Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Freedom To Know That Charles Is Not In Charge

If you've ever seen the Chapelle Show, you probably know who Paul Mooney is, but you might not know his background. A brilliant standup comic on his own, he also wrote material for Richard Pryor and a number of tv shows, as well as shepherding several other standup comedians to fame. He is notorious for pulling no punches.

As I was driving back from New York last weekend I caught Paul Mooney's appearance on the Tavis Smiley Show (yeah public radio!) discussing his life and his new book, Black Is The New White, which according to Paul "white people are going to buy to burn in their fireplace." He touches on Pryor, Cosby, deciding to become a comedian, being notorious, race, and what it means to be free. Tavis includes great clips from both Pryor and Mooney. Check out the segment here. Let me give you some choice quotes to entice you to listen.

Paul on white appropriation of black entertainers:
"They caught on because our race caught on...If we go to like something, they study us. That's why they bring things into the ghetto to find what's going on. Cause we're the most cleverest people in the world. We survived slavery. We're still here."
Mooney on freedom:
"The freedom to not be afraid. The freedom to know that Charles is not in charge. The freedom to know that as a black male that I come from the land of kings and queens. And the freedom to know that Queen Elizabeth is not all that."
Near the end, he makes a great note about slavery. He reminds us, as Marx does, that capital owned by white people today is built on capital accumulated in the past, including in the time of slavery in our nation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bagram=Obama's Gitmo

"If I deserve imprisonment, then imprison me. If not, let me go free." -Abdul Raqeeb in above video

This is a great interview. Note not only the extreme abuse of their human rights, but also the impact it has on the perception of the occupation. No wonder so many Afghans want us out!

Theoretically speaking, could the occupation take a more benevolent form without unjustified home invasions and indefinite detention without habeas corpus? Yes but you'd have to be naive as hell to think that would happen (remember when Rummy talked about winning hearts and minds?). This attitude toward the occupied people is part-and-parcel of American counterinsurgency efforts there. Given Obama's record so far on war and civil liberties, I think we can expect more of the same.

Glenn Greenwald notes in yet another great post that Bagram is also home to rendered terror suspects from other countries. It is clear now that the closing of Guantanamo is a big deal symbolically, but doesn't represent a huge change in policy. Bagram performs the same function that Gitmo did except with less scrutiny because it's way off in Afghanistan and exists under a president who is supposed to be a big civil liberties supporter.

Here's Glenn's summary of recent events:
"So, to recap: we have indefinite detention, military commissions, Blackwater assassination squads, escalation in Afghanistan, extreme secrecy to shield executive lawbreaking from judicial review, renditions, and denials of habeas corpus. These are not policies Obama has failed yet to uproot; they are policies he has explicitly advocated and affirmatively embraced as his own."
We're closing in on a year of Obama's presidency. He is now responsible for these assaults on the rule of law, transparency, and human rights as much as Bush was. We need to join Glenn and others in criticizing these policies with the same vehemence we excorciated Bush's.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Show Trial

If you thought the Obama administration deserves credit for trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 5 other terrorist in a NYC civilian court, think again. Glenn Greenwald savages Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama for the hypocrisy of trying 5 people in civilian court while deciding to try others in military commissions and detain others indefinitely (75 of them to be exact) (read the whole piece). He also points out that their refusal to put all the detainees into the civilian justice system handicaps their argument against conservatives who want KSM tried before a military comission (which of course would be a kangaroo court).
Once you endorse the notion that the Government has the right to imprison people not captured on any battlefield without giving them trials -- as the Obama administration is doing explicitly and implicitly -- what convincing rationale can anyone offer to justify giving Mohammed and other 9/11 defendants a real trial in New York? If you're taking the position that military commissions and even indefinite detention are perfectly legitimate tools to imprison people -- as Holder has done -- then what is the answer to the Right's objections that Mohammed himself belongs in a military commission? If the administration believes Omar Khadr belongs in a military commission, and if they believe others can be held indefinitely without any charges, why isn't that true of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? By denying jury trials to a large number of detainees, Obama officials have completely gutted their own case for why they did the right thing in giving Mohammed a trial in New York.
Basically the system is rigged so that the Justice Department can choose the venue in which to try terrorism suspects by where they're most likely to win.
Does that remotely sound like a "justice system"? If you're accused of being a Terrorist, there's not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win.
That's not fair, nor will it convince anyone in other Western countries or the Muslim world that we're really respecting human rights and civil liberties. (Glenn has another great recent post on how respecting civil liberties pulls the rug out from under terrorist recruitment in the Middle East.)

On top of that inconsistency, Holder told Congress that even if the terrorists are acquitted, the government reserves the right to continue to detain them indefinitely. That sounds like a show trial to me.

Here's Glenn's conclusion that I agree wholeheartedly with:
It's just another case of the administration wanting to bask in the rhetorical glory of "the rule of law" while simultaneously trampling on it for petty political convenience.
The President has outlawed torture and begun closing Guantanamo Bay, but rendition, restricted habeas corpus, indefinite detention, and military commissions go on. Even the staunchest defenders of Obama would have to agree that this former constitutional lawyer has fallen well short of expectations as well as campaign promises in this arena. Outside of torture, which granted is a big deal, what his treatment of terrorism suspects isn't that different from Bush's.

Footnote: Check out Glenn's blog every couple days, always something good there. He, Jeremy Scahill ( and The Nation), and my man Bill Moyers are the cream of the crop in independent journalism on the Left right now. Glenn is one of the foremost civil liberties defenders out there. He also does great work on drug reform, working for a less imperialistic American foreign policy, and criticizing the mainstream media. Unlike some liberals, he's holding Obama to the fire for doing the same things that Bush did.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Conn Hallinan: "Why the Afghan Surge Will Fail"

Lately we've been hearing a lot in the news about the war in Afghanistan, but very little about how that war is fought on the ground. Oh yes, we've seen the reports of the "surge" troops "clearing and holding" towns, "protecting the population," and other bullshit catchphrases that the media takes directly from the military PR staff without commentary. Up until now, I haven't read or seen much about how the American military is specifically taking on the Taliban as it "clears and holds." Conn Hallinan paints that picture in a great article for Foreign Policy in Focus, and it ain't pretty.

He describes a Marine unit's incursion in the 2,000-person town of Zananeh in the southern Helmand province. They enter the town and are soon attacked by the Taliban, who were tipped off by the villagers. The opposing forces battle for a few days after which the Taliban sneaks back out of town. The Marines end up with a "cleared" and shot-up village with 12 dead insurgents, who as Hallinan points out probably weren't all insurgents.

What's really striking is our military's detachment from reality. To begin with, they think the town is crucial even though it's one of thousands of similar sized villages across the countryside. They think they've interfered with Taliban operations, when in fact the Taliban are very comfortable retreating to the countryside, which has been their modus operandi since the Soviet invasion and even farther back.

In short, the insurgency is adjusting. "To many of the Americans, it appeared as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments," writesKaren DeYoung in The Washington Post.

Actually, the Afghans have been doing that for some time, as Greeks, Mongols, British, and Russians discovered.

One Pentagon officer told the Post that the Taliban has been using the Korengal Valley that borders Pakistan as a training ground. It's "a perfect lab to vet fighters and study U.S. tactics," he said, and to learn how to gauge the response time for U.S. artillery, air strikes, and helicopter assaults. "They know exactly how long it takes before...they have to break contact and pull back."

I usually argue against the war on 1) the strategic basis that it won't protect us from terrorism and could likely cause more terrorism 2) the economic basis that we desperately need the funds for job programs at home and c) moral basis that we're killing and maiming tens of thousands of innocent Afghans as well as our own men and women. But I think the argument that the war is unlikely to be won is a powerful one, especially for those who don't agree with the above 3 points.

Here's some questions the Obama administration (who has already added 20,000 troops plus replaced 13,000 supply soldiers with combat soldiers through outsourcing) and the pro-escalation crowd should answer but likely won't except with catchprases from "counterinsurgency doctrine" and references to the 2007 surge in Iraq:

1) Callinan writes that the military's counterinsurgency manual advises a ratio of 20 troops for every 1,000 civilians. By their own logic, we would need 600,000 soldiers. How do they intend to win without enough troops? (see the part of Callinan's article on problems with building up Afghan forces)
2) How does protecting the cities make sense when only 10% of Afghans live in cities? How does it make sense when the Taliban seems to prefer the countryside to urban battlefields?
3) What does "protecting the populace" mean when that populace often informs the Taliban about our troop movements and the intended act of protection leads to ambush?
4) How can we rout the Taliban when they can slip easily into the forests and mountains where our troops rarely go?
5) What does it mean to defeat the Taliban? What quantitative and qualitative benchmarks are there to show that we are gaining the upper hand with them? What does gaining the upper hand even mean in asymmetrical warfare?
6) Finally can our military wage counterinsurgency war when it seems so ill-suited for it? This runs the gamut from vehicles to personal equipment to soldier training to the strategic abilities of our generals.

I urge you to read Hallinan's article in its entirety; he breaks things down very well. Our politicians who are for the escalation and even those who think keeping current troop levels is a good idea need to think critically: can we defeat the Taliban in some meaningful way? If so, how? Whether yay or nay, the burden is on them to do so.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Autechre: Nine

China Getting Serious About Carbon While US Dithers

In a Financial Times piece yesterday, Gordon Conway summarizes the findings of the task force working on the energy-related aspects of China's next 5 year plan:
The report is to be presented to CCICED in Beijing on Thursday and to Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday. The proposals are partly based on a set of energy demand scenarios produced by the Chinese Energy Research Institute. One adopts a continuation of current trends that will result in the production of nearly 13bn tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050. A second, produced as a “low-carbon scenario”, reduces emissions to nearly 9bn tonnes. A third, more radical “enhanced low-carbon” scenario would produce peak emissions around 2025, reducing to 5bn tonnes by 2050.
It looks like China is moving toward a very serious approach of "decoupling" economic growth from carbon emissions, led by the public rather than the private sector. It has broader carbon goals, like reducing carbon emissions per unit GDP 20-23% over 2010-2015, but also the specific goals of how to go there through energy efficiency and low-carbon energy sources:
The Chinese plan is to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 75-85 per cent by 2050. It will be achieved through industrial restructuring and efficiency gains in every economic sector, including new low-carbon cities that avoid suburban sprawl and prioritise public transport.
The energy mix will progressively change. In the medium term there will be an increase in renewable energy and nuclear power, with 50 per cent of generating capacity coming from low-carbon sources by 2030. By 2050 all new power sources will be low carbon.
Of course it's still not clear which approach Premier Jiabao will take, and there's a big difference between 13 billion tons, almost twice their current emissions, and 5 billion tons, significantly below current US and Chinese emissions. Still, some snippets in the article from Conway, who worked on the report, suggest that they are leaning towards more ambitious approaches because they understand the economic value of decarbonization.

He says that China worries about being locked into outmoded industrial structures in a low-carbon world (perhaps also about being hit by carbon tariffs from developed countries). Furthermore, they recognize that clean energy technologies will drive growth in the first half of the 21st century, as Tom Friedman writes over and over and over albeit correctly. China's government is obsessed with growth because that's what maintains stability under their authoritarian regime, and they may favor a crash investment in decarbonization as a means of creating growth.

What significance does this have for the US? It bodes very well for international climate negotiations, yet it puts pressure on us to stop holding back. We can't point the finger at the growing developing nations any more, as the Obama administration continues to do. Even though China is not responsible for the historical emissions causing current warming, they're taking aggressive steps to slow their emissions growth because they are worried about climate change and understand the economic potential of clean energy. The burden is on the US to speed up our emissions reductions and get more ambitious as the EU has. If Copenhagen fails, it will now be because of the US, not China.

Secondly, it shows that a government-planned and government-led program on carbon emissions may be the best approach to tackle such an urgent problem as climate change. We'll have to wait and see if their plan works. But, as our mobilization for World War II demonstrated, a Keynesian and/or socialist approach of public investment and public ownership of parts of the energy sector can create the leverage to exert fast transformations in an economy.

That's not to say that market approaches to pollution don't work. Cap-and-trade worked in the 90's in reducing acid rain-causing SO2 emissions. The ETS, or European Trading System, has helped the EU be on track to hit its Kyoto targets (see Joe Romm's Climate Progress post here). However, market approaches can easily be filled with loopholes that limit their effect, as the Waxman-Markey bill that passed out of the House this summer shows. A direct investment approach such as China's seems better suited to rapid transformation.

The planet needs a more aggressive approach from the United States government, and so does our moribund economy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Berlin Wall and the Palestine Wall

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall divided a nation. It was a tangible manifestation of the global split between capitalism and communism that nearly led to a nuclear war. We should celebrate its fall along with the Germans, and be thankful that our foolishness as well as that of the Soviet Union didn't kill us all.

Francis Fukuyama said the fall of Communism marked the "end of history." He was wrong. Violent symbols of conflict like the Berlin Wall still exist, in tangible as well as symbolic form.

Israel has built a similar wall through the West Bank. Along with settlements, it is part of Israel's colonial project to annex parts of the West Bank. As Robert Naiman notes in a great post on the Just Foreign Policy blog, 85% of the wall lies within the West Bank and outside the internationally accepted borders of Israel. It cuts off 9.5% of the West Bank and 35,000 Palestinians from the rest of their territory. The wall has been condemned by the World Court and even Israel's High Court.

Friends of Freedom and Justice Binin, a Palestinian activist group in the town of Bilin along the wall, excellently documents the confiscation and repression that the wall engenders on their website. Yesterday a number of Biliners marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by protesting at the Israeli wall and actually ripping down a part of it as Berliners did to theirs. Check out the video below. As you can see near the end, the Israelis respond rather violently.

Definitely read the whole of Naiman's post. He notes that the US and EU have done nothing to stop the wall as we provide massive foreign aid to Israel. Commendable calls on Israel to stop building new settlements on Palestinian territory have not been backed up with action. Naiman notes:
We've reached this point in large measure because of the unwillingness of the Obama Administration to put real pressure on the Israeli government to implement past agreements - in particular, to implement a freeze on the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. When the first President Bush demanded a settlement freeze, he backed up his demand with real pressure - holding up loan guarantees to Israel. The Obama Administration never indicated that there was any "or else" associated with its demand for a settlement freeze, leading the Netanyahu government to conclude that it could just wait the Obama Administration out - a conclusion that appears to have been borne out by events.
In other news on Obama's failure to back up rhetoric with real change in our foreign policy: the New York Times reports that the Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to resign as head of the Palestinian Authority. He believes, I think correctly, that the peace process is completely untenable in the wake of the Obama administration "backpedaling" on its call on Israel to halt new settlement construction in Palestinian territory. Doesn't sound like change to me, Mr. Obama.

Note: Just Foreign Policy does some great work on pushing our government for a more peaceful foreign policy that is fairer to the people of the Global South. Check out their website and sign up for their action list. For subscribers they send out a daily compilation of pertinent news stories on American foreign policy; it's a great way to stay in the loop.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Obama and the Mayoral Race in NYC

If you haven't heard, the mayoral race in NYC ended up being extremely close with independent incumbent Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire, defeating Democrat William C. Thompson Jr. by just 51-46. The mainstream media reported widely on how this was a surprise, because Bloomberg had a good approval rating and spent $90 million on the campaign. Most reported on how that absurdly high level of campaign spending and his repeal of the term limits law to stay in power pushed a lot of voters over to Thompson. Very few, however, reported on how the national Democratic party failed to get behind Thompson. That refusal to get their hands dirty in the NYC race demonstrates a lot about the centrist and even right economic beliefs of Obama and the national Democratic leadership.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a great post on his blog (btw, great blog if you're into civil liberties, antiwar, and media issues) the other day on the tiff between Rep. Anthony Weiner and the administration on this matter. Weiner publicly criticized the President for spending resources to support Gov. Corzine in NJ but not doing the same for Thompson. The Politico reporter allowed a White House aide to respond anonymously, childishly taunting Weiner for deciding not to run for mayor himself.

Glenn focused on so many mainstream media outlets allow Obama aides to comment anonymously. Frequently they use that anonymity to bash those on the left in his own party who criticize him for being such a centrist. He also notes the irony of American media criticizing left-wing leaders in Latin America who change term limits laws to extend their terms and failing to do so in the case of right-winger Uribe in Colombia and Bloomberg.

I think it also says a lot about the Obama administration's stance on political economy. The refusal to campaign for Thompson suggests some level of comfort with Bloomberg on the part of Obama. Bloomberg is a social liberal and is great on environmental issues. However, on economic issues, which a mayor has much more control over than social issues, he is quite conservative. As this Nation article states, Bloomberg opposes a living wage ordinance, favors regressive taxes like the sales tax instead over the progressive income tax, and consistenly favors big developers and big finance. He presides over a higher than average unemployment level while manufacturing has sunk to just 2% of the city's economy. The Nation article predicted a Thompson loss because of his failure to present an alternative economic vision for the city, which I think is right.

The Working Families party, which does have that vision, endorsed Thompson, which suggests that he would be far better on these issues, even if he didn't make them the centerpiece of his campaign. What if Obama had come to NYC and campaigned briefly for Thompson every time he was in the area to do so for Corzine? New Yorkers love Obama; he might have allowed Thompson to close the gap.

The fact that he didn't suggests that Bloomberg's economic policies are just fine with him. It reinforces that Obama is a centrist, not a progressive. He espouses a mostly Keynesian view of debt-funded public investment during recessions with some programs to protect the poor and middle classes and the environment (typically weak ones), but has no intention of reducing the massive socio-economic gap in our country between the super-rich and everyone else.

Bloomberg is a symbol of American finance, as that's where he made his fortune. The Democrats' comfort with him is a symptom of their closeness to Wall Street. Let's not forget that the mildly liberal Corzine, whom Obama backed strongly, is a Goldman Sachs alum. Those of us who want a fair economy need to stop supporting the Democrats without strings attached, because it's not getting us very far.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

LTJ Bukem

I've never blogged about music before, but I love music, ergo I will henceforth. Recently I've been really getting into drum'n'bass music. If you haven't heard of it, it's a form of electronic music with super fast and heavy beats and pretty spare bass and keyboards. I love dem BPMs! Ha my girlfriend hates when I play it because it makes her anxious, but I love the energy in this music.

LTJ Bukem is a great producer from the UK who's huge in d'n'b. To the speedy beats and heavy bass he adds some great 70's jazz fusionish electric keyboards. Lots of BPMs, but really spacey at the same time. Check the song out below, it's one of his early tunes from the early 90's.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Krugman: We need more stimulus!

In the 3rd quarter of this year, our economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.5%. Good news?: yes. Is everything all better?: definitely not. A lot of economists are predicting a so-called "jobless recovery." On top of that, it's entirely possible that reduced demand from unemployment and a continuing credit crunch might drag our economy back down. Our government has a lot more work to do to fix the economy.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has been calling for more and more effective (ie. less tax cuts, more direct spending) stimulus in his NY Times column for a long time. His column today continues that motif and lays out an excellent case for more economic stimulus.

He writes that the growth numbers show that the stimulus is working. That spending will continue to go out over the next year and a half. However, the rate at which it is going out, and thus its effect on growth, is currently peaking, meaning that the stimulus won't continue to increase growth. If that rate of growth is going to continue, private spending will need to increase as the stimulus tapers off by the end of 2010. Krugman doesn't see that happening.

On top of that, even if growth continues, it will take an unacceptably long time to put a dent in unemployment. Krugman points out that our 3.5% annualized GDP growth rate in the 3rd quarter is roughly the same as annual growth during the Clinton administration, very interesting. If job creation proceeds as it did at that growth rate in the 90's, it would take a decade to get to "something like full employment."

So it's clear that we need more stimulus, despite the huge deficit resulting from Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, the creation of Medicare Part D, and immoral and unnecessary wars. The deficit hawks on the right and left worry that our debt-fueled stimulus will present a big debt burden in the form of higher taxes to the next generation of Americans. As Krugman writes, that generation, my generation, is feeling unemployment the most (yes I am one of them). Krugman's colleague Bob Herbert at the Times had a great column on that subject on Saturday. High unemployment will be a huge drag on our generation for an extended period of time, not just directly through unemployment but also through unemployment hampering growth.

That argument alone trumps the deficit hawks' weak arguments. However, he adds something I hadn't thought of:
Even the claim that we’ll have to pay for stimulus spending now with higher taxes later is mostly wrong. Spending more on recovery will lead to a stronger economy, both now and in the future — and a stronger economy means more government revenue. Stimulus spending probably doesn’t pay for itself, but its true cost, even in a narrow fiscal sense, is only a fraction of the headline number.
It almost echoes the supply-side argument of the Reganites except in reverse. And except that it actually makes sense.

So will the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress push for more deficit spending to fuel stronger re-growth in our economy? Right now they're patting themselves on the back for how the stimulus worked, and they should. However, they need to move forward on job creation, and currently it doesn't look they will.

In the meantime, they seem perfectly willing to borrow money to continue a war in Afghanistan. Sounds like they got their priorities straight, huh?