February 08, 2007

The institutionalization of the military-industrial complex

I am indebted to Ben Cohen of Ben&Jerry's for their important work on budget priorities. I would encourage everyone to (a) go to www.benjerry.com, and analyze their "American pie" demonstration, and (b) eat Ben&Jerry's ice cream. Remember, both can be done at the same time.

George W. Bush's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008 is a disgrace. It allocates 51% of the discretionary budget (exclusive of the cash-in/cash-out system of the entitlement programs) to the Pentagon. Bush asks for an 11% increase in the military budget exclusive of the horrendous costs of our crazy occupation of Iraq. If you wanted to see what chastening effect the 2006 elections would have on the psychology of an infantile man with a narcissistic personality disorder, there's your answer. Bush's response to his massive defeat at the polls, to his subterranean approval ratings, to his diminution in the American mind to the status of an imbecile, is to say go to Hell. In your face. Up yours.

Bush is determined to use his remaining tenure in office to enrich certain sectors of the American business community. There's really nothing else for him to do. He was never interested in governing the country as part of a disciplined effort to improve the lives of the American people as a whole. His dumb war bogged down and became an embarrassment, but also a self-renewing feeding trough for the fattest pigs in the American plutocracy. Bush's natural constituency. Bush loves doing favors for the fat cats, and it was a pretty nifty plan, he thinks, to use the American military to execute the business plan of corporate America. How many countries can do that? Probably only a country that spends more on "defense" (from...?) than the next 14 countries combined, and over half of all money spent on defense...on...the...planet Earth.

I think we can say two things for sure. Defense spending in the United States is unrelated to the "existential" threats that America faces. While we have, through the stupidity of abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, rekindled a nuclear arms race with Russia, it is also true that the Iraq War has demonstrated that a huge military apparatus, with all the latest electronic doodads, doesn't work very well against the episodic and ad hoc character of "terrorist" threats. Would anything this 11% increase will buy have stopped 9/11? No, that simply required smart people doing their jobs, and on that score, this Administration is bankrupt.

Dwight Eisenhower warned us a long time ago this would happen. He was right. Bush and his (still) compliant Congress are utterly shameless about funneling American taxpayer bucks to their friends, the merchants of death. Maybe Congress will strike back and cut the Pentagon budget in half! Maybe they'll conclude spending only 25 cents of every dollar spent on the world's militaries is enough to defend one country. Maybe Ben&Jerry's ice cream will be dispensed from the assholes of all those corporate pigs!

February 07, 2007

Don Fitz Quixote almost done tilting at windmills

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is almost done with the riveting spectacle of his public flailing of Scooter Libby in a Washington D.C. court room. Libby's excuses look ridiculous; his selective "learning," "forgetting," and "learning again" go beyond straining credulity. They make no sense whatsoever. Fitz has firmly established that Libby knew all about Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA undercover agent weeks before he claimed, under oath before a grand jury, that he first learned about it from Tim Russert on or about July 10, 2003. He was briefed on it in June, he talked about it with Cheney, with Cheney's press mouthpiece, with the President's press secretary, with several other reporters before he talked to Tim Russert. As pointed out before, his lying doesn't seem very creative. It seems desperate, and perhaps torqued by a determination to keep Dick Cheney's key role in the outing of Valerie Plame from public view.

One huge question remains. Paragraph 25 of the Libby indictment reads as follows: "On or about September 26, 2003, the Department of Justice authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") to commence a criminal investigation into the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information regarding the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's affiliation with the CIA in the spring of 2003." So that was Fitz's mission too, I presume. The lying, perjury and obstruction of justice he discovered along the way were in the course of investigating what one might call the "substantive" crime of unauthorized leaking of classified information and the protected identity of a CIA undercover agent. Valerie Plame, it has been disclosed, was engaged in what is probably the most important of all clandestine activity, espionage into proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the nuclear ambitions of that charter member of the Axis of Evil, Iran.

The question then is this: what the hell happened to that investigation? The real one? Fitzgerald's meticulous work appears to have revealed a conspiracy originating in Cheney's office and in the Oval Office itself; that is to say, on at least a prima facie basis, Bush's casual declassification of a National Intelligence Estimate to counter Joseph Wilson's claims is an overt act in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act (leaking classified information) and the Identities Act (blowing the cover of an undercover agent). As has been suggested by prosecutors with a broader view of the investigation's potential, Cheney at the least should be an unindicted co-conspirator. And Bush? The man who promised that anyone working in his Administration would be terminated if found to have participated in the leaking of classified information to the press? Why isn't that the basis of a similar charge for obstruction of justice?

The clowns hanging around the White House at public expense, obsessed with being revealed as the liars they are about the phony justification for the war in Iraq -- they undermined the meticulous work of an American spy who was working in the very field these jerks claim is the key to avoiding Armageddon. They did it knowingly, secretively, traitorously. And the Libby case is what we get at the end of the process?

I hope Fitzgerald loses. I hope the jury figures out what a dodge, what a cop-out Fitzgerald's case is. Maybe they'll think along these lines. Maybe they'll say to themselves, how can you obstruct an investigation into something where the prosecutor says, at the end, no crime was committed? How can lies about perfectly legal activity be material and consequential? Why should we care? Fitzgerald, in his zeal for a meticulous and airtight case, sliced off a tiny piece of a huge and rancid pie. A case of transparent lying where he felt certain he could not miss with a conviction. The Big Case, the one where Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby, Armitage all worked together to undermine a hardworking American spy, and in so doing gave aid and comfort to America's "existential" enemies--for such a case, Fitzgerald had no appetite. He might, after all, have lost that untried case because of its order-of-magnitude greater legal difficulties and technicalities. And in losing, he might actually have accomplished something for the United States.

February 06, 2007

Alice Encounters the Steely Resolve of the Dimocrats

The dusty yellow lane wound its way through a dark overhanging forest. Alice was a little lost, but at least she had the comfort of knowing she must surely, at last, have chosen a path that would carry her as far away from the Mad Hatter and his sidekick The Troll as possible. Up ahead and out of sight, she thought she heard loud voices clamoring, but all she could see were dust motes dancing in bright shafts of sunlight angling through the trees.

In a little while, however, Alice knew she must still be in Wonderland (for over 6 years now!). Standing at the edge of yet another clearing, Alice saw a gazebo surrounded by a milling throng of expostulating Solons, harrumphing, yelling, thrusting their fists in the air and, in general, carrying on in an excited manner. There must have been at least 50 of them, although, with a closer look, Alice thought there might be only 49-1/2. What a curious number of Solons, she thought. Up on the raised platform of the gazebo was a woman with dark hair arranged in an elaborate 'do, with startlingly large eyes, attempting to gain control of the shouting crowd.

"Come to order!" mumbled a diminutive fellow in a morning coat, standing on the first step of the gazebo. "La Diva wishes to speak."

"Fellow Dimocrats," she began. "I have come all the way from my House to speak to you about a matter of urgent importance. The Mad Hatter is expanding his war against the Eastern Spades even as we meet. We must stop him! We must! We must!"

Alice made her way closer and found herself next to a man of medium height, dark hair and a sour demeanor. "Then stop him," he muttered.

"Excuse me, but what is La Diva talking about?" she asked.

He turned to her. "The Hatter's war," he said. "He's determined to corner the market in felt."

"And who are you?" Alice asked demurely.

"Who are you?" he replied abruptly. "Are you a page? If you are, you should leave now. This is no place for little girls."

"I'm Alice, and I'm lost," she said.

"You're in the right place then," he said, returning his gaze to the platform. He looked down again. "But to answer your question, I'm Rust Goldfine, and I'm a Solon. We're meeting here to stop the Hatter's war."

"I vote that we vote!" someone in the crowd shouted. "Vote now! Vote now! Let's express our disagreement with the Mad Hatter in no uncertain terms! Let's make it clear that we disagree with him. That will show him!"

"What is he talking about?" Alice asked Rust.

"Nothing," said Rust.

"The Mad Hatter will be held accountable for his war!" La Diva attempted to shout, but it came out in a kind of refined sing-song. "We really, really disagree, and we're going to tell him so!"

"Will that stop the Hatter's war?" asked Alice hopefully. She thought wars were dreadful, in the silly way of little girls everywhere.

"Not for a moment," said Rust.

"Then why is she saying that?" asked Alice.

"She's the new head of the Caucus of Dimocrats, who represent most of the Queen's subjects. They hate the war, and want her to end it no matter what."

"But the vote won't do that?" asked Alice, beginning to experience that disorienting sense of confusion which overtook so many of her afternoons in Wonderland.

"No. Only taking away the Hatter's money could do that," said Rust.

"And she can't do that," said Alice dismally.

"Oh no. She could at once." Rust pointed to the large burlap bags grouped around a stout oak at the edge of the clearing. "Those are full of gold coins, which the Mad Hatter & The Troll must have to keep fighting the Eastern Spades."

"And La Diva can deny that to the Hatter?" Alice said, allowing herself, against her better judgment, a moment of cautious hope.

"She could," said Rust. "But then she's afraid the Dimocrats will look as if they don't care about the Hatter's troops, who will die in the field without the gold. Or so they all say."

"So the gold protects them," Alice murmured.

"Oh no," said Rust. "The Hatter's soldiers keep dying, killed by Eastern Spades in the Hatter's war."

"Which La Diva could end by keeping the gold here," said Alice glumly.

"Smart little girl," said Rust. "Are you sure you're not a page?"

"So La Diva will show she cares about the Hatter's troops by sending them the gold they need to stay in the Land of the Eastern Spades where the Spades will kill them."

"Bingo, kid. Welcome to the Realm of the Dimocrats."

"One consolation, at least," muttered Alice.

"What's that?" asked Rust.

"At least now I know the Tea Party wasn't such an aberration. Until I get out of Wonderland, nothing's ever going to make sense."

February 05, 2007

Manufacturing consent on Iraq

There are many things I disagree with Noam Chomsky about. I'll say that by way of prelude. Yet it's beyond me to devise easy ripostes to questions posed by a mind so labyrinthine, so brilliant, so retentive. I think he may be one of those geniuses who lose all sense of context when they're talking about the everyday world. In his war against hypocrisy, in his determination to apply absolutely uniform rules to any nation or people under consideration, he reaches jarring conclusions that don't seem to jibe with common sense. "The United States is the world's greatest sponsor of state-supported terrorism." That kind of thing. In the terms he discusses, accepting his definitions and the intellectually arid conditions of his analysis, you can see how he gets there. His unflinching radicalism (reminiscent of Trotsky) permits no other conclusion.

Yet his analysis suggests the creation of a world that actual humans could never sustain. He seems terribly impatient with human foibles, and rejects reality, which is that we're always accepting one evil in the hope of avoiding a greater one. Unquestionably, the United States does bad things, and shares this proclivity with other powerful nations in world history. Yet overall, it's probably true that the USA commits evil-doing in the pursuit of living standards that the world community, in general, considers desirable and good, which is why world opinion (until Bush) cut us so much slack. Much more than Noam Chomsky cuts us.

I don't know if his view is Utopian, precisely, because I've never been able to descry what he really proposes as a way people should organize themselves politically and socially. He seems to say everything is bad, all polities are flawed, but that certain places (East Timor, Nicaragua, etc.) achieve a kind of temporary virtue on their way from subjugation toward social maturity. I think what he's really saying (whether he ever says it or not) is that human beings are bad news, and in this (ultimately trivial) observation he has a great deal of philosophical company. We know that, Noam; how many more books do you need to write reminding us?

Yet on his way to describing the corrupt senescence of an old body politic like the United States, he sometimes illuminates our predicament with lightning bolt brilliance. I think it's fair to say that it was Chomsky who first pointed out the illusion of believing that the mass media were "value neutral." The mass media, which shape political discourse and set the parameters of "acceptable alternatives," are owned by large corporate organizations with a vested interest in a certain kind of pro-business status quo. There is only so much time and space to discuss the political landscape, and stories are chosen, edited and presented based on such factors as entertainment value and the ways in which they fit into a narrative which serves the business interests of the medium presenting them. Information is owned by a relative handful of large business organizations in the United States. They don't broadcast just anything. They are not dedicated in some idealistic way to the dissemination of any and all opinions, as if free speech were their first and only priority. Not at all.

The limitations of the narrative, thus defined, Chomsky called "manufacturing consent." These limitations establish the bandwidth of acceptable discourse. "Responsible" opinion-makers cannot venture outside these boundaries. In the case of Iraq, we have a playing field which has a right hand boundary defined by Bush's determination to keep pouring men and money into the middle of Iraq's disintegrating Hell. The left hand boundary is marked by Congress, which by a certain majority prefers to express its "disagreement" with Bush's ideas through "nonbinding resolutions," which is a way to do absolutely nothing while appearing to be powerful.

That's it. There's your government in action, and it makes you, really, somewhat more sympathetic to Chomsky, when you're done thinking about it, than when you began. You share his frustration and rage. Within this manufactured debate are certain "truths" which are considered self-evident, but which are not only not self-evident but are not true at all. These include the following illusions:

1. Iraq's "failure" would result from an American withdrawal.
2. The suspension of funding for the war would leave American troops helplessly trapped in Baghdad.
3. America's enemies would be emboldened by America's "defeat."

These statements are all unequivocally false. They are used by both sides of the "debate" in order to avoid discussing reality. America's presence in Iraq at this point is solely to ensure disproportionate access to Iraq's huge oil reserves, and to satisy the insatiable desire of American business for the spoils of war. This, however, cannot be openly discussed, for it is the hidden agenda of the business conglomerations who control Congress, the President and the mass media.

The truth is that the disintegration of Iraq followed immediately from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It was a tripartite schism waiting to happen, and when Bush declared "Mission Accomplished!" he was almost right. Full accomplishment had to await the capture of Saddam, at which point the deal was done. Iraq as a coherent state was finished. It had "failed." This was not foreseen by the Bush Administration because they don't read books or understand history.

Cutting off funding for the war, which is Congress's clear and immediate responsibility, would not result in U.S. casualties. It would at first reduce them, then eliminate them altogether. The oft-repeated misrepresentation to the contrary, by the likes of La Diva, Mr. Mumbles and now Dianne Feinstein, is to create the impression that their pro-war proclivities (which serve, in Feinstein's case, her military contracting constituency in California) are in some way inevitable or the result of statesmanship. For the next two years, Bush has asked for $245 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, above and beyond the basic Pentagon budget, for which he also asks an 11% increase. Say no to these supplements, Congress. Tell Bush he can use the Pentagon budget to extract the troops.

Finally, the Muslim world understands much better than the typical American viewer of "Survivor" or "American Idol" why Iraq disintegrated, because the Muslim world knows why sectarian violence exists in Iraq. The USA's persistence in believing that Iraq's factions can be held together by an army simply demonstrates that America is stupid, willfully ignorant, or completely corrupted by its lust for oil. Leaving Iraq would offer evidence that we learned something, and would tend to quell anti-American hostility caused by the presence of an occupying force.

A few Senators and Representatives who operate outside the boundaries of manufactured consent will point these things out (Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold). They will not carry the day. Bush will escalate, the Congress will "disagree," and the war will go on, while the cash registers ring and the latest abduction in Aruba occupies center stage.