January 30, 2011
Not By Process But By Outcome
By: John Caruso
This posting of mine from 2007 (comparing Egypt's totally free and fair elections to Syria's and Venezuela's laughable sham elections) is relevant again in light of the incipient and deeply inspiring overthrow of the U.S.-sponsored dictatorship in Egypt, and the attempts of the Obama administration to at least keep the apparatus of oppression in place even if they can't have their good friend Mubarak running it.
The point of that posting was to illustrate how the U.S. judges elections not by process but by outcome. Jeffrey Goldberg, always a reliable source for the guiding philosophy of policy elites, provides another case in point. In assessing the U.S. "propping up dictators for fifty years", Goldberg asks:
Is that such a bad thing? Friends of mine like Reuel Gerecht believe that Arabs, given their druthers, might choose Islamist governments, and that would be okay, because it's part of a long-term process of gradual modernization. I'm not so sure. I support democratization, but the democratization we saw in Gaza ... doesn't seem particularly worth it.
So Goldberg "supports democratization" only if the results are the ones he wants to see. To put it more accurately: Jeffrey Goldberg is adamantly opposed to democracy. Or to put it another way: Jeffrey Goldberg supports democracy in the same sense that the raving jihadist who murdered Theo van Gogh supports freedom of speech.
And this is exactly the sense in which the Obama administration, like all previous administrations, "supports democratization". That's why Hillary Clinton is saying things like this:
What we’re trying to do is to help clear the air, so that those who remain in power, starting with President Mubarak, with his new vice president, with the new prime minister, will begin a process of reaching out, of creating a dialogue that will bring in peaceful activists and representatives of civil society to plan a way forward that will meet the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people.
Helpful of her to inform the Egyptian people that "those who remain in power" should "start with President Mubarak", isn't it? As Clinton said in another interview:
What we are focused on now is a transition that will meet the needs of the Egyptian people and that will truly establish democracy, not just for one election and then no more elections after that, or not for radicals, extremists, violent elements to take over.
Take over from the violent (and highly useful) extremists U.S. administrations like Obama's have been backing to the hilt for 30 years, that is. She continues:
[W]e want to see the outcome of what started as peaceful protests legitimately demanding redress for grievances to result in a true democracy. Not a phony one like we saw with Iranian elections... .
Yes, we know how critical outcome is to judging whether or not an election "results in a true democracy". Clinton poses the question:
We have a calendar that already has elections for the next president scheduled. So there is an action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar. Can there be efforts made to really respond to the political desires of the people so that such an election is free and fair and credible?
Maybe and maybe not, but one way we'll be able to tell whether the results of Egyptian elections are "free and fair and credible" is if the Obama administration says they're not. Happily, it looks like the answer to that question will be in the hands of the Egyptian people rather than the U.S.
IRONY OVERLOAD BONUS: Here's Clinton on yet another talk show:
It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people.
Yes, if there's one thing Clinton can't stand it's faux democracy where the same person just keeps staying in power for 30 years. And if you ever wanted a measure of just how supine the media truly is, look no further than the fact that the only followup to this jaw-dropping remark was: "Before you go, are Americans in danger in Egypt?"
— John Caruso
January 28, 2011
Here's Hillary Clinton in an interview from March, 2009:
We look forward to President Mubarak coming as soon as his schedule would permit. I had a wonderful time with him this morning. 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.
It's hard to say whether this is more embarrassing for the Clintons or the Mubaraks.
This is one of the few times when just calling and writing and yelling at our government really may make a decisive difference. Call/write the White House right now.
January 27, 2011
Best False Equivalency Ever
From a long new article about WikiLeaks by New York Times executive editor Bill Keller:
I’m the first to admit that news organizations, including this one, sometimes get things wrong. We can be overly credulous (as in some of the prewar reporting about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction) or overly cynical about official claims and motives.
Yes, there was that time when the New York Times gleefully passed along government lies and helped start a war that has killed perhaps a million people and will cost three trillion dollars. And then there was that time when they were overly cynical about official claims, which caused such a gigantic catastrophe that Bill Keller can't exactly remember what it was.
January 24, 2011
From the newly-leaked Palestine Papers, here's Tzipi Livni, then Israel's foreign minster, speaking during a meeting with members of the Palestinian Authority in 2007:
LIVNI: I was the Minister of Justice. I am a lawyer…But I am against law -- international law in particular. Law in general.
Back in 1961, Ronald Reagan recorded a record for the AMA explaining how national health insurance in general, and Medicare specifically, would destroy America:
REAGAN: One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine.
What can we do about this? Well, you and I can do a great deal. We can write to our congressmen and to our senators. We can say right now that we want no further encroachment on these individual liberties and freedoms. And at the moment, the key issue is, we do not want socialized medicine...
[I]f you don’t do this and I don’t do this, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.
Later as president, Reagan of course stopped any progress toward national health insurance in its tracks.
Here in 2011, Ronald Reagan's son Ron is 52 years old. And soon he and his sick wife won't have health insurance:
He wends his way to a University of Washington hospital, where Doria, a psychologist, is undergoing treatments for a mysterious degenerative ailment that first hit several years ago. Ron emerges from the hospital holding Doria's left arm while she leans heavily against a crutch in her right hand. They inch forward slowly...
They argue their worries are not unlike the average American's. Although Doria is working, Ron isn't employed these days. He worked as a television political commentator and radio host, but his show on Air America, on which he tended toward liberal flame-throwing, ended a year ago amid the talk radio network's bankruptcy. The couple were relying on his union health insurance. But now that he's got no gig, the insurance expires in a few months. He's not sure what they'll do then.
January 20, 2011
Joe "Sweetheart" Lieberman's Long History of Lying About Iraq and WMD
Just as the sun always rises in the east, so too does Joe Lieberman always lie about Iraq and WMD.
This morning Lieberman told Morning Joe that:
LIEBERMAN: ...the evidence is very clear that [Saddam] was developing weapons of mass destruction...Charles Duelfer conducted the most comprehensive report on behalf of our government...he found, and proved I think, that Saddam...was developing chemical and biological weapons.
Lieberman followed up this embarrassing performance with snide condescension toward Arianna Huffington, who was also on the program:
HUFFINGTON: Well, based on this completely unfounded assumption, I sincerely hope for the sake of the country that you do not become Secretary of Defense.
LIEBERMAN: Now Arianna, these are not unfounded. Go read the Duelfer Report.
HUFFINGTON: There is nothing in the report that proves anything that you have said.
LIEBERMAN: I don't think you've read it, sweetheart.
Obviously this is false. The report that Lieberman was referring to was produced by the Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer. The report certainly isn't impartial, given that it was written by U.S. government officials who—as is obvious from the report—felt considerable pressure to spin things in the most favorable possible way for war supporters like Lieberman. So it's even more notable that it says nothing like what Lieberman claims.
Here's the report's conclusion (available on the CIA website) about Iraq's non-existent chemical weapons program:
Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter...
And here's the report's conclusion about Iraq's non-existent biological weapons program:
...in 1991, Iraqi leaders decided to destroy Iraq’s undeclared weapons stockpile in secret...in late 1995, ISG judges that Baghdad abandoned its existing BW program...ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program...
Of course, as noted, this is far from the first time Joe Lieberman has lied about what was found in Iraq. In fact, he usually lies with even more gay abandon than he did today. Here's Lieberman on the Hugh Hewitt Show back in 2007:
HEWITT: Do you think Saddam had WMD in 2002?
LIEBERMAN: Well, look, he surely, even the Duelfer report, which was the most authoritative report, said he had some, and he had a network of chemical and biological experts working on it, and a kind of fallback network on nukes, which is what he really wanted. Here’s the point. In 2002, Saddam himself said he had weapons of mass destruction, and we gave him every chance, pursuant to the UN resolutions, which the U.S. asked for, to come clean and show us that he had destroyed the inventory of WMD that he filed with the UN as a condition of the end of the Gulf War in ’91, and he wouldn’t do it. So you know, I know people look back and say this was some classic colossal act of deceit by our government. I think everybody in the world, and the best intelligence services, frankly, including most people around Saddam Hussein who’ve been interviewed since, thought that he had WMD.
Let's go through these lies one at a time:
1. "The Dueler report...said he had some." False; see above.
2. "...he had a network of chemical and biological experts working on it." False; see above.
3. "...a kind of fallback network on nukes." God only knows what Lieberman's weaselly words are supposed to mean, but here's what the Duelfer report said on this subject:
Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program. Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to the 1991 war, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years.
4. "In 2002, Saddam himself said he had weapons of mass destruction." Completely false. On the contrary, Iraq and Saddam Hussein said over and over again from 1991 onwards, and especially in the run up to war in 2002 and 2003, that Iraq had no WMD.
5. "...we gave him every chance, pursuant to the UN resolutions, which the U.S. asked for, to come clean...and he wouldn’t do it." Completely false. Iraq explained over and over again to the UN what had happened to its WMD programs after 1991. The reports Iraq filed with the UN say almost exactly the same thing as the CIA's 2004 Duelfer report.
6. "...everybody in the world, and the best intelligence services...thought that he had WMD." Completely false. Here's what Alan Foley, who ran the CIA's efforts to investigate Iraq's WMD programs, thought (according to the book The Italian Letter):
There were strong indications that Foley all along was toeing a line he did not believe. Several days after Bush's State of the Union speech, Foley briefed student officers at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, DC. After the briefing, Melvin Goodman, who had retired from the CIA and was then on the university's faculty, brought Foley into the secure communications area of the Fort McNair compound. Goodman thanked Foley for addressing the students and asked him what weapons of mass destruction he believed would be found after the invasion. "Not much, if anything," Goodman recalled that Foley responded. Foley declined to be interviewed for this book.
On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge Lieberman has never claimed that Saddam Hussein was 2000 feet tall and could shot nuclear laser beams out of his eyes. So I guess we should be grateful for small blessings.
P.S. I would bet $1 million that Joe Lieberman has never read the Iraq Survey Group report.
January 14, 2011
Five Dollar Friday
I'm giving $5 today and every Friday the rest of this month to Glenn Greenwald, who's having a fundraiser for his work at Salon. I assume I don't have to explain why Greenwald is such a valuable member of the bluggosphere. The only place where he could improve is his work ethic—if only he were willing to put in the hours, he could really have an impact.
Ha ha! But seriously, I think the model Greenwald is helping to create—where people are part of an established institution but also bring in money in an entrepreneurial way on their own—is a valuable one that lots of us should aim for.
January 06, 2011
The Last Optimist No Longer Optimistic
William Greider is one of the most optimistic progressive writers in the U.S., seeing silver linings when everyone else sees only clouds. So it takes a lot for him to say this:
Political events of the past two years have delivered a more profound and devastating message: American democracy has been conclusively conquered by American capitalism. Government has been disabled or captured by the formidable powers of private enterprise and concentrated wealth. Self-governing rights that representative democracy conferred on citizens are now usurped by the overbearing demands of corporate and financial interests. Collectively, the corporate sector has its arms around both political parties, the financing of political careers, the production of the policy agendas and propaganda of influential think tanks, and control of most major media.
What the capitalist system wants is more—more wealth, more freedom to do whatever it wishes. This has always been its instinct, unless government intervened to stop it. The objective now is to destroy any remaining forms of government interference, except of course for business subsidies and protections...When the choice comes down to society or capitalism, society regularly loses...
In these terms, the administration of Barack Obama has been a crushing disappointment for those of us who hoped he would be different...Once again, Republicans are mounting an assault on liberalism's crown jewel, Social Security, only this time they might succeed, because the Democratic president is collaborating with them...
Obama has set himself up to make many more "compromises" in the coming months; each time, he will doubtless use the left as a convenient foil. Disparaging "purist" liberals is his way of assuring so-called independents that he stood up to the allegedly far-out demands of his own electoral base. This is a ludicrous ploy...
The power shift did not start with Obama, but his tenure confirms and completes it...Society faces dreadful prospects and profound transformation. When both parties are aligned with corporate power, who will stand up for the people? Who will protect them from the insatiable appetites of capitalist enterprise and help them get through the hard passage ahead? One thing we know for sure from history: there is no natural limit to what capitalism will seek in terms of power and profit. If government does not stand up and apply the brakes, society is defenseless.
Anyway, I guess it's time to rerun this again:
It was a creed written into the founding DNA of a politics designed by billionaires.
Yes we can.
It was whispered by red-faced, round-shouldered, self-hating Lockheed lobbyists who knew no matter who lost the election, they would win.
Yes we can.
It was sung by hedge fund CEOs, eating organic, cruelty-free sashimi on their Gulfstream G550 to Singapore, smiling as they realized their good-hearted Brattleboro librarian opponents had abso-fucking-lutely no idea what they're up against.
Yes we can.
We have been told we cannot do this, by a chorus of gentle graphic designers forwarding that video to all 78 of their Facebook friends. We've been told we cannot betray 20-year-old daughters of corporate lawyers, who want to vote in a way that finally lets them live in Scarsdale and feel good about themselves. We've been told we can't create a system in which someone who began as a decent human being must be utterly broken and perverted by his burning lust to climb to the top of the slipperiest pole on earth.
Yes we can.
Now the hopes of the Viacom executive who used to be in an indie band are the same as the gay investment banker who paints still-lifes as a hobby, the same as the dreams of the Brown Literature Professor who's secretly furious when her Salvadoran maid doesn't clean the bathroom properly. We will remember that there are no nations; there are no peoples. There are no Russians; there are no Arabs; there is no West. There is only one holistic, vast, interwoven, interacting, multivaried, multinational dominion of money. We will begin the next great chapter of human submission with three words that will ring across the universe:
YES WE CAN.
January 05, 2011
From Joe Bageant:
Dear friends, associates and fellow travelers,
As you may or may not know, I have been struck down by an extremely serious form of cancer. Presently I am back in the United States receiving treatment through the U.S. Veterans Administration hospital system. Due to the nature of the massive internal tumor, I am currently unable to even carry on email correspondence or Skype conversations.
Right now I am at a hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia. Once a treatment program has been designed and set in motion, I will probably be transferred back to the Veterans Administration facility near my home in Winchester, Virginia. The condition is inoperable, but it is hoped that with chemotherapy plus the use of a pain killer such as OxyContin, I will be able to resume my online work.
P.S. Thanks to Nell for this interview with Joe Bageant from a few years ago:
January 04, 2011
Life's Funny That Way
There may not be any political author in the U.S. with more pure writing talent than Walter Russell Mead. His first book, Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition, was published in 1987. It's incredibly funny, incredibly knowledgeable about history, and incredibly enjoyable to read. (I swiped the Averell Harriman quote here from it.)
It unfortunately never got much recognition, partly because it was honest about U.S. history and partly because Mead made one badly-timed mistake, and predicted the Soviet Union would be around indefinitely.
But here's what he wrote about the foreign policy of the reinvigorated U.S. right during the Reagan administration. This part does seem to have been fairly, uh, prescient:
No less than American blacks, the people of the Third World can recognize their enemies. The right's economic program for the Third World can be summed up like this: pay off your foreign loans, cut back on your social spending, and allow the continued exploitation of your labor and raw materials by foreign-owned companies. It can be no surprise that a government with such a program [i.e., the Reagan administration] is desperately worried about the spread of international terrorism...if we cannot call this policy prudent, we can at least acknowledge its consistency, and in that respect, perhaps, it is superior to a policy of liberal illusion.
In domestic politics, the administration chose a collision course with black America in the belief that it had little to lose. It has made the same judgement with respect to the Third World—an ill-defined but huge entity that grows better armed with every year. How long the United States can sustain this policy of unyielding hostility to the hope of most of the world's people cannot be predicted; nor can we say what options, if any, we will have when events make this course untenable. A mistaken sense of America's invulnerability undergirds this policy of confrontation; here as in its economic policy the reliance of the right on inappropriate ideological thinking leads it into dangerous territory. With banners flying and trumpets sounding, the right charges on into the unknown, like Custer on the route to Little Big Horn.
And here's the horrifying punchline: something went very wrong in the past 23 years, and Walter Russell Mead went on to become the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. And that's not even the worst part.
I don't know, maybe Walter Russell Mead and Bernie Aronson have the same manager.
January 02, 2011
Twenty Dollar Sunday
Five Dollar Friday is once again late, this time by two days, so $20 is going to support Race for Iran, the website of Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. If they get $500 by the end of the day on Thursday, an anonymous donor will give them another $500, so I hope you can consider contributing yourself. I don't agree with everything they say, but I appreciate how unusual it is for people from such high levels of the U.S. foreign policy establishment to be non-insane.
On the same subject, sort of, at 0:45 below you can see John Lennon describing the people who run the U.S. as "insane." You don't get much of that these days from giant pop stars:
I think all our society is run by insane people for insane objectives...We're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends...I think they're all insane. But I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it.
The 20th Century, Now in Reruns
From what I can tell, the last few centuries of history have gone like this: first, capitalism showed up and changed everything, in both good ways and bad. The good ways were very good (undermining kings and state religions, encouraging the development of new technologies, genuine new wealth) and the bad ways were very bad (massive exploitation and deprivation, genocide in European and U.S. colonies...and more!).
Lots of people looked at this and wondered: can we keep the good parts and get rid of the bad parts? They were communists, or socialists, or Georgists, or whatever. What they weren't were people who were thrilled by the idea of enslaving humanity under the rule of Joseph Stalin. They were simply willing to perceive the reality that capitalism has a lot of downside.
Meanwhile, capitalism seemed to have an extremely difficult time reforming itself in any meaningful way. When anyone suggested that maybe six-year-old workers shouldn't be forced to actually stand in the vat of benzene, the robber barons should have said: "That's a great idea! Any money I'll lose on the vat thing I'll more than make back by not having to constantly train new six-year-olds after the previous ones drop dead!" But they didn't. Instead, they took the person who made the suggestion out behind the factory and shot them.
You can argue how much capitalism had to do with the outbreak of World War I, particularly how conscious the upper crust was about stimulating insane nationalism to avoid dealing with class conflict. But when the war came they thought it was exactly what they needed. A British politician famously said England was "at war quite irrespective of party or class." The German Kaiser was just as happy: "I see no parties anymore, I see only Germans."
Things went so well that they ended up creating exactly what they feared most: a Bolshevik revolution. Hooray!
At this point the capitalists and the remnants of the old aristocracy could have learned their lesson and started to compromise and heal the giant societal wounds caused by capitalism. Instead, they were so resistant to sharing money and power that—especially during the Depression—they preferred supporting fascism to doing anything that would take the wind out of the sails of their most radical opponents.
The result, World War II, was so catastrophic that it penetrated even the thick titanium skulls of the world's economic royalty. For about thirty years they seemed to have accepted that (particularly with communism as an actually existing alternative in the Soviet Union) they had to give a little ground.
Averell Harriman is an interesting example of this evolution. Born in 1891, he was the son of railroad tycoon Edward Henry Harriman and, after graduating from Stutts, inherited the largest fortune in America. In other words, he was just the kind of vicious scumbag who would get into business with the Nazis, and that's exactly what he did via Brown Brothers Harriman.
However, the greatest bloodshed in human history made an impression on Harriman, and he became part of the liberal elite that figured out that allowing the teeming millions to eat every now and then was actually good for business. By 1970 he even had good things to say about social democracy (in a book called America and Russia in a Changing World):
Our social and economic system is working perhaps toward Swedish socialist concepts but not toward Soviet Communism. The government in Sweden has overcome poverty, achieved decent housing and medical services for all, but Sweden has in no way compromised the principle of representative government and concern for civil liberties.
Capitalism had even less to fear by this point from its equal-and-opposite-reaction, communism, since communism had proven itself to be just as capable as capitalism of committing genocide and oppressing huge swaths of humanity. (This suggests to me at least that the real villain in both cases is industrialization, and that it can't happen under any system without gigantic bloodshed.)
Then communism collapsed, taking with it 40 years of intense nuclear terror.
If America had an intelligent upper class, they would have looked at all this and thought: Holy crap we're lucky we got out of the 20th Century alive. We must at all costs avoid making those mistakes again.
Instead, the actual American upper class—with no more Harrimans with a living memory of the Depression and World War II—looked at it and thought: Let's make EVERY SINGLE MISTAKE AGAIN.
That's what's happening right now. Rather than understanding that the problem of the 20th Century was the refusal of capitalism to compromise with human beings, they think the problem of the 20th Century was the few compromises capitalism did make. In fact, even the European upper classes seem to have now forgotten what their grandparents learned via the most direct experience possible.
So they're getting rid of the compromises as quickly as they can. Their goal is apparently to rewind the clock to 1900, add resource wars and incipient environmental catastrophe, and see if history turns out differently this time.
This is so monstrously cruel and stupid it seems beyond the ability of even David and Charles Koch. So why is it happening? I have no intention of ever reading anything written by Karl Marx, but here's how Robert Heilbroner, in The Worldly Philosophers, describes Marx's perspective:
Marx recognized that the economic difficulties of the system were not insuperable. Although anti-monopoly legislation or anti-business-cycle policies were unknown in Marx's day, such activities were not inconceivable: there was nothing inevitable in the physical sense about Marx's vision. The Marxist prediction of decay was founded on a conception of capitalism in which it was politically impossible for a government to set the system's wrongs aright; ideologically, even emotionally impossible...
It is just this lack of social flexibility, this bondage to shortsighted interest, that weakened European capitalism—at least until World War II...It is frightening to look back at the grim determination with which so many nations steadfastly hewed to the very course that he insisted would lead to their undoing. It was as if their governments were unconsciously vindicating Marx's prophecy by obstinately doing exactly what he said they would.
But since Heilbroner was writing in 1980 instead of now, he goes on to say this:
Yet out of the American milieu came a certain pragmatism in dealing with power, private as well as public; and a general subscription to the ideals of democracy which steered the body politic safely past the rocks on which it foundered in so many nations abroad.
It is in these capacities for change that the answer to the Marxian analysis lies. Indeed, the more we examine the history of capitalism, especially in recent decades, the more we learn both to respect the penetration of Marx's thought and to recognize its limitations.
If Heilbroner were still around (he died in 2005), I'm pretty sure he'd be suggesting that Marx may be getting the last laugh. Capitalism looks more and more as though it truly does have a self-destruct mechanism built in. Last time around it took a genocidal war and the threat of nuclear obliteration to get capitalism to submit to a few measures to save it from itself. This time around I think we can be pretty sure that we won't survive whatever would be necessary for capitalism to come to its senses.
Happy New Year!