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What’s wrong with us? (0.44%)

12:23 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

To tell the truth, I’m still reeling from the November elections, a big, hard topic to write about. But it looks like, from the tone and high quality of recent comments here at MyFDL, maybe now is the time. Recently received an e-mail from Diane Gee of Wild Wild Left, a nice smaller blog asking for the return of former writers who’d drifted off during the 2012 election hell/season. My response gets into those damn election results (and my lament):

Diane and all,

Thanks for the e-mail and all the responses to the e-mail. Times are remarkably dark for the left as evidenced by the presidential race and results. I think we are all still reeling from them, which no one at my main blog, myfdl, has written about, me included. (I think the expression of anger and dark thoughts actually are just starting to come out now). Obamney received 98.33%, the far right 1.11%, and the left (Stein, Anderson, Barr) 0.44%. 0.44%. How do you grock that? How do you ‘build’ on it?

I think we need to breathe in and make sense of how remarkably bad left _politics_ are for it to have achieved point zero four four fucking percent in THIS economy. Until that reckoning comes to pass and the right things are done about our too comfortable, too set-in-its-ways house of the left, what is there to say when no one is listening?

fairleft

The problem isn’t just us, of course, it’s the times. This cool comment by chicago dyke (under one of those ‘faux clueless’ “we gotta hold ‘em accountable” posts by someone ‘left-famous’) makes a lot of the foundational points that might help us lefties figure out what’s wrong with something (link added):

chicago dyke January 9th, 2013 at 2:30 pm @55

personally, i think it’s too late and the one world “government” by the superrich is here to stay for a while.

that said, if you’re the hopeful type, spend your time organizing initiatives and ballot movements to do what they did in CA, and end the practice of gerrymandering. sort of amazing what neutral citizens were able to accomplish there, no?

also: note how the interwebs are a curse and a blessing. you know what is very noticeable about sites like this one? our age. where are the teens? i was politically active when i was young; why don’t we have lots of those here? i’m not trying to say the people here do a poor job; this is an excellent blog. but i can’t help but note i’m probably one of only a handful of people who have an electronica collection. and that’s dating myself compared to the 25 and under set.

finally, life at 10$/hr is harsh, and doesn’t leave for a lot of time for political activity. the death of the labor movement in this country, along with the decline of quality public education, is what is making all this horror possible. recognize we’re entering into a new “lost generation” and all that entails.

i don’t mean to sound hopeless. but i agree with a friend of mine (we were just talking about this yesterday) it will be at least ten years before a new, probably unpredictable political movement rises in this country and demands and enacts reform. if not revolution. so many of us are locked into a system that does not allow us to achieve such, right now.

(Electronica?) My response:

fairleft January 9th, 2013 at 10:21 pm @76 (In response to chicago dyke @55)

Yeah, yours is the good common sense assessment of what has already happened to the political/media system. “What should we do about it?” was my comment way up at @4.

Hell, I don’t know, but I think a lot of us older folks are just on automatic pilot, ’cause political discussion is part of what happened at dinner tables and in colleges back thirty, forty years ago. Younger people, the cut-off is really around 40, almost never have that background. Political discussion around the dinner table died because it’s embarrassing to do that unless you have an actual democracy that listens to you and doesn’t treat you like a sucker. And very few could pretend Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan were serious, honest people rather than ‘anything it takes’ salesmen. A couple of manipulating scam artists, and the same with the sold-out parties they belonged to – crass vehicles for redistributing income up. And more recently their successors Obama and Bush, the same thing.

Occupy was a failed attempt to at least have an actual democratic politics in the space of small downtown parks. It briefly inspired a lot of young people, but its failure and partial cooptation into ‘those scary Republican’ electoral politics surely has done the opposite.

Not much to work with on the hope front.

The only thing I’d say is that ten years is much too long a time frame. We could have very different politics soon if Obama continues to grind the economy down and redistribute money up. Basically, when the rich run things they do a progressively crappier job of it from the perspective of the bottom 80%, and we do have ways of letting our masters know we’re pissed off. Take a look around two years from now.

Okay, enough whining about post-democracy. I hate elections. No, better end on a more civilized note. Colin Crouch, from the preceding link:

Post-democracy is like post-industrialism. … All the institutions of democracy remain – we use them. It’s just the energy of the political system and the innovative capacity have moved to other spheres … to rather secret private discourse between great global corporations and governments.

Wait, Obama is _leading_ the fiscal cliff scare campaign

5:34 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Establishment writers, liberal and conservative, in careering or faith-based defiance of reality, continue to frame mainstream political processes as oppositional. The ‘huh?’ head scratching over Aditya Chakrabortty’s new Guardian article starts with the sub-head:

The economic abyss is a distortion peddled by the US right and Obama’s Democrats – just like Britain’s left – need to counter the myth

Wait … wh-at? You’re beseeching “Obama’s Democrats” to what? COUNTER the myth? But, aren’t they, I mean …

Obama demands fast action on fiscal cliff
Election behind him, Obama to talk “fiscal cliff”
Obama to Discuss ‘Fiscal Cliff’ with Labor Leaders

So can it be any more obvious who is leading the campaign to over-hype a fiscal slope into a cliff? Obama! Obama’s Democrats! I can’t believe you haven’t noticed this, so I ask why the perverse denial of reality? Are you just afraid of the career consequences of ditching the liberal/conservative oppositional frame? Have you looked at the main campaign contributors (Big Finance! Wall Street!) to Obama, the Obama Democrats, and to the Republicans, both this year and in 2008? Why hasn’t that blown up your oppositional fantasy world?

What agenda are you selling, Mr. Chakrabortty? The myth that we have two parties, one of which is ‘for us’ and the other ‘right wing’? Sorry, but a President-Obama-led ‘fiscal cliff’ scare campaign is not the place to push that. The evidence emphatically contradicts your thesis. (Helpful hint: peddle that stuff over abortion or gay marriage.)

If you want the details of what the Obama Democrats have planned regarding the slope, listen to former Senate Majority Leader and Obama Democrat Tom Daschle:

“I don’t think there’s any question that entitlement reform will be a part of whatever new agreement is reached,” former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said at an event here Thursday sponsored by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. “I do think cost containment for Medicare and Medicaid will be a very important part of the discussion.”

And when it gets to the final minutes, Obama’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will be ready to clang the debt limit alarm bells:

“Geithner’s role is going to be to ride shotgun on the debt limit and make sure that everybody is sufficiently alarmed about that,” said Robert Bixby, director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan advocate for responsible fiscal policy. “And that would help bring a negotiation to a conclusion.”

Or, just read Glenn Greenwald.

Like you say, we’ve all been here before, this cliff b.s. is the same as the preceding — and wildly successful for big finance and the right — bipartisan/multipartisan scare campaigns, the ones we saw in fall 2008 in the U.S. and in the spring 2010 in Britain, when

Democratic debate was railroaded; the wrong economic policy was followed – and it was all done to avert a wildly inflated threat.

Though in all three cases, a “wrong” economic policy for almost all of society was and is right, great, from the perspective of the rich, Big Finance, big banks, and the neoliberal ideologues who control the major parties in both Britain and the U.S.

Finally, Aditya, another example, your incoherent conclusion:

I can only hope that America’s Democrats learn their lesson from the British experience. Because the right here owned the language and framed the debate.

Again, uh, the opposition between the Democrats and “the right.” What agenda are you serving with that lie?

Comcast Gives Obama & $500,000 Charter Schools Shill Sharpton a Permanent MSNBC Gig

9:01 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

An interesting side-pocket shot: The reputed coziness between Sharpton and the White House. With Princeton rabble-rouser Cornell West, PBS host Tavis Smiley and the Congressional Black Caucus regularly sniping at Obama, the White House needs a water carrier of color. Sharpton is poised to fill the bill.

I am sure it was just a coincidence that Obama stopped by the Martha’s Vineyard digs of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts a couple of days before the Sharpton deal was announced. (Comcast is the parent company of MSNBC). — From The Politics of Sharpton’s New Gig, by Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times, August 29, 2011

When West told Sharpton that he worries this White House … seem[s] more eager to serve the interests of wealthy oligarchs than to serve the black community, then Sharpton really exploded. — April 10, 2011 on MSNBC

What are ‘news’ networks for other than to serve wealthy oligarchs? The Al Sharpton hiring at MSNBC demonstrates on many levels why capitalist-controlled mass media simply doesn’t work if you want a real democracy. Comcast owns NBC, MSNBC, and much of the other mainstream media that sets the U.S. political agenda. August was cut Social Security month, despite the fact that the U.S. desperately needs massive economic stimulus. Last April was anti-public schools month, despite the fact that charter schools, the ballyhooed alternative, only succeed in cutting teacher salaries and destroying unions. But austerity and charters are bedrock positions on the political … left! of the mainstream media.

We know why Sharpton replaced Cent Uygur at MSNBC:

“I said people in Washington had a concern with my tone, which is what [MSNBC President] Phil Griffin told me. I didn’t say that he said that it was the White House. Now, you know, who is ‘the people in Washington’? I think that’s a really great question; [it] probably needs some more investigation.

“You know, a friend of mine just suggested that I watch the ‘60 minutes’ piece from a couple of months ago about Al Sharpton. And I found that to be very curious because ['60 Minutes' correspondent] Leslie Stahl said there — and here I have the quote for you: ‘Sharpton says he’s decided not to criticize the president about anything.’ So the guy who was criticizing the president is out, even though he had really good ratings, and the guy who has decided not to criticize the president about anything is in. That’s interesting.” — Cent Uygur, July 24, 2011

An example of the democracy crisis caused by corporate-profits mainstream media involves its recent and ongoing anti-public-schools crusade. NBC has led that effort, as highlighted last September by what The Daily Howler (essential on these matters) called a week of ”teacher-bashing special broadcasts,” all shilling for ‘Waiting for Superman,’ the anti-public-schools documentary. Looking back in March of this year, Howler wrote, “When it comes to reporting on public schools, NBC News gets a failing grade, a grade it has thoroughly earned.” Howler noted in late September 2010 the public schools standard script and who was pounding it hardest:

In th[e] Standard Scripted Assessment, teachers and their teacher unions are the villains of the piece; they are the reason—the only reason—why “this nation’s schools, particularly the big city ones, are an unforgivable mess.” That script is part of a much larger war, in which the nation’s plutocrats began to target the nation’s unions about forty years ago. But when it comes to those teachers unions, every good journalist knows what to say. NBC’s mewling David Gregory recited the script on yesterday’s Meet the Press, although he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about when it comes to the nation’s schools. As the day proceeded on MSNBC, Brian Williams, Joe and Mika all continued to pound the script home.

Okay, that’s all well-known to us real leftists, but not Al Sharpton’s role in it, specifically in blunting African-American opposition to New York City’s lurch toward private charters. I first noticed Sharpton’s name in that context in ‘Obama’s Neoliberal Stance on Charter Schools‘:

It should also be no surprise that the corporate controlled media is beating the drums for the neoliberal agenda to privatize schools. As Danny Weil outlines in “Corporate School Hype and How It’s Managed,” NPR, CNN, PBS, 20/20 and Oprah Winfrey are all guilty of staging “informercials” promoting school privatization via the formation of charter schools as a solution to the “crisis” in public schools. No pro-public school advocates are invited to challenge the assertions presented, and there is no disclosure of ideological or financial (as in the case of controversial civil rights leader Al Sharpton) ties to right wing think tanks and school privatization proponents. — Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall, Alternet, March 2011

That link led to an excellent series of August 2009 articles — ‘Obama and Duncan’s Education Policy: Like Bush’s, Only Worse‘ — by Danny Weil in Counterpunch. Here are the facts on Sharpton and the $500,000 reasons he suddenly fell in love back in 2009 with charter schools:

On April 1, 2009, while putting the finishing touches on the second edition of this charter school book, my attention was drawn to a news report in the New York Daily News by the journalist, Juan Gonzalez.  The article, entitled “Rev. Al Sharpton’s 500G link to education reform” detailed financial wheeling and dealing, skilled manipulation, personal gain, payoffs through third party intermediaries, front groups, cronyism and rigged public relations campaigns and events designed to influence and manipulate public sentiment on matters of educational policy, especially charter schools.

It should be no surprise that the Reverend Al Sharpton, the self-proclaimed civil rights leader, would be linked to personal financial controversies and political scandals over educational policies in New York City and elsewhere.  … The news report detailed secretive dealings and hidden financial payoffs involving Sharpton, the current New York City school Chancellor, Joel Klein, Harold Levy (former New York Chancellor of Education), Joe Williams a strong charter school advocate with his own ‘front group’, Wall Street financiers and the overnight creation of what has come to be known as ‘The Education Equality Project’ (EEP), an ‘educational reform group’ which both Joel Klein and the Reverend Sharpton founded back in 2008.  …

What the [EEP] website fails to mention, however, and what Gonzalez was able to uncover, is that Sharpton’s own organization, The National Action Network, was immediately paid $500,000 for Sharpton’s consent to endorse, involve and partner himself with Joel Klein to launch the new Education Equality Project.  The cash no doubt was timely, and quite handy, for at the time of the payment Sharpton’s National Action Network had already agreed to pay the US government $1,000,000 dollars in back taxes and penalties as a result of a criminal investigation – a combination of the organizations failure to follow tax law as well as Sharpton’s own complicity in personal tax evasion. 

Public school teacher unions are one of the last bastions of unionism in the U.S. Ask Wisconsin the degree to which teacher and other public employee unions are a target of teaparty Republicans and neoliberal Democrats. MSNBC is the only ostensibly ‘left’ mainstream cable channel. It just gave Al Sharpton, an explicitly bought-and-paid-for charter school shill, one of its main talk show slots. Just another example of why a major plank of a ‘post-revolutionary’ real democracy must include democratization of the mainstream news media.

9 Mo’ Days (!) of Obama Boehner Congress Crisis Show (WARNING: poems)

11:43 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Nine more days till August 2. Jeebus, that’s 216 hours! N Read the rest of this entry →

Obama’s Petraeus CIA Nomination: Drones Not Peace in Afghanistan/Pakistan

8:25 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

How’s that Nobel Peace Prize winner working out for us? The Washington Post writes (emphasis added):

. . . perhaps most significantly, the [CIA] is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones. . . .

[CIA insiders] voiced concern that Petraeus is too wedded to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraqand the troop-heavy, counterinsurgency strategy he designed — to deliver impartial assessments of those wars as head of the CIA.

Indeed, over the past year the CIA has generally presented a more pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan than Petraeus has while he has pushed for an extended troop buildup.

And Blue Floridian adds truth about Obama’s nomination of Petraeus that mainstream places like WaPost won’t:

. . . this means there will never be any accountability for his wrong moves in Afghanistan. Petraeus nearly single handedly destroyed any ability for the U.S. to extricate itself from Afghanistan in the very near future. And his plans did not work, are not working and are leading to the destruction of more lives and our country and their country. He is responsible and he will never be held responsible.

Yeah, let’s not let an immediate and real chance for peace stand in the way of Petraeus’s favored option, a long-term imperial occupation of (“partnership deal” with) Afghanistan (emphasis added):

The Wall Street Journal reports that in an April 16 meeting in Kabul, [Pakistan] Prime Minister Gilani told Afghan President Karzai that the U.S. had failed both Pakistan and Afghanistan and that Karzai should “forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country.” Gilani also reportedly urged Karzai to form a long-term partnership with Pakistan and China in order to revitalize Afghanistan’s economy and negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Though U.S. officials have privately played down the Pakistani proposal, General Petraeus has met Karzai three times since April 16, “in part to reassure the Afghan leader that he has America’s support, and to nudge forward progress on the partnership deal.”

More on the endless warrior’s plans for Afghanistan:

Gen. David Petraeus and the Pentagon have yet to accept the notion of talks with Taliban leaders. So far they have only embraced a policy of “reintegration,” which aims at splitting and weakening the Taliban, and not “reconciliation” which means negotiating with them.

A European diplomat depicted this stance rather graphically: “the U.S. military only wants to talk with their boots on the Taliban’s neck.” This approach no longer enjoys the confidence either of the international community or of a majority of Americans. Above all the Afghans want an end to the fighting and a chance at peace.

Nobody knows whether the U.S. will leave (YES, DO IT!) because of Petraeus’s failure to effectively pacify Afghanistan or whether it will re-commit to long-term war and death. But, certainly, Obama moving Petreaus to the CIA is bad news for Afghanistan (and for Pakistan too). Pakistani defense analyst Asif Haroon Raja seems of two minds on the “will they leave or won’t they” thing in the following two paragraphs (emphasis added: how does 2024 grab ya?):

The US reinforced the Lisbon plan and extended its departure date from Afghanistan to 2014. It is now having second thoughts and is throwing feelers that it may stay up to 2024. Karzai stated in February 2011 that Washington intends to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. The US has for long been planning to convert Baghram in north, Kandahar in south, Shindad in west, Herat and Kabul as military bases from where Pentagon can conduct surveillance and combat operations within and outside Afghanistan. These places are being speedily fortified and modernised. The US Ambassador Cameron Munter has now stated that the US will not leave Afghanistan.

Although hardnosed hawks have softened their mulish stance to some extent, it will still require more time before they get rid of their conceited ego and start seeing the changed ground reality objectively and astutely. It may take another 1-2 years of further bloodshed before the realization sinks into their jaundiced minds that hope of victory, or forcing Taliban to agree to their conditions is illusive. Resurgence of Taliban, casualty factor, growth of psychiatric illnesses among the troops, home pressure, melting economy and growing instability in Middle East are some of the factors that have converted USA from a hunter to a hunted. This change in profile would compel occupation forces to retreat well before the given cutout time.

Yeah, okay, but mebbe defense analyst Raja doesn’t get something about 2011 USA: Jaundiced Minds Rule, BABY!

Ultimately, though, Glenn Greenwald reminds us of the big picture, that Petreaus to the CIA is a symptom but not the disease itself. Know the (emphasis added) disease, people:

The nomination of Petraeus doesn’t change much; it merely reflects how Washington is run. That George Bush’s favorite war-commanding General — who advocated for and oversaw the Surge in Iraq — is also Barack Obama’s favorite war-commanding General, and that Obama is now appointing him to run a nominally civilian agency that has been converted into an “increasingly militarized” arm of the American war-fighting state, says all one needs to know about the fully bipartisan militarization of American policy. There’s little functional difference between running America’s multiple wars as a General and running them as CIA Director because American institutions in the National Security State are all devoted to the same overarching cause: Endless War.

And still the ‘left’ nominates no one to run against Obama, currently conducting five wars in the Middle East (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Pakistan). Amazing, sad, predictable ‘careering’ of Democratic Party fake leftists and fake peaceniks.

The Libya Ceasefire We Rejected

3:20 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

When a nation in conflict with an imperial power declares a complete and unilateral ceasefire and states that it wants UN inspectors in country, now, to make sure the ceasefire is real and that civilians are protected, what is a military imperialist coalition to do? If the U.S. and its subordinates had been sincere about protecting civilians and so on, they would’ve at least expressed positive interest in the ‘offer’ (especially its UN monitors provision!), replied with a confidence-building measure, and asked ”its” rebels to stand down briefly. But that is not what happened early on March 19. What did happen is instructive.

Libya declares ceasefire after UN resolution
Updated Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:55am AEDT

Libya’s foreign minister has announced an immediate halt to all military operations in the country, following an earlier move by the United Nations which authorised military strikes to protect Libyan civilians.”Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire and an immediate halt to all military operations,” foreign minister Mussa Kussa told a press conference from the capital, Tripoli, on Friday (local time).”(Libya) takes great interest in protecting civilians,” he said, adding that the country would also protect all foreigners and foreign assets in Libya.Mr Kussa said because Libya is a member of the United Nations, it is “obliged to accept the UN Security Council’s resolutions.” 

But then, say those who trust reports from one side in a civil war, didn’t the rebels and Western news reports tell us that Libya had ignored its own ceasefire and kept on fighting?

Yes, they did, but that doesn’t mean those reports, by one side in an armed conflict, were true. We don’t in fact know whether Libya ceased firing. Libya said that it did, while those attacking Libya said that it did not.

We do know that neither the rebels nor the U.S. and its allies, in response to Libya’s declaration, either proposed or declared their own unilateral ceasefires.

How could we have been sure, how can we ever be sure that Libya had/has ceased fire? How could we have been sure, how can we ever be sure that Libyan civilians in combat zones (on both sides of the civil war) were and are safe and secure?

With UN experts on the ground monitoring the alleged ceasefire. And that is exactly what Libya has repeatedly asked for beginning late on March 18. Libya has received no response at all to that suggestion, other than cruise missiles.

What was the actual Western response to Libya’s ceasefire declaration: immediate disbelief and then, officially, the West added non-negotiable demands (see below) beyond a complete ceasefire. One of the non-negotiable demands was removal of Qaddafi as Libya’s ruler. No, that kind of response is not helpful for advancing the Libya conflict toward a peaceful resolution.

From the West’s actual response, of course, we saw exactly what the real intent of the air war was and is. Which we’ve known all along: the West intends to overthrow the Qaddafi regime and put in place a more or less puppet regime, much like the ones it has installed in most of the oil-rich Middle East nations. At the same time it is happy that the air war demonstrates once again the sometimes hellish consequences of choosing sovereignty and resisting Western corporate globalization.

As usual when the West is insincere and intent on war, when ’the bad guys’ meet its ostensible and not unreasonable demands, it quickly comes up with additional and non-negotiable ones that are impossible to meet. So, after Libya declared a unilateral ceasefire and asked for UN inspectors to come in and make sure the ceasefire was real and make sure civilians were safe and secure, we got the following:

Later, a joint statement by the UK, France and the US demanded that Gaddafi’s troops stop their advance on Benghazi and pull back from the towns on Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya.

It also said water, electricity and gas supplies must be re-established to all areas, and humanitarian aid allowed to reach the Libyan people.

These terms were non-negotiable, the statement added. …

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US wanted to see pro-Gaddafi forces withdraw a “significant distance away” from their current positions in the east of the country close to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

Clinton, just to make clear the U.S. wanted war and not a UN-monitored ceasefire, added the additional demand that the ruler of the other side must capitulate and surrender (and then, as other reports had indicated, stand trial in a Western imperial court for capital war crimes). In the strange present tense of a USA Today report:

Clinton calls on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to end the violence and pull his forces back from their campaign against rebels in eastern Libyan.

“The first and overwhelmingly urgent action is to end the violence,” she says. “We have to see a very clear set of decisions that are operationalized on the ground by the Gadhafi forces to move physically a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursuing their campaign against the opposition.”

She emphasizes that Gadhafi must step down. She calls the United Nations resolution for a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to end the violence against rebels a “strong message that needs to be heeded.”

“We do believe that a final resolution of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Col. Gadhafi to leave,” she says. “But let’s take this one step at a time.”

President Obama two days later echoed Clinton’s comment on Libya’s ruler, that “he needs to go.” So here is what our Nobel Peace Prize President is advocating tonight: regime overthrow and militarized imperialism that advances corporate globalization and the naked self-interest of a few rich oil corporations. We learned that on the first night of the conflict, from the U.S. and its allies’ response to Libya’s unilateral ceasefire.

It’s the U.S. vs. the Egyptian People (Mubarak’s Just Our Dictator)

4:48 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

This is not about Mubarak. The U.S., us, we’re the real boss in Egypt. The people in the Egyptian streets want democracy. The U.S. certainly does NOT want to give them that, because it rejects who the Egyptians would vote for. If you’re uncertain of the preceding truths, simply read more Wikileaks (see below for links).

And then there’s why the U.S. requires an oppressive, anti-democratic Egypt, briefly and from an unlikely source, JTA:

Egypt’s $1.3 billion in annual aid [from the U.S.] — most of it in defense assistance — is rooted in its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

More on that topic here, in this interview with U.S. state dept spokesman P.J. Crowley on Al-Jazeera (hat tips to Mondoweiss and shergald):

Rattansi: But you have more leverage than that. Surely the secretary of state or the President can speak to President Mubarak and say, “Call off your repressive security forces, now begin a transition to democracy, and stop torturing people.”

Crowley: But again, you’re casting that in zero sum terms and I reject that. We respect what Egypt contributes to the region, it is a stabilizing force, it has made its own peace with Israel, and is pursuing normal relations with Israel, we think that’s important, we think that’s a model that the region should adopt broadly speaking. at the same time, we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia other countries do need to reform, they do need to respond to the needs of their people, and we encourage that reform and are contributing across the region to that reform. …

In any case, if you read and watch the news using my title as your filter, it becomes easy to understand U.S. reaction, and easy to figure out what President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are likely saying to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak behind the scenes. The second is way more important, by the way. You wouldn’t expect anything different than the following from Ms. Clinton, on ABC:

A number of Egyptians expressed frustration with the U.S. government and President Obama, telling ABC News that for all the talk about freedom, the U.S. is not supporting it in Egypt. One protester pointed to the fact that the tear gas canisters being used by the police are made in the U.S. …

Earlier today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Egyptian government to open cell phone and internet lines, and also urged protesters to march peacefully, saying “violence will not make these grievances go away.” …

“We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by the Egyptian police and security forces against protesters, and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protestors should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully,” Clinton said, in the most forceful tone she has employed since protests began this week. …

But Clinton dodged ABC News’ question about the United States condemning the crackdown and wouldn’t respond to questions on Mubarak’s fate.

Or this exchange on PBS, with Vice-President Joe Biden, becomes entirely unsurprising if you ‘know’ that the U.S. and democracy protestors in Egypt are the opposing teams:

JIM LEHRER: The word—the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

JOE BIDEN: Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.

And I think that it would be—I would not refer to him as a dictator.

The latest news is that the U.S. will review aid to our dictatorship. Yes, review the aid, appoint a commission to review it, issue a long-winded report nine months from now. Uh, is anyone buying the mainstream media’s notion that the U.S. is somehow ‘walking a tightrope between the protestors and Mubarak’? If so, then Wikileaks hasn’t done its job: it hasn’t taught you to distinguish the tinny-sounding folderol for public consumption and what really goes on behind the scenes. Perhaps read Simon Tisdall at the Guardian for some reality shock therapy:

Caught off guard by the escalating unrest in Egypt, the Obama administration is desperate to avoid any public appearance of taking sides. But Washington’s close, longstanding political and military ties to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, plus annual financial support worth about $1.5bn, undermine its claims to neutrality.

While the US favours Egyptian political reform in theory, in practice it props up an authoritarian system for pragmatic reasons of national self-interest. It behaved in much the same way towards Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s, when Iraq was at war with Iran. A similar tacit bargain governs relations with Saudi Arabia. That’s why, for many Egyptians, the US is part of the problem. …

Clinton also struck a lopsided note. “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” she said. Against a backdrop of street battles, beatings-up, teargas, flying bricks, mass detentions and attempts to shut information networks, her words sounded unreal, even foolish.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the establishment rebel who joined the protests, was flabbergasted. “If you would like to know why the United States does not have credibility in the Middle East, that is precisely the answer,” he said.

Below is the essence of an article on the latest Egypt WIKILEAKS cables. By the way, should Obama and Clinton be embarrassed they made a clear policy decision to be even nicer than Bush to ‘our’ dictator?

WikiLeaks cables: US ambassador in Cairo calls for less confrontation in dealings with Egypt
By Sylvia Hui (CP) – 5 hours ago

The U.S. ambassador in Cairo warned Washington to be less confrontational in its dealings with Egypt, toning down human rights pressure to avoid jeopardizing relations with the Middle East ally, dozens of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks Friday showed.

… The cables have the potential to aggravate the situation further because they offer specifics on police brutality and unease about the jailing of dissidents.

Before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s first visit to the Obama White House in 2009, U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey had recommended Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a more private and less confrontational approach in pressuring Mubarak. …

She pointed out how former President George W. Bush’s public “name and shame” approach had alienated Egypt from U.S. views.

Here’s another Wikileaks link: US reported ‘routine’ police brutality in Egypt, WikiLeaks cables show. We’ve known for decades what Mubarak is about. Obama and Clinton decided he needed even gentler treatment, along with our yearly bribe of $1.3 or $1.5 billion. Are you angry that we are doing this?

Obama vs. Social Security Trial Balloon up!

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, U.S. Voters Want to Soak the Rich in order to fight the deficit. Matthew Yglesias writes that the only measures a majority of voters supported were

lower Medicare benefits for the rich, higher Social Security taxes for the rich, higher income taxes for the rich, higher corporate income tax, and lower Medicare payment rates. That’s pretty much an aggressively leveling agenda.

(Like Yglesias I’ll note in passing that the WSJ headlined their ‘editorial pretending to be news’ on the poll "Voters Back Tough Steps to Reduce Budget Deficit.")

But, unfortunately for all but the ruling elite, for President Obama (through his appointed commission) the way to cut the deficit is to soak the old by cutting Social Security:

In addition to raising the retirement age, which is now set to reach age 67 in 2027, specific cuts under consideration include lowering benefits for wealthier retires and trimming annual cost-of-living increases, perhaps only for wealthier retirees, people familiar with the talks said.

On the tax side, the leading idea is to increase the share of earned income that is subject to Social Security taxes, officials said. Under current law, income beyond $106,000 is exempt. Another idea is to increase the tax rate itself, said a Democrat on the commission.

The next paragraph of the WSJ piece is the ‘get a clue’ one for those who still don’t ‘get’ Obama:

Even before the commission settles on a plan, many liberals are vowing to block any cut in retirement benefits. But the White House [that’s Obama] and the powerful senior group AARP appear open to a deal.

This simply reminds us of what we long should have known about Obama. Alan Nasser’s excellent "The Neoliberal Attack on Social Security" points out (emphasis added):

Reduced benefits and a shorter retirement are the favored starting points, in the name of reducing the deficit. But the Obama boys are too smart to talk about the coming blows to workers. Even as they are in the process of effecting the “reforms”, they’d have you worry about the Republicans. . . . Obama’s neoliberalism is his own, not a response to external pressure. He made it clear before his election that he holds the New Deal and the Great Society in derision, and regards Ronald Reagan as America’s most prophetic post-War president.

Yes, of course Obama is a ‘Social Security Crisis‘ neoliberal, as anyone who read "Obama’s 3 Right-Wing Economists" long ago should’ve realized. But, probably not a particularly entrenched one, as the second sentence below indicates:

It’s probably important to remember that Obama is both a member of the ruling elite and 100% a lawyer, and the basic approach in that industry is serving clients’ needs regardless of your own personal beliefs. I’m sure he has personal beliefs on [financial and health care reform], but they’re very general/flexible and not particularly important to his job. His job is to survive politically while serving his clients, a word he (like all mainstream politicians) interprets as meaning ‘campaign contribution heavy hitters’. And those clients’ fundamental demand is to write most of the specifics of laws, including ‘reforms’, directed at their industries.

To draw optimism from the above, "His job is to survive politically . . ." is the key. It’s fairly simple: Obama will do all he can for his clients but damn well wants 2010 not to be catastrophic and wants a second term in 2012. So there’s a way for the left, or just those that don’t want Social Security to be cut, to get to Obama. But the problem now is that the organized left utterly refuses to do so. We must threaten what Obama holds dear and now, when he is floating the cutbacks trial balloon in the WSJ, but the bureaucratic left continues to act as his mouthpiece on the issue. For example, writes Nasser, observe MoveOn, which

apparently wants you to know that there is a political movement among elites to assault Social Security, but you are to associate this threat with Republicans only. Not a word about alerting the electorate to Obama and his deficit reduction panel. No suggestion that the Democratic faithful announce that the president will lose their vote if he supports the recommendations of the panel.

And how will the Obama’s deficit commission’s new openness on planned Social Security cutbacks affect the Democratic Party? How should it affect the Democratic Party? Well, of course, Democratic Party Social Security mealy-mouthing and in fact anti-populism certainly right now is shedding voters. The people listen carefully, and do not hear "no cuts."

But client wants trump popular need if you can get away with it, and maybe Obama will. After all, there still is no alternative to the two-party monopoly, nor is there within the Democratic Party any insurgent anti-neoliberal movement to challenge Obama. This despite 10% plus real unemployment, flat-lined economy, a continued two-front war in the Middle East, capitulations to the health care and financial industries on ‘their’ legislation, failed labor law reform, and now open trial ballooning of ‘cut Social Security.’

Broadly, what we need to learn is that populist anger is the mark of a real left and an indication that politicians and activist bureaucrats (like those at MoveOn) are serious, or have been scared by voter anger into being serious, about this fundamental fight between big money and the rest of us. As I’ve said:

Solution: When the right does its fear thing, a real left should do its anger thing. Anger at the unfairness and the economic elites. This leads directly to appeals for populism, egalitarianism, and social democracy, which most people of the largest classes have a natural, reflexive attraction to. That the official left can’t even say, loudly, the words "populism, egalitarianism, and social democracy" tells you all you need to know: they’re really on the same side as the right, but want to carve out a space as the party of ‘slightly more charitable and empathetic rightists.’ Screw them and that.

Find the anger, be the anti-Obama anger, that protects and improves Social Security and the economic welfare of the rest of us.

P.S. — Look here for a group honestly trying to preserve and advance the best legacy of FDR rather than the immediate strategies of neoliberal Democrats. Listen to James Galbraith and NCPSSM’s Barbara Kennelly here on the recent Social Security facts and politics.

Progressives & Obama’s Katrina

4:38 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

I thought BP was solely responsible for the biggest oil spill in history, but thanks to a great diary by Stu Piddy over at pffugeecamp.com, I see I’m wrong:

ITS ALL HIS FAULT
Mon May 17, 2010 at 23:14:27 PM EDT

Photobucket

This is the man who was responsible for the OIL SPILL.

THEY GOT HIM!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/17/chris-oynes-mms-official_n_579009.html

Thank GAWWD St. Obama had nothing to do with it! I mean, my confidence in America’s First African-American President (!) was briefly shaken when I remembered he said this on April 2, 2010: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills; they are technologically very advanced." But then I remembered it’s all BP’s fault, or some Interior Department functionary’s fault, or our fault, not the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s.

But, okay, enough joking around. Seriously folks, don’t we realize President Obama is an enemy? Yes, BP, the right-wing media, the Republicans, they’re the enemy too. But Obama is very much in power, and he definitely plans to cut Social Security and other ‘entitlements’ with whatever political capital he has left after the fall elections? Don’t we want to make as sure as we can that he has very little of that? And isn’t "OBAMA’S KATRINA" one way to move toward that goal? What are progressives thinking? (Not sure I want to know, to tell the truth.)

I wrote the following at Eurotrib, attacking a "BP is EVIL!! (and don’t mention Obama when you talk about the biggest in history gulf oil spill even though he is responsible for regulating oil rigs and he approved massive expansion of offshore oil rigs just a month ago)" article and its comments:

The word ‘Obama’ not in article or comments

till this one.

But isn’t it the Obama administration that supposedly regulates the oil exploration industry, and through neglect or collusion allowed and will continue to allow BP to get away with as much as environmental abuse as it possibly can? Isn’t it the Obama administration that chose Ken Salazar, "a well known shill for the oil and gas industry," as Interior Secretary?

Isn’t it the Obama administration that allows BP to get away with hiding how much oil is ‘leaking’ into the sea? Isn’t President Obama the person who approved a massive expansion of offshore drilling just a month or so ago? And isn’t Obama the President who sais this on April 2, 2010: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills; they are technologically very advanced."

Why obediently play the Obama administration PR game on this matter and make it all about BP? BP and other environment abusers would not do so if they were properly regulated. They will abuse, they always seem to do so, when they’re deregulated and/or they own their regulators. Well, they seem to own Obama (read that quote again!). And that’s the heart of the current and future deep sea oil spill problem.

123 civilians, 3 al Qaeda DRONED in January, 17 more dead today

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

If the new administration is keenly interested in reversing the misfortunes of that region, it has to understand the uniqueness of every country and appreciate the untold harm inflicted on civilians by the US and other militaries. Only dialogue and truly respecting the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan can begin to stabilise the fractious situation.

Ramzy Baroud, May 14, 2009

U.S. drones killed 123 Pakistani civilians and three al Qaeda in January, the largest death toll ever for a single month. 17 more died today, some low-level militants, most civilians. Apparently the sharp increase in drone attacks is motivated by revenge, for the late December suicide attack that killed seven CIA drone-targeting experts in Afghanistan. All this in the context of the just-released Pentagon budget, which features a 75% increase in funding for drone production and operations.

What a moral low America has reached, to be doing what we are doing to Pakistan’s innocent civilians. But the perp country’s people and media ignore the crime because, after all, no Americans are dying. Admittedly, we seemingly have no control, so what is the point of protesting? So a quiet but ugly war guided by the lowest of motives, simple revenge, takes over, bullies against bullies, civilians be damned.

US drones killed 123 civilians, three al-Qaeda men in January
Monday, February 01, 2010
By Amir Mir

LAHORE: Afghanistan-based US predators carried out a record number of 12 deadly missile strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan in January 2010, of which 10 went wrong and failed to hit their targets, killing 123 innocent Pakistanis. The remaining two successful drone strikes killed three al-Qaeda leaders, wanted by the Americans.

The rapid increase in the US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan can be gauged from the fact that only two such strikes were carried out in January 2009, which killed 36 people. The highest number of drone attacks carried out in a single month in 2009 was six, which were conducted in December last year. . . .

The unprecedented rise in the predator strikes with the beginning of the year 2010 is being attributed to December 30, 2009 suicide bombing in the Khost area of Afghanistan bordering North Waziristan, which killed seven CIA agents. . . .

Today’s toll is 17, from a massive attack on obscure, impoverished villages. Again, revenge seemed to be the motive, for shooting down a drone a few days ago. Imagine that, the audacity of shooting down a missile that is seeking to kill you?

17 die as drones rain 18 missiles on NWA
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
By Malik Mumtaz & Mushtaq Yusufzai

MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR: In the biggest attack so far by the American spy planes in the Pakistani tribal areas, the US drones on Tuesday rained a barrage of missiles on different locations of Dattakhel Tehsil of North Waziristan Agency (NWA), killing 17 people, including militants, and injuring several others.

Government officials in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan, said nine spy planes took part in the brazen attack, firing 18 missiles and causing heavy human loss.

They feared the death toll could rise as rescue work could not be started in some of the places due to fear of more missile strikes by the unmanned spy aircraft. Besides the militants, several villagers were said to be among the victims. The villagers came under attack from the drones while approaching the spot to help retrieve the bodies and the injured from the rubble of the collapsed houses. . . .

An intelligence official said on condition of anonymity that the drones mostly targeted small posts set up by the militants. He said it appeared the US forces in Afghanistan wanted to avenge the loss of their drone, which the militants had allegedly shot down in the same area a few days ago.

He said initial reports indicated that most of the people killed in Tuesday’s missile strikes were either low-level militants or poor villagers. “I did not hear that any big name had died,” he claimed. It was the biggest missile attack by the CIA-operated spy planes in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Baroud in the quote at the top of this diary is right. And so is John Arquilla. The drone war is creating more war and hatred in Pakistan, plain and simple, and Obama has learned nothing except avoid American casualties from his predecessor.

. . . John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School who frequently advises the military, said, “The more the drone campaign works, the more it fails — as increased attacks only make the Pakistanis angrier at the collateral damage and sustained violation of their sovereignty.”

If the United States expands the drone strikes beyond the lawless tribal areas to neighboring Baluchistan, as is under discussion, the backlash “might even spark a social revolution in Pakistan,” Mr. Arquilla said.

And it will only get much worse. . . .

US plans 75% increase in drone operations
By Anwar Iqbal
Wednesday, 03 Feb, 2010

WASHINGTON: The US defence budget for 2011 seeks more funds to enhance drone operations by 75 per cent, citing its success in targeting militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal belt.

“With this funding, we will increase the unmanned Predator and Reaper orbits from 37 to 65, while enhancing our ability to process, exploit and disseminate information gathered by this game-changing technology,” said Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. . . .

On Monday afternoon, the Pentagon sent a $708 billion defence budget proposal to Congress, reflecting a shift in the US military strategy from conventional wars to counter-insurgency. . . .

Although the $3.8 trillion budget President Obama announced on Monday is the third budget in a row with a deficit of more than $1 trillion, it boosts the defence outlay by 3.4 per cent over the 2010 enacted level.

The following report indicates the Obama administration wants to double production of drones:

Obama’s Budget Calls for Billions in New Spending for Drones
Tuesday 02 February 2010
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

. . . Aside from the size of the defense budget, another controversial aspect of it is what it will fund. More than $2 billion will be used to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, which the Obama administration has used increasingly over the past year to target suspected terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The drones, which the administration wants to double in production, have been blamed for a significant rise in civilian casualties. . . .

For the first time, according to The Los Angeles Times, the Air Force is proposing the purchase of more drones than combat aircraft and will double the production of the MQ-9 Reaper, "a bigger, more heavily armed version of the Predator drone, to 48. The Army will also buy 26 extended-range Predators."

"The expansion will allow the military to increase unmanned patrols – the number of planes in the air at once – to 65, up from its current limit of 37," The Los Angeles Times noted.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Monday that the use of drones will continue to increase "even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eventually wind down."

"The more we have used them, the more we have identified their potential in a broader and broader set of circumstances," Gates said.
Spending on the Predator and Reaper drones will jump from $877.5 million in 2010 to $1.4 billion next year.

BTW, drone strikes had already set a record in 2009, Obama’s first year a huge increase over the number of attacks in 2008. Change We Believe In?

US Killed 700 Civilians in Pakistan Drone Strikes in 2009
by Jason Ditz, January 02, 2010

On January 1, 2009, a US drone strike killed two senior al-Qaeda leaders, the first in what then President-elect Barack Obama had said would be a dramatic escalation of the aerial bombardment of Pakistan’s tribal area.

And escalate it did. The US launched 44 distinct drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009, far more than in previous years. The pinnacle of America’s drone achievements was in August, when they killed Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Much has been made of the successes, but while the strikes have been regular and they almost always are presented by Pakistan’s intelligence community as having killed “suspects,” the actual successes are few and far between, with only five confirmed kills of real militant leaders, and a handful of unconfirmed claims that usually haven’t panned out.

The vast majority of the deaths, around 700 according to one estimate, have been innocent civilians. With such a massive civilian toll and so little to show for it, it is no wonder that Pakistani people have been up in arms over the continued strikes.