Greenwald: Obama’s “bad negotiating” is actually shrewd negotiating

I’m too busy to write at the moment, so I’m just going to highlite Glenn Greenwald’s latest piece in which he does a great job of shattering the “incompetence theorist” myth that continues to propose that poor Obama keeps on “failing” to enact progressive policies, while being “forced” to enact corporatist friendly ones.

It’s a point that I made here last week, and it’s really nice to see that Glenn and I are on the same wavelength, because he’s awesome.

Obama’s “bad negotiating” is actually shrewd negotiating

Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011 09:14 ET

By Glenn Greenwald

In December, President Obama signed legislation to extend hundreds of billions of dollars in Bush tax cuts, benefiting the wealthiest Americans. Last week, Obama agreed to billions of dollars in cuts that will impose the greatest burden on the poorest Americans. And now, virtually everyone in Washington believes, the President is about to embark on a path that will ultimately lead to some type of reductions in Social Security, Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits under the banner of “reform.” Tax cuts for the rich — budget cuts for the poor — “reform” of the Democratic Party’s signature safety net programs — a continuation of Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies and a new Middle East war launched without Congressional approval. That’s quite a legacy combination for a Democratic President.

All of that has led to a spate of negotiation advice from the liberal punditocracy advising the President how he can better defend progressive policy aims — as though the Obama White House deeply wishes for different results but just can’t figure out how to achieve them. Jon Chait, Josh Marshall, and Matt Yglesias all insist that the President is “losing” on these battles because of bad negotiating strategy, and will continue to lose unless it improves. Ezra Klein says “it makes absolutely no sense” that Democrats didn’t just raise the debt ceiling in December, when they had the majority and could have done it with no budget cuts. Once it became clear that the White House was not following their recommended action of demanding a “clean” vote on raising the debt ceiling — thus ensuring there will be another, probably larger round of budget cuts — Yglesias lamented that the White House had “flunked bargaining 101.” Their assumption is that Obama loathes these outcomes but is the victim of his own weak negotiating strategy.

I don’t understand that assumption at all. Does anyone believe that Obama and his army of veteran Washington advisers are incapable of discovering these tactics on their own or devising better strategies for trying to avoid these outcomes if that’s what they really wanted to do? What evidence is there that Obama has some inner, intense desire for more progressive outcomes? These are the results they’re getting because these are the results they want — for reasons that make perfectly rational political sense.

Conventional D.C. wisdom — that which Obama vowed to subvert but has done as much as any President to bolster — has held for decades that Democratic Presidents succeed politically by being as “centrist” or even as conservative as possible. That attracts independents, diffuses GOP enthusiasm, casts the President as a triangulating conciliator, and generates raves from the DC press corps — all while keeping more than enough Democrats and progressives in line through a combination of anti-GOP fear-mongering and partisan loyalty.

Isn’t that exactly the winning combination that will maximize the President’s re-election chances? Just consider the polling data on last week’s budget cuts, which most liberal commentators scorned. Americans support the “compromise” by a margin of 58-38%; that support includes a majority of independents, substantial GOP factions, and 2/3 of Democrats. Why would Democrats overwhelmingly support domestic budget cuts that burden the poor? Because, as Yglesias correctly observed, “just about anything Barack Obama does will be met with approval by most Democrats.” In other words, once Obama lends his support to a policy — no matter how much of a departure it is from ostensible Democratic beliefs — then most self-identified Democrats will support it because Obama supports it, because it then becomes the “Democratic policy,” by definition. Adopting “centrist” or even right-wing policies will always produce the same combination — approval of independents, dilution of GOP anger, media raves, and continued Democratic voter loyalty — that is ideal for the President’s re-election prospects.

That tactic in the context of economic policy has the added benefit of keeping corporate and banking money on Obama’s side (where it overwhelmingly was in 2008), or at least preventing a massive influx to GOP coffers. And just look at the team of economic advisers surrounding Obama from the start: does anyone think that Bill Daley, Tim Geithner and his army of Rubin acolytes and former Goldman Sachs executives are sitting around in rooms desperately trying to prevent budget cuts and entitlement “reforms”?

Why would Obama possibly want to do anything different? Why would he possibly want a major political war over the debt ceiling where he looks like a divisive figure and looks to be opposing budget cuts? Why would he possibly want to draw a line in the sand defending Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from any “reforms”? There would be only two reasons to do any of that: (1) fear that he would lose too much of his base if he compromised with the GOP in these areas, or (2) a genuine conviction that such compromises are morally or economically intolerable. Since he so plainly lacks both — a fear of losing the base or genuine convictions about this or anything else — there’s simply nothing to drive him to fight for those outcomes.

Like most first-term Presidents after two years, Obama is preoccupied with his re-election, and perceives — not unreasonably — that that goal is best accomplished by adopting GOP policies. The only factor that could subvert that political calculation — fear that he could go too far and cause Democratic voters not to support him — is a fear that he simply does not have: probably for good reason. In fact, not only does Obama not fear alienating progressive supporters, the White House seems to view that alienation as a positive, as it only serves to bolster Obama’s above-it-all, centrist credentials. Here’s what CNN’s White House Correspondent Ed Henry and Gloria Borger said last night about the upcoming fight over entitlements and the debt ceiling:

Henry: I was talking to a senior Democrat who advises the White House, outside the White House today who was saying look, every time this president sits down with Speaker Boehner, to Gloria’s point about negotiating skills, the president seems to give up another 5 billion dollars, 10 billion dollars, 20 billions dollars. It’ s like the spending cuts keep going up. If you think about where the congressional Democrats started a couple of months ago they were talking about no spending cuts on the table. It keeps going up.

But this president has a much different reality than congressional Democrats.

Borger (sagely): Right.

Henry: He’s going for re-election, him going to the middle and having liberal Democrats mad at him is not a bad thing.

Borger: Exactly.

That’s why I experience such cognitive dissonance when I read all of these laments from liberal pundits that Obama isn’t pursuing the right negotiating tactics, that he’s not being as shrewd as he should be. He’s pursuing exactly the right negotiating tactics and is being extremely shrewd — he just doesn’t want the same results that these liberal pundits want and which they like to imagine the President wants, too. He’s not trying to prevent budget cuts or entitlement reforms; he wants exactly those things because of how politically beneficial they are to him — to say nothing of whether he agrees with them on the merits.

When I first began blogging five years ago, I used to write posts like that all the time. I’d lament that Democrats weren’t more effectively opposing Bush/Cheney National Security State policies or defending civil liberties. I’d attribute those failures to poor strategizing or a lack of political courage and write post after post urging them to adopt better tactics to enable better outcomes or be more politically “strong.” But then I realized that they weren’t poor tacticians getting stuck with results they hated. They simply weren’t interested in generating the same outcomes as the ones I wanted.

It wasn’t that they eagerly wished to defeat these Bush policies but just couldn’t figure out how to do it. The opposite was true: they were content to acquiesce to those policies, if not outright supportive of them, because they perceived no political advantage in doing anything else. Many of them supported those policies on the merits while many others were perfectly content with their continuation. So I stopped trying to give them tactical advice on how to achieve outcomes they didn’t really want to achieve, and stopped attributing their failures to oppose these policies to bad strategizing or political cowardice. Instead, I simply accepted that these were the outcomes they most wanted, that Democratic Party officials on the whole — obviously with some exceptions — weren’t working toward the outcomes I had originally assumed (and which they often claimed). Once you accept that reality, events in Washington make far more sense.

That Obama’s agenda includes an affirmative desire for serious budget cuts and entitlement “reforms” has been glaringly obvious from the start; it’s not some unintended, recent by-product of Tea Party ascendancy. Since before Obama was even inaugurated, Digby has been repeatedly warning of his support for a so-called “Grand Bargain” that would include cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And Jane Hamsher and Ezra Klein had a fairly acrimonious exchange very early on in the Obama presidency over the former’s observation that Obama officials were expressly advocating cuts in Social Security while Klein insisted that this would never happen (yesterday, Klein reported that Obama would be supportive of Bowles-Simpson, which proposes deep cuts to Social Security, and boasted of his anticipation weeks ago that this would happen). Before Obama’s inauguration, I wrote that the most baffling thing to me about the enthusiasm of his hardest-core supporters was the belief that he was pioneering a “new form of politics” when, it seemed obvious, it was just a re-branded re-tread of Clintonian triangulation and the same “centrist”, scorn-the-base playbook Democratic politicians had used for decades.

What amazes me most is the brazen claims of presidential impotence necessary to excuse all of this. Atrios has written for weeks about the “can’t do” spirit that has overtaken the country generally, but that mindset pervades how the President’s supporters depict both him and the powers of his office: no bad outcomes are ever his fault because he’s just powerless in the face of circumstance. That claim is being made now by pointing to a GOP Congress, but the same claim was made when there was a Democratic Congress as well: recall the disagreements I had with his most loyal supporters in 2009 and 2010 over their claims that he was basically powerless even to influence his own party’s policy-making in Congress.

Such excuse-making stands in very sharp contrast to what we heard in 2008 and what we will hear again in 2012: that the only thing that matters is that Obama win the Presidency because of how powerful and influential an office it is, how disaster will befall us all if this vast power falls into Republican hands. It also contradicts the central promise of the Obama candidacy: that he would change, rather than bolster, the standard power dynamic in Washington. And it is especially inconsistent with Obama’s claimed desire to be a “transformational” President in much the way that Ronald Reagan was (but, Obama said to such controversy, Bill Clinton was not). Gaudy claims of Fundamental Change and Transformation and Yes, We Can! have given way to an endless parade of excuse-making that he’s powerless, weak and there’s nothing he can do.

Obama’s most loyal supporters often mock the notion that a President’s greatest power is his “bully pulpit,” but there’s no question that this is true. Reagan was able to transform how Americans perceived numerous political issues because he relentlessly argued for his ideological and especially economic world-view: a rising tide lifts all boats, government is not the solution but is the problem, etc. — a whole slew of platitudes and slogans that convinced Americans that conservative economic policy was optimal despite how much it undermined their own economic interests. Reagan was “transformational” because he changed conventional wisdom and those premises continue to pervade our political discourse.

When has Obama ever done any of that? When does he offer stirring, impassioned defenses of the Democrats’ vision on anything, or attempt to transform (rather than dutifully follow) how Americans think about anything? It’s not that he lacks the ability to do that. Americans responded to him as an inspirational figure and his skills of oratory are as effective as any politician in our lifetime. It’s that he evinces no interest in it. He doesn’t try because those aren’t his goals. It’s not that he or the office of the Presidency are powerless to engender other outcomes; it’s that he doesn’t use the power he has to achieve them because, quite obviously, achieving them is not his priority or even desire.

Whether in economic policy, national security, civil liberties, or the permanent consortium of corporate power that runs Washington, Obama, above all else, is content to be (one could even say eager to be) guardian of the status quo. And the forces of the status quo want tax cuts for the rich, serious cuts in government spending that don’t benefit them (social programs and progressive regulatory schemes), and entitlement “reform” — so that’s what Obama will do. He won’t advocate, and will actually oppose, steps as extreme as the ones Paul Ryan is proposing: that’s how he will retain his “centrist” political identity and keep the fear levels high among his voting base. He’ll pay lip service to some Democratic economic dogma and defend some financially inconsequential culture war positions: that’s how he will signal to the base that he’s still on their side. But the direction will be the same as the GOP desires and, most importantly, how the most powerful economic factions demand: not because he can’t figure out how to change that dynamic, but because that’s what benefits him and thus what he wants.

Ironically, Obama is turning out to be “transformational” in his own way — by taking what was once the defining GOP approach to numerous policy areas and converting them into Democratic ones, and thus ensconcing them in the invulnerable protective shield of “bipartisan consensus.” As Digby put it: “Reagan was a hard-core ideologue who didn’t just tweak some processes but radically changed the prevailing conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, Obama is actually extending the Reagan consensus, even as he pursues his own agenda of creating a Grand Bargain that will bring peace among the dueling parties (a dubious goal in itself.)” That has been one of the most consequential outcomes of the first two years of his presidency in terms of Terrorism and civil liberties, and is now being consecrated in the realm of economic policy as well.

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I’m sorry, but Obama is a corporatist tool

“Sorry, I’m feeling a little superior tonight. Seven schools in seven states, and the only thing different is my locker combination.”

~ J.D. – Heathers

Heathers is a movie about tribalism, group think, conformity, and the ways in which people’s thoughts and actions are constricted by the groups they belong to, or aspire to belong to. On the surface, it’s about the ridiculousness of high school, but it’s really about the ridiculousness of EVERYTHING. But more to the point, it’s about how astonishingly difficult it is to be an aware, awake individual existing in the echo chamber of nonsense we think of as reality. And just as it often happens in real life, the character in Heathers who sees things as they truly are is ultimately destroyed by his failure to vigorously shake the zombies from their slumber.

Why on earth am I talking about a Christian Slater film from 1988? Well, I bring it up now because, as my prolonged absence from writing this blog would suggest, I’ve been feeling more and more alienated from the other 99% of the population who seem to be as happy as pigs in shit as long as they have their Nikes, Big Macs, and $5.25 café au laits.

Even though I haven’t been blogging, however, I have been a posting machine on Facebook, where I’m able to interact in a quicker and dirtier fashion than I can here. It’s funny, because I’m seen as a “radical leftist” by my right-leaning acquaintances, and as a closet Republican by a lot of my “liberal” friends who can’t be bothered to look past the fact that I’m criticizing their hero, President Peace Prize, and let’s face it, if you criticize a Democrat then you MUST be a Republican, because there are NO OTHER OPTIONS. Only left and right. Blue and red. You remember what happened when Ralph Nader ran for President as a third-party candidate, don’t you? He ruined EVERYTHING!!!!!! The problem wasn’t all of the other rubes who voted for Bush and Gore, and it certainly wasn’t the crooked Supreme Court. Nope, the problem was the third-party, so I guess we can never try THAT again.

</sarcasm>

Anyway, I’ve decided that the first step towards real change is a realization that change is actually required. With this in mind, I’ve decided to start small and impact my immediate community by using my Facebook page to convince my friends that Barack Obama is a corporatist tool of the military empire. You’d think that this would be a relatively simple task, since most of my friends are well-educated, creative, smart self-proclaimed liberals, and Obama’s allegiance to the new Amerikan fascism is so self-evident at this point that even the Neocon in Chief, Bill Kristol, is finding it increasingly difficult to hide his admiration.

“Of course, since his (Obama’s) sound policies are more like the policies people like me have been advocating for quite a while, I’m happy to support them, you know. He’s a born-again neocon.”

~ Bill Kristol

There you have it, folks.

Game over.

Obama is not a socialist.

Obama is not a progressive.

Obama is not a liberal.

Obama is not a good guy.

In fact, based on the Nuremberg principles, Obama is a war criminal.

Seriously.

It’s as plain as the noses that used to be on the faces of any number of children who have been murdered or maimed by his flying robot brigades in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Good guys don’t bomb civilians by remote control while continuing a completely unnecessary nine-year war (NINE FREAKING YEARS!), and they certainly don’t joke about it.

Now THAT’s some funny stuff right there.

Isn’t Obama a pisser?

He reminds me of this other really funny guy.

Oh, I’m sorry. Bush is a Republican and Obama is a Democrat. It’s ok to criticize one but not the other. I keep forgetting that I’m in bizarro world. Besides, only one of them has received the Henry Kissinger Nobel Peace Prize, and they don’t hand that out to just anybody.

Back to reality.

This is your President.

This is your Nobel Peace laureate.

This is your hope and your change.

You need to snap yourselves out of fantasy land and see this monster for who and what he is; a murderous tool of the corporotocracy.

But let’s go back to the Heathers analogy for a minute, because if you’ve seen the movie, then you know that J.D. was unsuccessful in his quest to pull back the curtain. In fact, he ended up destroying himself instead. I’m finding myself at a cross-roads because I really don’t know what to do any more. You can’t lead a movement when people don’t want to be moved. Especially when so much of their self-esteem is invested in the belief that they’re actually supporting the good guy. This often leads to great logical contortions in order to save face instead of admitting that they’ve been deceived by a carnival huckster with a multi-million dollar P.R. team. I had an exchange on Facebook the other day in response to my posting of the Bill Kristol clip, and I think it sums up what I’m trying to convey here.

After viewing the clip, my liberal friend said this:

“Compromise is the way of a newbie with not enough political clout to get things done in Washington, unfortunately.”

To which I replied:

“Sigh. Yes, that IS unfortunate for all of the dead, maimed, imprisoned, and tortured during the Peace Laureate’s reign. At some point though, I’m certain that the “other” side will get around to compromising so that we can craftily rub our hands together, twist our moustaches and gloat about how the Republicans have adopted, and even stepped up our hoped-for progressive policies.”

My friend’s response:

“Unfortunately was not a word I used to talk about the non-political consequences. But it is worth noting that these political decisions have very real outcomes.”

I’d like to point out that my friend DID acknowledge that there are negative consequences to Obama’s political decisions, which is much more than I usually get in these situations, but there’s certainly no outrage being expressed, and based on experience, I would bet lots of money that if we were talking about a Republican, ANY Republican, my friend wouldn’t be speaking of compromise and wouldn’t be describing the dead and maimed children as unfortunate outcomes. There would be anger and blame.

The rest of my friend’s response:

“Where do you leverage for change of these policies that have real outcomes? Surely not just by mentioning them on fb?”

On the surface, that seems like a valid criticism, but it’s really not. When 50% of the population thinks we should be murdering more Muslims, and the other 49% is walking around worshiping a cult of personality and believing, with all of their heart, that up is down, then you really can’t leverage for something as simple as a change of policies. Before you do anything else, you must convince a great number of people that a change of policies is needed in the first place, and with Obama’s public relations team continuing to successfully brand him to his loyal followers as hope and change personified, regardless of his actual policies, that is proving to be a monumentally difficult task. But again, this is exactly what I’m trying to do with my Facebook campaign, one friend at a time, so here’s how I responded:

“I leverage for change by making people aware that change is needed, and I do this by cataloging, day after day after day, that the change we’ve been sold is actually not change at all, and this is very important in a world where people pay much more attention to branding and advertising campaigns than they do to the performance of the actual product.

In other words, if we keep walking around believing, beyond logic and reason, that Obama and the Democrats are compromising as opposed to simply serving the interests that have put them into power, then we’ve lost before we’ve even begun. I’ve said this before, but the absolute brilliance of the Obama presidency is the way he’s applied the good housekeeping seal of approval to all of the wet dream policies of the neocons and the banking elite. Half of the population wrongly LOVES those policies, and now the other half are afraid to criticize them, or at best, claim that they’re simply compromise.

It’s not compromise. Obama and the Democrats do the things that they do for the same reasons the Republicans do them; because they’re serving the corporate interests that finance them. It sucks. I hate that we’ve been hoodwinked and manipulated based on our innate and socially engineered desires to support a team and to believe that somebody is looking out for us. It makes me feel awful most of my waking hours, but that’s the reality, and until we all come to terms with it, we’re going to be stuck in this feedback loop of corporo-military fucked-upness.”

(Incidentally, it’s been three days and my friend still has responded…)

The last sentence of my response is the key. It’s like that old alcoholic’s anonymous slogan:

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards recovery.

Obviously, the Republicans, with very few exceptions (Ron Paul comes to mind), are empire-loving corporatists. But even though most liberals desperately cling to the notion that the Democrats have the people’s best interests at heart, they really don’t. With very few exceptions (Kucinich, Sanders and a few more) the Democrats are also empire-loving corporatists, and this is especially true of Obama. This isn’t even debatable, it’s totally demonstrable. All one needs to do is to drop the emotional attachment to a party that sold its constituency out decades ago and objectively look at the record, which has been thoroughly documented by a few brave souls named Greenwald, Hedges, Floyd, Pilger, and Silber. A good rule of thumb when examining a policy is to ask yourself how you’d feel about it if it were the brainchild of a Republican.

If Bush was evil for bombing children, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for wire tapping your phone, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for facilitating the largest wealth transfer to the rich in human history, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for having a military budget larger than all other countries combined, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for renditions, torture, and locking people away in gulags without trial, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for deep water drilling and ignoring safety regulations, then so is Obama.

It goes on and on and on.

If you have the stomach for a laundry list of Obama’s complicity with the corporate-military-banking complex, then I highly recommend the Fuck Obama thread at Rigorous Intuition. R.I. is a blog and a message board, but more importantly, it’s also my salvation. It’s my safe room, where logic, common sense, and thoughtful analysis win the day. Here’s how I recently described it:

RI is a grass-roots think tank for people who are fed up with bullshit and lies. People who are looking for the thoughtful analysis of their peers, as opposed to the predictive programming disguised as news that spouts from the corporate media. And yes, I DID say peers, but not in an elitist sort of way. I’m only saying that you can’t get thoughtful analysis about the officially declared state of national emergency that’s been ongoing in the U.S. since 9/14/2001, Obama’s extrajudicial assassination program, and cluster bombs in Yemen from people who won’t look up from shopping or college basketball long enough to make themselves aware of those realities. At R.I. we’re trying, as best we can, to fit the puzzle pieces together in a way that explains the madness that surrounds us, because if you don’t understand the hows and whys of what’s being done to you, then you can never hope to do anything about it.

Listen, I know that it’s scary to admit to yourself that you’ve got nowhere to turn. I understand that. It’s also completely demoralizing to admit that you’ve been fooled, even more so when it’s the supposed good guys who have done the fooling. I get that too, but please swallow your pride, and take the first step towards acknowledging that we need real hope and real change, and that, as frightening as it is to admit, it’s not going to come from the current system, or from any of the corporate vampires currently posing as our leaders.

It won’t be easy. The reality that we’ve allowed the vampires to create is an awful place where we’ve been Balkanized by race, color, gender, sexuality, political party, and every other contrived “difference” under the sun, and conformity among these groups is as strictly enforced as it is amongst the preppies, the jocks, and the nerds in high school. You might end up a pariah to many of your “liberal” friends who prefer the comfort of the upside-down version of reality that allows them to put their fingers in their ears and pretend that they’re not complicit in the militarized corporate takeover because they vote for Democrats and still believe the public relations branding. Hopefully though, you’ll also be able to convince some people to join us, and then they’ll convince some people, and so on.

It has to start small and spread by word of mouth.  We’re NOT going to take over the U.S. at the 2012 elections, and our abandonment of the Democratic party in search of real progressives who aren’t bought and paid for will most likely lead to the election of more Republicans in the short-term, but we mustn’t allow this to deter us in our long-term quest to unseat the coporotocracy and give voice once again to the majority of people in the U.S. who really haven’t been represented in a very long time.

Remember, Nader wasn’t the problem, he was the solution, and there will be others if we can break down the walls of the false reality and convince enough people that real change can only come from outside of the current system. Keep pushing, and I’ll be here pushing with you.

Michael Hastings and Lara Logan: Freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and good reporting is bad reporting

Last week, I wrote about the recent General McChrystal hoo ha.

I pointed out the colossal mindfuckery of a system that tolerates wholesale murder in the pursuit of empire, while drawing the line of acceptability at petty personal insults.

I reminded everyone that it was just a few short months ago that the New York Times printed the following McChrystal quote:

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”

That was McChrystal’s response when he was informed that “American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops.”

Nobody gave a shit about THAT quote.

Well, nobody except for me, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Floyd, Arthur Silber, and possibly a few others that I missed, but there certainly was no populist outcry for McChrystal’s head, or even for his job.  In fact, the author of the Times piece, Richard A. Oppel Jr., didn’t even bat a literary eyelash, as he went right on to note that those killings were actually “fewer in number than deaths from air strikes and Special Forces operations,” and that “such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from General McChrystal seeking to reduce the killing of innocents.”

You know, war is hell and whatnot, and we just have to learn to live with shooting an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat.

Just don’t ever compare an Ambassador to a wounded animal, crack wise about Vice President Biteme, or accuse the President of not being engaged.  Nope, that type of activity is a BIG FUCKING DEAL.  Just remember who your bosses are and keep your mouth shut as you continue to shoot an amazing number of yadda, yadda, yadda…

So anyway, there’s apparently a new outrage in town.  The new outrage is aimed squarely at the handful of actual investigative journalists who still operate in the last empire standing.

Instead of being applauded for presenting a fly-on-the-wall view of the empire’s machinery of death, Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone journalist who wrote the piece that got McChrystal fired, is being attacked for not toeing the Pentagon’s company line and ruining a good thing for all of the war correspondents who so obediently serve as photocopiers of military press releases.

As Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi have already pointed out, CBS Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan made a complete ass of herself on CNN’s Reliable Sources this past Sunday, shamelessly protecting the corporate status quo as she painted Hastings as a sneaky observer who blended into his surroundings in order to procure important information that he otherwise may not have been privy to.  Simply scandalous, right?  I thought that’s exactly what investigative journalists were supposed to do, but I guess not.  Logan also accused Hastings of lying, without providing any evidence of any lies.

“Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out … something doesn’t add up here, I just, I don’t believe it.”

Of course the interviewer, Howard Kurtz, allowed that baseless accusation to slide by completely unchallenged.

NOTE: WordPress doesn’t allow me to embed CNN videos, but you can (and should) watch the interview here.

For my money, though, Logan’s most asinine portion of the interview is this:

“I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal’s?  I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.

See???  Michael Hastings never shot an amazing number of people who never proved to be a threat.  Can you believe that we allow a man like him to report on the actions of men who have shot an amazing number of people who never proved to be a threat?

Here’s an idea; any journalist who wishes to report on the military should be forced to kill a few innocent Afghanis (or Iraqis, or Pakistanis, or Yemenis, or … well, you get the picture), in order to be initiated into the club.  You know, like street gangs do with new members.  If Hastings had some innocent Afghani blood on his hands, he’d have been far less likely to act like an actual investigative journalist, and far more likely to cover up the petty insults (and war crimes) of those he’s supposed to be covering.  I mean, I guess that’s what Logan is saying.  It’s really hard to figure out what her point is though, as I don’t speak batshit fucking crazy.

So yeah, it’s business as usual here in the last empire standing.  Up is down, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and good reporting is bad reporting.

AZ. high school student is last REAL journalist on earth

Last Tuesday, the great Glenn Greenwald wrote a terrific piece titled “The Media’s Understanding of its Role.”  The story was based on CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry’s idiotic defense of the White House Press Corps’ cozy relationship with the very people they are (in theory) paid to hold accountable.  Greenwald was commenting on Henry’s interview with NPR’s Brooke Gladstone, on her media watchdog program called On the Media.  In the interview, Gladstone made the (excruciatingly obvious) point that one would have to be either brain dead, or a lying sack of shit (my characterization) to defend the notion that Joe Biden invited the Press Corps to his backyard beach party, to have super-soaker battles with Rahm Emanuel, for any reason other than to curry favor with the “journalists.”

Here’s one vital exchange from the interview:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: “If these events don’t influence coverage, why do you think the White House throws them? Do they just want to shoot you with a super-soaker?”

ED HENRY: “Maybe they wanna actually get to know us as people sometimes.”

And Henry was serious.

BWAAAHAAAAHAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!

Earlier in the interview, Gladstone made this very important point:

“I worked there (Washington) for 13 years, and it’s all about access. It’s not so much about digging, especially within the actual White House press corps itself. It’s about returned calls. And that’s a transaction.”

Gladstone was clearly implying (based on her own experience) that in Henry’s line of work, access is granted at a price, and that in this particular instance, the beach party was a bribe with expectations attached.  As a former insider, Gladstone seems to know what she’s talking about, and as I said above, only a liar or an idiot would pretend that it was anything else.

And speaking of the White House press corp, I’m reminded of a story that broke last year regarding former White House Press Corps lackey and current softball pitcher for Meet the Press, David Gregory, who never asked a tough, pointed question in his entire life.  Do you remember the Mark Sanford scandal?  The one where the South Carolina Governor claimed that he was “hiking in the Appalachians” for four days while he was really gallivanting around Argentina with a woman other than his wife?  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting all holier than thou about his extramarital indiscretion.   In fact, I don’t care if Sanford was greasing his head with lard and inserting it into a horse’s ass.  My point here is the email that Sanford received from the great David Gregory, in which Gregory virtually guaranteed a soft, controlled interview:

“Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it’s exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest.

So coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to…and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.”

And there you have it.  Our credible, adversarial, watchdog press.

Which brings me to the real reason for this post, which is this completely awesome student Journalist from Tempe Arizona’s Corona del Sol High School.  And I capitalized the word “Journalist” on purpose, because this kid just might be the last of a dying breed.  I have the distinct feeling that he’d make Greenwald proud.  This video made my week!

Greenwald: Obama’s approval of war crimes and torture

As Glenn Greenwald makes absolutely clear, not only is the Nobel Laureate in Chief NOT prosecuting the Bush administration for war crimes and torture, he is, even more astonishingly, punishing the whistle blowers who bring such crimes to his attention.

Yet another hope-filled shit sandwich for the heads in the sand crowd.

A growing part of the Obama legacy

By Glenn Greenwald
Tuesday, Jun 8, 2010 10:09 ET

AP

Physicians for Human Rights yesterday released a report documenting (while relying on heavily redacted material) that “medical professionals who were involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terrorism suspects engaged in forms of human research and experimentation in violation of medical ethics and domestic and international law.”  To those paying close attention, the evidence suggesting that this occurred has long been clear.  Today, The New York Times Editorial Page said this:

The report from the physicians’ group does not prove its case beyond doubt — how could it when so much is still hidden? — but it rightly calls on the White House and Congress to investigate the potentially illegal human experimentation and whether those who authorized or conducted it should be punished. Those are just two of the many unresolved issues from the Bush administration that President Obama and Congressional leaders have swept under the carpet.

When the history of the Bush era is written, the obvious question will be:  what was done about the systematic war crimes, torture regime, chronic lawbreaking, and even human experimentation which that administration perpetrated on the world?  And the answer is now just as obvious:  nothing, because the subsequent President — Barack Obama — decreed that We Must Look Forward, Not Backward, and then engaged in extreme measures to carry out that imperial, Orwellian dictate by shielding those crimes from investigation, review, adjudication and accountability.

All of that would be bad enough if his generous immunity were being applied across the board.  But it isn’t.  Numerous incidents now demonstrate that as high-level Bush lawbreakers are vested with presidential immunity, low-level whistle blowers who exposed serious wrongdoing and allowed citizens some minimal glimpse into what our government does are being persecuted by the Obama administration with a vengeance.  Yesterday it was revealed by Wired that the Army intelligence officer analyst who reportedly leaked the Apache helicopter attack video to Wikileaks — and thus enabled Americans to see what we are really doing in Iraq and other countries which we occupy and attack — has been arrested (Wikileaks denies the part of that report claiming that the whistle blower also leaked to it “hundreds of thousands of classified State Department records”).  This latest episode led Der Spiegel today to decry Obama’s “war on whistle blowers” as more severe than the one waged by the Bush administration (English translation here).

At least in these areas, that’s the Obama administration in a nutshell:  protecting Bush extremism and war crimes from any form of accountability while significantly escalating the punishment for those who tried to bring about some minimal degree of transparency (thereby also escalating the intimidation toward those who might want to do so in the future).  As the very pro-Obama NYT Editorial Page puts it today:  the human experimentation accusation and the question of whether crimes were committed are just “two of the many unresolved issues from the Bush administration that President Obama and Congressional leaders have swept under the carpet.”  If you really think about it, that’s a rather damning statement.

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Greenwald, Finkelstein, and Gunness on the Israeli terrorist pirates

Poor Israel.  Nobody understands that they have no choice but to create a walled ghetto for the Palestinians, flatten their buildings, choke off their supplies, label them as “terrorists” when they fight back, and then attack civilian ships in international waters as they attempt to deliver humanitarian aid, killing as many as…   Oh, why even bother to count?  They’re just a bunch of antisemitic radical activists anyway.  They got what they deserved, right?

</sarcasm>

Glenn Greenwald, as usual, hits all of the nails squarely on their heads.

Norman Finkelstein and Chris Gunness make a whole lot of sense in this RT interview, as well.

Greenwald: Who are the real “crazies” in our political culture?

Glenn Greenwald wrote a terrific piece yesterday in which he splendidly makes a point that I’ve attempted to make repeatedly in this space.  That point is that any viable challenge to the two party corporotocracy will be immediately marginalized by the propaganda arm of the American Empire, known popularly as the corporate mainstream media.  Think Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, the Tea Party, and as Greenwald points out in his piece, Ron Paul.  And please don’t tune out at this point because you don’t like Ron Paul and/or the Tea Party, because as Greenwald makes clear, this isn’t about supporting them, it’s about making the point that those people have NOT been in charge over the past 20-30 years as the United States has crashed the world economy, engaged in multiple illegal wars of aggression, outsourced its industry and blue collar jobs, attacked the civil liberties of its citizens, allowed a corporate takeover of the government, and destroyed an entire ecosystem.  And yet, they are are the ones who are marginalized as nutty as they try to provide an alternative to the people who DID cause all of those problems.

But like I said, Greenwald’s piece is tremendous on its own, so here it is.

Who are the real “crazies” in our political culture?

Friday, May 28, 2010 10:29 ET

One of the favorite self-affirming pastimes of establishment Democratic and Republican pundits is to mock anyone and everyone outside of the two-party mainstream as crazy, sick lunatics.  That serves to bolster the two political parties as the sole arbiters of what is acceptable:  anyone who meaningfully deviates from their orthodoxies are, by definition, fringe, crazy losers.  Ron Paul is one of those most frequently smeared in that fashion, and even someone like Howard Dean, during those times when he stepped outside of mainstream orthodoxy, was similarly smeared as literally insane, and still is.

Last night, the crazy, hateful, fringe lunatic Ron Paul voted to repeal the Clinton-era Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy (or, more accurately, he voted to allow the Pentagon to repeal it if and when it chooses to) — while 26 normal, sane, upstanding, mainstream House Democrats voted to retain that bigoted policy.  Paul explained today that he changed his mind on DADT because gay constituents of his who were forced out of the military convinced him of the policy’s wrongness — how insane and evil he is!

In 2003, the crank lunatic-monster Ron Paul vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq, while countless sane, normal, upstanding, good-hearted Democrats — including the current Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Senate Majority Leader, House Majority Leader, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and many of the progressive pundits who love to scorn Ron Paul as insane — supported the monstrous attack on that country.

In 2008, the sicko Ron Paul opposed the legalization of Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program and the granting of retroactive immunity to lawbreaking telecoms, while the Democratic Congress — led by the current U.S. President, his Chief of Staff, the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Majority Leader — overwhelmingly voted it into law.  Paul, who apparently belongs in a mental hospital, vehemently condemned America’s use of torture from the start, while many leading Democrats were silent (or even supportive), and mainstream, sane Progressive Newsweek and MSNBC pundit Jonathan Alter was explicitly calling for its use.  Compare Paul’s February, 2010 emphatic condemnation of America’s denial of habeas corpus, lawless detentions and presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens to what the current U.S. Government is doing.

The crazed monster Ron Paul also opposes the war in Afghanistan, while the Democratic Congress continues to fund it and even to reject timetables for withdrawal.  Paul is an outspoken opponent of the nation’s insane, devastating and oppressive “drug war” — that imprisons hundreds of thousands of Americans with a vastly disparate racial impact and continuously incinerates both billions of dollars and an array of basic liberties — while virtually no Democrat dares speak against it.  Paul crusades against limitless corporate control of government and extreme Federal Reserve secrecy, while the current administration works to preserve it.  He was warning of the collapsing dollar and housing bubble at a time when our Nation’s Bipartisan Cast of Geniuses were oblivious.  In sum, behold the embodiment of clinical, certifiable insanity:  anti-DADT, anti-Iraq-war, anti-illegal-domestic-surveillance, anti-drug-war, anti-secrecy, anti-corporatism, anti-telecom-immunity, anti-war-in-Afghanistan.

There’s no question that Ron Paul holds some views that are wrong, irrational and even odious.  But that’s true for just about every single politician in both major political parties (just look at the condition of the U.S. if you doubt that; and note how Ron Paul’s anti-abortion views render him an Untouchable for progressives while Harry Reid’s anti-abortion views permit him to be a Progressive hero and even Senate Majority Leader).  My point isn’t that Ron Paul is not crazy; it’s that those who self-righteously apply that label to him and to others invariably embrace positions and support politicians at least as “crazy.”  Indeed, those who support countless insane policies and/or who support politicians in their own party who do — from the Iraq War to the Drug War, from warrantless eavesdropping and denial of habeas corpus to presidential assassinations and endless war in the Muslim world — love to spit the “crazy” label at anyone who falls outside of the two-party establishment.

* * * * *

This behavior is partially driven by the adolescent/high-school version of authoritarianism (anyone who deviates from the popular cliques — standard Democrats and Republicans — is a fringe loser who must be castigated by all those who wish to be perceived as normal), and is partially driven by the desire to preserve the power of the two political parties to monopolize all political debates and define the exclusive venues for Sanity and Mainstream Acceptability.  But regardless of what drives this behavior, it’s irrational and nonsensical in the extreme.

I’ve been writing for several years about this destructive dynamic:   whereby people who embrace clearly crazy ideas and crazy politicians anoint themselves the Arbiters of Sanity simply because they’re good mainstream Democrats and Republicans and because the objects of their scorn are not.  For me, the issue has nothing to do with Ron Paul and everything to do with how the “crazy” smear is defined and applied as a weapon in our political culture.  Perhaps the clearest and most harmful example was the way in which the anti-war view was marginalized, even suppressed, in the run-up to the attack on Iraq because the leadership of both parties supported the war, and the anti-war position was thus inherently the province of the Crazies.  That’s what happens to any views not endorsed by either of the two parties.

Last week in Newsweek, in the wake of the national fixation on Rand Paul, Conor Friedersdorf wrote a superb article on this phenomenon.  While acknowledging that Rand Paul’s questioning of the Civil Rights Act (and other positions Paul holds) are “wacky” and deeply wrong, Friedersdorf writes:

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable.  Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco — products that people ought to consume less, not more. . . .

If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant? Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants?

He goes on to note that “these disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.”  Indeed, this is true of anyone who deviates at all — even in tone — from the two-party orthodoxy, as figures as disparate as Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Howard Dean or even Alan Grayson will be happy to tell you.

* * * * *

The reason this is so significant — the reason I’m writing about it again — is because forced adherence to the two parties’ orthodoxies, forced allegiance to the two parties’ establishments, is the most potent weapon in status quo preservation.  That’s how our political debates remain suffocatingly narrow, the permanent power factions in Washington remain firmly in control, the central political orthodoxies remain largely unchallenged.  Neither party nor its loyalists are really willing to undermine the prevailing political system because that’s the source of their power.  And neither parties’ loyalists are really willing to oppose serious expansions or abuses of government power when their side is in control, and no serious challenge is therefore ever mounted; the only ones who are willing to do so are the Crazies.

Thus, for the two parties to ensure that they, and only they, are recognized as Sane, Mainstream voices is to ensure, above all else, the perpetuation of status quo power.  As Noah Millman insightfully pointed out this week, those on the Right and Left devoted to civil liberties and limitations on executive power find more common cause with each other than with either of the two parties’ establishments.  The same is true on a wide array of issues, including limitations on corporate influence in Washington and opposition to the National Security State.

That’s why the greatest sin, the surest path to marginalized Unseriousness, is to stray from the safe confines of loyalty to the Democratic or Republican establishments.  To our political class, Treason is defined as anyone who forms an alliance, even on a single issue, with someone in the Crazy Zone.  That’s because breaking down those divisive barriers can be uniquely effective in enabling ideologically diverse citizens to join together to weaken power factions, as Alan Grayson proved when he teamed up with Ron Paul to force the uber-secret Fed to submit to at least some version of an audit (backed by several leading progressives joining with Grover Norquist and other Crazies to support it), or as Al Gore proved when he brought substantial attention to Bush’s war on the Constitution by forming an alliance with Bob Barr and other right-wing libertarians.  Preventing (or at least minimizing) those types of ad hoc alliances through use of the Crazy smear ensures a divided and thus weakened citizenry against entrenched political power in the form of the two parties.  Obviously, the more stigmatized it is to stray from two-party loyalty, the stronger the two parties (and those who most benefit from their dominance) will be.

If one wants to argue that Ron Paul and others like him hold specific views that are crazy, that’s certainly reasonable.  But those who make that claim virtually always hold views at least as crazy, and devote themselves to one of the two political parties that has, over and over, embraced insane, destructive and warped policies of their own.  The reason the U.S. is in the shape it’s in isn’t because Ron Paul and the rest of the so-called “crazies” have been in charge; they haven’t been, at all.  The policies that have prevailed are the ones which the two parties have endorsed.  So where does the real craziness lie?

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Just to preempt non sequiturs, this isn’t a discussion of Ron Paul, but of the irrational use of the “crazy” accusation in our political discourse and the effects of its application.