Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sanders, Sandinistas, Clinton, and Contras in Context

I did not see the March 9 Democratic debate, but I have seen clips of the exchange Clinton and Sanders had over Sanders's support for the Sandinistas. 
When I was an undergraduate, I spent a year researching and writing a ninety page thesis on Central American Solidarity activism--what Sanders is being maligned for participating in. As a result of this, I'd like to put Sander's activism in a historical context.
Between the Sandinista revolution and 1986 100,000 US citizens visited Nicaragua as part of solidarity activism.
One hundred thousand. 
That is a large number of U.S. citizens to visit any foreign country for politically motivated reasons. 
It is especially impressive considering they did so at great personal risk. In 1985, 29 activists with Witness for Peace were kidnapped by the Contras. In 1987, U.S. solidarity activist Benjamin Linder was murdered by the Contras--with the full support of the Reagan Regime in Washington. 
Fifty thousand Americas took a "Pledge of Resistance" to engage in civil disobedience should the Reagan Regime in Washington invade Nicaragua
Even if you don't want to extrapolate from the number of people who were willing to take great personal risks to oppose U.S. foreign policy in Nicaragua, opinion polls from the time show that Reagan's foreign policy in Central America was deeply unpopular--the most unpopular of any U.S. President up until that time. He received more letters to the White House about Central America than any other issue. 
Benjamin Linder (1959-1987) was a U.S. Central American solidarity
activist, who at the age of 27 was murdered by the U.S. back Contras.
And the Reagan Regime in Washington blamed Central American Solidarity activists, especially those who had traveled to the region, for the unpopularity of their wars, including the Contra war. A State Department official noted they were losing the war of information, because in every town in the U.S. small or large they visited there was someone giving a presentation about what they had first hand witnessed in Central America. The Regan Regime tried to counter this by setting up the The Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean, which devoted its full time to providing correct information about the region. It was shut down by the Government Accountability Office for being an illegal form of domestic propaganda, but not before booking 1,400 speaking engagements in 1,000 U.S. towns.
And why were so many people so concerned? 
The Contras were a terrorist organization. 
They deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure like health clinics and adult literacy centers. The Reagan Regime had the wonderful idea that since the Sandinistas's popularity rested in their promise of social programs that would improve the lives of poor people, if they violently eradicated those programs the Sandinistas wold be less popular! Oxfam called this the "fear of a good example."
The Contras also, in addition to being just general murderers, routinely engaged in rape and amputation of body parts against civilians in a systematic way in order to terrorize them into submission.
The Sandinistas, for whatever their faults, stood in democratic elections in 1984, elections which the UN and most Western European governments found to be fair, elections which the Contras, on the advice of the Reagan Regime, refused to participate in.
And how did the the Sandinistas lose power? 
They lost an election and left. 
Some dictatorship.
So in short, there are no words in the English language, or probably any other, to describe the pure visceral rage I feel for Clinton's attack on those who opposed the Contras.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Open Letter to Those Who Disagree With Scalia, but "Respect' his "Opinions"

 File:Justice Antonin Scalia Speaks with Staff at the U.S. Mission in Geneva (1).jpg

Hello Everyone,

I would just like to point out to all the people saying laudatory things about Scalia, on the whole liberal respect of other opinions grounds, that he wasn't just some guy with bad opinions--like a racist, but otherwise lovable uncle.

He was someone who was in an actual position of power over actual people's lives. How he wielded said power had tremendous consequences for actual people, like literally life or death consequences in things like decisions about the death penalty.

He used that power to try to make sure that torture was legal, to argue that there was no constitutional right not to be executed just because you were factually innocent, to uphold the right of states to jail LGBT people for consensual sexual acts, to overturn prohibitions on sex discrimination, and deny women the right to make decisions about their bodies.

This is not about respecting someone with whom you disagree, this about resenting the actual damage that the reprehensible actions of a person did.

It isn't zany, but admirable when someone argues there is nothing to prohibit states from flogging people or amputating ears when said person has the actual power to determine whether such a thing does or does not happen.

So no, no one has to respect his brilliance (which is questionable anyways, since in spite of the fact that he was a talented writer if anyone who was not a Supreme Court justice uttered some of his beliefs they almost certainly would be considered unserious or ludicrous, not a gifted purveyor of legal reasoning, by the same people singing his praise. This is to say nothing of the fact that he spent much of his time pondering why Satan had stopped tossing goats off of cliffs), when said brilliance was used for evil.

His actions had consequences for millions of people, I don't see why he shouldn't be one of them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton's "Experience" is Largely a Vapid, Politically Meaningless Argument

As Bernie Sanders has risen in the polls and had an unexpected degree of success in Iowa and New Hampshire, thus posing a potential problem for Hillary Clinton’s coronations, it has been immensely enjoyable watching the Clinton campaign and its many co-conspirators panic. This has ranged from the very bizarre, such as comparing the demand of tuition free college, something that was in the past accomplished in both California and New York City (to say nothing other many countries where it is still a reality) to the redistribution of ponies, to the really rather shameless, like the number of professional pundits attacking Sanders support of single payer, when they themselves supported single payer until it became politically pragmatic to attack Sanders.

What is most remarkable about all of this, is that even though those leading the attack on Sanders purport to be the guardians of all things very serious against Sanders and his supporters unrestrained un-seriousness, is that the arguments that Clinton supporters have resorted to are almost all extremely vapid. That is, while they have taken the most condescending of attitudes towards Sanders supporters, instructing them that support for Sanders is unacceptable given that his policy proposals are unrealistic, vague, short of specifics, etc., they have been relentless in trotting out arguments that are completely hollow, devoid of any underlying political content, and ultimately meaningless.

 Nowhere is this more on display then the fixation on Hillary Clinton’s experience. In case you have not recently been evangelized to on this point, not only is Clinton more “experienced” than Sanders, she is the most experienced candidate for President. Ever. Objectively so! Ignoring how one reaches the “objective” conclusion that Clinton is the most experienced candidate for President ever or that her sum time in public office consists of nine years as a Senator and six years as a Secretary of State and Sanders time in public office consists of eight years a mayor, 26 years as Representative, and nine years as a Senator, let’s examine this argument.

On its face it appears valid. After all, it is generally taken for granted that having experience for a “job” is a good thing. However, it is also important to take into account experience doing what. And more importantly, it is worth asking how one plans on using that experience.

Yet, that is precisely the opposite of what those relying on the experience argument do. There may be some vague comments about Clinton’s past positions, followed by how this will enable her to achieve the change we need. Essentially Clinton did stuff, and will continue to do stuff. Why “the stuff” part is usually so vague is a familiar story at this point. Clinton’s record of support for destroying welfare, supporting “tough on crime” policies, and aggressive wars is relatively inconvenient at this juncture in history when many potential Democratic primary voters are angered by income inequality and the vanishing Welfare State, racism and its relationship to the criminal justice system, and war. It is hard to see how said experience can be considered an asset, unless Clinton and company are claiming that after all these years she has experience, as what not to do. There is also the problem of what she will accomplish more generally. While Clinton and her supporters tout her proposals as being realistic alternatives to Sanders utopian dreaming, it is doubtful that very many people believe even if she did have a magic wand she would use it to achieve single payer healthcare. Clinton is not merely more realistic than Sanders and thus is proposing only policies she knows can be accomplished,; Clinton is fundamentally philosophically opposed to the type of social democratic project that Sanders is committed to. All of this is masked by an appeal that a general experience devoid of political content will equip her with a general competency devoid of political content.
Nowhere is this lack of politics more stunningly on display then in an exchange on Henry Kissinger that took place during a February 12, 2016 debate on Democracy Now! between Jeffery Sachs and Rep. Gregory Meeks. This came on the tail of Sanders eviscerating Clinton’s touting of Henry Kissinger’s support of her. Rep. Meeks defended Clinton’s Kissinger connection on the grounds that he talks to people with “expertise” regardless of their disagreements. He stated, “even if it’s a different party, you talk to your former colleagues to find out what they did and how they did it.”

This is all fine and dandy and has a ring of truth around it in an extremely generalized sense. Yet, when the position involves foreign policy you may want to rethink talking to someone who is unable to travel to many countries do to the fact that he is wanted for questioning pertaining to war crimes. Rep. Meeks is particularly exemplary of this phenomenon of giving answers devoid of political content. He ignores the fact that being Secretary of State isn’t just another job, it is an inherently political one, and thus getting advice from other individuals isn’t like how to figure a complex accounting problem or other technical task.

Yet, for those arguing in favor of Clinton have rendered not just being a Secretary of State into a rote, technical task, but the presidency, as well. It does not matter that Clinton supported the War in Iraq or the destruction of welfare, the presidency is merely a technocratic job for which these past experiences have left Clinton well-groomed.

Allowing an actual debate over politics to enter the mix here is doubly frightening for Clinton and those who defend her. First, her actual political choices appear very unsavory compared to Sanders’. However, there is something far more dangerous. The Clintons and much of the punditry assume that certain realms of policy are immune from serious political debate, that certain political criticisms are so far out of the framework of a bipartisan consensus that all serious people share they cannot even be considered. This is why a Democratic Senator can (and must) support a Republican initiated war. In fact, Bill Clinton’s policies towards Iraq, which included not just sanctions, but an explicit policy of regime change and regular bombing campaigns certainly paved for Bush’s escalation of U.S.-Iraq policy in the form of a full-scale invasion and occupation. This is why many of the figures responsible for implementing the Clinton-era policy supported, at least early on, Bush’s own policies. The same is true of a general consensus that serious people want to privatize or eviscerate swaths of the welfare state and only unserious people feel otherwise.

Once this technocratic worldview of U.S. policy is dropped, and actual policy comes back into the picture, the appeals to experience, expertise, ability to accomplish unspecified things all starts to appear pretty vapid. It is then becomes Clinton, not Sanders, whose campaign is short on meaningful specifics.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tell Me Why It Is We Vote For Democrats Again?

Journalist Jeremy Scahill commented on today's Democracy Now! that Obama's United Nations speech was "really naked sort of declaration of imperialism[...]" I couldn't help but notice that President was really just echoing his progressive predecessor Jimmy Carter. And not in a good way.
The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world's exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world's oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.
This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come. It demands collective efforts to meet this new threat to security in the Persian Gulf and in Southwest Asia. It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East and who are concerned with global peace and stability. And it demands consultation and close cooperation with countries in the area which might be threatened.
Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region.
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.-- President Jimmy Carter 1980 State of The Union Address

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War. We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.--President Barack Obama 2013 United Nations General Assembly Address. 
Someone needs to quickly explain to me again about the lesser of two evils or else I might come to hold the heretical belief that both parties's leadership is committed to an imperialist foreign policy for the United States. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bradley Manning is a Prisoner of Conscience

One of the most disgraceful elements of the corporate media’s campaign against whistleblower Bradley Manning has been the constant attempts at character assassination. The corporate media, when they cover Manning, constantly need to obsesses over gossipy details of Manning’s personal life. While that may be the grade of material tabloids thrive on it has nothing to do with Manning’s extraordinary act of conscience that will land him in prison for possibly the rest of his life.

    PBS’s Frontline* despicable episode on Bradley Manning is an excellent example of this. It gives extensive coverage of Manning’s personal life, which very well may have been slightly troubled (I imagine most of the readers of this have experienced troubled times during their life) and gives almost no consideration of possible political, moral, or ethical reasons for why Manning did what he did. The point of this media narrative is to diminish the rational behind Manning’s act. Manning leaked classified information, because he was a mentally unstable individual, a misfit, and a malcontent. Exposing war crimes at risk to one’s personal liberty is not a profound moral act exhibiting the best in human behavior, it is an anti-social act carried out by a disturbed individual looking for attention or an artificial sense of belonging.

    However, we know from Manning’s own words, both from the chat logs that led to his persecution and his statement in court what motivated him. He makes it very clear that his political consciousness developed through routinely watching the dehumanization of the Iraqi people and the senseless violence against them it allowed.

    Manning told Adrian Lamo, who assured Manning that as a “journalist and minister” Manning’s “confession or interview” would “enjoy a modicum of legal protection,” that “the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything” was

watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

During his opening statement at Manning’s court martial his defense attorney David Coombs  recalled a story that illustrates Manning’s deep moral convictions. On Christmas Eve a roadside bomb went off. It was meant to target a US convey, but missed. Instead it killed an Iraqi civilian. Manning’s fellow troops went onto celebrate the escape, but according to Coombs Manning “couldn’t celebrate...He couldn’t forget about the life that was lost on that day. He couldn’t forget about the family lost on that Christmas Eve.”

    Manning suffered from the problem that he believed Iraqi lives were equal to American ones and that the loss of Iraqi life, the torture of the Iraqi people were grave moral wrongs. Moral wrongs that he wanted to right. This is what motivated Manning to become a whistleblower. As his lawyer explained, “When he decided to release this information, he believed this information showed how we value human life. He was troubled by it and he believed if the American public saw it they too would be troubled by it and maybe things might change”

    Or as Manning said in his own words at his trial

“I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I [Iraq War Diaries] and CIDNE-A [Afghanistan War Diaries] tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan”


He stated that he believed by his actions he was “removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare.” Daniel Ellsberg, possibly America’s most famous whistleblower, said at a Free Bradley Manning rally that asymmetric wars are wars that are
“the strong against the weak. What used to be called colonial wars. Wars asymmetric because one side has planes, helicopters, drones, napalm, artillery, tanks, and the other side has none of that--only suicide bombers if they’re fighting and IEDs--improvised explosive devices--so it’s asymmetric. And the result of that is the great slaughter of innocence which a war crime..”

    Mannning’s detractors have often pointed out that he not only leaked information detailing rampant violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but diplomatic cables--thus proving that Manning is not a whistleblower, but an irresponsible attention seeker who dumped a large amount of information without forethought. However, Manning explained these actions to Lamo very lucidly as well. He stated that he had access to “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings ... the non-PR-versions of world events and crises” and that he believed the  diplomatic cables demonstrated “how first-world countries exploited third-world countries.” While much brouhaha has made over the sanctity of diplomacy and the importance of secrecy in carrying it out when one sees that the cables reveal things such  as how the most powerful country on Earth used its diplomats to try to bully one of the poorest countries in the world (Haiti) into not raising its minimum wage at the bequest of a private corporation it becomes very clear how the “first world” exploits the “third world.”

    What emerges here is a clear pattern. Manning’s actions and motivations are not that of a troubled individual, a misfit, or a malcontent, but someone who saw great crimes being committed, crimes that shocked his conscience. He believed that if the American public saw these crimes they too would be shocked, that they would make sure that they did not continue in their name.

    Sadly, this was not the case. The corporate media with its self-appointed role as gatekeepers of information has always censored and kept from the public at large the senseless violence implicit in US wars. It has also now marginalized Manning for failing to be what Prof. Cornel West has for years refereed to as “well adjusted to
injustice.”  It is because Manning refused to be “well adjusted to injustice,” that he saw slaughter and corruption and decided to follow his conscience to stop it that he is now imprisoned most likely for the rest of  his life.
  Bradley Manning is a prisoner of conscience. But we must not rest. We must not only continue to demand his freedom, to demand that those who commit war crimes be prosecuted, not those who blow the whistle on them, but we must also demand an end the senseless dehumanization of foreign people that allows our government to murder and exploit them.

*Certainly not the “corporate media” in a technical sense but this particular piece is most illustrative of a wider trend.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manning Verdict In

After just a few hours my previous blog post on the ramifications of the worst potential outcome of the Manning trial is already outdated. And I can't say I am sorry as it means Manning was found not guilty of the most serious charge against him--aiding the enemy. He was also not found guilty of charges under the Espionage Act for his release of the collateral muder video.

 The Collateral Murder Video

However, today was not an overwhelming victory for Manning. In addition to the charges he pleaded guilty to earlier this year he was convicted of 19 counts, including violations of the draconian Espionage Act which was created during World War I and used at that time largely to criminalize the anti-war movement. Together, these charges means Manning could face up to 154 years in prison. The graphic below breaks down the charges, Manning's pleas, and the verdict.


 As someone who has followed this story from when the Collateral Murder video was first posted online, through Manning's torture and pretrial punishment, and finally the trial itself I have very mixed emotions about today. I am glad the worst that could have happened did not happen. Still, I am very disgusted that any whistleblower should be persecuted under the color of law while war criminals go free. As I take time to decompress what happened, I will be writing more about my thoughts on the verdict, Manning, the war on whistleblowers, and the unsavory history  of the Espionage Act.

What’s At Stake With Bradley Manning’s Verdict

In a matter of hours the military will decide whether Bradley Manning is guilty of aiding the enemy, amongst other charges. The corporate media has done a remarkably poor job of covering Manning’s trial (those outlets that have covered it all) so what is at stake in tomorrow’s verdict has been relatively obscured.
 I am certainly willing to debate anybody about whether Manning is a whistleblower and as a result deserves protection under the law not persecution under it, but that is ultimately not the issue of today’s verdict. Manning has already pled guilty to leaking classified information and will be serving 20 years in a military prison.  Even the most ultra-orthodox authoritarian should be satisfied since the absolute importance of maintaining the secrecy of information deemed secret by the government even if said information details criminal activity has been upheld. End of story.
 Instead Manning is being charged with the lunatic charge of “aiding the enemy.” Aiding the enemy not only carries life imprisonment, a truly sickening thought in this case, but it has serious ramifications for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and whistleblowers everywhere.
Manning did not seek to give information to a hostile terrorist organization or state in hopes of furthering their military campaigns against the United States. He did not leak troop positions, military strategies, and his leak has in no way endangered US lives or military actions. Instead, it embarrassed the government, documented violence against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, and exposed war crimes.
The argument is that because he put this information in the public domain bin Laden or other evil doers can access it. Because bin Laden has a lab top he can access Wikileaks or the New York Times and read about how the most powerful country on Earth used its diplomats to try to bully one of the poorest countries in the world (Haiti) into not raising its minimum wage at the bequest of a private corporation. He could learn that the United States keeps a causality count in Iraq or that they have found new ways of making sure Iraqis they don’t like are being tortured in a way that allows the US not to actually get its own hands dirty. None of this information helps the hypothetical evil doer in anyway really other than maybe confirming their preconceived biases against the United States or giving them new ideological capital. But if that’s the case should all wrongdoing or unflattering information about the United States should be hidden in case it might make people do bad things? Doesn’t it also have the power to inspire the American people to stand up and take charge of the government which is carrying out these distasteful policies in their name? To use their democratic process to say “Enough is Enough?”
 Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler,testifying for the defense during a hearing to dismiss the aiding the enemy charge, stated that if Manning can be found guilty of aiding the enemy so can any of media outlet publishing the information online (like The New York Times).
  The question is where is the line become drawn? If I read a New York Times article that has potentially embarrassing information about the United States government’s foreign policy and discuss it with a friend at a Starbucks should I be concerned than if an unknown evil doer is listening that I may be aiding the enemy? Should I be afraid to write about the case against Manning on my blog or mentioning information that I learned from its coverage in the New York Times, NPR, PBS, CNN, etc? After all, there is no device on blogger to block evil doers from reading this blog.
 And why stop just at foreign policy or even classified information? Don’t people who point out the buffoonery of the Tea Party Republicans in Congress embarrass the American government and make it appear weak and inept? Is that aiding the enemy?
 Of course, this nightmare totalitarian situation, while a logical extension of the case against Manning, is never going to happen. The New York Times will not be shut down and its editorial board will not be imprisoned. No one will be dragged out of Starbucks unable to finish their latte for discussing today’s headlines on NPR. However, this extension of what it means to aid the enemy will be used selectively and its victims will be those who oppose the policies of endless warfare and corporate domination. And that’s ultimately what this trial is about. If it was merely about protecting classified information the government would have quit when Manning pled guilty to essentially leaking classified information. Instead, they have forged ahead with this insane charge in hopes of fashioning a new tool to be used to intimated whistleblowers, journalists, and any dissidents who oppose global empire and neoliberal capitalism.
 As a result, we should be viewing this case not through the prism of whether Manning leaked classified information, but through the prism of one of the most important freedom of speech and freedom of press cases in decades. It is important that everyone understand what is at stake.