Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Indian friend recommends part 2
on: June 29, 2010, 09:01:54 PM
AMERICAN OPERATIONS in South Asia, however, are threatening to upset this fragile balance between Islam and nationalism in the Pakistani military. The army's members can hardly avoid sharing the broader population's bitter hostility to U.S. policy. To judge by retired and serving officers, this includes the genuine conviction that either the Bush administration or Israel was responsible for 9/11. Inevitably therefore, there was deep opposition throughout the army after 2001 to American pressure to crack down on the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani sympathizers. "We are being ordered to launch a Pakistani civil war for the sake of America," an officer told me in 2002. "Why on earth should we? Why should we commit suicide for you?"
Between 2004 and 2007, there were a number of instances of mass desertion and refusal to serve in units deployed to fight militants, though mostly in the Pashtun-recruited Frontier Corps rather than in the regular army. These failures were caused above all by the feeling that these forces were compelled to turn against their own. We must realize in these morally and psychologically testing circumstances, anything that helps maintain Pakistani military discipline cannot be altogether bad-given the immense scale of the stakes concerned, and the consequences if that discipline were to fail.
For in 2007-2008, the battle was beginning to cause serious problems of morale. The most dangerous single thing I heard during my visits to Pakistan in those years was that soldiers' families in villages in the NWFP and the Potwar region of the Punjab were finding it increasingly difficult to find high-status brides for their sons serving in the military because of the growing popular feeling that "the army is the slave of the Americans" and "the soldiers are killing fellow Muslims on America's orders."
By late 2009, the sheer number of soldiers killed by the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, and still more importantly, the increasingly murderous and indiscriminate Pakistani Taliban attacks on civilians, seem to have produced a change of mood in the areas of military recruitment. Nonetheless, if the Pakistani Taliban are increasingly unpopular, that does not make the United States any more well liked; and if Washington ever put Pakistani soldiers in a position where they felt that honor and patriotism required them to fight America, many would be willing to do so.
And we have seen this willingness before. In August and September 2008, U.S. forces entered Pakistan's tribal areas on two occasions in order to raid suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda bases. During the second incursion, Pakistani soldiers fired in the air to turn the Americans back. On September 19, 2008, General Kayani flew to meet U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, and, in the words of a senior Pakistani general, "gave him the toughest possible warning about what would happen if this were repeated."
Pakistani officers from captain to lieutenant general have told me that the entry of U.S. ground forces into Pakistan in pursuit of the Taliban and al-Qaeda is an incredibly dangerous scenario, as it would put both Pakistan-U.S. relations and the unity of the army at risk. As one retired general explained, drone attacks on Pakistani territory, though humiliating for the ordinary officers and soldiers, are not the critical issue. What would create a military overthrow takes more:
U.S. ground forces inside Pakistan are a different matter, because the soldiers can do something about them. They can fight. And if they don't fight, they will feel utterly humiliated, before their wives, mothers, children. It would be a matter of honor, which as you know is a tremendous thing in our society. These men have sworn an oath to defend Pakistani soil. So they would fight. And if the generals told them not to fight, many of them would mutiny, starting with the Frontier Corps.
At this point, not just Islamist radicals, but every malcontent in the country would join the mutineers, and the disintegration of Pakistan would become imminent.
THERE IS a further complication. Of course, the Pakistani military has played a part in encouraging Islamist insurgents. The army maintains links with military and jihadi groups focused on fighting India (its perennial obsession). Contrary to what many believe, the military's support of these actors has not been based on ideology. The bulk of the high command (including General Musharraf, who is by no conceivable stretch of the imagination an Islamist) has used these groups in a purely instrumental way against New Delhi with Pakistani Muslim nationalism as the driver. But this doesn't mean balancing these relationships with U.S. demands will be easy.
Since 2002, the military has acted to rein in these groups, while at the same time keeping some of them (notably Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the 2008 terrorist attacks against Mumbai) on the shelf for possible future use against India should hostilities between the two countries resume. Undoubtedly, however, some lower-level officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), responsible for "handling" these groups, have developed close affinities for them and have contributed to their recent operations. The ISI's long association with the militants, first in Afghanistan and then in Kashmir, had led some ISI officers to have a close personal identification with the forces that they were supposed to be controlling.
The high command, moreover, is genuinely concerned that if it attacks some of these groups, it will drive them into joining the Pakistani Taliban-as has already occurred with sections of the Jaish-e-Muhammad, suspected in the attempts to assassinate Musharraf in December 2003 (apparently with low-level help from within the armed forces).
This leads to a whole set of interlocking questions: How far does the Pakistani high command continue to back certain militant groups? How far does the command of the ISI follow a strategy independent from that of the military? And how far have individual ISI officers escaped from the control of their superiors and supported and planned terrorist actions on their own? And this leads to the even-more-vital question of how far the Pakistani military is penetrated by Islamist extremist elements, and whether there is any possibility of these groups carrying out a successful military coup from below.
Since this whole field is obviously kept very secret by the institutions concerned (including Military Intelligence, which monitors the political and ideological allegiances of officers), there are no definitive answers. What follows is informed guesswork based on numerous discussions with experts and off-the-record talks with Pakistani officers, including retired members of the ISI.
Concerning the ISI, the consensus of my informants is as follows: There is considerable resentment of the organization in the rest of the military due to its perceived arrogance and suspected corruption. However, when it comes to overall strategy, the ISI follows the line of the high command. It is, after all, always headed by a senior regular general, not a professional intelligence officer, and a majority of its officers are also seconded regulars. General Kayani was director of the ISI from 2004-2007 and ordered a limited crackdown on jihadi groups that the ISI had previously supported. As to the military's attitude toward the Afghan Taliban, the army and the ISI are as one, and the evidence is unequivocal: both groups continue to give them shelter, and there is deep unwillingness to take serious action against them on America's behalf, both because it is feared that this would increase the potential for a Pashtun insurgency in Pakistan and because they are seen as the only assets Pakistan possesses in Afghanistan. The conviction in the Pakistani security establishment is that the West will quit Kabul, leaving civil war behind, and that India will then throw its weight behind the non-Pashtun forces of the former Northern Alliance in order to encircle Pakistan strategically.
This attitude changes, however, when it comes to the Pakistani Taliban and their allies. The military as a whole and the ISI are now committed to the struggle against them, and by the end of 2009, the ISI had lost more than seventy of its officers in this fight-some ten times the number of CIA officers killed since 9/11, just as Pakistani military casualties fighting the Pakistani Taliban have greatly exceeded those of the United States in Afghanistan. Equally, however, in 2007-2008 there were a great many stories of ISI officers intervening to rescue individual Taliban commanders from arrest by the police or the army-too many, and too circumstantial, for these all to have been invented.
It seems clear, therefore, that whether because some ISI officers felt a personal commitment to these men, or because the institution as a whole still regarded them as potentially useful, actions were taking place that were against overall military policy-let alone that of the Pakistani government. As well, some of these Islamist insurgents had at least indirect links to al-Qaeda. This does not mean that the ISI knows where Osama bin Laden (if he is indeed still alive), Ayman al-Zawahri and other al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. But it does suggest that they could probably do a good deal more to find out.
However, for Islamist terrorists who wish to carry out attacks against India, ISI help is not necessary (though it has certainly occurred in the past). The discontent of sections of India's Muslim minority (increased by ghastly incidents like the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and encouraged by the Hindu nationalist state government) gives ample possibilities for recruitment; the sheer size of India, coupled with the incompetence of the Indian security forces, give ample targets of opportunity; and the desire to provoke an Indian attack on Pakistan gives ample motive. But whether or not the ISI is involved in future attacks, India will certainly blame Pakistan for them.
This creates the real possibility of a range of harsh Indian responses, stretching from economic pressure through blockade to outright war. Such a war would in the short term unite Pakistanis and greatly increase the morale of the army. The long-term consequences for Pakistan's economic development would, however, be quite disastrous. And if the United States were perceived to back India in such a war, anti-American feelings and extremist recruitment in Pakistan would soar to new heights. All of this gives the United States every reason to push the Pakistani military to suppress some extremist groups and keep others on a very tight rein. But Washington also needs to press New Delhi to seek reconciliation with Islamabad over Kashmir, and to refrain from actions which will create even more fear of India in the Pakistani military.
IN THE end, Washington must walk a very fine line if it wants to keep the military united and at least onboard enough in the fight against extremists. If it pushes the army too far by moving ground troops into Pakistan proper, the consequences will be devastating. The military-and therefore the state of Pakistan-will be no longer.
Anatol Lieven, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor in the War Studies Department of King's College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington, DC. He is author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2004). His next book,Pakistan: A Hard Country, is to be published in 2011.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An Indian friend recommends this article
on: June 29, 2010, 09:01:00 PM
Down the Orwellian memory hole, eh? How perfect.
Changing subjects, here's this piece which comes recommended by an Indian friend who has sent many good things my way over the years. Note the congruity with what I suggested the other day-- though my suggestion (Pashtunistan) sought the fragmentation/dissolution of Pakistan, here the other side of the coin is that if our current strategy is really applied, Pakistan's current incarnation will not survive.
All Kayani's Men
written by: Anatol Lieven, 02-Jun-10
VOLTAIRE REMARKED of Frederick the Great's Prussia that "where .some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state!" The same can easily be said of Pakistan. The destruction of the army would mean the destruction of the country. Yet this is something that the Pakistani Taliban and their allies can never achieve. Only the United States is capable of such a feat; if Washington ever takes actions that persuade ordinary Pakistani soldiers that their only honorable course is to fight America, even against the orders of their generals and against dreadful odds, the armed forces would crumble.
There is an understanding in Washington that while short-term calculations demand some kind of success in Afghanistan, in the longer run, Pakistan, with its vastly greater size, huge army, nuclear weapons and large diaspora, is a much more important country, and a much greater threat should it in fact succumb to its inner demons. The collapse of Pakistan would so vastly increase the power of Islamist extremism as to constitute a strategic defeat in the "war on terror."
The Pakistani military is crucial to preventing such a disaster because it is the only state institution that works as it is officially meant to. This means, however, that it also repeatedly does something that it is not meant to-namely, overthrow what in Pakistan is called "democracy" and seize control of the government. The military has therefore been seen as extremely bad for Pakistan's progress, at least if that progress is to be defined in standard Western terms.
Yet, it has also always been true that without a strong military, Pakistan would probably have long since disintegrated. That is truer than ever today, as the country faces the powerful insurgency of the Pakistani Taliban and their allies. That threat makes the unity and discipline of the army of paramount importance to Pakistan and the world-all the more so because the deep dislike of U.S. strategy among the vast majority of Pakistanis has made even the limited alliance between the Pakistani military and the United States extremely unpopular in general society and among many soldiers. Those soldiers' superiors fully understand the importance of this alliance to Pakistan and the disastrous consequences for the country if it were to collapse.
The Pakistani army is a highly disciplined and professional institution, and the soldiers will continue to obey their generals' orders. Given their basic feelings, however, it would be unwise to push the infantrymen too far. One way of doing this would be to further extend the U.S. drone campaign by expanding it from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to Baluchistan. Much more disastrous would be any resumption of U.S. ground raids into Pakistani territory, such as occurred briefly in the summer of 2008.
TO UNDERSTAND this somewhat-counterintuitive (at least to Western audiences) prescription, a close look inside the military is necessary. In essence, the armed forces' success as an institution and its power over the country come from its immunity to kinship interests and the corruption they bring with them; but the military has only been able to achieve this immunity by turning into a sort of giant kinship group itself, extracting patronage from the state and distributing it to its members.
During my journeys to Pakistan over the years, I have observed how the Pakistani military, even more than most armed forces, sees itself as a breed apart, and devotes great effort to inculcating new recruits with the feeling that they belong to a military family different from (and vastly superior to) civilian society. The mainly middle-class composition of the officer corps increases contempt for the "feudal" political class. The army sees itself as both morally superior to this group and far more modern, progressive and better educated.
Pakistani politics is dominated by wealth and inherited status, whereas the officer corps has become increasingly egalitarian and provides opportunities for social mobility that the Pakistani economy cannot. As such, a position in the officer corps is immensely prized by the sons of shopkeepers and big farmers across Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). This allows the military to pick the very best recruits and increases their sense of belonging to an elite. In the last years of British rule, circa 1947, and the first years of Pakistan, most officers were recruited from the landed gentry and upper-middle classes. These are still represented by figures like former-Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Jehangir Karamat, who, perhaps most tellingly, is the former president of the Pakistan Polo Association; but a much more typical figure is the current COAS, General Ashfaq Kayani, the son of an NCO. This social change partly reflects the withdrawal of the upper-middle classes to more comfortable professions, but also the immense increase in the quantity of officers required in the military as a result of its vast expansion since independence.
A number of officers and members of military families have told me something to the effect that "the officers' mess is the most democratic institution in Pakistan because its members are superior and junior during the day, but in the evening are comrades. That is something we have inherited from the British."
This may seem like a ludicrous statement, until one remembers that in Pakistan, saying that something is the most spiritually democratic institution isn't saying very much at all. Pakistani society is permeated by a culture of deference to superiors.
Islamabad's dynastically ruled "democratic" political parties exemplify this subservience in the face of inheritance and wealth; while in the army, as an officer told me:
You rise on merit-well, mostly-not by inheritance, and you salute the military rank and not the sardar [tribal chieftain and great landowner] or pir [hereditary religious figure] who has inherited his position from his father, or the businessman's money. These days, many of the generals are the sons of clerks and shopkeepers, or if they are from military families, they are the sons of havildars [NCOs]. It doesn't matter. The point is that they are generals.
Meanwhile, the political parties continue to be dominated by "feudal" landowners and wealthy urban bosses, many of them not just corrupt but barely educated. This increases the sense of superiority in the officer corps has toward the politicians-something I have heard from many officers (and which was very marked in General Pervez Musharraf's personal contempt for the late Benazir Bhutto and her husband, the current president).
This same disdain for the country's civilian political leadership is widely present in Pakistani society as a whole, and has become dominant at regular intervals, leading to mass popular support for military coups. Indeed, it is sadly true that whatever the feelings of the population later, when each military coup initially occurred, it was popular with most Pakistanis-including the media-and was subsequently legitimized by the judiciary.
It is possible that developments since 2001 have changed this pattern, above all because of the new importance of the independent judiciary and media, and the way that the military's role in both government and the unpopular war with the Pakistani Taliban has tarnished its image with many Pakistanis. However, it is not yet clear that such a sea change has definitively taken place. Whether or not it eventually does depends in large part on how Pakistani civilian governments perform in the future.
By the summer of 2009-only a year after the resignation of then-President Musharraf, who had seized power from the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999-many Pakistanis of my acquaintance, especially in the business classes, were once again calling for the military to step in and oust the civilian administration of President Asif Ali Zardari; not necessarily to take over themselves, but to purge the most corrupt politicians and create a government of national unity (or, at the very least, a caretaker administration of technocrats).
AS THE military has become more egalitarian, the less-secular have filled its ranks. This social change in the officer corps over the decades has caused many in the West to fear that the army is becoming "Islamized," leading to the danger that the institution as a whole might support Islamist revolution, particularly as the civilian government falters. More dangerously, there might be a mutiny by Islamist junior officers against the high command. These dangers do exist, but in my view, the absolutely key point is that only a direct attack on Pakistan by the United States could bring them to fruition.
Westerners must realize that commitment to the army, and to martial unity and discipline, is drilled into every officer and soldier from the first hour of their joining the military. Together with the material rewards of loyal service, it constitutes a very powerful obstacle to any thought of a coup from below, which would by definition split the army and very likely destroy it altogether. Every military coup in Pakistan has therefore been carried out by the chief of army staff, backed by a consensus of the corps commanders and the rest of the high command. Islamist conspiracies by junior officers against their superiors (of which there have been two over the past generation) have been penetrated and smashed by Military Intelligence.
It is obviously true that as the officer corps becomes lower-middle class, so its members become less Westernized and more religious-after all, the vast majority of Pakistan's population is conservative Muslim. However, it is made up of many different kinds of orthodox Muslim, and this is also true of the officer corps.
In the 1980s, then-President of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff General Zia ul-Haq did undertake measures to make the army more Islamic, and subsequently, a good many officers who wanted a promotion adopted an Islamic facade. Zia also encouraged Islamic preaching within the army, notably by the Tablighi Jamaat, a nonviolent, nonpartisan but fundamentalist group dedicated to Islamic proselytizing and charity work. But, as the career of the notoriously secular General Musharraf indicates, this did not lead to known secular generals being blocked from promotion; and in the 1990s, especially under Musharraf, most of Zia's measures were rolled back. In recent years, preaching by the Tablighi has been strongly discouraged, not so much because of political fears (the Tablighi is determinedly apolitical) as because of instinctive opposition to any groups that might encourage factions among officers and loyalties to anything other than the army.
Of course, the Pakistani military has always gone into battle with the cry of Allahu Akbar (God is Great)-just as the imperial-era German army inscribed Gott mit Uns(God with Us) on its helmets and standards; but according to Colonel Abdul Qayyum, a retired, moderate-Islamist officer:
You shouldn't use bits of Islam to raise military discipline, morale and so on. I'm sorry to say that this is the way it has always been used in the Pakistani army. It is our equivalent of rum-the generals use it to get their men to launch suicidal attacks. But there is no such thing as a powerful jihadi group within the army. Of course, there are many devoutly Muslim officers and jawans [enlisted troops], but at heart the vast majority of the army are nationalists, and take whatever is useful from Islam to serve what they see as Pakistan's interests. The Pakistani army has been a nationalist army with an Islamic look.
On the whole, by far the most important aspect of a Pakistani officer's identity is that he (or sometimes she) is an officer. The Pakistani military is a profoundly shaping influence as far as its members are concerned. This can be seen, among other places, in the social origins and personal habits of its chiefs of staff and Pakistan's military rulers over the years. It would be hard to find a more different set of men than generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf, Mirza Aslam Beg, Jehangir Karamat and Ashfaq Kayani in terms of their social origins, personal characters and attitudes toward religion; some were rich others poor, some secular others religious and some conspiratorial others loyal. Yet all have been first and foremost military men.
This means in turn that their ideology is largely one of nationalism. The military is tied to Pakistan, not to the universal Muslim ummah of the radical Islamists' dreams; tied not only by sentiment and ideology but also by the reality of what supports the army. If it is true, as so many officers have told me, that "no army, no Pakistan," it is equally true that "no Pakistan, no army."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in Tolmin, Slovenia 6/26-27
on: June 29, 2010, 09:42:46 AM
110 people in attendance for three days of good times. The afternoon of the last day we went white water rafting on the cleanest, most blue river I have seen.
Thanks to Borut and Tina for an outstanding time.
A LONG day yesterday getting home. Wonderful to be with my family again.
Now I rest.
The Adventure continues!
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread
on: June 29, 2010, 08:58:19 AM
Well, on general principles I think it a good thing that the UFC have competition.
As for Lesnar vs. Carwin, this is one to which I am really looking forward. I root for Carwin, to me Lesnar seems a bully.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Karzai & Haqqani sitting under a tree
on: June 27, 2010, 06:07:16 PM
While the US is looking all over the map for Haqqani, they forgot to look
under the bed...
Karzai Holds Talks With Haqqani -
June 27, 2010
Al Jazeera reported June 27 that Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan and a
member of the Haqqani network. The unnamed sources told Al Jazeera the
meeting took place during the week of June 20, and that Haqqani was
accompanied by Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and
Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Karzai’s
office has denied the meeting took place, and a Pakistani army spokesman
said he had no knowledge of such a meeting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH's Frank Rich
on: June 27, 2010, 05:36:00 PM
THE moment he pulled the trigger, there was near-universal agreement that President Obama had done the inevitable thing, the right thing and, best of all, the bold thing. But before we get carried away with relief and elation, let’s not forget what we saw in the tense 36 hours that fell between late Monday night, when word spread of Rolling Stone’s blockbuster article, and high noon Wednesday, when Obama MacArthured his general. That frenzied interlude revealed much about the state of Washington, the Afghanistan war and the Obama presidency — little of it cheering and none of it resolved by the ingenious replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, the only militarily and politically bullet-proof alternative.
What we saw was this: 1) Much of the Beltway establishment was blindsided by Michael Hastings’s scoop, an impressive feat of journalism by a Washington outsider who seemed to know more about what was going on in Washington than most insiders did; 2) Obama’s failure to fire McChrystal months ago for both his arrogance and incompetence was a grievous mistake that illuminates a wider management shortfall at the White House; 3) The present strategy has produced no progress in this nearly nine-year-old war, even as the monthly coalition body count has just reached a new high.
If we and the president don’t absorb these revelations and learn from them, the salutary effects of the drama’s denouement, however triumphant for Obama in the short run, will be for naught.
There were few laughs in the 36 hours of tumult, but Jon Stewart captured them with a montage of cable-news talking heads expressing repeated shock that an interloper from a rock ’n’ roll magazine could gain access to the war command and induce it to speak with self-immolating candor. Politico theorized that Hastings had pulled off his impertinent coup because he was a freelance journalist rather than a beat reporter, and so could risk “burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.”
That sentence was edited out of the article — in a routine updating, said Politico — after the blogger Andrew Sullivan highlighted it as a devastating indictment of a Washington media elite too cozy with and protective of its sources to report the unvarnished news. In any event, Politico had the big picture right. It’s the Hastings-esque outsiders with no fear of burning bridges who have often uncovered the epochal stories missed by those with high-level access. Woodward and Bernstein were young local reporters, nowhere near the White House beat, when they cracked Watergate. Seymour Hersh was a freelancer when he broke My Lai. It was uncelebrated reporters in Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, not journalistic stars courted by Scooter and Wolfowitz, who mined low-level agency hands to challenge the “slam-dunk” W.M.D. intelligence in the run-up to Iraq.
Symbolically enough, Hastings was reporting his McChrystal story abroad just as Beltway media heavies and their most bold-faced subjects were dressing up for the annual White House correspondents’ dinner. Rolling Stone has never bought a table or thrown an afterparty for that bacchanal, and it has not even had a Washington bureau since the mid-1970s. Yet the magazine has not only chronicled the McChrystal implosion — and relentlessly tracked the administration’s connections to the “vampire squid” of Goldman Sachs — but has also exposed the shoddy management of the Obama Interior Department. As it happens, the issue of Rolling Stone with the Hastings story also contains a second installment of Tim Dickinson’s devastating dissection of the Ken Salazar cohort, this time detailing how its lax regulation could soon lead to an even uglier repeat of the Gulf of Mexico fiasco when BP and Shell commence offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
The Interior Department follies will end promptly only if Obama has learned the lessons of the attenuated McChrystal debacle. Lesson No. 1 should be to revisit some of his initial hiring decisions. The general’s significant role in the Pentagon’s politically motivated cover-up of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death in 2004 should have been disqualifying from the start. The official investigation into that scandal — finding that McChrystal peddled “inaccurate and misleading assertions” — was unambiguous and damning.
Once made the top commander in Afghanistan, the general was kept on long past his expiration date. He should have been cashiered after he took his first public shot at Joe Biden during a London speaking appearance last October. That’s when McChrystal said he would not support the vice president’s more limited war strategy, should the president choose it over his own. According to Jonathan Alter in his book “The Promise,” McChrystal’s London remarks also disclosed information from a C.I.A. report that the general “had no authority to declassify.” These weren’t his only offenses. McChrystal had gone on a showboating personal publicity tour that culminated with “60 Minutes” — even as his own histrionic Afghanistan recommendation somehow leaked to Bob Woodward, disrupting Obama’s war deliberations. The president was livid, Alter writes, but McChrystal was spared because of a White House consensus that he was naïve, not “out of control.”
We now know, thanks to Hastings, that the general was out of control and the White House was naïve. The price has been huge. The McChrystal cadre’s utter distaste for its civilian colleagues on the war team was an ipso facto death sentence for the general’s signature counterinsurgency strategy. You can’t engage in nation building without civilian partnership. As Rachel Maddow said last week of McChrystal, “the guy who was promoting and leading the counterinsurgency strategy has shown by his actions that even he doesn’t believe in it.”
This fundamental contradiction helps explain some of the war’s failures under McChrystal’s aborted command, including the inability to hold Marja (pop. 60,000), which he had vowed to secure in pure counterinsurgency fashion by rolling out a civilian “government in a box” after troops cleared it of the Taliban. Such is the general’s contempt for leadership outside his orbit that it extends even to our allies. The Hastings article opens with McChrystal mocking the French at a time when every ally’s every troop is a precious, dwindling commodity in Afghanistan.
In the 36 hours between the Rolling Stone bombshell and McChrystal’s firing, some perennial war cheerleaders in the Beltway establishment, including the editorial page of The Washington Post and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, did rally to the general’s defense and implored Obama to keep him in place. George Stephanopoulos, reflecting a certain strain of received Beltway wisdom, warned on ABC that the president risked looking “thin-skinned and petulant” if he fired McChrystal.
But none of the general’s defenders had an argument for him or the war beyond staying the course, poor as the results have been. What McChrystal’s supporters most seemed to admire was his uniquely strong relationship with Hamid Karzai, our Afghanistan puppet. As if to prove the point, Karzai was the most visible lobbyist for McChrystal’s survival last week. He was matched by his corrupt half-brother, the reported opium kingpin Ahmed Wali Karzai, who chimed in to publicly declare McChrystal “honest.” Was Rod Blagojevich unavailable as a character witness?
You have to wonder whether McChrystal’s defenders in Washington even read Hastings’s article past its inflammatory opening anecdotes. If so, they would have discovered that the day before the Marja offensive, the general’s good pal Hamid Karzai kept him waiting for hours so he could finish a nap before signing off on the biggest military operation of the year. Poor McChrystal was reduced to begging another official to wake the sleeping president so he could get on with the show.
The war, supported by a steadily declining minority of Americans, has no chance of regaining public favor unless President Obama can explain why American blood and treasure should be at the mercy of this napping Afghan president. Karzai stole an election, can’t provide a government in or out of a box, and has in recent months threatened to defect to the Taliban and accused American forces of staging rocket attacks on his national peace conference. Until last week, Obama’s only real ally in making his case was public apathy. Next to unemployment and the oil spill, Karzai and Afghanistan were but ticks on our body politic, even as the casualty toll passed 1,000. As a senior McChrystal adviser presciently told Hastings, “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”
To appreciate how shielded Americans have been from Afghanistan, revisit Rahm Emanuel’s appearance last Sunday morning on “This Week,” just before the McChrystal firestorm erupted. Trying to put a positive spin on the war, the president’s chief of staff said that the Afghans were at long last meeting their army and police quotas. Technically that’s true; the numbers are up. But in that same day’s Washington Post, a correspondent in Kandahar reported that the Afghan forces there are poorly equipped, corrupt, directionless and infiltrated by Taliban sympathizers and spies. Kandahar (pop. 1 million) is supposed to be the site of the next major American offensive.
The gaping discrepancy between Emanuel’s upbeat assessment and the reality on the ground went unremarked because absolutely no one was paying attention. Everyone is now. That, at least, gives us reason to hope that the president’s first bold move to extricate America from the graveyard of empires won’t be his last.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Repair
on: June 27, 2010, 02:38:37 AM
If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,
then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.
But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is,
then it is you yourself that needs repair.
A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe
-words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman
Tammuz 15, 5770 * June 27, 2010
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 6 year old terrorist
on: June 27, 2010, 02:17:54 AM
Ohio 6-Year-Old Turns Up on Terror Watch List
Updated: 15 hours 59 minutes ago
Print Text Size
(June 26) – The father of a 6-year-old Ohio girl who turned up on the U.S. government's terror watch list says the worst thing his daughter has ever done is probably been mean to her sister.
But Santhosh Thomas, a doctor from Westlake, Ohio, says he's sure that's not enough to land his 6-year-old Alyssa on the no-fly list of suspected terrorists. "She may have threatened her sister, but I don't think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers," he told CNN.
An airline ticket agent informed the family of their predicament when they embarked on recent trip from Cleveland to Minneapolis. "They said, 'Well, she's on the list.' We're like, okay, what's the story? What do we have to do to get off the list? This isn't exactly the list we want to be on," Thomas said.
The Thomases were allowed to fly that day, but authorities told them to contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to clear up the matter. Now they've received a letter from the government addressed to 6-year-old Alyssa, telling her that nothing in her file will be changed.
Federal authorities have acknowledged that such a no-fly list exists, but as a matter of national security, they won't comment on whose names are on it nor why. "The watch lists are an important layer of security to prevent individuals with known or suspected ties to terrorism from flying," an unnamed spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration told Fox News.
"She's been flying since she was two-months old, so that has not been an issue," Alyssa's dad said. "In fact, we had traveled to Mexico in February and there were no issues at that time."
That's likely because of a recent change by the Transportation Security Administration, which used to check only international passengers' names against the no-fly list, but since earlier this month has been checking domestic passengers as well.
The Thomases told CNN they plan on appealing Alyssa's status to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security again, and will be sure to leave plenty of extra time for check-in the next time they fly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cannibis cultivation
on: June 26, 2010, 03:10:39 PM
IMHO far and away the stupidest part of the WOD is the criminalization of marijuana.
U.S. Forest Service land is increasingly fertile ground for pot plants grown by Mexican cartels
Media references to Mexican drug cartels are invariably followed by some variation of the phrase "spill over into this country." Those five words are key to the flak currently being sent up by the federal government—most recently by Janet Napolitano, former Arizona governor and now head of the Department of Homeland Security.
She wants you to believe the feds have a plan to respond should Mexican cartel violence "spill over into this country."
Spill over? It's already here, in our border communities, as well as in the 230 cities across the nation where the cartels are active. The wave of home invasions in Tucson and the kidnappings in Phoenix aren't the result of Tupperware parties gone bad.
Even our public lands are being hit, especially in the Tonto National Forest around Payson, 90 miles northeast of Phoenix.
Between 2006 and 2008, the Gila County Narcotics Task Force took down 43 pot farms, eradicating 82,904 marijuana plants, says Task Force commander Johnny Sanchez. All but a handful were on Tonto land.
All of the farms larger than 1,000 plants were apparently operated by Mexican drug organizations. The workers are usually Mexican nationals brought across the border for that purpose. They might arrive at a grow site in April and live there until harvest in October.
These men are considered "high-value assets," according to a Forest Service criminal investigator who asked for anonymity. They're generally from rural, marijuana-growing areas in Mexico, such as Michoacán, which means they're experienced in the drug trade and capable of surviving outdoors.
But at harvest time, the cartel acquires additional workers, sometimes by kidnapping them off the streets of Phoenix and hauling them to Payson to work off smuggling debts. Others are brought across the border on the promise that they'll be set up with some unnamed job. They're driven out to the forest and—only then—told of their new "employment." The forest investigator says these "farm workers" are often armed. Gunfire has erupted in the Tonto at least twice.
In September 2005, bear hunters approached a pot farm along Deer Creek, in the Mazatzal Wilderness, and were fired upon by cartel guards. The hunters returned fire and retreated to notify police.
The following year, a Forest Service tactical team raided a site in the same area and took fire from a guard carrying a semiautomatic rifle. Two men were arrested, and one escaped. The rifleman, a Mexican national who was shot in the abdomen, was eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The investigator worries about possible encounters in which ordinary Americans trying to enjoy the outdoors could accidentally walk into trouble.
"If you're a hiker or a hunter carrying a gun, and you stumble into one of these areas, and they mistake you for somebody else, shooting can easily erupt," says the investigator. "I wish I could tell you it's not dangerous, but I can't."
In 2007, officers found a grow site a mile and a half from a Boy Scout camp 12 miles north of Payson. A Scout leader out hiking spotted the marijuana and notified police.
Cartel workers live in camps consisting of canvas tarps for shelter or branch lean-tos set against a canyon wall. They eat rice and beans cooked on camping stoves and get resupplied by men who march in with backpacks full of provisions.
The farms, usually at ravine bottoms or on hillsides, are irrigated by gravity-fed piping systems connected to natural springs or waterfalls as much as 5 miles away.
"These areas are so remote, it kicks our butts to get into them, and they usually hear us coming," says Sanchez, adding that guards sometimes rig access trails with trip wire strung with spoons or cans that rattle when disturbed.
So far, Arizona lawmen have not encountered booby traps, as has happened in California's national forests. About 57 percent of all marijuana grown on American public land originates there, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In July 2007, John Walters, then head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Washington Times: "America's public lands are under attack. Instead of being appreciated as national treasures, they are being exploited and destroyed by foreign drug-trafficking organizations and heavily armed Mexican marijuana cartels."
The Sequoia National Forest, in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, 350 miles from the border, has been a dangerous battlefield in the drug war. In August 2008, Walters visited Sequoia and said law enforcement had eradicated 420,000 marijuana plants in that forest in the previous eight years.
The first pot farms at Sequoia were discovered in 1998. The first raids on cartel-run grow sites in Tonto occurred in 2002.
But they've been found on other Arizona public lands as well. The Forest Service investigator said the Coconino Forest, around Flagstaff, eradicated 4,200 plants in 2008.
No farms have been discovered in the Kaibab Forest above Grand Canyon. "But we had a dramatic increase in activity last year in Southern Utah," says the investigator. "If they're in Southern Utah, they're probably in Kaibab, too."
No farms have been discovered in Southern Arizona's Coronado Forest, either, due to the lack of water, says Keith Graves, former district ranger in Nogales, now border liaison between the forest and the federal Secure Border Initiative.
The Tonto gets hit hard because of its proximity to Phoenix, where drug organizations thrive. It also has good water sources; Highway 260, which cuts through the forest, makes for easy re-supply.
One advantage of growing marijuana in the United States is that it bypasses border security. But U.S.-grown pot also draws a heftier price because it's often a better grade. "And they're less likely to have to deal with competing smuggling organizations, so it's cheaper," says the forest service investigator.
But the farms take a big toll on the environment. Cartel workers cut down trees and brush, causing erosion, and divert streams to access water. They leave behind piles of trash, as well as human waste and even banned pesticides smuggled up from Mexico that can wash into streams after rains.
Task Force Commander Sanchez, who has worked narcotics enforcement for 20 years, expects the problem to eventually "spill over" onto the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache reservations, as well as other reservations well beyond the Tonto.
"I don't think this will slow down," he says. "We're not winning the war on drugs, I can tell you that."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What's wrong with him?
on: June 26, 2010, 02:14:57 PM
June 11, 2010 A Shrink Asks: What's Wrong with Obama? *By* *Robin of
So what is the matter with Obama? Conservatives have been asking this
question for some time. I've written a number of articles
solve the mystery.
Even some liberals are starting to wonder. James Carville
Obama's blasé attitude after the catastrophic oil spill. The New York
Times' Maureen Dowd revamped Obama's "Yes We Can" motto into "Will We Ever?"
The liberal women of the TV show "The View" have expressed sympathy for
Michelle Obama's living with a man so out of
Peggy Noonan, hardly a vehement Obama foe, recently pronounced him
Obama's odd mannerisms intrigue a psychotherapist like me. He also presents
a serious diagnostic challenge.
For one, Obama's teleprompter and the men behind the Blackberry keep him
well-scripted. We know so little about the facts of his life.
But it's more than just a lack of information. Obama himself is a strange
bird. He doesn't fit easily into any diagnostic category.
Many people attribute Obama's oddness to his narcissism. True, Obama has a
gargantuan ego, and he is notoriously thin-skinned.
Yet a personality disorder like narcissism does not explain Obama's
strangeness: his giggling while being asked about the economy; his
continuing a shout-out rather than announcing the Ft. Hood shootings; or his
vacations, golfing, partying and fundraising during the calamitous oil
Take also Obama's declaring on the "Today Show" that he wants to know whose
ass to kick <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXBSotezfc4>. Consummate
narcissists would never stoop to this vulgar display of adolescent machismo.
Obama is flat when passion is needed; he's aggressive when savvy is
required. What's most worrisome is that Obama doesn't even realize that his
behavior is inappropriate.
So if it's not just simple narcissism, what is wrong with Obama? Since I've
never evaluated him, I can't say for sure. But I can hazard some educated
If I saw a client as disconnected as him, the first thing I would wonder: Is
something wrong with his brain? And I'd consider the following theoretical
--*Physical problems*: There are a multitude of physiological conditions
that can cause people to act strangely. For instance: head injuries,
endocrine disturbances, epilepsy, and toxic chemical exposure.
It makes me wonder: Did Obama ever have a head injury? His stepfather in
Indonesia was purportedly an alcoholic abuser. Was Obama subject to any
-- *Drugs and alcohol*: Damage to the brain from drugs and alcohol can also
cause significant cognitive impairments. Obama once said that there were 57
states -- and didn't correct himself. Memory problems can be caused by both
illicit and prescription drug use.
Obama admits to a history of drug use in his youth. Did his usage cause some
damage? Does Obama still use?
--*Asperger's Syndrome*: Also known as high-functioning autism,
deficits in social skills. A person with Asperger's can't read social cues.
Consequently, he can be insensitive and hurtful without even knowing it.
Could Obama have Asperger's? He might have some mild traits, but certainly
not the full-blown disorder. In contrast to Obama, those with Asperger's get
fixated on some behavior, like programming computers. Obama lacks this kind
of passion and zeal.
*--Mental Illnes*s: Obama's family tree is replete with the unbalanced. His
maternal great-grandmother committed suicide. His grandfather, Stanley
Dunham, was particularly unhinged: He was expelled from high school for
punching his principal; named his daughter Stanley because he wanted a boy;
and exposed young Barry to not just drunken trash talk, but unrestricted
visits with alleged pedophile Frank Marshall Davis (who might or might
Obama's biological father). Barack Sr. was an abusive, alcoholic
Since mental illness runs in the family, does Obama have any signs? Yes and
no. No, he is not a schizophrenic babbling about Martians. But there are red
flags for some other conditions.
While Obama doesn't appear to hallucinate, he seems to have delusions. His
believing he has a Messiah-like special gift smacks of grandiose delusions.
His externalizing all blame to conservatives, George W. Bush, or the
"racist" bogeyman hints at persecutory delusions.
Along with a delusional disorder, Obama may fit for a mild psychotic
disorder called schizotypal
It may explain some of Obama's oddness.
People with schizotypal disorder hold bizarre beliefs, are suspicious and
paranoid, and have inappropriate and constricted affect. They have few close
friends and are socially awkward. A schizotypal is someone like your strange
cousin Becky who is addicted to astrology, believes she is psychic, and is
the oddball at social gatherings.
Schizotypal Disorder does ring some bells vis-à-vis Obama. One way the
diagnosis doesn't fit, however, is that schizotypals are generally harmless,
odd ducks. Not so with Obama.
--*Trauma:* My gut tells me that Obama was seriously traumatized in
childhood. His mother disregarded his basic needs, dragged him all over the
place, and ultimately abandoned him.
But I think there may be something even more insidious in his family
background. While I can't prove it, the degree of Obama's disconnect reminds
me of my sexually abused clients.
With serious sexual abuse, the brain chemistry may change. The child
dissociates -- that is, disconnects from his being -- in order to cope. Many
adult survivors still dissociate, from occasional trances to the most
extreme cases of multiple personality disorder.
Apparently, young Barry was left in the care of Communist Frank Marshall
Davis, who admitted to molesting a 13-year-old girl. As a teenager, Obama
wrote a disturbing
"Pop," that evoked images of sexual abuse -- for instance, describing dual
amber stains on both his and "Pop's" shorts.
Would trauma explain Obama's disconnect? In many ways, yes. A damaged and
unattached child may develop a "false self." To compensate for the enormous
deficits in identity and attachment, the child invents his own personality.
For Obama, it may have been as a special, gifted person.
Let's return now to my original question: What is wrong with Obama? My guess
is a great deal. The answer is complex and likely includes some combination
of the above.
Along with the brain issues are personality disorders: narcissism, paranoia,
passive-aggressiveness. There's even the possibility of the most destructive
character defect of all, an antisocial
Untreated abuse can foster antisocial traits, especially among boys.
If my assessment is accurate, what does this mean?
It means that liberals need to wake up and spit out the Kool-Aid...and that
conservatives should put aside differences, band together, and elect as many
Republicans as possible.
Because Obama will not change. He will not learn from his mistakes. He will
not grow and mature from on-the-job experience. In fact, over time, Obama
will likely become a more ferocious version of who he is today.
Why? Because this is a damaged person. Obama's fate was sealed years ago
growing up in his strange and poisonous family. Later on, his empty vessel
was filled with the hateful bile of men like Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers.
Obama will not evolve; he will not rise to the occasion; he will not become
the man he was meant to be. This is for one reason and one reason alone:
He is not capable of it.
This article is not intended to offer any definitive diagnoses, but for
educational purposes only.
*A frequent AT contributor, Robin is a psychotherapist in Berkeley and a
recovering liberal. You can e-mail Robin at email@example.com
regrets that she may not be able to acknowledge your e-mail. *
*Page Printed from:http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/06/a_shrink_asks_whats_wrong_with.html
June 22, 2010 - 08:17:35 AM CDT
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / exchange rate
on: June 26, 2010, 02:09:12 AM
CHINA'S CURRENCY MOVES AND U.S. EXPECTATIONS
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at length about U.S.-China relations on Thursday,
expressing approval of China's recent announcement that it would end its currency's
two-year de facto peg to the U.S. dollar and allow more flexibility in its exchange
rate going forward. Obama will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the
sidelines of the G-20 summit, and spoke optimistically and conscientiously in
preparation for the talks. He said essentially that he approved of China's gesture
but now would like to see substantial action to support it.
The yuan's fixed rate has been a recurring source of tensions and threats, and the
prolonged unemployment problems following the recession have made U.S. leaders less
willing to tolerate China's taking exception to a range of international trade
norms. China's recent change to the policy was therefore welcome. But so far it is
merely symbolic, rising by barely two-hundredths of a yuan since a week ago. The
purpose of the tiny change was to give a sign, ahead of the G-20 summit in Canada,
that China is responsive to international demands for it to stop pushing the yuan
down to boost its manufacturers at the expense of others and begin playing a bigger
role in rebalancing the global economy. The other, more important purpose was to
reassure the United States.
In recent months, a long list of senators and representatives, as well as the
Treasury and Commerce departments, have brandished their weapons against China,
warning of the consequences of maintaining a currency that is undervalued by
anywhere from 20-40 percent. In the past few weeks the brandishing has gotten more
menacing. The chairmen of both the powerful Senate Finance Committee and the House
Ways and Means Committee have emphasized that if China does not act around the time
of the G-20 summit, and if the administration does not respond to this inaction,
then they will bring to a vote bills that would force the administration's hand.
From Beijing's point of view, there are good reasons to loosen the currency regime.
Allowing the yuan to rise would help in the process of transforming China's economy
into one that is of and for the consumer rather than one that is of and for the
producer. Chinese households and domestic-oriented businesses would see their buying
power enhanced, while exporters would lose some of their privileges. Investors would
respond to these trends and China would begin to genuinely shift away from
overdependence on exports as a means of growth. However, given the oft-observed
revolutionary effects of consumerism, Beijing is understandably insistent that the
process must be both gradual and carefully controlled. The Communist Party of
China's definition of a gradual pace of reform would elsewhere be interpreted as
"Given the oft-observed revolutionary effects of consumerism, Beijing is
understandably insistent that the process must be both gradual and carefully
For the United States, however, such timing is not fast enough. Midterm elections
are approaching in November and incumbents are in danger. While this is especially
important for congressmen whose states feel they have suffered the worst from cheap
Chinese imports, it is also important for Obama, whose domestic and foreign policy
woes are growing, and who could benefit from looking tough in dealing with China.
But the disagreement runs even deeper. As much as Obama may wish to avoid a
confrontation with China, he cannot afford to veto a bill against China once it sits
on his desk. The yuan is clearly artificially undervalued, and whatever the effect
on the U.S. economy, this is not beneficial. Not to mention the obvious question of
why China's currency is not freely traded like that of other countries, especially
given China's rapid growth, enormous economic size and the recovery of its exports
and trade surpluses.
Obama -- echoing the top lawmakers -- stressed the need to wait and observe the pace
and magnitude by which the yuan will rise in the coming weeks. Presumably, if China
is perceived to have made substantial improvement, the United States will call off
the dogs. Otherwise, the United States will begin meting out punishment for China's
currency "misalignment." The danger lies in where -- and whether -- U.S.
expectations intersect with China's capabilities given its fragile domestic
conditions. In the short term, Washington might be willing to be convinced to give
Beijing more leeway to reform at the pace it thinks it can handle. After all, a
deeper rift with China would not be beneficial for the United States given its other
economic and military preoccupations. (Though it would not be intolerable.) The
upcoming G-20 summit and Beijing's actions in the aftermath of those meetings will
determine whether such a rift can be avoided. Even so, any compromise will be
temporary, which spells trouble for U.S.-Chinese relations in the not-so-distant
Copyright 2010 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / L etat, cest moi
on: June 26, 2010, 02:04:50 AM
Will Obama listen to anybody?
June 24, 2010
There is a disturbing passage in federal Judge Martin Feldman's Tuesday decision
overturning President Obama's six-month moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling
in all waters more than 500 feet deep. "The [Interior] Secretary's determination
that a six-month moratorium on issuance of new permits and on drilling by the 33
rigs is necessary does not seem to be fact-specific and refuses to take into measure
the safety records of those others in the Gulf. There is no evidence presented
indicating that the Secretary balanced the concern for environmental safety with the
policy of making leases available for development. There is no suggestion that the
Secretary considered any alternatives. ..." Feldman wrote.
Even more disturbing is Obama's response to Feldman, which was to promise both an
appeal in court and issuance of a new drilling moratorium from Interior. In other
words, Obama is forging ahead with the very policy the judge just ruled
unconstitutional. And the chief executive is challenging the thousands of Gulf Coast
oil industry employees to try and stop him in the appeals court. This response is
the latest evidence of a disconcerting pattern with this president and his cronies
in the executive branch and Congress: Their "progressive" ideological agenda comes
first; everything else, including the will of the people and the letter of the law,
is at most an obstacle on the road to "change we can believe in."
Think about it: Large and growing majorities opposed Obamacare in public opinion
survey after survey, yet Obama and his congressional allies wrote the bill behind
closed doors, made multiple corrupt bargains to gain votes, and passed it anyway.
When General Motors bondholders opposed Obama's takeover, he flouted age-old
bankruptcy law while effectively nationalizing the automaker and handing it over to
the United Auto Workers union. When auto executives expressed concern about Obama's
costly increase in fuel economy standards, his chief environmental adviser warned
them not to "write anything down" about their discussion.
The list goes on: When public worries about excessive federal spending began being
heard on Capitol Hill, Obama appointed a rubber-stamping fiscal commission and
nodded approval as congressional Democrats set aside the law that since 1974 has
required Congress to approve an annual budget. When the Senate refused to vote on
Obama's cap-and-trade energy bill, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator
issued a threat: Either pass the bill or the agency will unilaterally impose
draconian carbon emission limits on America.
Years ago, Alexander Hamilton told the New York convention considering adoption of
the Constitution that "here, sir, the people govern." We wonder what he would say
today after witnessing Obama in action.
Read more at the Washington Examiner:
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Milk=Oil
on: June 26, 2010, 01:58:00 AM
Not from the Onion: EPA Classifies Milk as Oil
New Environmental Protection Agency regulations treat spilled milk like oil,
requiring farmers to build extra storage tanks and form emergency spill
Local farming advocates says it’s ridiculous to regulate a liquid with a
small percentage of butter fat the same way as the now-infamous BP oil
“It’s just another, unnecessary over-regulation by the government just
lacking any common sense,” said Bill Robb, dairy educator for Michigan State
The EPA regulations state that “milk typically contains a percentage of
animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Thus, containers storing milk are
subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule
when they meet the applicability criteria..."
Seriously, this is
from The Onion.
Do note that the issue is not even regulation of milk spills it's regulation
of milk under the *oil spill* prevention law. Given the power of farmers,
my bet is that these laws will not go into effect; even so I do not expect a
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Euro reactions
on: June 25, 2010, 04:16:00 PM
"Pajamas Media » Europeans React Skeptically to McChrystal Debacle
President Barack Obama's decision to remove General Stanley McChrystal
as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has generated considerable
media commentary in Europe, where governments are facing an uphill
struggle to reverse dwindling public support for the Afghan deployment.
European opinion-shapers say that Obama had no choice but to relieve
McChrystal of his command after the general and his associates publicly
ridiculed Obama's war cabinet in a magazine article. But the
overarching theme in European newspaper commentary is that McChrystal's
insubordination is a symptom of a much larger problem, namely that
Obama's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is not working.
25 European countries collectively have more than 30,000 troops
stationed in Afghanistan, but political pressure is mounting on
European governments to withdraw those troops from the country. Recent
polls show that more than 70 percent of Britons want their troops out
of Afghanistan immediately, as do 62 percent of Germans. Polling across
Europe — from Portugal to Poland — shows that well over 50 percent of
Europeans want their troops to come home.
In February, Dutch
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's coalition government collapsed
when the two largest parties failed to agree on whether to withdraw
troops from Afghanistan this year as planned. Now the Poles, the
British, and others are discussing how long they will stay.
European governments have praised Obama's decision to name General
David Petraeus as the new commander in Afghanistan, the public
squabbling within Obama's inner circle clearly has undermined the
president's credibility, which up until now has provided European
governments with much-needed political cover to help them keep their
troops in Afghanistan. The question is now: can Petraeus make enough
headway in Afghanistan to keep the Europeans from rushing to the exits?
What follows is a brief selection of European commentary on the McChrystal affair:
Britain, the left-wing Guardian published an article titled "Fears for
Afghan Strategy after 24 Hours of Turmoil." It says the "Rolling Stone
story has focused attention on the serious divisions and personality
clashes among those in charge of the military and political strategies.
That in turn has led to further questioning of whether McChrystal's
counterinsurgency strategy is working. … The likelihood that
McChrystal's strategy will fail is accepted by some senior British Army
officials. One speculated that the coming year would bring a further
scaling back of the objective of the international mission in
Afghanistan, which already slipped last year from 'defeating' to
'degrading' the Taliban."
Another Guardian article titled "Where
McChrystal Led, Britain Followed" says McChrystal's dismissal should
make British commanders, diplomats, and politicians rethink their
Afghan policy. The article says: "For the British military, especially
the British special forces, McChrystal was a hero of almost Homeric
proportions. His dismissal should make the commanders, diplomats and
politicians think hard and think again about the Afghanistan policy
from top to bottom. It is no use them clinging to the notion that the
British army needs to defend its military honour and prowess to prove
Britain is still a vital ally to the U.S. — which is how some argue for
our troops still being there. Notions of honour and fidelity are not in
any sense practical operational objectives."
Also in Britain,
the Economist magazine published an essay titled "McChrystal and
Afghanistan: It's His War." It says: "Mr. McChrystal is an advocate of
full-spectrum counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare, a sophisticated
approach that embraces politics and economic development as part of the
war effort. But the question facing COIN advocates in Afghanistan today
isn't whether they are, in principle, right about how to fight
insurgencies. The question is whether this approach — which demands
such sophistication and expertise, so many soldiers who are also social
workers, agriculture experts and police trainers, so many USAID
consultants who need to be protected by soldiers, and such an effective
development aid effort in a world that has rarely seen effective
development aid anywhere, let alone in the middle of a jihadist
insurgency — is possible in practice. And, if so, is it possible in
Afghanistan? Is it achievable by the actually existing American
military and aid bureaucracy in Afghanistan? And can it be done at a
price that Americans are willing or even able to pay? The answer we're
seeing so far isn't yes."
In another article titled "Out with
the New, in with the Old," the Economist says: "Today's decisions [to
replace General McChrystal] do not change the reality on the ground in
Afghanistan, where a brutal insurgency and incompetent government make
victory, however it is defined, uncertain at best. Nor does it do much
to change Eliot Cohen's observation that Mr. Obama has assembled a
dysfunctional team to work on the Afghan project. And, with General
Petraeus now focused 1,500 miles east, what becomes of Iraq?"
Kern is Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based
Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group."http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/europeans-react-sceptically-to-mcchrystal-debacle/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wonder what would be said if Bush did this?
on: June 25, 2010, 04:02:27 PM
WASHINGTON — There are no Secret Service agents posted next to the barista and no presidential seal on the ceiling, but the Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House has become a favorite meeting spot to conduct Obama administration business.
Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its “outsized influence” in the capital.
On the agenda over espressos and lattes, according to more than a dozen lobbyists and political operatives who have taken part in the sessions, have been front-burner issues like Wall Street regulation, health care rules, federal stimulus money, energy policy and climate control — and their impact on the lobbyists’ corporate clients.
But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history.”
The off-site meetings, lobbyists say, reveal a disconnect between the Obama administration’s public rhetoric — with Mr. Obama himself frequently thrashing big industries’ “battalions” of lobbyists as enemies of reform — and the administration’s continuing, private dealings with them.
Rich Gold, a prominent Democratic lobbyist who has taken part in a number of meetings at Caribou Coffee, said that White House staff members “want to follow the president’s guidance of reducing the influence of special interests, and yet they have to do their job and have the best information available to them to make decisions.”
Mr. Gold added that the administration’s policy of posting all White House visits, combined with pressure to not be seen as meeting too frequently with lobbyists, leave staff members “betwixt and between.”
White House officials said there was nothing improper about the off-site meetings.
“The Obama administration has taken unprecedented steps to increase the openness and transparency of the White House,” said Dan Pfeiffer, director of communications. “We expect that all White House employees adhere to their obligations under our very stringent ethics rules regardless of who they are meeting with or where they meet.”
Attempts to put distance between the White House and lobbyists are not limited to meetings. Some lobbyists say that they routinely get e-mail messages from White House staff members’ personal accounts rather than from their official White House accounts, which can become subject to public review. Administration officials said there were some permissible exceptions to a federal law requiring staff members to use their official accounts and retain the correspondence.
And while Mr. Obama has imposed restrictions on hiring lobbyists for government posts, the administration has used waivers and recusals more than two dozen times to appoint lobbyists to political positions. Two lobbyists also cited instances in which the White House had suggested that a job candidate be “deregistered” as a lobbyist in Senate records to avoid violating the administration’s hiring restrictions.
A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that in “a small number of cases,” people might have been “wrongly” registered as lobbyists, based on federal standards. The official said that while the White House might have discussed such instances of possible “over-registration,” he was “quite confident that no lobbying shop has been instructed to deregister anyone.”
Many lobbyists still get in the front door at the White House — nearly 1,000 times, according to a New York Times examination of public White House visitors’ logs and lobbying registration records.
Those logs, though, present an incomplete picture. For instance, many of the entries do not reflect who actually took part in a meeting. The “visitee” often shows up not as the White House official who was the host, but as the administrative assistant who arranged the meeting.
Page 2 of 2)
David Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, based in Washington, said the current “cold war” relationship between the White House and K Street lobbyists was one of mutual necessity, with the White House relying on lobbyists’ expertise and connections to help shape federal policies.
“You can’t close the door all the way because you still need to have these communications,” Mr. Wenhold said. “It makes a great sound bite for the White House to demonize us lobbyists, but at the end of the day, they’re still going to call us.”
Lobbyists say some White House officials will agree to an initial meeting with a lobbyist and his client at the White House, but then plan follow-up sessions at a site not subject to the visitors’ log.
One lobbyist recounted meeting with White House officials on a side lawn outside the building to introduce them to the chief executive of a major foreign corporation.
“I’ll call and say, ‘I want to talk to you about X,’ and they’ll say, ‘Sure, let’s talk at Starbucks,’ ” said another lobbyist who counted six or seven off-site meetings with White House officials on financial issues.
Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, has shown up several times at a closed gathering of liberal political activists and lobbyists that is held weekly at the Capital Hilton. Other Obama aides — like Jim Messina, the deputy chief of staff, and Norm Eisen, the special assistant for ethics — and senior aides in the Office of Management and Budget, the energy czar’s office and elsewhere have also taken part in off-campus meetings, lobbyists said.
Employees at Caribou Coffee — which many lobbyists said appeared to be the favorite spot for off-site meetings, in part because of its proximity to the White House — welcome the increased traffic.
“They’re here all the time — all day,” Andre Williams, a manager at Caribou Coffee, said of his White House customers. (He can spot White House officials by the security badges around their necks, or the Secret Service agents lurking nearby.)
“A lot of them like lattes — that or a ‘depth charge,’ a coffee with a shot of espresso,” Mr. Williams said. “The caffeine rush — they need it.”
Some administration officials and lobbyists say that meeting away from the White House allows officials to get some air without making visitors go through the cumbersome White House security process. Others, however, acknowledge that one motivation is the desire to avoid lobbyists’ names showing up too often on the White House logs.
A senior White House official said, “We don’t believe there’s anything untoward about these meetings, and we don’t think that represents any special access for lobbyists.”
The official added that “folks are allowed to get a cup of coffee, and we’re not going to bar patronage at any of the area’s fine coffeehouses.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: June 25, 2010, 03:55:17 PM
ILlegal immigrants (and amnestying them into Dem votes) are one issue.
An additional issue is the loyalty of those who come.
Call the Capital switchboard 202-224-3121 and ask for your Sen/Rep office
NOW TO STOP DE FACTO AMNESTY THAT BY-PASSES CONGRESS !!!
This amnesty could go in place just by federal bureaucrats taking an
action that the President just lets happen. He would merely have to give his
quiet consent to DHS Sec. Napolitano massively abusing one or both of two
powers she already has:
1) parole authority
2) prosecutorial discretion to grant "deferred action".
These are intended to be used in individual cases, not as a blanket
amnesty to cover millions. But we have received information from both Democratic
and Republican offices that they have been told from people inside the
Department of Homeland Security that "parole" and "deferred action" are being
looked at as a way to get around the fact that Congress is not going to vote
for an amnesty this year.
We should be petitioning both Obama and Napolitano to abandon any plans to
usurp Congress' Constitutional authority over immigration by abusing the
Secretary's restricted parole and prosecutorial discretion authority to
accomplish an amnesty for illegal aliens.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Peggy Noonan
on: June 25, 2010, 03:32:55 PM
PN is less than she used to be, but this piece strikes me as worthy of inclusion here:
McChrystal Forces Us to Focus
Now Petraeus owes us a candid assessment of the Afghan effort.
rue> PEGGY NOONAN
Gen. Stanley McChrystal's greatest contribution to the war in Afghanistan
may turn out to be forcing everyone to focus on it. The real news there this
week was not Gen. McChrystal's epic faux pas and dismissal but that 12
soldiers were killed on June 7-8, including five Americans by a roadside
bomb, making that "the deadliest 24 hour period this year," as The Economist
noted. Insurgency-related violence was up by 87% in the six months prior to
March. Agence France-Presse reported Thursday that NATO forces are
experiencing their deadliest month ever.
There have been signal moments in this war since its inception, and we are
in the middle of one now.
It has gone on almost nine years. It began rightly, legitimately. On 9/11 we
had been attacked, essentially, from Afghanistan, harborer of terrorists. We
invaded and toppled the Taliban with dispatch, courage and even, for all our
woundedness, brio. We all have unforgettable pictures in our minds. One of
mine is the grainy footage of a U.S. cavalry charge, with local tribesman,
against a Taliban stronghold. It left me cheering. You too, I bet.
But Washington soon took its eye off the ball, turning its focus and fervor
to invading Iraq. Over the years, the problems in Afghanistan mounted. In
2009, amid a growing air of crisis, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates sacked
the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan-institutional
Army, maybe a little old-style. He was replaced by Gen. McChrystal-specials
forces background, black ops, an agile and resourceful snake eater.
"Politicians love the mystique of these guys," said a general this week.
Snake eaters know it, and wind up being even more colorful, reveling in
their ethos of bucking the system.
View Full Image
Last August, Gen. McChrystal produced, and someone leaked, a 66-page report
warning of "mission failure." More troops and new strategy were needed. The
strategy, counterinsurgency, was adopted. That was a signal moment within a
signal moment, for at the same time the president committed 30,000 more
troops and set a deadline for departure, July 2011. The mission on the
ground was expanded-counterinsurgency, also known as COIN, is nation
building, and nation building is time- and troop-intensive-but the timeline
for success was truncated.
COIN is a humane strategy not lacking in shrewdness: Don't treat the people
of a sovereign nation as if they just wandered across your battlefield.
Instead, befriend them, consult them, build schools, give them an investment
in peace. Only America, and God bless it, would try to take the hell out of
war. But the new strategy involved lawyering up, requiring troops to receive
permission before they hit targets. Some now-famous cases make clear this
has endangered soldiers and damaged morale.
The Afghan government, on which COIN's success hinges, is corrupt and
unstable. That is their political context. But are we fully appreciating the
political context of the war at home, in America?
The left doesn't like this war and will only grow more opposed to it. The
center sees that it has gone on longer than Vietnam, and "we've seen that
movie before." We're in an economic crisis; can we afford this war? The
right is probably going to start to peel off, not Washington policy
intellectuals but people on the ground in America. There are many reasons
for this. Their sons and nephew have come back from repeat tours full of
doubts as to the possibility of victory, "whatever that is," as we all now
say. There is the brute political fact that the war is now President
Obama's. The blindly partisan will be only too happy to let him stew in it.
Republican leaders such as John McCain are stalwart: This war can be won.
But there's a sense when you watch Mr. McCain that he's very much speaking
for Mr. McCain, and McCainism. Republicans respect this attitude: "Never
give in." But people can respect what they choose not to follow. The other
day Sen. Lindsey Graham, in ostensibly supportive remarks, said that Gen.
David Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal's replacement, "is our only hope." If he
can't pull it out, "nobody can." That's not all that optimistic a statement.
The U.S. military is overstretched in every way, including emotionally and
psychologically. The biggest takeaway from a week at U.S. Army War College
in 2008 was the exhaustion of the officers. They are tired from repeat
deployments, and their families are stretched to the limit, with children
reaching 12 and 13 without a father at home.
The president himself is in parlous position with regard to support, which
means with regard to his ability to persuade, to be believed, to be
followed. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows more people
disapprove of Mr. Obama's job performance than approve.
When he ran for president, Mr. Obama blasted Iraq but called Afghanistan the
"good war." This was in line with public opinion, and as a young Democratic
progressive who hadn't served in the military, he had to kick away from the
old tie-dyed-hippie-lefty-peacenik hangover that dogs the Democratic Party
to this day, even as heartless-warlike-bigot-in-plaid-golf-shorts dogs the
Republicans. In 2009 he ordered a top-to-bottom review of Afghanistan. In
his valuable and deeply reported book "The Promise," Jonathan Alter offers
new information on the review. A reader gets the sense it is meant to be
reassuring-they're doing a lot of thinking over there!-but for me it was
not. The president seems to have thought government experts had answers, or
rather reliable and comprehensive information that could be weighed and
fully understood. But in Washington, agency analysts and experts don't have
answers, really. They have product. They have factoids. They have
free-floating data. They have dots in a pointillist picture, but they're not
artists, they're dot-makers.
More crucially, the president asked policy makers, in Mr. Alter's words, "If
the Taliban took Kabul and controlled Afghanistan, could it link up with
Pakistan's Taliban and threaten command and control of Pakistan's nuclear
weapons?" The answer: Quite possibly yes. Mr. Alter: "Early on, the
President eliminated withdrawal (from Afghanistan) as an option, in part
because of a new classified study on what would happen to Pakistan's nuclear
arsenal if the Islamabad government fell to the Taliban."
That is always the heart-stopper in any conversation about Afghanistan,
terrorists and Pakistan's nukes. But the ins and outs of this question-what
we know, for instance, about the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service,
and its connections to terrorists-are not fully discussed. Which means a
primary argument in the president's arsenal is denied him.
It is within the context of all this mess that-well, Gen. Petraeus a week
and a half ago, in giving Senate testimony on Afghanistan, appeared to
faint. And Gen. McChrystal suicide-bombed his career. One of Gen.
McChrystal's aides, in the Rolling Stone interview, said that if Americans
"started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular."
Maybe we should find out. Gen. Petraeus's confirmation hearings are set for
next week. He is a careful man, but this is no time for discretion. What is
needed now is a deep, even startling, even brute candor. The country can
take it. It's taken two wars. So can Gen. Petraeus. He can't be fired
because both his predecessors were, and because he's Petraeus. In that sense
he's fireproof. Which is not what he'll care about. He cares about doing
what he can to make America safer in the world. That means being frank about
a war that can be prosecuted only if the American people support it. They
have focused. They're ready to hear.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Disclose Act?
on: June 24, 2010, 03:51:40 PM
This is URGENT! Once again Congress is directly attacking our freedoms and liberties
by working to silence the voices of any who oppose them. We must respond quickly
and stop the Disclose Act dead in its tracks. Please call Jane Harman and urge her
to vote NO on the Disclose Act ASAP.
D.C. Phone: 202-225-8220
El Segundo Phone: 310-643-3636
From the American Grassroots Coalition ...
Will the First Amendment Survive the DISCLOSE Act?
Free speech is under attack! There is no time for rest, just as the summer is getting
started, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congress are trying to silence our free speech
and trample our First Amendment liberties.
In an effort to protect incumbents and to silence tea party and grassroots activists
groups across the country, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced H.R.
5175 which is a direct response to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
- a First Amendment victory in which the Supreme Court overturned the prohibition
on corporations and unions using treasury funds for independent expenditures supporting
or opposing political candidates at any time of the year.
Simply put, this legislation is intended to make liberty loving organizations disclose
their donations and donors in an effort to overwhelm them, and thus silence them
so they will not engage in the political process. The Speaker and her Democratic
Congress are doing their best to make sure that this movement has no impact on the
Once again, this is dirty politics, as usual!
Want more information? You will find the exact language of H.R. 5175 here.
You can watch a video that explains H.R. 5175 here
This legislation was supposed to be brought to the floor last week. On Friday morning,
Politico reported that Speaker Pelosi pulled the bill because of strong opposition
by the Blue Dog Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Politico reported, "The Blue Dogs are concerned that opposition from the Chamber,
National Federation of Independent Business, National Association of Realtors and
other business groups will damage their reelection prospects in the fall.
The Congressional Black Caucus, on the other hand, was unhappy about an exemption
to the bill granted to the National Rifle Association agreed to by Van Hollen. While
the exemption was later extended to other groups, the CBC remained concerned about
the bill's potential impact on the NAACP and other progressive groups."
The bottom line is that this legislation is bad for everyone and we must do everything
we can to pressure all Members of the House of Representatives to stop this legislation
Join Our Mailing List [http://visitor.constantcontact.com/email.jsp?m=1102694216715]
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / American Psychosis
on: June 24, 2010, 01:03:26 PM
What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/90/hedges-american-psychosis.html
The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears or John Edwards, enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.
The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.
Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.
It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.
We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us investment houses like Goldman Sachs … that willfully trashed the global economy and stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. It is fused into one bizarre, perverted belief system and it has banished the possibility of the country returning to a reality-based world or avoiding internal collapse. A society that cannot distinguish reality from illusion dies.
The tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture, however, are vanishing for most citizens as we head toward collapse. The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The jobs we are shedding are not coming back, as the White House economist Lawrence Summers tacitly acknowledges when he talks of a “jobless recovery.” The belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the accumulation of vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others is exposed as a fraud. Freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.
America is sinking under trillions in debt it can never repay and stays afloat by frantically selling about $2 billion in Treasury bonds a day to the Chinese. It saw 2.8 million people lose their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions – nearly 8,000 people a day – and stands idle as they are joined by another 2.4 million people this year. It refuses to prosecute the Bush administration for obvious war crimes, including the use of torture, and sees no reason to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Deficits are pushing individual states to bankruptcy and forcing the closure of everything from schools to parks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have squandered trillions of dollars, appear endless. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called “near poverty.” One in eight Americans – and one in four children – depend on food stamps to eat. And yet, in the midst of it all, we continue to be a country consumed by happy talk and happy thoughts. We continue to embrace the illusion of inevitable progress, personal success and rising prosperity. Reality is not considered an impediment to desire.
When a culture lives within an illusion it perpetuates a state of permanent infantilism or childishness. As the gap widens between the illusion and reality, as we suddenly grasp that it is our home being foreclosed or our job that is not coming back, we react like children. We scream and yell for a savior, someone who promises us revenge, moral renewal and new glory. It is not a new story. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually, emotionally and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans and will usher America into a new dark age. It was the economic collapse in Yugoslavia that gave us Slobodan Milosevic. It was the Weimar Republic that vomited up Adolf Hitler. And it was the breakdown in Tsarist Russia that opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we naïvely dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. And as in all totalitarian societies, those who do not pay fealty to the illusions imposed by the state become the outcasts, the persecuted.
The decline of American empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of Harvard historian Charles Maier, from an “empire of production” to an “empire of consumption.” By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies.
As the pressure mounts, as the despair and desperation reach into larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state. This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” warrantless wiretapping on American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. The motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to seize and maintain internal control. It is about controlling us.
And yet, even in the face of catastrophe, mass culture continues to assure us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, by Hollywood or by Christian preachers, is magical thinking. It turns worthless mortgages and debt into wealth. It turns the destruction of our manufacturing base into an opportunity for growth. It turns alienation and anxiety into a cheerful conformity. It turns a nation that wages illegal wars and administers offshore penal colonies where it openly practices torture into the greatest democracy on earth. And it keeps us from fighting back.
Resistance movements will have to look now at the long night of slavery, the decades of oppression in the Soviet Union and the curse of fascism for models. The goal will no longer be the possibility of reforming the system but of protecting truth, civility and culture from mass contamination. It will require the kind of schizophrenic lifestyle that characterizes all totalitarian societies. Our private and public demeanors will often have to stand in stark contrast. Acts of defiance will often be subtle and nuanced. They will be carried out not for short term gain but the assertion of our integrity. Rebellion will have an ultimate if not easily definable purpose. The more we retreat from the culture at large the more room we will have to carve out lives of meaning, the more we will be able to wall off the flood of illusions disseminated by mass culture and the more we will retain sanity in an insane world. The goal will become the ability to endure.
Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of several books including the best sellers War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.