My point is not that bombs would be worse than the problem addressed and would make the problem itself worse as well, although that’s all true. Rather, my point is that most people who favor wars do so in order to blindly support a nation, and in blindly supporting that nation they allow it to dictate which wars they will favor. Although war supporters will give you reasons for the wars they favor, they actually favor whichever wars they are told to favor, and no others. And they’ll give you the reasons they are told to believe in as well.
More often than not, the U.S. public is advised to favor a war on a single individual of demonic nature, even though a war against an individual is completely nonsensical. According to nonsensical propaganda, you don’t bomb Iraqis; you bomb former-U.S.-ally Saddam Hussein. You don’t bomb Afghans; you bomb former-U.S.-ally Osama bin Laden. You don’t drone kill Pakistani and Yemeni and Somali children and women and men; you drone kill Al Qaeda Terrorist Number Three, over and over again. You don’t liberate Libya from what stability it had; you kill former-U.S.-ally Muammar Gadaffi. You don’t attack Panama; you attack former-U.S.-ally Manuel Noriega. Et cetera et cetera.
Well, it’s Vladimir Putin’s turn, which means Russia is at risk, which means the world is at risk, and yet the rough beast stumbling toward Bethlehem to be born is as oblivious to its conception as any unborn thing or television viewer.
All these brave “independents” say that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, and claim they can start history over, with candidates suddenly become as good as they are themselves. What they do is give us the worst of evils.
Long sad sigh.
First, no one ever said there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the candidates. Some of the points Wills makes are valid, and a reign of Romney, especially one combined with Republican control of Congress, would be a dark age indeed.
But for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and millions living in countries unfortunate enough to be “strategically important” to Washington, so was the Bush era. And so are the Obama years. Yep, Romney would be worse, but as David Swanson’s tweet below says, our choices are calamity and catastrophe. Definitely there is a difference, but forgive us for not getting excited about it.
The Obama years have taught me (and I am slow to learn, though not as slow as some) that what binds the parties is more important than what separates them, and that the areas of agreement, the issues that aren’t even on the table, are a bigger problem that the things the parties fight about. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote recently, “the political press mostly covers whatever arguments Republicans and Democrats are having, a tendency that effectively outsources judgment about what’s important to partisans.” Or, to be a little less polite, party hacks.
I have been trying to summarize these commonalities with a catchy little acronym. I’ve been stuck on WASP for some time (War, Austerity, Surveillance and Prisons) but it left a lot of things out. This week, I had a breakthrough. Tossing on a hot sleepless summer night, this came to me: our politics, it’s like those old Bud commericials, you know: WASSUP!
So. WASSUP? No matter who wins the 2012 presidential election we will get:
WARS, lot of them, declared and un-, fought with armies, swarthy special forces spooks, and robots. Wars fought in particularly dirty ways, like bombing wedding parties, and targeting first responders who come to the aid of first strike victims. And those are only the ones we know about.
SURVEILLANCE: Your right to privacy went out the window in September 2001. That’s the story and both parties are sticking to it.
SECRECY, for the gubmint, not for us. See above. I mean, who saw this coming? You couldn’t have been more skeptical about Obama than me, and yet I’m shocked on a daily basis that the man who ran as the transparency candidate has been an absolute nightmare on that front. And don’t get me started on whistleblower persecutions, especially as that would mess up the WASSUP.
UNDEREMPLOYMENT, and (bonus letter) UNAFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE (and education).
PRISONS, and prisoners, inside the United States, at Guantanamo, and God knows where else. An area where the USA can proudly and truthfully claim We’re Number One. Not just in the number of people incarcerated, but in the staggering variety of cruel and unusual punishments a true growth industry can create when motivated: from Supermax to the pure evil of the death penalty system, to mandatory long sentences for the pettiest of crimes.
More on this latter, but all I have to say is (wait for it) WASSUP with that? WASSUP?! WAZZZZZAAAAPPPPPP!!?????
And to get back to the Gary Wills thing. It’s a little disappointing. I expect, and usually get, sophisticated analysis from him. That NYROB piece is a bit lazy, based on straw men and oversimplifications, and as a bonus perpetuates the canard that Nader cost Gore the election in 2000.* How tedious have arguments been over that very point for the past dozen years?
The 2012 election will make that argument seem as brilliant as the repartee in Gertrude Stein’s salon. Yeah, Obama’s been appalling, but Romney would be worse. Can’t WAIT to rehash that simple proposition in all its permutations for the next six months.
And I don’t disagree. But … calamity/catastrophe. Not exactly stoked about the choice.
What to make of the fact that last month the Senate voted 100 to zero (!!!!) to impose a new sanctions package on countries dealing with Iran’s Central Bank. (The House at least had a whopping twelve “no” votes and a smattering of “presents”).
On learning that bit of news in December, my takeaway was not particularly sophisticated, I must admit. There is no hope for Congress when such a craven, demagogic act of bullying (and a possible prelude to another war) is met with pretty much unanimous approval. Our lawmakers are simply not serious people, and certainly are not acting in the interests of their constituents.
But I’ve thought that for a while.
Fortunately, there is Pepe Escobar to bring a more nuanced analysis to bear on the despair-inducing “crisis” (is it still a crisis if it goes on for decades?).
The Myth of “Isolated” Iran: Following the Money in the Iran Crisis at TomDispatch makes a strong case that, in spite of Washington’s wishful thinking and best efforts, Iran is hardly isolated. It is in fact, says Escobar, “more connected than Google” and has been continuing arrangements with long-term (measured in millennia) partners like China and Russia, and is forging new ones with Latin America, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Japan and Korea are already “begging for exemptions” from the new sanctions package scheduled to go into effect in June.
The gist of the article is a little difficult to summarize fairly, so I will leave you with a few paragraphs in which Escobar encourages us to “follow the money”:
That Iranian isolation theme only gets weaker when one learns that the country is dumping the dollar in its trade with Russia for rials and rubles — a similar move to ones already made in its trade with China and Japan. As for India, an economic powerhouse in the neighborhood, its leaders also refuse to stop buying Iranian oil, a trade that, in the long run, is similarly unlikely to be conducted in dollars. India is already using the yuan with China, as Russia and China have been trading in rubles and yuan for more than a year, as Japan and China are promoting direct trading in yen and yuan. As for Iran and China, all new trade and joint investments will be settled in yuan and rial.
Translation, if any was needed: in the near future, with the Europeans out of the mix, virtually none of Iran’s oil will be traded in dollars.
Moreover, three BRICS members (Russia, India, and China) allied with Iran are major holders (and producers) of gold. Their complex trade ties won’t be affected by the whims of a U.S. Congress. In fact, when the developing world looks at the profound crisis in the Atlanticist West, what they see is massive U.S. debt, the Fed printing money as if there’s no tomorrow, lots of “quantitative easing,” and of course the Eurozone shaking to its very foundations.
Follow the money. Leave aside, for the moment, the new sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that will go into effect months from now, ignore Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz (especially unlikely given that it’s the main way Iran gets its own oil to market), and perhaps one key reason the crisis in the Persian Gulf is mounting involves this move to torpedo the petrodollar as the all-purpose currency of exchange.
It’s been spearheaded by Iran and it’s bound to translate into an anxious Washington, facing down not only a regional power, but its major strategic competitors China and Russia. No wonder all those carriers are heading for the Persian Gulf right now, though it’s the strangest of showdowns — a case of military power being deployed against economic power.
In this context, it’s worth remembering that in September 2000 Saddam Hussein abandoned the petrodollar as the currency of payment for Iraq’s oil, and moved to the euro. In March 2003, Iraq was invaded and the inevitable regime change occurred. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi proposed a gold dinar both as Africa’s common currency and as the currency of payment for his country’s energy resources. Another intervention and another regime change followed.
Washington/NATO/Tel Aviv, however, offers a different narrative. Iran’s “threats” are at the heart of the present crisis, even if these are, in fact, that country’s reaction to non-stop US/Israeli covert war and now, of course, economic war as well. It’s those “threats,” so the story goes, that are leading to rising oil prices and so fueling the current recession, rather than Wall Street’s casino capitalism or massive U.S. and European debts. The cream of the 1% has nothing against high oil prices, not as long as Iran’s around to be the fall guy for popular anger.
As energy expert Michael Klare pointed out recently, we are now in a new geo-energy era certain to be extremely turbulent in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. But consider 2012 the start-up year as well for a possibly massive defection from the dollar as the global currency of choice. As perception is indeed reality, imagine the real world — mostly the global South — doing the necessary math and, little by little, beginning to do business in their own currencies and investing ever less of any surplus in U.S. Treasury bonds.
Of course, the U.S. can always count on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates — which I prefer to call the Gulf Counterrevolution Club (just look at their performances during the Arab Spring). For all practical geopolitical purposes, the Gulf monarchies are a U.S. satrapy. Their decades-old promise to use only the petrodollar translates into them being an appendage of Pentagon power projection across the Middle East. Centcom, after all, is based in Qatar; the U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. In fact, in the immensely energy-wealthy lands that we could label Greater Pipelineistan — and that the Pentagon used to call “the arc of instability” — extending through Iran all the way to Central Asia, the GCC remains key to a dwindling sense of U.S. hegemony.
If this were an economic rewrite of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Iran would be but one cog in an infernal machine slowly shredding the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Still, it’s the cog that Washington is now focused on. They have regime change on the brain. All that’s needed is a spark to start the fire (in — one hastens to add — all sorts of directions that are bound to catch Washington off guard).
Remember Operation Northwoods, that 1962 plan drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stage terror operations in the U.S. and blame them on Fidel Castro’s Cuba. (President Kennedy shot the idea down.) Or recall the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, used by President Lyndon Johnson as a justification for widening the Vietnam War. The U.S. accused North Vietnamese torpedo boats of unprovoked attacks on U.S. ships. Later, it became clear that one of the attacks had never even happened and the president had lied about it.
It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine hardcore Full-Spectrum-Dominance practitioners inside the Pentagon riding a false-flag incident in the Persian Gulf to an attack on Iran (or simply using it to pressure Tehran into a fatal miscalculation). Consider as well the new U.S. military strategy just unveiled by President Obama in which the focus of Washington’s attention is to move from two failed ground wars in the Greater Middle East to the Pacific (and so to China). Iran happens to be right in the middle, in Southwest Asia, with all that oil heading toward an energy-hungry modern Middle Kingdom over waters guarded by the U.S. Navy.
So yes, this larger-than-life psychodrama we call “Iran” may turn out to be as much about China and the U.S. dollar as it is about the politics of the Persian Gulf or Iran’s nonexistent bomb. The question is: What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Beijing to be born?
Chris Hedges continues to hammer on the failure of the liberal class. And I can’t say I find much with which to disagree—either in the video above or his recent piece “The World Liberal Opportunists Made.”
I get so tired of the fearmongering about the threat to Democracy posed by Rush, Beck, Christine O’Donnell and Palin. It is absolutely true that they are are clowns, dangerous clowns. But at the moment they hold zero real political power. One wishes the Democrats would stop talking about how awful their opponents are, and just run things, as they were elected to do. But that is the only weapon left in their arsenal. Unwilling to actually enact changes that live up to their purported ideals, all they can do is say, “Look over there. What if those bad people actually took power!?”
Not that there’s any chance of the Dems finding their spine at this point, but even if they did, Hedges says it’s already gone too far.
An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class.
“First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar.”
—Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands
The murderous rocket attacks by remote-controlled drones being carried out on a nearly daily basis in Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somaila) should be cause for mass revulsion, shame, protests in the streets. But no. Try hard to find a candidate for office from either party criticizing them. Even the scary crazy Tea Party people are down with Obama on this one!
Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don’t even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don’t know, and there are no appeals against the robot.
Now imagine it doesn’t end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named “Predators”, or “Reapers” – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won’t stop. What do you do?
You, as a typical American, even a highly educated one, say well, that is crazy. Sure, mistakes happen in war. Heh. The United States armed forces are the best trained and most moral soldiers in the world. You know it is a fact that we are taking Every Precaution to Minimize Collateral Damage.
That doesn’t exactly jibe with a number mentioned by Hari here, or more accurately, a ratio. Although old news, it really jumped out at me. Fifty to one. That is the ratio cited by David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus from 2006 to 2008, in a New York Times op-ed last year. According to Pakistani sources, wrote Kilcullen, the drone strikes kill “50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent–hardly ‘precision.'”
The Pentagon of course doesn’t agree with these numbers, but hmm, who to believe? (And remember Tommy Franks’ “We don’t do body counts”?) Maybe it’s 2 percent or ten or twenty percent “precision,” but any way you look at it, these drone attacks leave a lot of bodies, and body parts, littering the ground. And you can’t blame Bush for this anymore. The drone attacks are very much the current administration’s baby.
Apparently, the president rarely mentions the drone attacks at all. Except on one occasion, when he cracked a joke about them. The Pakistan Daily reports on the White House Correspondents Dinner in May:
“[The] Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”
What a card. Nice one, President Peace Prize! He might have mentioned that statistically, the drones would not only have taken out Kevin, Joe and Nick, but 150 members of their family and entourage, and whoever else might have been in the neighborhood.
Kilcullen’s point, and Hari’s, is still to my mind a little obtuse. Hari again:
I detest jihadism. Their ideology is everything I oppose: their ideal society is my Hell. It is precisely because I want to really undermine them – rather than pose as macho – that I am against this robot-slaughter. It enlarges the threat. It drags us into a terrible feedback loop, where the US launches more drone attacks to deal with jihadism, which makes jihadism worse, which prompts more drone attacks, which makes jihadism worse – and on and on.
I would suggest these attacks are counterproductive only if you take at face value the idea that America’s mission in its wars is to wipe out this jihadism. (I would side with Robert Pape, who has demonstrated pretty well that “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”)
“Sometimes you’re dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa’ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money.”
That’s right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That’s why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.
And of course, it’s not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap ‘so they could make money’ — for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and ‘security’ stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society — by killing innocent people all over the world.
I woke up this morning thinking I would be writing about the horrible fact that Americans in general, and Kentuckians in particular, are appallingly blase about the ongoing destruction and desecration of irreplaceable mountains and streams via the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. And how sad (really, that’s the only word) it is that there are no political candidates in this state willing to confront the coal industry over this. The parallels to the drone attacks are obvious and dispiriting. Only three percent of Americans are concerned about a metastasizing war entering its second decade. The most awful aspects of our American lives are a bipartisan effort.
Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.
Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.
And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.
“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”
“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”
“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”
“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”
“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”
“We will repeal DADT.”
“We will fight for marriage equality.”
“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”
Few turns of phrase demonstrate the unquestioning dimwittedness of America’s public discourse than “All options are on the table” when it comes to Iran. As far as I can tell, it first came into broad use during the Dubya Administration. Bush’s successor, Mr.Changey Changey, didn’t see anything worth changing in the formulation. In fact, he rather seems to like it. His Secretary of State is pretty fond of it, too.
Of course, what Bush, Obama and Madame Clinton really mean by “All Options Are on the Table” is “All Options Involving Violence or the Implied Threat of Violence.” It’s just a smirky pretend-gangster understatement, like saying “we made him an offer he can’t refuse.” It means bombing, sanctions, freezing bank accounts, holding back spare parts for airplanes, pharmaceuticals— that sort of thing. And bombing. Did I mention bombing?
Any actual reporter would have pointed out the glaringly obvious fact about this rote repetition: all options are not on the table. For instance, Israel is not going to consider giving up its own nuclear weapons if it were part of a deal to make it certain Iran would not develop its own. Nor is the United States considering giving up its nukes. Nor do we have any interest in a region-wide peace settlement that would satisfy us regarding Iran if it required U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States hasn’t even signaled any openness to apologizing to Iranians for our numerous crimes against them (overthrowing their government, teaching the Shah how best to torture them, helping Saddam use WMD against them, etc.). Apparently we would prefer to attack Iran or indeed for Iran to get nuclear weapons rather than exercise any of these possible options.
This is good as far as it goes. But it involves logic and reasoning, and as such might not be the perfect way to grapple with Israel’s and/or America’s urge to bomb Iran. A more apt piece might be “Our threatiest threat” from the frequently brilliant fafblog, which demolishes with satire all the unexamined premises underlying the Need to Confront the Evil Persians. It’s from October 2009, but it could have been from 2006, when John McCain entertained us with his version of Barbara Ann. And it could have taken place this week, when everyone has been chattering about the Little Corporal’s article.
I only wish Helen Thomas’ seat in the White House press room had been reassigned to this Fafnir, so I could see this exchange acted out. But of course that isn’t going to happen (I don’t even know if Fafnir is a real person).
Here’s a chunky excerpt of “Our threatiest threat,” but you should read the whole thing. It’s pretty perfect.
Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a threat?
A: Oh, very much so. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Madman.
Q: We know he is a madman because he hates us, and we know that he hates us because he says bad things about us, and the only reason he would say bad things about us is if he were mad!
A: We also know that he has threatened – with his own mouth – to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”!
A: No. But only a madman would say something that could be so easily mistranslated to sound like the words of a madman.
Q: Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually run Iran?
A: No. But wouldn’t it be scary if he did?
…. Q: What should we do with Iran?
A. All options are on the table.
Q: Should we bomb them? Is bombing them on the table?
A: Bombing them must be on the table, because it is an option, and all options are on the table.
Q: What about starving them to death with sanctions? Is starving them to death with sanctions on the table?
A: In that an option? Because if it is an option, then it must be, as we have mentioned before, on the table.
Q: What about bombing their cities and burning their children and raping their livestock and feeding their people to thousands of millions of man-eating ants and piling their skulls into a heaping bonfire on the White House lawn while the President and the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff dance naked in circles ejaculating wildly into the flesh-filled smoke? Is that on the table?
A: It would be irresponsible for this option not to be on the table, given that all other options, as we have said, are on the table.
Q: What about leaving Iran alone? Is that on the table?
A: No. That is not on the table, because it is not an option.
Q: Are you sure? It looks like an option.
A: It may look like an option, but in fact it is the East Tunisian mock option, which over the course of many years has evolved to mimic the distinctive coloring and plumage of the true American option, in order to better evade and intimidate predators.
Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, will it kill whoever it hits on the ground below?
Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a nickel, will he kill five people? If he drops a quarter, will he reestablish the Caliphate?
Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even now amassing an arsenal of spare change deep within the unsuspecting bowels of New York City, roaming from corner to corner, subway to subway, armed with a stockpile of acoustic guitars, violins, steel drums, rudimentary juggling skills, waiting and watching for the perfect moment to strike?
For further Fafblog absurdities, I would recommend Our Omnipotent President, in which I came upon for the first time the genius tag “securitainment.” It was about Bush, but still … somehow seems kind of relevant.
I know. 2002 was a really long time ago. But you’d think more than eleven members of Congress would remember that sanctions against Iraq, based on now- (and then-) laughably false accusations, only made it easier for the war instigators to take the next step, to attack the country that was the object of the sanctions.
Unless you live in the districts represented by seven Democrats–Reps. Baird (WA), Moore (WI), Baldwin (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Kucinich (OH), Waters (CA), McDermott (WA)–or four Republicans–Flake (AZ), Jones (NC), Paul (TX), Duncan (TN)– your congressperson voted for a bill that will pave the way for more severe sanctions on Iran, a country that has not attacked another country in oh, say, two or three centuries, but which has been accused, repeatedly, and in dozens of different ways, of possessing imaginary nuclear weapons.
It has been accused of this by the U.S.A., a country that possesses, ah, ballpark figure here, 9,960 intact warheads, and has tested them in just slightly irresponsible ways, on hapless Pacific islanders and its own citizens alike. Also, we, uh, used them against a civilian population, not once but twice, without warning, and detonating them at an altitude that insured maximum death and destruction.
So we know how awful nuclear weapons are! Trust us.
But no matter. Iran (“a festering sore,” according to noted trash-talker Harry Reid) is doing something sneaky, and we will do anything to stop them from doing … sneaky things, even if we can’t really say exactly what they are. In the past decade or so, we’ve spent a trillion dollars on a war that started in a manner suspiciously similar to the one we’re ready to get underway. And, as Ron Paul pointed out yesterday, a sanctions regime was an integral part of the buildup to that war.
I rise in opposition to this motion to instruct House conferees on HR 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, and I rise in strong opposition again to the underlying bill and to its Senate version as well. I object to this entire push for war on Iran, however it is disguised. Listening to the debate on the Floor on this motion and the underlying bill it feels as if we are back in 2002 all over again: the same falsehoods and distortions used to push the United States into a disastrous and unnecessary one-trillion-dollar war on Iraq are being trotted out again to lead us to what will likely be an even more disastrous and costly war on Iran. The parallels are astonishing.
We hear war advocates today on the Floor scare-mongering about reports that in one year Iran will have missiles that can hit the United States. Where have we heard this bombast before? Anyone remember the claims that Iraqi drones were going to fly over the United States and attack us? These “drones” ended up being pure propaganda – the UN chief weapons inspector concluded in 2004 that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ever developed unpiloted drones for use on enemy targets. Of course by then the propagandists had gotten their war so the truth did not matter much.
We hear war advocates on the floor today arguing that we cannot afford to sit around and wait for Iran to detonate a nuclear weapon. Where have we heard this before? Anyone remember then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s oft-repeated quip about Iraq, that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to appear as a mushroom cloud?
We need to see all this for what it is: Propaganda to speed us to war against Iran for the benefit of special interests.
Let us remember a few important things. Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has never been found in violation of that treaty. Iran is not capable of enriching uranium to the necessary level to manufacture nuclear weapons. According to the entire US Intelligence Community, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapons program. These are facts, and to point them out does not make one a supporter or fan of the Iranian regime. Those pushing war on Iran will ignore or distort these facts to serve their agenda, though, so it is important and necessary to point them out.
Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.
This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.
Here I should say, “Contact your Congressman.” But geez. 403-11. Kind of an uphill struggle.
Of course, this war has been on the way since Shock and Awe days (remember: “Anyone can go to Baghdad; Real men go to Tehran”?)
What’s holding up actually attacking? Is there some sanity hiding behind the bellicose talk? Do the gung-ho Congressfolk and military wizards of our broke-ass country realize the lunacy of opening another front in their crazy Long War (my hope)? Or (my fear) are they just waiting for a better provocation? “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.”
I’m still waiting for those public forums on C-SPAN that Obama promised when campaigning. You know, where all parties come to the table, instead of legislation based on a series of shady back-room deals with insurance and pharmaceutical execs and lobbyists.
[Y]eah, I think the hospital industry’s got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you’re interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product.
It was back in 1971 and President Nixon was concerned that he would once again have to face a Kennedy in the next year’s election — in this case a Kennedy with a proposal to extend health care to all Americans. Feeling the need to offer an alternative, Nixon asked Congress to require for the first time that all companies provide a health plan for their employees, with federal subsidies for low-income workers. Nixon was particularly intrigued by a new idea called health maintenance organizations, which held the promise of providing high-quality care at lower prices by relying on salaried physicians to manage and coordinate patient care.
At first, Kennedy rejected Nixon’s proposal as nothing more than a bonanza for the insurance industry that would create a two-class system of health care in America. But after Nixon won reelection, Kennedy began a series of secret negotiations with the White House that almost led to a public agreement. In the end, Nixon backed out after receiving pressure from small-business owners and the American Medical Association. And Kennedy himself decided to back off after receiving heavy pressure from labor leaders, who urged him to hold out for a single-payer system once Democrats recaptured the White House in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
But it should tell you how far the country has moved to the right that the various proposals put forward by a Democratic president and Congress bear an eerie resemblance to the deal cooked up between Kennedy and Nixon, while Nixon’s political heirs vilify it as nothing less than a socialist plot.
Yes, we’ve come a long way, in an icky direction. But the Republicans’ appalling behavior is really the sputtering of the powerless. The GOP and its elected functionaries are simply obstructing a deal they wish they had struck. As for their shock troops, the dissonance is simply too much and they are bellying up to the table and scarfing down vast quantities of their peculiar comfort food: paranoid ideas of a super-powerful government and, that old standby, race-based vilification. They are burrowing deeper into their crazy places than I had thought possible.
But the lunacy of certain powerless factions, while capable of generating horrific acts, is a sideshow.
The main event is this: the party in power made a bargain with industries with a proven record of doing actual harm to the health and well-being of the electorate. The president spoke in favor of a public option while in private reassuring insurance and pharma that it ain’t gonna happen on his watch. Really. He did. There is no electoral justification for this strategy, as the Republicans were going to oppose anything he put forward anyway.
Obama is indeed a walking Rorschach test, but I would humbly submit that he is not the Hitler/Stalin/Chavez/Satan composite of the teabaggers’ fevered imaginings. Just as important, some of his partisans need to get a clue. He falls waaaaaaayyy short of being a heroic champion of progressive values.
This bill, if it ever gets enacted, four years down the line, might be a step in the right direction. Or, even its supporters must accept, it might not. It’s a mess. As Michael Moore points out, some will benefit hugely, but, as Donna Smith, a blogger on his site, also notes, in the near term, people will keep dying by the thousands for the crime of not being able to pay for health care. “The dead SiCKOs would still die; the bankrupt and broken would still break; and the ill would still suffer.” In large part this is because the President and Congress suddenly value thrift with the national budget (except, uh, it need hardly be said, here) and the patronage of cronies over their voters’ lives.
The Democrats can count their blessings that they exist at the same time as the current version of the Republican party, which has pretty much gone completely crazy. In the presence of such batshit opposition, they get a pass for being merely appalling.
With the groundswell of support and good will they had in the 2008 elections, the sky was the limit, but they took single payer off the table immediately, and cut a deal eliminating any kind of public option (while singing its praises, and fretting that they didn’t have the votes). We’re still going to have a single payer system in this country. We could have done it this year, but it will have to wait until millions more are overwhelmed by the costs of health care, which this legislation does nothing to contain.
It’s a complex, nuanced piece, and well worth reading in its entirety, but a point Ackerman makes in his conclusion screams out for comment.
This is not an argument about whether Obama “pushed hard enough” on this or that, or whether Harry Reid sold out such-and-such. The obsession with this kind of short-term thinking is the whole reason why we’re in this mess. It’s quite possible Obama couldn’t have gotten elected if he’d proposed anything more ambitious than the “Demo-plan.” And once in office he may not have been able to get his Demo-plan passed without dropping the more liberal features.
But all of that is beside the point. Whether or not a better health reform plan could have passed at this precise moment is a secondary issue. The larger question is what this bill tells us about this precise moment. Obama came into office with every whim of history leaning in his direction: a discredited Republican predecessor, a crisis of deregulated finance that reached a crescendo literally weeks before the election (what luck!); the largest Democratic majorities in decades (in a sense, even larger than the 1965 majorities; not counting southerners, the Democrats had 47 Senate seats in 2009, versus 40 in 1965). Such a clear shot will not return for decades.
And the result: The Democrats shot their historical wad on health care by re-introducing Bob Dole’s bill from 1994 and justifying it as a free-market solution. How is that a “huge progressive victory”?
Wait? Uh, what? Bob Dole’s bill from 1994? Ackerman just sort of snuck that in there. But take a look at this “executive memorandum” from the Heritage Foundation, “Dole’s Health Care Compromise: A Prudent Foundation for Reform”:
[Dole’s] bill requires insurers to renew policies and prohibits pre-existing condition limitations in new policies, while protecting insurers by allowing reasonable waiting periods. It also limits premium variations to differences based on age, family size, geogra- phy, and other risk factors, but not health condition. Further, the bill blocks states from mandating insurers to include costly benefits that buyers do not want. It introduces malpractice reforms to reduce legal costs, and reforms the antitrust rules to make it easier for groups of physicians or other providers to do business.
The bill also encourages the creation of purchasing groups, including non-employer associations, to bargain for good insurance rates. But wisely, it does not mandate health alliances, or force- employers to pick plans for their employees. Thus, Americans could join health insurance purchasing associations based on, say, a church, a union or a farm bureau, not just an employer-sponsored pool.
Mmm. Yes. That does look vaguely familiar. Wow. Obama sweeps into power with “every whim of history leaning in his direction,” and an unprecedented opportunity to push for real reform, and we get… Bob Dole.
And if you, like me, are sick and tired of hearing “it’s a start” and “it’s better than doing nothing,” there’s this:
But it gets worse. The decentralized private payment system will inevitably start crowding out the public insurance we already have, especially Medicare. With continued double-digit medical inflation, the slow-motion dismantling of Medicare isn’t a possibility, it seems like an eventual certainty. (Just look at the current deficit hysteria, which is now being propitiated by the White House and its independent commission.) We are on a moving train going in the wrong direction; instead of turning the train around, this bill tries to solve the problem by having us all run towards the caboose.
Barring some sort of divine intervention, whatever version of health care reform that passes will be an unmitigated disaster for America. I didn’t vote for Obama (or, I should not have to add, McCain), and wasn’t expecting much, but this tops my most pessimistic imaginings.