Political Rants

Long division.

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Some good news (or at least not bad news): The U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria obviously haven’t led to a terminal nuclear conflict; not yet, anyway. That said, this was another loathsome destructive exercise by three imperial powers intent on maintaining at least symbolic dominance over their erstwhile colonial possessions. We’ve heard all the flimsy justifications for this action – the need to enforce the prohibition on use of chemical weapons, the need to alleviate the suffering of innocents, etc. None of it holds any water.

While it’s good that a class of weapons is at least nominally banned, it’s hard to see a substantive difference between gassing people and blowing their legs off, or piercing their skulls with fragments of depleted uranium shell casings, or dropping white phosphorus on them, or enforcing a medieval siege that results in more than a million contracting cholera (i.e. biological warfare). And if Trump, May, and Macron are concerned with the suffering of innocents, they can start addressing it by not supporting Saudi war crimes in Yemen or Israeli executions of Palestinian protestors. Then there’s the legal question. I can’t speak for Britain or France, but Trump has no legal authorization to attack the government of Syria. It appears as though their argument on this issue is might makes right; that’s transparently illegitimate.

The result when every power pursues their own interests.Restraining a Trump administration powered by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo is going to be difficult. It isn’t made any easier by internal divisions evident on the left. Clearly we don’t need to agree on everything to agree that American intervention in Syria is a bad idea and shouldn’t be done. There’s a natural tendency to turn conflicts of this type into a kind of zero-sum game between bad players and good players; this is not unique to the left, obviously. There are people on the left who support the rebellion in Syria and those who think it’s populated entirely by terrorists. Likewise, I’ve heard leftists essentially align themselves with the Assad regime and others call for its overthrow.

There are bad players on all sides of this conflict, obviously, and every power is pursuing their own interests. I don’t have to agree with Assad’s rapacious military assaults to agree that we shouldn’t attack his government, largely because American intervention has such a bloody history. (I would say it always fails, but that would entail the assumption that our military policies are intended to do our victims some good … which is never the case.) I’ve never been a fan of Vladimir Putin, but I understand Russia’s decision to intervene in the wake of previous regime-change efforts on the part of the U.S., all of which have resulted in failed states, hundreds of thousands of dead, and worsening political turmoil. I haven’t seen convincing evidence one way or the other with respect to who used chemical weapons two weeks ago, but the question is irrelevant – the solution to this conflict does not involve American military force. Period.

If the left (and center-left) can coalesce around the basic principle of non-intervention, grounded in solid legal, moral, and historical arguments, we will have a better chance at holding off the Bolton-Trump assault on the Middle East.

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jp

Political Rants

Minutes to midnight.

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After a week like the one we’ve had, I feel like I have to write this quickly. We are literally on the brink of a major power conflict brewing in Syria, and it’s hard to see how it can effectively be prevented. An apparent chemical attack has, once again, triggered the Pavlovian imperial response from Washington – namely that no problem can’t be solved by dropping high explosives on it. The trouble is that the Syrian conflict is so complicated, with major regional and global powers backing different factions in pursuit of their own narrow interests (and civilians be damned). So while the Trump cabal claims to want to strike at Bashir Al Assad’s government, they can hardly do so without hitting Russian personnel.

Mr. Atomic Clock himselfThreats are being exchanged, partly via Twitter, and this is becoming a very volatile situation. A situation like this makes clear why the Democratic/Liberal approach of blaming everything on Russia is short-sighted and foolish. Trump is now under pressure to be “tougher” on Russia, and it seems he is willing to move in that direction. So in a sense both major political groupings are either pushing for war or indifferent, and that’s a dangerous state of affairs, particularly with this venal, unstable, insecure president. Oh, and did I mention that Monday was John Bolton’s first day on the job as National Security Advisor? Jesus.

Earlier this year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand on their doomsday clock to 2 minutes before midnight – the nearest their estimate of risk has come to nuclear Armageddon since 1953. I think they are on to something. President drunk uncle bigot, the Twitter troll, is a crack head, but what he does in his evident dementia is demonstrate how out of control presidential power has become. The power to destroy the world should not be in the hands of the president. I would argue it should be in no one’s hands, but so long as the capability exists, it should be subject to extensive review by more than one branch of government. The more people involved in this process the better. After all, we’re talking about blowing up the whole planet – we should require our war-hungry leaders to keep asking different people until they find someone sane enough to say “no”.

I hope I am just being alarmist about this. All I can say is that, whatever happens in the next week or two, it’s going to be a long, painful three years.

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Political Rants

The other others.

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As is his common practice, Trump has been gesticulating wildly this past week, choosing Easter Sunday to crush the hopes of DACA recipients across America (many of whom consider Easter first among holidays), announcing tariffs practically at random, and threatening to send troops to line our southern border (as northbound crossings are at a 46-year low). I seriously doubt the National Guard will be stopping Norwegians at Nogales, so note to all those disgruntled citizens of Oslo who want to leave free healthcare and university-level education behind for a chance to live in the land of the free: don’t even think about it!

Trump's segregation showroom.The shit storm is usually a smokescreen, a bit of grimy flash powder to distract most of us from what the administration is actually doing and to excite that grisly some of us who get off on targeting dark people. When the president hammers hard on his core themes, you know he’s worried about something. I’m expecting a major attack on Muslims soon – maybe Somali refugees, since they conveniently pull together the various attributes that make for great racist demagoguery: Islam, marked immigration status, dark skin, head scarfs, non-Norwegian sounding names, strange language, etc. He has already singled them out more than once as President, I believe, and certainly during the 2016 campaign.

Much of the raw violence promoted by this administration is being done overseas, both as a function of our military deployments and by virtue of our support for aggressive allies. (This will likely only get worse with the arrival of John Bolton.) We were all treated to a visit by the Saudi prince recently, who likes to be called MBS (perhaps because it makes him sound like a bank). Fortunately he wasn’t drowned by all the admiring drool from the Tom Friedmans of the world. Of course, they never discussed the attack on Yemen except in the context of a friendly slap on the back, I’m sure. Then there’s the Israelis, who are better than anyone at getting away with killing upwards of 20 protesters, wounding 750 more, and blaming the victims. Numbers like these – in response to a protest, no less – indicate an enhanced sense of license on the part of the Israeli leadership. Donnie has your back, guys.

So we have the “others” that live among us and those other “others” in other countries. We’re supposed to be afraid of both, but I’m certain most of us just fear what’s going to become of us over the next three years. Nothing good, I’m afraid.

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Political Rants

Our kind of guy.

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In as much as it’s the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and one of the war’s principal architects/apologists is about to become National Security Advisor, I thought this might be a good time to take a look back at to what extent we have fucked the nation of Iraq beyond repair over the past six decades. Jeremy Scahill did a good look back on his podcast, Intercepted (see https://theintercept.com/2018/03/21/us-war-iraq-legacy-of-blood/ ), but there are a few items that I would like to pull out of that broader narrative, much of which I’ve talked about before, though it bears repeating in the current climate of fear.

CIA target Abdul Karim QasimFirst, we helped the thug/torturer Saddam Hussein from the earliest moment in his career, when in 1959 he made a botched attempt at becoming Iraq’s Lee Harvey Oswald, taking a shot at the country’s leader Qasim (who had taken power the year before after a coup against King Faisal). Hussein ran to Tikrit, then was spirited away to Beirut, where he lived on the CIA’s dime, then to Cairo, where – again – he was a guest of the CIA. Qasim was a nationalist, socialist type, so we were glad to support the Ba’ath party takeover in 1963 and Hussein’s subsequent rise to power.

Writing about the 1959 assassination attempt back in 2003, Richard Sale wrote:

According to another former senior State Department official, Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim’s office in Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim’s movements.

Seems our intelligence agencies were always fixing Saddam up with a crash pad. Some years later, by the time of the Iran-Iraq war, the United States got very close with Saddam’s regime. Again, Sale:

In the mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, told UPI the CIA had enjoyed “close ties” with [the] . . . ruling Baath Party, just as it had close connections with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader Gamel Abd Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-communist Baath Party “as its instrument.”

This was such a cozy relationship that during the tanker war between Iran and Iraq when the U.S. was re-flagging and escorting Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf, Iraq’s mistaken attack against the U.S.S. Stark was essentially dismissed, much like the Liberty in 1967. (I always found it interesting that this fact was not deployed during the run-up to our 2003 invasion. It was simply too complicated a story to tell.)

So … Saddam Hussein was our kind of thug. Until he disobeyed orders. More on the consequences of that transgression later.

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jp

Political Rants

Another week that was.

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I know we’ve all been drinking from a news fire hose this week and you hardly need me to remind you of that. Still, I’m going to do some short takes on various topics … unless I get on a tear, then all bets are off. (No betting!)

Iraqi-versary – It’s been fifteen years since the American invasion of Iraq. Still seems like yesterday, particularly when you consider the state Iraq is in right now – divided on a sectarian basis, barely holding together, bombs going off at regular intervals, struggles persisting over the rubble of its cities. Our war cost them upwards of a million lives, and that’s compounded on the many hundreds of thousands who died in the 11 years of sanctions that preceded the 2003 attack. No one has been held accountable for this, so I’m confident it will happen again in some form.

Total ass clown.Bolton – Speaking of being held accountable, HE wasn’t, and now he’s going to be National Security Advisor. All I can say to that is, expect war with Iran … but don’t expect it to be the cakewalk that Iraq was. (Yes, I know … but Iraq will seem like a cakewalk once we wade into Iran.)

Yemen Vote – The Sanders-Lee-Murphy amendment to force debate on an authorization for supporting the Saudi assault on Yemen garnered 44 votes, which is encouraging but not enough to save the millions facing hunger, cholera on a biblical scale, and endless death and destruction rained down by a U.S. sponsored and guided Saudi air force. We need to do better for the people of Yemen. Be sure to remind your federal legislators (and our president) that this is on them. And bear in mind that Trump pushed for the bill to fail as not to displease his beloved weasle-prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is a primary architect of this slaughter.

Cambridge Analytica – Count me as someone who doesn’t believe the machinations of Russian bots and dodgy data companies like CA had a decisive effect on the 2016 election. That’s not to say it didn’t have ANY effect. And that’s also not to say that they aren’t tremendous dicks for steeling millions of people’s data and using it to help elect a self-aggrandizing racist moron president of the United States. My feeling is that they – and, in fact, Facebook as well – should be broken up and scuttled for all they’re worth. If you want to stop rogue billionaires, the best way to do it is by taking away their billions. Let them rough it as mere millionaires, poor sods.

Russia Probe – Message to Donald Trump: Please, please talk to Mueller or to the grand jury. Get your side of the story down, dude. It’s the only way out of this mess. You can do it, Donald. Just wear your white sheet and speak truth to power.

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Political Rants

Accountability.

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The Trump clown car shed some bozos this week, most notably the media’s favorite cabinet member, Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon Mobil, who managed to seem avuncular and unthreatening in comparison with most of his colleagues – this while he systematically dismantled the State Department. Still, he did appear to be perhaps the greatest naysayer on tearing up the Iran deal. With the Koch Brothers invention Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, I’m sure we will nudge much closer to the 2000 bombing runs he once suggested as an effective means of halting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In a saner age, that alone might have been disqualifying, but certainly not today.

Trump's new torturer.So, we’ll now have an Iran warmonger as chief diplomat. And in Pompeo’s old position at the head of the CIA, we will have the current deputy director Gina Haspel, a veteran of the Bush II-era Agency and a big fan of “rough” interrogation techniques (also known as torture). Haspel was directly involved in a CIA black site in Thailand where the Agency perpetrated torture of numerous individuals, including Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded by our operatives 89 times. She arrived after Zubaydah left, but later saw to it that incriminating tapes of this and similar episodes would be destroyed. For all those boning up on obstruction of justice standards in relation to the Trump White House, you might want to apply those standards to Haspel.

The torture crimes – essentially crimes against human dignity – are bad enough. But the fact that Haspel was part of an operation that was instrumental in the abuse of Zubaydah, whose extracted false testimony was key to the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq, raises this to another level. You know the plausible story on this – Bush/Cheney and company had decided upon the Iraq invasion well before 9/11 (and on some level, before taking office), but they needed a plausible pretext. They had no convincing evidence for their claims regarding an Al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein or an active nuclear program, so they put the torturers to work at doing what they do best – getting people to say anything … ANYTHING … to stop the abuse. The very fact that they waterboarded Zubaydah 89 times indicates that they were looking for some response in particular. They got it, bogus as it obviously was, and from that proceeded the catastrophic Iraq war that is still killing people 15 years later – a conflict that, three years in, had resulted in more deaths than the 7-year Syrian civil war.

No one has been held accountable for the crime of the Iraq invasion, nor for the torture regime. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, but the least we can do is to stop rewarding the culprits with higher office. Maybe it wouldn’t be entirely fair to start with Haspel, but we have to start somewhere.

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jp

Political Rants

Empire news.

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With the shit-cyclone rotating around the Trump presidency on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on elsewhere in the world. Most of the press coverage goes straight to Trump, Kushner, the Mueller probe, Stormy Daniels, on and on. Mind-numbing, and I think that’s probably what they’re aiming at. I always knew reality television was more than just bad entertainment – it gave me the creeps from The Real World and Survivor on forward, and now it’s president of the United States. Not a good outcome for a whole host of reasons.

Anyway, there is a world out there, and stuff is happening in it that I feel we should pay attention to. Here are a few items I’m looking at.

Peace?Korea – This was a momentous week in the standoff over the Korean peninsula, largely thanks to the efforts of South Korean President Moon Jae-In and the willingness on the part of Pyongyang to come to the table. Trump will take credit for anything good that happens, and that’s fine – sure, he’s nearly blown us all up over this, but let him have his squeak toy of triumph, so long as there’s no Korean War II. That would be a good thing for the world, as the hair-hat ass-clown said a few days ago. Will he meet with Kim Jong-Un as was announced on Thursday? No man can say. More on this next week.

Yemen – In the Senate, Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy have introduced a war powers resolution calling on the administration to stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s murderous assault on Yemen. SJ Resolution 54 has been introduced though not voted on yet – I encourage you to contact your senators and urge them to vote for this legislation. You can get their phone numbers off the web, or use the Stance app to send a recorded phone message (see http://takeastance.us/ for details).

Iran – There’s a good interview on Jeremy Scahill’s podcast Intercepted with Iranian scholar Holly Dagres about the history of the relationship between the United States and Iran and how its current system of government is a direct response to our interference (in the form of an coup) in the 1950s. Dagres also talks about the MEK terror group that counts many American political figures among its friends, including John McCain (big surprise), Howard Dean, and others. (Check it out at https://theintercept.com/2018/02/14/intercepted-podcast-americas-distribution-of-violence/ ) Also, give a listen to Jeremy’s interview with Nikhil Singh in that same episode.

All right … back to work with me.

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jp

Political Rants

Decision point.

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This past week, the Supreme Court decided that undocumented immigrants don’t have the same fundamental rights as American citizens. That’s essentially what their decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez amounts to. People who cross into the country can be detained indefinitely, as they have been under the last four administrations, as per a narrow majority on the Court. (The opinion was written by George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito.) It was a 5 to 3 decision, with Justice Kagan recusing herself, so for me the lesson of this – and other cases – is that elections matter and that people on the center-left need to start voting on the issue of the Supreme Court and who will garner a lifetime appointment to that august body.

Supreme Court: Not just a building.If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, she would have appointed someone relatively progressive to the Supreme Court to fill the seat currently held by Neil Gorsuch (illegitimately, in my view). That would likely have rendered a 4 to 4 split in the Rodriguez case, which would have allowed the lower court ruling in Rodriguez’s favor stand. This case makes a material difference in the lives of thousands upon thousands of human beings – individuals and families making the dangerous crossing into this country, seeking a marginally better existence than what they face back home.

This is not the only instance – there will be many more. The Friedrichs case in 2016 was another prime example of why we can’t sit on our hands, waiting for the perfect candidate. That was another 4 to 4 tie, allowing the lower court decision to stand, this time in favor of allowing unions to collect agency fees from non-member employees. Janus v. AFSCME, which is now before the court, addresses this same issue, and as a result of Trump’s election and appointment of Gorsuch, it is likely to go against the unions. That will likely commence a death spiral for public sector unions, undermining the last vestige of organized labor strength in this country. That’s a disaster for workers, and it’s effing because people couldn’t bring themselves to vote for someone they didn’t like (Clinton) in 2016 in order to save the effing Supreme Court.

It gets worse. Justice Kennedy is likely to step down before the end of Trump’s term. That likely means a permanent reactionary majority on the Court for decades to come. That said, it’s never too late to learn. So people: whatever else you do politically, vote to make a difference, not to express your identity. Push the Democratic party in a progressive direction through action, internal pressure, and primary campaigns, but do not forget what’s at stake when the general election arrives. Lives literally hang in the balance.

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jp

Political Rants

Recoil.

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As I mentioned briefly last week, it has happened again. Another deranged shooter with a military-style weapon and a mountain of ammunition. This time the target was a high school campus in Florida; last time it was somewhere else that didn’t expect it. The young people who emerged in one piece from that atrocity have demonstrated an emotional and intellectual maturity, an eloquence, and a remarkable facility for organizing that puts us all to shame. When I see them, I hang my head – we, the older generations, simply are not good. Let them take the reins.

Our cheese-headed president had some of them over on Wednesday, along with survivors of other mass shootings, for a “listening session”. What has Trump taken away from this heinous remake of previous atrocities? Well, he is telling Beauregard to look into banning bump stocks, again. That is something the Justice Department has been working on for months, since the Las Vegas massacre. The problem is that the administration is probably barred from doing so without action by the Congress, so Trump’s NRA patrons can rest easy. He also suggested arming teachers, janitorial staff, and, I believe, students, claiming that that Gym teacher could have ended the whole shooting rampage if he had had a gun.

Trump's notion of the ideal school resource officer.Okay, well … I may be the only American to remember this (I hope not), but back in the seventies, this latter suggestion was put forward as a joke on All In The Family – the right-wing caricature Archie Bunker was invited to do a guest editorial on television, and he advocated stopping airline hijackers by arming all the passengers. What was a joke in 1972 is now consider a serious policy proposal. That’s how far we’ve come, people. And this is how far political leaders will go to avoid dealing with an issue. The money is all on one side, and our kids are on the other. If we leave the decision to our current crop of politicians, the kids don’t stand a chance.

Sure, there are something like 10 to 15 million AR-15 style weapons in the United States. That doesn’t mean we can’t do something about this. First thing is to stop selling them. Second, in my opinion, you should be required to register military assault-style weapons and handle it in an appropriate way (i.e. lock it up at appropriate times). If you don’t register it, you can’t keep it. They are simply too destructive to treat like a 30-30 hunting rifle. Third: extensive background checks for all gun purchases (since Trump loves the concept of “extreme vetting,” this shouldn’t be a problem for him). Fourth, no more high-capacity clips and new limits on ammunition sales.

That’s where we need to go if we’re serious about protecting kids. Up to us, people. Elect a Congress and a president that will do it.

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Political Rants

First place.

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I haven’t been watching the Olympics, I freely admit. I’ve never been a sports fan at all – just can’t get interested or excited about it. That said, these Winter Games have been more interesting than usual for me, and it’s not because of our hometown pride Erin Hamlin (though I wish her well). For me it’s all about the ongoing conflict/standoff over the Korean peninsula, and in that regard, theĀ  person who should be taking a gold medal home from these games is President Moon. And that medal should be the Nobel Peace Prize.

Give HIM a gold medal.He certainly deserves it, even if the detente between the two Koreas falls apart. At a time of almost unprecedented tension, and despite the overbearing patrimony of their American “ally”, the South Korean president agreed to what was a stunning demonstration of unity in the midst of one of the most broadly watched sporting events in the world. Sure, it was symbolic, but symbolism can be powerful and it can drive policy. North and South Koreans marching in under a unified flag provided such a stunningly memorable image, I am likely to remember this Winter Olympics far longer than any previous ones. (And I have seen far less of it, as it happens.) The Trump administration seemed flummoxed over this; they deployed Pence, spouting some bellicose rhetoric, but it fell kind of flat.

Brilliant move on Moon’s part. It also helpfully exposes the ugly truth of the Korean conflict. The main dispute is not between North and South Korea, but rather between North Korea and the United States. That’s why our government seems so uncomfortable with the idea of the two Koreas talking to one another. What’s not to like? Perhaps the prospect of eventual economic integration of Northeast Asia outside of the rubric of American economic power. Scary stuff.

Still, we’re number one in another way, and we proved it this week. We just saw yet another mass shooting at a school, this one in Florida. We get the gold medal in gun violence, hands down. And until we elect people who are expressly determined to do something about this terror, we will suck as a nation. Let’s not suck. Let’s get rid of the NRA-funded bums who run Congress and send some progressive legislators to Washington who couldn’t care less about the gun lobby. Time to fix this.

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jp