Archive for March, 2010

epiphany of the day

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

After reading that the Obama administration will try to open up offshore drilling, it occurred to me that this must be how our democracy works.

There arises human needs, needs that require the government take some kind of legislative action.

The Democratic Party (because they are in power) takes on legislation written by various lobby shops funded by big money – that appear to address the problem.

The legislation is essentially a pro business solution that uses public money/taxes paid to various favored corporate interests in exchange for a couple of token actions or reforms.

Seeing that such legislation is so profoundly pro-business, from an ideological point of view, it can only be  described  as a pro business, Republican solution.

But the Republican party will deny this, and create a big fuss against it, and refuse to be any part of it, mostly  because they are not in power and pushing the legislation themselves – and always need to maintain an artificial differential identity, from the Democrats.

So the Democrats will, as always, be  stuck with the the  Republican style legislation that they sponsored, usually rationalized under the auspices of appearing  bi-partisan, fair, or middle of the road..

After the legislation becomes law, and eventually fails to produce the desired beneficial effects – as it always will – the people will tire of the Democrats passing Republican legislation.

And vote in  the Republicans, who will pass more Republican legislation – that will also will eventually fail.

This can only be described as a sort of death spiral, that rides on the appearance that left right movement indicates forward motion, when in fact the real motion is downward toward a rendezvous with the ground.

Or in this case, reality.

what did you expect?

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

When you legislate a for profit corporatist health care plan:

Last week, the Associated Press and Congressional Quarterly reported the first weasel words from insurance industry officials that the language in the law allows them to duck away from full coverage of sick children. Insurers say they read the law to mean that, sure, if we offer insurance to a family, we cannot discriminate for children’s pre-existing conditions. But, ah, they say, there is nothing in the law that says we have to offer insurance to the family in the first place until 2014, when insurance companies have to accept all Americans for coverage, regardless of medical conditions. The dispute concerns families who lack employment-based insurance and seek coverage in the non-group market.

[…]

Insurance industry lawyer William Schiffbauer told the New York Times, “The fine print differs from the larger political message. If a company sells insurance, it will have to cover pre-existing conditions for children covered by the policy. But it does not have to sell to somebody with a pre-existing condition. And the insurer could increase premiums to cover the additional cost.’’

Thus, the undermining is already underway. On one hand, the insurance industry purports to be a team player. Since 2008, its top lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has claimed it was ready to stop denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. But, of course, that is with the minor detail that Congress must let private insurers remain the only providers of health insurance.

That didn’t take long did it? Exactly one week.

…..the dangers of zleazy corporatism

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post up today on how corporatism works. In this case, he looks at  Mike McConnell, Bush 41 and Clinton’s former National Security Director, and Bush 43’s Director of National Security – and his revolving door position as Executive Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton, the nations largest independent intelligence contractor. Below are some excerpts that concentrate on conclusions, rather than the specifics of McConnell’s particular operations (which the piece itself is not short of details):

But that’s the least of what makes McConnell such a perfect symbol for the legalized corruption that dominates Washington.  Tellingly, his overarching project while at Booz Allen and in public office was exactly the same:  the outsourcing of America’s intelligence and surveillance functions (including domestic surveillance) to private corporations, where those activities are even more shielded than normal from all accountability and oversight and where they generate massive profit at the public expense.

[…]

It’s vital to understand how this really works:  it isn’t that people like Mike McConnell move from public office to the private sector and back again.  That implies more separation than really exists.  At this point, it’s more accurate to view the U.S. Government and these huge industry interests as one gigantic, amalgamated, inseparable entity — with a public division and a private one.  When someone like McConnell goes from a top private sector position to a top government post in the same field, it’s more like an intra-corporate re-assignment than it is changing employers.  When McConnell serves as DNI, he’s simply in one division of this entity and when he’s at Booz Allen, he’s in another, but it’s all serving the same entity (it’s exactly how insurance giant Wellpoint dispatched one of its Vice Presidents to Max Baucus’ office so that she could write the health care plan that the Congress eventually enacted). In every way that matters, the separation between government and corporations is nonexistent, especially (though not only) when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State.  Indeed, so extreme is this overlap that even McConnell, when he was nominated to be Bush’s DNI, told The New York Times that his ten years of working “outside the government,” for Booz Allen, would not impede his ability to run the nation’s intelligence functions.  That’s because his Booz Allen work was indistinguishable from working for the Government, and therefore — as he put it — being at Booz Allen “has allowed me to stay focused on national security and intelligence communities as a strategist and as a consultant. Therefore, in many respects, I never left.”

[…]

Aside from the general dangers of vesting government power in private corporations — this type of corporatism (control of government by corporations) was the hallmark of many of the worst tyrannies of the last century — all of this is big business beyond what can be described.  The attacks of 9/11 exploded the already-huge and secret intelligence budget.  Shorrock estimates that “about 50 percent of this spending goes directly to private companies” and “spending on intelligence since 2002 is much higher than the total of $33 billion the Bush administration paid to Bechtel, Halliburton and other large corporations for reconstruction projects in Iraq.”

[…]

So here we have a perfect merger of (a) exploiting public office for personal profit, (b) endless increases in the Surveillance State achieved through rank fear-mongering, (c) the rapid elimination of any line between the public and private sectors, and (d) individuals deceitfully posing as “objective commentators” who are, in fact, manipulating our political debates on behalf of undisclosed interests.

And, as usual, it is our nation’s largest media outlets (in this case The Washington Post) which provide the venue for these policies to be advocated and glorified, all the while not only failing to expose — but actively obscuring — the bulging conflicts of interests that drive them.  While “news” outlets distract Americans with the petty partisan dramas of the day, these factions — whose power is totally impervious to changes in party control — continue to expand their stranglehold on how the Government functions in ways that fundamentally alter our core privacy and liberties, and radically expand the role private corporations and government power play in our lives.

grey and gold

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Gray and  Gold | 1943.60

Gray and Gold, John Rogers Cox (American, 1915 – 1990) 1942
From the Cleveland Museum of Art collection, below copy by the museum:

Cox painted Gray and Gold shortly after the United States joined the Second World War, and its image of amber waves of grain threatened by ominous storm clouds likely has symbolic overtones. The painting’s foreground features an intersection of two dirt lanes, as well as a telephone pole emblazoned with political campaign posters. The artist seems to imply that American democracy is at a crossroads during this time of combat against the spread of fascism in Europe and Asia. Interestingly the work was inspired by the landscape around Cox’s hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana, a location nicknamed “The Crossroads of America” due to the junction of major north-south and east-west national highways within its city limits.

One of my beloved paintings from the CMA, when I was a student across the street at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I don’t know why, but, today I was thinking of this magnificent painting, maybe its the times we live in – so I decided to look it up and viola! I can share it.

the taliban talks

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I saw this video today with the brigadier Amir Sultan Tarar, widely regarded as the ‘Godfather of Taliban’, via Russia Today. Several things struck me about the interview, particularly in light of the previous post on the Johnson/Mason theory comparing the similarity of the Vietnam and the current Afghanistan wars. A central theme of Johnson/Mason is that the U.S. is fighting the wrong or a different war, than either of their  enemies in Vietnam or Afghanistan, and is  summed up in the following quote:

“Similarly, in Afghanistan, the
enemy has created a pervasive national discourse, in
this case of religious jihad. Senior U.S. and NATO
officials, however, continue to misread the funda-
mental narrative of the enemy they are fighting,
determined in this case to wage a secular campaign
against an enemy who is fighting a religious war.”

This is a pretty amazing if not a catastrophic failure in itself. But even more amazing – and hammered  over and over again in the above interview, is that Brigadier AmirTarar, himself, is under no such illusions, and is  very cognizant of the fact, that this is exactly what the Taliban are intentionally doing. They are using  the  universal language of Jihad to unite the Afghan people against the occupation. What this accomplishes, is to place a deep religious obligation on all Afghans and a duty to reject the occupation as a matter of religious principal – even if they might not even like or agree with Taliban governance. And by comparison (to say the VC or NVA), a religious belief is by nature, a much more transferable  motivational force than a belief in a political ideology (as was communism to the Vietnamese). From this it would be safe to infer, that the war in Afghanistan is against a more intractable enemy than was faced in the Vietnam conflict.

So, if what we are up against in Afghanistan is an anti-occupation strategy predicated on  universally held religious beliefs and motivated by  a constellation of preset  expectations and obligations – how is it possible to win such a counterinsurgency war that we have predicated on exactly the reverse ideology of those beliefs? How could it be possible to win a war of hearts and minds, when, literally everything you can and do, is actually a rejection of the values that are already in the hearts and minds of the Afghan people? Isn’t propping up a notoriously corrupt and insufficient secular central government, by an alien occupational power, under the auspices of bringing liberal reforms, exactly the opposite of what the Afghan people would like to see happen? And if this is so, then one might similarly characterize that U.S. policy in Afghanistan is a lot like offering tour own Tea Party movement free abortions,  government health care, and other  big welfare state programs with the expectation that they would suddenly satisfy all their frustrations, and sign up with the Democratic Party.

At any rate,  the big question remains the same. Why does brigadier Amir Tarar seem to understand all the dimensions of the wars he has fought, and the war he is currently fighting – and is able to utilize this , in all of its implications, history,  detail, and cultural nuances, to his advantage.

While we are not.

UPDATE:

And on top of that, there is this:

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

That would of course, be the U.S./NATO commander himself, and his/our rudderless, mindless war machine admitting that there has been an amazing number of people killed by U.S./NATO troops for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

agent ribbons, the world is a cigarette

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I think I might need one.

the war in afghanistan is the war in vietnam

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Fabius Maximus directs us to this devastating  analysis of the war in Afghanistan, by Thomas H. Johnson and Chris Mason – and the gut wrenching similarities with the war in Vietnam. (This is a pdf file) Here’s an excerpt:

[It is here, in the nature of the enemy, that the
similarities begin to become far more troubling, not
in their motivations, which are clearly different, but
in our persistent institutional misreading of their
motivations. In Vietnam, an intense and pervasive
narrative of nationalism and reunification motivated
the enemy, but the United States obtusely insisted
on casting the war as a fight against the spread of
communism. However, the North Vietnamese Army

(NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC) were not fighting
for communism. They were fighting for Vietnam.
We were fighting against communism, but the enemy
wasn’t fighting for it. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the
enemy has created a pervasive national discourse, in
this case of religious jihad. Senior U.S. and NATO
officials, however, continue to misread the funda-
mental narrative of the enemy they are fighting,
determined in this case to wage a secular campaign
against an enemy who is fighting a religious war.
The motivations of many individual foot soldiers
are baser, of course, ranging from revenge to crimi-
nal to simply mercenary, but that is irrelevant. The
enemy has succeeded in establishing jihad as their
pervasive, overarching narrative. Consistently over
time and space, all of their remarkably sophisticated
information operations uniformly hammer home
this religious message of jihad. Virtually all Taliban
leaders, from senior military and political leaders
down to sub-commanders at the district level, are
mullahs.7 The implications of this have not yet sunk
in. We are fighting a counterinsurgency; the enemy
is fighting a jihad. But the intersection of how insur-
gencies end and how jihads end is historically nil,
and talk of “negotiating with the Taliban” to find a
political solution, as if the Taliban were some sort of
unified secular political organization, is profoundly
naive. You cannot negotiate with God’s divine will,
and in Afghanistan you only seek negotiations when
you’re losing in order to get better surrender terms.
By misunderstanding the basic nature of the enemy,
the United States is fighting the wrong war again,
just as we did in Vietnam. It is hard to defeat an
enemy you do not understand.]

This is pretty long, but if you read the whole thing you see that the parallels are so deep, so many,  and so convincing that there is simply no possible way this thing is ever going to resolve itself according to the delusional grounds that hope to justify it. The U.S. government might as well be marching its soldiers, and the Afghan people, into a mammoth wood chipper in some arcane ritual of human sacrifice, because minus the hopeless justifications, that’s exactly what they are doing.

dead enders

Friday, March 26th, 2010

oil on photo montage (click on image for enlargement)

the tea party movement are the new dead enders

Friday, March 26th, 2010

And Glenn Beck is the new Baghdad Bob.

(pass it on)

captain beefheart & frank zappa

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Just the two of them. Don Van Vliet and Zappa on the radio doing my favorite, Orange Claw Hammer.

I saw the Beefheart band in a rock and roll club in Cleveland, must have been 71 or 72. The place had a big open backstage area where the band waited for the first set to end. They sat on a bench there for about an hour, in a straight line motionless like statues. Until they were up and went on in what must have been a two hour beautiful, frenzied  roller coaster ride of the mind  where there was almost no break between cuts. Van Vliet had stacks of papers with lyrics on them that he’d grab off the amps in bunches and as he spit out the words he’d throw the papers in the air and grab another bunch until the set was over. Then they just walked off, and the place went dead silent and looked like a hurricane just blew through.

I’d never seen anything like it before. And I’ve never seen anything like it since. It was fucking brilliant.