Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Video: Christopher Hill, Joe Szyliowicz and I discuss Wikileaks

As I emphasize in the videotape of the Forum on youtube here, the American press, led by the New York Times, has maintained silence at the request of the administration over what the military communiqués released by Wikileaks mean [h/t Rich and Julie]. One story or set of stories on a single day – in the Times’s case, largely reflecting Pentagon hysteria about Iran – then silence. This forum was by far the liveliest discussion of leading issues surrounding Wikileaks that I have run across; it also marks Dean Christopher Hill’s first public remarks, after being Ambassador to Iraq, about Iraq (in general, I and probably everyone present learned a good deal about how the foreign service works from listening to Chris). Given intense student interest, the discussion could easily have gone on for another hour. I strongly recommend listening to it. The following comments go beyond the forum or are not obvious in it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the speakers bifurcated dramatically. I spoke of the revelations in the papers that General Petraeus organized and ordered Iraqi torture – sicked the murderous Shia "Wolf Brigade" on the Sunni. See here, here and here. By command responsibility, the legal doctrine on which the United States tried and executed the Tokyo generals, Petraeus – and Pentagon chief Rumsfeld – are guilty of war crimes. I thus emphasized, against some previous remarks about American "abuse," that the correct American English – and legal term – is torture. In the following talks, what America has done was referred to again, for the most part, as "abuse" – without comment on the legal or linguistic issues involved – though Chris also denounced torture and "disagreed respectfully" with President Bush.

Joe raised the issue in a democracy of leaks, which Chris also took up. These serve democratic interests – that citizens really do need to know something about foreign policy and in particular, war and peace (a need which is disgraced by the secrecy of "bipartisan" foreign policy and the emptiness of the 2010 Congressional campaign that did not mention Iraq or Afghanistan or other wars) - but that governments often need to preserve confidentiality or sources, and what might be the balance. This is a deep issue in discussing democracy but from an American point of view. It is also one which removes the discussion from the central issue of crimes the American government has committed in its aggression against Iraq, or in its occupation of Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, some international students felt left out by this nonetheless very interesting part of the discussion.

In the question period, I raised the disgraceful conduct of Judith Miller and Michal Gordon, put on the frontpage of the New York Times while reporters like James Risen, who actually tried to get at the truth were put on p. A20. Gordon is still employed at the Times; this is an editorial decision by a corrupt, pro-aggression newspaper (the Gannett-Tripp papers at least had some honest coverage put near the front; they have, however, no paper in Manhattan or Washington). In his remarks, Chris eloquently denounces the corrupt embedding of the press with the Pentagon (play soldiers going on missions, carrying weapons, or being flown on fancy, all-expense paid trips...), its forfeiting of a serious independent role, which, comparatively, the press had in Vietnam (one must look to independent journalists like Jeremy Scahill for reporting). In the discussion, Joe pointed out brilliantly that Miller had purveyed leaks from Ahmed Chalabi. These actually came from Vice President Cheney so that Cheney could hold up the New York Times front page on the Sunday talk shows and say “See, they agree with us.” More exactly, Cheney’s lies became the lies of the Times.

As was not said in the discussion, however, there are two kinds of leaks. The first, whistleblowing from below, is democratic and desirable to prevent harms to the public. The second, leaks from above to campaign for a program of action while avoiding any personal responsibility, is often authoritarian, deceitful and manipulative. The first type, say a Bradley Manning or Daniel Ellsberg, is a genuine political hero, someone who sees a great wrong or crime, and is driven, at great cost, often under great threat, to speak out. That is admirable. Unsurprisingly, Obama, to his enormous discredit, throws the book at Manning, just as his administration multifacetedly attacks Julian Assange.

As Steve Wagner has recently emphasized to me, the U.S. government has "leaked" to the corporate press that Assange is crazy and in Sweden, manufactured a case – dropped a couple of days later by the prosecution and then a day later initiated again – about rape. Regardless of what happened, is it likely that such hasty action, then abrupt change and a further abrupt about-face by a prosecutor – something otherwise unheard of – is anything but a result of American pressure? The US has tried to shut down or block the Wikileaks site, made them move from country to country. It thus does not behoove American officials to decry Assange for his unwillingness to consider the fate of American sources, since the US government has already committed crimes against him and Wikileaks. Columnists at the National Review and elsewhere on the Right have called for the government to murder him. Fortunately, murdering this Australian right now would be too obvious – but I would apply Chris’s statement to a Chicago Tribune reporter who revealed the actions of a courageous Iraqi human rights minister – if she falls down the stairs sometime, I will hold you personally responsible for her death – to these Rightists (I mean authoritarians, not conservatives) and, of course, the US government.

Steve speaks of how madness is the charge against Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther King, and many other protestors. In Phaedrus, it is Plato’s own word of choice (philosophical mania) for the eros involved in relentlessly seeking truth (and, alternately, love or beauty). See here. This is part of what I elsewhere call anti-radical ideology: that most people are contented even in slavery, but that trouble is stirred up by outside agitators, speaking a funny, often foreign language and who have “other aims” [see Democratic Individuality, ch. 12, and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? introduction]. Why most people at great risk sometimes follow such people is a mystery which those who routinely appeal to this ideology try not to allow anyone to consider (since their stupidity and apology for oppressors will then stand out). But Steve’s emphasis on mania also adds a central feature of what such agitators are like in their willingness to take on the oppressors, in their seeking for justice.

The second type of leak has become, as Glenn Greenwald has emphasized, common in the New York Times. Counterfeit journalists now allow politicians and high government bureaucrats to give them leaks “off the record.” Any lie the latter choose to tell makes it right onto the front page of the Times without attribution – so that Cheney could cite himself in the phony persona of the Times. Judith Miller, Michael Gordon and their ilk are not reporters, they are yo-yos of the powerful. Except in rare cases, serious journalism would eschew not for attribution quotes. Such reporters would demand that officials act democratically and responsibly, give information to encourage actions publically and on the record.

Of course, the American press even during Vietnam did not do this much (David Halberstam or Jonathan Schell stand out, however). IF Stone, the great independent journalist (and my sister-in-law’s father) said routinely and rightly: “All governments lie.” So he studied what the government released without seeking admission to press conferences (after his work at PM during the Roosevelt administration; when he was formally blacklisted). Thus, his analysis of the State Department White Paper on Vietnam in 1965 was a classic in revealing lies and instrumental in the emergence of the anti-War movement. I heard him speak at Winthrop House at Harvard on this theme with perhaps 150 other people that spring, and he gave opponents of the War a lot of intellectual ammunition, persuaded others that the War was an aggression and a horror.

I often find it difficult to listen to government officials talk about war with a straight-face (I make an exception for Obama who seems thoughtful even when I - often - disagree with him). As Chris rightly says, the first casualty of war is truth, and Americans should damn well think much harder about going to war. I should note: most Americans opposed the war in Iraq (it was never a popular war, even during the initial blitzkrieg) and most now oppose the war in Afghanistan. Obama won nomination and unexpected, mass support against Hillary Clinton because he thought the Iraq war was dumb, whereas as she, an opportunist, had supported it. As a onetime opponent of the Vietnam war at Wellesley and an opponent of racism toward the Panthers at Yale Law School, Hillary knew better. But she had become sealed off against the truth as a leading figure in the Empire. In contrast, I agree or sympathize with almost everything Chris said. He – and I think quite a number of others, inside and outside the government like Ray McGovern long at the CIA or Ali Soufan of the FBI, inter alia – have not “gone to the dark side.”

Chris, I and Joe pretty well agree about Miller. But Chris provided a further insight: that she toured Iraq this past summer, praising the all-shining military and disparaging "civilians" - read the State Department - asserting they are not up to managing the rest of the occupation. She is another Petraeus acolyte. Petraeus is interested in replacing competent State Department officials with representatives of Blackwater and other firms: to destroy any vestiges of humanity or competence. So Miller shils not for the military, but the private companies, of no loyalty to the US government, merely to their own profits, who are increasingly hollowing out or eating from within, as a parasite, the public responsibility of the American government (under Bush, the ratio in Iraq was 1 mercenary for every soldier; in the occupation under Obama, 1.33 mercenary for every solider (72,000 mercenaries, 50,000 soldiers).

Just a note on two disagreements. We were asked why Obama isn't prosecuting the war criminals. I emphasized the large number of candidates in the Bush administration – possibly a couple of hundred high officials - including not only for war crimes but Karl Rove’s firing of Republican-appointed federal attorneys and misuse of the courts to send, for instance, the former Governor of Alabama, Donald Siegelman and Mississippi Democrat Paul Minor, to jail. I stressed Obama's betrayal of the rule of law. Chris rightly emphasized that Obama had come in during financial collapse and needed to pursue his own agenda on putting people back to work, green jobs, health care, and so forth. Prosecuting the criminals would have made this difficult. That is a subtler point than I made. But Chris did not mention the rule of law. The fact that the rule of law is pretty well dead in the United States is, once again, revealed in this exchange. See here. Note also that Obama could have set up an independent commission to report on torture, parallel to the commission on social security (the deficit). He might even have postponed its report until after the 2012 election, sealing it from immediate electoral consequences. Having investigtions into the criminality would probably have made our political life much healthier. For in any case, the Republicans have engaged in blistering attacks and nihilism (the Party of destroying programs to create jobs, help the poor or mitigate Pharoah-like inequalities, facilitated by the corporate "press"). With racism, they call Obama the “socialist, national socialist, communist without a birth certificate” other. Arguably, faced with consequences for their conduct in office, they might have been less fantastical and belligerent...

Chris also cites a wonderful example of the Iraqi human rights minister, trying to do something about a secret prison camp near the Baghdad airport, that Chris rightly sought to protect. I agree with him in such cases. But the overall militarism of US policy, its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, its escalating drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the current elevation of General Petraeus and the military in American public life, and the immense budget and central role of the military in the war complex is an enormous danger. It will be very difficult to turn around. This circumstance drove Bradley Manning to stand up. He faces terrible punishment (many years in jail). We should all be grateful to and support him.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Plato's Symposium: love and beauty as image and argument, part 1

In his long note here, Steve Wagner emphasizes the complexities of the Symposium and Phaedrus, the dialogues on love. Conjuring dazzling images, the Symposium invokes stories which are subtle and different from those of the Meno and the Republic. These are, once again, not only a long meditated accompaniment to argument – words written on the soul, as the Philebus suggests - but also a pointing to the uniqueness of Socrates, in perhaps the most unusual, concatenated imagery in Plato,* and to a hidden character of some of the argument for Plato’s students. In this post and the following one, I will explore three such images.

The first speakers have been praising love as a god, except notably Aristophanes in a tale to which I will return. In a brief and dazzling passage of argument. Socrates asks Agathon (his name means the good – most obviously, defending a conventional sense of the good, acclaimed by the many), the winner of the public drama contest which has preceded the party, whether love is not desire for the beautiful and good (and hence neither beautiful nor good since one does not desire what one already is or has). In another sense of the good, being inclined to argue about truth or learn from Socrates rather than running away from or trying to murder him (other interlocutors like Thrasymachus, Euthyphro, Anytus, Meno), Agathon agrees, noting truly, that he did not understand what he was speaking of. It is not Socrates, says Socrates, who is hard to disagree with, but the truth.

This resonant argument has a deeper point, however. One of the charges against Socrates is that he does not believe in the gods of Athens. Eros is, by acclaim of the speakers, a god. But Socrates’s argument and the story he then tells reveals that Eros is no god.** Socrates suggests that he was taught about the things of love by Diotima, a priestess from Mantinea whose name means the honor of the god. Once having held the view of the earlier speakers that Eros is a god, the bumbling interlocutor, a young Socrates, is conjured by the older, knowing Socrates.*** Parallel to what the older Socrates shows Agathon, Diotima shows the young Socrates that Eros is not a god. She thus bears the aslant responsibility, in Socrates’s telling, for his doubt of the Athenian gods. This is a charge for which Socrates, legally speaking, would be convicted and put to death. Though Socrates doubts stories about the Athenian gods, however, note that, contra Leo Strauss, Plato never shows that Socrates doubts the god (or daimon or inner voice). Socrates is inspired by Apollo and the Pythia in the Apology (the Pythia is of course a woman), and even Diotima…

What is Eros then? A great spirit [daimon megas], a powerful creature between mortal and immortal. The words, perhaps also of Socrates (one might substitute the idea of the good or the beautiful for the gods], are worth attending:

[Diotima:] “Interpreting and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men; entreaties and sacrifices from below, and ordinances and requitals from above: being midway between, it makes each to supplement the other, so that the whole is combined in one. Through it are conveyed all divination and priestcraft concerning sacrifice and ritual and incantations and all foretelling and sorcery. God with man does not mingle; but the spiritual is the means of all society and converse of men with gods and of gods with men, whether waking or asleep.” (202e-203a)

Of what parentage, Socrates asks? And here Diotima tells the wonderful story of misery (Penia) who has nothing and resource (Poros), son of cunning, who has ever masterful designs and strategies to achieve what he seeks. At the birth of Aphrodite, Poros is drunk on nectar and goes to lie down in the garden of Zeus. Penia who is begging suddenly realizes that she can conceive a child with Poros, and lies down beside him. The child Eros (love) is conceived on the birthday of Aphrodite, a beautiful woman (a woman tells this story, but one must recall Socrates himself in the image of midwife of ideas; he is “manly” in the Greek idiom and feminine***). Eros combines endless absence and yearning for the beautiful and the good and endless resource in seeking it. Eros’s aim is to achieve beauty and also wisdom; in fact, the ideas of beauty, the good and wisdom are pretty much interchangeable for Socrates and Plato, though obscure. Socrates is himself conjured metaphorically in Diotima’s tale as a creature of eros, one passionately hungry for knowledge and seeking, ever poor (knowing that he knows little, has a merely human wisdom) and ever resourceful.

Socrates is barefoot, out of doors, unclad and almost a beggar (lives through abstinence and the largesse of the aristocratic boys who follow him – as a kind of philosopher “king” in Athens as Eva Brann suggests, owning nothing and much honored by his followers – see here). And he is ever resourceful in seeking. In the play of the Symposium, Apollodorus’s, the speaker’s, name means the gift of Apollo. But he is an ironic gift, scorning his companions and himself, seeking only to listen to the questioning of Socrates, as if Socrates were truly the gift of the god. His name recalls the saying of the Pythia - spokeswoman of Apollo - in the Apology to Socrates’s student Chaerophon that Socrates is wisest of them all, which Socrates, disbelieving, tests by questioning the reputedly wise. The Symposium’s story of eros and what is beautiful (to kalon) told by Apollodorus is muted or faint; the tale of a remembered tale, memories of someone’s else’s memories of speeches at a long ago drinking party. For Apollodorus reports the story told by Aristodemus, Socrates’s small, barefoot lover, who was present. Not everyone perhaps – not Aristodemus, not Apollodorus - has Socrates’s fabulous memory for argument, his resistance (see Phaedrus, 275d-277e) to writing things down. Potential philosophers, Plato warns here, might miss something in the tale unless they pay attention; there is more to it, perhaps, than surface arguments. The dazzling images might provide a clue.

Socrates brings Aristodemus uninvited to the drinking party at Ariston’s house. But Socrates stands outside in a trance. Aristodemus has clumsily to explain his presence, is welcomed by the host Agathon, and then sent back to find Socrates. So something is left outside the speeches, something will have to be found…At the end, Alcibiades tells of Socrates meditating a whole day by himself while camped as a soldier. Now Socrates, also perhaps a great spirit, does not get drunk, no matter how much he drinks, is in the idiom of book 1 of the Laws about drinking-parties perfectly trustworthy or honorable or awake, and talks all the others in the dialogue to sleep - the last are Aristophanes and Agathon - sees them comfortable in the dawn, goes about his daily affairs, and, finally, goes home the next evening to sleep himself. He is awake through the dialogue and the night. But his arguments to Agathon and his speech, let alone his brief coquettng with Alcibiades, are but a small part of what he thinks. In addition, here is the metaphor, also in the Meno, of awakeness when others are sleeping, visions when others are apparently but not really awake (the cave). See here. The trance captures Socrates’s participation in the Mysteries; it also indicates Socrates’ novel ascent or descent through questioning to become more awake (not having taken opium or getting drunk). It even conjures Socrates’s own drinking party, the Pheado in which he drinks the hemlock. Socrates is unique among men, says Alcibiades; he has no analogue historically. Socrates, too, is a great spirit (a daimon), like eros.

In the affairs of love, says Diotima, one first sees a beautiful boy. One is to be amused here by the woman espousing, following the psychology of Socrates, “boy-love” (as Montesquieu puts it, if triangles were to imagine gods, they would have three sides). But it is also significant that it is she who teaches Socrates philosophically. This, more than admission to the guardians in the Republic, highlights the philosophical capacities of women.

Where Siddhartha, Socrates's contemporary, saw 800 miles away the transient beauty of sleeping girls and engaged on his journey to come to terms with suffering, Socrates, from the same starting point, makes a different move. The beauty, Diotima says, belongs to all beautiful boys. But it is separable, exists apart. One learns the story of beautiful (and good) things from examples, but Diotima and Socrates go on to the idea of beauty, to beauty pure and unalloyed. Here again from another angle, another peak of argument, is a vision of the idea of the good, a sun in the noetic universe (the Republic) parallel to the visible sun, once again, a hint of what may be sought through questioning. Diotima’s is a story about an idea; she does not give this idea. For beauty is the end point of long study, many days of meditation, what Socrates hungers after, what the students in Plato’s Academy, take years, if they do, to get. Diotima warns Socrates as the Republic’s Socrates warns Glaucon that he is but at a beginning:

“[Diotima:] Into these love-matters even you, Socrates, might by chance be initiated; but I doubt if you could approach the rites and rituals to which these, for the properly instructed, are merely the avenue. However I will speak of them, she said, and will not withhold my best efforts; only you on your part must try your best to follow.” Symposium, 210a

And here she sketches an ascent of knowledge for Socrates from particular beautiful boys to the vast ocean of the idea itself, “pure and unalloyed”:

“He who would proceed rightly in this business must not merely begin from his youth to encounter beautiful bodies. In the first place, indeed if his conductor [Diotima, philosophy, eros] guides him rightly, he must be in love with one particular body and engender beautiful converse therein; but next he must remark how the beauty attached to this or that body is cognate to that which is attached to any other, and that if he means to pursue the form of beauty, it is folly not to regard as one and the same the beauty that belongs to all; and so, having grasped this truth, he must make himself a lover of all beautiful bodies, and slacken the stress of his feeling for one by dismissing it and counting it a trifle. But his next advance will be to set a higher value on the beauty of souls than on that of the body, so that however little the grace that may bloom in any likely soul it shall suffice him for loving and caring, and for bringing forth and soliciting such converse as will tend to the betterment of the young; and that finally he may be constrained to contemplate the beautiful as appearing in our observances and our laws, and to behold it all bound together in kinship and so estimate the body’s beauty but a slight affair.”

Note how the eros of Aristophanes which I will discuss in the next post, the eros of Alcibiades for Socrates (for this body, this spirit), has slipped away in Diotima’s discussion. One seeks the beautiful, with Socrates, going to drink the hemlock, with a less passionate love of particulars, an eye for the intricacy and beauty of the whole.

“From observances he should be led on to the branches of knowledge [years of study in the Academy] that there also he may behold a province of beauty and by looking thus on beauty in the mass may escape from the mean, meticulous slavery of a single instance, where he must center all his care, like a lackey, upon the beauty of a particular child or man or single observance; and turning rather towards the main ocean of the beautiful may by contemplations of this bring forth in all their splendor many beautiful fruits of discourse and meditation in a rich crop of philosophy; until with the strength and increase there acquired, he descries a certain single knowledge connected with a beauty which has yet to be told.” (210c-e)

The ocean of the beautiful – who fully understands this? The not so far told beauty – and this? The promise of the journey is a richness which is but hinted at, including in the description of “a wondrous vision” of that which never comes to be nor perishes, neither waxes nor wanes, a singularity of form that all particular beauties share in and lose. (211a-212b) One might easily read over, let slip this gesture, but it is instead, Plato/Socrates/Diotima suggest, something to concentrate on, cleave to, with the passion of eros.

*The divided line and the many caves of the Republic are perhaps comparable.

**In resonant, semester-long lectures on the Symposium edited and published by his fine student Seth Benardete, Leo Strauss stresses this point.

***Socrates fells his opponents not by arms but by questioning, in what might be called a Taoist or eastern martial arts way, using their – seeming - strengths to throw them, with perhaps some element of the feminine in it. Diotima's image of males, too, being pregnant with ideas of immortality, feminizes "manliness."

****Socrates knows many things. Yet he says that he is wise only in that he does not know and knows that he does not know. One could take this last, self-refuting phrase, superficially, as expressing mere ignorance. But the sense in which Socrates does not know is complicated. What he does not know is what the ideas of the good or beauty are or what mortality means (at the least, he cannot express these things easily to others). In Plato, this signals the need of years of study at the Academy or of his texts, questioning beyond their surface.

****Socrates smooths the way with his audience with a dark joke. Diotima is so skilled a prophet that she postpones the plague in Athens for 10 years. That is hardly a gift, as Thucydides tells us, since the plague ravages Athens at the worst time. H/t Arlene Saxonhouse. It comes just after Pericles’ patriotic funeral oration, making many still healthy Athenians live for the moment, self-seeking, unable to fight. Marking the beginning of imperial decline that comes even from Pericles’ justified pride, the plague sounds the theme of Thucydides’ History.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

War and the death of American law

It has long been a theme of my writing on international relations that wars and imperial adventures abroad are often used by politicians to strangle movements for common good-sustaining reform at home. I might now add: to reverse gains previously made, for instance, today the sustained attack on the rule of law. Democracy can - in the American case apparently, is - on the way to becoming a police state.

In Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999), I call this anti-democratic feedback. In response, it often generates, I suggest, democratic internationalism from below, movements against war in the aggressor regime which unite with the people who are being directly attacked and others internationally. Consider Bush’s use of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to mask redistribution of income upward (tax cuts for the ultra-rich) and, at the end of his reign, mass unemployment and foreclosures. Note how these coincide with his attack on the rule of law, consolidated today in his blase interviews on torture (see the one with Matt Lauer) in which he says “Damn right! I waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed;” “[My] lawyers approved it." He means the war criminal John Yoo, now back at Berkeley (see here), not actual lawyers like Assistant Attorney General James Comey or head of the Office of Legal Council Jack Goldsmith. Defying Bush, the latter withdrew the torture memos, at considerable risk, inventing a secret language with Comey so that Cheney could not figure out what he was doing, and resigning, at the same time, to prevent Bush from overruling him (See Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side). Scott Horton has a vivid post below, citing Dahlia Lithwick, on how Obama has acquiesced in Bush’s lies. As Lithwick puts it,

“The old adage held that if they couldn't get you for the crime, they would get you for the coverup. But this week, it was revealed that both the crime and the coverup will go permanently unpunished. Which suggests that everything in between will go unpunished as well. In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [CIA official and criminal, Jose Rodriguez]. We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man.”

“President Barack Obama decided long ago that he would ‘turn the page’ on prisoner abuse and other illegality connected to the Bush Administration's war on terror. What he didn't seem to understand, what he still seems not to appreciate, is that what was on that page would bleed through onto the next page and the page after that. There's no getting past torture. There is only getting comfortable with it. The U.S. flirtation with torture is not locked in the past or in the black sites or prisons at which it occurred. Now more than ever, it's feted on network television and held in reserve for the next president who persuades himself that it's not illegal after all.”

Between the falsifiers of history, Scott says, namely the Republican authoritarians, who are misidentified as "conservatives" and Obama who has forbidden the Justice Department to investigate war crimes because both the law and the facts are too clear and the culprits too high up, any independent legal tribunal would prefer charges against Bush and his entire cabinet, General Petraeus, John Negroponte, and many others (Colin Powell, having offered the military objection to torture – that it gives a license for others to torture our troops whom they capture – is a possible exception to this criminality). Obama has nurtured hypocrisy among Democrats who named Bush’s war crimes – his casting out of the rule of law, torture, abolition of habeas corpus, spying on Americans – but are silent when Obama declares a supposed right of a President to murder an American citizen without any legal proceeding and not on the field of battle, or makes himself an accomplice to war crimes. As Lithwick says, as it stands, Obama has allowed the unpunished Bush page of history to terribly "bleed onto the next page" and added some new writing about the presidential - tyrannical - murder of Americans and "state secrets."

There is still some difference. Obama ended torture at Guantanamo apparently (there is no proof), and initially moved to shut it down. Romney would have doubled its size. But ever extending wars (escalating in Afghanistan, troops and drones in Pakistan, elite kill teams and drones in Yemen…) has led to Obama’s steady sacrifice of the rule of law at home. The craven Republican screaming for torture and more war (Republicans are the mechanical party of the war complex, unified to regain power at the expense of doing the government’s business – they are the nihilist party - or decency) has moved Obama further and further to the Right. Here is what Michael Schwartz calls “lock-in” (see here and here), the destruction of the rule of law in the United States. See also here. No small thing is being forfeited here. It is the heritage of Anglo-American law since the Magna Carta, the decency of what America stands for. It is giving in to Bush and the shriveling Cheney.* They have made America the leading torturer state – helping Al Qaida by giving it, in this important respect, a cause with wide credibility among Arabs and others despite its repulsive slaughter of innocents (but General Petraeus, too, slaughters and tortures innocents – see here and here).

The United States has made its cause barbarous and in this respect, done what Al Qaida dreamed of but could not force the U.S. to do. Abdulmutallab got on an airline to Detroit but could not detonate explosives in his underwear. American security was so disorganized that it could not stop him, even though his father, the richest man in Nigeria, warned the American embassy that he was dangerous. Yet now the corrupt former Homeland Security Secretary has hawked invasive body scanning machines to airports so that sexual invasion has now become the "American way of travel." I just went through the Denver airport, refused to go through the x-ray (it has replaced the previous screening machines) and was drawn aside from the line and patted down, slow-motion and fairly obtrusively, for 10 minutes…Most just stood still for the jolt of x-rays (one wonders what the effect of this “procedure” on the long-term health of Americans will be). I should add: it was a relief to arrive at the airport in Barcelona and not be faced with a nutty security state. How sad America has become is visible in this new "procedure." Once again, Al-Qaida and Abdulmutallab could not have dreamed-up a success like this, just like they could not have forced the Bush administration to aggress against a "large Middle Eastern oil producing country." Instead, it took the profit seeking “anti-terrorist” company of Michael Chertoff and the bipartisan lobbying of Linda Daschle -see here- boondoggling Congress and the constant working of fear by American politicians (Obama has provided a refreshing exception to this, but one wonders, too, how long this page can last). Homeland (In)security is always "outfront" of the last terror attempt (first TSA bullies post-9/11, then off with the shoes (Richard Reid), now groping, and…

Ron Paul has been given the chance to stand up for equal liberty.

But it will be up to international authorities – those not under the influence of a war complex and the reactionary two-step of elite party competition – to try to salvage some elements of law internationally and, by pressure, even here.

I sent a note to Andrew Bacevich on whether one could make the military documents (Wikileaks) story about Petraeus’ ordering war crimes a subject of debate somewhere in the commercial press. Though KGNU covered it, the corporate press will not. See here. He imagined that I as an individual had hopes about doing something legally myself (not much I am sad to say). I would certainly like to ally with all those who are putting pressure to do something about this, but the situation in Obama’s America is bleak. Andrew reports a conversation with a military attorney for one of the Guantanamo prisoners about the death of the rule of law:

“Dear Alan, I'm not quite clear on what you are asking me. If the question is 'how can I charge Petraeus and Rumsfeld with war crimes,' then you need to consult a lawyer -- I simply don't know what the law provides or allows. I do suspect that you won't get anywhere. The other day an army lawyer dropped in to see me. He's been the defense attorney for the last several years for a Guantanamo detainee, fighting a gallant fight for the rule of law and making no headway. What became evident as I talked to him was that Obama replacing Bush made absolutely no difference in the attitude of the Justice Department on these matters. Pretty discouraging. Andrew.”

To my post on John Mearsheimer’s debate with Colonel Peter Mansoor here, John sent me the note below, which underlines that Mansoor is an adherent of Petraeus and endless war, with no idea of what military victory would consist in. Obama has now also caved on reducing troops and Xe/Blackwater mercenaries in Afghanistan even in 2011. Now the prospect according to the main headline in the New York Times, (left-hand front page) last Monday is 2014, or as Petraues’ civilian counterpart and echo, Mark Sedwill, says below in the Guardian, i.e. not for US circulation, 2015. The US cannot let go, cannot stop butchering - see here - cannot refrain from licensing the police commandant raping a girl,, confronted by an Afghan civilian, who orders his deputy to shoot the civilian and when the deputy refuses, shoots the deputy instead (see Jonathan Schell here). Given the huge US war complex, the meaning of anti-democratic feedback today is: an unending war in Afghanistan, drones and elite killer teams in Yemen and Pakistan, high unemployment at home, the death of law, soaring profits for 7 straight quarters (see here) and the continuing – nihilist - attack by the Republicans on anything decent Obama tries to do. An anti-war and pro-rule of law movement from below, one which fights for jobs for Americans, is the only way forward. Until such a movement emerges, each of us will have to do what we can – whatever we can – to name the truth. Here is John’s letter:

“Alan. Loved your post on me and Mansoor. I also saw the Gareth Porter piece [see here] and immediately thought of my exchange with Mansoor. He is a Petreaus acolyte. All your instincts are correct on this one. I pondered whether to say on the LNH [Lehrer Newshour] that I was confident that the US was fully almost surely aware of the Iraqi killing and approved it, although we could not say so publicly. I didn't raise it for fear I would sound too extreme [that on corporate television John could level Mansoor about the moral bankruptcy of the Afghanistan counterinsurgency in a brief debate was already an outlier; getting out the truth, broadly speaking, is not possible in that venue]. When we get all the records on Iraq, it will be clear that we have much blood on our hands, and that will include Petraeus and especially McChrystal. Counter-insurgency warfare is always dirty and bloody, as we learned in Vietnam. Hope all is well, John”

November 17, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Afghanistan Could Face 'Eye-Watering Violence' After Troops Leave
Nato representative in Kabul says 2014 deadline for ending combat role might not be met
by Jon Boone in Kabul

Afghanistan could experience "eye-watering" levels of violence after foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in four years' time, the Nato representative in Kabul warned today. Mark Sedwill, the civilian counterpart to US commander General David Petraeus, also said that the target of handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan army and police by the end of 2014 might not be met.

The alliance's plan for the "transition" of responsibilities from Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the still embryonic Afghan army and police will be high on the agenda at this week's Nato summit in Lisbon.

Many European countries that contribute troops see the plan as their ticket out of an unpopular war, but Sedwill warned that success was not guaranteed and the 2014 date was merely an "inflection point" in a campaign that would continue for a long time. In some areas of the country transition could run "to 2015 and beyond" he said.

Although the alliance hopes that foreign-led counterinsurgency operations will come to an end, troops would still be required to train and support the Afghan security forces and maintain "a strategic over watch" position, he said.

He conceded that a "residual insurgency" was likely to continue in many parts of the country. "There would still be a certain level of violence and probably levels of violence that by western standards will be pretty eye-watering," he said.

In such a scenario special forces units would be required to remain and fight, he said, in addition to the logistical support, training and equipment provided for Afghan units.

Sedwill said that with so many uncertainties, Nato's 2014 deadline was "realistic but not guaranteed".

He also warned that transition was "not a cheap option" that would allow troops to leave quickly. "We are not looking at forces flooding out of this country as transition starts. One of the key principles of this is you reinvest the transition dividend."

Nato is refusing to announce where the transition process will start for fear of turning those districts into targets for insurgents to increase their operations and mount intimidation campaigns against government officials.

Sedwill said that he expected Nato to hand over several provinces in the first half of next year. However, he said the transfer of responsibility for both security and development activities would vary across the country.

In some areas, entire provinces would be transferred, while in others it would be districts, or even individual towns. Transition would take between 18 and 24 months in some areas, depending on the resilience of the insurgency and the capability of the Afghan army, police and the village militia-style "local police" that are being established.

The Afghan police and army are being built up at breakneck speed. Both institutions remain beset with problems, including widespread illiteracy and drug abuse. The army has also struggled to recruit among southern Pashtuns, the group that predominates in areas of the country most affected by insurgency.

The head of the Nato training mission, General William Caldwell, has complained that he does not have enough trainers to meet the transition deadline.

The attempt to create an army and police up to the job of taking over requires vast sums of money.Even after they have been built up to strength, officials say they will cost around $6bn (£3.7bn) a year to run – about half of Afghanistan's current GDP and more than the US gives to both Israel and Egypt.

Sedwill said the IMF had calculated that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security forces until 2023.

November 17, 2010 by Harper's Magazine

Interrogation Nation
by Scott Horton

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate offers the smartest take so far on George W. Bush's noncoerced confession that he authorized waterboarding and aggressively defended torture as part of his "legacy" to future presidents:

"The old adage held that if they couldn't get you for the crime, they would get you for the coverup. But this week, it was revealed that both the crime and the coverup will go permanently unpunished. Which suggests that everything in between will go unpunished as well. In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man."

"President Barack Obama decided long ago that he would "turn the page" on prisoner abuse and other illegality connected to the Bush Administration's war on terror. What he didn't seem to understand, what he still seems not to appreciate, is that what was on that page would bleed through onto the next page and the page after that. There's no getting past torture. There is only getting comfortable with it. The U.S. flirtation with torture is not locked in the past or in the black sites or prisons at which it occurred. Now more than ever, it's feted on network television and held in reserve for the next president who persuades himself that it's not illegal after all."

Since Barack Obama became president, the debate over torture in America has taken a morally corrupt turn. Defenders of the old regime continue to defend the use of torture as essential to the nation's defense. Their claims are contradicted by the facts: torture was used to extract false confessions that fueled, among other things, the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses. The fact that America tortured is still a principal recruiting tool for radical Islamists. But Obama has kept silent in the face of all of this, not wishing to engage torture apologists in debate. More significantly, he has apparently encouraged his Justice Department to squelch any meaningful investigation of torture, in violation of the clear requirements of law. A policy that says "don't look back" means the triumph of torture: while we may not be captives of our past, we are the captives of our perception of the past. When one side offers an airbrushed version of the past and the other is silent, then, in the binary world of Washington, victory goes to the falsifiers.

*In a strange way, Cheney seems to have lived for, grown from power, to be physically reduced without it.

Poem: 2010


Americansline up

fr e e dom


gloved hands




work ing


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Link to KGNU show on Wikileaks and Elite War Crimes

To access Joel Edelstein’s interview with me on Wikileaks and Petraeus and questions and answers, go to http://www.kgnu.org/ht/listings.html
Hit Morning Magazine for November 17th (Wednesday) – the middle (the second) of the three icons on the far right. The full program will start (from a couple of minutes before 8. It takes a few seconds to be able to move the cursor, but then move it ahead about 35 minutes – the interview begins at 8:35. The discussion lasts till 9 o'clock. The last question in which the listener suggests that each of us protest in terms of how we spend our money but also that the American people, rather than the elite of the war complex and the megabanks is responsible for the death of law and (I hope) my response are particularly important. For a post on Wikileaks and elite war crimes, see here. Many thanks to Amentahru Wahlrab for pointing out another way to download and access the program in the comments here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Poem: Dacca


some men on bicycles

walis everywhere


a 4 yearoldgirl



her facemarkedbydirt


carwhineof some r ich

scattering oldmen

asking for rupeesrupee s

and women


white lines






the windingsnake

ou t



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I will be on KGNU at 8:35 am tomorrow on Wikileaks and Petraeus

I will be interviewed by Joel Edelstein on KGNU, 88.5 FM, 1390 AM, on Wikileaks and General David Petraeus's ordering of torture and use of the Wolf Brigade tomorrow morning (Wednesday, November 17) at 8:35 AM for 25 minutes. Outside Denver, one can hear the broadcast (or a tape) at KGNU.org. For a previous post on Wikileaks and elite war crimes, see here.

Jonathan Schell has also written forcefully of this in the Nation. He tells of one of the released documents in which a US-ally Afghan police commander rapes a young girl, an Afghan civilian tries to stop it, the commander orders his bodyguard to kill the civilian, the bodyguard's refusal, and the commander's shooting of the bodyguard. This man who gave his life refusing to take an innocent life - a noble sacrifice, as Schell says - is a real hero in Afghanistan, as Pfc. Bradley Manning and Julian Assange (he offers a wonderful description of Assange) are here. American wars, using drones and assassination teams, are spreading now, even to Yemen. The killing of civilians makes far more enemies for the United States than any other policy would have. That even Obama has adopted these methods shows terribly how locked in reliance on war in the Middle East is by the Bush aggressions (other methods of diplomacy have been weakened, are taken less seriously by governments and ordinary people - h/t Michael Schwartz). That even Obama has caved in on withdrawing some troops from Afghanistan in 2011 and under war complex pressure, has postponed the date to perhaps 2014... In this context, however, I should note that Obama slowly, often with some humiliation, but deliberately, has gotten Netanyahu back to the negotiating table.

Nonetheless, one should notice and honor those who stand up for decency at great cost.

The Nation (http://www.thenation.com)

What We Learned From WikiLeaks
Jonathan Schell | November 10, 2010

The Army intelligence analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, now in a military detention center charged with having leaked classified documents related to the Iraq War, once explained why he was contemplating his deed. (He is additionally suspected of having leaked the 390,000 documents made public by the whistleblowing solicitor WikiLeaks, but he has not been charged with this.) Manning was not yet in prison or in the media spotlight. He was artlessly and recklessly chatting online to a blogger, Adrian Lamo, who eventually turned him in. Lamo wanted to know why Manning didn't cash in by giving the documents to a foreign power, such as China or Russia. Because "it belongs in the public domain," Manning replied. "Information should be free...because another state would just take advantage of the information...try and get some edge.... It should be a public good."

Manning's breaking point had come when he witnessed the arrest by the Iraqi police of fifteen people for printing "anti-Iraqi literature." He looked the documents over and found them to consist merely of "a scholarly critique" of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He reported the finding to his American superior, who dismissed it and told him to busy himself looking for more people to detain.

As an intelligence officer with access to secret reports, Manning knew well what happened to detainees in Iraqi custody. They were commonly tortured. A typical example of a report by an American soldier reads:


No intervention was attempted by the United States in such cases. The military's Fragmentary Order 242, known as FRAGO 242, dictated that if coalition forces were not involved, no further action was to be taken: "only an initial report will be made.... No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ." FRAGO 242 is repeatedly cited by military reporters as the reason for doing nothing.

Sometimes, indeed, American or other coalition soldiers threatened Iraqi prisoners with the torture or execution that would befall them if they were turned over to their Iraqi compatriots. One unit created in these years was the Iraqi Wolf Brigade, an elite outfit set up to terrorize insurgents, perhaps in imitation of the death squads that had operated with US connivance in El Salvador in the 1980s. One report describes a threat by an American to turn an Iraqi prisoner over to the battalion:


At this time in Iraq, executed victims were being found in the streets with electric-drill holes in their bodies.

American forces were thus routinely handing over Iraqi suspects to Iraqi forces who routinely tortured them, and then nothing further was done. This proceeding did not constitute abuse of some other, better system that provided the rule; it was the system—a torture system. Elsewhere in the "war on terror," "extraordinary rendition"—the practice of sending prisoners to foreign countries to be tortured—required long flights on CIA Gulfstream jets. In Iraq it was a matter of walking across the street. In the days leading up to the war, of course, the United States frequently cited the Saddam Hussein regime's practice of torture as a reason for invading. Now America's own client regime was engaging in widespread torture.

Faced with this particular and general knowledge, Manning felt "helpless," he told Lamo. "That was a point where I was...actively involved in something that I was completely against." In sum, Manning found himself in the classic, excruciating dilemma of the decent person enmeshed in an abhorrent system, not as a victim but as a perpetrator. By following the rules, he would be an accomplice of torture. Only by breaking them could he extricate himself.

Julian Assange, the nomadic cyber rebel who leads WikiLeaks, was not himself a cog in the machine, but he was of like mind with Manning in regard to individual responsibility. Before he got into the business of disclosing the dirty secrets of governments and corporations, he reflected in an essay, "Every time we witness an act that we feel to be unjust and do not act we become a party to injustice," adding, "Those who are repeatedly passive in the face of injustice soon find their character corroded into servility." In his own way, he, too, acted. In July WikiLeaks released more than 70,000 secret documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan, and then came the documentary tsunami from Iraq, which may have, in Assange's words, "constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record."

Assange is not in prison—on the contrary, this tall, white-haired, disciplined, well-spoken and somehow unearthly information guerrilla shows up regularly on television, where he performs with a kind of high-minded, cool scrappiness. But his organization has been cloudily but menacingly designated a "threat to the U.S. Army" in a classified Army document (also published by WikiLeaks), and he is a man on the run, moving from nation to nation in search of safety from possible legal jeopardy. (Assange is under investigation for sexual misconduct in Sweden but has denied all accusations.)

Among the flood of Afghan war documents there happens to be a report on one more instance of a man who, finding himself threatened with participation in the evil-doing of a malignant system, opted to withdraw. In Balkh province, a little more than a year ago, the report disclosed, Afghan police officers were beating and otherwise abusing civilians for their lack of cooperation. The police commander then sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl. When a civilian protested, the report stated, "The district commander ordered his bodyguard to open fire on the AC [Afghan civilian]. The bodyguard refused, at which time the district commander shot [the bodyguard] in front of the AC." At the time these documents came out, the official reaction to them, echoed widely in the media, was that they disclosed "nothing new." But let us pause to absorb this story. A police officer, unwilling, at the risk of his own life, to be a murderer, is himself murdered by his superior. He gives his life to spare the other person, possibly a stranger. It is the highest sacrifice that can be made.

The man's identity is unrecorded. His story is met with a yawn. But perhaps one day, when there is peace in Afghanistan, a monument will be erected in his honor there and schoolchildren will be taught his name. Perhaps here in the United States, when the country has found its moral bearings again, there will be recognition of the integrity and bravery of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. For now, the war- and torture-system rolls on, and it's all found to be "nothing new."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stories and philosophy: the Meno, part 2

For part 1 which suggests that most Socratic/Platonic metaphors are philosophical in Steve Wagner's idiom, or resonant with many meanings, often going beyond a specific argument, or perhaps hint at further meanings or arguments for those who studied with Plato, see here. I focused first, on Meno's vision of Socrates as a sting-ray, poisoning his interlocutor, making him numb, and the dazzling strengths - abolitionism - and surprising weaknesses of the dialogue in which a slave, asked questions, proves one of the advanced theorems of Greek geometry.

In the Meno, Socrates then offers a second metaphor. These thoughts have been stirred up in the slave “as in a dream.” But if he were taught and studied for a while, learning how to ask questions himself and seek answers, he would secure them as knowledge, learning to become a geometer. The metaphor of sleep and waking has in it a quasi-Buddhist sense. Socrates is alert to the underworld (and Plato’s dialogues to Socrates's trial and death). Socrates is asleep or in a trance in the Symposium at the beginning (and in Alcibiades’ story of him entranced all day at an army encampment) and awake at the end, having talked even Aristophanes to sleep, going home, spending his day, going to sleep the next night. Meno, too, is in a dream about virtue. He is fatheaded – thinks he knows when he does not – and ends up, a mercenary and impaled. He feels at the height of life and physical power (including his homoerotic power); he is asleep and his coquetting puts the conclusion of the dialogue – that virtue cannot be taught by politicians – also to sleep (virtue is to some extent knowledge, can be taught).

This leads to a third metaphor. One could teach virtue if as in Homer’s Odyssey, one were like the blind seer, Tiresias Theban, in Hades who alone among the dead can see.

“The others are darting shadows.” (100a)

This, too, is a metaphor for Socrates, who alone, among the living, including his followers, can see in matters of life and death (being a seer though blind, Tiresias also, alone among the living, can see). Socrates can at least see that death is nothing to fear. That is all Socrates (or Plato) reveals. It is a tale. But it is not, as Strauss thinks, a tale signifying nothing. When Socrates says one must live as a good man, challenging, where one is called, injustice, and not fear death or physical harm more than doing or acquiescing in injustice, he says something great, something that deserves to be taken in. What he did in this regard is, in a later idiom, a kind of civil disobedience or, for Gandhi, founds satyagraha. The Tyranny of the Thirty – led by Socrates’s tyrannical student Critias, perhaps in the dialogues again a warning against the dangers of tyranny to Plato’s students - orders Socrates along with 4 others to arrest Leon of Salamis, to implicate them in their crimes. While the others go to arrest Leon, Socrates goes home. For this, as he says, if the Tyranny had not fallen, he would have been put to death..

In my beginning course on Socrates at Metropolitan State College, Anthony Romero, one of the students, pointed out that Socrates's counterproposal for a sentence is also a kind of civil disobedience. The accusors propose death. He proposes no punishment, not even a fine, but to be fed at the table with the Olympic athletes, for they only have athletic achievements, Socrates says, but I benefit you by holding you to high ideals, by asking you about virtue and whether the life you are living in fact lives up to the promise of Athens (Athenian democracy) and of being a good man or woman. Socrates defies the tradition of the courts that a defendant must grovel. He says what he thinks he deserves.

What is frequently said about this proposal is that it illustrates Socrates’s arrogance or what Xenophon treats uniformly in his Defense of Socrates at his Trial as “big speech” (megalegoria). In Plato's Apology, Socrates’ proposal is unusual, a sole act of pride, and some find it offputting.

In contrast, Anthony’s insight gets more the quality of civil defiance in the specific act. Yes, I am pious in accepting Apollo’s test to question. That story is a metaphor, but it says something about Socrates’ piety even though Socrates plainly also challenges the gods of Athens and thinks the stories about them often teach bad things or perhaps even need to be expurgated (cf. Euthyphro, Republic) (One might also, after many times around, think that Plato, the great storyteller, image maker and poet, is having his students on about the need for censorship). Yes, I teach virtue to Athenians – Socrates says - and deserve to be rewarded for it, not killed. No, I will not grovel, as most grovel, for even a scrap of life, in the court. Even here, I will disobey injustice about philosophy.

I had asked the question about Socrates’s founding of satyagraha (Gandhi) or civil disobedience (King) and thus, directed the students' attention to these mattes. But reading carefully, bringing a beginner’s mind, Anthony saw something that neither I nor many other students nor even other writers on Socrates and civil disobedience have seen. A good class is a conversation. Students often bring questions, make discoveries. Good teaching is not the learned lecturing at the unlearned. There is also Strauss’s good point that one should prepare carefully before any class because “someone might be there who is smarter than you are.” Actually, with the capacity for fresh insight, anyone can be (Socrates’ implication about “any slave”). It is the give and take which yields discoveries.

For the Greeks, hubris – puffing oneself up like a god, appearing like Meno all beautiful and knowing - was the opposite of animal-like behavior. To be in between was to be human, to have a merely human wisdom, to know something about the most important things that one seeks by questioning, but often not able to arrive at final conclusions (knowledge about the idea of the beautiful or the just or the good).

"Socrates: 'Gentlemen of Athens, I have gotten this name [from the slanders] through nothing but a kind of wisdom. What kind? The kind which is perhaps peculiarly human for it may be that I am really wise in that. And perhaps the men I mentioned are wise with a wisdom greater than human, either that or I cannot say what. In any case, I have no knowledge of it, and whoever says I do is lying…'” (20d-e)

Imagining oneself to be a god, to have “divine” wisdom is hubris. The opposite for the Greeks is not the later Christian humility. It is moderation (sophrosune) or, in this case, human wisdom won through questioning. The critique of pride in Christianity remains as in the Greeks, but one can be put off Socrates’ civil disobedience by his seeming arrogance. But note: he is defying the injustice of not only the conviction, but the proposed sentence. It is a specific act of civil disobedience that Socrates commits on behalf of doing philosophy, one which draws, by a narrow margin (a shift of 30 votes in a jury of 500 would have freed him) the death sentence. So actually what Xenophon, being away on campaign at the time in Persia, heard about the trial from Hermogenes, is shown, by what Plato wrote in the Apology, to be false. Socrates was trying to tell the truth about his vocation to question, to be a philosopher, without lording it over the Athenians. He challenges them, he says, to an examined life, to virtue. Is this not a good?

Now there is another potential meaning to the Tiresias metaphor about Socrates. He could be lord of the living as Tiresias seems a lord of the dead in the underworld: a philosopher-king. This idea is at the exact center of the Republic, and only there. See here. Plato wants his students to think of this, too. It is even named in the Republic, striven for, to some extent, in Plato’s journey to Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, in the Seventh Letter (if the letter is Plato’s). See here. But Tiresias does not rule over the dead; that is Hades’s job. Instead, Tiresias sees. Despite its Platonic context – question: can some ruler teach virtue to followers?; seeming answer: a philosopher-ruler can – Tiresias sees the future. Similarly, Socrates asks questions, develops arguments. The philosopher-ruler might, in the limited city of the dialogue in the Republic (just Socrates and his students, one city, a limited city of the just, among others in Athens, line 557c) teach his student Glaucon not to overthrow the democracy. Plato might teach Democrates to fight for Athens against Phillip of Macedon. The reign of the philosopher among the just might be the city of, the action from, the dialogues and their study, not some Heideggerian obsequious licking of Hitler’s boot (the putative philosopher to the tyrant, the "pure" national socialist)…See here, here, here, here, here and here. All is not as it seems in the study of the Plato even if one arrives at the grand meme of the philosopher-king…

Thus, Steve Smith, a Straussian, in a very confused series of lectures at Yale (on tape, you can download them on itunes) tries to make Socrates out as lording it over the Athenians even in the Apology. “The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates says, meaning sneeringly to Smith, all your lives, you democrats, are worthless, and you need me (Socrates) to rule over you, to shape you up. In the lectures, Smith even tells Yale students that they are fascists, living like the privileged “golden” ones in the Republic’s schools, and is positively beside himself – has lost himself – in the image of the philosopher-ruler, of which he is, deliberately, a bad copy of Strauss who is in turn, deliberately, a bad copy of Heidegger, who is a brilliant reactionary thinker starting from a fundamental, reactionary misunderstanding of Plato. Plato’s aim was to teach aristocratic students who initially detested the democracy, to defend it against tyranny, rather than to teach them, what they already believed, what Plato himself had been tempted by, that a philosopher-ruler was, in reality, not just part of an ideal justice in the sky or a "city in speech" among a few following out an argument, but a practicable possibility. A would-be tyrant pursues a false opinion, what might be even in the Republic a badly stated argument.

Philosophical "rule" is, among the just, defending the democracy against tyranny -something not exclusive to philosophers, though in the case of Socrates, heroic - or perhaps sometimes, fighting for the democracy, as Socrates does, in the Peloponnesian war (the justice of the war might be doubted, however), rather than to become a tyrant. Not to rule over everything, but to stand, in a moment of crisis, having seen the idea of justice, for something just here and now. Socrates’s conduct at this trial illustrates a defense of a hoped for, de facto tolerant democracy of "my true judges," tolerant of philosophy as Athens had been for 70 years. It is to rule, as it were, by fighting to make the city better, or to preserve and further what is decent in it as opposed to its tyranny, i.e. putting Socrates to death or the Tyranny of the Thirty. Heidegger is the lordly philosophical student – a very original Platonist - who follows the mistaken path Plato warns against and serves Hitler.

Contra Smith, what Socrates means is that: for me, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” More generally as the Meno shows, anyone who is questioned can learn. The Meno shows vividly that Socrates, being against slavery in principle, is more egalitarian than other Athenians, more democratic than the democrats of the time, in my idiom a radical democrat. His argument that women can be philosopher/guardians and the role of Diotima, playing the role of Socrates in the Symposium, and asking questions to the bumbling and confused interlocutor Socrates – all in a tale told by Socrates – also illustrates this point. In the Athenian mystery religions as the Myth of Er reveals, the soul is once again neither male nor female nor animal nor human; it is all of these. So the “divine” zeal of the fascist philosopher a la Heidegger or Strauss is not at all Socrates, nor for that matter Plato (see here, here and here).

The Meno draws a distinction between opinion and knowledge (as does the Euthyphro). In a fourth metaphor, Socrates says, true opinions are like the statues of Deadalus. Unless “tied down” (unless through questioning, they become argument and knowledge), they get up and walk away. Here too is an emblem of this dialogue. Never defining what virtue is, the interlocutors do not ascertain whether it can be taught. But courage on behalf of philosophy or defending the city from attack is admirable. It is a virtue. But the virtue depends on knowledge. If one does not know what philosophy or aggression is, one does not recognize the virtue of courage. In Sophocles’ play Ajax, the hero steals out at night to slay the oxen, thinking they are other heroes. He exhibits madness, not courage. Achilles slaying Hector and dragging his body in the dirt, exhibits anger, vengeance (Hector had slain Patroclus who had dressed himself in Achilles’ armor while Achilles sulked) and rashness, not courage. A little thinking about virtues will reveal that what happens in Thucydides at Corcyra does turn moderation and caution into cowardice, murderousness into courage. Philosophically, contra Hobbes, words do not lose their meanings, even if they are misused by the powerful (Hitler said that his aggression in Poland was because of an alleged aggression of Poles against Poles of German extraction. LBJ made up the Gulf of Tonkin “incident “as a pretext to bomb North Vietnam).

Now the metaphor of Daedalus and teaching is also the metaphor of escape through techne (in our terms, technology) and the tragedy of unwise -one of insufficient learning, young and proud like Meno - Icarus. For to escape the labyrinth, Daedalus forged wings of wax for himself and his son, but Icarus, raising himself high in the exuberance of flight, flying too near the sun, melting his wings, held up at a last instant as he realized what had happened, fell into the sea and drowned. Technology, the Greeks thought (it is Heidegger’s passion, and Strauss’s as a Heideggerian – see On Tyranny, p. 27), was a danger. Allan Bloom speaks of nuclear weapons, and one might underline the destructiveness and self—destructiveness of American militarism. Technology – drones – rule; Petraeus or CIA leaders, or even, to a lesser extent, Obama are, in some complex way, creatures of the instruments. See here and here. Though the war complex is powerful, it does not however, contra this image, have to win. Tiresias, though in the underworld (once again, this is also the daylight world, the cave) can see. Peace and a diminution of the military are possible. Technology also produces and can produce wonders…

The Republic shows the weakness of the conclusion in the Meno. There Glaucon hungers, confronted by the austere city: where’s the relish? Later in the dialogue, the metaphor appears of a human ruler who consumes in the sacrifices a morsel of human flesh and becomes a wolf. Glaucon, Plato’s brother, son of Ariston (the best) and a military leader, could become a tyrant, a wolf. Instead, Socrates persuades him, and thus, teaches virtue. We know of Alcibiades who plays a great role as a traitor to and potential tyrant in Athens, and whose comedy/tragedy ends the Symposium. We know little historically of Glaucon, perhaps because, as his brother shows us, Socrates persuaded him not to do injustice. The Republic answers the Meno in that it shows against great challenge – the story of the ring of Gyges which Plato’s brothers both believe – that Socrates alone can see. Among the living and perhaps the dead, the philosopher alone is awake. But he or she may awaken others. The possibility of learning exists for each of us, as does that of adherence to virtue, the notion that it is better to suffer an injustice than ever to do it. Socrates’ life and death are for Plato the emblem. The complex metaphors of Plato, like dreams, defend Socrates’ course.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Poem: cre a tion

Jesus was not a lamb said Daniel Berrigan

napalming draft records

drones sang

from Cre echAirForceBasein Neva d a

ofblacks in Baltimore

the smiles of women and children

9 jailed in Catonsville

the Pentagon said

this church is not of the spirit

at a Yemeni

make Baghdad


joined children at Atitlan

a N a g a s a k i

The spirit is not a lamb


I can do no

in flames


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wikileaks and Elite War Crimes (forum today, for those in Denver)

Today at 4:30 there will be a forum on Wikileaks with Dean Christopher Hill (formerly Ambassador to Iraq), Professor Joe Szyliowicz, Professor Nader Hashemi and me in the cybercafe on the first floor of the Korbel School of International Studies.

The insightful article below by Gareth Porter makes it clear that torture done by Iraqi soldiers reported in American military documents was licensed by General David Petraeus as part of an attempt to kill the Sunni insurgency against the illegal and immoral American occupation of Iraq (the occupation was a result of aggression barred by Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations Charter). By detaining, torturing and killing civilians, the United States succeeded in ethnically cleansing Baghdad and other areas, but created Sunni support for or acquiescence in Al Qaida in Iraq which has murdered many Shia civilians through bombing and would have been discredited among Iraqis much more easily but for the war crimes of the American occupation. The brief, pretty much one day presentation in the American press of the Wikileaks documents - choked off by President Obama, revealing the corporate media, even with this Pentagon Papers-style scoop, as a kept or war press, not a free press - suggested that ordinary American soldiers tolerate war crimes. But those soldiers often reported them. In addition, Wikileaks released a film of General Peter Pace and Rumsfeld talking with the press. Pace said rightly that it was the legal obligation of soldiers to stop the crimes when they were happening. He alone in the hierarchy may have a case against being a war criminal. Pentagon Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that soldiers did not have to stop the crimes, but merely report them up the hierarchy to superiors. Those superiors then buried them...

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allies tried the Tokyo War Criminals - notably generals - for command responsibility and executed them. The law concerning command responsibility holds: an officer is responsible for crimes of war unless he or she takes steps to head them off. Where Pace did his duty, Donald Rumsfeld and David Petraeus are guilty of the crime of torture (Rumsfeld has long been guilty; Porter's story reveals that Petraeus consciously chose this means, recruiting the Wolf Brigade of Shia torturers and similar Kurdish "commandos" to stamp out the Sunni insurgency). In my post of John Mearsheimer's debate with Col. Peter Mansoor on Newshour here, I underlined the treaties, including the Convention against Torture signed by President Reagan, and the American laws, notably the Supremacy Clause, Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution, which make those treaties the highest laws of the land. See also here. But the point here, for which Porter's article provides evidence, is that Frago 242 (Fragmentary Order 242) which requires reporting incidents up the hierarchy, not stopping them, is the smoking gun for elite war crimes.

Former President George W. Bush is currently engaged in a book tour. In his book as well as in a previous comment in Toronto, W. said, "damn right!" he waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The torture memos, at one time commendably released by President Obama, make it clear that KSM was waterboarded 183 times in a month (the CIA torturers were so disturbed by what they were doing - which accomplished nothing except producing "information" for wild goose chases - that they begged Cheney to let them stop. Cheny's enforcer, David Addington, screamed at them over the phone to continue to waterboard the prisoner 6 times a day, asserting that they were "soft," not real men. Former President George W. Bush is the leading war criminal. But the American elite, notably President Obama, has now made itself accomplices to torture. The reviews and op-eds in the New York Times, even Maureen Dowd's or the interview by Matt Lauer on CNN - all the kept media - duck these issues. Manfred Nowak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (the leading constitutional lawyer in Germany) called again for the arrest, under the Convention against Torture, of these former officials by the United States' government. This is an American obligation....

No official of the Bush administation can now or for the foreseeable future travel abroad (though Bush, the decider, still tells interviewers, if they ask a serious question, to "read the book" - even to hawk it, he cannot speak - he can no longer attempt the English market or even go to the Canary Island off Spain, where he and Tony Blair met with the corrupt President Aznar, far from the Spanish people). For all America's power, the "dark side" that Cheney spoke of going to in 2001, the crimes of the elite against previous obligations of the American leadership to international law (against torture and against aggression), stand out. Porter's article reveals the political secret of the military documents, but the even more important feature, which this post underlines, is the the guilt of high officials for crimes of war.

US 'exploited' Iraq communal strife
US military deliberately sent Shia and Kurdish commandoes into Sunni areas for torture, Wikileaks documents show.

Gareth Porter 05 Nov 2010

Some US officials admit the Iraq strategy exacerbated sectarian violence and torture

The revelation by Wikileaks of a US military order directing US forces not to investigate cases of torture of detainees by Iraqis has been treated in news reports as yet another case of lack of concern by the US military about detainee abuse.

But the deeper significance of the order, which has been missed by the news media, is that it was part of a larger US strategy of exploiting Shia sectarian hatred against Sunnis to help suppress the Sunni insurgency when Sunnis had rejected the US war.

And General David Petraeus was a key figure in developing the strategy of using Shia and Kurdish forces to suppress Sunnis in 2004-2005.

The strategy involved the deliberate deployment of Shia and Kurdish police commandoes in areas of Sunni insurgency in the full knowledge that they were torturing Sunni detainees, as the reports released by Wikileaks show.

That strategy inflamed Sunni fears of Shia rule and was a major contributing factor to the rise of al- Qaeda's influence in the Sunni areas. The escalating Sunni-Shia violence it produced led to the massive sectarian warfare of 2006 in Baghdad in which tens of thousands of civilians - mainly Sunnis - were killed.

The strategy of using primarily Shia and Kurdish military and police commando units to suppress Sunni insurgents was adopted after a key turning point in the war in April 2004, when Civil Defence Corps units throughout the Sunni region essentially disappeared overnight during an insurgent offensive.

Two months later, the US military command issued "FRAGO [fragmentary order] 242", which provided that no investigation of detainee abuse by Iraqis was to be conducted unless directed by the headquarters of the command, according to references to the order in the Wikileaks documents.

The order came immediately after General Petraeus took command of the new Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq (MNSTC-I). It was a clear signal that the US command expected torture of prisoners to be a central feature of Iraqi military and police operations against Sunni insurgents.

Petraeus knew that it would take more than two years to build a competent Iraqi military officer corps, as he told Bing West, author of the The Strongest Tribe, in August 2004. Meanwhile, he would have to use Shia and Kurdish militias.

In September 2004, Petraeus adopted a plan to establish paramilitary units within the national police.

The initial units were from non-sectarian former Iraqi special forces teams. In October, however, Petraeus embraced the first clearly sectarian Shia militia unit – the 2,000- man Shia "Wolf Brigade", as a key element of his police commando strategy, giving it two months of training with US forces.

In November 2004, after 80 per cent of the Sunni police defected to the insurgents in Mosul, the US command dispatched 2,000 Kurdish peshmurga militiamen to Mosul, and five battalions of predominantly Shia troops, with a smattering of Kurds, were to police Ramadi. But a few weeks later, after the completion of its training, the Wolf Brigade was also sent to Mosul.

Hundreds of Shia troops from Baghdad and southern areas of the country were also sent into Samara and Fallujah.

It did not take long for the Wolf Brigade to acquire its reputation for torture of Sunni detainees. The Associated Press reported the case of a female detainee in Wolf Brigade custody in Mosul who was whipped with electric cables in order to get her to sign a false confession that she was a high-ranking local leader of the insurgency.

But an official of the US command later told Richard Engel of NBC that the Wolf Brigade had been a very effective unit and had driven the insurgents out of Mosul.

The Wolf Brigade was then sent to Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad, where the Association of Muslim Scholars publicly accused it of having "arrested imams and the guardians of some mosques, tortured and killed them, and then got rid of their bodies in a garbage dump…"

The Wolf Brigade was also deployed to other Sunni cities, including Ramadi and Samarra, always in close cooperation with US military units.

The war logs released by Wikileaks include a number of reports from Samarra in 2004 and 2005 describing how the US military had handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for "further questioning". The implication was that the Shia commandos would be able to extract more information from the detainees than would be allowed by US rules.

General Martin Dempsey, who succeeded Petraeus as the commander responsible for training Iraqi security forces in September 2005, hinted strongly in an interview with Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News three months later that the US command accepted the Wolf Brigade's harsh interrogation methods as a necessary feature of using Iraqi counterinsurgency forces.

Dempsey said, "We are fighting through a very harsh environment... these guys are not fighting on the streets of Bayonne, New Jersey." Contrary to the Western notion of "innocent until proven guilty", he said the view in Iraq was "close" to the "opposite".

Vargas reported, "For Dempsey, a big part of building a viable police force is learning to accept, if not embrace, the cultural differences."

A second stage of the strategy of sectarian war against the Sunnis came after the new Shia government's takeover of the Interior Ministry in April 2005. The Shia minister immediately filled the Iraqi police – especially the commando units – with Shia troops from the Badr Corps, the Iranian-trained forces loyal to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Within days the Badr Corps, along with the Wolf Brigade, began a campaign of mass arrests, torture and assassination of Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere that was widely reported by news agencies.

The US command responded to that development by issuing a new version of the previous order on what to do about Iraqi torture, according to the Wikileaks documents. On April 29, 2005, the US command issued FRAGO 039 requiring reports through operational channels on Iraqi abuse of prisoners using a format attached to the order. But no follow-up investigation was to be made unless directed by higher headquarters.

The former Minister of Interior, Falah al-Naquib, later told Knight-Ridder correspondent Tom Lasseter that he had personally warned Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other US officials about the sectarian violence by Badr police commandoes against Sunnis. "They didn't take us seriously," he lamented.

In fact, the US military and the US Embassy were well aware of the serious risk that the strategy of relying on vengeful Shia police commandos to track down Sunnis would exacerbate sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shia. In May 2005, Ann Scott Tyson wrote in the Washington Post that US military analysts did not deny that the US strategy "aggravates the underlying fault lines in Iraqi society, heightening the prospects of civil strife".

In late July 2005, when Petraeus was still heading the command, an unnamed "senior American officer" at MNSTC-I was asked by John F. Burns of the New York Times whether the US might end up arming Iraqis for a civil war. The officer answered, "Maybe".

The US-sponsored Shia assault on the Sunnis gave al-Qaeda a new opportunity. In mid-2005, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, announced the creation of a special unit, the Omar Brigade, to combat the Shia commando torture and death squads. That led to the massive sectarian bloodletting in Baghdad in 2006, when thousands of civilians were dying every month.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in US national security policy.This article first appeared on the Inter Press Service News Agency.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Measuring darkness

Last Thursday I showed the tenth segment of Eyes on the Prize to my class at Metropolitan State College. It traces the period from King’s speech at the Riverside Church “Breaking the Silence,” April 4, 1967, to his murder in Memphis a year to the day later, and the subsequent murder of Bobby Kennedy, who had evolved, led by Marian Wright, to meet starving children in the South. The two of them visit rural homes; he asks one little boy whether he has had lunch – he hadn’t – touches his cheek as he shyly turns away, and moves on to speak with others. Wright and Kennedy asked each family what was in the refrigerator (almost nothing). The commitment Kennedy felt, as, or perhaps despite being a Democratic politician, to poor blacks and chicanoes has not been equaled since. Two murders marked the death of a glimmering possible decency in American politics (to the extent, in imperial elite politics, it can be).

In this film, Andrew Young is often very amusing and insightful about his relationship with King and King’s style of leadership, coming out of far reaching debate. Others got to take way out positions (necessary ones for growth); he had to be the cautious one, so King could come down in the center. He says that he and others had to plunge from King’s funeral into organizing the poor people’s march – carrying out King’s promise - in shock. Some little part, he says, of their affection for Martin, their fallen leader, moved to Bobby who came to the funeral. It was with the assassination of Bobby – a second great breaking - that he felt able, and the others did, for the first time, to mourn Martin.*

The poor people’s encampment on the Washington Mall was named, appropriately enough, Resurrection City. It was the spirit of King, and the standing up of so many, denied humanity in Mississippi or New Mexico, coming as citizens to petition the government – a kind of resurrection. But after a time, the rains came, deluging the mall, and flooding the people out. The skies denied resurrection. Lyndon Johnson had squandered the war on poverty in his aggression in Vietnam. The film begins with King saying: the US spends $322,000 on every Vietnamese killed (he says enemy, but much of the slaughter of “enemies” was exaggerated body counts; alternately, most of the 3 million Vietnamese who died in the course of the genocide were styled American “enemies”). $523 was spent on every poor person in the United States. Commenting on the Declaration of Independence, King speaks of the life of the poor, one in which liberty is far away and the pursuit of happiness vanishes into mere existing (the dulled eyes of many poor Southerners black and white, of many children, is in these films).

The war and the military acted “like a demonic destructive suction pump,” extracting the funds needed to help the poor, rebuild America. See here and here. King (and my friend Vincent Harding who drafted the speech) also said: a country which spends more on war than on social needs is approaching spiritual death. Both insights are just as true of the bipartisan ruling elite (the war complex) in the era of Bush and even of Obama, as then. That Obama knows Keynsiansism is right and wants to provide jobs and education for the poor, to sustain ”a middle class” to jump start a green economy: all these are contradicted by the official $708 billion, and possibly a trillion spent on militarism without dissent or any mental activity whatever in Congress every year.

Marian Logan, an eloquent SCLC leader, spoke of the sadness of Bobby’s funeral train, how it came by Resurrection City on the mall. It was where Kennedy would have wanted to go. The sky had cleared. The poor people began singing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored…” The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe over the words of the great Civil War Song, sung by every Northern soldier marching into battle: “John Brown’s body lies amoulderin’ in the grave but his soul goes marching on.” Echoes of American greatness in standing up to racism and martyrdom. She looked up at the light on the Lincoln memorial and over it the moon…

The Democratic Party sent the police to throw out the last people, those who had nowhere to go, no jobs or income to go back to, and close down Resurrection City. And the next election produced Nixon, and then Reagan, and the deindustrialization of America. Edelman and Young and Jesse Jackson and many of the rest of us went on and did what we could. But 40 years had to pass and renewed aggressions, particularly under Bush and Cheney, and even a depression before the election, spurred by a mass movement, of Barack Obama.

Obama represented within the ruling class some of the same possibility of Bobby Kennedy. To deescalate wars and militarism to some extent , to rebuild a fallen economy based now on green energy, to make of America a less warlike, more European-like capitalist regime, but a more dynamic one. Nothing particularly radical in all this. Obama has cautiously reduced American fighting in Iraq (Americans have half the casualties this month of the previous months). He aims, after the surge, to reduce troops in Afghanistan starting next year and is locked, to some extent, in a battle with the war complex over this (the madness of drones in Pakistan, elite killer teams in Yemen are perhaps his own). But the cost of militarism and its manipulation of Obama is the absence of money – sucked away – to be spent employing people in America, providing for education and health care, greening the economy and shepherding the environment. The cost of Obama’s centrism has been demobilizing the anti-war movement which supported him and stayed home. See the Z-net inteview with Mike Schwartz which underlines this point here.

In addition, as James Galbraith rightly notes below, Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street advisors like Summers and Geithner, took over Bush’s bailout, and made himself dependent on the banks. Ironically, he was “outflanked” by banking money and the tea-bagger/racists. Those who seek to protect even tax cuts for the ultra-rich (those making over $250,000 per year) get to drape themselves against Obama as those who want to stop the banks. But they are the banks. Barack's “centrism,” always a weak idea in terms of policy, does not work in a depression.*** Being between two bad positions, i.e. between the military’s position of escalating 40,000 and (65 000 mercenaries) and escalating 20,000, is hardly admirable because it is "centrist."

Obama was very smart in the last campaign, but his Presidency has been surprisingly weak politically. He has relied on fools like Emmanuel, always tacking to the center, attacking anti-war candidates or “progressives” see Greenwald here and here – and willing to drop the health care bill (Pelosi provided the backbone to save it) or the wisdom of Wal Street deregulators like Summers and Geithner cost him everything politically even when what he did in policy terms worked – staved off complete collapse – or was decent (health care, despite its enormous weaknesses rightly criticized from the left, is still pretty good and looks better with every passing day of attack). Obama overestimated the effects of the stimulus, and put his energy into health care reform, not jobs; the corporate money flowed to fascists (“the tea party” intimidated black voters at the polls in South Carolina for example), exacerbated by the quasi-fascist Supreme Court (habeas corpus for prisoners abducted by the United States hangs by 1 vote; the Court’s allegiance to corporations is already 5-4) and the nihilist authoritarians – the so-called Republicans – have been swept back into power in the House of Representatives. A shellacking, as Obama said, a humbling.

Just a few points about the election. Colorado elected two banal Democrats, Hickenlooper and Bennet, who stave off the fascist Tancredo (one of the most destructive human beings on the planet**** and Ken Buck (who wants to repeal civil rights legislation, believes global warming a hoax, etc., etc.). But this was a crushing election, one that will block, as Krugman says rightly here, the government spending necessary to provide employment, to prevent a much deeper depression. Even if Obama survives in 2012, the unnecessary harm to the lives of millions of Americas produced by this elite – and the carry over of Reaganism and Cheyneism – is immense. Direct fascist assault on black and Chicano voters has become more extreme and frightening. The aim of the “Republicans” – who are authoritarians not conservatives - is to produce increasingly awful treatment of the middle class and poor, to help the top 1/10 of one per cent who need no help, blaming the misery through the corporate media, on the black man Obama, the one who “lacks a birth certificate,” “is a socialist, communist, national socialist, un-American other," so that they can elect Sarah Palin or some other ridiculous fascist (we have now seen the shadow that was John McCain) and induce “the rapture.” Senator Lindsay Graham, voice of McCain and Lieberman, called for war on Iran this weekend (is he going to make little wings and fly over; just how much more money in a depression can the demonic suction pump suck?). The great hopes of the Obama era seem dashed.

This situation is however, much less daunting than what people faced in 1968. Four notes of hope. Massachusetts ridiculously elected Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy. But this November, people were awake there and organized. 10 elections; no Republicans. There is no reason to think that with the threat of Republicans clear, with stalemate on jobs, more people will not come out, more determinedly, to support Obama the next time around. Also the vote was depressed in this election (roughly twice as many people voted for Obama and McCain in 2008 in Pennsylvania as in the governor’s race this time). Perhaps Obama is really a bad politician, though I note, Hilary and John McCain have yet to celebrate that conclusion. Also the Republicans seem to have reasserted their viciousness (and thanks to a nearly anti-Constitutional, police state Supreme Court – 4 votes for that, Anthony Kennedy wavering) – and Citizens United, they have even more money behind them. Obama may have to open these floodgates for the Democrats (a sad thing after the reliance to a greater extent on ordinary people in his last campaign). The Republicans acted with determination (and, afloat with money, the corporate media helped them).

But the Republicans have no program (more war, starve the poor, “if you get sick, die quickly” as Alan Grayson put it). We ordinary people, even though the Democrats are not good and need to be pushed from below to do decent things, ought to be able to do as least as well.

Second, Harry Reid won re-election by pointing out, over and over again, how anti-Chicano, anti-democratic and insane Sherrin Angle is. Like Palin and Bachmann (soon to be a House leader), she refuses to answer questions. That she is not challenged by that press is a measure of how close to totalitarianism (a silenced and kept press) America is.******* Reid’s is a winning approach (especially since Reid has little political talent, is widely disliked in Nevada, and cannot give a speech). But he told the truth and Angle – no angel - fell. Obama appears very conciliatory in the sense of trying to work with Republicans who have made clear that they have little intention to work with him. He may come off well in this, since Mitch McConnell has on record the idea that the only thing the authoritarian, imperial party of no wants to do is make Obama a one-term President. It may well be possible to combine the approaches in defeating them badly, money notwithstanding in 2012. Democrats (and those of us who are anti-fascists) might wake up this morning (and each subsequent morning after the election) with some awful feeling, and approach the next two years with the determination to make a difference in 2012.

Third, the Fed is just releasing S600 billion to banks and businesses. Though this is late – after the Republican victory in the House – and cynical, it might make possible, along with the money corporations already have, some hiring, some expansion. See Paul Krugman's skepticism here. They could sit on the money another two years (anything to get Obama), but perhaps not (Obama is of course, in with Wall Street, as Bush was). Krugman is right however that this is not the best way to stimulate the economy and produce jobs and that 1 in 5 workers unemployed is no time to be worrying about heading off inflation. The government, notably Obama, knows what to do about jobs, but can’t do it because of the miserable elite politics. It is hard to overstate the grimness of McConnell – bring down America to bring down Obama. America could go into even deeper decline, and if Obama is not elected in 2012, pretty much destroy the planet through wars and global warming (“rapture” is as near to us as Sarah Palin, the FOX candidate and Republican heir apparent, despite the wooziness and failure of many of those she supported this time around). In this context, some decrease of militarism, some greater employment by government, and spending on green jobs (combating global warming) and health care would clearly be a very good thing. But even to achieve some decency would take a spine, as Bob Herbert puts it, which is so far mainly absent in Democrats and even, as President, in Obama.

With no active movement from below against war and for more jobs, Obama has foundered. And the experience of American history is no different. FDR was decent because communists and others formed unemployed councils and unions; LBJ became interested in civil rights because of the nonviolent Southern civil rights movement and rebellions in American cities; the Vietnam war ended and a long period of inability to aggress – the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ – and privatization of the military occurred because of the huge movement from below; “shock and awe” killed some hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, but because of the huge international movement from below against war before the war, has not made of Baghdad “a Nagasaki” as the report of Ullman and Wade, long on the Pentagon website, urged. Thus, the fourth point is that we need a renewed anti-war movement which has as part of its program the tie with jobs here. We need a poor people’s – and middle class people’s - movement of the same kind that King was trying to build. Aggression in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan (drones) or Iran or armed with American Apache helicopters, Israel’s daily aggression against Palestinians is also a war against minimal decency here at home; no money for the poor; the considerable government persecution of anti-war activists and Wikileaks and Pfc. Manning even under Obama. It is what I name in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999) anti-democratic feedback.

Workers are now much more easily against war, even high into the labor leadership (the vanishing of the Soviet Union took with it the fierce hold of pro-war, anti-Soviet sentiment in the labor elite; workers opposed the war in Vietnam and are generally very much opposed to these wars – and now, so are many unions - which is why Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan was unpopular, and he had to spend a lot of “political capital” on it. Despite the media-Congressional (war complex) lionization of Petraeus, there is little support from below for imperial wars.

Let us work at least as hard, in the coming period, as the authoritarians and racists did in the recent past. It is time to take back America from militarism, to bend the direction of the war complex, to drain its swamp. The “Republicans” are least willing to do this, with ironically the possible exception of Rand Paul; the military’s hold on Obama is great (he escalated in Afghanistan pretty obviously against his better judgment) though not as considerable. Only a radical civil disobedience movement from below will make it possible to turn this ship around.

Friday, November 5, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
It Was the Banks
by James K. Galbraith

Bruce Bartlett says it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says it was a failure of nerve. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy's failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure - to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy.

As Krugman rightly stipulates, Monday-morning quarterbacks should say exactly what different play they would have called. Paul's answer is that the stimulus package should have been bigger. No disagreement: I was one voice calling for a much larger program back when. Yet this answer is not sufficient.

The original sin of Obama's presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures.

Up to a point, one can defend the decisions taken in September-October 2008 under the stress of a rapidly collapsing financial system. The Bush administration was, by that time, nearly defunct. Panic was in the air, as was political blackmail - with the threat that the October through January months might be irreparably brutal. Stopgaps were needed, they were concocted, and they held the line.
But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

Team Obama did none of these things. Instead they announced "stress tests," plainly designed so as to obscure the banks' true condition. They pressured the Federal Accounting Standards Board to permit the banks to ignore the market value of their toxic assets. Management stayed in place. They prosecuted no one. The Fed cut the cost of funds to zero. The President justified all this by repeating, many times, that the goal of policy was "to get credit flowing again."
The banks threw a party. Reported profits soared, as did bonuses. With free funds, the banks could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. They could boom the stock market. They could make a mint on proprietary trading. Their losses on mortgages were concealed - until the fact came out that they'd so neglected basic mortgage paperwork, as to be unable to foreclose in many cases, without the help of forged documents and perjured affidavits.

But new loans? The big banks had given up on that. They no longer did real underwriting. And anyway, who could qualify? Businesses mostly had no investment plans. And homeowners were, to an increasing degree, upside- down on their mortgages and therefore unqualified to refinance.
These facts were obvious to everybody, fueling rage at "bailouts." They also underlie the economy's failure to create jobs. What usually happens (and did, for example, in 1994 - 2000) is that credit growth takes over from Keynesian fiscal expansion. Armed with credit, businesses expand, and with higher incomes, public deficits decline. This cannot happen if the financial sector isn't working.

Geithner, Summers and Bernanke should have known this. One can be fairly sure that they did know it. But Geithner and Bernanke had cast their lots, with continuity and coverup. And Summers,
with his own record of deregulation, could hardly complain.

To counter calls for more action, Team Obama produced sunny forecasts. Their program was right-sized, because anyway unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009. So Larry Summers said. In making that forecast, the Obama White House took responsibility for the entire excess of joblessness above eight percent. They made it impossible to blame the ongoing disaster on George W. Bush. If this wasn't rank incompetence, it was sabotage.

This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them.

President Obama didn't see this. Or perhaps, he didn't want to see it. His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know about who he really is.

James K. Galbraith teaches at UT-Austin and is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too.

*!00 American cities, notably Washington DC, went up in flames in response to this murder. At the time, I was sympathetic to the young woman who says harshly of American capitalism and racism: “let’s finish it up.” To this day, the King family does not believe James Earl Ray assassinated King – and there is no investigation. America lives off Martin, has a holiday named for him, and the rulers conceal the truth. A larger Pat Tillman case…

**See Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power, ch. 1.

***Interestingly, in a story last Saturday about how the private sector created more jobs than expected last month (largely offset by the cessation of government employment for census takers, teachers et al), included David Leonhardt’s “other measure of unemployment” ot those who have given up looking for work and those who have parttime jobs but would accept fulltime ones. That figure is now 17.1% unemployed, nearly a fifth of the workforce. That. much more than the official figure, just under 10%, illustrates just how serious the crisis is.

****Tancredo began his career by attacking programs in the high schools by the Center for Teaching International Relations at my school (then the Graduate School of International Studies). CTIR invited students to consider other points of view, not just American. It was all over the map politically, as one of its exercises, the “Lifeboat” problem (the World War II film with Walter Slezak) illustrates: imagine a nuclear war, one shelter, 7 spaces, 10 of you, the beautiful young woman, the cripple, etc.: whom would you throw out? One option not considered – those of us like me who would refuse to go in.

Tancredo said it violated the “Judeo-Christian ethic” – that Christ preached for the poor escaped him - and organized a quasi-fascist movement to deny CTIR contracts to work with public school teachers. His virulence against immigrants is of greater harm, but nothing that has not been visible about him from the first.

*****Afghanistan was initially more popular, but for reasons Wikileaks reveals, not now, 9 years later.

******He is dreadful in many ways, including about Brown v. Board of Education, but less enthusiastic than Delay, Rove, the Koch brothers, and others for war or the military.

*******Consider the almost complete silence about Wikileaks and American war criminality, when the corporate media does not do character assassination of Julian Assange...