2011/03/28

The Koch brothers


The first and best resource I've seen on the Koch brothers is this New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer (Extensive at 22 printed pages or 67 kilobytes). Some very important items that come across here are that there's an amazing coincidence between what's good for the brother's corporate enterprises financially and between what they espouse as philosophies. There's simply no daylight between what they consider good as a theoretical, philosophical matter and between what profits them by aiding and assisting their companies. Second, we really don't know what exactly they run as ideological assistance to the right wing. They make it a practice to do much of what they do “under the radar.”

There's an excellent pro-Koch piece put out by the Weekly Standard. Of course, it tries to make them out as gee-whiz type guys who just sincerely believe in what they're doing and golly-gee willikers, they're just so full of patriotism and good intentions that wow, how can anybody have anything against them?

As Glenn Greenwald points out, there's a very revealing passage in the Weekly Standard piece:

A left-wing blogger ambushed David when he traveled to Washington to see the 112th Congress sworn in. The liberal group Common Cause organized a protest at the most recent Koch fundraising seminar in Palm Springs. The lefties outside the hotel unfurled a white banner with the words "Koch Kills" printed in red. Drops of blood fell from each letter.

Believe it or not, David Koch didn't only find this noteworthy (Greenwald himself considered the protest thoroughly routine), it elicited the following reaction from him:

"These people were very, very extreme," David said, "and I think very dangerous" . . . "But that was pretty shocking, to see what we’re up against, or what the country’s up against: to have an element like this."

Whoa! Pretty sensitive guy, there! And he wants to be politically active, eh? Jennifer Rubin in The WaPo comes to the Koch's defense:

Left unsaid in all of this is the degree to which the Kochs’ political giving has been exaggerated. How much do they give? Over the last 20 years, about $11 million.

As the New Yorker piece makes clear though, this is only the very tip of the iceberg. The $11 million figure only counts money given as declared contributions that are given directly to politicians. It doesn't count any of the money that's gone into Americans for Prosperity, a group that heavily subsidized the Tea Party and bussed in members to town hall protests all over the country in the summer of 2009 to fight the Affordable Care Act. Greenwald estimates that their expenditures are in the “hundreds of millions.” As he says:

But the Koch brothers go far beyond mere writing about political issues. They single-handedly fund advocacy groups and covert campaigns on a wide variety of highly controversial issues that adversely impact huge numbers of people.

Rubin also claims the Kochs don't support the two wars over in the Mideast, Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as I could tell, that's true, I didn't run across any info on them and overseas interventions. Not every rich person supports all aspects of right-wing/Republican policies.

A blogger from Crooks & Liars concludes that the Kochs really have no idea what they're talking about when they evangelize about how wonderful the free market is. The free market is nowhere near as good to the bottom 99% of the wage ladder as it is to the top 1%. Those in that very top percentage point are extremely privileged to not have to suffer much of any of what the rest of us put up with all the time.

What do the Kochs and their buddies have to do with the extended battle over unions in Wisconsin? Everything! The Kochs and their privileges have far too much influence on US politics and need to be restrained so that the rest of us can get by.

2011/03/26

Sucker Punch

Just saw "Sucker Punch" tonight. Interesting. Unfortunately, I can see why it got a bad review as what's happening and why, isn't terribly mysterious. If y'all just let the ol' "suspension of disbelief" take hold and one just enjoys the action, it's well worth watching.
Frankly, I got the impression it saw things from a heavily female perspective "Yep, me and my posse, a buncha gorgeous chicks who kicked evil-guy/evil-robot butt with enthusiasm" seems to have been to motivating idea behind much of the flick.

2011/03/21

Clintonian liberal interventionism


Most interesting. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of the NY Times, looks at President Obama's strategy concerning Libya and well, makes a really excellent argument for Clintonian liberal interventionism. Not that he meant to, of course, but his summary of how Obama's intervention into Libya differs from Bush's invasion of Iraq reminds me and fellow progressives of just why Bush and his policies were so hated.

[Obama] just wanted to make sure we were doing it in the most multilateral, least cowboyish fashion imaginable.

[…]

[in] a stark departure from the Bush administration’s more unilateralist methods. There are no “coalitions of the willing” here, no dismissive references to “Old Europe,” no “you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

My reaction to this, of course, is “Yes!!!!!” but it's pretty obvious that Douthat intended to present Obama's intervention into Libya as a “parade of horribles.” The following is an interesting paragraph, not so much for what it says, but for what it doesn't say and for the argument that doesn't follow it.

But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

The issues that goes unaddressed here is the one of how slow consensus-building actually compares in the real world to unilateral kick-ass action that gets taken “Right NOW!” Seems to me that the brusque and decisive booting of Shirley Sherrod from the Department of Agriculture was a sterling example of when decisive action can be hugely premature and can hurt ones' cause far more than it can help it. One might also note that because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't rely upon consensus-building and because there's no apparent way that they can ever result in victory, there's no easy way to end them.
What is the exit strategy for getting out of Afghanistan? General Petraeus certainly doesn't seem to know. He seems to want to keep that war going until it produces a victory and apparently, he'll keep on fighting that war until the last Afghan drops into the dust from sheer exhaustion. Afghans themselves would be perfectly happy to see US troops leave their country tomorrow. One recent friction point has been the killing, via a drone, of several boys aged 12 and under. Several high-ranking US persons have assured Afghans they'll be more careful in the future, but clearly, drones simply can't distinguish targets very well. We know from this and many other cases that drones can't distinguish between firewood-gathering expeditions and wedding parties and guerrillas assembling for hostile action. Afghans understand that the US is using a baseball bat where a tack hammer would be far more useful. That's because a guerrilla war is not the same thing as a World War II-style conventional war. Guerrilla wars require far less in terms of sheer brute force and far more in the way of intel, in terms of precise knowledge as to who the bad guys are and in terms of understanding just what their appeal to the people of the countryside is.

The argument that doesn't follow the quoted paragraph above is that the Iraq War was a success that should be emulated. Douthat doesn't make that argument because it simply isn't true. US troops were not “greeted as liberators,” or at least a small proportion of the Iraqi people did see US troops in that light early on, but it was far from clear in 2006 that the Arab world in general was enthusiastic about the US barging into Muslim countries and imposing made-in-America solutions to their problems, no matter how serious those problems were.

And y'know? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if the two following propositions from Douthat are true, then a “forward strategy” is the last thing America wants! “Our coalition’s aims are uncertain” and “our supposed partners don’t seem to have the stomach for a fight.” I mean, are those really the conditions that call for an aggressive, kick-ass, no-holds-barred strategy? Really?!?! Sounds to me like Obama's pursuing a strategy that's constrained by the real demands of the real world and not a strategy that's been thought up in the romper room of kids playing cowboys.

Maybe, as Douthat says, “war and moralism are uneasy bedfellows,” but it seems to me that G.W. Bush tried the route of pretending that moralism was irrelevant and that he could just do whatever he pleased and that it was a spectacular failure.

2011/03/15

US treatment of Bradley Manning

Back during the scandal of G.W. Bush's illegal surveillance:

...the NSA is or was provided total, unsupervised access to all fiber-optic communications going between some of the nation's major telecommunication companies' major interconnect locations, including phone conversations, email, web browsing, and corporate private network traffic.

The initial explanation as to how the surveillance was structured was:
The President has authorized a program to engage in electronic surveillance of a particular kind, and this would be the intercepts of contents of communications where one of the -- one party to the communication is outside the United States. And this is a very important point -- people are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. Very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.
Another very important point to remember is that we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda. We view these authorities as authorities to confront the enemy in which the United States is at war with -- and that is al Qaeda and those who are supporting or affiliated with al Qaeda.
This initial explanation as to how the program was carefully limited was never the slightest bit credible as everyone who had access to the underlying data, the raw data that was being gathered, was either a pro-Bush partisan or was a government or corporate employee who was sworn to secrecy.

On January 17, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales informed U.S. Senate leaders by letter that the [illrgal surveillance] program would not be reauthorized...

[...]

On September 18, 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an Internet-privacy advocacy group, filed a new lawsuit... They sued on behalf of AT&T customers to seek redress for what the EFF alleges to be an illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance... [emphasis added]

Again, the explanation made by the Bush Adminstration that "Hey, the program's all fixed and no more illegal surveillance is taking place" was simply not credible as there was still no investigation conducted by anyone who had opposed the program in the first place. Everyone with access to the gathered data was still either a pro-surveillance partisan or was sworn to secrecy.

Much the same is true of information concerning how Pfc. Bradley Manning is being treated while in military custody.

Manning's treatment has been reviewed by the General Counsels of the Department of Defense, Navy and Marine Corps and found to be legal, according to the Pentagon. They say he is being treated the same as any other maximum security prisoner on Prevention of Injury watch would be.

[...]
Following news that Manning was being forced to sleep without clothes in his cell, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) charged that the miilitary's treatment of Manning is comparable to the abuse carried out at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The Pentagon now says that Manning's underwear was taken away from him at night after he said that if he wanted to kill himself he could use the elastic waistband on his underpants. He now wears a "tear proof garment" and does have blankets and a pillow.
It'd be nice to believe that the Pentagon is not carrying out Abu Ghraib-style mental conditoning on Manning in order to force him to confess to collaborating with Julian Assange in the Wikileaks case. It's also nice to hear that Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who said he'd look into Manning's case, has apparently decided that everything there is okay. But if Manning was not being conditioned to confess, then how do we explain the following?

[Mannings' lawyer David E.] Coombs also filed a demand for a speedy trial on January 9. The lawyer’s web site notes that Manning has been held in solitary confinement since May 29 of last year without formal charges being made against him.
Also,

The conditions under which Manning is held are in sharp contrast to those the Army affords to the dozen soldiers from the Stryker Brigade charged with killing Afghan civilians, cutting off body parts as trophies, or covering up those atrocities. These soldiers also face Article 32 hearings, but none is held in solitary confinement and the majority are merely confined to base, not jailed.
What truly makes the testimony of both military officers and the Obama Administration unbelievable has been that Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has been trying to see Manning for over a month.

Obama says DOD has assured him everything they’re doing to Manning is standard. If so, then why are they fighting so hard to prevent a member of Congress from visiting him?
As the lawyer/blogger Glenn Greenwald has tweeted:

CNN says Crowley resigned "under pressure from WH" - http://is.gd/yuyqbN - detainee abuse is allowed - speaking out against it isn't.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denounced the conditions of Bradley Manning's detention as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid," forcing President Obama to address those comments in a Press Conference and defend the treatment of Manning.
[...]
So, in Barack Obama's administration, it's perfectly acceptable to abuse an American citizen in detention who has been convicted of nothing by consigning him to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, barring him from exercising in his cell, punitively imposing "suicide watch" restrictions on him against the recommendations of brig psychiatrists, and subjecting him to prolonged, forced nudity designed to humiliate and degrade. But speaking out against that abuse is a firing offense.
Why would the military/the Obama Administration be abusing Manning in this manner?

Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.
Sounds to me then, that their attempt to find evidence of an active conspiracy came up empty and they're trying to force Manning to confess that Assange played a more active role anyway.The State Department spokesperson who resigned (Obviously, President Obama demanded his immediate resignation), P.J Crowley, pointed out in 2009, quite properly, that:

More importantly, the United States and its allies need to drive a wedge between affiliated groups and broader communities. On this front, Al Qaeda is actually vulnerable. The vision of Islamic society that bin Laden propagates—his bridge to the seventh century—is not shared by the masses. In Iraq and elsewhere, Muslims have turned against bin Laden once they recognized that Al Qaeda’s violent attacks largely victimize fellow Muslims. But turning the tide is simply not possible as long as the United States pursues its current strategy—occupying Iraq, defending autocratic leaders such as Musharraf and violating international norms regarding torture and the treatment of detainees. Such actions create the perception of grievance that opens the door to radical recruitment.
The point is that if the US behaves just as badly as the brutal, extremist radicals of al Qaeda, why on Earth should Muslims take our side against them? It's hardly sufficient to say that "Hey, it's only one person who's being abused" or that "Obama is playing seventh-dimensional chess." Fortunately, the left blogosphere has reacted appropriately. In fact, supporters of Obama are now appearing on the right-wing side of the aisle. Gee, wasn't there a concern in October of 2008 that John McCain's elecyion as President would constitute a "third term of Bush"?

It makes you wonder...

It sounds like the plot for the latest summer horror movie. Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been allowed a third term as president, had run and had won or stolen it, and that we were all now living (and dying) through it. With the Democrats in control of Congress but Bush still in the Oval Office, the media would certainly be talking endlessly about a mandate for bipartisanship and the importance of taking into account the concerns of Republicans. Can't you just picture it?
If the US is willing to continue going down the G.W. Bush path, if it's willing to cast aside civilized norms and to brutally abuse one of its own citizens for dishonorable reasons, then our country has no reason to expect anyone to look up to us. The US becomes a completely non-credible spokesperson for human rights.

2011/03/12

Red Riding Hood

Just saw Red Riding Hood. Not bad. It's a pre-firearms movie, so at the most, people are armed with swords and crossbows. They're pretty restrained on all of the blood and gore and bodice-ripping (Well, the guy starts to undo her bodice, anyway). Very cool look at how medieval folks conducted a celebration early on, where the townspeople all "let their hair down" and enjoy themselves. Our heroine gets involved in all sorts of romantickal difficulties.

2011/03/11

More on Republican budget-cutting

When you think of Republicans and the budget and their advertised desire to reduce the budget as much as possible, just take a look at Japan and their tsunami (And please remember that the disaster also affects two nuclear power plant units) that struck Thursday night and remember that Republicans want to drastically cut the disaster-preparedness budget. Apparently, Republicans think disaster preparedness is a silly luxury item and that we can better spend that extra money on a war halfway across the world or upon tax cuts for the rich.
Update:

Fukushima nuclear power plant explodes


Japan is battling to stave off a nuclear disaster after an explosion at a north-eastern nuclear plant in the wake of the enormous earthquake and tsunami.
Authorities are evacuating tens of thousands of residents living within a 12 mile (20km) radius of the Fukushima Daiichi plant and those within 6 miles of a second installation in Futuba, 150 miles north of Tokyo.
The explosion followed warnings of a possible meltdown after problems with the cooling system and confirmation of a radiation leak at Fukushima No 1 plant. But nuclear safety officials said it was unlikely the reactor had suffered serious damage, according to the Kyodo news agency.
It is feared that 1,300 people died in Friday's double disaster, most being killed as the wall of mud and water engulfed buildings, roads and vehicles, Japanese media reported. But the priority now is to tackle the crisis at the power plant.
more

2011/03/10

Surveillance by law enforcement and by national security agencies

A former director of the CIA and a former Attorney General argue that the Patriot Act must be renewed without any conditions and without any “sunset” provisions (Provisions designed to expire after a certain date). The Seattle Times spoke eloquently about how human beings simply can't be trusted with that sort of unlimited surveillance authority. I read in someplace about how President Lyndon Johnson was one day fuming about a political opponent of his and how he'd like to take a look at the fellow's FBI file. His wife recommended against doing so with the observation that FBI files contained a lot of garbage, that is, a lot of unverified information and unconfirmed rumors. Why would that be? Was the FBI of the mid-1960s a bad place that was careless about how it gathered information?

I would argue that it wasn't. That the FBI files of people that the President both liked and didn't like contained un-screened information because that's how the FBI gathers information. Being an agency that was dedicated to protecting the public, they wanted then and still want today to throw up as wide a screen as possible to vacuum up everything that could possibly be of any relevance, no matter how irrelevant it appears to be at the time it's collected. Even small details that appear to be of no consequence can be crucially important when placed together with other small details.

The problem, and this is something I have never seen any Republican or any conservative acknowledge since 2001, when the issue of surveillance first became of deep relevance, is that domestic law enforcement agencies have a different mandate that requires a different approach. Domestic law enforcement agencies require that, in order to enforce a law by punishing a citizen, the agency must be confident that the citizen really, truly, indeed, committed the crime that he or she has been accused of committing. That is why there was a “wall” between the national security agencies and between the law enforcement agencies. That is why civil libertarians argue for re-erecting such a wall today. That is an argument that isn't even acknowledged by right-wingers to this day and which is glaring by its absence from the WaPo article today.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 Mar 2011. Pages4 - 5

What I find interesting about the piece "Afghan War Gains 'Fragile'" is in what it doesn't say. Where is the President's mandate to fight a war in Afghanistan, the "graveyard of empires" that is due to be even more violent than it was in 2010? The DNC decided in late February that the President doesn't have any such mandate. What he does have is a mandate to make serious, sizable withdrawals in July of this year.


The Philadelphia Inquirer
10 Mar 2011

2011/03/05

In response to CNN piece

Media Matters drew my attention to a CNN piece. My comments on the piece are:


Re: “Are whites racially oppressed?” Mar 4
In CNN's article “Are whites racially oppressed?,” it would have been appropriate to have followed Mona Charen's sensible, skeptical comments with the narrator of the piece showing that the views of people who feel that “whites” have been magically transformed into a harassed minority are not dealing in reality.
Very obviously, the piece talks about people who are horrified that America has a black President. What is also quite obvious is the fact that Barack Obama was elected President and that what that shows is that those horrified people are a minority.
The phrase “...many white Americans feel anxious about their race...” should have read “...a small minority of white Americans feel anxious about their race...”.
The statement: "There was no one for white males until we came around," is patently ridiculous as there is no need for anyone to be “for white males.” White males are doing just fine, thank you very much.
I'm puzzled as to why CNN felt the need to legitimize the person named Peter Brimelow. Why did CNN feel the need to grant him an interview? Couldn't they simply read the racist claptrap this guy publishes and quote some of it? The website VDARE was declared a hate site many years ago and it truly is a disgrace for CNN to give them any legitimacy by doing an interview with someone who writes for that site.
“Some may see him as extreme, but Brimelow argues in his columns that more white Americans are moving toward his stance on immigration and other issues.” Ugh, “Some may see him...” is SUCH a classic “He said, she said” equivocation! Was it impossible for CNN reporters to have gone over Brimelow's words and to have unequivocally declared him to be a racist? Was it THAT difficult for someone to have done a BIT of homework on the issue?
Neither Brimelow's nor James Edwards' words are followed up with any evaluations by the author. Their statements are followed with the ludicrous accusation that "[whites] are the victims of [racism] every day,” Yes, the SPLC is given the final word, but it's such a broad, general statement that's so lacking in specific details that it's easily overlooked.
“Obama's 'unpopular liberal expansion' of the federal government” wasn't unpopular at all during the 2008 campaign, where Obama very specifically went over his proposals many times. Obama didn't pull the wool over anybody's eyes. He did what he said what he was going to do and was attacked for it because Republicans saw it as the death knell for their party. It would have been good for CNN to have gone over the fact that Republicans adopted a “scorched earth” strategy and that they bear a great deal of responsibility for the minority of Americans who feel that the “white race” is under attack.