June 04, 2009

From Sproul Steps to Cairo University

Very interesting, Mr. Obama.  The buzz is just starting up, but in time Prez O's admission yesterday in his speech at Cairo University that the CIA engineered the overthrow of Mohammed Mossaddeq (pictured here) will be seen as a major turning point in U.S. foreign policy.

The Right Wing is already getting hysterical.  Mitt Romney, of the immovable hair and room temp IQ, is crying foul.  This sort of thing just isn't done.  How dare Obama admit the truth in such an unflattering way, and in front of a foreign audience!  That latter point, wait and see, will be emphasized increasingly over the next few days, because the first part of the criticism is a little disingenuous, after all.  The CIA did engineer the overthrow of the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953, and we had help from the British, and we did it because the anti-imperialist, highly-educated (a Master's in Law from the Sorbonne, a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Lausanne) Mossaddeq decided to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, which at the time was known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the forerunner to British Petroleum).

A Persian friend of mine, born in Tehran, told me a number of years back that it was this coup that did more to sour U.S. - Iran relations than any other historical event.  And what really bugged the Iranians is that the whole operation only cost about $300,000.  That's bang for the buck, I have to say. But I don't recall any other American President ever openly admitting the numerous roles the U.S. has played in overthrowing inconvenient heads of state.  George W. Bush sort of hinted at it as part of his justification for toppling Saddam; in effect, Bush said that for too long the U.S. had aligned itself with repressive dictators and that it was time to change course.  That was the funny part about our former Prez and his drug-ravaged brain: occasionally he just blurted out the embarassing truth, such as his admission that the country was "addicted" to oil.

America was addicted to oil back in 1953, of course, and the last thing the Eisenhower Administration wanted to see was a movement in the Middle East toward nationalization of the oil industries.  We more or less owned the (royal) family-run filling station known as Saudi Arabia, we had big stakes in Kuwait and Iraq, and Mossaddeq was setting a dangerous trend.  If these sovereign countries started claiming the oil under their land was theirs, where might that lead?  Mexico had already nationalized its oil industry, with the able assistance (as an ideologist) of none other than Leon Trotsky.

Which brings up a salient point.  The cover story for our deposition of Mossaddeq was that he was "leftist" and pro-Soviet, and in 1953 you can imagine that such a rationale had huge selling power.  Which Mitt Romney, his diminutive brain working fast under that hat of high-tensile- strength hair is bound to mention, once his handlers mention it to him.  Ditto Rush Limbaugh and the Dittoheads, and Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan and on and on.  Obama is taking things out of context.

Not really.  He's setting the record straight.  Mossaddeq was a nationalist and an anti-imperialist, and that's why the Iranian Majlis (Parliament) overwhelmingly elected him in 1951.  He had no intention of freeing his country from foreign domination in order to become a Soviet satellite, any more than Ho Chi Minh intended to become a Communist satellite in throwing off the French in Indo-China.

Attending that bastion of non-Mainstream Thought, the University of California at Berkeley in the late Sixties, I of course had become quite familiar with the Mossaddeq story in history and political science classes.  It was so radical to talk about the CIA's role in overthrowing a foreign head of state.  I frankly considered it another elaborate conspiracy theory that one heard daily from the Sproul Hall Steps.  Now we have the President of the United States openly acknowledging it as the truth.

He's a smart guy, that O, and he knows that the story doesn't stop there.  Pick up any tome of Noam Chomsky and you can read the extensive list of similar covert coups: Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, Greece, Iraq (not Saddam, the other one) and numerous others.  All essentially for the same reason: we wanted a reliable, Right Wing, business-friendly thug to oversee the safety and profitability of our business interests in these places.  You see, we didn't really build this country on rock 'n roll: we built it by extracting profit from the Third World, as Britain had done before us, and the Dutch and Romans before that.

How much of that can the Prez afford to admit?  And if he does, will he choose Sproul Steps as his venue?  If he does, I'm, like, there.

June 03, 2009

Getting outside the box

I saw myself quoted at length on a website maintained by a pro-Rick Perry group in Texas, people working to help Perry defeat the challenge of Kay Bailey Hutchison for the Republican nomination for governor. Which in Texas is tantamount to the election itself, of course.  The webmeister down there in the Lone Star State liked my takedown of Keith Olbermann; in essence, I thought Olbermann's criticism of Perry's "secession" remarks was a little uninformed.  It's fine to list all the glories of being part of the USA, but while you're at it you should not argue that sending all that tax money to Washington D.C. (and dealing with the legal consequences of the Supremacy Clause, which makes it difficult for medical marijuana people, for example, to be entirely free of federal hassles at the state level) is an unadorned blessing.  It's definitely not.  Plus, sometimes I just think Keith gets carried away with himself in his self-appointed role as vindicator of the Liberal American Tradition, especially because his technical grasp of legal issues, for example, is micrometers in depth.  Still, overall I think he does valuable things, and his break with corporate complicity when he started his Special Comments was a watershed event, and he is to be commended for his courage.  It looks easy in retrospect, but at the time it was shockingly refreshing.  But now I've given the Texans "Ol'Blowhard" as a sobriquet, and they're running with it.

Okay with me.  I write more in the vein of Mark Twain or H.D. Thoreau, that of an observer rather than a reformer.  I don't really believe the United States can be reformed, so it's easier now than ever to adopt that posture (or pose, if you like).  Those who argue the other way are often in the business of arguing reform; that is, they make their living at it.  That would make it worthwhile and help to overcome the cognitive dissonance.  I think the United States is simply too corrupt, too complex and too incomprehensible at this point to be successfully reformed through the democratic process.

The "single payer" issue tentatively raising its head (in order to be blasted away) is probably one example (among thousands) that might be used to demonstrate the point.  As Michael Moore pointed out so eloquently in "Sicko," we're the only major industrialized country in the world which insists on keeping health care a for-profit business.  This leads to literally sickening results, such as Moore's footage of a poor homeless woman "transferred" by USC Hospital to a skid row clinic in downtown LA by buying her a cab ride.  I had my own extensive experience with the American medical system during my mother's last, lingering fatal illness.  In the middle of all that anxiety and trauma, I couldn't believe how much time I had to spend arguing with the hospital's "social worker" (whom I called The Bouncer) about just how soon they could get my mother out of there.  I had to argue, cajole, plead, threaten them, to get them to do a simple blood test of her hematocrit so she wouldn't be sent home in a dangerously anemic state (lab work costs money, you see).  It was heartbreaking.  And that was with the benefit of Medicare.  I can't imagine what people go through who are too young for Medicare and too broke to buy insurance. I guess that woman staggering in the gutter in Los Angeles could tell us.

The medical system is rotten to the core.  And more than that, as I was saying to a friend, it underlies the basic lack of social cohesion in this country.  If you can treat other people like that, let them die so medical insurers can continue to profit and so that certain people can have "world class" treatment for their illnesses while others have none, then you've passed judgment on the value of American life.  You don't take it seriously, and you don't regard it as your problem, either.  We are absolutely not in this together, and all this rah-rah stuff about "9-11" and "supporting the troops" and the rest of it is a bunch of steaming bullshit.

So if a Rick Perry website wants to quote me, go ahead.  I think it's a hoot.  If Texans actually want to secede, to try something else, why should they not be allowed to do so?  We're not really going to assemble an "Army of the Potomac," invade and seize Austin, are we?  Where would we get the troops?  Aren't they all deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hell, aren't a great percentage of them Hispanics from Texas anyway?

When people begin to talk that way, about secession and other way-outside-the-box notions, it's because they are beginning to give up on the idea of national reform.  They see a federal government borrowing 50 cents of every dollar it spends, and spending 64% of its discretionary money on a huge, bloated military establishment with 750 bases and forts worldwide, with entitlement programs careening toward fiscal collapse, and still refusing to rein in its profligacy in fighting completely useless, irrelevant wars -- and it registers, perhaps unconsciously at first -- this is completely nuts.  And so very strange ideas start popping up.

I don't blame Barack Obama for this stuff, by the way, just for the record.  All of this is beyond his ability to control outcomes.  I like his style, his intelligence, his class, the respectful way he treated Nancy Reagan, his calm temperament.  I imagine myself in a conversation with him, maybe somewhere on the Upper West Side in a bar, loosening up, and then saying some of the stuff contained herein.  And I think he would flash that incandescent smile and say, "It is a mess, isn't it?"

June 02, 2009

North Korea Plans North American A-Bomb Test

June 2, 2009 (New York Times) - In a relentless approach to raising both the stakes and the visibility of his country's atomic bomb program, President Kim Jong-Il announced today that North Korea's next nuclear test would be conducted in mid-town Manhattan sometime "within the next couple of weeks."  Having successfully tested a 13-kiloton bomb at an underground site in North Korea recently, the Dear Leader stated that he was in no mood "to fok awound" and served notice that his country's nuclear ambitions would not be deterred by Western pressure or threats.

Nevertheless, top Administration officials were quick to respond.  "This is outrageous and unacceptable," said President Barack Obama in answer to a question from Katie Couric in a network TV interview last night.  "America has shown restraint so far and has agreed to talk without preconditions to North Korea about its nuclear program.  But exploding an A-bomb at the corner of 57th Street and 7th Avenue cannot but retard the progress of these talks. I condemn this decision to detonate a nuclear bomb in one of America's iconic cities, a melting pot and symbol of all that makes America great, in the strongest possible terms."

Vice President Joe Biden joined the President in criticizing the latest North Korean initiative. In an interview on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews, the garrulous VP laid it on the line in particularly candid terms:  "You know, I just don't get this guy, Chris.  I mean, what's in it for him?  He's got the poofy hair and he looks like he could use a little sun. The family name's Kim, for all I know he's the real deal, it's not personal. People talk about my hair, too, sure, but this is an A-bomb, for crying out loud, and he's setting it up to go off right in midtown.  I know that area, there are some good restaurants there, the Knicks play right down the street at the Garden, and hey I know what people are saying, the Knicks, will anyone even notice?  But that's neither here nor there, Chris, I mean for crying out loud, this is way, way, way over the line. I'm telling everybody I know not to go anywhere near New York till we get this thing sorted out.  I mean, come on.  An A-bomb?"

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in what is becoming characteristically frank and unguarded language, admitted that the U.S. had "taken its eye off the ball" in fighting the ghosts of the 9-11 hijackers by launching two wars against Muslim countries, neither one of which any hijacker ever visited or called home.  "I frankly believe we have misallocated American resources by overemphasizing the need to invade countries which use Arabic letters or have mosques or something," said a stern and obviously concerned Gates.  "We have managed to burn through enormous amounts of money, gotten lots of people killed, including tons of our guys, so they definitely look like real wars, so that part appeals to me. We just haven't been clear on why we're doing it, and that's probably because we're not sure. But while we've been occupied with that, Kim Jong-Il has gone ahead with this atomic bomb program, and now he's tested a big one underground, and he's testing missiles, and while we were surging in Aghanistan he went ahead and set up this nuclear blast in midtown Manhattan and I'm thinking there could be hell to pay if he succeeds with this one."

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, at the White House press conference this morning, echoed the comments of other Administration officials.  "The President has a lot on his plate, and believe me we didn't plan to start our term in office with the worst recession since the Thirties, and now this, an A-blast on 57th Street, but President Obama has said many times that we're going to have to be able to deal with a number of crises all at once, whether that's the ideal way to do things or not.  So this Manhattan bomb is something that will get a lot of his attention, and he'll work with the Congress in a bipartisan way to come up with an appropriate response."

Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Leader, said that a focused response from the Senate was highly unlikely.  "We just don't have the 60 votes," he said.

June 01, 2009

Slouching toward the poor house

Maybe it's just the way things are now.  The fossilized approach to all problems, no matter how big, is all that's possible.  I read Michael Moore's take on the failure of General Motors, something he's followed since the early days of its decline (his "Roger & Me" being his first big movie hit), and I think he's right.  In part, of course, I think he's right because it's what Waldenswimmer said several months ago.  The auto factories owned by GM should be transformed into modern transportation factories building mass transit (light rail) and high speed rail locomotives and rolling stock, with some aspect of its ongoing car business used to build fuel-efficient hybrids and electric cars.  It's time to phase the internal combustion engine out, and put all those trained factory employees to work building technology with a future.

Michael cites the example of World War II as precedent: during the war, GM stopped building cars and converted to tanks, jeeps and machine guns, among other war-related manufacturing. GM did it fast, too, and did it successfully.  The United States government has invested enormous sums of money in attempts to resuscitate General Motors, more than the capital stock of the company is actually worth.  Why not use that stake to simply buy the corporation and its subsidiaries?  Why this idea that GM is going to "emerge" as profitable by tweaking its economic model?  Why, in other words, this pointless and very expensive magical thinking?

Well, for one thing, FDR isn't President.  The current crop of Democratic "leaders" just can't pull the trigger, and that includes Obama.  They keep thinking that thinking small will succeed, that an incrementalist approach to overwhelming problems will restore the U.S. economy from its present moribund state to a thriving, job-producing colossus. It won't.  The recession may "end," but the U.S. economy will nevertheless be stuck at a level of affluence about 40% lower than when the crisis began in July, 2007.  The only way out is to create jobs, and the only practical way to create jobs is to move to a completely different energy paradigm.  Obama keeps using the word "green" as kind of talisman; well, here's a chance to actually implement a "green" solution on a massive scale. 

FDR established Social Security by refusing to believe that the country had been reduced to a state where old folks could be forced to subsist on tins of cat food heated on gas rings.  Obama, faced with a similar crisis in healthcare which affects 50 million people, is stalled in his approach because the medical insurers and hospitals don't like his "public insurance" element, so the "negotiations" have broken down.  This is how blatant the control of business over government has become: if private industry says no, then we can't do it.  So forget single-payer, as Waldenswimmer also said a long time ago.  Blue Cross doesn't like it.  So the effect of all those uninsured Americans is that every year 18,000 Americans die unnecessarily, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine.  Six times as many people die every year as died in the 9-11 attacks, yet we've turned the world upside down to deal with those 19 hijackers who casually walked through our security systems and trained themselves to destroy us using our flight schools, but the expansion of Medicare to cover everyone cannot be done, because...a large group of insurers and hospitals are making more money the other way.  So, instead of actual medical care, let's put all the medical records online.  That should do it, and I'm sure there will never be a problem with hackers accessing the medical records of every living American and broadcasting them all over the world.  Meanwhile, it will look like we're doing something, and that's always the key.

As I said before, I've been reading this history by David Halberstam about the Korean War, particularly that first terrible winter of 1950-51, when the delusions of Gen. Douglas MacArthur led the Marines and Army into a terrifying trap in the far north of Korea.  Surrounded by 300,000 Chinese infantry which MacArthur said simply weren't there, the field leaders of the Marines trapped near the Chosin Reservoir and the Army farther west had to think for themselves.  The most creative, brave and resourceful of those leaders, such as General Paul Freeman of the Army and Gen. O.P. Smith of the Marines (picture above), figured a way out that avoided massacre.  Sometimes doing timid, half-hearted measures simply doesn't work.  FDR recognized that reality.  The current batch of corporate errand boys in Congress and the White House simply don't.  It's quite possible to incrementalize your way to the poor house.

May 31, 2009

La plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

8:00 am, Oval Office, Monday, June 1:

Prez O enters through side door.  Robert Gibbs, Press Secretary and Rahm Emmanuel, Chief of Staff sit on sofa waiting. They rise to greet the President.  O bumps fists with both, slaps palms, then bumps elbows.  The two white guys, still getting familiar with routine, consume about 30 seconds of meeting with ritual.

O (sitting down):  What up, Bobby?
Gibbs:  General Motors is going under today.
O:  Bummer.  On my watch.  How does this play, Rahm?
Rahm:  We've positioned it well.  It's a penny stock now, everyone expected it.  Getting Soto nominated late last week was a stroke.  We've had 24/7 cycle on that one while the Republican nut jobs went nuclear on her, so no one will notice when a couple hundred thousand more guys are thrown out of work.
O:  Cool.  The timing worked.
Gibbs:  Sure did.  High five!
O:  We don't do that one anymore, Bobby.
Gibbs:  Right.  Yeah, it was Sonia from the jump, but holding off till you needed her played well. 90% of the questions have been about Sotomayor's racism.  Who gives a shit about General Motors or Kim's A-bomb?

(chuckles all around)

Rahm:  It's almost too easy sometimes.  I'm starting to see how even Bush could pull this off.
Gibbs:  Candy from a baby.
Rahm:  Weird, though.  Where we're taking on water is this date night thing, the trip to New York.
O:  I was worried about that.
Rahm:  It's not playing.
O:  I promised Michelle during the campaign.
Rahm:  Big whoop, is how Peoria sees that one. 
Gibbs:  I'll need my catcher's mask this morning.
O:  You know how many times Bush took that 747 to Crawford?  How much that cost?
Rahm:  Right.  It's a talking point.  
Gibbs:  Where we're vulnerable is we used to talk about "change."
O:  We saw an ethnic play, man.
Rahm:  Which is good.  Bush would have gone in for a remount of "My Fair Lady."
Gibbs:  The Gulfstream is better than Air Force One, but it's got that odor of Wall Street around it.
O:  Were we supposed to drive to New York?
Rahm:  Thing is, you're supposed to be big on global warming.
O:  And?
Gibbs:  It's discretionary flying.  Of kind of the most self-indulgent type.  Entourage, special trip instead of when you're going to the U.N. or something.
O:  Shit.  Where we were these comments on Friday?
Rahm:  Plus, you know - the country's kind of out of work.  Your man Geithner is fighting tooth and nail to defend the Wall Street exec lifestyle, and then you join in.
Gibbs:  The optics are off.
O:  One frigging date night...
Rahm:  We need a flak-catching strategy.
O:  I"m not giving a Rev Jeremiah speech.  Forget it.
Rahm:  Doesn't call for that.
Gibbs:  I'm going to get a lot of Q&A on the cost of this thing.
O:  What's the play on that?
Gibbs:  Better not to say. That's our line so far.
Rahm:  Of course, there's the transparency thing.
Gibbs:  They're starting to say we're transparent about being opaque.
O:  Do I apologize?
Gibbs:  That looks weak, especially because it will make it look like you're apologizing for fulfilling a promise.
O:  Well, hell...
Rahm:  It's a box canyon.  You'd be apologizing for poor judgment.
O:  The idea was the date night thing was good PR.  Where'd we go wrong?
Gibbs:  I think we got cross-ways on our images, that's all.  Self-indulgent power broker versus family man in love with his wife.  We played into a trap.
O:  Just soldier through, Bobby. Get on their case about not asking about the A-bomb.  Or GM.
Rahm:  That's the stuff, Barry.  You're getting the hang of this now.

(meeting concludes)