March 31, 2009

Torture: It works, all right.

Guest post by Nell of A Lovely Promise

Hey, Tiny Revolutionaries; the Torture Lady's back with another earnest screed. The points in it are probably well known to most readers here, but I'm cross-posting this at Jonathan's invitation. It may also be of use to those of you who comment on blogs where puzzled liberals attribute our torture policy to the personal sadism of Dick Cheney et al., because after all "professional interrogators have established that torture doesn't work". Save your typing fingers and just point them here.

One of the most persistent and discouraging themes that crops up in discussions of torture is the question of whether it "works" or not. The people engaging this question make a fatally wrong assumption: that the goal of torturers is the same as that of legitimate interrogators -- to get reliable information useful for active, circumscribed military operations or police investigations.

But torture does something else altogether, and is designed to do so: it extracts false confessions. These confessions, along with the agony of the torture itself, serve the goals of limitless, lawless "war": to humiliate and break opponents, to divide them from supporters, to terrify those not actively in opposition into staying inactive, and, most importantly, to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place: commando raids, assassinations, spying, kidnaping, secret and/or indefinite (and unreviewable) detention, and further torture.

The mistaken assumption that those in the previous administration who set the torture policy were motivated solely by an urgent need for information has several other bad effects. It reinforces the absurd ticking-bomb hypothetical that allows so many people to justify torture to themselves. It provides a noble-sounding excuse for the officials who promoted torture, making it harder for citizens to muster the will to hold them legally accountable for their crimes: "They were just trying to keep the country safe."

The euphemism of "enhanced interrogation" for torture was chosen by both the Nazis and the Bush-Cheney regime exactly because of its propaganda value in reinforcing this false picture: It's just legitimate questioning that goes a little further. An error of enthusiasm, if you will. An understandable mistake, a policy difference that we sure don't want to criminalize, looking backward with our 20-20 hindsight.

But, as useful as these effects are to the torturing regime, the most important role of the spurious linkage with intelligence-gathering and interrogation is as a screen: It hides the role of torture in creating and expanding the dirty war itself.

The Principals knew by mid-2002 that the vast majority of prisoners they were holding in Guantanamo and elsewhere had no meaningful connection to terror attacks against the U.S., past or planned. But they had a global "war on terror" to pump up. That "war" was vital not only for promoting the long-planned assault on Iraq, but for expanding executive power, cowing political opposition, and maintaining enough of a threat level in the public mind to make voters reluctant to change parties in the next several rounds of elections.

So the torture regime was set in motion and migrated to all the prisons in the dirty war: not just the dozens of CIA secret prisons, but Bagram, Guantanamo, and the many military and secret prisons in Iraq. Statements extracted under torture from a few prisoners could suffice to justify the continued detention of hundreds of others simply by being inserted into the uncontestable list of charges against them. People could be picked up, shipped off to cooperating torturers in Morocco and Syria and Egypt, and the results trumpeted as foiled terror plots to forestall Congressional questions, round up still other men, convince judges to quash lawsuits by asserting that state secrets would be endangered, and feed allies information to justify their own involvement in the dirty war. In Iraq, the process spun into a perpetual motion machine of raids, imprisonment, and "questioning", leading to further raids and captures, as well as the bombing and mortaring of purported "enemy safe houses."

The prolonged failure at Guantanamo to gather the evidence against prisoners into even minimally professional, reviewable form for prosecution was a big red flag that those in charge knew there was no real evidence to be had. The 2005 destruction of the tapes of the CIA's sessions with Abu Zubaydah and Al-Nasiri was intended to hide not their torture, which was well known to the Principals who authorized it in detail, but the way in which the "intelligence" about other "terror plots" was fed to the prisoners through the process rather than originating from them.

The origins of the occupations and wars in which we're now mired are almost completely phony; only the costs are real. They were ginned up to their current scale by the use of torture and the resulting "intelligence." The human, material, political, and propaganda investment up to now makes it all but impossible for those in power to admit to the phoniness at the roots of each conflict.

This self-justifying, self-multiplying quality is inherent to torture. It's poison that seeps everywhere if it's allowed anywhere. That's why the Convention Against Torture prohibits it absolutely -- in all cases, for any reason. That's why jurisdiction is universal. Torture is a grave crime against humanity because of the violence it does not only to the person tortured but also to the society in which it takes place.

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 10:44 AM | Comments (48)

March 29, 2009

Understanding Economists


The financial giant Goldman Sachs spent tens of millions of dollars to bail out two senior executives last fall who were short on cash, according to the bank’s proxy statement filed on Friday.

In an unusual move, Goldman bought back stakes in some internal investment funds from Jon Winkelried, the bank’s co-chief operating officer, and Gregory K. Palm, its general counsel...

The bank paid $38.3 million to Mr. Palm for about a quarter of his investments...

In 2007, [Palm] endowed a professorship in economics at his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Glenn Ellison is MIT's Gregory K. Palm Professor of Economics. Strangely, none of his papers seem to be titled "Gigantic Housing Bubbles and How They Make My Patrons Wealthy and Then Destroy the Entire World Economy." Nor are there any listed as "How My Patrons Get Personally Bailed Out With Massive Infusions of Taxpayer Cash (Forthcoming)."

Here's H.L. Mencken's essay "The Dismal Science":

[T]o what extent is political economy, as professors expound and practice it, a free science, in the sense that mathematics and physiology are free sciences?...

[W]hen one comes to the faculty of political economy one finds that freedom as plainly conditioned, though perhaps not as openly, as in the faculty of theology. And for a plain reason. Political economy, so to speak, hits the employers of the professors where they live. It deals, not with ideas that affect those employers only occasionally or only indirectly or only as ideas, but with ideas that have an imminent and continuous influence upon their personal welfare and security, and that affect profoundly the very foundations of that social and economic structure upon which their whole existence is based. It is, in brief, the science of the ways and means whereby they have come to such estate, and maintain themselves in such estate, that they are able to hire and boss professors...

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:49 PM | Comments (12)

March 28, 2009

Slip Slidin' Away

By: Bernard Chazelle

Why the CEOs of US banks deserve every penny of their astronomical compensations:

Number of US financial institutions ranked in the top 20 worldwide (by market cap):

Year 1999: 11

Year 2009: 3

The top 3 Chinese banks alone dwarf all of America's financial institutions combined.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:01 PM | Comments (22)

March 27, 2009

Have I Lost My Mind?

Is it really true that the New Republic published a 6,000 word profile of Larry Summers, including these sentences:

At first glance, Summers might appear to have less to contribute on the bank and credit-market front, the most dangerous part of the current situation. His exposure to Wall Street over the years has been limited...

...without mentioning Summers spent several years as a managing director of D.E. Shaw, one of the world's largest hedge funds? I'm seriously asking—I'm tired and might have missed it. And that's such an incredible dereliction of basic journalism that I wouldn't think even the New Republic would be capable of it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:50 PM | Comments (14)

Making the Banks Run in the Direction We Want

By: Aaron Datesman

Dave Lindorff had this to say today:

It should be clear at this point that the Goldman cabal burrowed deep inside the Washington apparatus is working not to rescue the U.S. economy, but rather to ensure the survival and enrichment of the big banking establishment, and of course Goldman Sachs.

Well, duh! But then there’s this part, where he burrows into my head and splashes my secret thoughts up on the inner tubes:

If you have an account at any national bank, go there tomorrow and take it out. Transfer it to a local bank in your community. You'll get better service, your money will still be just as safe, and you won't be propping up institutions that have been stealing the country blind.

I have a little money in an account at Bank of America and will do this TOMORROW! And ....well, nothing will happen. I could do this at 10 and then go back to reading the blogs and pondering just how very awful everything either is, or is about to be, at 10:07.

Bank of America is the world’s largest financial services firm. It has more than 6100 retail branches and has received about $50 bn in TARP funds, along with an additional $118 bn in loan guarantees. This is outrageous, of course, but it’s also interesting. The firm’s market capitalization is only $19 bn.

Now, I’m not an economist, but looking at those numbers I get the sense that the firm is not really, uh, solvent. In fact, I think it’s a brain-eating zombie bank. So, it’s an interesting thing about how awful everything is, but I think in the current situation we have a lot more power than we used to have. Do you have an envelope to write on the back of?

I’m guessing it takes at least 500 customers to support a branch. $1000 works for me as an average account balance. This totals up to $3 bn. What do you say we all send this letter to our Congresspersons?

Dear Congressperson,

If it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist. The nation’s largest banks and Wall Street firms have created a tremendous crisis with no accountability for their disgraceful behavior. Unless the Congress takes immediate action to nationalize and break up the nation’s largest financial firms, including Bank of America, I will withdraw my consent from the financial system. On May 5, 2009, I plan to close my accounts and withdraw my $xxxx balance in cash from Bank of America. This is my right as a citizen and as a depositor. I encourage the millions of my fellow citizens who also have accounts with BoA to do the same on this date.

Sincerely, etc.

cc: Kenneth D Lewis, CEO, Bank of America

Credit to Dave Lindorff (who is absolutely correct), but throwing a fit at the counter of the local branch of an enormous bank is not a stick. An activist-organized bank run, on the other hand, would be a very powerful weapon. Could BoA possibly withstand a billion-dollar bank run? If anybody thinks that the answer to this question is yes, I would love to know why you think this.

We have the internet to use. How could we get this done?

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at 01:42 PM | Comments (33)

Now & Then

Barack Obama, March 27, 2009:

"[W]e have a clear and focused Pakistan and Afghanistan."

George W. Bush, March 6, 2003:

"Our mission is clear in Iraq."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:01 PM | Comments (4)

March 26, 2009

Learning to be Submissive

By: Aaron Datesman

My favorite part of being American is the crazy mirror which comes with the gig. When America gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror, somehow we see the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! This is a fantastic trick, I can’t get over it.

This is the reason why I love Michael Moore’s movie Sicko so much. Do you remember his interview with the group of American expats in France? "In France, the government is afraid of the people, they're afraid of protests, they're afraid of reactions from the people, whereas in the States people are afraid of the government. They're afraid of acting up, they're afraid of protesting, they're afraid of getting out."

This hits the nail on the head in my opinion. The submission to authority in this culture is unbelievable. I wonder how it got to be this way?

Oh. Maybe this was how:

Sometime the following year, the Security Chief of the Chicago Black Panther Party, the William O’Neill who had told me that now I could see why I had to pick up the gun, was revealed to have been an FBI infiltrator who worked closely with the police. Probably he was the one who put the drug in Fred Hampton’s coffee that night, so that he would not be able to wake up when the police came to execute him.

The quote is from From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter, the autobiography of David Dellinger. I should have read this book half a lifetime ago. You should read it, too.

— Aaron Datesman

UPDATE BY JON: Right on, French people:

Bosses across the world are having to break bad news to employees as companies go under. But that can be a risky business in France, where some furious workers have taken to holding their managers hostage to demand better pay-offs.

In the latest outbreak of "bossnapping", workers at a pharmaceutical factory were Wednesday holding their boss in his office for a second day to force him to improve their redundancy packages.

No wonder Mitch McConnell is so terrified of the United States turning "into France."

Posted at 10:18 PM | Comments (19)

"Erbarme Dich"

By: Bernard Chazelle

I've been traveling pretty much nonstop these last few weeks and, to make the long airport waits and layovers bearable, I filled my iPod with several versions of Bach's passions. I hadn't done this sort of "comparative" listening in a while and I emerged from the exercise with a renewed appreciation for the difficulty of conducting Bach and the scholarly exigencies of the job. I thought I'd write a few words about the famous St Matthew aria, "Erbarme Dich." This version is conducted by Karl Richter, the ultimate Bach scholar.

First, some context. Bach thought highly of his St Matthew Passion. He called it his best work. Alas, few of his contemporaries shared the sentiment. After a performance in St Thomas Church on Good Friday, 1735, the powers-that-be in Leipzig whispered into Bach's ear that, as long as he kept that theatrical crap out of the Lord's House, everything would be all right. He took the hint and applied for a job in Dresden, 70 miles away, submitting his Mass in Bm as part of his application package. He was turned down. Perhaps that's because Dresden had high standards and, after all, the Mass in Bm is considered by many to be only the second greatest composition in Western music. The greatest? For Seiji Ozawa, it is "without a doubt, the St Matthew Passion."

Bach's two surviving passions (the other two were lost! Imagine literature without Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet...) fell into oblivion after a couple of performances. They were too hard, too long, too demanding, too operatic for Lutheran sensitivities. Ignoring friendly advice, Mendelssohn re-premiered the SMP 100 years later. By doing so, he invented what we term "classical music" today, ie, the modern view of a concert hall as both a school and a mausoleum. Music had never before looked to the past. On that day in 1829, Bach became immortal.

The subtly rhythmic "Erbarme Dich" is as meditative as "Ruht Wohl" but far more melancholy. It is no lullaby. And yet how could anything be sadder than mourning the dead? This aria, indeed, is not about death. It's about something theologically more serious -- betrayal -- and the feeling of guilt that goes with it. The text echoes the amazing opening chorus, "O Lamm Gottes," about which I must blog some day.

A couple of technical points. Surprise, surprise, the melody is eminently hummable. It repeats the same motif over and over: a minor 6th leap followed by a descending minor 3rd. The idea is to shoot up past the tonic from below and then fall back right on top of it. This hook inspired the world's most famous bossa nova, "Manha de Carnaval." But, whereas "Manha de Carnaval" lands on the tonic and moves on, Bach rests there to build harmonic tension. The wonderful Julia Hamari spends a full 4 seconds on that B (check it out at 1:10-1:15). While she holds the tonic, you can hear the tonal center gradually shift from the root chord (Bm) to the subdominant (Em). The harmonic motion is created by the cellos' 3-chord progression G-B7-Em, in a standard cadence that quite remarkably is produced by adding only a single note, 3 times, to the sustained B: first G (to create the major triad GB below the root), then F# (for the B7 sound, ie, the V-th of the Em), and then E for the resolution. It's in such minimalistic harmonic constructions that one can best appreciate Bach's contrapuntal genius. (Julia's compatriot, the great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos, used to talk about the "Proofs from the Book," ie, the math proofs that God keeps under his pillow. No doubt that's where you'll find Bach's harmonies, too.)

Yet the secret of the aria lies not in its melody but its rhythm. The time signature is 12/8, which is that of most slow blues (eg, Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood"). Bach has 12 beats to play with per measure, each one worth an 8th note (yep, that's why it's called 12/8). Like any good bluesman, he arranges them in runs of triplets. His runs go down the natural minor scale of B (recall that natural minor scale = scale of relative major, which here would be D). Hamari sustains that B over 9 beats: GGG-F#F#F#-EEE. (By all means, go ahead and count the 3 triplets by tapping gently on your keyboard 9 times.) This is just like a jazz walking bass line. But instead of Charles Mingus, we've got cellists plucking the strings of their instruments to evoke the tears flowing down Peter's cheeks. (We know that from the prior recitative and the fact that Bach was always big on sound imagery -- there are many wonderful examples of that I'll discuss some other time.) The descending line is relentless. The walking bass goes down and down and down, then comes up for air only to resume its plunge.

Yehudi Menuhin was crazy about the violin obbligatos. He called the "Erbarme Dich" solo the most beautiful piece of music ever written for the violin. To me, the genius of the music's pathos is that it isn't the slightest bit manipulative (that minor-mode affliction so common in popular music.) Here, it's about the sting of remorse. I find the humility and intimacy of the music almost overwhelming. Like a blues tune, it is a deeply personal statement, not a collective one. Of course the blues metaphor should not be stretched too far, but there's a fundamental integrity and spirituality to the music that reminds me a lot of Robert Johnson and John Coltrane. Even though the listener is immensely pleased, in the end that is not the purpose of the music. Bach made it very clear he was writing neither for humans nor for posterity. He was writing "for God." (If I lost 10 children, as he did, maybe I'd be doing the same thing, too.) He never gave in to any pressure to appeal to the local musical tastes. He was a big, tough guy, who was known to brawl in bars in his youth. He was even jailed once. When the local authorities threatened to block his promotion (which they did) if he didn't "simplify" his music, his only reply to them was a loud "Screw you!" Bach was fearless. But his Leipzig years were not happy ones. He had a much easier life composing for the Court (as the Brandenburg concertos make it very clear). But he chose to move to Leipzig to work for the church and take a huge salary cut. That was his own decision: a very Coltrane-like spiritual awakening. Sure, he was convinced his music was superior, but it's fascinating to hear his reasoning: "My music is better because I work harder. Anyone who works as hard as me will write music that is just as good." At least the first sentence is partly true: he did work harder than anyone. It took him one year to write the SMP, and it was performed only twice in his lifetime. It's humbling to think I've listened to it more often than Bach himself.

I'll leave you with a theological conundrum. The plucked cello notes are Peter's tears, but given its pitch the voice quite clearly is not his. So here is the question: whose voice is it?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 01:02 AM | Comments (12)

March 25, 2009

Let The Structural Adjustment Begin!

There's been a common phenomenon in the third world over the past three decades or so. A country's financial sector, in collaboration with the larger financial world, would create some type of gigantic economic fuck up. The IMF would then (in collaboration with the local financial elites) step in and provide loans in return for what was called "structural adjustment." Structural adjustment involved getting rid of any kind of social spending that made life bearable for everyone else.

In other words, the country's financial elites would use the catastrophes they'd created themselves in order to do what they'd always wanted to but couldn't get away with in normal times. They took the profit, and then imposed all the costs on everyone else.

I've long believed U.S. elites would attempt to do this for America as soon as they had the opportunity. Here's Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner today at the Council on Foreign Relations having a jolly laugh with moderator and investment banker Roger Altman about the process now getting under way—all thanks to propaganda assistance from investment banking billionaire Pete Peterson.

For those without a decoder ring, "everyone" being a fiscal hawk means that due to the current financial disaster, they'll soon be coming after Social Security and Medicare:

GEITHNER: Of course, we are all fiscal hawks now because of Pete Peterson. (Laughter.) There are no doves left on the fiscal side. (Laughter.)

ALTMAN: And he deserves credit for that.

Yes, the coming massacre of American lives will be quite funny indeed. (Laughter.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:14 PM | Comments (25)

War Crime Morals

By: Bernard Chazelle

Israel has long boasted about having "the most moral army in the world."

Human Rights Watch claims Israel committed war crimes in its use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells.

OK, so the boast was really about having "the most moral war criminals in the world." Close enough.

But now I am miffed. I thought we were the most moral, the true goodest people. After all, who built those white phosphorus shells which burn through the skin and melt the tender bones of babies? We did! We built every single one of them -- the last thing we still know how to build -- and then we gave them away for free, just like that. Because that's who we are. Because generosity is our middle name, and freedom is something very hot and heavy to drop from the sky.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:15 PM | Comments (31)

What The World Needs Now Is Much Less Transparency From The Washington Post

The Washington Post published an op-ed today by Martin Feldstein. Feldstein explains how Obama's proposed limitation on the deductibility of charitable contributions by upper-income taxpayers is a horrible idea. He's identified as "an economics professor at Harvard University [and] president emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research."

One affiliation the Post left out is that Martin Feldstein is a longtime member of AIG's Board of Directors. He's also a member of the board's Finance Committee.

What does Feldstein have to say about the tax code change? Well:

In effect, the change would be a tax on the charities, reducing their receipts by a dollar for every dollar of extra revenue the government collects. It is hard to imagine a rationale for taxing schools, hospitals, medical research budgets and arts organizations in this way...The proposed tax change would apply to married couples with incomes of more than $250,000...

I dunno. I think one rationale for taxing charities in this way is that the government somehow has to come up with the $180 billion it just handed over to AIG.

Finally, you may be wondering how much people get paid these days to help destroy the world economy via their mind-numbing incompetence and thus necessitate $180 billion bailouts. It turns out to be $274,193.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:28 AM | Comments (10)

March 24, 2009

Robert Parry's #1 Fan

Who reads Robert Parry's groundbreaking website Consortium News, which has uncovered startling stories like the "green light" that Jimmy Carter apparently gave to Saddam Hussein to invade Iran? (You can read the classified government documents that Parry discovered here.)

Apparently one person who does is Iranian leader Ali Khamenei. Here's something Khamenei said in his recent response to Obama:

They showed Saddam [late Iraqi president] a green light. This was another measure by the American government to attack Iran. If Saddam did not have the green light from the Americans, he would have not attacked our borders. They imposed eight years of war on our country. About 300,000 of our young people, our people were martyred in this eight-year war.

Funky. I strongly encourage you to donate to Consortium News' fundraiser.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:57 PM | Comments (4)

Memory Lane

Here's the New York Times story about the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act:

Congress approved landmark legislation today that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commercial banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another's businesses...

"Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century,'' Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said. ''This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.''

The decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 provoked dire warnings from a handful of dissenters that the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation's financial system.

Thank God this Summers guy no longer has any power over American economic policy.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:59 PM | Comments (20)

Scared Of Adults

It's the inability of adults to deal with this kind of thing that (if I'd known about it) would have made me too scared to get out of bed as a child. It's a genuine, frightening problem. And we could easily protect ourselves against it if adults in authority weren't power-mad idiots...and if the rest of us adults could get our acts together and force them to focus on what really matters. But they are, and we can't. So we drift toward various possible catastrophes. (At least when I read "Inconstant Moon" when I was eleven, I didn't think there was some way the adults could have prevented it.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:37 AM | Comments (23)

March 23, 2009

My Happy Childhood

If I had had any idea when I was a child the degree to which the adults running everything have absolutely no idea what they're doing, I would have been so frightened I would never have gotten out of bed.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:35 AM | Comments (19)

March 22, 2009

The Impossibly High Bar Jump

By: John Caruso

I don't know what's funnier: the hypocrisy of Barack Obama's epistle to the Iranians instructing them that their "rightful place in the community of nations...cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions," even as a U.S. nuclear submarine and amphibious assault ship are running into each other a few miles off of Iran's coast, or this assessment of Iran's reply by Brian Murphy of the Associated Press:

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's response was more than just a dismissive slap at the outreach. It was a broad lesson in the mind-set of Iran's all-powerful theocracy and how it will dictate the pace and tone of any new steps by Obama to chip away at their nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze. [...]

Khamenei set the bar impossibly high — demanding an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy, including giving up "unconditional support" for Israel and halting claims that Iran is seeking nuclear arms.

So in Murphy's view, Iran is setting an impossibly high bar by 1) asking U.S. officials to stop going light years beyond their own intelligence services' estimate regarding Iran's nuclear program and 2) asking not that the U.S. stop supporting Israel, but stop doing so unconditionally.  Or in other words, it's completely unreasonable for Iran to ask the U.S. either to stop lying or to treat Israel like any other nation.

And a look at the fuller context of Khamenei's impossibly high bar also shows that Murphy can't distinguish between a demand and a rhetorical question:

Has your hostility towards the Iranian nation changed? Where are its signs? Have you unblocked the assets of the Iranian nation? Have you lifted the oppressive sanctions? Have you given up your mudslinging and making accusations against this great nation and its popular officials? Have you stopped your unconditional support for Israel? What has changed? They give the slogan of change but we have seen nothing in practice. We have seen no change.

Yes, what outrageous "demands" these are.  Why oh why are our enemies so unreasonable?  And why do they insist on locating their countries on top of our oil?

THE DEPTHS OF OUR RESPECT: Glenn Greenwald goes from lamenting that "it's becoming increasingly difficult for honest commentators to do anything else but conclude that the only improvements that will be made by Obama will be cosmetic ones" (in reference to civil liberties assaults and executive power abuses) to lavishing praise on the cosmetic improvement that Obama's message to Iran represents.  He even went so far as to claim that Obama "never once mentions Iran's nuclear program."  What did he think Obama meant by "terror or arms"—handguns?  Slingshots?  Limbs attached at the shoulder?  And Obama made another clear reference to that alleged nuclear program when he said that Iran's "capacity to destroy" wasn't a measure of its greatness.

Yes, Obama's overture to Iran represents a tactical change from the past 30 years, but to characterize it as "deeply respectful" (as Greenwald does) is absurd.  Obama's message was crystal clear in its paternalistic condescension: if only Iran will set aside its terrorism, its mad pursuit of nuclear weapons, its irresponsibility and its rejection of peaceful actions, we might finally deign to let it "take its rightful place in the community of nations."  Or in other words, we'll let Iran come back to the dinner table if it will just apologize for hitting its sister.  This was nothing more than an extended remix of Obama's Inaugural Day dig that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

And then there's the more indirect but no less serious insult of Obama ludicrously boiling down the conflict between the U.S. and Iran to "serious differences that have grown over time."  Apparently our violent overthrow of their elected government in 1953, our subsequent quarter century's worth of support for a brutal dictator, and our backing of Iraq as it killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians are entirely balanced out by their takeover of the U.S. Espionage Den in 1979.  I can't help but recall Jimmy Carter's statement that there was no need for the United States to "apologize or castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability" with respect to Vietnam because "the destruction was mutual."

When I read Obama's message I thought that the least he could have done if he was genuinely committed to change in this case was to apologize for (or even just acknowledge) the U.S.-backed overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953, which is both public knowledge and entirely indefensible.  But even such a small symbolic gesture was too much.  So Khamenei was absolutely right to say that Obama's message was "the slogan of change" rather than the genuine article—and anyone who's able to set aside their U.S.-centric world view for a moment should be able to see that.

— John Caruso

Posted at 01:25 PM | Comments (47)

March 21, 2009

The American Adventure

This is from the high school history textbook The American Adventure:

During Reconstruction many people tried hard to help the black people of the South. Then, for years, most white Americans paid little attention to the blacks. Little by little, however, there grew a new concern for them.

This is from The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy by Glenn Kessler:

...the Bush administration paid too little attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...

Yes, as with black people in the South in the late 19th century, so too with Palestinians during the Bush administration: their only possible problem was that white Americans weren't paying enough attention to them. Their failure to make more of themselves is truly inexplicable.

The American Adventure is quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me. Note that Kessler's book is actually attributing this sentiment to "Europeans"—not surprisingly, since European foreign policy elites play exactly the same role regarding Israel-Palestine that mealymouthed history textbooks play in American schools.

PREVIOUSLY: "Man, the police were after them like Israelis after Palestinians" vs. "We are not blacks."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:34 PM | Comments (13)

March 19, 2009


Below you can watch Stutts graduate Samantha Power explaining just before California's February 5th primary why Armenian-Americans should vote for Barack Obama. At the time she was an adviser to the campaign; now she's on Obama's National Security Council:

POWER: What is amazing about his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and conventional Washington. As your community knows better than anybody, business as usual in Washington leads to certain bad habits that are destructive for human rights and human dignity...[There's] his very forthright statement on the Armenian genocide, his support for the Senate resolution acknowledging the genocide all these years later, his willingness as president to commemorate it, and certainly to call a spade a spade and to speak truth about it. I know him very well and he's a person of incredible integrity and he's not going to focus group his way to making very important policy decisions. He's a true friend of the Armenian people, an acknowledger of the history and I think somebody who can respond to the fierce urgency of now, which is Martin Luther King's way of describing this moment in history, and just how desperate we all are to restore American leadership in the world, which he can do uniquely...[he understands] that leadership is rooted in truth-telling and sometimes hard truth-telling...

I hope you in the Armenian community will take my word for it, but if not, I just hope you'll pay attention the coming days to everything that comes out of that person's mouth, Barack Obama's mouth, because he's a person who can actually be trusted, which distinguishes him from some in the Washington culture...

I know Senator Obama would be hugely grateful for your support on February 5th and in the primary states beyond. Thank you so much.

If Obama (as now appears likely) refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, I would certainly be impressed if Power resigns. But I'm going to go out on a limb and guess she'll decide "the fierce urgency of now" demands that she stay in a position of power.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:42 PM | Comments (31)

Another Feather In The Cap Of The Washington Post's Assignment Editors

What kind of the stories does the Newsletter for America's Richest People (a/k/a the Washington Post) like to cover?

During the past five years, obviously they didn't assign a team to investigate the massive, world-economy destroying catastrophe brewing at AIG. That would have been boring! Plus it would have made many of the Newsletter's readers mad.

But they certainly could make a reporter write a teary story about how hard it is for well-paid financiers to work for AIG today. That's about the horrible problems of rich people, a subject which is always news.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:19 AM | Comments (13)

March 18, 2009

Those Are The Rules

Bradley Burston of Haaretz explains why Avigdor Lieberman is going to be Israel's Foreign Minister:

[N]o one, even some of the most ardent advocates of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, was about to agree to leave Ben-Gurion airport, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within range of the rockets. Suddenly there was a consensus again. And the peace process, the peace movement, and with it Labor and Meretz, were kicked to the curb.

Those are the rules, you see. It doesn't matter whether Israel actually is attacked. The peace camp in Israel will collapse merely if Israel can be attacked. Similarly, Iran may not possess nuclear weapons, nor even the ability to make them.

In fairness to Israel, of course, those are also the rules for the United States. Even if Iraq HAD possessed unconventional weapons, indeed even if it had possessed the ICBMs to use them against the US, that wouldn't have justified the US invasion. Yet it certainly would have caused the peace camp here to shrink to almost nothing.

It's no wonder the US and Israel get along so well. We're both completely insane.

AND: Here's more of Burston's attempt to explain Israel to the uncomprehending world:

10,000 rockets, fired at civilian areas, unprotected by anything — I am truly ashamed to acknowledge — other than miracles.

It is these miracles, these barely averted catastrophes, literally thousands of them, which have become the central fact of Israeli life. That, and an anger which no one outside Israel can know or fully comprehend, an aching, soul-deep frustration, an always humming fear, a sickness and fever over the nearness of true disaster, as well as a sense of abandonment by those abroad who cannot be expected to know what these people, my friends, are going through or why.

I dunno...I bet there might be some people who live pretty close by Israel who could grok that feeling.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:20 PM | Comments (12)

March 17, 2009

Holocaust Denier In Chief

Like every U.S. president for the past thirty years or so, it appears Barack Obama will refuse to acknowledge that the holocaust took place. Of course, it was the Armenian holocaust, so that's perfectly acceptable:

The Obama administration is hesitating on a promised presidential declaration that Armenians were the victims of genocide in the early 20th century, fearful of alienating Turkey when U.S. officials badly want its help.

President Obama and other top administration officials pledged during the presidential campaign to officially designate the 1915 killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide. Many Armenian Americans, who are descendants of the victims and survivors, have long sought such a declaration.

But the administration also has been soliciting Ankara's help on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other security issues amid Turkish warnings that an official U.S. statement would imperil Turkey's assistance.

In almost every meaningful way, this is no different from the behavior of Iran's government regarding World War II's holocaust. Recall that both Condoleezza Rice and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for "commissions" to sort out the knotty problems of what happened in the murky past.

What this demonstrates, I think, is that in many cases holocaust denial may not be motivated at all by hatred of those who were killed. It can just be a banal reaction to present day political realities, with no bigotry involved of any kind. Certainly Obama isn't motivated by anti-Armenianism, and I find it perfectly plausible Ahmadinejad & co. aren't motivated by anti-semitism.

The world is weird.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:44 PM | Comments (34)

March 16, 2009

Public Spirited

September, 2008:

Two weeks ago, the nation’s most powerful regulators and bankers huddled in the Lower Manhattan fortress that is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, desperately trying to stave off disaster.

As the group, led by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., pondered the collapse of one of America’s oldest investment banks, Lehman Brothers, a more dangerous threat emerged: American International Group, the world’s largest insurer, was teetering. A.I.G. needed billions of dollars to right itself and had suddenly begged for help.

One of the Wall Street chief executives participating in the meeting was Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Mr. Paulson’s former firm. Mr. Blankfein had particular reason for concern.

Although it was not widely known, Goldman, a Wall Street stalwart that had seemed immune to its rivals’ woes, was A.I.G.’s largest trading partner, according to six people close to the insurer who requested anonymity because of confidentiality agreements...

A Goldman spokesman said in an interview that the firm was never imperiled by A.I.G.’s troubles and that Mr. Blankfein participated in the Fed discussions to safeguard the entire financial system, not his firm’s own interests.


The disclosure by AIG on Sunday is likely to trigger further criticism of why Goldman, with its many government links, and the European banks were funnelled such huge sums of U.S. taxpayer money after making bad bets on various securities, as well as strengthening the case of those who believe the whole bailout was botched...

Through three separate types of transactions, Goldman received an aggregate $12.9 billion.

"I have robbed this bank not out of self-interest, but rather to safeguard the entire financial system."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:54 PM | Comments (14)

March 15, 2009

Charles Freeman

By: John Caruso

Let's get one thing straight: Charles Freeman most certainly did express support for Chinese repression of the Tiananmen protests:

I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e. that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than -- as would have been both wise and efficacious -- to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo's response to the mob scene at "Tian'anmen" stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action. [...]

I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China, allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government's normal operations. I thus share the hope of the majority in China that no Chinese government will repeat the mistakes of Zhao Ziyang's dilatory tactics of appeasement in dealing with domestic protesters in China.

And in another email Freeman said that the lesson of Tiananmen is that "one should strike hard and strike fast rather than tolerate escalating self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids."  I've seen multiple articles claiming that Freeman was just describing the dominant view in China rather than stating his own views, but as the fragments I've emphasized above make clear, he was doing both.  This doesn't mean that Freeman was happy about the massacre, of course, but he explicitly supports the repression of dissent by China.

Setting that aside, I never understood the euphoria over Freeman's appointment to the National Intelligence Council.  Yes, it's very nice that he said 9/11 was in part caused by U.S. support of Israel and that Israeli violence against Palestinians is a barrier to peace.  But how excited should we really be that someone with relatively sane (though avowedly amoral) views would be summarizing intelligence reports for the emperor and his coterie?  I'd be just as enthused to hear that Obama was mandating waterless urinals in all government buildings.

And while I'm always happy to see the Israel lobby getting kicked in the groin as Freeman made a point of doing after his resignation, I'd have more respect for him if he'd either 1) stuck it out, if it was in fact his own choice to resign, or 2) blown the whistle on the Obamaites if they asked him to leave.  But he decided to do the usual Washington good soldier routine instead.

Overall I find it odd and even a bit discouraging that progressives spent any time considering the significance of the Freeman appointment*.  There's no doubt whatsoever where Obama stands on Israel/Palestine (and many other foreign policy issues)—and the appointment of one somewhat less doctrinaire person to a mid-tier bureaucratic position makes not the slightest difference in that.  I honestly couldn't give a rat's ass who Obama ends up appointing instead, and I don't see why any other progressive should either.

* (Yes, I'm aware of the hilarious irony here.)

— John Caruso

Posted at 02:33 PM | Comments (17)

March 12, 2009

Seymour Hersh On Cheney's "Executive Assassination Ring"

Oh Good:

HERSH: Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

Via Scott Horton at Harper's.

(I should mention that Hersh has previously made claims in speeches that, as far as I know, he has yet to substantiate in subsequent writing.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:15 PM | Comments (50)


I wonder how many of Bernie Madoff's victims voted for Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush? I bet they're glad they got the government off their backs.

Of course, I'm sure many of them voted for Bill Clinton, who helpfully ended the era of big government when it did things like investigate massive financial fraud.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:40 PM | Comments (10)

March 11, 2009

Seems Like Old Times

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have stated repeatedly that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Is that based on the assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies, or are they, like the Bush administration, just saying whatever the fuck they want? As Charles Davis explains, the answer is apparently the latter.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:53 PM | Comments (20)


I watched a recently-recorded Jeopardy! tonight without realizing until it was mentioned at the end that it was a celebrity episode. I still have no idea who any of the three famous people were. Of course, if I haven't heard of them, how famous could they really be? Emilio Estevez, now that was a star!

Get off my e-lawn!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:51 PM | Comments (11)

March 10, 2009

Nice Friends

Via Glenn Greenwald, here's Hillary Clinton talking about her family's friends:

"I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States."

Here's a section from The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, describing what Mubarak's security services did after Ayman al-Zawahiri attempted to assassinate Mubarak in 1995:

To deal with Zawahiri, Egyptian intelligence agents devised a fiendish plan. They lured a thirteen year-old boy named Ahmed into an apartment with the promise of juice and videos. Ahmed was the son of Mohammed Sharraf, a well-known Egyptian fundamentalist and a senior member of [Zawahiri's organization] al-Jihad. The boy was drugged and sodomized; when he awakened, he was confronted with photographs of the homosexual activity and threatened with the prospect of having them shown to his father. For the child, the consequences of such a disclosure were overwhelming. "It could even be that the father would kill him," a source close to Zawahiri admitted.

After this the Egyptian agents got the first boy to lure in a second, whom they also drugged and raped. Then they got the two to spy on Zawahiri in an attempt to kill him. Then Zawahiri caught the two boys spying. And then he had them both shot.

It would be interesting to know how many of the other Clinton family friends have children kidnapped, drugged and sexually abused. Also, I wonder if the Clintons consider this a plus or minus when deciding whether to be friends with them.

(Of course, the U.S. itself seems to have an obsession with kidnapping people and sticking things up their ass. But as far as I know, we confine these activities to adults.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:23 PM | Comments (30)

March 09, 2009

Lies My Lies My Teacher Told Me Told Me

Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of my favorite books. It's perhaps the best one-volume introduction to how "history" is manufactured in America, and is full of fascinating, little-known information about the real, non-manufactured past.

So I chuckled discreetly to myself when I came across this while rereading it:

The U.S. government calls actions such as these [attempts by the U.S. to assassinate or overthrow foreign leaders] "state-sponsored terrorism" when other countries do them to us. We would be indignant to learn of Cuban or Libyan attempts to influence our politics or destabilize our economy. Our government expressed outrage at Iraq's Saddam Hussein for trying to arrange the assassination of former president Bush when he visited Kuwait in 1993 and retaliated with a bombing attack on Baghdad, yet the United States has repeatedly orchestrated similar assassination attempts.

In fact, the alleged 1993 assassination attempt almost certainly never happened. (For more, see Seymour Hersh's contemporary article on the flimsy nature of the evidence.) Yet it's became so accepted as "history" that even a wised-up smartypants like James Loewen accepts it as fact.

What that says about our ability to comprehend the past is distressing. Nevertheless, our world does have a few bright spots, such as the highly enjoyable title of this post.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:59 PM | Comments (18)

New Tomdispatch


Obama's Guantanamo?
Bush's Living Legacy at Bagram Prison

By Karen J. Greenberg

Just when you think you've woken up from a bad dream…

When it comes to offshore injustice and secret prisons, especially our notorious but little known prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, let's hope the Obama years mean never having to complete that sentence.

In the Bush era, those of us who followed his administration's torture, detention, and interrogation policies often felt like we were unwilling participants in a perverse game of hide-and-seek. Whenever one of us stumbled upon a startling new document, a horrific new practice, a dismal new prison environment, or yet another individual implicated in torture policy, the feeling of revelation would soon be superseded by a sneaking suspicion that we were once again looking in the wrong direction, that the Bush administration was playing a Machiavellian game of distraction with us...

Distracted or not, for at least five years some of us have been seeking the hidden outlines of the torture story. Now, President Obama has given it a visible shape by providing a potential endpoint if not to our investigations, then to our focus...

Still, ever since the Oval Office changed hands in January, I've had a nagging feeling that something was amiss. And when I finally focused on it, a single question kept coming to mind: Whatever happened to the U.S. prison at Bagram?

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:56 PM | Comments (5)

March 08, 2009


By: Bernard Chazelle

Kant wrote beautifully about beauty. He called it "finality without end." To understand this sentence, you have to go back to the original meaning of the word finality, which in French has a kinetic quality mostly lost in translation. It conveys purpose and a state of becoming (as in German). In English the emphasis is the destination; in French it's about the planning and the execution. If I draw a circle by hand, my lousy drawing will suggest a perfect circle and draw you toward this imaginary ideal. It will create movement. Much like a dominant 7th pulls you toward the tonic. It gives the art finality. Yes, but it also gives it an end, ie, the perfect circle or the root chord. This destination, for Kant, denies it real beauty. Bach's music is beautiful because it suggests a destination without telling you which one. In fact, Bach was a master at deceptive cadences, the kind of chord sequences that trick you into making wrong predictions. The poet is no longer an artist the minute you can finish his sentences. In music, art is locally predictable (you've got rules) and globally mysterious. The overall finality should never be "resolved."

Finality can mean something else.

Seventeen months ago, lawyers for a man facing execution sought extra time to file a last-minute appeal. Judge Keller refused to delay the closing of her clerk’s office past 5 p.m., even though late filings are common on the day of a scheduled execution. The man, Michael Richard, was put to death by lethal injection a few hours later.

In 1998, Judge Keller rejected the request for a new trial for a mentally retarded man convicted of rape and murder, even though DNA tests after his trial showed that it was not his semen in the victim.

We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent,” she later told the television news program “Frontline.” “We would have no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important.

There's hope Keller will experience her brand of finality first-hand when she's disbarred. Kant would not call it beauty but belated justice.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:08 PM | Comments (10)

March 07, 2009

What's Worse: Toxic Engagement Or Malign Neglect?

By: John Caruso

In the wake of the International Criminal Court's warrant against Omar al Bashir, and with the dawning of a new golden age of enlightened Democratic rule, I thought I'd post an article I wrote a little over a year ago that many ATR readers probably didn't see.

Despite endless handwaving about "politicized prosecutions" and "national sovereignty", the U.S. position on the ICC has always been easy to understand if you keep this one key principle in mind: if you plan on committing war crimes, the last thing you want is an international court that's dedicated to prosecuting them.

The International Criminal Court is a signal example of why I prefer outright Bushian rejectionism to Democratic maneuvering and calculation.  Summarizing Bush's approach to the ICC is easy, of course: he just flipped the bird to the entire world by "unsigning" the Rome Statute--a serious contender for the most ridiculous thing he's done in office.  No ambiguity there.

But Clinton's approach to the ICC was, as with so many other issues, carefully crafted to creation the illusion of cooperation to mask the double dealing.  First he tried to negotiate the ICC to death (like Kyoto), always with the intention of ensuring that it could be used as a bludgeon against official US enemies but with no threat of it being used against the US itself.  And he was in fact successful at getting various restrictions put into the Rome Statute.  In his own words:

The treaty requires that the ICC not supersede or interfere with functioning national judicial systems; that is, the ICC prosecutor is authorised to take action against a suspect only if the country of nationality is unwilling or unable to investigate allegations of egregious crimes by their national.

The US delegation to the Rome Conference worked hard to achieve these limitations, which we believe are essential to the international credibility and success of the ICC.

Despite achieving limitations on this crucial instrument of international justice, Clinton failed to kneecap the ICC in the most important way: by forcing through a ludicrous amendment that would have required states to give consent to have their nationals prosecuted.  Faced with the unacceptable prospect of universal rather than victor's justice, the US proceeded to join human rights stalwarts like Israel, China, Iraq, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen in opposing the Rome Statute, which was adopted by a vote of 120-7 (with 21 abstentions).  The list of opposing countries wasn't initially known, by the way, since in a classic illustration of the Clintonian approach the US called for an unrecorded vote.

The Clinton administration continued trying to submarine the ICC after the Rome Statute was adopted, again pushing for an amendment that would have prevented the Court from prosecuting a national of a state that was not a party to the ICC unless either the state agreed or the UN Security Council gave its consent.  This was basically an attempt to put a multinational gloss on the longstanding US position while actually giving the US veto power over any prosecutions. (The calculated use of the Security Council was a staple of Clinton's foreign policy; his administration always negotiated Security Council resolutions such that actions the US had been forced to accept could only be renewed with a second resolution, but actions the US favored would be automatically renewed unless they were halted by another Security Council resolution--which the US could of course veto.)

Despite his longstanding opposition to the court and his failure to halt the spread of impartial international justice, Clinton signed the Rome Statute shortly before the end of his presidency, no doubt in part as an 11th-hour attempt to burnish his legacy.  But he did so with a recommendation that Bush not submit it for ratification.  To this day, though, the Rome Statute is marked by the limitations his administration achieved--one of the more important measures of his true legacy.

Getting back to the original point, the Bush and Clinton approaches, though very different in execution, have had an identical goal: to shield US officials (and to a lesser extent US allies) from prosecution for their crimes.  But the opposition came with crystal clarity in one case and endless banks of fog in the other--so much so that you need a half hour and a flip chart to explain Clinton's true position (and even then nice liberals will just keep bleating, "But Clinton signed the treaty!").  Ultimately, as with Kyoto, Clinton's toxic engagement was worse than Bush's malign neglect, because the effect was to undermine and weaken the ICC for everyone.

REALITY BONUS: This seems like as good a time as any to remember Bill Clinton's actual feelings about how justice should be dispensed (courtesy of George Snuffleupagus's book All Too Human):

"We’re not inflicting pain on these fuckers,” Clinton said, softly at first. “When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers.” Then, with his face reddening, his voice rising, and his fist pounding his thigh, he leaned into Tony [Lake, his National Security Advisor], as if it was his fault. “I believe in killing people who try to hurt you. And I can’t believe we’re being pushed around by these two-bit pricks."

— John Caruso

Posted at 02:32 PM | Comments (7)

March 06, 2009

Bunking with Bashir

By: Bernard Chazelle

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, for "directing forces who have been murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing large numbers of civilians in Darfur."

The conflict in Darfur has complex shades that Kristof's black-and-white filters can't quite catch, but he's right about this: al-Bashir is every bit the SOB his reputation suggests. Well done, ICC! OK, they apparently forgot Bashir was still in power and free to murder thousands in retaliation but I am being picky now.

Of course, I couldn't shake this nagging suspicion that Bashir was targeted because his nation was a basket case---see how cynical I've become! So I clicked my way into the legal entrails of the ICC web site and found reassurance from this:

One of the fundamental goals of the Statute is to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, which "must not go unpunished."

See? No mention of "non-Caucasians only." Which means that George W Bush, a president known for "directing forces who have been murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing large numbers of civilians in Iraq and elsewhere" will be indicted by the ICC any time now. I believe the Milosevic cell is vacant. Let Bush bunk with Bashir.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:06 PM | Comments (11)

March 04, 2009

The Palestinian Housing Crisis...

By: John Caruso

...has been going on a lot longer than ours. Here's the latest round:

"The owners of 80 houses in the al-Bustan neighbourhood [of annexed East Jerusalem] have received eviction notices saying that the structures will be destroyed because they are illegal," said Hatem Abdel Kader, an official responsible for Jerusalem affairs in the Palestinian government.

He said 1500 people were living in the threatened houses in the neighbourhood abutting the Old City.

He said several of the houses served with demolition orders were built before 1967, when Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War but numerous extensions have been built since.

"The (Jerusalem) municipality used this as a pretext to issue the demolition orders despite appeals by the residents," he said.

But why didn't these scofflaws just get permits?

From 2000 until September 2007:

• For every construction permit granted to a Palestinian by the Civil Administration, 18 other buildings are destroyed and 55 demolition orders are issued
• More than 94% of requests submitted by Palestinians were denied by the Civil Administration
• 33% of all demolition orders issued against Palestinian structures were carried out as opposed to just 7% against the settlements
Only 91 construction permits were granted to Palestinians, while in the same time period 18,472 housing units were constructed in the settlements (According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, completed construction in the Settlements from 2000 till September 2007)

Excuses, excuses.

So let me see if I've got this straight: Israel is planning to demolish dozens of illegal houses because the people in question had no right whatsoever to build there.  Now, I'm getting the unmistakable sense that there's some sort of subtle irony at work here, but I just can't seem to put my finger on it.  What a puzzle.  Oh, I know, I'll randomly quote from a United Nations Security Council resolution—that always helps to clear my mind when I'm having a mental block.  Let's about resolution 446:

The Security Council, [...]

3. Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories;

Hmm, it's not working.  Maybe resolution 465 will do the trick:

The Security Council, [...]

5. Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity...

Nope, still nothing.  If anyone else can find the elusive, deeply buried irony here, let me know, ok?  Otherwise I'll be up all night trying to figure it out.

— John Caruso

Posted at 09:33 PM | Comments (6)

March 03, 2009

Wall Street's Genius

By: Bernard Chazelle

We all knew Wall Street was good at greed. Turns out it's not too shabby at self-protection. Or so implied Simon Johnson, a former chief economist for the IMF, who talked to Terry Gross on Fresh Air today.

I find it baffling that the banks' boards of directors have not resigned yet. In fact, the Treasury Secretary has all but promised Citi's boss, Vikram Pandit, that he would hold on to his job even if the board goes. The big banks have persuaded everyone around them that they need to operate under current management in order for the country to have an economic recovery. That to me is completely at odds with the historical record from crises elsewhere.

Think of the heroic Pandit as the captain of the Titanic. He'll be the last one to leave the corporate jet.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:11 PM | Comments (5)

March 02, 2009

The Sweet, Sweet Sound Of Skepticism

By: John Caruso

I always like it when someone I already respect immensely proves again that the respect is deserved.  The case in point here is Phyllis Bennis, responding to Obama's Iraq reapportionment plan (and I hope she'll excuse me for making a mockery of fair use as I quote a huge chunk of her article):

If this plan were actually a first step towards the unequivocal goal of a complete end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, it would be better than good, it would be fabulous. But that would mean this withdrawal would be the first step towards a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops, pulling out of all the 150,000+ U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors, closing all the U.S. military bases, and ending all U.S. efforts to control Iraqi oil.

So far that is not on Obama's agenda.

The troop withdrawal as planned would leave behind as many as 50,000 U.S. troops. That's an awful lot. Even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thinks that may be too much. She told Rachel Maddow, "I don't know what the justification is for 50,000, at the present...I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000, a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000."

Those troops won't include officially designated "combat" troops. But those tens of thousands of troops will still be occupying Iraq. Doing what? Very likely, just what combat troops do — they would walk and talk and bomb and shoot like combat troops, but they’d be called something else. The New York Times spelled it out last December: describing how military planners believe Obama's goal of pulling out combat troops "could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be 're-missioned,' their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis." That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.

Further, the U.S. agreement with Iraq calls for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by the end of December 2011. President Obama's announcement later this week may even reflect something like this goal too. But. The agreement can be changed. Retired General Barry McCaffrey wrote an internal report for the Pentagon after a trip to Iraq last year, saying, "We should assume that the Iraqi government will eventually ask us to stay beyond 2011 with a residual force of trainers, counterterrorist capabilities, logistics, and air power." My estimate? Perhaps a force of 20,000 to 40,000 troops.   

Bennis is one of those serious think tank lefties who keep their voices steady and their words modulated in order to maintain their mainstream credibility, so that last sentence represents a serious jab on her part.  Zing!  And she's right, of course.  The force Obama is leaving behind is probably very close to the size and type of force he'll want to keep in Iraq indefinitely—so he's essentially trying to sell this indefinite occupation, in something very close to its final form, as a withdrawal.  And we all know what it really means for the United States to have "trainers" and "advisors" in a country.

You can read the rest of Bennis's analysis here.

ALSO: Happily, some of the leaders of the anti-war movement are responding in the right way rather than heaping praise on that great new outfit the emperor's wearing:

"The bad news from our perspective is it's going to take [19 months]," [Leslie Cagan] said. "We think the timeline could be a lot shorter. We're also troubled by the plan to leave literally tens of thousands of troops in Iraq."

Cagan said Obama should leave no troops in Iraq.

"We don't think this is a strong enough plan, which leads us to conclude that our work as an anti-war movement is far from over," she said.

Which is absolutely true, but unfortunately the participation of large numbers of mainstream Democrats in the anti-war movement is over now that there's a Democrat in the White House.  So if there are protests against either the continued presence in Iraq or the renewal of the war in Afghanistan, you can count on them being far smaller than anything we saw when Bush was in power.

— John Caruso

Posted at 02:41 PM | Comments (26)