Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I listened to the president's speech last night, hoping for some disconfirmation of my admittedly cynical perspective. It didn't happen.

Okay, it's not another Iraq — which is to say, it's not an all-out invasion with the intent of occupation. On the other hand, neither is it Bosnia.

It is, however, kind of like Afghanistan, in that NATO (read the US) is taking sides in what is, when you take a hard look, a civil war. (Yes, the initial invasion of Afghanistan was aimed at punishing al-Qaeda and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, but the al-Qaeda leadership has been in Pakistan for nine years now — all we've been doing since then has been propping up the blatantly corrupt al-Maliki government. The Taliban never attacked the US.)

Why did Mohammed Younis decide to switch sides when Gadaffi sent him to quiet the protests in Bengazi? Why did Mustafa Abdel Jalil — currently being treated as "leader of the rebels" by all and sundry — decide to abandon his patron of many years and switch sides? It's hard to imagine either man would have acted as he did without significant encouragement from outside power centers like France, the UK, and the US.

Had Younis not defected, the protests in Bengazi could have been put down in a day or two, with no more deaths among civilians than are currently occurring in Bahrain — scarcely rising to the level of "genocide." To wit, I cannot imagine how a significant worsening of human rights conditions in Libya would have occurred without the involvement of outside agitators from the French DGSE, the British SIS, and/or the American CIA.

Yes, I know. I sound more and more like a conspiracy theorist, and I probably should go off and wrap my head in tin foil to keep "them" from invading my brain — but if all you have to work from when you try to figure out what actually is going on is a string of not especially skillful lies, it's human nature to make up scenarios that seem to fit the information and misinformation available.

What should Obama have said? How about, "We are bombing Libya for reasons that you ignorant peasants cannot be trusted to hear. Just remember America that always sides with the good guys. Honest. Cross my heart."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Air Traffic Control

The only air traffic controller working at Ronald Reagan National Airport last night seems to have fallen asleep on duty. It couldn't have happened at a better named airport.

On a hot September day in 1981, about half a million of us marched on Washington to protest Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers. It was a loud, heartfelt, satisfying demonstration which didn't do a damned bit of good. The striking PATCO workers remained fired. Some years later, just to rub salt into the wound, the Republicans renamed the local airport after Reagan.

Under the PATCO contract, needless to say, there wouldn't have been just one controller on duty — but going back to those primitive days would mean having two greedy public employees sucking at our wallets. The modern solution , of course, is technological — a mechanical elbow that attaches to the air traffic controller's chair and jabs him in the ribs every two or three minutes.

Problem solved.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who ARE those guys who asked us to bomb Libya?

With ten out of fifteen votes, the UN Security Council voted to lend air support to the "Libyan rebellion." Russia, China, India, Brazil, and Germany opted to abstain, which seems to be their way of saying "You assholes in France, the UK, and the US can do as you please, but we'll just sit back and deal with whichever side wins. Frankly, my dears, we don't give a damn."

Now that warplanes are on the way, it seems a bit overdue to answer the question I asked two posts ago — just who the hell is leading the "Libyan uprising?" Since the major media aren't bothering to tell us, I've done a little research, and come up with some names.

Former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who defected from the government Feb. 21, appears to be one of those at the top of the pyramid — which means he's been an opponent of Gadaffi for about a month now. Omar El-Hariri, now in charge of military affairs for the rebels, was a participant in both Gadaffi's 1969 coup against the Libyan monarchy and a 1975 coup attempt against Gadaffi. It seems likely that Gadaffi now regrets commuting El-Hariri's death sentence.

Mohammed Younis, who was sent by Gadaffi to quell the protests in Bengazi and decided to switch sides instead, does not seem to have a formal position in the rebel government, but still exercises a lot of influence. Then there is Ali al-Essawiis, Gadaffi's former economic and trade minister, who now represents the rebels as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Except for El-Hariri, all were close allies of Gadaffi very recently; and all of them, including El-Hariri, had ties to the Libyan army. None ever seemed in any way "pro-democracy" in the past, and none seem especially outspoken now. To me, at least, it looks like just another military coup — just not executed as well as the one in Egypt.

So why support the rebels, even after Defense Secretary Robert Gates told us doing so would in no way enhance our national interest? Did the Libyan intelligence service stop cooperating with the CIA? Did we have anything to do with fomenting the rebellion in the first place? Have the rebels agreed to privatize the currently state-owned oil fields? And why in hell are the regional monarchies suddenly so upset with Gadaffi, more than forty years after he "set a bad example" for prospective anti-monarchists in their own countries?

Whatever the truth of the situation in Libya may be, it's pretty clear it's not being shared with anybody outside the governing elites. Where is Private Bradley Manning when we really need him? (Oh, right, he's in solitary confinement undergoing psychological torture.)

Democracy my ass!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hot (Fuel) Rods

It's interesting that the main threat from the Fukushima nuclear mess arises from spent fuel rods — that is to say, the waste products of power generation. The spent rods, busily boiling away their containment pools, appear to be considerably more dangerous that the reactors themselves.

Here in the United States, we've been trying to figure out what to do with spent nuclear fuel for about forty years now. Burying everything under a geologically unstable mountain out on an Indian reservation was a popular idea for a while, but moving the stuff down the interstates to Utah or wherever was a lot less popular. Right now, keeping all the waste on-site — like Fukishima — is the official solution. Communities that want the plants get to keep the waste too — forever.

The Chinese, who have been opening nuclear plants at an unbelievable rate in recent years, just put a hold on. I guess even the Communist Party recognizes the pervasive corruption of their management class, and Japan got them wondering just how many nuclear plants have been built with substandard concrete and duct tape. The US management class, one presumes, is a bit more subtle in its corruption, but Americans have plenty of opportunity to observe (from Enron through Madoff and beyond) that a quick buck often is irresistible.

Yes, Mr. President, I understand that building nuclear plants is the fastest way to reduce out carbon footprint without (heaven forbid) compromising our profligate lifestyles. Just the same, I think a little rethinking is in order.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No-fly or not no-fly

It seems there is a good deal of soul searching regarding whether or not the US (sometimes known as "NATO") should try to create a "no-fly zone" over Libya, in defense of "Libyan rebels" (whoever they are.) In the region, there have been requests for us to do so from some "Libyan rebel leaders" and from the Arab League. At home, the call has come from legislators who say we should be supporting the "brave freedom fighters" struggling (unsuccessfully) to seize control from long-time boogey man Muammar Gadaffi.

Before we start waving our little flags and throwing big bucks at Libya, though, we really need more information. First of all, just who are the Libyan rebels? Nobody seems willing to tell us where they come from, what they stand for (except ousting Gadaffi), how they happened to assert leadership over what has been portrayed as a "spontaneous uprising," or what they are likely to do if they gain power. There's no sense in poking our noses into a tribal war or an attempt to replace the Gadaffi family and its allies with a new set of self-aggrandizing autocrats.

In case you haven't noticed, the closest thing to democracy we've ever seen in the Arab world was the election of Hamas in Gaza, back in 2006. We have some promises from the Egyptian military, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan — where we've been trying to "build democracy" for most of the past decade — has yet managed to pull off an election not totally rife with corruption. Elections just don't work in tribal cultures, where the idea of the nation state still hasn't taken hold.

Then again, if the Arab League really wants a no-fly zone that badly, why don't they ask the Saudis to do it instead of the US and Europe? The Saudis certainly can afford to take action, and thanks to US and UK arms sales, they have the equipment as well:

The last thing in the world the US needs right now is another war in the Middle East. As Secretary Robert Gates has told us, imposing a no-fly zone is an act of war. How long would it be before "military advisers" and "strategic support services" were tramping around the North African desert?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Liar liar

Every so often, some public official tells such a blatant lie that even the lapdog news media feel obliged to point it out. One thing they never do, though, is come right out and call the liars what they are: liars. Okay, every so often we can accept that somebody might "misspeak" — but when somebody tells a straight-out pants-on-fire whopper, I don't think liar is too strong a term.

In yesterday's Times, for example, there was a well-reasoned and well-documented article about New Jersey governor Chris Christie, documenting how he repeatedly delivers misinformation (also called lies) to the public and the press. Not once, of course, did the Times use the plain English word "liar" with respect to the governor. One supposes the editors are sensitive to accusations of liberal bias, but the accusations will come anyway — especially from those who want the public to go on believing Christie's lies.

Of course, New Jersey Democrats also refrain from calling Christie a liar. Granted, New Jersey politicians of both parties are not exactly renowned for their scrupulous veracity, and sometimes it surely would be a case of "the pot calling the kettle black." You might think a good defense against that might be honesty, but you'd be wrong. Liars have no compunctions about lying to claim that truths are lies and lies are truths.

On the other hand, the secret of Christie's success — and that of most other political liars as well — lies in his very aggressive stance towards his opponents. He doesn't even have to answer questions or criticisms to satisfy the voters, as long as he stays on the attack. A successful counterattack has to be equally aggressive, and the consistent use of a term like "liar" will do the trick — whether he's genuinely lying, merely mistaken, or just spouting ideological sound bites that can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed.

It's not realistic to expect everybody to use factcheck.org or some similar service. Realists must assume that people believe whatever fits best with their pre-existing beliefs and prejudices. Come to think of it, when you consider that most Americans think the vast majority of politicians are liars, it is not surprising that verified facts play such a small part in our political discourse.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Imperial Presence

I was just reviewing the Defense Department's Base Structure Report for FY2010, an interesting document that provides information on US military bases, both domestic and overseas. It lists 4,337 military bases within the United States and its territories, shedding some light on why our military budget is what it is. It divides out to over 80 bases per state, excluding the territories, although some states are more blessed than others. North Dakota, for example, has one base for every 2,800 inhabitants.

In addition, there are 662 bases in foreign countries, a number that does not include bases in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many are located in Germany, Japan, and Italy — a legacy of WWII. (Hmm... just how long ago did that war end?) In Japan, the bulk of US forces are located on Okinawa, where the locals have been agitating for their removal for years. (They'd prefer their young women not be raped quite so often.) There also is a substantial military presence in South Korea, where, one supposes, our soldiers are supposed to deter a missile launched nuclear attack from the North. (Go figure.)

More interesting, at the moment, is the US presence in the Middle East. Not only do we have troops all over the northernmost third of Kuwait to support our activities in Iraq, but we are present in other Gulf nations, including some currently undergoing anti-authoritarian political movements. We have no official base in Yemen, where there is a popular movement to oust Ali Abdullah Saleh, but it no longer is a secret that the Saleh regime authorized US air strikes in Yemeni territory against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — with particular emphasis on killing radical cleric and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Not too far away is the 3000 acre, $11.4 million base in Oman, a country where ongoing protests against endemic corruption continue.

Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, which protects the revenues of multinational oil companies throughout the Persian Gulf area. Bahrain also is the site of growing protests by the long suffering Shi'a majority against the autocratic al-Khalifa dynasty, a Sunni monarchy with close ties to Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration, of course, is calling for the Shi'a to "compromise" with the monarchy in ways extremely reminiscent of the way Obama "compromises" with Republicans, Wall Street, and Corporate America in general — that is, by kissing ruling class ass and settling for a few token concessions.

So far, there is little sign of democracy in Egypt or Tunisia, and the State Department is showing no enthusiasm for helping it along. Stability — especially for the sake of maintaining the US Imperial Presence abroad and keeping the Palestinians in their place — must necessarily take precedence over popular sovereignty.

Anyway, the success of democracy abroad (or even the appearance of its success) might have an uncomfortable tendency to encourage democratic yearnings at home. Some say the protests in Egypt helped to inspire the protests in Wisconsin. Personally, I think the overreaching hubris of Scott Walker did far more to arouse American workers than anything done by unemployed Egyptian college graduates (or the AFL-CIO), but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

We need all the help we can get.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Case for a Democratic Primary in 2012

Yes, I know, incumbent first term presidents always get to run for a second term. To do otherwise might suggest — heaven forfend! — that his party could have made a better choice four years earlier. Nevertheless, I can see some real advantages that might arise from forcing Barack Obama to defend the 2012 nomination against a challenger from the left.

For one thing, if Obama has to defend his positions against a real liberal, it is likely to take the wind out of the sails of those on the right who accuse him of being a socialist. He would be forced to defend the things he did (and elected not to do) during his first term , and demonstrate just what a "moderate" (free-market worshiping corporatist toady) he really is.

His Democratic challenger could be anybody from the Democratic Progressive Caucus other than Dennis Kucinich. (While I hold Dennis in high regard, despite the olive pit episode, he's been turned into a joke by even the liberal media.) I like Jan Schakowsky, but the candidate need not be anywhere near as liberal as she is. Russ Feingold might provide the right combination of liberalism and name recognition.

If only for amusement value, the candidate could run on the same platform Obama espoused in 2008, and appear on cable and Sunday morning news shows affirming how thoroughly Obama had sold out the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Obama could pull out his bullshit about the importance of bipartisan compromise, and how only he could "unite" America. A good time would be had by all.

In the meanwhile, Republican primary contenders would appear more and more extreme — unless the Rapture carried away a big part of the Republican base and the party actually wound up nominating Mitt (Obamacare) Romney. The independent voters who, like Obama, prefer "compromise" to anything resembling principle, will move back to the Obama camp.

After losing the primary to Obama, the progressive stalking horse would take on the task of bringing disaffected liberals back into the Democratic fold — suggesting that his or her challenge "influenced" the Democratic platform (as if a party platform ever might turn out to mean anything once the election is over.)

A second Obama term, at least, probably would mean that things wouldn't get too much worse for a while. Who knows? No longer having to worry about re-election might even allow Our President's testicles to descend from whatever cranny of his gutless abdomen they've been hidden in since 2008. At the very least, it might give organized labor enough time to find its own long-misplaced balls, and become a viable progressive force again.