Sunday, September 29. 2013
Big story this coming week will be the government shutdown, forced
by Republicans in the House for no better reason than that they can.
They've staked out an ignorant position, one voters should remember
next November -- one the Democrats should relentlessly remind voters
of. Moreover, I feel their vindictiveness is aimed explicitly at me.
I'm 62 now and unemployed and the only way I'll be able to buy health
insurance next year is through an ACA exchange. I don't have any links
on this below, but that doesn't mean this isn't important.
Some scattered links this week:
Janet Allon: From the Mean-Spirited to the Asinine: 7 Prime Examples
of Right-Wing Lunacy This Week: Actually, looks like a formula
for a piece she can write every week. The headline list:
- Ken Blackwell: Cutting Food Stamps, Oh So Christian
- Bill O'Reilly: Jesus Died for Our Taxes
- AIG CEO: My Plight Is Similar to Lynch Mob Victims
- Gohmert's Pile (of Crap) -- Obamacare and Immigration Are Plots to Deprive Real Americans of Full-time Jobs
- NRA Lobbyist: Opposing Elephant Slaugher Is Hitlerian Animal Racism
- Bryan Fischer Gets in on the Teenaged Bullying Action
- Kansas Christian Group: Stop Oppressing Our Kids By Teaching Them Science
Tom Engelhardt: Bragging Rights: Eight exceptional(ly dumb) American
achievements of the twenty-first century: Starts quoting and commenting
on Obama's "bomb Syria (but not quite yet)" speech, especially the bit
about "That's what makes us exceptional." Indeed, let us count the ways:
- What other country could have invaded Iraq, hardly knowing the
difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, and still managed to successfully
set off a brutal sectarian civil war and ethnic cleansing campaigns between
the two sects that would subsequently go regional, whose casualty counts
have tipped into the hundreds of thousands, and which is now bouncing back
on Iraq? [ . . . ]
- What other country could magnanimously spend $4-6 trillion on two
"good wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq against lightly armed minority
insurgencies without winning or accomplishing a thing?
[ . . . ]
- And talking about exceptional records, what other military could
have brought an estimated 3.1 million pieces of equipment -- ranging
from tanks and Humvees to porta-potties, coffee makers, and computers --
with it into Iraq, and then transported most of them out again (while
destroying the rest or turning them over to the Iraqis)? Similarly,
in an Afghanistan where the U.S. military is now drawing down its
forces and has already destroyed "more than 170 million pounds worth
of vehicles and other military equipment," what other force would have
decided ahead of time to shred, dismantle, or simply discard $7 billion
worth of equipment (about 20% of what it had brought into the country)?
The general in charge proudly calls this "the largest retrograde mission
in history." [ . . . ]
- What other military could, in a bare few years in Iraq, have
built a staggering 505 bases, ranging from combat outposts to ones
the size of small American towns with their own electricity generators,
water purifiers, fire departments, fast-food restaurants, and even
miniature golf courses at a cost of unknown billions of dollars and
then, only a few years later, abandoned all of them, dismantling some,
turning others over to the Iraqi military or into ghost towns, and
leaving yet others to be looted and stripped?
[ . . . ]
- [ . . . ] Opinion polls there indicate that
a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not-style 97% of Pakistanis consider [America's
drone] strikes "a bad thing." Is there another country on the planet
capable of mobilizing such loathing? [ . . . ]
- And what other power could have secretly and illegally kidnapped
at least 136 suspected terrorists -- some, in fact, innocent of any
such acts or associations -- off the streets of global cities as well
as from the backlands of the planet? [ . . . ]
- Or how about the way the State Department, to the tune of $750
million, constructed in Baghdad the largest, most expensive embassy
compound on the planet -- a 104-acre, Vatican-sized citadel with 27
blast-resistant buildings, an indoor pool, basketball courts, and a
fire station, which was to operate as a command-and-control center
for our ongoing garrisoning of the country and the region? Now, the
garrisons are gone, and the embassy, its staff cut, is a global
white elephant. [ . . . ]
- Or what about this? Between 2002 and 2011, the U.S. poured at
least $51 billion into building up a vast Afghan military.
[ . . . ] In 2012, the latest date for which
we have figures, the Afghan security forces were still a heavily
illiterate, drug-taking, corrupt, and inefficient outfit that was
losing about one-third of its personnel annually (a figure that
may even be on the rise).
We've never been able to shake the notion that America is
exceptional because there are many respects in which it is true.
The real problem comes from inflating the facts into a sense of
moral superiority and destiny -- Madeleine Albright's formulation,
that the United States is "the indispensible nation" sums up this
conceit perfectly, and from there it is only a short step to the
"exceptional(ly dumb)" blunders enumerated above. Some time ago
I found a useful corrective in a Camper Van Beethoven lyric:
"And if you weren't born in America, you'd probably have been
born somewhere else." And having been born somewhere else, you
would likely not be so full of yourself as America's political
class feels the need to be.
Engelhardt also introduces
Dilip Hiro: A World in Which No One Is Listening to the Planet's
Sole Superpower. It's worth noting that not only isn't the US
"indispensible" -- the world is stepping up to take the lead, not
least because the US under Obama (as under Bush) is inapable of
doing the right thing. If was Russia, after all, that secured the
agreement of Syria to give up its chemical weapons, when the only
"solution" the US could think of was to shoot some cruise missiles
its way. And it was Iran that broke the ice in proposing talks to
monitor its nuclear power program when all Obama could think of
is crippling economic sanctions. If this looks like marginalizing
US power, that's largely because US superpowerdom has crawled
into such a tiny mental space already: the Pavlovian impulse to
lash out militarily is only exceeded by the whining when others
decline to follow Washington's lead.
On Iran, see
Can Washington Reciprocate Iran's "Constructive Engagement"?.
John Allen Gay: Obama's Post-Humanitarian Interventionism:
An interesting turn of phrase.
Of course, the administration had many good reasons for making the
distinction -- after all, if its justification for war were saving
lives, it would have acted sooner. And, as officials repeatedly
emphasized, no number of cruise missiles could put Syria back
together again. Yet at the bottom of it all, this was a decision
rooted in the necessities of domestic politics (few Americans wanted
to go into Syria) and of selfish national interests (Syria's war
hurts America, but not in a direct, urgent and vital way). Officials
certainly would have preferred to defend both the norm against killing
innocent civilians and the norm against using chemical weapons. But
they recognized that the means available to them could only defend
I don't think the US has ever entered a war for anything remotely
resembling humanitarian purposes, but US (and other) hawks have often
tried their best to cloak their intents in humanitarian guise. It's
hard to tell whether Obama's unwillingness to join this charade is
because he recognizes that humanitarianism has no political clout
anymore -- the GOP-dominated House, after all, just wiped out the
food stamp program, so how eager will they be to "protect" Syrians
if they could care less whether Americans starve to death -- or
because he recognizes the fundamental deceit of the ploy. After
all, if he enters a war to "help" people, shouldn't he be judged
on whether his war actually does help people? -- a standard which
guarantees failure. Yet he's stuck with this "magnificent military"
(in Madeleine Albright's conventionally inarguable words), ready
to intervene but only in the destructive and self-defeating manner
of its design. A sensible president would start to disassemble a
military that only leads to such bad outcomes, but a clever one
might just try to limit the damage by making the prospect so
Stephen M Walt: Threat Inflation 6.0: Does al-Shabab Really Threaten
the U.S.? While I was in Arkansas, the big story was the "terror"
attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya -- a tragic story, but
nothing on why Somalis would be attacking targets in Kenya (like all
those Kenyan troops that invaded Somalia in 2011. Rather, favorite
angles were whether al-Shabab had recruited Somali-Americans to
take part in the attack, and the implication that they could just
as well attack here.
Ditto al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden didn't get up one day and decide he
wanted to launch a few terrorist attacks, pull out his atlas, and pick
the United States at random. His decision to attack U.S. military forces
and government installations, and then to attack the United States
directly, was reprehensible and an obvious threat, but it didn't come
out of nowhere. On the contrary, the emergence of al Qaeda was a direct
response to various aspects of America's Middle East policy (e.g.,
blanket support for Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
military presence in the Persian Gulf through the 1990s). As I've
noted before, the United States has devoted most of its energy and
effort since then to chasing down bad guys and killing them, but
hardly any time trying to act in ways that would make the terrorists'
message less appealing to potential recruits.
Note that Walt feels the need to remind us of his opposition to
al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, but he doesn't say anything about the many
more people that the US has killed. As such, his argument against
inflating threats of terrorism is that doing so is ineffective. In
effect, his argument inflates the threat as well. Evidently, the
"realist" creed means that we can only talk about ourselves.
On Kenya, see:
David Zarembka: No "Cake Walk" for Kenya in Somalia.
Also, a few links for further study:
Robert Christgau: Blind Lemon Jefferson/Rokia Traore/Robert Sarazin Blake
With Jefferson Hamer and the Powderkegs: The last batch of capsule
reviews written under the benign patronage of Microsoft as the post-Ballmer
beancounters have now decided to dispense entirely with original, much less
expert and professional, content -- thinking, perhaps, that even paltry
profits on zero costs are infinite. Given the logic of the system it's
remarkable that it ever worked at all, but the takeaway lesson is that
we can no longer count on the inefficiencies of the oligarchy to allow
anything worthwhile to be produced. The three reviews provide a microcosm
of Christgau's range of interests: in Robert Sarazin Blake he's found a
remarkable album by someone you've never heard of (I know I hadn't), in
Rokia Traore he shows his pioneering expertise in African pop by not quite
falling for the latest by a relatively established star, and in Blind Lemon
Jefferson he looks back to the first major bluesman of the recorded music
era. But the main reason for following the link is to read the numerous
comments (233 at the moment) with dozens of thoughtful remembrances, if
not of Christgau himself then of the impact his writing and recommendations
have had. Nothing by me, yet -- I've got my own blog to do.
David Denby: Hitler in Hollywood: Comments on two new books:
Ben Urwand: The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler
(Harvard), and Thomas Doherty: Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939
(Columbia), favoring the latter's less acusatory treatment. One thing
people forget now is how respectable Hitler seemed back in the 1930s,
though part of that was because the Nazis were pretty aggressive at
keeping critical views out of print. George Gyssling was one such
agent, and his beat was Hollywood, where he was at least moderately
successful, as shown here.
Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media:
Haven't heard much from him lately, so this interview piece is most
Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends
"so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they
would" -- or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about
that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of
the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a
chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by
an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad
compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny.
"The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put
it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a
bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.
[ . . . ]
"Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone
programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's
the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy
is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that
monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?
"Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say --
'here's a debate' -- our job is to go beyond the debate and find out
who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough.
It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There
are some people -- the New York Times still has investigative
journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president
than I ever thought they would . . . it's like you
don't dare be an outsider any more."
Avi Shlaim: It's now clear: the Oslo peace accords were wrecked by
Netanyahu's bad faith: Actually, it's been clear for a long time,
but the effect was partially masked by Ehud Barak's bad faith, and
ultimately by Ariel Sharon's aggression. But Rabin and Peres hadn't
laid down a very firm foundation either.
David Swainson: Top 45 Lies in Obama's Speech at the UN: I won't
list them all, but particularly appreciate this one:
2. "It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking."
Actually, it took one. The second resulted in a half-step backwards in
"our thinking." The Kellogg-Briand Pact banned all war. The U.N. Charter
re-legalized wars purporting to be either defensive or U.N.-authorized.
After WWI the War Department reverted to a skeletal operating force
(aside from occupying the Phillipines and various spots in Central
America and the Caribbean). After WWII the War Department was renamed
the Department of Defense and after an initial bit of contraction
they got ever larger, deadlier, and more reckless.
29. "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." Iran's what?
Israel started predicting that Iran would develop nuclear weapons
"within five years" back in the mid-1990s. They've occasionally
predicted shorter time frame, and never predicted a longer one,
yet it never happened. In the entire history of nuclear weapons,
no nation has come so close and yet never managed to produce a
weapon. It's almost as if they aren't trying. But they say they're
not trying, so we know they must.
Michael Vlahos: Why Americans Love Bombardment: "Has justice through
retribution become the new American virtue?" Vlahos argues that "bombardment
is theater," which makes me think of the Situationist notion of "spectacle" --
above all else, "shock and awe" over Baghdad promised to be a grand fireworks
show, photographed at just enough distance to spare you the blood and gore.
I'm also reminded of Jim Geraghty's Voting to Kill -- my, what
vicious bloodsuckers we've become.
More critically, it has replaced original, more compassionate framings
of American virtue. Bombing nations has in some cases (especially after
9-11) actually come to stand in our minds for liberation itself. It is
intended not only as the punishment of evil, but also as its very
purification. [ . . ]
We are Americans, and Americans are by definition, exceptional,
because we are chosen. No one else: Not ancien monarchs and sultans,
not Victorian prime ministers and les presidents, can go forth among
humanity today and lay waste to the wicked. Only we Americans are
entitled to do so, declaring all the while the unimpeachable
righteousness of what we do.