and reductionist, but hard to effectively refute within the confines of limited American discourse.

Ronald Takaki was a bright, opinionated, insightful man. Chapter 1 of A Different Mirror, written in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, is one of best statements about the urgency of recognizing the realities of race and class in America that I have ever read:

What is fueling this debate over our national identity and the content of our curriculum is America's intensifying racial crisis. The alarming signs and symptoms seem to be everywhere -- the killing of Vincent Chin in Detroit, the black boycott of a Korean grocery store in Flatbush, the hysteria in Boston over the Carol Stuart murder, the battle between white sportsmen and Indians over tribal fishing rights in Wisconsin, the Jewish-black clashes in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, the black-Hispanic competition for jobs and educational resources in Dallas which Newsweek described as "a conflict of the have-nots," and the Willie Horton campaign commercials, which widened the divide between the suburbs and the inner cities.

This reality of racial tension rudely woke America like a firebell in the night on April 29, 1992. Immediately after four Los Angeles police officers were found not guilty of brutality against Rodney King, rage exploded in Los Angeles. Race relations reached a new nadir. During the nightmarish rampage, scores of people were killed, over two thousand injured, twelve thousand arrested, and almost a billion dollars of property destroyed. The live televised images mesmerized America. The rioting and the murderous melee on the streets resembled the fighting in Beirut and the West Bank. The thousands of fires burning out of control and the dark smoke filling the skies brought back images of the burning oil fields of Kuwait during Desert Storm. Entire sections of Los Angeles looked like a bombed city. "Is this America?" many shocked viewers asked. "Please, we can get along here," pleaded Rodney King, calling for calm. "We all can get along. I mean, we're all stuck here for a while. Let's try to work it out."

But how should "we" be defined? Who are the people "stuck here" in America? One of the lessons of the Los Angeles explosion is the recognition of the fact that we are a multiracial society and that race can no longer be defined in the binary terms of white and black. "We" will have to include Hispanics and Asians. While blacks currently constitute 13 percent of the Los Angeles population, Hispanics represent 40 percent. The 1990 Census revealed that South Central Los Angeles, which was predominantly black in 1965 when the Watts rebellion occurred, is now 45 percent Hispanic. A majority of the first 5,438 people arrested were Hispanic, while 37 percent were black. Of the 58 people who died in the riot, more than a third were Hispanic, and about forty percent of the businesses destroyed were Hispanic-owned. Most of the other shops and stores were Korean-owned. The dreams of many Korean immigrants went up in smoke during the riot: two thousand Korean-owned businesses were damaged or demolished, totaling about $400 million in losses. There is evidence indicating they were targeted. "After all," explained a black gang member, "we didn't burn our community, just their stores."

"I don't feel like I'm in America anymore," said Denisse Bustamente as she watched the police protecting the firefighters. "I feel like I am far away." Indeed, Americans have been witnessing ethnic strife erupting around the world -- the rise of Neo-Nazism and the murder of Turks in Germany, the ugly "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, the terrible and bloody clashes between Muslims and Hindus in India. Is the situation here different, we have been nervously wondering, or do ethnic conflicts elsewhere represent a prologue for America? What is the nature of malevolence? Is there a deep, perhaps primordial, need for group identity rooted in hatred for the other? Is ethnic pluralism possible for America? But answers have been limited. Television reports have been little more than thirty-second sound bites. Newspaper articles have been mostly superficial descriptions of racial antagonisms and the current urban malaise. What is lacking is historical context; consequently, we are left feeling bewildered.

How did we get to this point, Americans everywhere are anxiously asking. What does our diversity mean, and where is it leading us? How do we work it out in the post-Rodney King era? Certainly one crucial way is for our society's various ethnic groups to develop a greater understanding of each other. For example, how can African Americans and Korean Americans work it out unless they learn about each other's cultures, histories, and also economic situations? This need to share knowledge about our ethnic diversity has acquired new importance and has given new urgency to the pursuit for a more accurate history.

Of course, Chapter 1 should be read in its entirety to appreciate the richness of Takaki's perspective, and as I do so, I cannot avoid the persistent questions. Did he become aware that the pursuit for a more accurate history pushed us down the road to Baghdad and Kabul? In the last years of his life, did he recognize the tragic consequences that flowed from the opportunistic expropriation of the values of multiculturalism? A social perspective motivated by a desire to further understanding about Americans from different backgrounds, and, implicitly, to further understanding about people from all over the world, was put in the service of the expansion of the American empire. All in all, a sad, humorless instance of what Lefebvre described as dialectical irony.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Depravity of the Occupation 

According to the London Telegraph:

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, denies their existence during the course of a tirade about the credibility of British newspapers.

Perhaps, Gibb was unaware that the source of the story was Major General Taguba himself. And, he was likewise probably unaware that the photographs confirm accounts provided to Taguba during the investigation:

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.

Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

Unfortunately, it is looking more and more obvious that we can expect similar disclosures at some point during the Obama presidency, especially when someone like General Stanley McCrystal is appointed to conduct miltiary operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Beginning of the End (Part 4) 

From The German Revolution: 1917-1923, a rich, profound, tragic history written by Pierre Broue:

It seems that from November 1921, the magnates of German industry decided that the general situation must deteriorate before it could improve; runaway inflation to wipe out Germany's debt, bring the state to its knees before them, exhaust the working people, and leave the great capitalists alone as masters of the situation. The mark fell steadily throughout 1922, and its fall became precipitous when the Ruhr was occupied.

From an article in the Financial Times by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, said: "Senior officials of the Chinese government grilled me about whether or not we are going to monetise the actions of our legislature."

"I must have been asked about that a hundred times in China. I was asked at every single meeting about our purchases of Treasuries. That seemed to be the principal preoccupation of those that were invested with their surpluses mostly in the United States," he told the Wall Street Journal.

His recent trip to the Far East appears to have been a stark reminder that Asia's "Confucian" culture of right action does not look kindly on the insouciant policy of printing money by Anglo-Saxons.

The reporter's reference to Confucian culture as a reason for Chnese objections is quite humorous. I'm not aware of people from any culture that appreciates having the value of its assets diminished through deliberate government policy.

With that said, I'm still a deflationist, for the reasons presented by Mike Whitney yesterday:

The economy is in the grip of deflation. Commercial banks are stockpiling excess reserves (more than $850 billion in less than a year) to prepare for future downgrades, write-offs, defaults and foreclosures. That's deflation. Consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending; driving, eating out, shopping, vacations, hotels, air travel. More deflation. Businesses are laying off employees, slashing inventory, abandoning plans for expansion or reinvestment. More deflation. Banks are trimming credit lines, calling in loans and raising standards for mortgages, credit cards and commercial real estate. Still more deflation. Bernanke has opened the liquidity valves to full-blast, but consumers are backing off; they're too mired in debt to borrow, so the money sits idle in bank vaults while the economy continues to slump.

It is important to note that the Chinese concerns and Whitney's deflationary perspective are not contradictory. It is possible for economies around the world to continue to contract, even as the US deliberately orchestrates a decline in the value of the dollar. In this, Americans would experience the worst of all possible worlds, domestic deflation and continued job losses even as the cost of imported goods increased dramatically.

In such a situation, American capitalists could achieve many of the goals described by Broue in the context of German capital in 1923. Whereas the German capitalists hoped to inflate their way out of reparations, the American ones would likewise seek to inflate their way out of its foreign debt through currency devaluation. Whereas German capitalists wanted to destroy the autonomy of the working class, American ones want to eliminate what little remains of the social protections of the Great Society and the New Deal. In each instance, they have decided that the general situation must deteriorate before it could improve.

Could it get as bad here as Germany as 1923? Doubtful. But when finance capital plays these sorts of games, the door is opened to all sorts of unpredictable consequences. Indeed, the phrase the law of unintended consequences now hints at ominous, heretofore inconceivable possibilities.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Enemies Everywhere 

From the Associated Press:

Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying Iran with uranium for its nuclear program, according to a secret Israeli government report obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The two South American countries are known to have close ties with Iran, but this is the first allegation that they are involved in the development of Iran’s nuclear program, considered a strategic threat by Israel.

“There are reports that Venezuela supplies Iran with uranium for its nuclear program,” the Foreign Ministry document states, referring to previous Israeli intelligence conclusions.

It added, “Bolivia also supplies uranium to Iran.”

The report did not say where the uranium was from.

There was no immediate comment from officials in Venezuela or Bolivia about the report.

Perhaps, Israel can launch airstrikes against them, too, expanding any war with Iran to South America as well. All in all, it sounds remarkably similar to the Niger forgeries, documents leaked by Italian intelligence in 2002 that purportedly established that Iraq had been attempting to purchase processed uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons development.

By way of background, there is a strong belief among Venezuela leftists and some in the military that Israel was involved in the 2002 unsuccessful coup attempt against Chavez. I was also told during my trip to Venezuela in 2005 that Chavez, sometime after taking office in 1998, removed a number of Israeli operatives providing unspecified services to the Venezuela military and intelligence services. He did it because he believed that they were using these positions to gather information that could be used against him. Recently, Chavez ordered the removal of the Israeli ambassador in Caracas in protest against the assault upon the civilian populace of Gaza.

One should not dimiss the possibility that the hostility towards Israel within Venezuela is coloured by a residue of anti-semitism directed towards Jews generally. Even so, Chavez apparently had good reason to be concerned. After all, Israel supported Somoza in Nicaragua, and subsequently provided military assistance to the contras. Not surprisingly, Israel also provided provided military assistance to El Salvador and Guatemala in their armed struggles with the left during this same period. In the case of Guatemala, Israel assisted the government's brutal campaign of near extermination against its indigenous populace when the US was legally prohibited from doing so. And, as you might have guessed, Israel had good relations with Pinochet in Chile as well, selling weapons to him, despite his flirtation with a notorious neo-Nazi sect.

Closer to home, at least from a Venezuelan perspective, Israel has supplied weapons to Colombian paramilitaries since the 1980s, and continues to do so. Similarly, Israel participated in the dirty war in Argentina. Chavez, and the left throughout South America, understand what many in the US do not, that Israel has been an implacable enemy of leftist movements in South America, violent or non-violent, for decades. Furthermore, it has provided material assistance in their violent suppression by rightist governments and social movements. Such a history lends credibility to the belief of some Venezuelans that Israel, through the Mossad, was involved in the 2002 coup. No doubt the Bolivians are aware of this history as well, and wary about Israeli involvement in their country.

But are Venezuela and Bolivia supplying Iran with uranium? Hard to say, although the report comes across as embarrassingly propagandistic. The Associated Press article states that Venezuela has undertaken no action to mine its estimated uranium reserves, while Bolivia does so. It is, of course, possible that Venezuela is involved in the delivery of Bolivian uranium to Iran. If so, what is the significance? Is it illegal for them to do so? Of course, it is common for countries to sell uranium to other countries for use in nuclear power generation facilities, as Australian does in relation to China, and Russia now does in relation to the US. If Iran is merely involved in the development of nuclear power, consistent with the most recent National Intelligence Estimate and the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, one would assume that such purchases, if they ever happened, transgress no international laws. Oh, by the way, did I forget to mention that the report also claims that Venezuela is also a Hizbullah sanctuary?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

DKos Liberals Debate Indefinite Detention 

And, after much handwringing and stereotypical thinking, in which they make numerous unwarranted nefarious assumptions about the people incarcerated at Guantanamo and elsewhere, decide that, on balance, it's probably OK. After all, we're only talking about Arabs and Muslims here. Can't be too careful, can we?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Enemy is at Home (Part 2) 

From today's New York Times:

President Obama delivered an impassioned defense of his administration’s anti-terrorism policies on Thursday, reiterating his determination to close the prison at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba in the face of growing Congressional pressure and declaring that America will remain strong if it stands by its basic precepts.

The president said that what has gone on at Guantánamo for the past seven years has demonstrated an unjust, haphazard “ad hoc approach” that has undermined rather than strengthened America’s safety, and that moving its most dangerous inmates to the United States is both practical and in keeping with the country’s cherished ideals.

Moreover, he said that transferring some Guantánamo detainees to highly secure prisons in the United States would in no way endanger American security.

Speaking at the National Archives, which houses the Constitution and other documents embodying America’s system of government and justice, the president promised to work with Congress to develop a safe and fair system for dealing with a particularly thorny problem: what to do with those Guantánamo detainees who, for one reason or another, cannot be prosecuted in civilian or military courts “yet who pose a clear danger to the American people” and therefore cannot simply be released.

“I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face,” the president said, pledging to help devise “clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category,” meaning former Taliban commanders, Al Qaeda-trained explosives experts, acolytes of Osama bin Laden and others whose hatred of America is deep and uncompromising.

Imprisoning people indefinitely without charging them is generally contrary to principles of American justice, a reality that the American Civil Liberties Union alluded to after the president’s speech.

“We welcome President Obama’s stated commitment to the Constitution, the rule of law and the unequivocal rejection of torture,” said Anthony Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director. “But unlike the president, we believe that continuing with the failed military commissions and creating a new system of indefinite detention without charge is inconsistent with the values that he expressed so eloquently at the National Archives today.”

President Obama said that, despite the evil intentions of some Guantánamo detainees and the undeniable fact that Al Qaeda terrorists are determined to attack America again, United States citizens should not feel uneasy about a relatively small number of detainees being imprisoned in the American homeland. “As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists,” the president said. “As Senator Lindsey Graham said: ‘The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.’”

Yet again, we are being subjected to the same fear mongering that resulted in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and may well embroil us in Pakistan and Iran, the same fear mongering that is enabling transnational financial institutions to loot the federal treasury, the same fear mongering that is empowering these same institutions to preside over a restructuring of the US economy solely for the benefit of capital. As I said on Tuesday, we are living through an extraordinary concentration of power within the Pentagon, the intelligence services, the police and Wall Street.

Again, the question that we must perpetually ask ourselves is: Why? I have always been wary of conspiracy theories, theories that have certainly proliferated since 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Life is not sufficiently linear to support such theories, except in rare instances. And I generally find Occam's Razor persuasive: The simplest explanation for a phenomenon is most likely the correct explanation.

As to the detainee policy, the simple explanation is that the people want it. Undoubtedly, no elected Democrat wants to find themselves subjected to harsh negative ads, reminiscent of Willie Horton, in their next campaign. But the people don't want the current economic and fiscal policies. Just before the bailout came to a vote in Congress last fall, representatives received calls 100 to 1 against. The stimulus plan encountered unexpectedly strong opposition. And that suggests a motivation beyond political pragmatism.

There is already a movement afoot to exploit the global recession, and the enormous deficit spending required to combat it, as a justification for reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits. There is also a belief, held by economically intelligent people like former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker and Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf, that Americans are going to have to accept a significantly reduced standard of living going forward. Furthermore, there is a recognition that many of the jobs lost during this recession are never going to return, with many of these losses concentrated within manufacturing, retail, finance and housing. Blue collar males are suffering the most after decades of stagnant to declining income.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that our troops are still in Iraq, and that more troops have been sent to Afghanistan? One soldier was so stressed out about his combat duty in Iraq that he went postal and killed 5 of his buddies. Doesn't sound like a prognosis for domestic tranquillity does it? Given that intelligence officials are already anxious about dystopian visions related to climate change, limited water supplies and pandemic illnesses, how do you think they are responding to the current economic downturn?

Well, for now, they are saying this:

Despite the recent financial volatility—which could end up accelerating many ongoing trends—we do not believe that we are headed towards a complete breakdown of the international system—as occurred in 1914-1918 when an earlier phase of globalization came to a halt. But, the next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks.

So, the next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks. Interesting. First of all, the fact that US intelligence is selecting the turbulence of World War I and the subsequent emergence of the Bolsheviks as a point of comparison is pretty disquieting. Second, we know the primary characteristic of this anticipated new system: a more voracious form of neoliberalism that results in a transfer of even more wealth from wage labor to capital, transfers from one country to another as well as transfers within countries. In other words, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Lastly, we also know that such transfers within the context of marginal to non-existent economic growth are not likely to be well received. With such knowledge, as an intelligence official, what would you advise the government to do in expectation of these developments? Precisely what Obama is now doing? Go to the head of the class.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Thomas Becket Doctrine 

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Protest Against John Yoo at Boalt Hall Graduation 

A reminder to disbar the torture lawyers.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Enemy is at Home (Part 1) 

As I posted last week, my initial response to Obama's decisions related to torture and indefinite detention was to allow others to speak. By Friday, I had changed my mind, and posted a brief commentary.

Over the course of the weekend, I concluded that this commentary was inadequate, because it failed to convey the seriousness of what had transpired, or, perhaps, more accurately, because it politicized the situation at the expense of broader social consequences. It is now apparent that the government has been captured even more so than normal by financial and militarist interests, rendering the electoral process almost completely irrelevant. Liberals now find themselves as marginalized as leftists have been, with only the right remaining some limited room to maneuver.

How did we get here? Of course, on the military side, the critical event was 9/11. In response to it, the military and law enforcement were granted powers to act unilaterally and without oversight that they did not previously possess. Domestically, the enshrinement of the terrorist as an inescapable feature of American life, a secular Satan that can never be extirpated, generated momentum for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency, with the assistance of local police, were authorized to select targets for investigation and subject them to various forms of detention, entrapment and surveillance that had only previously been utilized outside the law during perceived emergencies.

Liberals, many of them versed in the scripture of Anglo-American jurisprudence, objected, recognizing that the federal government was now expanding its war powers throughout domestic life. Indeed, the distinction between war and peace no longer exists, as the military and law enforcement are being directed to conduct operations as if the country is perpetually involved in violent conflicts, differentiated only by the severity of them. In such a climate, civil liberties are not really curtailed, but rather, reduced to something someone possesses to a greater or lesser degree based upon one's social and class status. Meanwhile, leftists were also alarmed, but were not particularly surprised, because, from our standpoint, capitalist societies have always resorted to such practices under duress.

It is important to realize, however, that the military and law enforcement have been accruing more and more autonomy over the course of many years before 9/11, as evidenced by the slow evisceration of constitutional protections, the paramilitarization of the police and the implementation of more punitive criminal laws. But 9/11 offered an unprecendented opportunity to provide broad legal sanction to their operations at the behest of the Executive Branch, with minimal to non-existent oversight by Congress and the judiciary. A process that had been proceeding incrementally in fits and starts accelerated, seizing the time so as to permamently subordinate individual liberties to a powerful federal executive. An American tradition of skepticism when it comes to the powers of the police and the presidency was abandoned.

Internationally, the situation is much worse. The military and intelligence agencies have assumed the power to detain, torture and kill anyone they consider a threat to the United States. They reserve the right to attack and occupy any place in the world if they believe it facilities American imperial interests. With the assistance of a complaisant media, they have invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, and threaten to escalate operations in Pakistan and bomb Iran. The only constraints upon their conduct are the ability of the intended victim to resist and internal dissent within the military and intelligence agencies themselves.

Liberals had great expectations that Barack Obama would reverse these alarming developments and return us to the more measured exercise of military and police power that existed prior to 9/11. Last week, Obama brutally shattered these illusions when he refused to release torture photographs, appointed a special operations general to run the war in Afghanistan, a general responsible for units involved in detainee abuse, reimposed military tribunals to decide whether detainees can be released from Guantanamo and other similar facilities around the world and considered seeking approval to indefinitely detain foreigners within the boundaries of the US itself.

The national security state in its most transparent, virulent form, is here to stay. The instrumentalities of social control in its possession will be used against anyone perceived as a threat to its fusion of neoliberal economics with increasingly autonomous military and police powers. And, make no mistake, there is an essential economic component to this enterprise. As I wrote in response to the bailout last fall:

. . . the same processes of secrecy that have been developed for the Pentagon and the intelligence services are about to be extended to governmental involvement in the financial markets. The government developed the bailout proposal in closed door meetings, and it was modified as a consequence of equally covert meetings between the White House and congressional representatives. No meaningful hearings were held, with the only public testimony provided by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke. Understanding the rules of the game, they politely sat through a couple of days of verbal abuse as the price for getting their plan approved.

Furthermore, there was little consideration of any alternatives to the plan put forward by Paulson, alternatives such as ones that would benefit lower and middle income Americans as well as the financial sector. Indeed, there was not even an attempt to explain how the bailout would address the current crisis, and thereby initiate a dialogue as to how to most effectively confront it, except by reference to day to day events in the financial markets. As with the invasion of Iraq, the bailout was marketed through hysteria, and the need to relieve it. Substance was irrelevant, as there is nothing in the plan that necessitates that the recipients of funds through debt purchases actually resume extending credit.

Accordingly, we should presume that the extension of such secrecy into the realm of economic policy will become more and more of a feature of our domestic politics, regardless of whom wins the November election. And, more disturbingly, we should also assume that, contrary to expectations, manipulation of public ignorance, fear and anxiety in the service of capital and conquest will become even more frequent than it was during the Bush presidency. With the media as willing accomplices, there is no reason for politicians, and the interests behind them, to conduct themselves otherwise.

In that post, I analogized the process by which the bailout was accomplished to the invasion of Iraq, following the reasoning of Naomi Klein and Joseph Stiglitz, but 9/11 is the more apt comparison, because it was the seminal event that opened the way towards the consolidation of economic and police power that we have experienced. Unfortunately, Obama has confirmed my prophecy, and we are destined to live in a country where alternating economic and foreign policy anxieties continue to concentrate more and more power within the military, law enforcement and the financial sector for quite some time.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Disbar the Torture Lawyers 

I know, I know, it's not nearly enough, but, at least it's a start. And, feel free to add the Attorney General, Eric Holder, to the list, after all, isn't there something called obstruction of justice?

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The Beginning of the End (Part 3) 

From the Financial Times:

Brazil and China will work towards using their own currencies in trade transactions rather than the US dollar, according to Brazil’s central bank and aides to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president.

The move follows recent Chinese challenges to the status of the dollar as the world’s leading international currency.

Significant, not just because China and Brazil are among the largest emerging market economies, but also because Brazil is the largest economy in South America, formerly a US economic preserve. US preoccupations with the Middle East and Central Asia, combined with the severity of the global recession, continue to drive a decline in US military and economic influence there.

From the Brazilian and Chinese perspectives, it may be a reflection of the urgency that each places upon reducing their dependence upon US markets. As you may recall, James Petras is forecasting a collapse in the South American manufacturing sector over the next few years, while there have already been numerous reports of plant closures in China. Hence, the need to create new links of global economic interdependence to replace the old ones.

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Friday, May 15, 2009


That's how As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab, has been describing Obama for quite some time now. Here's more proof of the accuracy of the assessment:

As part of its plans to close Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration is considering holding some of the detainees indefinitely and without trial on US soil, US media reported Thursday.

President Barack Obama's "administration is weighing plans to detain some terror suspects on US soil -- indefinitely and without trial -- as part of a plan to retool military commission trials that were conducted for prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay," The Wall Street Journal said.

In fact, such an approach would be worse than the detentions of the Bush presidency. Why? Because the Bush administration consciously relied upon detaining people indefinitely outside the boundaries of the United States in an attempt to deny the judiciary jurisdiction over the legality of them. Now, Obama would be asserting the power of the US government to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely within the US.

Increasingly, it looks like we have just experienced a second coup. The first occurred in October of last year, when the financial sector required the Democratic Party in Congress, as well as the nominees of both parties for President, to support an ongoing, unlimited bailout. With Obama refusing to comply with a federal district court order to release photographs of tortured detainees, reauthorizing the use of military tribunals to determine if detainees should be released and considering the indefinite detention of detainees on US soil, all the while intensifying US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the contours of the second one are coming into focus.

What precipitated it? One suspects that it was Obama's decision to release the legal memorandums relied upon to justify the use of torture against detainees. The backlash within the CIA and the Pentagon was immediate. Both had argued vociferously against it. With their allies in the media, they put Obama on the defensive. US troops were being put at risk. All of these terrible enhanced interrogation techniques could now be used on them. Of course, it was absurd, US troops are at risk because they are conducting combat operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and, furthermore, there is always the risk that captured troops can be tortured, regardless of what some law school professors and aspiring jurists say.

But this isn't about logic, it's about politics and the timidity of a President incapable of challenging his enemies effectively. Or, perhaps, a President who has never had any inclination to do so. He is, however, smarter than Bush, as he knows how to generate memoranda that say one thing, while doing another, in an attempt to avoid criminal sanction.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gaius Nails It 

I briefly considered commenting upon Obama's refusal to release photographs of torture victims in the possession of the Defense Department, but passed, after all, what could I say that they haven't already said elsewhere? Turns out my inclination was correct.

Gaius over at Undemocracy in America exposes Obama's motivation with surgical precision:

He’s playing to his new constituency and his new pals, the insider bureaucracy – including the national security establishment – that are running what are increasingly his wars in the Middle East and his global war on terror.

Of course, we are experiencing a similar phenomenon in regard to economic policy. In this instance, Obama is playing to an old constituency, his supporters in the financial sector who contributed so generously to his presidential campaign and legitimized his economic credentials. Hence, trillions out the door to preserve the power of a social class that would otherwise fall from grace because of their catastrophic financial practices. Even worse, trillions out the door to exploit the crisis so that they can increase their power over us.

Financial fraudsters in charge of our economy and militarists in charge of our foreign policy, while the President and his family bask in the glow of their glamourous allure. Why do I continue to have this disquieting feeling that a new war, even worse than the ones currently under way, looms just over the horizon?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chinese Capitalism in a Nutshell 

Joel Andreas, a sociology professor at John Hopkins University, has just published a compelling work of scholarship, Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class. Perhaps, I will find the time to review it soon, but, meanwhile, the following passage provides one of the most concise descriptions of the interrelationship of international capital within China ever written. Capital that is not just financial but cultural and political as well:

In the mid-1980s, in line with the central government's orientation toward market reform and global integration, Tsinghua opened a School of Law and a School of Economics and Managment (SEM). The latter was founded by Zhu Rongji, the Tsinghua alumnus who later--as China's premier--would direct the privatization of much of China's economy. The SEM, the first of its kind in China, became the largest and most popular school of the university. It was modeled after the leading business schools in the United States and it embraced economic doctrines and business and management theories popular in those schools. Today, it offers MBA degrees and high priced executive-training programs in collaboration with Harvard Business School and MIT's Sloan School of Management. In 2000, leading government officials, academics and business executives from both China and abroad were invited to join a newly created advisory board. The foreign dignitaries on SEM's advisory board include top executives from Intel, Goldman Sachs, Nissan, GM, NASDAQ, McKinsey, BP, Temasek Holdings, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Nokia, Citigroup, the Carlyle Group and Blackstone. Zhu Rongji serves as the honorary chairman of the board and the chairman is H. Lee Scott, the president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, which in 2004 donated US$1,000,000 to SEM to help open the Tsinghua University China Retail Research Center.

Indeed, capitalism is increasingly a global, and not a nationalistic phenomenon. Without a recognition of the interweaving of these economic, cultural and political features, one cannot properly understand it, much less resist it with plausible alternatives.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Mendacious Pope, Revisited 

After his death, people, when asked to describe the essential characteristics of Pope Benedict, will emphasize his dishonesty:

The Vatican played down Pope Benedict's teenage membership of the Hitler Youth Tuesday after it was highlighted by Jewish critics of remarks he made about the Holocaust during his continuing visit to Israel.

An official spokesman withdrew an initial statement that the German-born pope had "never, never, never" been in the Hitler Youth after reporters pointed out that Benedict himself had said he was -- in a 1996 book on the then cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, revised his statement to say that the pope had been signed up against his will and did not take an active part in the Nazi Youth movement.

"He was enrolled involuntarily into the Hitler Youth but he had no active participation," Lombardi said. "The Hitler Youth is not a significant experience in his life because he was not an active participant. It was just something that was done."

You'd think that the Vatican would have figured out how to deal with this by now, after all, the notion that resistance to Nazis was impossible, as asserted by Benedict's brother, has never been very persuasive:

There is absolutely no reason to think that Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is now or has ever been secretly a Nazi. Nothing he has ever said or done even remotely suggests the slightest sympathy with any of the basic Nazi ideas or goals. Any claim that he is a Nazi is implausible at best. However, that is not the end of the story.

While Ratzinger was not a Nazi in the past and Benedict XVI is not a Nazi now, there is more than enough reason to question his handling of his past. It appears that he hasn’t been honest with others — and probably not honest with himself — about what he did and what he could have done.

It’s simply not true that resistance was impossible at the time. Difficult, yes; dangerous, yes. But not impossible. John Paul II participated in anti-Nazi theater performances in Poland, yet there is no evidence of Joseph Ratzinger even doing this much.

Ratzinger may have done more than many others to resist, but he also did far less that some. It’s certainly understandable that he wouldn’t have had the courage to do more and, were he any average person, that would be the end of the story. But he isn’t an average person, is he? He’s the pope, a person who is supposed to be the successor of Peter, head of the Christian Church, and symbol of unity for all Christendom.

You don’t have to be morally perfect to hold such a position, but it’s not unreasonable to expect such a person to have come to terms with their moral failings, even the moral failings that occurred in youth when we don’t usually expect a great deal. It was an understandable mistake or failing not to do more against the Nazis, but still a failing that he hasn’t come to terms with — it sounds rather like he is in denial. In a sense, he has yet to repent; yet he was still considered the best of all the candidates for the papacy.

Through the selection of Benedict, the Church highlighted obedience to authority instead of a willingness to challenge injustice. Someone like Benedict, someone who acquiesced to the power of those bent upon the most horrific atrocities, was considered a superior candidate for Pope than someone who had displayed a willingness to confront it at great personal risk.

Not surprisingly, Benedict, despite his professed opposition to the war in Iraq, received Bush at the Vatican, taking him on an unprecendented tour of the Vatican Gardens. By making deference to authority a primary consideration in the selection of a Pope, the Church now finds itself embroiled in one embarassment after another, embarrassments frequently associated, as here, with a deliberate misrepresentation of the historical record. Or even worse, attempts to show the Church off to advantage by playing upon bigotry against the practitioners of other religions.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Arm the Spirit, a Woman's Journey Underground and Back (Part 2) 

Diana Block was a 1970s radical with feminist roots. As a bisexual, she fused her sexually liberatory perspective with a revolutionary, anti-imperialist leftism. Through AK Press, she has published a memoir about her experiences both above and below ground. In Part 1, I inquired as to why her efforts to build a broader movement that incorporated her libertarian, collectivist social vision failed as it related to gender and sexuality within a Third World oriented Marxism.

In this concluding post, I shall write in a different key, highlighting her decision to go underground, and the psychological complexity associated with that decision. Block emphasizes two aspects of it. First, she describes her motivation to do so, as you might expect, in political terms. In 1978, through her involvement with Prairie Fire, a publicly visible, grassroots organization launched by participants in the Weather Underground, she became involved in the militant effort in support of Puerto Rican independence. She related to this struggle within the larger context of Third World national liberation struggles in countries such as Cuba, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, while also connecting it to police repression and incarceration of people of color within the US.

Clandestinity was becoming a primary focus of such efforts, especially in relation to the Puerto Rican struggle, which was known for violent attacks upon institutions associated with US domination of the island. Despite misgivings, she decided, in 1981, to go underground to participate in a support network for violent resistance against the occupation. Her fear that such a decision would result in political isolation was prescient.

Second, Block relates this decision in terms of her personal life. In the late 1970s, she was involved in a relationship with an older Latina woman named Lola, a former actress who had participated in the Weather Underground and thereafter Prairie Fire, a woman who, when Block met her, was struggling with the mundane pressures of raising four children on low income while living in a house in the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. Block eventually moved in with Lola and her family, and lived with them for about a year and a half. She soured on the relationship, however, and fell in love with someone else after she was unable to permanently integrate herself into a low income family.

Hence, unlike her South American revolutionary brethren, Block does not appear to have been capable of consciously becoming part of the working class as a means of engaging in direct organizing among workers, as happened in Venezuela, for example, although, she was, ironically enough, later able to do so in order to support her subsequent family while engaging in underground activity. Her subsequent relationship with a woman named Kyle was emotionally fulfilling, but politically deficient.

It is tempting to construe Block's decision to go underground as a stereotypical instance of running away from personal responsibility, but that is too facile. After all, her political motivations are credible, her politics were (and remain) central to her life, so such an interpretation is too dismissive. Even so, there are some additional personal aspects that are worthy of speculation. Again, an invocation of Fassbinder may provide insight. In his brilliant film about German terrorism, The Third Generation, Fassbinder presents the fascination of his protagonists with violence and covert life as a manifestation of dissatisfaction with their everyday lives. As Christian Thomsen describes one of the film's most riveting scenes:

Edgar and Susanne have gone into hiding, after one of the members of the group is killed. In despair they cling on to their new identities and monotonously try to learn them by heart ('I am David Greenbaum, born, etc. I am Sarah Greenbaum, nee Stiefel . . .') as they disquise themselves with new wigs and makeup, a scene that is drawn out endlessly. It is a desperate picture of two people who hoped, through this terrorist group, to find true identity in an activity full of meaning and excitement, resisting the false roles of their previous everyday lives. They are forced to realize that this way leads to renewed loss of identity, further role-play and even greater frustration.

One wonders whether Block was familiar with the film before she went underground, as she periodically expresses her interest in foreign film throughout the book. In any event, Thomsen provides us with some touchstones for evaluating Block's decision in more personal terms. For example, the notion that Block was unconsciously motivated to go underground partially because she wanted to abandon the falsity of her life is quite plausible, because, after all, one of the prominent cultural features of the left was the belief that a revolutionary transformation of capitalist society would be personally liberatory.

But was it ultimately unsatisfactory for her? In this instance, it appears not. One of the striking paradoxes of Block's decision is the fact that, in order to ignite a violent rebellion against US capitalism, she was now forced to live like millions of other Americans who were, in comparison to her, apolitical and, by and large, straight. She works in a variety of lower middle income clerical and administrative assistant type jobs, she falls in love with man, a man who was part of the group that went underground, and has two children. She lives in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh while severing all contact with her friends in San Francisco. All in all, it appears to have been an effective way of distancing herself from her Marxism, which she must have recognized was losing its allure, even in her social circles, her bisexuality and the sybarism of the Bay Area. The marvel is that she didn't end up here in Sacramento, which has always been the perfect destination for those seeking to leave the Bay Area and attain domestic tranquillity, preferably with state civil service employment.

Of course, I am exaggerating a little, but the larger point may well be valid. There was just one problem: she was still committed, along with her partner, to violent resistance against the US occupation of Puerto Rico. As she settled into family life, her social fulfillment was dependent upon illegal actions in support of Puerto Rican independence. The impossibility of this situation eventually became evident, when the family discovered, while living in Los Angeles in 1984, that they were under FBI surveillance, causing them to go even further underground, with new identities. Amazingly, she did so by initially separating from her partner with a two week old son. Upon being reunited, they lived in Minneapolis and then Pittsburgh. Later, in the early 1990s, they returned above ground, and her partner served a prison term in for attempting to purchase explosives for Puerto Rican militants.

Naturally, upon leaving Los Angeles, the prospect of any future political activity evaporated. Security was paramount, necessitating obsessive practices in all aspects of their personal life. Block's account of the stress that the family experienced as a result is compelling, when even the most innocuous things become problematic, such as assisting her 5 year old son with the preparation of a family tree for school. In addition to the turmoil of her family life, she was no longer actively working to bring about the revolution, or the independence of Puerto Rico. She was completely isolated not only from activism, but also access to experiences and information that would enable her to understand the political changes that she was limited to observing on television with her equally confused partner.

Meanwhile, Lola is a ghost that haunts the narrative. Years later, in the mid-1990s, above ground again in the Bay Area, Block discovers that Lola is near death, with multiple sclerosis. She talks with Lola briefly before her death, and then subsequently attends a ceremony for her in the Berkeley hills. Lola's mother shatters the celebratory nature of the event by demanding where all of them had been when Lola was ill, broke and dying. It was a most damning accusation, because Block, along with many of the others present, had sought to replace the family, considered repressive, with an extended social network of friends. But, as Fassbinder would have anticipated, they failed, and Lola had died, as people had for generations, primarily in the presence of her family.

Not only that, Block and others had abandoned Lola and created families of their own. Instead of creating a social system that transcended race and class, they had merely reproduced the old one in a more liberated form. Admittedly, families have often revealed themselves to be imperfect as well, but the radicals of Block's generation held themselves to a higher standard. Through her revelations about Lola, she encourages exploration and experimentation in order to attain it.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Beginning of the End (Part 2) 

In late March, I outlined the emerging contours of conflict between the US and China in relation to the global recession and its ultimate outcome. Consistent with my expressed intention to recommend posts of importance on the subject of the recession and the transformation of the global economy, please consider this one by Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns. He explains how East Asia is seeking to decouple itself from US financial policies through the creation of an Asian Development Bank, after having been dissuaded from doing so by the US in the late 1990s. East Asia, asserts Harrison, has learned its lesson, and will no longer permit the US to dictate policies related to trade, finance and development through the International Monetary Fund to the advantage of the US any longer. Essential reading.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Happy Talk 

Perhaps, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the journalist who wrote this article for the Washington Post, has a dry sense of humor:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai began talking as soon as his luncheon guests had taken their seats in his wood-paneled dining room at the presidential palace in Kabul, across a long table covered with platters of lamb and rice, baskets of flatbread, and glasses of pomegranate juice.

Security was improving, he declared, according to two people in the room. The cultivation of opium-producing poppies had been eliminated in many areas. The economy was on the upswing. He looked across the table at the most important of his visitors and pledged to work closely with a new U.S. administration.

"I'm at your disposal, Senator Obama."

The Democratic presidential candidate listened intently but revealed few of his own views about Afghanistan over the two-hour lunch last July. It was not until later that day, as a U.S. government jet flew him to Kuwait, that Barack Obama confided in his two traveling companions, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and then- Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

Obama voiced concern that the situation was worse than Karzai had acknowledged, Hagel recalled. He "was not taken in," Hagel said, "by all of the happy talk."

Is it possible that Chandrasekaran recognized the irony of Hagel attributing one of the qualities that Americans associate with Obama, his rhetorical optimism, to Karzai? And, if so, is there a barbed commentary about Obama and his contemporary domestic challenges embedded within it? If so, he masterfully got it past his editor into print. It is the sort of subtle commentary that got reporters, artists and intellectuals into serious trouble under less permissive governments, such as Mao's China in the 1960s.

Or, is the humorous effect of the article merely an accidental consequence of a style of American journalism that takes itself all too seriously? I'd like to believe the former instead of the latter. In any event, there are other rewards for those who read the article in its entirety.

For example, we encounter, yet again, one of those nonsensical paradoxes of Obama policy:

For Karzai, an elegant and engaging politician renowned for his ability to forge compromises between warring factions, the new American coolness is unlikely to be a surprise. Ten days before Obama's inauguration, Karzai told Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. during a private meeting in Kabul that he looked forward to building with Obama the same sort of chummy relationship he had with Bush, which included frequent videoconferences and personal visits.

"Well, it's going to be different," Biden replied, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation. "You'll probably talk to him or see him a couple of times a year. You're not going to be talking to him every week."

Come again? Obama has frequently described Afghanistan as the central front of the war on terror, and yet, he's only going to talk to Karzai once or twice a year? Maybe, I misunderstand, failing to recognize the subtext that Obama and Biden are going to relate to Afghanistan in an overtly imperial fashion, unlike Bush, who perpetuated the pretense that Afghanistan was an independent country, with an elected, independent President, Karzai.

You can certainly justify such a belief from a cursory reading of the remainder of the lengthy article, which describes the US involvement in Afghanistan in precisely such terms:

Although the administration says it will make no endorsement in the elections, Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, has made little secret in diplomatic circles of his desire to see candidates challenge the incumbent.

Chief among them is former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who has a doctorate from Columbia University and has worked at the World Bank. But Ghani and others do not appear to have the support needed to trump Karzai, who has installed governors and sub-governors who can help his get-out-the-vote efforts. There have been reports that former ambassador Khalilzad, who remains active in Afghan politics, is pondering a run for the presidency, but he has denied any such intention.

Given the likelihood of a Karzai victory, the administration is seeking to increase its engagement with local and tribal leaders -- not to persuade them to forsake Karzai but to get them to be more effective administrators. Administration officials hope that improvements in local government, coupled with improvements in security, will persuade Afghans to stop supporting the Taliban.

No doubt astute American Leftist readers immediately recognized Ghani's invaluable credentials: a doctorate from Colombia and a resume that includes employment at the World Bank, you know, just the background that Afghans demand when deciding which candidate to support. And, then, there's Khalilzad, the former ambassador who remains active in Afghan politics. You don't say?

To see the humor in this, consider this passage:

In November 2003, as the U.S. engagement in Iraq was becoming more violent, the Bush administration dispatched Zalmay Khalilzad, its foremost expert on Afghanistan, as ambassador to Kabul. An animated former professor who speaks Dari and Pashto, the country's two principal languages, Khalilzad was far more than an ambassador. U.S. diplomats described his role as the country's chief executive -- with Karzai as the figurehead chairman -- for the 19 months of his ambassadorship.

By his own account, Khalilzad ate dinner six nights a week at the presidential palace, where he met with Karzai and his advisers into the evening. No significant decision was made by Karzai in that time without Khalilzad's involvement, and sometimes his cajoling and prodding, the diplomats said.

A vivid demonstration of Khalilzad's influence occurred in 2004, after a paroxysm of factional fighting in western Afghanistan involving Ismail Khan, a warlord who was the governor of Herat province. It was clear to Khalilzad that Khan needed to go, but Karzai was hesitant. So Khalilzad flew to Herat for discussions with Khan and announced that Khan would be moving to Kabul to become a cabinet minister. A few days later, Karzai issued an edict to that effect.

"Karzai was being his usual indecisive self, so Zal drove the steel rod up his spine," said a U.S. official.

Well, that probably wasn't as painful as the alternative. Of course, any article that openly describes the imperial pretense of the US occupation of the country must invariably reveal the hubris that comes with it:

For Karzai, a dinner in February 2008 with Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and two other committee members -- Hagel and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- was a portent of what a Democratic administration would bring.

"Mr. President, how are you attempting to control the corruption in your government?" Hagel recalled asking Karzai.

"Who is corrupt?" Karzai responded, according to Hagel. "Show me. Give me the names."

Hagel mentioned that U.S. and Afghan officials had accused one of Karzai's brothers, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the provincial council in Kandahar, of links to narcotics trafficking. But Hagel couldn't cite specifics, and Karzai refused to budge.

When the conversation moved to poppy cultivation, Karzai insisted that his government was making good progress.

"Mr. President, you're not doing very well," Biden responded, according to Hagel. "Your poppy production is at record levels."

On other subjects, according to Hagel and two others in the room, the discussion seesawed in the same way, with Biden disputing Karzai's claims of progress.

The back-and-forth circled back to corruption, and when Karzai again refused to acknowledge any problem, Biden stood up and threw his napkin on the table.

"This dinner is over," he said, according to Hagel and the others in the room.

Although senior Obama administration officials believe that Karzai needs to remove his brother from his post in Kandahar, they have been unable force his hand. Last year, then-national security adviser Stephen Hadley asked then-CIA Director Michael V. Hayden to find evidence of Ahmed Wali Karzai's alleged corruption, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Hayden eventually told Hadley, according to the official, "There are allegations all over the place, but in terms of hard evidence, we don't have it."

When Obama saw President Karzai last summer, however, the Afghan leader had eased his line on corruption.

"He didn't deny it," said Hagel, who was at the meeting. "He acknowledged they had a problem and that it was serious."

Fortunately, I wasn't drinking coffee when I read this passage, because, otherwise, I would have sprayed it across the room. Beyond taking the boorishness of Biden as a given, typical of his tendency to see himself as a 21st Century Raj, redrawing the boundaries of countries and all, the hypocrisy of this, in light of the subsequent actions of the Obama administration, is astounding. Obama and Biden subjected Karzai to a morally condescending inquiry about corruption and poppy cultivation, not realizing that they would perpetuate one of the most corrupt enterprises in world history, the looting of the government by transnational financial institutions.

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Obama Feels Badly About It 

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Obama's War 

From today's New York Times:

Dozens of Afghan civilians were killed in American air raids in western Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday. But Afghan officials gave far higher death tolls, ranging from 100 to 130 or more.

The reports offered a grim backdrop to talks coming Wednesday afternoon in Washington between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, whose office called the civilian deaths “unjustifiable and unacceptable” and said a government team had been sent to investigate. If the deaths are confirmed to have been from American bombing raid, this would be the largest case of civilian death in Afghanistan since Mr. Obama took office.

The continuing toll in civilian casualties has been a principal factor in turning many Afghans against the war to defeat the Taliban.

The governor of Farah Province, where the strikes occurred overnight Monday, told the national Parliament in a phone call played on a loudspeaker that about 100 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi.

Mr. Farahi said that there might be even more deaths. He said he gathered accounts from villagers, tribal elders and officials and calculated that 130 people, including many women and children, had been killed.

On Tuesday, enraged villagers took between 20 and 25 bodies from their district to the capital of Farah Province to show them to officials. Villagers’ accounts then put the death toll at 70 to 100, they said.

For some reason, Stalin and the White Sea Canal came to mind when I read this article. OK, OK, that's a little out there, but, just as Stalin worked thousands to death in his effort to construct socialism in one country, Obama appears equally willing to kill Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis in order to construct a new progressive order in America.

Oops! I forgot about the bailout. I'm getting older, you know, and sometimes I space out on these things, and accidentally incorporate the liberal orthodoxy into my analysis. It would be more accurate to say that Obama is, if anything, intensifying his effort to achieve his maximalist objectives of exploiting the recession to reconfigure the global economy even more to the advantage of finance capital, while extending the US military to the limit in order to establish hegemony over Central Asia. These are the defining characteristics of the Obama presidency, and, to quote Tariq Ali, it can only end badly.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Good Germans 

I think that there will be enough disclosures to adopt this as an ongoing American Leftist feature. This one is from the commercial media division, and, note, the Washington Post, the originator of this entry, also published the empathetic portrait of Bybee, the legal proponent of torture who was rewarded with a position as a federal appellate court justice, that I posted as the first entry in this genre. Perhaps, there is a trend emerging here. Hat tip to Gaius over at Undemocracy in America.

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The Sub-Proletarianization of America (Part 5) 

Paul Krugman states the obvious in today's New York Times:

Wages are falling all across America.

Some of the wage cuts, like the givebacks by Chrysler workers, are the price of federal aid. Others, like the tentative agreement on a salary cut here at The Times, are the result of discussions between employers and their union employees. Still others reflect the brute fact of a weak labor market: workers don’t dare protest when their wages are cut, because they don’t think they can find other jobs.

Whatever the specifics, however, falling wages are a symptom of a sick economy.

Krugman, like the classically trained economist that he is, then proceeds to explain the consequences: declining wages when combined with preexisting debt will result in economic stagnation for the indefinite future. And, of course, he advocates the expected interventionist Keynesian solutions: more stimulus, more decisive action on the banks, more job creation.

Poor Paul. No one sent him the memo from Summers and Geithner to Obama wherein they explained that the relentless process of global asset destruction is so extreme that the prospect of any recognizable economic recovery is slight. Similarly, financial institutions are already aware that they will no longer be promiscuously extending credit as they did during the bubble, and, hence, they will never again make such outsized profits in this manner.

In other words, no one has let Krugman in on the dirty secret that the pie has been permanently shrunk as a consequence of the bursting of the bubble, and that finance capital has planned accordingly. The imposition of austerity upon American workers is now express policy within the worlds of government and finance. Policymakers have already considered Krugman's Keynesianism and rejected it. Other measures like relief for distressed homeowners in bankruptcy court and the Employee Free Choice Act have no future as they would divert resources away from a distressed financial sector intent upon using the crisis to intensify control over the global economy.

If only Krugman had more friends specializing in political economy. As I explained back in July 2007, the roadmap is easy to follow:

. . . but what about the people who are losing their homes? What is going to happen to them? The answer is, as we all know, it is going to be brutal. Many of them are going to be pushed into the rental market for the rest of their lives, and many are going to have to leave the locations where they currently reside because even the cost of rent is going to be too much for them. So, we are looking at the prospect of two migrations, one from houses to rentals, and the other from expensive parts of the country to less expensive ones. Furthermore, quite a number of communities built for home owners will rapidly become rental ones. Some may even resemble ghost towns, as it becomes impossible to fill all of the homes with residents.

Left academics would say that the socioeconomic life of the US will subtlely display more and more features of sub proletarization, as more and more people in the lower middle class and even the middle class find themselves forced to migrate internally within the country (an economically generated group of internally displaced people?) and live under conditions of financial insecurity. Analogizing them to global migrants is a stretch, demeaning their struggle for survival, and, yet, many Americans face a future of insecurity in all aspects of their lives.

Unfortunately, as usual, I was too optimistic. As described by Krugman, the victims of this economic downturn will not be limited to those who lost their homes. Everyone who works for a wage is going to be asked to subsidize the preservation of a global neoliberal financial system through an even more ruthless expropriation of labor. Paul Volcker, an Obama advisor, alluded to it in December. I still encounter liberal friends who tell me that a social movement is about to erupt any day now that will force Obama to shed his neoliberal garb in order to don more fashionable FDR clothes. Hope springs eternal until the money runs out, I guess.

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